I was so impressed with 13 Reasons Why that I tracked down author Jay Asher and begged him for an interview. He graciously complied. Thanks Jay!!
Cool Kids Read: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Jay Asher: I knew I wanted to be a writer when I realized I couldn't draw. Back in elementary school and junior high, my dream was to write and illustrate my own comic strip. Charles Schulz was my idol! I was working on a strip called Nate the Gopher and having a lot of fun, but it definitely wasn't going to get me anywhere. In high school I decided to try my hand at journalism...which also wasn't going to get me anywhere. In my first year of college, I took a course called Children's Literature Appreciation and was reintroduced to my love of children's books. From then on, nothing was going to stop me from getting published in that market.
CKR: 13 Reasons Why is your debut novel. Tell us a bit about how you became published.
JA: Trial and error. I spent nine years writing picture books, early chapter books, and middle grade novels...all humorous. I went through three agents in that time with lots of nibbles from publishers and even won awards for my manuscripts. But I could tell there was something wrong. I hadn't discovered my natural voice. Then I began writing my first non-humorous book, which was also a book for teens, and knew immediately that I'd found my voice. In the three years it took me to write Thirteen Reasons Why, I was still submitting my earlier manuscripts (and some new ones). About a month-and-a-half after signing with my current agent, I had a contract!
CKR: The “listening” format of the story is so original, and combined with the subject matter, makes for a gut-wrenching story. What made you want to use this technique to tell a story about teenage suicide?
JA: I once took an audiotour of a mock-up of King Tut's tomb. Once the tour was over, I went searching for a story to tell in a similar format, with one narrator being a recorded voice and the other being the thoughts of the person listening. Around that same time, a close relative of mine attempted suicide. Several years went by before both events clicked together, and I knew the pairing worked well. The audiorecordings weren't just a cute gimmick, but actually enhanced the story. It also allowed me to talk from the point-of-view of a suicidal character while also getting another person's perspective on the events being discussed.
CKR: The technology of Hannah’s using cassette tapes draws upon the past and gives the story a grittiness that new technology might not have. Did you consider telling her story any other way (video? Emails? Etc.)
JA: I considered many forms of technology, though cassette tapes were how the story originally came to me. One, I thought cassette tapes gave my character more tangible elements to work with. Two, and more importantly, cassettes would keep the book from seeming out-of-date a little while longer. Sounds weird, I know. But if I'd used the most up-to-date technology, and the characters acted as if everything was up-to-date, it wouldn't be modern for long because the way we speak about technology changes quickly. Yet if the characters acknowledged that the means of recording were dated, suddenly the book is contemporary.
CKR: Which authors did you read as a child? Today?
JA: The only author I read a lot of as a child was Ray Bradbury. Everything else was book-by-book, not because of the author's name. But now I've read and enjoyed several books by Chris Crutcher, Jerry Spinelli, Louis Sachar, Carolyn Mackler, Laurie Halse Anderson...
CKR: When can we expect another Jay Asher novel?
JA: When I finish it, then a little while after that. (Tee-hee!)
CKR: Any news about a 13 Reasons Why movie deal?
JA: There's been a lot of interest, and we're currently talking to a few people...so keep your fingers crossed.