Today we have another amazing author joining us. Jay Asher is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller 13 Reasons Why and the co-author (along with Carolyn Mackler) of The Future Of Us. His newest release, entitled What Light, tells the story of a girl named Sierra whose quiet life on a Christmas tree farm is turned upside down when she meets a troubled boy named Caleb. What Light is available this Tuesday and we can't wait to check it out! Jay's an incredible author, and we're so glad he was able to spend some time with us and answering all thirteen of our questions. Wait, only ten questions? Come on, guys! Get it together!
James: The world has changed a lot in the ten years since Thirteen Reasons Why was first published. (I mean, cassette tapes? What are those?) Why do you think the story continues to be popular with teenagers today?
Jay: I absolutely thought about the longevity of this story from the beginning. I wanted it to be read and understood for a long time. That's actually why I chose cassette tapes! The book came out in 2007, and cassettes were outdated even back then. That's why, when my main character receives a box of them, he isn't sure he has a way to play them. That's the same reaction most people would have today. Whereas, had I used the terminology of recording from a decade ago, and the characters responded as if it were up-to-date, the story would feel out-of-date. But I think the story remains popular because the emotions in the book will always be relevant. We all want and deserve respect. That's what makes the book relevant in the 35 languages it's been translated into. All around the world, respect and kindness are needed.
James: Your book deals with a lot of intense topics-- depression, suicide, rape, and bullying among others. What prompted you to write about these difficult issues?
Jay: When I came up with the idea, I imagined a boy coming home to find a shoebox full of tapes. That seemed mysterious! So what could be recorded on the tapes that would make for the most intense listening experience? So that's where the basic story came from, and it would naturally deal with a lot of serious issues. But why did my mind even consider suicide as the main topic? I had a close relative who attempted suicide when she was the same age as the girl in my book, so it was already an issue I felt needed to be discussed more openly. That book gave me the perfect way to address those topics, and to build an intense reading experience around it.
James: What would you say to those adults who argue that dark topics should be kept of young adult literature?
Jay: I understand their uncomfortableness. I'd feel uncomfortable, too, if my child was reading a book about these issues. But those things you mentioned (depression, suicide, rape, bullying...), they do happen. Hopefully, they won't happen to anyone you're responsible for, but they will likely happen to someone they know. I've found, and readers have confirmed this over and over, that not talking about these things makes it so much worse when they happen. If your parents or teachers have avoided these topics, it's that much harder for the person who's already feeling vulnerable to bring them up. As well, it's better to understand your feelings about these concerns before you're confronted with them in real life.
James: You wrote from two different perspectives for this book. Which perspective was your favorite?
Jay: Hannah's perspective was the easiest because there was naturally more dramatic scenarios within it. Plus, her voice came to me instantly and never wavered. I knew exactly how she spoke and simply had to write it down. Clay required more struggle because I needed to have his story compete with a more intense story. So I tried to have his reactions match what most readers would be thinking as they read Hannah's words, which kept them feeling close to him.
James: Which scene in the novel do you consider to be the most powerful?
Jay: The one I was most nervous about writing was the hot tub scene. I knew that if any scene got people to want to ban my book, that would be it. But again, it's a situation far too many people experience, so I knew it was necessary. And it is the scene that's received the most feedback from readers, saying it was the first time they felt like someone understood their feelings.
James: What message would you share with teens, like Hannah, who are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts?
Jay: Everyone who needs help is worth that help, and there is help around them. There was help around Hannah, whether she noticed it or was too hurt to seek it for fear of being disappointed again. There are phone numbers people can call, with strangers at the other end who literally want someone in need to call them.
James: What future do you imagine for Skye and Clay after the book ends?
Jay: I don't imagine it! Not that I don't think they'll have some kind of interaction, and hopefully it's very positive for both of them, but where Hannah's story ends and Clay's growth begins, that's where I left the story up to the reader. Basically what I'm saying is, I'm lazy! I don't want to put more energy into a book than is required.
James: What's the most meaningful compliment you've ever received from one of your readers?
Jay: Whenever someone says my book saved their life, that's obviously going to be the most powerful thing to hear. The most meaningful words, personally, came from my relative, the one who inspired my understanding of this issue. I've shared with her a lot of what readers have told me about their experiences with the book. She got to the point where she decided that if she had to experience what she did in order to inspire a story that has helped this many people, it was worth it.
James: What books do you always find yourself recommending to other people?
Jay: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli is my favorite book. On the surface, it feels like such a light story, but it's so intense. And the language is phenomenal. Again, the language feels simple, but it's so powerful.
James: You have a new book coming out in October entitled What Light. What can you tell us about it?
Jay: I got about halfway into writing What Light and realized I was essentially writing a bookend to Thirteen Reasons Why. Instead of a cautionary tale, it was an uplifting tale. But both deal with how others see us, and how that can affect us as well as our future relationships. It's about a girl, Sierra, who spends one month out of the year living on a Christmas tree lot selling the trees her family grows on a farm seventeen hours away. Even though she's leaving in a few weeks, she falls for a boy who has a past that makes people warn Sierra against him. But she's willing to see the person he is now.
That's it for today's interview with Jay. But if you have any questions for Jay or want to let him know how 13 Reasons Why has impacted you, be sure to check out his website and reach out to him on Twitter. And be sure to come back again next week, when we'll be talking to Meredith Russo, author of If I Was Your Girl!