Previous: A Conversation with John Green | BECOMING YOUTUBE | Video 6
Next: Vlogbrothers: Exclusive Chat with Hank and John Green!



View count:8,218
Last sync:2023-01-28 11:00
Watch international bestselling author John Green talking about his books and what led him to write the phenomenal The Fault in Our Stars, his incredible online presence and what it means to be awesome!
Alistair: Hello, and welcome to Puffin Virtually Live.  Thank you all very much for joining us.  My name's Alistair, and it's my privilege to host today's event with internet sensation and globally bestselling author, John Green.  He's going to tell us a little bit about his latest incredible book, The Fault in Our Stars.  Now, we're talking to you live from (?~0:20) theater in London, and we've been joined by students from several schools.  Say hello, everybody.  We are, of course, joined by our online viewers from across the globe as well, so a big warm welcome to you all for watching out there, and thanks.  Now, I'm going to hand over to John in just a moment, but I wanted to remind you that you can send in your questions for John throughout the course of the event via the Puffin Virtually Live website.  John will aim to answer as many of these as possible in the time we have afterwards.  But I think without further ado, let's give a very big warm welcome to John Green.

(Applause & cheers)

John: Hi!  Hi to all of you, and also to everyone who is watching via the magic of the internet, thanks to Alistair for the introduction, and thanks to Puffin for hosting this wonderful event.  I'm really excited to talk to you today about my book, The Fault in Our Stars, but as a way of doing that, I'm going to begin by talking about my day job.  A lot of writers have day jobs, like the American poet William Carlos Williams was a doctor, you know, lots of writers are teachers or librarians.  I have a weird day job, as some of you will know, which is that I make YouTube videos.  I make videos with my brother on two channels, one called vlogbrothers and one called CrashCourse, so as a way of talking about The Fault in Our Stars, I want to begin by talking about that work and showing a little bit of it to you.  I'm going to begin with a vlogbrothers video, my wife is a museum curator, she works as a curator of contemporary art in Indianapolis, and so she's often dragging me to museum things, which I attend happily, and one of these museum things was recently in Washington DC, and I made a video while I was there, and we're going to watch that now.

(Shows this vlogbrothers video)

So, thank you, one person who clapped.  So, one of the things that I find really fascinating about the United States, as I said in that video, is that it is an adolescent nation in a lot of ways.  In good ways, it's very innovative, it's very excited, it's very enthusiastic, and also in bad ways.  It's quite, as you may have noticed, impulsive and sometimes we act perhaps a bit recklessly, and people often ask me why I write about teenagers and it's partly because, as an American, I'm trying also to write about the United States, and adolescence seems like a pretty good time of life to describe the country in which I usually find myself.  It's very different here, of course, your history is much older, it's perhaps easier for you to be conscious of the fact that you who are currently alive are not the only people who ever existed, but in the United States, where almost everything that we see every day was built by someone who is still alive, that feeling is quite different, you know, like, every--I live in the city of Indianapolis.  I can't tell you, there are perhaps six buildings that were built by dead people.  Here in London, it's almost everything. 

So the other thing that I do on the internet is I try to teach history so that we can be more aware of the fact that we are not the only people who have ever lived, and I have a show with my brother called CrashCourse.  He teaches biology and chemistry and I've taught literature and history.  We're going to watch a little clip of a video about World War I to give you a taste of that here. 

(Shows clip from this CrashCourse video)

