If Netflix had to explain how its TV series “13 Reasons Why” became a hit, the entertainment giant would have to credit author Jay Asher, who will appear Saturday at the Charles M. Schulz Museum.
He’s known for writing the novel “Thirteen Reasons Why” in 2007 — the tragic story of teenager Hannah Baker who committed suicide and left behind a box of cassette tapes revealing different events and people she blames for her decision to end her life.
“Maybe one day we’ll get to a point where books like this don’t feel as necessary,” said Asher in an email interview. “I’ll be happy about that.”
The show was filmed partly at Analy High School in Sebastopol last year and returned this June to include scenes for the second season.
Both the series and book have connected with the public, and Asher believes this wouldn’t have happened if the issues weren’t so taboo.
Free with admission, tickets for Saturday’s 2 p.m. event will be available starting at 10 a.m. on a first-come, first-served basis.
Asher said that when it’s uncomfortable talking about certain realities, fiction can be a less threatening way to approach them.
Even though he was invited to play a bigger role in the television series, the author decided to be more of a consultant, trusting the passion and heart of the show’s producers and creator Brian Yorkey.
It was important for them to feel equal ownership of the characters and story, and to know he trusted their vision, Asher said. He was asked about being part of the cast but declined.
“That’s an entirely different creative skill than what I have, which they’re proven to excel at,” said Asher.
With the events of his book being the end of season one, many have speculated whether a continuation of the story is necessary. When asked about how much of the show takes place at the high school in season two, Asher could not make any comments.
It’s difficult to know where the boundaries rest since the internet is full of spoilers. He’s not alone in keeping the secrets hidden, as actors and screenwriters who share revealing posts usually have them taken down within minutes.
The series attracted a surge of debate over its graphic depictions. Asher supposes that controversy never happens when people are allowed to stay comfortable, which is the last thing anyone should feel when viewing those scenes.
He concluded by saying that these things happen, and need to be depicted as horribly as they are so there is no way to sanitize them. While the issue of suicide in the story is seen as a warning, there are some who wonder if it also provokes imitation.
Asher commented that when the book came out, people told him he should have handled it differently. Similarly, when the series came out, they said it should have been handled like the book.
“The common denominator? No one wants to talk about suicide,” said Asher.
Nearly each day, for 10 years, he has heard teens say Hannah’s story made them feel understood for the first time. She gave them a voice and inspiration to reach out for help, something no one will do if they think others won’t understand.
It’s important for teens to know adults will listen, and Asher recalled a recent event where a girl cried as she asked for his take on the controversy.
BOOKSHELF AUTHOR SERIES: JAY ASHER
When: 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2
Where: Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, Santa Rosa
Admission: $12 for adults, $8 for seniors 62 or over with ID and $5 for children 4 to 18 or college students with ID. Free for museum members and children 3 or under