'The Future of Us': Authors Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler talk time travel, 90's pop culture

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Last week, we debuted the trailer for Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler’s upcoming time travel novel The Future of Us (out Nov. 21), which centers on an ingenious premise that combines 90’s nostalgia with Facebook. This superstar YA duo took a moment to chat with EW about their highly anticipated book.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you two come to join forces?
MACKLER: I was on a panel of teen novelists at the New York Public Library and someone in the audience asked what my dream project would be. In that second it hit me. “I want to write a collaborative novel,” I said. I was a big fan of Jay’s first novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, so I sent him an email and wrote, “Are you up for a semi-crazy idea?”
ASHER: I offered a quote for Carolyn’s last novel, Tangled, but other than that we didn’t personally know each other. Carolyn had been one of my favorite authors for years, so when she accepted my friend request on Facebook a few years ago, that was huge! I had no idea she’d want to co-author a book with me one day.

Where did this great idea come from?
MACKLER: Jay and I started our collaboration by having brainstorming phone calls. We were shooting random ideas around and I told him how, when I was in high school, my dad said to me, “Isn’t it strange that your future husband is out there somewhere in the world, just living his life?” Jay and I started wondering what would happen if, when you were a teenager, you could see who that future spouse was?
ASHER: When we decided to let Josh and Emma see their futures on Facebook, we thought it’d be more fun to set the book in 1996, before anyone had heard of social networking. It allowed us to explore the bizarreness that is Facebook — the massive number of friends, the compulsive sharing.

What’s something pop-culture-related that you miss about the 90’s?
ASHER: I miss videogames where the jump-kick was the trickiest combo to master. I miss the newness of Magic Eye posters, which really are amazing. They were so frustrating until I finally learned to see the 3-D images (“Oh, so it isn’t a worldwide prank against me!”). But I mostly miss TV shows that were innocently cheesy rather than ironically cheesy. I miss that kind of cheese!
MACKLER: I miss baggy overalls. I miss Snapple seeming like a novelty drink. I miss the flashing light on an answering machine. I miss CDs. I miss listening to a whole album, even the lame songs that sometimes grow on you.

How did you put yourselves back in the 90’s?
ASHER: Teens in the 90’s had the same basic desires as they do now. In that way, it felt the same as writing one of our previous novels, which have all been contemporary. This time, we just spiced things up with a Discman here and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air there.
MACKLER: And a special thanks to random Google searches, Wikipedia, and friends who chimed in with fodder. One of my friends even loaned me his clunky old laptop from the mid-90’s!

Do you think your readers will understand your references? Is it important for young people to remember a time when technology/social media wasn’t such a big part of our lives?
ASHER: We approached this novel the same way we would’ve approached a dystopian or Civil War or fantasy novel set in worlds much more different than the mid-90’s. In all of those examples, references need to be understood within the context of the story. If that’s done, there’s no reason readers won’t be able to get lost in the story.
MACKLER: 1996 felt like a perfect era to capture because we were on the cusp of having technology and social media dominate our lives, so we could add humor that I think everyone – teens included – will appreciate. It was funny to write about someone squealing as they receive their first Instant Message, or thinking it would be a long-shot to get a cell phone.

How was it taking on time travel? I imagine it’s tricky. Did figuring out all the logistics ever give you a headache?
ASHER: It was fun to brainstorm the logistics with Carolyn because what we were talking about was impossible. And yet we needed to come to agreements about what makes the most sense in order for both of us to write coherently about it.
MACKLER: Headaches, no. Debates, yes. We went around and around about a few specific issues, especially whether our characters would have new children every time they looked at their future selves on Facebook. We were still arguing that one after we turned in the final draft!

Read more:
See the trailer for ‘The Future of Us’ by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler — EXCLUSIVE
Thirteen Reasons Why’ author Jay Asher responds to controversial anti-YA article: ‘I got very upset’
Why teen-suicide novel ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ is saving lives: An interview with Jay Asher

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