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Interview with...

Jay Asher

El Templo #60 (octubre 2017)
Por Natalia Aróstegui y Víctor Heranz
301 lecturas

We’re going to start talking about 13 Reasons Why. It’s been 10 years since the publication of this book, congratulations! We would like to ask you if you think that the raising awareness about mental health is bigger now in the current scene of young adult literature than it was 10 years ago.

I think it is, I think it is also bigger just in the world. I think a lot of that has to do with the Internet and cyberbullying. Because, I think in the past there was always bullying, it was just a part of growing up and everybody goes through it. But cyberbullying is very different, because with traditional bullying, when you leave school you get a break. But now it’s 24 hours a day, it’s online, you just can’t away from it, which makes it more dangerous, especially for the teenage years, when you’re starting to learn and I think it took adults a while to realize things are different now, ‘cause when I was in high school we didn’t have the Internet so we didn’t have to worry about that. So when adults realize you can’t just say that that’s something everybody has gotten through, that it’s different, they realize we have to address it to, have a deal with it. I think young adult literature because is specifically for teens a lot of times addresses things before the rest of the world understands what teens are going through. As we said, 13 Reasons Why was published 10 years ago. Was it difficult to deal with topics like rape or suicide back then? I wouldn’t know if it was any more difficult back then than it is now. Those are still very uncomfortable topics to talk about and so when I was writing it I thought it was important to write about that, but I was a little nervous because I knew any time you write about things people are uncomfortable talking about there’s controversy. And I knew that because a lot of my friends who are writers dealt with that in some of their books. But I also knew that’s why it’s important to talk about these things, because it’s hard to. So I knew I was going to write it and then I just had to write it honestly so that teenagers didn’t feel I was afraid of prejudices.

After the TV show, many people have said that Hannah Baker is one of the many victims of sexual violence. Do you think that the patriarchal system we live in is one of her murderers?

Yes, I definitely think that the patriarchal system did contribute to that and that’s one of the reasons why I wrote the scene the way I did. I wrote it for everybody, but I did write it as well knowing that there would going to be some boys reading it and I wanted them to see it. Both in the TV show and the book I make a point of Hannah in the hot tub scene not saying ‘no’, she doesn’t say no. And growing up, that’s one of the things we’re taught is that when a girl says no you listen but sometimes because of that system, girls are afraid to say no. Then it’s up to the man to recognize, sometimes you don’t have to hear it, you can just tell somebody is not into it. And I think that that fear that a lot of women have of standing up to males contributes to that, on both sides, it makes it harder for the females and the males to really understand each other.

Revenge and guilt have been two recurrent topics in many of the 13 Reasons Why debates. Did you have these two words, revenge and guilt, in your head when you wrote the book, even though they were exactly what you were trying to get away from?

Yes, I mean, I didn’t want Hannah to be a perfect person. I thought if she was perfect and had done everything she could to get help and treated everybody fairly… that would’ve sent a wrong message. Instead, she’s not perfect, just like anybody, nobody’s perfect. I think there was a sense of revenge in her character, but more than that I think she was being honest, she was doing it to help people later on, but, yes, there was a sense of revenge, and I know a lot of the critics of the story say what she did is going to hurt a lot of them, and that’s true, I don’t think she thought what she was doing all the way through. I think that’s good to notice, you can have empathy with somebody and sympathize with what they’re dealing with but at the same time recognize what they’re doing to hurt others or also sometimes to hurt themselves. Because she’s not perfect, she does things that don’t make her own life easier and that’s good to notice and I think the really positive things about the story that I’ve heard after writing it is from teenagers who are suicidal when they read the book, who identify with Hannah and so like her and they want her to live and they really noticed what she did: to push people away, to make her own life harder… of course that makes them look at themselves: “what am I doing?” ‘Because everybody thinks they’re the victim, that everything is happening to them and even when things happen to us there’re things we can do to make it better so I’ve heard from so many teens that that was their inspiration to get help. You’ve might try to get help little ways we all people to come to us but sometimes people have a hard time picking up little signals so we have to make sure, if we’re hurting people know that. And I think books are a really easy way to address these issues. I think what makes books so powerful it is safer to talk about fictional characters than our own lives. One of the most beautiful things for me is when I hear parents say just let them talk about these issues so hard to bring out just out of nowhere and you talk about this book and it’s safe and you’re still talking about the issues.