So, that's a little bit of CrashCourse.  You know, the big question for me, the question that fascinates me as a writer and as a maker of videos is how we can imagine what it's like to be someone else.  Like, the central problem of being a person, so far as I can tell, is that we have these magnificent brains that can imagine the world with astonishing complexity that can figure out special relativity and all kinds of other things, but we can never know what it's like to be another person, right?  Like, we can never--even when you think about your best friend or your girlfriend or your mother, the people who are closest to you, you're thinking about them in the context of yourself.  There's no way to even be sure that other people are like...people.  Like, it's possible, it's extremely unlikely, I will admit, but it is possible that I am the only person in the world, and that you are all elaborate robots, and that there is some species who is observing me in a world of elaborate robots, you, for the purposes of like, finding out what happens to a human being if you put him in an isolated state and surround him with weird robots who do weird unexpected things, like, that's not likely, but it's totally possible, you have no way of knowing that I am human.  You have no way of knowing that the person sitting next to you is human, and that's super scary.  It's also really problematic on many different levels, the biggest of which is that it becomes impossible to empathize with other people when you don't think that they are as interesting or as important as you are because you're so busy thinking about all of the fascinating and interesting things that are happening to you.  Like, this happened to me all of the time when I was a teenager, because I got dumped a lot by girls, and every time I would get dumped, awww, thank you, where were you in 1994?  Um, so, this--you know, I would br--I wou--this--this--relationship would end and I--I would say to my friend, "this is so horrible, nothing like this has ever happened in all of human history my heart has shattered into a million pieces,' and my friends would be like, "yeah, yeah, yeah," because they would be concerned with whatever stupid problems they had instead of being interested in the most important problem in the history of the universe, which was the end of this romantic relationship.  And this problem is--it has two facets, right?  There's the problem of listening to other people, and then there's also the problem of getting other people to listen to you.  I really wanted people to listen to me, particularly about heartbreak, but also about other things, but I also understood that in order for that to happen, I needed to better understand how to listen to other people, and this is where the problem of imagining others complexly comes in.  Too often, whether we think of people as being greater than human or less than human, we dismiss each other very quickly, right?  Like, I think of you as merely nerdy or merely popular or merely skinny or fat or stupid or smart or whatever it is, but that is a dehumanization and it's also a dehumanization if I think of you as being, like, the most wonderful creature who ever existed, the sparkly vampire of my imagination, like, when you start to think about people as being more than human, that also dehumanizes them, because the truth is that we are all, everyone is just as human as you are, and this is where books, at least for me, in my life, have played such a critical role, because it is ultimately reading that has convinced me that the rest of you are almost certainly people. 

Like, it was through reading books like Catcher in the Rye, which I don't know if it's famous here, but it's quite a popular book in the United States, where I got to imagine what it was like to be a teenager living in 19--in the 1950s in New York City, that was a different world, a different life.  By giving a window into a different world, books allowed me to realize that other people were just as human as I was, that their joys were as real as my joys, that their grief was as real as my grief, and that's also where my urge to write came from, I think.  And when I came to write The Fault in Our Stars, the story that I wanted to write was about a person who, I think, doesn't get enough stories told about them, a sick person.  Now, you're probably saying, wait, hold up, I've read a million books about sick people, I know the plot of every cancer novel ever written and/or movie, I don't know if you're familiar with the work of Nicholas Sparks or there's a bunch of them, quite a lot of cancer books in the world, and the plot tends to be this: There's a person who gets very sick.  Usually they die, spoiler alert.  And then a healthy person learns important lessons from loving the sick, now dead, person.  So, you fall in love with a sick person and you learn very important lessons about how to be grateful for every day as a result of your relationship with the sick person and then they die, and that's very sad, but you've learned these wonderful lessons.  That's a really problematic way of telling the story, because it dehumanizes the sick person.  It imagines that the sick person exists only for the benefit of the healthy or the well, right?  Like, the reason that they're sick, not just the reason that they're sick, the reason that they ever existed, is so that we could learn important lessons about how to be grateful for every day.  That's ridiculous.  The meaning of a sick person's life is no more or less caught up in the meaning of other peoples' lives than anyone else is, and that's the story that I wanted to tell with The Fault in Our Stars, I wanted to give voice to the sick people, and not make it about, like, healthy people learning lessons that frankly there are other ways to learn than by interacting with sick people. 

