Jay Asher’s debut teen novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, spent 65 weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list. It has sold to over 30 foreign markets and is being made into a movie by Universal Pictures. His next novel, The Future of Us, was co-written with Carolyn Mackler and will be released in November 2011. It is being made into a movie by Warner Brothers. He lives with his wife and son in California. For more info, visit his blog.
Let the conversation begin!
Was it easier to write before or after you were published?
Definitely before. Hopefully I’m a better writer now, and maybe that’s part of why it was so much easier to write before.
Are your characters completely fictional? Or do you base them off real people?
After the fact, I can look back at my characters and pick out some traits of my friends or myself, but I’ve never done it consciously while writing.
Where do you get your ideas?
Similar to my answer above, I can always look back and figure out where certain ideas came from, but the main premises for stories always feel like they come out of the blue. When coming up with scenes to fill the story, I’ll look into my past to see if there’s anything I can use. If there is, it usually provides just a kernel of an idea, and then gets twisted into an unrecognizable form by the time it makes it into the story.
How many words do you write each day?
I’ve never written toward a word count because I’m too slow and precise. I can understand why people like writing for word count, knowing they’ll go back and fix things later. For me, a sloppy first draft is way too discouraging, so I don’t move on until I’m absolutely satisfied with the words I’m using. Usually I write until I’m not feeling creative anymore, but if I’m close to finishing a scene, I’ll often push through.
Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer?
Mostly by the seat of my pants. I like to brainstorm and file away a lot of notes before I really dig into a book, but once I begin writing, I rarely look at those notes. If some supercreative idea that came to me while shopping actually belongs in the book, I figure it’ll be there when I need it. I’d rather let the characters lead the story than pull them through it.
When are you the most productive?
Night. After 10pm is when I feel the most creative.
What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue? It’s tempting to say I’d want a nice espresso maker, but it takes too long to make the really fancy schmancy drinks if you don’t have the supplies ready to go at a moment’s notice. So if money really wasn’t an issue, I guess I’d like a nice espresso maker and a barista.
What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
I browse bookstores. For one stretch of time, I worked part-time at a small indie bookstore and part-time as an assistant children’s librarian. It was the most creative time of my life!
Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? Or do you keep it a secret?
With Thirteen Reasons Why, no one read beyond the first ten pages until I was finished. I’d never written a non-humorous book before, so I was nervous writing something completely out of my comfort zone. I didn’t want anyone making me second-guess what I was doing. With The Future of Us, Carolyn sometimes read my stuff within minutes of me typing it. That was out of necessity, but since brainstorming with her often felt like brainstorming with myself, I trusted her!
If there is one genre you’d never write, what is it?
Before Thirteen Reasons Why, I never would’ve wanted to write a book dealing with serious issues. So now, I’m open-minded to whatever story intrigues me.
Would you rather publish a string of mainstream books or one classic?
When I first began writing, I wanted a string of mainstream books. But I never imagined that my first published novel would accomplish everything I hoped to achieve with a whole string of books. So while I’m a fully satisfied writer, I still have stories I want to tell.
Do you write with music?
It depends on the scene. If the scene is sad or intense, I need just me and the words. If the scene is happy, I’ll sometimes put on something cheesy and fun. 80s music is great for that!
If you could only write one more book, what would it be about?
This sounds silly, but for years I’ve had an idea for a Christmas-themed YA novel. If I never get around to writing it, I’ll be very disappointed. So in order not to disappoint myself, that’d be it.
Do you begin with character or plot?
I always begin with a premise, and then figure out characters that will best relate the story I want to tell.
I’m fascinated by the mix of art, religion, and history, so I need to go to Rome someday. I don’t have any set plans yet, but I’ll get there eventually. And just knowing that makes me happy!