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Doug Dangler interviews John Green about his latest books and youtube video logs -- PART 1 OF 5. Writers Talk is produced by the Center for the Study and Teaching of Writing at the Ohio State University.
Doug: From the Center for the Study and Teaching of Writing at the Ohio State University, this is Writers Talk. I'm Doug Dangler. John Green's first novel, 2005's Looking for Alaska, won critical praise, the Teens' Top 10 Award, as well as the Printz Award. His 2007, An Abundance of Katherines, was a Printz finalist, and his 2008, Paper Towns debuted at #5 on the New York Times Bestseller List for Young Adults. It won the 2009 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Novel and according to his very recent, as of yesterday, YouTube Video, made in Columbus, Ohio, I might add, it also won the American Library Association's Young Adult Library Services Association Teen Top 10, it was at #1, beating out Stephenie Meyer's Breaking Dawn. Congratulations and welcome, John Green.
John: Oh, thanks, thanks for having me.

Doug: Sure. That's a very long title, by the way, of the award that you won yesterday.

John: The Young Adult Library Services Association's American Library Association's, yeah.

Doug: Yeah, I didn't know which way that that went, but I'm glad that I got it all out without making an error. And I'm not gonna mention that this is the 16th time we had to do that intro. Anyway, you mentioning your--I mentioned your YouTube video in the introduction, tell me about your Vlogbrothers, which is a very popular video series on YouTube.

John: Yeah, several years ago, at the beginning of 2007, my brother Hank and I decided to communicate only via video blog for a year, so every day for a year, we made video blogs back and forth to each other, and we did it to entertain each other, but we made the videos public and then, over the course of the year, the audience got bigger and bigger and bigger, and this sort of community developed out of it, a community, sort of a nerd-based community we like to say, you know, nerds who believe in social activism and intellectualism and celebrating those things, and so ever since then, we've continued to make videos because we like the community.

Doug: See, now at first, I thought your Nerdfighters, I think, is your name for them, I thought that was a street gang, and it turns out to be something entirely different.

John: Yeah, we're pro-nerd.

Doug: Pro-nerd, right.

John: You only have to look at e--if you look at either Hank or me, you'll immediately realize that we have to be pro-nerd.

Doug: Pro-nerd, okay. Well, tell me about, I've--there's some rules to this. And one of the--a couple of the rules are that if you miss, if either brother misses something, you set yourself up for punishment.

John: Right.

Doug: Which suggests, you know, an upbringing that really revolved around guilt or something, I'm not sure how all that works out, I won't ask that, but what--why the punishments? How did you come up with the punishments that you do for missing a vlog?

John: Well, the thought was that Hank and I both have a lot of ideas and follow through on very few of those ideas, so that if we had some kind of reason to keep going, to make a video every day, and if there was a threat behind not making the video every day, that then we would do it, which proved to be the case, actually. Punishment works really well, negative reinforcement is extremely effective on me, so it's worked.

Doug: So that's why you work under deadlines for your books.

John: Yeah, oh--

Doug: I take it as a writer, you must have deadlines.

John: Yeah.

Doug: Do the publishers ever suggest that you'll have to--they'll punish you in some way, publicly humiliation for not meeting a deadline?

John: Uh, if only their threats were that charming and funny.

Doug: Okay. Well, tell me about some of these publishments. I saw one, where you did the constituent parts of a Carl's Jr. and there was lard involved, there was protein powder, I think, involved.

John: Yeah.

Doug: And your reaction, sadly, occurred off camera, after you had mixed it in the mixer and drank it.

John: Yeah.

Doug: The first sip was good, the second sip--

John: The second sip was worse. The third caused me to vomit. Which is more or less the way I feel about Carl's Jr. when I experience it in reality, but no, the idea was that all of these people on YouTube had been paid to eat a Carl's Jr. hamburger on camera as product placement, and they'd offered it to us, and we'd passed, because that's ridiculous, and so instead, I thought that I would eat, and I was having to get punished anyway, I thought I would eat the constituent parts of a Carl's Jr. burger to sort of show how massively disgusting it is, the actual thing you're putting in your body is.

Doug: I want to tell you that Carl's Jr. is one of our sponsors, we--

John: Sorry, sorry. It's delicious.

Doug: So, what's the favorite punishment that your brother's had to do, I won't ask yours, but what's your--the one that caused you--'cause you're brothers, right? 