I wanted to try to tell a story that reflected the truth of my experience with illness and with the people I've known and loved who were sick or who died.  I started writing in 2000, I worked briefly as a student chaplain at a children's hospital in America, like as a minister sort of, but only in the hospital, and as a--I was very--I wasn't very good at it at all, I was a super bad--like, I was probably one of the worst hospital chaplains ever.  The only people for whom I was a good hospital chaplain were the kids who had video game consoles in their rooms, because I was still really bad at all the chaplain stuff, but I've always been an excellent Mario Kart opponent because I'm just good enough that you believe that you've accomplished something by beating me, but you still beat me every single time.  So for those kids, like, I was a fairly good chaplain, but for all the other kids, I was terrible.  The reason that I was terrible is that when I was faced with the reality of suffering and illness and death among children, my only response to it was hopelessness.  My only response to it was despair.  I didn't have--I couldn't bring anything else to it, I couldn't find any hope in it.  I didn't take any hope in this business about healthy people learning lessons, that just doesn't hold up to scrutiny in my opinion.  And so as soon as I left that work, I began to write stories that were about a children's hospital, except actually, they were not about children or a hospital, they were about me, essentially, they were about this 22 year old chaplain who was exactly like me, except much better looking, and he was like, there were all of these female doctors who were inexplicably attracted to him, and it was like, "which hot doctor will he choose?"  And for many years I worked on this book, and what I was doing there is I was making a book ultimately for myself.  I was trying to write my way out of my pain, right?  That's what I was trying to do.  That just doesn't work, because when writing works, it's a co-creation between you and me.  What's magical about books to me, like, why books are so relevant even in this world of, you know, Tumblr and Twitter and Facebook and video games and movies and television and an infinite variety of media experiences is that we translate the story together.  Like I write down words, but that's just meaningless scratches on a page, I just got the finished edition of The Fault in Our Stars, I have no idea what it's about, and I wrote the freaking book, you know?  Like, I can't translate those scratches on a page into ideas that can live in my head, that's what makes writing and reading so special, is that we through the magic of reading, like, we have this connection to each other for the time that you're reading the book, because you can't read while you're doing anything else, you can't read and listen to music or read and watch television.  When you're reading, you're just reading, because it's an active creation of the world, using the symbols that I scribbled on a page, you make a world, and that's what I love about reading, is because it helps me imagine you more complexly, and if it's working, it helps you imagine the characters in my novels more complexly.  So if I'm doing my job, I'm doing a good job of imagining what it's like to be someone else, in the case of The Fault in Our Stars, a 16 year old girl with cancer, and if you're doing your job and I did my job reasonably well, you're able to imagine what it's like to be someone else as well.  That's what I love about writing.  And I couldn't do that for the first eight years that I was writing The Fault in Our Stars, because I was only writing it for, and ultimately about, myself. 

Then, in 2009, I made friends with a young woman named Esther, who was a Nerdfighter, the people who follow our videos on YouTube often call themselves Nerdfighters, because they fight for nerds and for intellectualism and to find places on the internet that are for engagement instead of distraction, and through my friendship Esther, who was dying of cancer throughout the time that I knew her and she died in August of 2010 when she was 16, but throughout our friendship, she taught me that the appropriate response to the reality of illness and suffering is not hopelessness, because she taught me that a short life can also be a rich life and a good life and a full life, and that's what I try to bring to The Fault in Our Stars.  I wanted to tell a story that, you know, in some ways is a star-crossed love story, I guess, but ultimately, I didn't want to write a story that was a hopeless tragedy, I wanted to write a story that was about how short lives are also good lives.  That the only people who have rich lives are the people who choose to imagine the world and the other--and other people in it, complexly, and who welcome love into their lives so that they can both love and be loved and I believe that Esther had a rich, full life, and even though she's very different from Hazel, the main character of The Fault in Our Stars, and Esther would be horrified to be compared to her, because Hazel in the novel loves America's Next Top Model, which Esther hated, so I don't want to say it in any way that they're the same, 'cause they're very different in important ways, but that gift that Esther gave me through our friendship, the gift of understanding that a short life can also be a rich life, was critical to me in writing this story, and ultimately, it was the thing that unlocked the character of Hazel for me and allowed me to write this story and hopefully imagine what it is like to be someone else.  So thank you.


And now, Alistair has returned. 

Alistair: As if by magic!  Thank you, John.  Now, it's time we're gonna have some questions answered by you.  And a lot of brilliant questions that have come through online, so I'm going to start there first, I think.  So this is from Megan from (?~19:56) Park School--

John: Hi, Megan.

