Monday, November 19, 2018

The Twelve Notes of Christmas

The story in my third novel begins on the Monday before Thanksgiving. That's today!

In Hungary, there's a special edition being released this year that includes a note from me. The words are essentially what I wrote for the review copies that went out in the U.S.

Dear Reader, 
Since the debut of my first novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, the themes of hope and forgiveness have been at the center of my interactions with teens. Many have told me they finally felt understood within the pages of that book, even if it could never reflect all parts of their lives. Others, while they could appreciate the book, didn't see it as a reflection of their experiences. A novel about their lives, sadly, would not be hailed as "a brave, honest look at the teen years." So, after a book tour that had me speaking to such a variety of students in all fifty states in the U.S., I felt drawn to explore hope and forgiveness again, but in a new way. 
The story of What Light has been glowing in my mind for a long time. I read a newspaper profile about a family with a Christmas tree farm in Oregon. Every year, they hauled the trees south and sold them on a lot where I live in California. The part of their story that stood out most concerned their children. When not selling trees, they attended a nearby public school or hung out with friends. When the holiday was over, the whole family went back home. Two sets of friends? A defined timeline? There had to be a story there! But it would take about a dozen years before I found it. 
I continuously brainstormed and took notes even after I began work on Thirteen Reasons Why. That book describes the suicide of someone who lost hope in the future and was unable to forgive the past, though hope and forgiveness are found by someone left behind. If I were to address those themes a second time, I wanted to bookend them in an uplifting story about love. 
I looked closer at my notes for What Light and saw that potential. It would let me revisit many similar issues, but through different lenses. Love rather than hurt. Overcoming rather than succumbing. Forgiveness--especially the forgiveness of self--rather than guilt. 
I wrote this book for the teens I've met who've had too many dark days but hold on to hope that things can get better. And I wrote it for the teens I've met who have mostly good days but who still encounter sadness and difficult decisions. 
It is a story I've wanted to share for a long time: What Light. 
With gratitude, 
Jay Asher

This edition will also include a dozen sticky-notes throughout the book, annotating certain passages. I thought I'd share those notes with the rest of you! Below, you'll see the chapter, page number (U.S. edition), and corresponding text (when appropriate), and my notes.

CHAPTER 2 (beginning)
NOTE: Chapters 1 and 2 were originally switched, but it felt stronger to meet Sierra while surrounded by her friends. 
CHAPTER 5 (page 36): Andrew, in a tattered Bulldogs baseball cap, walks by me with a watering hose draped over his shoulder.
NOTE: I told students at a middle school that I would mention their mascot in a future book. Go Bulldogs! 
CHAPTER 5 (page 41): The oldest lady, with a long gray braid, holds up a poster featuring a garbage truck strung with Christmas lights.
NOTE: My young son loved garbage trucks, so I told him I would mention one in this story. 
CHAPTER 7 (page 60): With his arms buried into the top half of a tree, Mr. Hopper leads a customer into the parking lot.
NOTE: Mr. Hopper is the man whose Christmas tree lot inspired What Light
CHAPTER 9 (page 90): “After we brought my tree to the hospital, Dad gave me that inch-thick slice he’d cut from the base. I took it to my room and painted a Christmas tree on one side of it, and I still have it propped on my dresser at home.”
NOTE: I still have these pieces of wood from the first Christmas trees after my wedding and the birth of my son. 
CHAPTER 10 (page 94): Mrs. Trujillo looks ready to wrap me in a hug but sees that my hands are fairly occupied.
NOTE: Mrs. Trujillo is based on someone in my extended family who was born in Mexico. Christmas always reminds me of her warm, excited, loving personality. 
CHAPTER 12 (page 126): “People think what they want. That’s what I’ve had to accept,” he says. “I can fight it, but that’s exhausting. I can feel hurt about it, but that’s torture. Or I can decide it’s their loss.”
NOTE: My favorite paragraph in the book. 
CHAPTER 14 (page 138): What draws some people into the store who would otherwise walk by is the candle-making in the front window.
NOTE: Watching someone make candles at Christmas time was something I did with the first girl I liked in high school. 
CHAPTER 19 (page 199): “You’d better be sorry,” I say. “That wasn’t romantic at all!”
NOTE: This shocking experience, with the trampoline and motion sensor light, happened to me. 
CHAPTER 19 (page 205): At the top of the envelope is a red heart drawn around Elizabeth Campbell in the return address.
NOTE: I found “Elizabeth Campbell” in the same cemetery where J.K. Rowling got some of her character names. 
CHAPTER 22 (page 232): “…It’s kind of like Linus’s big speech in A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
NOTE: I love A Charlie Brown Christmas, so I had to mention it in my Christmas book. 
CHAPTER 24 (beginning)
NOTE: This book has 24 chapters so you can begin reading on December 1st and, if you read one chapter a day, finish on Christmas Eve.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Friday, September 21, 2018

