In 1996, when two teens log onto the Internet and find themselves on Facebook 15 years later, they get a glimpse of what life has in store for them. This is the story that unwinds—and rewinds—in The Future of Us, due from Razorbill on November 21 with a 500,000-copy first printing. The book is co-written by Carolyn Mackler, whose The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things was a Printz Honor Book, and Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why, which has more than a million copies in print in the U.S., and has been sold into 31 countries. The publisher is promoting the The Future of Us with extensive consumer advertising and a national author tour, and Warner Bros. has picked up screen rights, with Di Novi Pictures set to produce.

The idea for the collaboration—a first for both authors—was sparked by a question that an audience member asked Mackler last year during a panel discussion at the New York Public Library. “Someone asked me what my dream project would be, and I blurted out, ‘I want to write a collaborative novel,’ ” Mackler says. “I didn’t realize that was the case until that very moment! But I began thinking how fun it would be to have that give-and-take and to brainstorm with another writer. And I went home and immediately thought of Jay. I didn’t really know him well, but I am a fan of Thirteen Reasons Why. I love his voice and I felt as though we have similar sensibilities as writers—we both write realistic fiction.”

Mackler dashed off an e-mail to Asher, saying that she had “a funny, crazy idea to run by him.” He responded immediately, she recalls, saying “Anytime is a good time for a funny, crazy idea.” When Asher heard what that idea was, he eagerly agreed to the project. “I said, ‘Sure, let’s give it a try,’ ” he explains. “Carolyn is one of my favorite female authors, and I considered this a huge honor.”

A cross-country phone call—Asher lives in California, Mackler in New York—followed the next day. “We wanted to make sure we were on the same page, and that we’d feel comfortable rewriting anything the other wrote and that we had trust in each other’s work,” Mackler says. “As we talked, we realized that we did have the same sensibility, and that we liked the same books and the same movies. We decided that if we had no good ideas for a collaborative novel right then, we could come back to it later. But during a second phone call, we came up with the premise for The Future of Us, and we both had one of those trembling, goosebumps moments. We realized we had to do this now.”

The Novel Takes Shape

After devising the basic plot, the authors decided to tell the story in the alternating perspectives of the boy and the girl protagonists, with Asher writing the former and Mackler the latter. “We’d each write a chapter and send it to the other, and we both had free reign to edit at will and make changes,” Asher explains. “I could usually tell why Carolyn had made the changes she made, but if I didn’t totally like what she’d done, I’d change it again. We had done so much brainstorming ahead of time that nothing in the book came as a surprise to either of us, except for some details. When it came to the actual writing, we really respected each other.”

“Jay and Carolyn had a beautiful idea, and together they pushed far to investigate it,” says Ben Schrank, president and publisher of Razorbill, who edited The Future of Us with associate editor Jocelyn Davies. “The two of them went back and forth about everything, and then Jocelyn and I shared our input with them. It was a complex process, but fun. These authors hit on something that no one else had done. To write something so conceptually new and different is a pretty rare thing nowadays.”

Mackler calls the collaboration “the best writing experience of my life,” commenting that it was comforting to know that she could rely on Asher if she got stuck. “That just doesn’t happen when I’m writing alone,” she says. “If one of us hit a wall, we’d say to the other, ‘Maybe you can give it a try, or maybe we can talk this out.’ We were able to brainstorm any time. It didn’t feel like I was working at all.”

Asher notes that the collaborative process was not only smooth—it was also relatively fast. “This novel took less time to write than Thirteen Reasons Why,” he says. “I think that was because Carolyn and I have such similar ideas abut storytelling and writing, and also because instead of brainstorming by myself, I was brainstorming in real time with another person, so we were able to come to solutions faster.”

A mere eight months passed between Mackler’s first e-mail to Asher in April 2010 and the completion of the novel—and there may have been extra incentive for the collaborators to move quickly. “When I first heard from Carolyn, my wife was one month pregnant with our first child,” recalls Asher. “I remember Carolyn saying to me, ‘Okay, we need to finish the book before your baby is born, because you’ll be out of commission for a while.’ And, as it happened, I turned in the first draft of the novel on December 9th, the very same day my wife went into labor.”

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. Razorbill, $18.99 Nov. ISBN 978-1-59514-491-1