Alistair: "Now, most author say their favorite book that they've written is the current one.  Can you honestly say which of your books is your favorite or the one that you're most proud of?"

John: It is the current one. 

Alistair: Correct.

John: It's true, I mean, I wish that I had a better answer, but it is.  I mean, it hasn't always been the current one, for the record, but it is currently the current one.  I--yeah, I mean, The Fault in Our Stars, because I spent ten years writing it and so much of me went into it, it's probably my favorite.  But I don't wanna--you don't wanna choose, it's like choosing between your kids, but you do have a secret favorite kid usually.  Ask your parents. 

Alistair: Alright, okay.  Here's one from Hannah, now this is also from (?~20:42) Park School, now, "Hazel and Augustus, they go to extraordinary lengths to find out what happens to their favorite--the end of their favorite book, An Imperial Affliction.  Is there a book that you have read that made you feel the same way?" 

John: Oh, it's a great question.  So, yeah, in the book, the two main characters, Hazel and Augustus really love this book, that does't exist called An Imperial Affliction, which ends in the middle of a sentence, and they wanna find out what happens after the end of the book, and they're really obsessive about it, like, what happens to all the characters in all the--you know, after the story ends.  That was mostly inspired by the fact that I get dozens of emails every day about what happens after the end of my book Looking for Alaska, and um, it's lovely but infuriating.  Mostly it's lovely.  It is lovely, don't get me wrong, it's a little bit infuriating, and so I was imagining if I were a worse person, how I might respond to this in thinking about Peter Van Houten, but yeah, there is a book that I felt that way about.  It's this book called Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, which I read when I was 18, and it has a very complex and ambiguous and frustrating ending, I won't spoil it for you, but it's--I mean, I threw the book across the room.  It's also 1200 pages long, so you've made a significant investment of your time to not get what you thought you were going to get. 

Alistair: Now, we're not just taking questions from online, we're also going to get some from our audience here.  So, has anyone got a question?  We'll start with the front rows, (?~22:10) your name?

Emily: Oh, uh, Emily. 

Alistair: Do we have a mic for Emily?  He's coming down to you there.

Emily: Hello. 

John: Hi. 

Emily: Whose eulogy would you rather receive, Hazel's or Augustus's? 

John: Oh, so this is not a spoiler actually, believe it or not, but, yeah, so, you don't have to die for someone to write a eulogy for you, that's the important thing to remember here, but um, there are--there are a lot of eulogies in The Fault in Our Stars in various ways.  Oh, I mean, I would rather, I guess I--that's a difficult question, I don't know that I know the answer.  I mean, it's really the--Hazel and Gus have very different views of heroism, right, like Hazel believes that the heroic life is--can be a quiet life, whereas Gus thinks that the only hero's life is like, to live, like, a big life where you get remembered, and I'm more on Hazel's side, so I guess I'd take that--that eulogy, I guess. 

Alistair: Okay, we'll jump back into the internet, great question.  Now, from Melissa, who's at home in England, somewhere in England, wants to know why you chose to set most of your new book in Amsterdam.

John: I set it in Amsterdam mostly because it's a drowning city, it's a city that's sort of carved out from the water in the same way that Hazel's cancer is causing her lungs to fill up with fluid and so they have to be--she has to have these chest tubes that drain the fluid, and I think at one point Hazel actually says like, that she is Dr. Maria's Amsterdam, so I wanted it to just be a different way to explore the weird relationship that we have with water. 

Alistair: Okay, now, Amy from Ireland wants to get some gossip from you potentially.

John: Oh, God. 

Alistair: She wants to know how involved you are in The Fault in Our Stars movie, do you have any gossip about it?

John: I have no gossip.  I have been--boy--if I even gossip a little bit, I get a call instructing me to cease gossiping, so I am not going to gossip.  I like the script.  I really do.  I am not just saying that.  The script is beautiful and I hope that they make the movie. 

Alistair: Okay, we'll take that.  Okay, let's jump back to the audience, oh, you've got your hand up and a mic put in your hand, go for it.