2018 Concerts...So Far

Whenever I attend a live music event, I kick myself for not attending more. So this is my public commitment to attend more concerts, big or small!

The latest show I attended, I arrived in time to see Johnnyswim, an incredible husband and wife duo. For their last song, they grabbed a guitar and microphone and brought the show right up to the lawn seats.

The main act was Needtobreathe, a band I've listened to a ton this past year. Their musicianship is incredible, and was matched by the best visual presentation I've seen at a concert.

The previous week, I attended a much smaller show at a smaller venue. My ex-wife, JoanMarie, performed covers and originals, and the place was packed with old friends and new.

The week before, I attended my friend Trey Pearson's show on his very moving Safe Space tour.

The hat I'm wearing above was purchased at the previous week's show, where JoanMarie and I celebrated the good times of our marriage by going to see Willie Nelson. First to take the stage, of course, was his iconic guitar, Trigger.

Then came the living icon himself.

Before that, I got to see a band I'd only heard about three days prior while on a research trip to New York. When I flew back home, I found out this band were playing my hometown in a matter of hours!

Blue October quickly rose up high on my Absolute Favorite Bands list, as well as my Favorite Live Acts list. Their recent hit, I Hope You're Happy, will forever hold an extremely special place in my heart.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018


If you’re interested in the truth, here it is:
  • Contrary to what’s been printed, I have not been accused of sexual harassment.
  • I did not harass anyone, sexually or otherwise.
  • There was no investigation by the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.
  • I am guilty of infidelity, an offense within my marriage.
  • While my story has stayed consistent for a decade, those attacking me have changed their story multiple times within the past year.
This is not about retaliation, it is about getting the truth told.

While the following is not the systemic harassment our culture is finally addressing, that movement is too crucial to allow its integrity to be abused by those seeking vengeance. I will not stay silent, allowing my work—and those empowered by its message—to be devastated by the very things I spoke against, including the ruinous effects of believing and spreading rumors.
As I have never been a vengeful person, I’ll use a pseudonym for the person behind these attacks, which began two years before I was published. As a longtime, trusted friend, “Allie” knew I hated the taste of alcohol and rarely drank. Afterhours at the 2005 SCBWl conference, while socializing with a group of friends, she bought me drink after drink, saying I would barely taste the alcohol. She was right, and because I trusted those around me, I let myself get intoxicated. Until later that night, I’d never been unfaithful to my wife, as I told Allie the next day. She admitted it was not her first time being unfaithful to her husband, adding, “Why do you think I bought you those drinks?
When I returned home, my wife knew something was wrong. Ashamed and confused, I denied anything happened, but I instantly became a distant husband. Regrettably, my actions from that point on determined the fate of our marriage. Friends have advised that if I ever spoke about this, I shouldn’t say it began when a woman coerced me with alcohol because it doesn’t fit believable gender stereotypes (or biologic fiction about men and alcohol). But those stereotypes must no longer be accepted as truth. Had I challenged those stereotypes then, and not allowed the shame to silence me, maybe I could’ve saved my marriage.
Eventually, I spoke to counselors and close friends about how this started. My mental health and behavior began to improve once I acknowledged the effects of sexual coercion. Opening up about this earlier would have changed so much, and that is something I address (without specifics) in many of my talks.
When Allie learned I went on to have other affairs—that I wasn’t only unfaithful with her—more than a decade of harassment began. (Accepting my responsibility, I apologized to anyone who felt hurt when relationships ended, though they were entered into willingly and despite marriages. Now, I realize that the only person who deserved my apology was my wife.) Allie spent the next ten years contacting my female friends, fishing for information. She spread lies about me and the women she suspected were more than friends. In August 2015, when I learned she was still spreading rumors, I sent her the following email:

[Y]ou said you intentionally gave ME more and more drinks that first night because you wanted to see what could happen between us. I didn't think of you that way until then. And that's the part that always hurt the most. You came after me but you let others call me a pursuer.

Finally, in March 2017, the day before my Netflix show debuted, she sent me an email that had me hoping the harassment was finally over:

I should've written sooner. Breathe, relax and enjoy this big moment. Please know that I have no hard feelings. I forgive you. Some things have come to light and I've realized that I have caused pain--not just to you, but several others. It's very painful to see yourself as someone you're not proud of. But please don't beat yourself up over any of this stuff anymore. I know now how hard it is to pick up pieces and change. I'm on a new path...
With love,

But, nineteen days later, SCBWI received an Anonymous Email exposing my infidelity. It claimed to be endorsed by seven anonymous people. Their concern? That their choice to be unfaithful didn’t end well:

While we do realize that we played a role in our relationships with him and that we are responsible as well, the affairs have caused much emotional turmoil and distress…

The Email contained one line insinuating harassment, in regards to them confronting me about unfaithful behavior:

Several of us confronted him on his behavior and were threatened and intimidated into silence.

I have never threatened or intimidated anyone into anything. [Two months later, I learned that Allie coordinated the Anonymous Email. I immediately sent her an email telling her to never contact me again, adding, “The only thing I've ever said is that if people keep slamming my name while protecting theirs, I won't shield their names anymore. My so-called threat was to say I would stop protecting their anonymity if they continued to disparage me. Oddly, after I told her to not contact me, she emailed my friend and threatened that if I ever came after her (Allie), there would be pushback from her friends.]
When SCBWI received the Anonymous Email, I hadn’t been to their national conference in years. I told the executive director, Lin Oliver, that I needed this painful and exhausting ten years of harassment to end. I told her to respond that I won’t attend their events anymore. Instead, she told them I wouldn’t speak at their events. Then she emailed my agent, saying it should be “just a break for some breathing room… XO Lin”.
But not speaking at events didn’t satisfy them, and they sent another Anonymous Email:

To give you one example of how he abused his influence with SCBWI, years ago at the conference he was approached by one of the women he had an affair with but instead of dealing with the situation he claimed the woman was a stalker…

First, I did not have an affair with the person mentioned. But the stunning omission is, at that conference, Allie told me that person was stalking me and four other people said the same thing. I was told that if I didn’t report her, they would, and two of them went with me to report her. SCBWI asked if I felt safe dealing with that person myself, and I did. SCBWI never approached her.
After that second Email, I told Lin to respond as I had previously asked, saying I wouldn’t attend their events. [In 2018, Lin would tell the Associated Press that she investigated harassment claims (her lawyer emphasizes that she did not say sexual harassment) and, as a result, I won’t be attending future events. In truth, I volunteered to not attend after the first Anonymous Email, an email Lin called “sour grapes.” But she didn’t accept my offer until the second Email—about me reporting someone for stalking. Her statement, then, only approaches truth if I was punished for reporting harassment.]
While Lin’s new response appeared to satisfy them, one of the women (“Nicole”) sent SCBWI a non-anonymous email in the summer of 2017:

I never felt threatened or harassed by him… [T]hough I agreed to the letter, I felt troubled by some of the wording, and I certainly never wanted him banned from speaking at events.

