Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My Autographed Copy of Thirteen Reasons Why

Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why has been on the New York Times Best Seller List for the past ten months. This is a remarkable achievement on its own, but even more remarkable because the book was published almost two years ago. I devoured it in one sitting when it first came out. Now I have an autographed copy to reread at my leisure.

I went to see Jay speak at Borders in Bridgewater. I brought along a trusted connoisseur of YA literature—my fifteen-year-old son. He enjoyed the presentation as much as I did.

Jay’s journey to the best-seller list was full of bumps in the road, and he generously shared his story of twelve years of writing without a publishing offer. He also devoted time to the construction of Thirteen Reasons Why—from concept, through the writing process, his beta readers, his rejections, and finally, his multiple offers.

While all writers love good rejection stories, my big take-away was on concept and process. Jay explained his concept for Thirteen Reasons Why—a cassette tape tour—was born after taking a taped tour of the Luxor in Las Vegas a decade before he began to write the book. Also during that period, a young relative attempted suicide. But it was years before he merged concept with storyline and began to write.

This was an a-ha moment for me. I’ve had one particular concept rattling around my head for a few years that I absolutely love, but haven’t begun to write. Listening to Jay made it crystal clear why—I haven’t found its emotional arc.

He next talked about process—his dueling narrators and how he had to write one story first and then the other. He said as he read over Hannah’s story, he found himself naturally reacting to what she said, and a lot of those reactions became Clay’s reactions. This for me was an a-ha validation moment. I did the same thing in my final revision for my middle grade novel. I looked for places where I had an emotional reaction and made sure my MC noted his.

Jay’s critique process was very different from mine. Jay went to a series of beta readers for specific revision issues: plot, pacing, grammar, and finally to his mom, the ultimate feel-good reader.

My trusty critique group throws it all at me at once—full barrels. But everyone in our group does have different critique strengths and I do look to each for their area of expertise, be it plot, character, setting, pacing, grammar or tone. I will admit, however, I also have a feel-good reader—my fifteen-year-old son, who not only loves my writing, but also gives me some of the best suggestions for keeping it real.

I look forward to another read of Thirteen Reasons Why. I know as I read I’ll be even more amazed that it took twelve years for Jay Asher to be published. And I’ll be grateful to be part of a community of writers who so generously share their stories to help others reach their publishing goals.


  1. "I looked for places where I had an emotional reaction and made sure my MC noted his." I LOVE this. What a great piece of advice.

  2. I saw Jay Asher give his presentation at the SCBWI NY conference earlier this year. So inspiring and what a great guy to share his process and wisdom with other writers. And the book is awesome, of course!

  3. Jay Asher's experience is a lesson for us all, even without his concept and process. Jay's dedication and tenacity (even though occasionally shaken) is a lesson for us all.

    As for waiting to find the emotional arc...what a great thing to learn. How many times have I jumped into a story only to get 50 pages before I realize it's not going anywhere. Is it because I don't know the arc, I don't know the characters, or what the story is? I'm not sure, but it certainly means the idea needs to marinate longer.

    J.A. congrats on your autographed prize. I hope you find some quiet time to enjoy it.

  4. Jay Asher is an inspiration for anyone who feels like giving up. Speaking of which, if you haven't read the "Ready to Quit" thread that he started in 2006, now in Verla Kay's "Hall of Fame" section, it's a great read.

  5. Shelli -- how could you NOT love Jay. Talk about a guy you'd like to have a beer with!

    And Constance, I found him to be really inspiring, too. To have stayed so dedicated to his craft, and I'll bet with the same sense of humor he displays now, is an example to follow.

    MG and Meg--it's what it's all about isn't it? Meshing that physical plot with the emotional plot. Making sure all the threads work together. But I tell, you, I can't wait to find the emotional arc for this one idea I have. I hope it happens in time for Nanowrimo. Oooo, Did I say that?

    J.L. -- I think I'll go reread that Verla thread right now!

  6. Oh, he was in Bridgewater? I didn't even know! I could have gone.