 

The Clay we find in the book is a little bit different from the Clay that we find in the TV show. For instance, in the book he’s a popular kid and there’s also a difference in the way he reacts when he finds about what Tyler did. Do you think that the fact that in the TV show Clay kind of participates in bullying that Tyler is suffering changes the essence of his character?

He definitely acts different in the tv show. I don’t know if he actually is different, though, only because in the book we only see Clay over one night, as he’s really suffering from all of that he is hearing, which even the tv show that first night that’s all you see, being scared by what he’s hearing, only because in the TV show takes place over several days and you see him encounter a lot of the people so you see the anger and stuff so if the book if I decided to make it happen into several days there would’ve been a lot more emotions coming out and so I was excited to know they were going to do it into several days, because actually when I first started the book that was how I was going to do it, into several days, because I wanted those encounters with some the other people, to see how Clay reacted to that, but I decided for the book, because you’re in Clay’s head, to make it a very intimate story about him. Whereas in the tv show you’re not in the character’s head I thought it was more appropriate to spread it out so I didn’t have to write that version, I got to see other people writing it. It’s great.

The role of Hannah’s parents is different to, it’s bigger in the TV series. In your opinion, in what way does this contribute to your story?

I think the tv show Is very powerful because of including the parents, that to me is one of the main things. Of course it’s different: I was writing a book that I knew was going to be put in the teen section in bookstores and libraries, I knew, so I wrote it very much for teens, and when you’re teenager you have your school world and you have your home world, and they feel very separate. And Hannah on the tapes wasn’t going to talk about her parents, even on the tv show, she doesn’t talk about them, you see them, but on her recordings she doesn’t talk about them. So in the tv show when your audience is bigger than just teens, you know including adults helps but it’s also because we’re not just listening to her words on the tapes we’re seeing a lot of scenes beyond that, it was important to include her parents I think it was powerful because you see their reactions, especially after the suicide, you get to know her character, the adults, you see their own struggles and you see that they do really love their daughter , which makes that scene even much more devastating. In the book and in the tv show Hannah talks about and you see that she has a somewhat good relationship with her parents but her parents are having struggles with their jobs and stuff so she doesn’t want to be another burden to them and a lot of teens feel that way, that’s why a lot of teens don’t open up, but in the tv show you see how much worse it is, for the parents, now.

One of the toughest tapes is definitely the one that Hannah sends to her counselor. With Mr. Porter, you change the cool teacher perspective we’re used to see. Why did you decide to show us the other side of the coin?

Well, that’s one of the very few scenes in the book that was very inspired by a real story. When I was in high school, there was something that was called the student counselor, where students could come to one of us if they weren’t comfortable talking to an adult so somebody came to me to talk about an issue and I went with this person to the counseling office and I was just supposed to be like his support you know, but I saw the conversation occurring just like it is in the book and in the tv show between the counselor and Hannah, where my friend was saying factually what happened but he wasn’t really getting into the emotions of how it was hurting him and because of that the guidance counselor knew something bad had happened but didn’t know exactly how much this person was hurting so their conversation never quite matched, they were never really understanding each other and back then I remember thinking “If I don’t say something now my friend is going to leave thinking “I knew adults wouldn’t understand”, which is what Hannah thinks. So in real life I was able to step in and say “you need to tell him the story the way you told me” and then everything changed. But Hannah doesn’t have that, Hannah instead leaves thinking “I knew it” So I don’t think that that counselor in 13 Reasons Why is a bad person I think he thought he was doing his job he just wasn’t picking up answers and clues and pushing it, but I’ve heard from so many guidance counselors over the years that scene is the fear that somebody is going to come in and they think they know what this person needs but it’s not what that person needs and so… I’ve had a hard time blaming the guidance counselor in a lot of ways, I think he’s trying.

 

In the last pages of the book, Clay sees Hannah reflected in Skye. Why did you choose Skye to be the final touch in the story?

She represents, she shows a lot of signs Hannah is showing. One of the most common questions I get asked is “is Skye suicidal?” and I would say “I don’t know”, but that’s kind of the point of the story, you never know what somebody is going through, all we can do is really notice people and just make sure they know we’re there and that we notice them. So she was used to show Clay’s change over time. He saw what Hannah was going through but never really reached out because she didn’t want him to. So here’s another character that is showing signs and I don’t think he even knows exactly how he wants to be there for her, but he knows now that is important that she knows he does care and notice her.

13 Reasons Why, The Future of Us and What Light are completely different stories. Why did you go from the raw drama that we find in 13 Reasons Why to the romance that is portrayed in both The Future of Us and What Light?