Why did Nicole have a change of heart? To get her involved, Allie told her she wanted nothing to do with me and was terrified of me. Nicole realized she’d been manipulated when I showed her Allie’s 2017 “I have caused pain / new path / with love” email, plus these from 2015:
  • You walked past me at Starbucks. You may not have seen me--I'm blonde again. Or you didn't want to talk. I suppose we could say hello when we run into each other. But if you're uncomfortable with that, I understand.
  • We could just communicate through song lyrics. Like Selena and Justin do. Haha [this links to Adele’s “Hello”] 

Eventually, because I chose to not attend SCBWI events, I let my membership lapse. Lin noticed this, and on a call to my agent, recommended that I keep it active. So, in August 2017, I renewed my membership. [In 2018, Lin would tell Buzzfeed, “After we investigated, we felt that terminating his membership was the proper course of action.” That was the first I’d heard of it.]
In December 2017, Allie sent Lin an email under her own name. This time, she also referenced other people by name and description. If there was an investigation, Lin would have responded to Allie with questions. Or contacted the people referenced. Or contacted Nicole, who sent her an email months earlier. None of that happened. As well, Allie’s new email contradicted the Anonymous Email. Originally, regarding other people she suspected, she wrote:

…but we did not feel comfortable approaching them about this letter.

Now, after reminding Lin about those other people, she sunk even lower:

…but they were too scared of him to attach their name to the letter, even anonymously.

The timing of Lin’s statements to reporters is telling. Again, Allie emailed her in December 2017. But Lin didn’t respond until February 12, 2018, precisely as she was being criticized online for being soft on harassment. She must have sensed this opportunity to look strong, and she thanked Allie for it:

Now that you have come forward with your name, I can go public with that informationThanks for being brave through this, and for writing all the letters, but especially this last one.

The very day Lin responded to Allie, she gave her untrue statements to the press. Immediately, my career nosedived. Every speaking engagement got canceled. Teachers encouraged each other to pull my book—a story about harassment and the devastating effects of rumors—justified, some felt, because Lin “vetted” the allegations. Two offers to turn my second book into a TV series were withdrawn. Two original screenplays were pulled from submission. Authors threatened to leave my agency if I wasn’t dropped. My agent, crying on the phone, gave in to the pressure (I can’t blame her). My publisher felt pressured to say they had no new book coming out by me, and Netflix felt pressured to say I wasn’t involved with season two.
So, why did Allie jump from her “new path” to her old ways in just nineteen days? In that time, my publisher announced I’d written a book with one of the people Allie spread rumors about. Years earlier, my co-author was even confronted at an SCBWI conference by a woman she didn’t know who said, “Stay away from Jay Asher.
After Lin’s statements, my co-author emailed SCBWI. She discussed the warning to stay away, the harassing texts she’d seen on my phone, how Allie—whom she didn’t know—began following her online the month our book came out, the rumors Allie spread about her, and the polygraph test I took (and passed) so my friends and family felt safe supporting me. But Lin had publicly staked a position and dismissed my co-author’s experience because the “facts that you present are clearly not the facts and documentation as I know them.
Let me correct the additional rumors I’ve heard.
First, relationships that began at writing events began before I was published.
Second, after Lin’s statement, people scrambled to be part of the scandal. One author, with obvious implication, said I sent her a private message even though I barely knew her. She neglected to say it was a bookstore photo of me with her new book, something I send to many authors—male and female, debut and established—if the premise intrigues me. Another person said I must have been grooming her when I told her I could connect her with producers. She neglected to say she’s a writing coach working with a mother/daughter team on a memoir about their escape from abuse, and that I did pitch it to my producer. It was the only time I offered to do that for anyone, and I did so because of the importance of the project. Oddly, she did admit I “never made a move” on her. Then there’s Allie’s friend, who rants about me online, enhancing the already fantastic claims of the Anonymous Email (for example, more than doubling its already made-up number). She neglects to say she knew about Allie sexually coercing me, encouraged Allie’s extramarital pursuits (before and after me), and sent me gaslighting texts for years (recent examples: “[Nicole] led the campaign about having you removed from SCBWI,” and “I’m glad you know now that this wasn’t Allie’s doing”). But documents from her also admit “What you did was not harassment,” and Allie “used me for [her] own affairs.”
Third, some people have cruelly said I only raise awareness about harassment and privilege for attention and money. Absolutely not. For example, noticing I was set to speak at a book festival featuring only male keynotes, I privately told the organizers to give my spot to a female author. But a sponsor was only donating money due to my talk, so I offered to speak for free if a female keynote was added. They did so, paid us both, and said they would be mindful of this bias toward male authors in the future (I’ve watched, and they’ve been true to their word).
+ + +
Months ago, I sent a 10,000-word document to a reporter at a major newspaper. She said my notes, emails, texts, testimonies, and polygraph showed an absolutely different story than SCBWI’s statements (which they had reported). She spoke to her editor to see if they could pursue this, but was told they couldn’t spare the resources. Another reporter reviewed the document and made the same request of her editor, and I got the same result. It’s been frustrating to have other outlets repeat Lin’s statements but react with silence when shown contrary evidence. And that was after months of corresponding with SCBWI’s lawyers to get a retraction. In the end—after viewing emails, texts, and more that I’ve shared here—SCBWI offered to say no more if I agreed to not sue over what was already said.
+ + +
I made horrible decisions in my personal life that tore apart my marriage. While those actions are indefensible, consensual affairs are not synonymous with harassment. Thankfully, my ex-wife and I remain friends and collaborate beautifully on raising our child.
Finally, some of you did reach out privately (friends, authors, librarians, teachers), but expressed fear of supporting me publicly. I understand that fear and am eternally grateful for your compassion. Thinking about my son, your words, and concern for my readers, truly saved me during a very dark time.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Happy Easter!

