You may have heard of my next guest, the New York Times bestselling author, Jay Asher. He's best known for his YA novel, Thirteen Reasons Why but did you know he's a huge fan of Hallmark Christmas movies and sweet Christmas love stories? His first Christmas tale, another YA title, What Light, came out in 2017. I have fond memories of reading an ARC of What Light on an Amtrak train on the way home from BookExpo America 2016. (I also have fond memories of reading Thirteen Reasons Why in preparation for meeting Jay for a critique of the first ten pages of my then WIP, Dream Girl at a local writers conference.) So, when I discovered that Jay just released a new Christmas story, Christmas in July, I figured it'd be a great time to catch up with him and find out the story behind the new story!
Get in the mood by listening to the Christmas single, Under the Mistletoe, written specifically for this book! (You'll find out more about that below.)
SJ: You’ve written novels, a graphic novel, and now a screenplay. Which format is the most challenging for you to write and how do you decide which format to use for each story?
JA: Screenplays, which are mostly story and dialogue, are the most enjoyable for me to write. Piper, my graphic novel, was originally a screenplay. My co-author and I were told it’s easier to sell a script with source material, and since we were both already published authors, we decided to release it as a book first. The story’s visual possibilities always excited us, so we pitched it as a graphic novel. With Christmas in July, it’s about two actors filming a movie. Because the story was somewhat meta to begin with, I decided to let readers experience it that way, too.
SJ: This is your second published Christmas story. What are some of your favorite things about Christmas?
JA: From the secular to the spiritual, it’s all beautiful. I love the music, the decorations we put up around town and in our homes, the seasonal smells…everything! My son will be nine years old this Christmas, and experiencing it with him magnifies absolutely everything.
SJ: You’re best known for writing YA, but Christmas in July features characters in their 30s. Does this mark a shift in the audience you plan to write for or do you just take each story idea as it comes?
JA: I take each idea as it comes. Before Piper, Jessica Freeburg and I wrote a comedy script about parents in their early forties. Before I became known for teen novels, I was trying to publish books for young children. Right now, Jessica and I are working on another script about people living in a convalescent home.
SJ: Did you have an interest/background in screenwriting before Thirteen Reasons Why was filmed? Either way, how did going through the filming process influence Christmas in July?
JA: Christmas in July was more influenced by What Light, my third novel, which also takes place during the winter holidays. While writing that, I set Pandora to play country Christmas music and eventually the idea for Christmas in July fell out of Santa’s sleigh and I ran with it. I took a two-week break from the novel and wrote a first draft of the screenplay. That was shortly before Thirteen Reasons Why began filming.
SJ: How did you arrive at the concept for Christmas in July? Was it the plot that came to you first? A character?
JA: I love the annual onslaught of Hallmark Christmas movies and wanted to write something like that for a long time. I started to wonder if any actors ever fell in love while filming those romances. From there, the story and characters snowballed rapidly.
SJ: You mentioned that you listened to non-stop country Christmas tunes to stay inspired for writing your holiday books. For me, this begs a couple questions. 1) What are you favorite Christmas songs? 2) Do you listen to Christmas music all year round?
JA: 1) I love the simple sincerity of “The Little Drummer Boy,” but “O Holy Night” is the most emotionally and spiritually powerful song for me. In Christmas in July, actually, one of the characters writes a new Christmas song. My ex-wife is a songwriter and I asked her to write one for the script. “Under the Mistletoe” turned out perfect! Last year, I had a musician friend (Trey Pearson) record it and I gave it to my ex-wife as a gift. This year, you’ll be able to buy it as a single. Trey and JoanMarie keep all the royalties, so hopefully it will be a gift that keeps on giving. 2) I don’t listen to Christmas music as much when it’s not the holiday season, but there are sporadic off-season times it can be heard in my house…when no else one is around.
SJ: Since this is written as a screenplay, what is your favorite Christmas movie?
JA: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is my absolute favorite. I watch it every year at home and I try to see it whenever it plays in the theater. Elf is my second favorite, and then A Christmas Story. I’ve been able to visit Ralphie’s home—where they filmed those scenes—twice. It’s a museum now! Across the street, another house has been converted into a gift shop dedicated to Christmas movies. That’s where I bought a replica of the moose mug used in Christmas Vacation, and I drink eggnog from it every year.
SJ: Are there currently any plans for Christmas in July to hit the stage or screen?
JA: There has been interest, so let’s hope it happens!
SJ: Without giving too much away, what was your favorite scene to write in the book and what made it special to you?
JA: There’s a scene in a hotel restaurant that I love for a couple of reasons. I enjoy the humor and sentimentality between Amanda and Cole while they eat ice cream. The scene also includes a subtle joke that was recommended by a friend, and I’m not sure how I missed including it myself! I love collaborating, so every time I get to that joke it makes me smile.
SJ: The book features Amanda, an actress, and Cole, a country music star. What made you come up with those two entertainment careers for the heroes of the story?
JA: I needed one of the characters to have been an actor for many years. As with a lot of the female leads in Hallmark Christmas movies, Amanda is best known for her role on a TV series when she was younger. I wanted the other character to be from another field, and Amanda is initially offended that Cole thinks he can act just because he filmed some music videos. I probably chose country music as Cole’s genre because that’s what I listened to when the idea came to me. It felt right, though, so I kept it.
SJ: Christmas in July is a new release, but are you working on any new projects you can tell us about?
JA: I always work on several projects at once. I’m working on a biographic screenplay, a non-fiction book, a horror screenplay, an adult romance novel, a play…
Thank you so much, Jay!