I tried after 13 Reasons Why writing something a little more similar, but just because that’s what people expected. “Ok if people really like this, I’ll try doing something similar” but I can’t force myself to write things, I know some authors can, I tried and it just wasn’t working, my passion wasn’t in that story the same way it was in 13 Reasons Why so I took some time to find other stories I was just as passionate about. I knew those are very difficult stories and so as a profession it’s not the smartest way to go but I was putting up stories I was very proud of, so I felt good about them. They’re very different but they are stories that I wrote with that much passion, and it’s fun for me noticing how different they are but also notice all the similarities between them: how do we affect each other, how we affect our own futures in ways we can never know All those books deal with that and I didn’t set out to make out those similarities but it’s fun to notice them as you’re writing them.

In The Future of Us, Emma and Josh in 1996 visit their future Facebooks. What would we see now if we were able to visit your future Facebook profile?

I don’t know. That’s one of the things, I co-wrote that book, and that was one of the things Caroline and I talked a lot about when we were writing it, because I think everybody thinks “yeah, if I could see my future of course I would”, that’s what we thought, and then as you’re writing the story you start going?? I wouldn’t know if I would want to know and It would also, it would take away from enjoying now, we’d be so worried about how things are going to end up. So, we talked a lot about that. I don’t know and I really don’t, especially looking back 10 or 15 years back in my life I would have never expected I’d be in Spain being interviewed, and it probably would’ve freaked me out if I knew… I was so shy back then and to know having to travel around the world, talking…intimidating.

After all your collaborations, is there any author you would like to work with?

That’s it. There are plenty of authors, and I’ve talked to some authors who with said maybe one day will work together. Before I wrote The future of us Inever thought I was an author that could write with another person. I liked to do things my way and it would’ve been hard to, I don’t know, that some of the create activity come from another person, but I had such a fun time working on that book. If you find that was a thing with... I love the story that idea too. And when Carol asked if I wanted to work with her, we didn’t have an idea so we came up with an idea together that both of us were just as passionate about. And so when you find an idea like that you expect the other author just made the creative process so fun. Because you both just try tell the best story possible. So doesn’t matter who comes up with what ideas, if f that’s the best idea you go with it. And that’s was the same thing working with Jessica. It was so fun to find the story that we both really wanted to tell. So there are definitely authors. I’d love to work with Jennifer Nieven. She’s become a friend of mine and we have kind of talked about it a little bit. As long as it’s a story that we both would be excited about, it’s fun.

 

In What Light, Sierra travels every Christmas to California and spends the rest of the year in Oregon. We can see that duality in 13 Reasons Why as well, between Hanna’s tapes and Clay’s present, and in The Future of Us, with the 1996 present and the one we see on Facebook. Is there any particular reason you choose this duality to tell your stories?

No, there is no reason. Like I said it’s really fun to find those similarities in stories that are very different. And I’ve noticed that. I don’t know why. I think all of those stories… When I came on the main idea for the story and then you look for the best way to tell it that’s it how it happened to be when Carol and I started to work together we didn’t necessarily one have two different characters, but it just seems the best way, especially if they both see their futures, what do they both think about their futures because one likes his future, one doesn’t like her future. I don’t know, with those. There are other stories I’m sure I won’t do that if that’s not the best way to tell it but there always is more conflict when you have two different stories going on. So you looking for the most… Not only the best way to tell the story but the most dramatic way to tell the story with those books. Yeah, I didn’t really see that clearly whit What light but now that you say that, yeah.

To conclude, we would like to know if there’s any question that you have never been asked and would like to answer.

I don’t know, I’ve been doing this for ten years! I don’t know what I haven’t asked. People talk about how different my books are. They obviously are, but for me it’s all, like I said, I tried writing something similarly to 13 Reasons Why and then when I started working on Tthe Future of Us I started to feel proud of the fact that they were so different because I think people, especially because 13 Reasons Why has been so successful, I think it’s a very positive thing to read different kinds of books. And I think it’s really easy and I know I’m this way if I find the book I like and then I want find something very, very similar to that which is fine, wherever keeps people exciting about reading. But it is also good to read different things. And so people read 13 Reasons Why and think “Ok, I’ll be something else by the same author because I think it’s going to be the same type of thing”. And they’ve seen “Woah, is very different. I don’t normally read books like this”. Maybe that would inspired them to read other books that they normally wouldn’t. Same thing with when I started working on What light which is very much a romance. I think the same thing I can open up other types of stories to people. I’m very proud of that and I like that. I like to read all different types.

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