The following is my annual Easter re-post.

Every so often, a reader tells me their impression of something I wrote in a way that deepens my own understanding of my own words. Someone in Florida once told me how a decision one of my characters made helped her illustrate a sentiment she'd been trying to get across to her friends.

Here's what she told me:

In the past, I've had to help friends realize that life goes on even after you've made a poor decision. Not because you move on or get over it, but because you grow as a result of it. You build something new, something with a higher purpose, using what you've learned as one of your bricks.

When I read that, my heart leapt! Since there was no way I could say it any better, I immediately knew I'd be using her words in future speeches...and blog posts.

So what does this have to do with Easter?

One of the most beautiful ideas surrounding this holiday is that we're all given an opportunity to make corrections if we find ourselves traveling down a road we don't want to - or shouldn't - be on. In fact, we're given this opportunity to change every day. Every second! But sometimes we need a calendar to remind us.

Refresh. Repair. Rebirth. Whatever you want to call it...

Renewal is a wonderful blessing!

Easter 2018

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Note to My Readers, Friends, and Colleagues

One of the greatest benefits of writing Thirteen Reasons Why is the platform it gave me to speak out against bullying and stand up for victims of harassment. This is why recent allegations against me have hurt so much, and I want you to know the truth.

While I was married, I had consensual affairs with a number of women that did not end positively and I apologized for my part in the distress. The affairs were selfish, hurtful, and deeply damaged my family. I confessed this to my wife years ago, have been in counseling, and can never apologize enough to my family for the pain I caused.

But no part of this was harassment. I did not touch anyone without their permission, never offered or hinted at professional quid pro quo, and did not retaliate in any way after the affairs ended.

Last year, in an anonymous email to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, some of the women disclosed my affairs. They acknowledged their responsibility, saying: “We do realize that we played a role in our relationships with him and that we are responsible as well.”

To avoid uncomfortable situations with those behind the email, I suggested to SCBWI that I not attend their conferences—even though all extramarital relationships that began at their events began before I was published. The executive director responded via email that this should be “just a break for some breathing room.” Months later, she noticed I let my membership lapse and advised me to renew it, so I did.

I will continue to work on improving myself as a person so that my message against harassment will not be hindered, and for my family most of all.

Thank you for reading this.

— Jay Asher