Audience member: Um, you often say that you couldn't have written The Fault in Our Stars if you hadn't become a parent.  What aspects would have changed about The Fault in Our Stars, how would it be different if you didn't become a father?

John: So, when I became a father, I immediately realized that as long either person in that relationship is alive, that relationship is alive, so no matter what, as long as either Henry or--that's my son--as long as either my son or myself is alive, I will be his father and he will be my son.  Just as my grandfather is still my grandfather, even though he's no longer living.  And in realizing that, I realized that in that sense at least, love is literally stronger than death, and that was a tremendous gift to me in terms of me being able to be hopeful in thinking about this story. 

Alistair: Okay, let's jump back online, now, Helen would like to know, she's in (?~25:18) Grammar School, "How do you name your characters?"

John: Oh, I just look at the phone book.  No, well, in The Fault in Our Stars, I guess I can talk about Hazel and Gus's names pretty easily.  Hazel is an in-between color, right, and Hazel as a character is in-between many states, she's in-between illness and health, she's in-between childhood and adulthood, and so I wanted it to be an expression of that.  Also, she says that she really likes people who have nicknames, and that her name can never be a nickname, but then of course Gus comes up with a nickname for her anyways, he calls her Hazel Grace, and with Augustus, Augustus is the name of Roman emperors, like, all the Roman emperors, somewhere in their like, 37 names, squeezed Augustus in there somewhere, but the first emperor was Augustus, and so it's literally an imperial name, and but Gus is a very child-like name, it's a name for a little kid, usually, and I like that because I wanted to try to reflect the journey that Gus goes on through the novel.  Like, we tend to think in our culture that the hero's journey is the journey from weakness to strength, the journey from Gus to Augustus, if you will, but I think the real hero's journey is the journey from strength to weakness, and that's the journey from Augustus to Gus, so I wanted to try to reflect that.

Alistair: Okay, on a slightly different topic, Alyssa now, she wants to know in regards to your YouTube career, "How would you recommend that a person starts publishing their own videos?" 

John: Well, it's easy to start making and uploading your own videos, it's quite hard to get anyone to watch them.  My main advice is to get in a time machine and go back to 2007 when it was much easier.  That's what I did.  You know, the truth is that you get five people to watch and you work very hard on editing videos and you listen to them, you ask them when did you get bored watching this, what was engaging, what wasn't, and if you learn the skills of editing, I think most of making a YouTube video is editing, if you learn the skills of editing, and then those five people start to really like your videos, then they might tell five of their friends and then it just needs to keep doubling until you get to a million.

Alistair: Okay, let's jump back to the audience.  Let's try someone in the back, in the red top over there.  Grab a microphone.

Audience member: Um, which non-canon slash pairing do you ship the most?  It can be in any of your novels.

John: Which non-canon sla--okay, this is a very complicated internet oriented question.  Which I am going to answer in a way that will infuriate you.  Um.  Just as an aside.  Um, it's about who I ship in my novels who are not a canon pairing, like, who I did not write about.  Obviously, if I shipped anyone, I made them canon, right?  'Cause it's my book.  However, I will say that when I wrote the screenplay for my book Paper Towns, I had Quentin, the main character, end up with a different girl, because people are always whining that everybody--that Hollywood always ruins stuff, you know?  And I loved the idea that they would make this movie and then they would be like, oh, Hollywood completely changed that story, they ruined it, and I would be like, "No, that was me!"  Um, but then they never made the movie, so joke's on me.  Um, but yeah, so I guess I ship Q and Lacey in that book. 

Alistair: Okay, so Phoebe from Burgess High School wants to know, "Which historical figure do you think is most likely to be a nerdfighter and why?"

John: OH!  Which historical figure is most--I think Churchill might be a nerdfighter.  Quite nerdy.  You know, eh?  History buff.  Yeah, I'll go with Churchill.

Alistair: Yeah, okay, that's a good one, that's a good one.  Okay, so in Looking for Alaska, Alaska's last words were, "God, oh God, I'm so sorry."  All the way through the book, you talk about how last words are really important.  Why are Alaska's words so simple?

