13 Reasons Why has become one of the most talked about shows on Netflix ever. They actually dubbed it their most popular show in history. But, before the series ever came to life there was the book Thirteen Reasons Why written by Jay Asher. The book and the series bring up issues and conversation that are only starting to not become taboo in our culture. The story surrounding these particular characters is eye-opening.
J-14 chatted with Jay about his inspiration for the book, if any of the characters are based on real people and his friendship with Selena Gomez. With a second season of 13 Reasons Why officially in the works, we couldn’t help but have a few questions about how this all started.
J-14: Where did you come up with the storyline for ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’? Was there someone or something that inspired it?
Jay Asher: The structure was inspired by an audio tour I took when I was about twenty years old. I’d started writing seriously by then, and I knew one day I would write a book with that simultaneous dual narration. The subject matter was inspired by a relative who attempted suicide when she was the same age as Hannah, a junior in high school. When those two ideas merged, it felt like a powerful and unique way to talk about something very important.
J-14: Were any of the characters based off of people you knew in real life as a teenager or adult life?
Jay Asher: The only character based on an actual person is Clay. He’s very non-confrontational, even when confrontation is needed, which is something I’ve always struggled with. And while many of the situations were based on real things I either witnessed or experienced or that were shared with me as I was working on the book, the characters in those situations are completely made up.
J-14: What do you think about this story getting so much attention nearly a decade after the book was first published in October 2007?
Jay Asher: For the past ten years, schools have consistently invited me to speak about Thirteen Reasons Why, so it’s been a presence in my life that hasn’t ever wavered. Of course, TV opens it up to a whole new audience.
J-14: How does the response to the show now compare to when the first book came out?
Jay Asher: The book had a slow start. It was a very organic word-of-mouth thing. It didn’t appear on the New York Times bestsellers list until it had been available for six months. But the TV show response was huge immediately. Everything about it is just so much bigger.
J-14: Selena and Mandy committed to this book years ago and they’ve both said how this was a passion project for them that they knew they just had to bring to light. What was it like when they first reached out to you?
Jay Asher: When they reached out, several producers had already expressed interest and I spoke to all of them. But the story meant so much to me, and I knew it meant a lot to a lot of people, so if I had any reservations at all I said no. I met Selena and Mandy for dinner in Los Angeles, and we talked for hours. In that time, they gave me absolutely no reasons to say no. They understood the story exactly as I understood it.
J-14: What is something you can say about Selena as a person that our readers wouldn’t know about her?
Jay Asher: If your readers think she’s a sweet, sensitive, and caring person, I guess that’s not a secret. But here’s a great example of that, which I’ve never spoken about publicly. A friend of mine is a nurse in another state. A child in the hospital where she worked didn’t have long to live and absolutely adored Selena. I asked for the child’s name and passed it along, knowing that the timing of Selena being in the area in the near future wasn’t likely. She’s also one of the busiest people in the world, and even though I knew she’s a very caring person, it seemed like a big thing to ask. A short time later, my friend called to let me know Selena just left the hospital after spending some time there with her young fan. There was no press involved. In fact, she didn’t even tell me she was doing it because it wasn’t done for anyone but that one child.
J-14: What has it been like having them stick with the project all these years?
Jay Asher: I feel so grateful and lucky. But I know they feel the same way about me not giving up on them. Mutual admiration is a beautiful thing! The same thing applies to Kristel Laiblin. She’s been involved as a producer almost as long.
J-14: How much involvement did you have in the series and is there anything you would have done differently?
Jay Asher: Again, I’ve been so grateful and lucky to have people involved in every aspect of the production who appreciated the story in the same way that I did. The series creator, Brian Yorkey, had been a fan of the story for a long time. I gave him some script notes early on, and I met with the other writers a few times to let them pick my brain, but I wanted them to know I trusted them and to feel free with their own creativity. That turned out to be the right decision because I wouldn’t change a thing with what they accomplished. Viewers reach out to me a lot more than they do to the actual writers of the series, so I try to pass along what I’m hearing because they deserve to hear that praise, too. Actually, when the praise has to do with scenes that weren’t in the book, they deserve to hear it more than me!
J-14: Now that there will be a second season, whose storylines do you hope are explored more?
Jay Asher: There are a lot of storylines I want explored! The big ones are obviously Alex, Jessica, Tyler, and Bryce, but this has always been a story about some of the smaller moments being the most important, so I want to know more about everyone.
J-14: If you had to write a second book, what would your ideal plot be?
Jay Asher: Tony was my favorite character to write, so I was happy to get to know him even more in Season 1 of the show. In a second book, I’d probably stick even closer to him, though I don’t know what the actual plot would be.
J-14: Because you created Hannah Baker and have seen her jump from the pages of the book to the screen, what do you hope teens, both readers and viewers, take away from her story?
Jay Asher: The story has always been a cautionary tale. A lot of people around Hannah make a lot of bad decisions, and I think it’s fairly obvious what those decisions are when you read the book or watch the show. It’s good to see the potential repercussions of those decisions played out. As well, Hannah makes a lot of bad decisions. We see her push people away, or not completely open up when she has the chance. But she deserved to get help, and it’s good to notice what more she could have done for herself.