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Edward van de Vendel interviewt John Green over zijn nieuwe boek 'Een weeffout in onze sterren' in De Balie, Amsterdam. Wiskundemeisje Ionica Smeets houdt een lezing genaamd 'The Fault in our Maths', over de wiskunde in de boeken van John Green.

Edward van de Vendel interviews John Green about his new book 'Een weeffout in onze sterren' (The Fault in our Stars) in De Balie, Amsterdam.
Maths girl Ionica Smeets gives a lecture called 'The Fault in our Maths', about the maths in John Green's books.
?: Wel, dames en heren, welkom hier in De Balie. Ik start in het Engels natuurlijk, want onze belangrijkste gast vanavond is John Green, en, um, hij is al een lange tijd hier in Nederland, en zijn Nederlands is al *redelijk* goed, maar toch (gelach) we zullen hem een beetje helpen. Ik zal het kort houden, Ik wil u welkom heten namens de uitgever in Nederland: Lemniscaat, en we hebben een fantastische interviewer vanavond, en hij zal alle vragen stellen waarvan u het antwoord altijd al wou weten, ook hebben we een zeer speciale gast vanavond, die, uh, Edward zal haar ook voorstellen, dus, Edward van de Vendel alstublieft, vraag alles wat u wilt weten aan John Green. Dank u.


Well, ladies and gentlemen, welcome here in De Balie and I'll start in English of course, because our most important guest tonight is John Green and he's been for a long time in the Netherlands but his Dutch is quite good but still we will give him a little help. I'll keep it short.. I want to welcome you on behalf of the publisher in the Netherlands and we have a wonderful interviewer, and he'll ask all the questions you've always wanted to know. And also, we've got a very special guest and I'll introduce him as well. Edward van de Vendel, please ask everything you want to know to John Green. Thank you.

Edward: John, welcome to you. Welcome to you all. John, do you mind if I do a little introduction in Dutch?

John: No, please do.

Edward (in Dutch): Welcome everybody. I firstly want to ask, we're here of course for all of Johns books although especially for the last book The Fault in our Stars. I'd like to know which one of you hasn't read it yet.

Someone in the audience (in Dutch): I haven't yet.

Edward (in Dutch): Very good. No, that's good to know because now we know to keep the amount of spoilers to a minimum. For anyone who doesn't know who John is yet: he is at this moment, well for a while already, the most famous YA author from the US as he is in the Netherlands. He has written six books, well, five and a half as he has written one of those books together with somebody else.

He's well-known for his first book The Great Perhaps it's called in Dutch, Looking for Alaska in English. After that he wrote among others Nineteen Times Katherine (in Dutch), An Abundance of Katherines, I like the Dutch title better to be honest. Don't you think so? Yeah. Paper Towns was the next one, and there was a book he has written along with somebody else: Will Grayson, Will Grayson with David Levithan. And the last book- there are five, or six like I said, sorry- The Fault in our Stars.

It hasn't been published for a long time yet here. It's in the US already for ten weeks in the Top Ten Bestseller list of the New York Times, very high, and has been number one for quite a lot of weeks. We hope that will happen here as well, of course. It has been incredibly well reviewed, not just good, but incredibly well. Not only in the US but also in the few countries in which it's already published, also here. We're going to talk about it this evening.

The format (?) of the evening is that we're going to have a conversation (?) of twenty minutes. Then there'll be someone who will tell something extra and at the end there will be some opportunity to talk a bit more, also for you to ask some questions. Yes? Okay.

John (in English): Okay.

Edward: I didn't say anything yet.

John: I, I- You know I just followed along close enough.

Edward: I just said you-

(John sneezes)

Edward: Bless you.

John: Excuse me.

Edward: I just told them you wrote six books.

(John and audience laughs)

Edward: The rest were all perfect. You threw away.

John: Yeah, yeah. I have written six books. You haven't read them. (laughs)

Edward: Okay, so we're gonna talk mainly about The Fault in Our Stars, of course. And, um, uh, maybe we should just have the content of the book, well, the starting point at least in a few sentences?

John: Yeah, it's a novel about a young woman with stage IV thyroid cancer named Hazel whose mother thinks that she's depressed, so her mom sends her- makes her go to this support group for kids with cancer. And, uh, at the support group she meets a young man named Augustus Waters, um, with whom she pretty much instantly falls in love. Um, it's sort of their story, um, their love story. But she is also- she has a second love, which is a love for this novel written--called An Imperial Affliction--written by an American novelist of Dutch descent called Peter Van Houten, who is now living in exile in Amsterdam. And her, uh, her greatest- This book sort of ends mid-sentence, and her greatest wish is to meet the author and find out what happens after the end of the book.