John: Yeah.

Doug: And I know that when I was a kid, my brothers and I delighted in, you know, injury to the other person.

John: Oh yeah.

Doug: I was shot by BB guns, things along these lines, what's the favorite one that your brother's had to endure?

John: My favorite one is probably one that wasn't physically challenging, but was massively humiliating which was that we made him recreate the most embarrassing moments of his life using sock puppet theater, and boy, I mean, it was qu--you know, a lot of like, bathing suits falling off at inopportune moments, falling off of sock puppets, it was, yeah, that--that one really stayed with me.

Doug: Okay. Wha--I have a question from--what I did today was I polled the internet, that series of tubes that you're probably familiar with, and asked people the sorts of questions that they might like to ask you, so I'll set it up that way and let you know that, you know, I don't have to take any personal responsibility for questions this time, and I'm pretty pleased about that.

John: Alright.

Doug: So Jennifer Miely, Meely, is a internet person who wants to know, "What advice would John Green to young kids who want to become authors?"

John: Uh, well, the first thing I would say is that it's not an unrealistic career goal. It might be an unrealistic goal to become like, wealthy or to have a sustainable income from writing, but I know--

Doug: To live off as a writer, that's unsustainable, but you can write.

John: Right, and you can get published and there are a lot of people who get published, you know, I used to work at this book review journal called Booklist and we reviewed 400 books every two weeks, I mean, every one of those books was written by someone, there's no reason that any young person should be discouraged from the idea of long-form storytelling, because I think that that's gonna be around--it's been around for a long time, I think it's gonna be around for a long time. The--my advice for the actual, like, process of writing and learning to write well is first, to read a lot, I think that's the only apprenticeship that we have as writers. I think that's the only access that we have to the way that stories have been worked on paper for a long time, and my second piece of advice is to tell stories to your friends and try to pay attention to when they get bored, because they will get bored and that can help you sort of learn how to pace a story, which I think is one of the harder things, at least for me.

Doug: So do you do that when you're doing vlogs as well? Do you--because your wife, who does not appear on camera, and for this reason, is referred to as The Yeti.

John: Right.

Doug: Do you read stuff to her to get a reaction? She reads it, she's one of your critics, is that how it works?

John: She reads both my stories and, I don't write out the vlogs in advance, but she watches them when I'm editing them and helps me condense things and condense ideas and sometimes refilm lines to make them clear or smarter, but yeah, she reads everything that I write, which is something of a burden for her, I mean, she doesn't--I don't know that she necessarily enjoys doing it.

Doug: We should interview her.

John: Yeah, no, it would be fascinating.

Doug: Of the books that John has written, which ones were the greatest burden to read and which ones were--

John: The problem is that she has to read the same thing over and over and over again so she'll read, you know, 20 or 30 drafts of something and--

Doug: Oh, you make her read all the drafts?

John: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. No, everything.

Doug: Wow, that's harsh. That's love.

John: Well, yeah. I'm a lucky guy. Well, and I'm also lucky that she's such a good reader.

Doug: What is--just out of curiosity, what kind of feedback does she give you, somebody that's that close to you and your writing?

John: Well, she has to be a little nice, because we've got this marriage to keep going.

Doug: Right.

John: But she's very--she's always been very honest and she was, I wrote Looking for--the first draft of Looking for Alaska before we started dating, and when she first read Looking for Alaska, she was very honest. It was a very different book then, and I think it's a much better book for her being in my life and being in my writing life, but, yeah, she's pretty straightforward, and she's not afraid to rank things, either, you know? Like, I would never say which of my books is my favorite, but she's happy to say that.

Doug: She's ha--okay. Like, there was that John Cusack movie where they rank everything, you know, so she can rank the books. How does she rank, should I ask how she ranks Looking for Alaska and your other books, Paper Towns?

John: She ranked Paper Towns first, I believe Looking for Alaska second, and Abundance of Katherines third. So.

Doug: Alright, well, it shows that there's a progress, though, if you--

John: Yeah, yeah.

Doug: If you find a new number one, like your new #1 on the Teen Choice Awards for which I apparently there was a cage match between you and Stephenie Meyer, I had heard about this, that there was--

John: That would have been great. I would have definitely won that.

Doug: That's a challenge, Stephenie Meyer. Right here from John Green, a cage match.