Monday, August 22, 2016

From Page to Screen (and back again): #1 NYT Bestselling Author Jay Asher Returns and Talks Netflix

Thirteen Reasons Why Cover
It's been four years since we last spoke with author Jay Asher. At the time, his novel Thirteen Reasons Why had already spent over a year on the New York Times Bestseller's List and had been optioned by Universal Studios as a feature with Selena Gomez set to play lead, Hannah Baker. 

Fast forward to today, the novel is still going strong on the NYT Bestsellers List (over 208 weeks and counting!) and the film project has morphed into a thirteen episode miniseries (currently in production) on Netflix.  The miniseries stars newcomer Katherine Langford as Hannah, Dylan Minnette (Goosebumps) as Clay Jensen and Kate Walsh (Private Practice, Grey's Anatomy) as Hannah's mom. 

To add more power to the project, the Netflix series is executive produced by Selena Gomez with writer Brian Yorkey (co-playwright on the Pulitzer Prize winning musical Next to Normal), showrunner Diana Son (American Crime, Blue Bloods) and director Tom McCarthy (Spotlight).
Jay Asher Headshot
Jay Asher

It's been quite the whirlwind adventure for Asher who has experienced a lot of change throughout the star-studded journey, but one thing remains the same. He is still the down to earth, cool, fun guy with a "can do" attitude that I met back in 2012. 

I had a chance to chat with Asher in July and reflect on the winding path that brought him to Netflix and his new book What Light to be released October 18, 2016 by Razorbill

JP: Could you reflect on the journey that took place from optioning the book at Universal to becoming a mini series at Netflix? What were some of the most exciting times and most challenging? 

JA: We first sold the rights for a theatrical film years ago. A script was written for it, but that's as far as we got. During that time, TV took off as an exciting place for high quality and unusual storytelling. When the producers approached me about pursuing that, it just felt perfect. They wanted to go after a 13-part series, one episode per "reason", which would let us explore each issue well beyond what we could do in a two hour film. The most exciting times have been seeing the quality of people coming on board, and hearing them talk so passionately about the project. We have a Pulitzer Prize winning series creator, an Oscar winning director working on the first two episodes, and every single actor is perfect for their role. Every one! The most challenging part has been watching some of the frustrations over the years from online fans who first heard about the movie rights and have been waiting all this time. Often, I had details that would make them excited, but I couldn't reveal them yet. Thankfully, I have a strong feeling that they'll see their patience rewarded.

JP: Selena Gomez was set to play Hannah, now she is Executive Producer. Did that transition occur organically? What is one thing about the film and tv world that you found contrasted the most with the literary/publishing world?
Lead Cast Headshots
Leads Dylan Minnette & Katherine Langford

JA: Selena has been involved since the beginning. Years went by between the time we first sold the theatrical rights and this last time, so that transition to another actress did happen organically. I'm very happy that Selena is still involved as an EP. From the beginning, we shared a vision for this project, and I know that's why it maintains that vision to this day, even with all the other people brought into it. The difference from the publishing world is, in film and TV, there's so much more that needs to happen before a final product is seen. In publishing, except in extremely rare circumstances, if a publisher buys the rights to a manuscript, it will become a book. With this, there's a lot more money involved, and more people--the right people--need to sign on. And those "right people" have to be available at the right time.

JP: In our last interview, you spoke about that moment at the back of the airport shuttle on your way to a speaking gig in Georgia when you received the offer from Universal. If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself based on what you know now?

JA: I don't know if any advice would be warranted. Before we first sold the rights, I'd watched other authors go through the process. I was fairly realistic about the chances of it getting made. In fact, in the final weeks leading up to the filming for Netflix, I was still assuming something would keep it from happening. But the producers were telling me, "No, it's happening." And I'd respond, "Okay. We'll see."

Selena Gomez Headshot
Executive Producer Selena Gomez
JP: It must be exciting to see your “baby” grow but were you apprehensive to let go of the reigns? Could you describe your working relationship with writer/EP Brian Yorkey and the process that took place between author and showrunner?

JA: I'm normally a very anxious person with every aspect of publishing. My closest friends know how freaked out I get about my books coming out, and the editing, and covers... but they've all commented on my calmness over the TV series. Adapting a book is its own art, and it's exciting to watch these other incredible artists work on my story, and bringing themselves into it. I trust them all, yet I still have trouble believing all of these amazing people have come together for this book I started writing at a kitchen table in Wyoming. Many of them were fans of the book before they got hired for this job, including Brian Yorkey. The showrunner, Diana Son, is incredible. Honestly, every one of them, I'd love to hang out with outside of this project.

JP: Your new book What Light is coming out this Fall. How does the process and release of this novel compare to your previous experiences?
JA: In the nine years since my first book came out, this is only my third novel. Each, while having similar themes that connect them, have very different tones and structures. So there's a lot of anxiety about what people will think, even though I've been completely happy with how they all turned out. With all of them, even the one I co-wrote, they're exactly as I want them. Obviously, with the success of my first book, there's more interest in anything else I release. While it is exciting to see that interest, it comes with its own worries because the books are so different. But I do kind of like that each release feels just as nerve-racking and thrilling. It means I care about what I'm putting out!

JP: Between the Netflix series, your blog, new books, school visits, how do you juggle everything? What’s one thing that helps you to focus and keep writing?

What Light CoverJA: Juggle? I don't know how to juggle, physically or metaphorically. I just tackle things as they come and try not to let things slip too far off track. I travel a lot, and have never figured out a way to write while I travel. I also can't make myself write unless the idea is pounding to get out. I wish I knew how to change all of that, the juggling and writing, but in the nine years that I've been published, I'm starting to feel okay with my cluttered inconsistency.

JP: In our last interview, you spoke about the books you read and your reading process when you’re writing. Is there a book that you just finished that you would recommend?

JA: The last two YA books I read and loved, though they don't come out until later this year, were Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven and Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg.

You can find out more about Asher and his novels and adventures here.

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