Edward: Yeah.

John: So.

Edward: That's the premise.

John: Yeah.

Edward: Yeah. Um, I just wanted to ask you, first, a bit about the genesis of the book. How did it start and--

John: Well... In some ways it started almost -- like more than -- just over ten years ago, I worked at a children's hospital as a chaplain for a bout five months and during that time working at the children's hospital I really wanted to write about sick kids and what I saw of illness, I guess, which was very different from what I was reading from when I was reading about sick kids. Ehm, and so, that was part of it. 

But for many years the book never made any progress. I would work and work and work and nothing would ever get done.
Um, and it was miserable. It's the book I kept trying to write when I was writing my other books. 

But then I started, I think, it was when I-- Two things happened: I became a father and I became good friends with a young woman who later died of cancer. And in that process, um, I was able to focus the book and kinda write that story I had been trying to write all that time.
Edward: And how was the writing process? Was it-- Sometimes some books go fast. They almost write themselves. Did it happen to this one?
John: No. (laughs)
That sounds nice though.
Edward: It is.
John: Um, no, it was really slow. It was fast when-- there were periods of fast, which were exhilarating. We talked earlier about the best feelings in writing are the feelings when you aren't-- you can-- you're somehow-- your self is annihilated and you don't feel like you're yourself, you feel like you're knowing and removed, um, from the universe. And there were moments like that when I was writing The Fault in Our Stars. 

It was, um, it was really difficult. It was really emotionally challenging. Um, it was really sad for me and I think very personal for me. And so, um, that was a challenge and it was pretty slow. But, eh, those electric moments come just often enough to keep you going, you know? To fight for the next one. So, it's like an addiction where-- it makes your life terrible in so many ways but there is this moment of exhilaration that you're waiting for that comes that it all-- that it's all been worth it.
Edward: But-- You just said there was a lot of sadness. How do you write when being sad?
John: I don't know. I mean I would go into a coffee shop every morning. Like there was about a three-month(?) period where I'd go into a Starbucks at like 7 o'clock in the morning and I would just sit down and I would open my computer and I would start crying and I would close the computer like four hours later and I would get up and I would walk out. And I'm sure that the people who worked there just thought I was crazy. You know? I mean, just "What is that guy looking at all dat that's so incredibly sad?". (laughs)

I would work over in a corner, but I couldn't-- I was-- I tried-- I usually write in my basement but I didn't work on it there. I was so paralyzed by it that I couldn't work in there. I needed to be around some people. I needed to feel some kind of, um-- I wanted to write this really hopeful, funny book. But I was sad about it, you know? Like, I wanted to make it really funny and really hopeful and thoughtful, but I felt really sad about it. 
So that was how I did it. You know? Sadness can be paralyzing but it can also, um, be motivating. 

