The bestselling author of 13 Reasons Why, Jay Asher, has a new book! What Light tells the story of Sierra, a girl whose family operates a Christmas tree farm in Oregon. It’s a modern and romantic holiday story that drives home the power of forgiveness. It made us cheer for love and think about what we love most abut the holidays. So, of course, we reached out to Jay to chat about the holiday he loves enough to write a book around…
What inspired What Light?
The inspiration was an article in a local newspaper. There’s a family that runs and lives on a huge Christmas tree farm 17 hours north of where I live, but from Thanksgiving through Christmas, they sell their trees on a lot down here, living out of a camper. The newspaper also described how that worked with their children. When they were younger, they attended a local elementary school during the weeks before winter break, so they had friends both here and at home, with one set of friends based around the holidays. I knew there was a story there!
What is your favorite quality in Sierra? How about Caleb?
Sierra has a strong sense of who she is. I believe that quality then allows her to honestly see other people. Caleb, while he still holds a lot of guilt and hurt from his past, has chosen to use his energy to help others.
How is this book different from Thirteen Reason Why? And how is it the same?
It’s a love story versus the tale of someone losing hope, so the tone is very different. But they both deal with rumors that shape how others see us, which then affect how people treat us. About halfway through working on What Light, I began to view the stories as literary bookends. They show similar ideas from opposite perspectives. As opposed to a cautionary tale about the dangers of not being there for others, or not letting others help us, What Light is an uplifting tale about the beauty and power in believing in yourself and others.
Who did you write this book for?
A lot of authors say they only write for themselves, or that they write without thinking of a specific audience. I can’t do that! If I truly wrote for myself, I’d jot down a few notes and call it done. And while I absolutely think adults will love this book, I had teen readers in mind the entire time I wrote it.
You have great book covers! Of all your covers, which is your favorite, and why?
Thank you! I have been very lucky with the people who work on my covers. I suppose I get the most personal satisfaction out of the What Light cover because it was my idea to add the colored light flashes over the image of the girl. I think everything about that cover is beautiful and perfect!
Quick Questions Time!
Describe What Light in three words.
Chocolate. Peppermint. Evergreens.
Your favorite thing about Christmas?
As a dad, my favorite thing is going out to pick our Christmas tree. We alternate between the tree lot that inspired What Light and a local farm where you cut down your own tree. We let our son pick out the tree, and thankfully he has great aesthetic taste. I still have trouble slowing down enough to fully enjoy the process of putting on the lights and ornaments, but picking out the tree can take as long as it needs and I’ll love it.
The best Christmas gift you ever received?
The one that always jumps to mind when I imagine how much fun I had immediately after opening a present was a toy I got in the early 80s. It was this white plastic rifle that shot a flash of light and you tried to hit this little lens on a base that held five gray plastic rockets. If the light hit the lens, one of the rockets would pop off the base. I have such a clear memory of leaning over the back of our living room couch, firing at the base that was set in front of the Christmas tree. All my cousins were still there and playing with their new toys.
Favorite holiday-themed movie/TV show?
I have to watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation every year. This year, in fact, I finally bought that Walley World moose mug that they use to drink their egg nog. I can’t wait to finally use it myself! But A Charlie Brown Christmas holds a very special place in my heart. I even mention it in What Light.
Big gifts or quiet moments?
I’m a gift-giver! That’s one of my “love languages.” But I prefer to give and receive little gifts with a lot of thought behind them.
It’s not Christmas without . . .
Traditions. I love both mass culture traditions, where you know a lot of people are celebrating in a similar way, as well as the more personal traditions. For many people, there are certain books they can’t go through Christmas without, and it makes me so happy to think What Light may be that book for someone.
It will be we’re sure! Thanks, Jay!