When we Buzz Girls decided to do this very special interview week, my first thought was, "John Green!" Some bees might remember John from my Geeky Cute AuthorBoyz post of last year. (He was #1, by the way.) Since I have a huge author crush on him and my editor was the assistant on his first two books, I thought I would take advantage of this opportunity to get to know him a little better.
Before we get into the interview, here's some background on John. His first book, Looking for Alaska, won the Michael J. Printz Award (mega-prestigious) along with a bunch of other accolades. Then came An Abundance of Katherines, a Printz honor book and Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year. Now, his latest, Paper Towns, is following in those well-awarded footsteps by winning the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for YA lit. Pretty awesome credentials, huh?
Well, on top of all that, John has a huge online following (the Nerdfighters) that began with Brotherhood 2.0, a vlog between John and his brother Hank. Their cleverness and hilarity earned them legions of fans that quickly followed them to the Nerfighters Ning--and made Paper Towns an instant bestseller.
The very best part is that John is genuinely nice, answered all of my questions with his characteristic wit (and uncharacteristic speed), and has proven himself entirely worthy of my author crush.
Now, without further explanation or gushing, John Green.
1. The obligatory author question: What's your process? Do you begin with a premise or a situation or a character? How do you proceed from there?
I begin with characters, although saying that maybe creates the expectation that I sit down and start writing with these wholly formed characters in my mind, which isn't the case. I start with characters, but in the process of writing the first draft, try to understand the people in the book and their stories better. Then I delete most of that first draft in revision. Most of the real writing of my books is done in revision.
2. The other obligatory author question: Describe your workplace. Do you write at home or out in the world? On the computer, longhand, in crayon, or by other means? What do you drink/eat/listen to while writing?
I write on a computer, and I have written on a computer since I was eight and my dad got us an Apple IIe. In a lot of ways, my books are collaborations between the computer and me. (I assume this is true for many writers, but my writing process is so intertwined with the architecture of word processing software--the cutting and pasting and scrolling and searching and replacing--that I literally don't know how to do it any other way.)
Physical location is less significant to me--I often write in various rooms of my house, but sometimes go to coffee shops or write in hotel rooms or airports or wherever I find myself. I don't listen to music while writing, except occasionally.
3. You collect famous last words (and used them in your debut, Printz-and-billions-of-others-award-winning novel, Looking For Alaska). Have any new ones or favorites you'd like to share? Or, if you could pre-script your own last words right now, what would they be?
If I could prescript my last words, I would tell my wife I love her. Hardly memorable, but that's what I'd say. Most of my favorite last words didn't make their way into the book, actually, because I didn't want to overwhelm the novel with last words and make it feel all schticky. The best last words I've come across are those of Emily Dickinson: I must go in. The fog is rising.
4. For An Abundance of Katherines, you had to do some serious, brain-bending, math-related research. What's the most outrageous/hardest/craziest thing you've done in the name of research?
Well, the vast majority of my research involves typing things into a computer. I know that there's no substitute for "being there," but there's also no substitute for detailed satellite maps with topographical overlays. (So, for instance, I had to figure out how to break into Sea World for Paper Towns. It is easy enough just to break into Sea World--I'm not going to comment on whether I did that--but just breaking into Sea World does not give you an actual sense of HOW it happened, only that it happened.) I go to the places I write about, and spend a lot of time there, but other than that, yeah, all my research is inside the Internet. (Yet another way my books would be impossible without computers.)
5. You are single-handedly responsible for the resurrection of the word awesome. Why awesome? Why not rad, amped, killer, or some other slang term from our generation?
I don't even know, and I partially regret it. I've always liked taking a word and playing around with its tense or usage--adjectiving nouns or verbing adjectives or whatever. Awesome was ruined long, long before I got to it--here is this word that manages to capture both the fascination and the terror we feel when we encounter something radically other, the feeling we have when we're on our knees and praying in hope *and* praise *and* fear *and* gratitude. Here is this amazing word, and now we use it to describe...a skateboarding trick. Ideally, we should have let awesome go the way of rad, so that it might one day be returned to its original splendor, but the problem is that for me at least the word still retains the tiniest vestige of its former greatness, and so I just like it.
So when my brother and I started making videoblogs, we used the word a lot because we liked it, and then we started using it as a noun because we both like to play around with usage, and then it just kind of took off with our viewers.
6. If you were in high school today, what fictional character(s) would you want to take to prom and/or eat lunch with?
7. If you could require every teen in the country to read three books before graduation, what would they be and why?
My answers are involve the dreaded classics, I'm afraid: The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, because it's beautifully written and discusses all the most important things. The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger, because more than any other book I've read, it gets to the murderous isolation that accompanies every adolescence. And The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, because love is never any better than the lover.
8. Define irony. (Seriously. I was a theatre major. I'm still trying to figure it out.)
I've always just gone with the definition Ethan Hawke's character uses in the film Reality Bites: Irony is when the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning.
9. First there was the blog, then the vlog, and now Twitter and the Ning. Your online presence has been a major contributor to your success--that and phenomenal writing talent, of course. Is that "work" for you, or fun? Do you ever worry that it takes time away from the writing? What's the next big thing in online networking?
I think Twitter is the next big thing in online networking, but it's important to remember that nothing lasts forever in this brave new world. We're always cycling through technologies, because the next one will give us the feeling of interconnectedness we want (which of course the next one never quite does).
I think to be totally honest that my online presence has done more to get my books out to their audience than any talent I might have as a writer. My job is to write the best books I possibly can, but I also want people to read and like those books. So certainly the online work is very much part of my job. Vlogging and blogging are fun a lot of the time, but so is writing. (Working at Steak 'n Shake was also often fun, but it was still work.)
As for whether it takes time away from my writing: I'm sure it does. But I've always had work other than writing--whether it was a day job or Internet-based stuff, so I don't see it as a problem.
10. What can gushing fangirls and nerdfighters everywhere expect from you next? (In the literary sense, not the general, what-I'm-having-for-lunch-tomorrow sense.)
I've got a new book coming out in April of next year that I cowrote with my friend David Levithan called WILL GRAYSON WILL GRAYSON. So look out for that! And of course between now and then, many vlogs and blogs and tweets and status updates.
Oh, I think we'll all be following closely.
Now for the free stuff! I'm giving away a collection of John's books (Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns). Comment below with your answer to Question 6: What fictional character(s) would you want to take to prom and/or eat lunch with? (I'm feeling generous, so I won't outlaw Edward Cullen as a possible answer.)
OH. MY. GODS. (now in paperback!)
GODDESS BOOT CAMP (out now!)