Edward: But-- Is it true that you were literally crying? I mean, what were--
John: Yeah, literally crying the whole time.
Edward: So there was a lot of water?
John: Yeah, loads, sometimes like, crying with my whole shoulders even.
Edward: Yeah, yeah.
John: It was obvious that I was crying.
Edward: Yeah.
John: Yeah. I don't know what to say about it. It was very strange.  I mean-- and, you know, that happened too when I was living here. I lived here for two months when I was working on the book and a bunch of that-- a bunch of that time was very difficult too and I felt very sad and frustrated. A lot of it-- a lot of it was not about, like, "I feel so sad for the characters". A lot of it was my sense of frustration that I wasn't-- I kept feeling like I wasn't doing the story justice. And like I wasn't writing the story as well as I could write it. And much more than any of my other novels this novel felt like it was a gift that was given to me by these people who I've known and cared about and, in many cases, had died. And so I felt this responsibility to them.
Um, and it's a terrible thing to do to yourself, to tell yourself that you are responsible in some way for honoring these dead people. That's too much pressure for any writer, let alone, you know, a writer of my meager abilities. So eventually I think I had to let that go. And I had this idea of "That's not my job, my job is to write this novel. And it needs to be a novel." That's actually when I wrote the foreword, in the book where I talk about-- I was mostly writing that to myself.
Edward: Because of the content of the short foreword is "Please don't take this as a story about real people."
John: Yeah.
Edward: Yeah.
John: I think I was writing that to myself. I think I was telling myself "You don't have to write a book about real people or even that honors real people." You know, "made-up stories matter. They are part of how we construct meaning to human consciousness. It's an okay thing. It's valuable in and of itself.
Edward: So, um, what was the difficulty then, to have it-- because you wanted to write a hopeful book. I think it is absolutely a hopeful book. Was it difficult to make it hopeful, or to-- What exactly was the big difficulty?
John: I think that was the big difficulty. Um. So there are kind of two easy ways to be hopeful-- Or two easy ways to respond to a world as we find it. The first way is not to notice it, not to pay attention to it. And then it is quite easy to feel hopeful, if you don't pay attention to the reality of the situation in which we find ourselves. Um, and the other way is to respond to it very nihilistically. So you look at a world where, um, it's not just a contemporary world where children die or where there is this radical injustice. From the very first moment in human history until now this injustice has always been with us. Children have always died. 
I remember when I worked at the children's hospital. One of the very first things that my supervisor said to me was "It is natural for children to die." And I reacted to that so viscerally. And I thought that was such a disgusting thing for her to say, and such an awful thing for her to say. For years, I mean, it stuck in my head as one of the worst things I ever heard someone say out loud. Um, but this is a woman who had been working in that children's hospital for 25 years and who had seen thousands of children die. And, um, biologically she's right, right? It is natural, it has always been part of our species. 
So if you look at that it is very easy to respond to that nihilistically, which is the other way to respond. To say "yes, it's true". The world is depraved of meaning and the universe is cold and capricious and cares nothing for us and nothing means anything. And I think on some level that's how I responded for many years after all that. Um, I either looked away from it or I did look at it and I said "There can-- no meaning can be made of this. This is worthless. This is terrible. This is useless. The whole affair of humanness is useless." And I think slowly I, um-- in writing it wasn't until-- you know, I really had to write the book, to make it hopeful. And I think that was-- that was a struggle for years.
Edward: And earlier you said that you, when you finished it you actually didn't have any good idea about what you did. 
John: Yeah, eh.
Edward: What was there, you were not sure. The end was written in Amsterdam, actually. 
John: Yeah, I've written many ends but the end, the actual end that ended up in the book was written here. And much of, much of the last half of the book was written here. Um, and I turned it in to my editor, like I left-- The day before I left I e-mailed it to my editor in the US and then we flew home and when I e-mailed it to her, my e-mail to her was basically like "I'm sorry. This is what I did while I was in Amsterdam. I'm sorry that I screwed it up. Here it is." Like-- But then I got home and she said "This is quite good. I'm very pleased with it. I think we should publish it quite soon." Um, so, yeah. I mean, I was genuinely pretty negative about it, um. But then once I got home-- this was partly because I needed to have my gallbladder removed. Um, that's part of why I was so unhappy, it turns out. Um, and so once I got home and I had the surgery I suddenly felt much better. Not just about my book, but also about, like, the world. 
And, um, then rereading the book I saw the work that I had done in Amsterdam and I understood that, you know, it was helpful for the book.

Edward:  Amsterdam is also part of the book and not only because the main characters come back to Amsterdam but they come to Amsterdam I think I can say to visit the writer (?) but also because you said that Amsterdam, and it is  true, is a drowning city and water is something that is all over the book as a metaphor of course, because her illness for the ones that don't know (?) so her lungs fill up with water so it's drowning girl, drowning city. You have all kinds of these parallels in the book, right? Did those come out naturally or was a lot of it constructed?

A lot of it was natural. The first time that we visited Amsterdam in 2006 when I was thinking a lot about this book I remember the first time I saw the canals and I know this is strange but it immediately reminded me of when I worked at the hospital and I would see kids with these chest tubs and the water coming out of there lungs um and that then and you know that drainage system which is so elegant and beautiful and life giving. I mean, it's sort of gory to look at I guess but it saves, it saves kids lives and makes their lives possible... it like, it immediately struck me that the canal system was similar in some ways? and um so that metaphor came up early on, not thinking about it as a way into literature but just thinking about um, thinking about Amsterdam. A lot of it came naturally. I was conscious of using water in the book and trying to use it in a way that would stand up to critical (?) but um I did want it to be pretty natural.

Edward: And also there is a scene in the Anne Frank house and we agree that we can talk a bit about that scene. It is the scene where the first kiss was being given, or even specially, being shared..It boils down to just one that starts it
John: I honestly don't remember the scene -
Edward: You don't?
John: I don't.
Edward: The girl starts.
John: Okay. I haven't read it in a while.

Edward: It's a good book.

John: Thank you. I know- I'll never read it again but I'm glad it's good.

Edward: Yeah. But anyway, I wanted to ask you some- well, first of all, they kiss in the Anne Frank House while in the back they hear the voice of Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank, because he's on a, on a tape I think or something and...

John: They play the speech that he, he plays a speech that he has this one minute and thirty second speech that played on a loop all day in the last room of the house.

Edward: And, you get this question a lot but anyway, why there? 

John: Um... I usually dismiss the question, so I'll try to answer it this time, I usually dismiss it by saying that it seemed like a really romantic place when I was visiting it. Uh... but that's not the truth obviously