John: Yeah.  Well.  I mean, we don't really know her last words.  That's kind of the joke.  Well, I guess it's not a joke.  I don't know.  I have a very low level, like, low bar to jump over in terms of what I think is funny, I guess, but you know, I wanted this kid who was obsessed with closure not to have it, because the truth is that all of us in our lives, there are going to be questions that you want answers to and that you deserve answers to and that you need answers to that you don't get answers to, and that's part of the human experience.  The challenge for us is can we go on in a hopeful and thoughtful way in the face of that?

Alistair: Okay, let's jump--ahh, front row, someone with a microphone ,go for it. 

Audience member: Um, what inspired you to start nerdfighters?

John: What inspired me to start nerdfighters?  Well, uh, there were a bunch of video blog projects in 2006 that we basically just kind of stole from, to be honest with you, the biggest one of which was The Show with Ze--or--with Ze Frank, and he built this great community, and we saw the community-building, my brother and I saw the community building potential of YouTube, that it could be a place that wasn't just about watching something the way that television is, but that was about making something together, which is what really interests me.  I don't find television at all interesting, to be frank with you, because you just lean back and watch something.  Well, that's fine, but you know, I'm much more interested in making something with you, like, let's collaborate, and the great thing about YouTube is that it is a really good space for collaboration, so that's what inspired us, is seeing people who would use this--use video to collaborate before, and we were like, well, maybe we can copy them but do it a little bit differently. 

Alistair: This question links quite nicely to that, um, now, Charlotte from (?~30:52) Park School wants to know, "What made you decide to write a book with another writer?"

John: Ah.  So I wrote this book Will Grayson, Will Grayson with another writer, and it was largely because writing is quite isolating and I spend all of my day in my basement by myself, which is fine, I like my basement and I like being by myself very much, I'm quite an introverted person, but you know, after months and months and months of never leaving your basement, you do start to yearn for some measure of human contact, and collaborating on a novel with David Levithan was a great way of connecting to someone else.  It was also a way that I could write a book just for one person, like, I only wrote that for David, but I'm glad that so many other people have liked it. 

Alistair: Now, Marco would like to know, "What was the hardest part in writing The Fault in Our Stars?"

John: The hardest part?  There were not a lot of easy parts, to be honest with you.  Although whenever I complain about writing, my dad, who might be watching this, always calls me afterward and he's like, you've gotta stop doing that, because it ain't coal mining.  Which is true.  It's--as gigs go, it's relatively straightforward, you just sit down and chatter away and then, yeah.  So, I shouldn't complain, but the hard--I mean, the hardest part was the ending.  I wrote the ending dozens of times and I had dozens of different endings all of which were terrible and it was very frustrating for my editor, who just kept being like, "This is--this is the ramblings of a crazy person, like, this whole book makes perfect sense and then it just goes bananas in the last 30 pages."  So, finally, I reined that in, although there are still some people who think it's still too bananas, but you should have read the earlier ones. 

Alistair: Okay, back to the audience, (?~
32:32) go for it.

Audience member: What emotions did you go through when you were writing The Fault in Our Stars?

John: What emotions did I go through?  Well, I mean, let me just say that I think it's a very funny book, and I realize that I'm in the minority in that respect, but I thought--I wanted it to be really funny.  I have a exceptionally high tolerance for sadness, I think, just because I've seen a lot of sadness in my own real life, so reading about sadness is not--maybe doesn't affect me in the way that it affects some readers, but I did--I did laugh a lot while I was writing the story, but I did also, there was about three months where I was working and I cried every day, so I would go into this Starbucks where I wrote most of the book at like 7:30 in the morning, and I would open my laptop and then I would begin crying, and then four hours later, I would close my laptop, still crying, and walk out, and I'm sure the baristas at Starbucks, who have no idea who I am or what I do, just thought that I was an exceptionally sad person.  But, yeah, I did, I did cry a lot when I was writing, but I was also, you know, I was dealing with my own grief, like, I was very sad about the death of my friend, Esther, and I was also, like, still sad about a lot of stuff that had happened at the children's hospital, so it wasn't just about the book, but it was mostly about the book, to be honest with you.

