Author Interview: Jay Asher

When I finished Thirteen Reasons Why I was so effected by Mr. Asher's writing style, I googled him to see what other books I could read by him. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Thirteen Reasons Why was his debut and only novel to date. So I contacted him to find out what he's been up to since the release of Thirteen Reasons Why and to see what we can expect from him next. Mr. Asher was kind enough to grant me an interview. You can read my review of Thirteen Reasons Why here.

Could you start off by telling us a little about yourself...

This question makes me feel like I'm applying for a job!  So let's see...  I'm a writer.  I've been married for over seven years.  I play guitar, though I'd like to get much better at it.  I get bored extremely fast, so I'm usually in and out of the gym within thirty minutes, and I usually can't read more than a chapter in a book before I do something else or move on to another book (though I will eventually return to that first book).  And I hate onions!

What was your road to publication like?

Overall, it was a twelve year journey involving four agents and many many rejections.  When I began submitting manuscripts to publishers, I was writing funny picture books.  Then I began working on funny middle-grades, which are still my favorite types of stories to work on.  When I began Thirteen Reasons Why, I continued to work on the humorous manuscripts for young children.  After completing 13RW, I found my fourth agent and we started submitting.  After about a dozen rejections, three publishers began bidding on it.

How long did it take you to write Thirteen Reasons Why?

It took a little over three years, but I was also working on several other manuscripts at the same time.  Basically, whichever story nagged at me the most got my attention.  In a way, I worked through the manuscript twice because there are two narratives going on.  First, I wrote Hannah's story from beginning to end, then I went back and added Clay's story.  Each part took about a year-and-a-half, and then I took about six months to polish it up.

What inspired you to write Thirteen Reasons Why? Was the book based on someone you know; an experience or event from your own life?

There were two inspirations for this book.  One involved the subject matter and the other involved the structure.  A close relative of mine attempted suicide when she was the same age as Hannah Baker--a junior in high school.  Talking with her over the years helped me understand how someone could reach the point where they felt suicide was the only way to escape the pain.  As far as the unusual structure, I immediately knew I wanted to write something formatted like an audio tour after taking my first audio tour through a King Tut's tomb mock-up in Vegas.  Instead of chapter one, you'd have Cassette 1: Side A.  One narrator would be a recorded voice and the other would be the thoughts of someone listening.  It took nine years before the subject matter meshed with the structure, but I instantly knew that was the perfect way to tell Hannah's story.

What kind of research did you do for Thirteen Reasons Why?

From the beginning, Hannah's character felt very real to me so it was just a matter of letting her loose.  I didn't want any outside research about suicide stifling my understanding of her character.  But when I was done writing her story, then I read several books and articles on teen suicide.  I discovered that Hannah naturally went through all of the emotional twists I was reading about.  It was great confirmation that I had tapped into something real.

What did you learn from writing Thirteen Reasons Why?

I learned how to write from the perspectives of my characters as opposed to writing about my characters.  For example, I sometimes wrote lines of dialogue for Hannah that didn't totally make sense to me, but which sounded like things she would say.  Those are actually the lines readers and reviewers most often quote.  So I learned not to question those times when it feels like my characters know more about what's going on than me.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing Thirteen Reasons Why?

When a scene felt right, and yet I didn't logically understand why it felt right, I had to resist the temptation to change it.  For example, the paper bag chapter and the poetry chapter.  A lot of teens tell me those are their favorite chapters, and yet those are the two chapters I was most uncomfortable with.  There was just something about them I didn't fully get, and yet I felt they needed to be in there as written.  That's when I'd just toss my hands in the air and think, "Whatever!"

Do you hear from readers? What do readers of Thirteen Reasons Why say and/or ask? Has anyone who was contemplating suicide (or knew someone who was) reached out to you?

I hear from readers every day and it's such an honor to know they've connected with my book enough to sit down and let me know their thoughts.  It's been over two years since my book came out, and the joy I get from my readers hasn't faded a bit.  When they say the book changed them in some way, the vast majority say it made them become more aware of how they treat others.  But I do hear from people who've contemplated suicide.  They say Hannah's story inspired them to reach out to others for help.  They identified with Hannah, they wanted her to live, and they recognized that they were doing things similar to what Hannah was doing, such as pushing people away.

Thirteen Reasons Why has earned numerous awards. How has that affected you?

As far as awards given by adult committees, it makes me very happy to know adults can read the book from a teen perspective and understand what I was trying to do.  But the awards voted on by teens are definitely the most gratifying.

Thirteen Reasons Why was first published in 2007. What have you been up to since then? What's next for you? Do you have any other books in the works?

I've been working on a few different manuscripts and all of them have me very excited.  Which will be my follow-up, I'm not entirely sure yet.  And I've been doing a lot of traveling and speaking, going to schools mostly, which is my absolute favorite part of being an author.  I love being able to speak with my readers in person.

UK Cover of Thirteen Reasons Why     Indonesian Cover of Thirteen Reasons Why     US Cover of Thirteen Reasons Why

Out of all the book covers out there for Thirteen Reasons Why (and there are many!) which one is your favorite?

The U.S. version is easily my favorite.  For one thing, the girl looks almost exactly as I pictured Hannah while writing the book...yet I had nothing to do with the design of the cover.  I love the contemplative look on the model's face and I think the entire cover sets the perfect tone to introduce readers to my story.

What book are you reading now?

I always have several books going at any time.  This morning I finished The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  I'm in the middle of Last Train to Memphis by Peter Guralnick, the first of a two-part Elvis biography.  Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.  Funny Business by Leonard S. Marcus.  Those, and a few more, all have bookmarks in them.

Who are your favorite authors?

I have too many friends in this business to pick favorites!  But because of Stargirl, Jerry Spinelli needs to be mentioned.  I was actually at a conference recently and, just a few moments after noticing that Mr. Spinelli was signing books, I had to take a phone call.  It was a very frustrating dilemma because I'd never had the chance to meet him before.

What genres do you like to read?

I mostly read non-fiction.  It's far enough removed from my own type of writing that I can enjoy what I'm reading rather than analyzing every aspect of it.  It's also easier to read non-fiction in short bursts, which is how most of my reading gets done.

List 5 things about you that people might not know:

  1. My dream job would be to write and illustrate my own daily comic strip.
  2. I was a horrible writer in high school.
  3. I've seen Def Leppard in concert more than any other band.
  4. Every time I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I think, "This is really good.  Why do I keep forgetting how much I love these?"
  5. My dream vacation would be to spend a couple weeks in Italy, visiting the museums and eating.  Lots of eating!


Thank you Mr. Asher for the interview!

About Brianna: Supermom by day, naughty reader by night. Addicted to chocolate, Twitter, her iPad, her Kindle, and 99¢ Kindle deals. You can follow Brianna on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Instagram.


  1. WOW that's an awesome interview! WOW...I have not picked up 13 Reasons Why, but now I know I will at some point, it's a tough subject matter for me but his word just resounded with me...I know I need to read this one!


  2. Great interview, and I checked out your review, too! I will definitely be adding this book to my pile!

    Suggestion: Add links to places where we can buy the books.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Great interview! I think it is awesome that so many readers reach out to him. I can't imagine changing someones life by writing a book, but I can see why this book would change someones life. :]

  4. I am the same way about PB & J sandwiches...LOL

  5. Nice interview. I do have to say this... Def Leppard FTW! :)


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