TWFT recently got a chance to interview Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why. What a treat!TWFT: Summarize Thirteen Reasons Why in ten words or less.
Hannah committed suicide. Clay listens to her recorded reasons why.
TWFT: Who is your favorite character from Thirteen Reasons Why?
Tony. When I wrote the scene where Clay “borrows” Tony’s Walkman, I didn’t have any plans for bringing Tony back later in the book. But there was something about the guy which I immediately liked, and people who read that scene early on also liked him. He turned out to be a very important character later in the book and I loved writing every scene he appears in. I could probably write a whole book about him!
TWFT: When did you first start writing?
I’ve enjoyed writing ever since I learned how to spell. Regarding writing as a career, I wanted to write and illustrate my own comic strip for years. If I could draw better, that would still be my fantasy job. It wasn’t until my first year in college that I began writing children’s book in the hopes of one day getting published. For about the next nine years, I only wrote funny books for younger children. Thirteen Reasons Why was the first serious novel I attempted, and also the first book I wrote for teens.
TWFT Thirteen Reasons Why is quite a sad (but totally amazing) novel. Are any of the events that take place based on real life situations that you have experienced?
The scene in the Peer Communications class with the paperbags happened in my high school Peer Communications class almost exactly as it appears in the book. We never found out who wrote that note, but obviously the class reaction left a big impact on me. And when Clay first meets Hannah at the party, when he tries to tie his shoelace but his fingers are too cold, that happened to me at a party when I was introduced to the first girl I ever went on a date with.
TWFT Tell us about your querying process and road to publication.
From the time I first began submitting manuscripts to publishers back in 1994 to when Thirteen Reasons Why sold, twelve years had passed. So this can definitely be a game of perseverance, as well as being willing to try different styles until you find your natural voice. When my agent sent out this manuscript, it got rejected many times before it sold.
TWFT Thirteen Reasons Why is a very serious novel. Is there a message in the novel that you want readers to grasp?
As Hannah says, you never know what’s going on in anyone’s life but your own. Someone who looks like they have it all together may actually be going through quite a lot. And everyone handles life’s pressures differently. While Hannah herself is not without fault, it still all comes down to the Golden Rule. So that’s the main thing I was trying to say. Always treat people with respect because you never know what else they’re dealing with. As well, I want people who are hurting to realize how important it is for them to honestly reach out for help.
TWFT What was your inspiration for Thirteen Reasons Why?
I had a close relative attempt suicide when she was the same age as Hannah. Through talking with her over the years, I began to understand how someone could get to that place where they completely lose hope of things getting better. Around that same time, I took an audiotour and immediately thought that dual-narrative structure could be very powerful if paired with the right story. It wasn’t until nine years later that the issue of suicide matched up with the structure.
TWFT Can you describe yourself as a teen in high school?
I was normally shy. But when I got comfortable around certain groups of people, then I could be very outgoing. I worked on the newspaper staff, but I was horrible and got out as soon as I could. I played in a bunch of garage bands, playing guitar and singing, and I thought I was much better than I actually was. I only really dated one girl in high school, and that relationship lasted two years. I didn’t hate my teen years in any way, but I still wouldn’t want to redo them. Those years were rather…blah.
TWFT If you could have dinner with one author, alive or dead, who would it be?
Stephen King. Without a doubt. And since he’s alive, there’s always a chance!
TWFT Do you have any tips for aspiring young writers?
Join a critique group where everyone gives each other honest suggestions for improvements as well as points out everyone’s strengths. If you can find a group of writers like that, your writing will improve tremendously.
TWFT Are you currently working on another novel?
TWFT Lastly, a TWFT tradition, what is your favorite flavor of jellybean?
Buttered popcorn. It’s not that I can eat a ton of them…but they’re so fun to share!
Thanks for your time Jay! The last one made me crack up…