Sitting in on two recording sessions for his novel, THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, changed Jay Ashers perspective on the words hed written. The first day he heard Joel Johnstone reading the part of Clay Jenkins, the novels hero. Clay is one of the characters who receives a tape from Hannah Baker, a girl he loved but couldnt save from suicide. Clays voice was just what Asher expected. But it was surreal, he says, to hear words that you wrote being read by someone whos putting emotion into them.
On the second day Asher heard Debra Wiseman perform the scene in which Hannah Baker uses lowered tones as she plays cat-and-mouse with a Peeping Tom hiding outside her window. In my mind, Id imagined Clay with a female voice, talking at the exact same tempo as Clay. My first thought was, Thats not how I meant it to be read. But as I heard more and more, I thought, Wow, shes taking it beyond how I wrote it. And I absolutely love it! (You can read about this experience at his blog: discomermaids.blogspot.com.)
This change in perspective also characterized Ashers first publishing experience. For years he had written humorous fiction for young children. Then, while listening to a King Tut audio tour in a Las Vegas casino, he thought about how the audio experience would make a fascinating focus for a book. The book idea didnt come until later when Asher was living in Wyoming for six tense, dark, icy months. I thought about how it would be to take an audio tour through a girls life after shed decided to end it and how if you got the tape, it meant you were on it--you were one of the reasons why.
Asher had never written anything eerie, serious, aimed at teens, or in a female voice. It was new territory and took me almost three years to write, partly because I was working on other things at the same time, partly because I was so tense writing the book that sometimes I couldnt even work on it.
Writing a novel so clearly destined for the audio format also changed Ashers experience of listening. Hed mostly heard nonfiction work because he could listen without having to rewind. But since his own publication, hes been converted to fiction. A recent favorite is Jerry Spinellis STAR GIRL. He found it was fascinating to hear the actors perspective, to see which words were stressed and how her impressions changed his view of the story. Reading is more intimate. You read at your own pace and can slow down to appreciate the language. But your experience becomes more real when you hear a novel read aloud.
Asher experienced another shift after speaking to high school students. I never intended to talk to teens, but since I have, Ive discovered they ask the most amazing questions. One student asked if Ive ever considered suicide. I dont think an adult would ask that kind of question. Ashers now writing his second book for young adults, convinced that its the greatest age group to write for.--Susie Wilde
DEC 07/JAN 08
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