Once upon a time, way back in 2012, 13 Reasons Why author Jay Asher and his friend Carolyn Mackler wrote a book together called The Future of Us. Now, the pair is reuniting in an exclusive conversation for EW on the eve of Mackler’s new book, The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I — the sequel to her 2003 YA hit, The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things.
This sequel, which takes place six months after the end of the first book, sees our heroine Virginia Shreve realizing that her happy ending might not be so happy after all. Her relationship with Froggy Welsh is stagnant, her mother has betrayed her, her sister is on her way back from the Peace Corps, and her brother Byron — who got suspended from Columbia for date rape — gets arrested. And when Virginia meets Sebastian, who has his own issues and secrets, everything gets complicated even further.
As it turns out, writing a sequel to a book that’s over a decade old comes with an interesting set of problems: Back in the early aughts, not everyone had a cell phone, and companies like Netflix hadn’t yet come around to transform the way we watch TV. So Mackler got permission to crawl back into her earlier book and make a few tweaks.
Listen to her explain it in the conversation with Asher below, where EW also reveals the cover for The Universe Is Expanding — and the updated cover for The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things.
The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I hits shelves May 29, 2018.
Jay Asher Interviews Carolyn Mackler
JAY ASHER: Did I ever tell you that I’d read more books by you — even before I knew you — than any other author? It’s true. The first one I read was The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things. And look where that led us!
CAROLYN MACKLER: To this interview right now?
ASHER: Exactly! And to co-writing The Future of Us. (Actually, that’s what I really meant.) So I was excited to hear that you modernized The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things and, after fifteen years, you chose to write a sequel to Virginia’s story. Tell me about that, yo.
MACKLER: Did you just say yo?
ASHER: I sure did, yo! Seriously, first tell me about the new book, The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I, which is an equally awesome title to its counterpart.
MACKLER: A few years ago, an idea came to me about Virginia Shreves. I knew it would take place the summer after her brother was kicked out of college. I knew there would be an arrest and I knew that Virginia would fall in love with the one person she should totally stay away from. For a long time, I kept telling myself no, I can’t write it, that book ended and was over. But Virginia and her new story kept coming back to me until I could no longer resist.
ASHER: How do you even go about writing a sequel after so many years?
MACKLER: I actually didn’t let myself read The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things until I was done with the first draft of The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I. I wanted the story to feel fresh and like a novel all its own. So I took that leap and trusted that if I created Virginia’s voice once, I could do it again.
ASHER: What about modernizing The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things? I don’t want you to get in trouble over this, so did you consult… someone… to see if authors are allowed to do that? I mean, I do think it’s kind of cool.
MACKLER: Yeah I could do it… because we make the rules, right?
ASHER: Well, that is what fiction writers do.
MACKLER: Truth be told, my publisher, Bloomsbury, looked into the legal aspects and gave me clearance to modernize. When Bloomsbury acquired the rights to The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, the first thing I said was that I wanted to update that book so it would flow naturally into The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I. For example, in the new book, Virginia has a phone. So I went back into the original book and put a phone in her hands now and then. I also switched out some teen magazines that have folded in the past decade and a half, gave her Netflix, cut the references to Hostess Cupcakes because it turns out no one eats them anymore. Important stuff like that. I didn’t change anything big or plotty or structural.
ASHER: Now I want a Hostess Cupcake! So I love the covers of both books and the way they work together.
MACKLER: Thanks. I do too. Bloomsbury did an amazing job with them — all the splashy colors and circles! I can’t wait to see them out in the world.
ASHER: Of course, now that you’ve written a sequel, you need a prequel. But set it way back in time. Maybe Virginia’s ancestor is sailing with Columbus, hoping they don’t fall off the world when they reach the horizon. I even have a title! Ready for this? The Earth, My Chest, and Other Very Flat Things.
MACKLER: I seriously don’t even know how to answer that.
ASHER: Maybe… yo?