Alistair: Um, okay, so Katherine from the University of Bristol, she wants to know if you think it's possible to write a novel with no autobiographical element at all or is a novel/play/poem inescapably a product of the author and his/her life influences?

John: What a great university question.  I wonder if you're reading English.  I don't--I don't think that the--that you can ever fully separate an author from the work, like, I don't think that there's a way that a book can have a life that isn't influenced by the consciousness of the author, because obviously, that's the person who's creating it.  You know, so, for instance, if you've read The Catcher in the Rye, it's very--it's helpful, I think, on some level, to know that JD Salinger saw more combat in World War II than almost any other American, and yet he chose to write a novel about a kid wandering around New York for two days when he could have written a war novel like Kurt Vonnegut did or Norman Mailer did.  He instead wrote about, you know, social isolation among teenagers.  There's a reason for that, and that's interesting, you know, that's something that brings you to the book, but ultimately I think therefore, the author kind of has to be a character in the book to some extent, but I think the author is the least interesting character, and too often we sort of emphasize the author because we live in such a personality-driven culture in which I participate, incidentally, so I'm as guilty of this as anyone, but I feel like we sometimes make the author too much the center of the book instead of just reading the book as a book. 

Alistair: Well, we'll keep you with an easier one this time, this is from the whole of Class 5C--

John: Alright.

Alistair: They wanna know what you were like at school.

John: I was super cool and everybody liked me and I was astonishingly good looking and I had tons and tons of girlfriends.  No, I was a nerd, what do you think?  Um, yeah, I mean, I was pretty nerdy and then as my last couple years of high school, things got better, but I was still pretty nerdy. 

Alistair: Okay, it's not bad.

John: I'm proud to be a nerd.

Alistair: (?~
35:57) Alright, let's go, is there anyone in the back, (?~36:00)

Audience member: Um, hi--

John: Hi!

Audience member: --how were you able to write the relationship between Hazel and Gus so well but from a girl's point of view?

John: How was I able to write the relationship between Hazel and Gus so well from a girl's point of view?  Well, I mean, it's not that different, I guess.  If you think I did a good job, because I was mostly thinking about it from, you know, I don't know what it's like to be a 16 year old girl, so it's like I said earlier, it is that active imagination, but the more you can bring to imagining other people complexly, the easier it is.  And when I was thinking about like, it abstractly, like, 'Oh, I have to write this romance' and I really wanted to write it from the girl's perspective because that's usually the perspective that doesn't get heard, like that's the female voice is usually the voice that is silent in those stories, I was like, really intimidated, but then once I started--once I finally found Hazel's voice, it just felt very natural to me, and I didn't feel like I was writing from the perspective of a girl, I felt like I was writing from the perspective of Hazel specifically, and it was suddenly much easier, and as far as writing about romance goes, or falling in love, I have done that, and I remember the first time I fell in love, you know, I remember the intensity of it, that feeling that nothing like this has ever happened before, and I really tried--wanted to try to bring that to this story, particularly because, for Hazel and Gus, you know, they are both, like, keenly aware that this kind of thing isn't going to happen to them over and over and over again in their lives.

Alistair: Okay, so we'll jump back in now.  Alicia says she's an aspiring young writer and was wondering at what age you became aware of your love for writing and how you pursued it.

John: Well, I mean, I started to like writing when I was about like, six, but I was really bad.  I go back and I read my stories that I wrote when I was eight or nine, and there's just, there's no potential in them whatsoever, and even my high school writing, there's not much potential in, and then when I was at university,  I really loved writing, and there were two creative writing classes at my college, there's the Intro to Fiction Writing and the like, Advanced Fiction Writing class, and you had to apply to get into the Advanced Fiction Writing class after you'd taken the Intro to Fiction Writing class, and there were, like, fifteen applicants for twelve slots and I didn't get in.  So I was--I thought, if I'm not even one of the 12 best writers in my class at this little college in Ohio, like, what is--how can I ever, you know, have a career in writing?  But I learned a lot from that, and most--what I learned the most from is that the professor who taught me in Intro to Creative Writing took me out to dinner and he said, 'you know what?  Like, the story that you submitted was kind of crap, and I'm sorry that you didn't get in, but when you tell stories, like, in the breaks between halves of class, those are really good stories, so just do that instead of trying to do all this fancy bad writing stuff you're trying to do.  Try to write like you tell a story.'  And that really changed my life, and it changed my writing, and I started to get better and--but, you know, it was a very long process.  You don't pick up a violin and think, like, oh, well, tomorrow I'm going to play Carnegie Hall, you know, takes a while. 

