An Interview with the Author John Green
Did you go to church as a child?
Sometimes, but not every Sunday. Hank and I were raised with a strong sense of values and concern for others, but also with the knowledge that religion traditions do not have a monopoly on meaning.
Why, on page 142 of An Abundance of Katherines (hardcover edition) does child prodigy Colin say “there’s three ways to look at it,” when it is, in fact, grammatically correct to say “there’re” or “there are”?
Well, I think one would be hard-pressed to find a child prodigy who doesn’t make grammatical errors in his or her speech, and I try to reflect the real speech patterns of people inside quotation marks. In general, one of the surprising thing about prodigies is how normal they are. We like to romanticize intelligence, but the smartest people in the world are still people.
What is your opinion on sad clowns?
Well, I probably slightly prefer them to happy clowns.
I thought you lived in New York, but now you are in Indiana? What happened?!
Sarah and I lived in New York for two years and then moved to Indiana last July. We moved because Sarah got a job as a curator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever put on your head?
Probably an empty box of cereal. It required a fair bit of tearing to get on my head.
If I took a DNA test to prove an abundance of awesome, would you leave your wife and marry me?
No. I wouldn’t leave my wife for anything. That’s the nature of marriage, right?
How are you so awesome?
The secret is that I’m really not that awesome. Much of what happens is that other people take their own awesome and kind of reflect it off of me, and so I _appear_ awesome. But in fact, it is you who are creating almost all the awesome that you see in me (or in anyone else).
How much would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could Chuck Norris?
Presumably an infinite amount, because if you can Chuck Norris, you can do anything.
What school did you go to in Alabama that was like Alaska’s?
The boarding school that I attended was like the one in Looking for Alaska in many ways: It was co-ed; it was extremely academically rigorous; it was populated by funny and caring people who sometimes fought with each other; and the physical place was very similar. You didn’t get away with quite as much at my high school as the students do at Culver Creek, though.
If—God forbid—you were to meet an untimely end due to mysterious illness, which TV doctor would you want to determine your cause of death?
I think I would rather be examined by an actual doctor.
What Harry Potter character are you most like?
What would your patronus be?
A westie like Willy
Are you planning on ever writing books in different genres than your past books?
Well, I always think that my books are genre books, but then they never are. I’m very interested in the traditions of certain genres (mysteries, for instance, or road trip novels), but I am not necessarily interested in writing within them. But I expect I will keep trying new things, lest I get bored.
What is the most important thing for a child to learn? What is the most important thing for an adult to learn?
The most important thing for a child to learn is that only some things can be imagined into reality. The most important thing for an adult to learn is that even if it doesn’t happen all the time, things DO get imagined into reality.
Who? Where? What? When? How? Why? (and as a courteous reminder, DFTBA!)
Professor Plum in the library with the lead pipe a few hours ago because he was angry.
Do you think YouTube has affected you in a positive way (besides the obvious awesome of the nerdfighter community)?
I think YouTube is a lot more interesting and collaborative and playground-like than television, and so I think it has affected me very positively to spend more time on YouTube and less watching television.
How’s the hunt for Helen going?
Well, it is a bit stalled at the moment, to tell the truth. (The nerdfighters have been challenged to get Helen Hunt to listen to Hank’s song about her). But I haven’t given up at all. I have it downloaded on my iPhone just in case I run in to Helen Hunt.
Would you advocate public, private or home-schooling?
I think in a perfect world, all students in America would attend well-funded public schools. (Such is the case in some countries in Europe, like the Netherlands.) But given the world as it is, I think different kids have different needs.
If you could be a Pokemon, which one would you be?
I know this is going to cost me, like, eight nerd points, but I don’t know anything about Pokemon.
Can you LOL blurb Paper Towns?
No, LOL blurbing is inherently spoiler-ey.
Will we finally get to see the Yeti?
What is your favorite game for the Wii?
What is the hardest thing about being a professional writer?
All the parts that don’t involve writing—the parts where I have to be, like, a salesman.
Are we going to be in a B2.0 video?
Are you surprised at how large the Nerdfighter following has become?
Yes, but very pleasantly surprised.
How do you think your parents’ nerdy-ness has influenced you writing and life choices?
Well, my parents were vital to my development as a writer because they always supported my interest in writing—which they probably wouldn’t have done if they weren’t nerdy. Plus, their nerdy values became my nerdy values.
What kind of toothpaste do you use and why?
Crest Complete, because it has like all the bells and whistles.
How would you feel if Paper Towns didn’t win the Printz award? Are you getting used to winning them?
It’s wonderful when your work is recognized by people you admire, but I never set out to win awards. Which is to say that I wouldn’t be upset. (I am not used to winning at all, though.)
