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Teens’ Top Ten: An Interview with John Green

2012 October 23
by Dena Little
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Teen Read Week was October 14th through 20th, but here at The Hub, we’re celebrating for ten days so we can bring you interviews, guest posts, videos, and more with each of the authors whose books made this year’s Teens’ Top Ten. Today we feature John Green, whose book The Fault in Our Stars is #2 on this year’s list.

John Green is also the co-creator of the YouTube VlogBrothers channel and online Nerdfighter Ning group that he and his brother, Hank, deliver to “fight to create awesome and decrease suck.” Below is my interview with John Green:

What is in your fridge right now?

Quite a lot. We have a 2-year-old, so you’ll find cheese, cold cuts, juice, and milk. You’ll also find a lot of fruit and vegetables, although for that credit must go to my wife.

You made a lot of us cry with The Fault in Our Stars (TFiOS). What is the last book that you cried over?

Oh, I cry while reading all the time. Just in the last couple weeks, I cried while reading The Drop by Michael Connelly (when Bosch talks about his relationship with his daughter) and while reading The Great Gatsby. Also the forthcoming Poison by Bridget Zinn made me cry, as did Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story by D. T. Max.

You have been a driving force behind exposing the awesomeness of geekdom. What is the geekiest thing you have ever been proud of doing?

In 2007, my brother and a few friends and I hacked YouTube’s algorithm with the help of a small army of nerdfighters and put videos about charity on the front page of YouTube where traditionally one would find videos about waterskiing squirrels.

Many young adults reach a time when they may need to make a career choice between doing what they love, and doing what is practical. Deciding to be an author can’t have been an easy decision — not every author becomes a rock star! Was there a time in your life that you struggled between these two paths, or was writing the practical choice for you? What would you tell a young adult seeking advice?

Although admittedly I’m coming to this question from a position of tremendous privilege, I don’t really see this as an either/or choice. I had a day job when I wrote my first novel, Looking for Alaska, and in many ways, I still have a day job (although now it’s making YouTube videos). I love writing, but it’s never struck me as a good way to make a living — and it still doesn’t. Zora Neale Hurston was an anthropologist; William Carlos Williams was a doctor who never quit practicing medicine. Kurt Vonnegut was a copywriter for General Electric. Nancy Werlin is a technical writer. The great YA writer, David Levithan, is also an editor of children’s books.

I think it’s possible to make both practical choices and impractical ones. Many thousands of people from all kinds of employment and educational backgrounds write books, and this diversity enriches the lives of readers.

What are you reading right now, and where is your favorite place to read?

At the moment, I’m reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

Your previous books have mainly featured male characters. Was it tough making the transition to create Hazel in TFiOS?

I think it would’ve been harder if I’d thought, “Oh, I’m going to write from the perspective of a GIRL now.” But I didn’t feel like I was writing from a generic female perspective; I felt like I was writing very specifically from Hazel’s point of view, and for whatever reason, I felt comfortable with her voice. Writing fiction is always an act of imagination: I’ve never written about myself directly, and wouldn’t know how to try.

In TFiOS, Hazel’s favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, ends abruptly, leaving Hazel seeking answers from its author. Are you ever asked by fans to update them on what your characters are “doing these days?” If so, how do you respond? Do you envision the characters’ continued existence, or are they finished when you are done writing their story?

Oh, yes, I am asked this many times every day. Many of my readers know that I won’t answer — if things are left ambiguous in one of my novels, presumably I did that on purpose and don’t want to cheapen the reading experience by offering closure years later — but they still find exceedingly clever ways to attempt to pry the information out of me. But the truth is, I don’t know. I have no idea what happens after the end of the stories, because the book does not belong to me anymore than it belongs to anyone else who can read it.

I think about characters occasionally outside of the text, but I’m much more likely to do that with someone else’s character than with my own.

In Looking For Alaska, readers were treated to snippets of Famous (and infamous) Last Words. What do you hope your last words will be?

You really can’t plan too much or you’ll end up saying something very stodgy and rehearsed. I suppose in a perfect world my last words would be, “This sure has been a great 174th birthday party.”

– Dena Little, currently reading The Paladin Prophecy by Mark Frost

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