Alistair: Okay, now Ruth in Wales, she wants to know, "If you could be any character from a book, which one would it be?"

John: If I could be any character from a book?  Uhhh, it's tough, because I struggle with the question of do I choose someone who has an awesome life or do I choose someone who is an awesome character?  I think I'm going to choose Huck Finn from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn although it's a tight race, because there's a bunch of, like, I'd kind of like to be Gatsby.  But not, but like, just the first half of the book.  I'd like to be that guy forever, just awesome parties all summer, and winter never comes. 

Alistair: Okay, let's, let's throw it back out to someone--oh, yeah, just at the back right there. 

Audience member: Have you ever stopped writing midway to find out that your main canon pairing that you had actually planned out isn't going to work?

John: Oh, like the main romantic pairing? 

Audience member: Yeah.

John: I don't find, like, romantic pairings that interesting, actually.  Even though I know I write about romantic love, but I have, I mean, I get midway through books all the time and I'm like, this is just a disaster and I put it away, that happened probab--you know, half a dozen times with the book that eventually became The Fault in Our Stars, but it also happened with lots of other stories that have been completely abandoned, like my zombie apocalypse novel, not a joke.  Wish it was.  I still might go back to it though.  There's still some bits that I love.  You know, and whether it's because the--some relationship in the book, romantic or otherwise, isn't working, or it's because of something else, you know, that does happen to me a lot, and I think that's just part of writing. 

Alistair: Now, okay, we've got a teacher here who wants some help from the US.  She's leading a book discussion on The Fault in Our Stars, and wants to know what one thing you'd want to be covered in regards to the book if you were leading the discussion.

John: Oh, jeez, I don't know!  Um, I guess water, our fascinating relationship with water.  Like, what really interests me in the book is--or in the world, is that water is both the thing that makes us possible, the thing that makes all life possible, but it's also, in many cases, the thing that makes us temporary, and a lot of time, the things that make us possible or make us interesting are also the things that make us temporary.

Alistair: Okay, our last question.

John: Alright.  Big pressure.

Alistair: That's all we've got time for, no pressure.  Right.  So, Lauren from
(?~41:43) wants to know, "Why did you want to portray Peter Van Houten as God?"

John: Um, well, I don't know that I did exactly.  Umm, that's one reading.  Um, I don't want to like, I don't want to limit other peoples' reading of the book, though.  Um, but yeah, I mean, he's this character who is very mercurial and unpredictable and that we have a weird relationship with whom we love and fear and I think what more happens maybe is that Hazel and Augustus conflate Peter with, you know, ideas that maybe should only be reserved for divinity, because when we think of people as being more than people, it's inevitably disastrous as it is in that novel and really most novels where that happens.  Except for Twilight.  There it all works out and you get a vampire baby. 

Alistair: Brilliant.  But look, well, thank you so much for your fantastic questions and ideas out there, I'm afraid that's all we've got time for, so that's it from us at Puffin Virtually Live this time 'round.  I hope you're going to be able to join us next time on our broadcast, but I'm sure John would like to say a few things before we go.

John: Yeah, I would just like to say thank you everybody in the audience, you've been an amazing audience with amazing questions, thank you guys so much for being here, and also, everybody inside of the internet, my favorite place, my hometown, um, thank you for watching as well.  I also want to thank Alistair and I want to thank Puffin for making this possible.  I really hope you have a chance to read The Fault in Our Stars and that you enjoy it and thank you for watching.  As we say in my hometown, don't forget to be awesome.  Thanks.