If you could be anything apart from a writer, what would you be and why?
I’d like to have a job like Hank’s, where I run and write for a website.
Did you ever figure out the trick to getting Willie to do his head turn?
Yeah, a bunch of people’s videos totally worked.
The blurb on the back of Looking for Alaska says “The spirit of Holden Caulfield lives on.” Who is supposed to be written in the spirit of Holden? I dispute that it’s Pudge. Is it Alaska? I could see that.
Well, I don’t think anyone in Alaska is very much like Holden. I think the connection, if there is one, is in the characters’ feeling of disconnectedness from the world, and the complexity of balancing innocence with experience. In those senses, Alaska is very much the central character in Looking for Alaska. (I would argue, actually, that the novel can be read with her as the protagonist.)
What is the What? P.S. The Brotherhood2.0 book club is made of awesome! I really did read it.
Your question references a creation myth recounted in a brilliant novel by Dave Eggers. In the Dinka creation story, God offers people a choice between a gift of cattle and “the What.” The Dinka choose the cattle, the known quantity. But what was the What? Power? Guns? Wealth? What is available to those who don’t choose cattle? The book examines those questions better than I ever can, so just read it. But even a year after finishing the book, I still think about it all the time. I still think to myself, “Why do I want to know what the what is so badly? Why am I not happy with cattle?”
What do you think is more important in a book: the story and moral or how it’s written (style and quality)?
For me, the two are inseparable. The right story needs the right telling.
What is your favorite element on the periodic table?
Carbon. We’d be in trouble without it.
What is Paper Towns about?
I guess it’s sort of about a disappearance.
Where do you get your inspiration? And do you get any inspiration from YouTube?
I think inspiration is always around; it’s just a question of whether or not you’re noticing it. And I’m certainly inspired by YouTube—both by the people I’ve met and watched there, and by the content of the videos themselves.
Who was nerdier as a kid, you or Hank?
Probably Hank, but it was close.
How often do you get confronted by people who don’t enjoy your books?
Only occasionally. Most people who don’t enjoy a book, I assume, don’t go out of their ways to contact the author.
Can we see your happy dance in person?
Those of you at the event did, but now we are in a text-based form that prevents such shenanigans.
What is your favorite video on YouTube?
Probably the “Where the Hell Is Matt” series.
Who all is going on the Nerdfighter tour? The Yeti? Katherine?
It will be Hank, me, usually the Katherine and occasionally the Yeti.
What is your opinion of the Hannah Montana franchise?
I kind of like it! I’ll admit it. There’s something comfortable about it, like a wornout pair of sneakers.
How does one go about getting a puppy-sized elephant?
Unfortunately, they only exist in the distant past, so you have to acquire a time machine first.
Did you intend for Paper Towns to be an anagram for pants power?
No, but it is a very happy coincidence.
Pudge adores last words; Colin loves anagrams. What’s your uniquely odd passion? How’d you come up with such cool ones for your characters?
I like trivia. I like the _idea_ of trivia, that all of these weird and improbable things can still be true. Trivia reminds me of what is possible. So I guess that’s my odd passion. And I put anagrams and last words into Colin’s and Pudge’s lives because I thought they would help readers to understand them as people.
Have you ever thought of a major plot point for your books while taking a shower?
Well, I take baths. But in the bath, definitely. One of the difficult things about contemporary existence is that there is so little time for quiet contemplation. The bathtub is really the last refuge for the uber-connected American, so I rely on it.
It is often said that the books we read become an integral part of our identities. Of all the many books you’ve read in your lifetime, which do you feel has most heavily influenced the person you’ve become?
Probably either The Catcher in the Rye or Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
Will you be stopping in or near Boston on the Nerdfighter tour? Who wins at Pictionary, you or Hank?
We’ll be in Boston. And definitely Hank, although neither of us can draw well.
Was Alaska a real person (or based on a real person) you knew in high school?
Alaska is not a real person, no. She is in some ways based on my high school self, and in other ways based on other people I knew and in other ways just made up.
Are there ranks of Nerdfighter? Is it possible to be an Ultimate Nerdfighter? Are there levels of Nerdfighter-ness?
No, all nerdfighters are equal.
What shape is Paper Towns?
It’s sort of three diamonds stacked on top of one another. (I think that narratives have shapes. Is that weird? Looking for Alaska is an X. Katherines is a 30-60-90 right triangle. And Paper Towns is definitely three diamonds stacked on top of one another.)
Teen Volume Book Discussion Guide »
This guide, created by the Chicago Public Library Teen Literacy Committee and Teen Advisory Council, contains some spoilers.