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Novelist John Green returned to The Interview Show, hosted by Mark Bazer, at The Hideout, in Chicago, to talk his new book, "The Fault in Our Stars," passing through the red-light district in Amsterdam on the way to the library and lots more. The interview took place Jan. 6, 2012, four days before the release of the new book.


John Green: Was that your first show?

Mark Bazer: That you were on?

John: Yeah.

Mark: Yeah.

John: I didn't know.

Mark: You've been on twice, and both times you came up the right way, those stairs, but this time (points to other stairs)

John: I'm sorry, I was talking, I was talking to Claire.

Mark: (Laughs) That's cool. So the book, let me just start with, the book leaked. It was kind of like a rap album, it leaked.

John: Yeah

Mark: What happened?

John: It's actually nothing like a rap album. Um... It, uh, about a couple weeks ago, accidentally leaked about fifteen hundred copies of the book to people who'd pre-ordered it, um, and then did not apologize.

Mark: (Laughs) To you, you mean, a personal apology?

John: No. Just, uh, generally.

Mark: Generally. Okay, so the book gets out there, and now you go online, because you do these videos, many with your brother, and you go on a rant about please, please, no spoilers because I want everybody to enjoy it at the same time. So now, here I am, interviewing you about the book, and I don't know what the hell to say.

John: (Laughs) I mean no, you should feel free to discuss anything within the first... you know, seventy pages.

Mark: (Laughs) Well, let me, so I'm safe, give me the... how you talk about the book.

John: Ah, it's about three hundred pages long. (audience laughs) No, The Fault In Our Stars is a book about two kids, Hazel and Augustus, who meet at a support group for kids who have cancer, and, um, they end up just kind of sharing a love for this novel that was written about fifteen years ago called An Imperial Affliction, and they really want to meet the author who now is kind of a recluse living in Amsterdam.

Mark: See, I didn't know I could give up that part.

John: Yeah, you can, yeah, that's fine, he lives in Amsterdam.

Mark: Now she... (John drinks and audience laughs) 

John: I lived in Amsterdam for a few months while I was writing the book, so like a lot of people figured, put that together.

Mark: How did you, uh, so you were doing research, but that seems like a bad place to get work done.

John: (Laughs) Every morning at seven-thirty I would walk past the Red Light District on the way to the central library, where I would work all day, and like the seven-thirty-am Tuesday morning prostitutes, it's really a niche based thing. You know, it's a very specific, you know, morbidly obese, Trinidadian. Or, um...

Mark: Seven-thirty on Tuesday you say?

John: Yeah, (Audience laugh) Gina will find something to like too, so you'll both be fine.

Mark: The book. Now Hazel, she has, they both have very different kinds of cancer.

John: Right.

Mark: Augustus has a kind of cancer that seems to have gone away.

John: Yeah, Gus's cancer is curable, osteosarcoma, the kind of cancer that he has has about, I mean if the surgery is successful, has about an 85% cure rate, and Hazel, from the time of her diagnosis, is, her, she was diagnosed with stage four cancer that's metastasized into her lungs, which is not curable.

Mark: But she's on a drug which, I take it doesn't exist in real life.

John: Yeah, bummer.

Mark: But which, in this case, is keeping her, her going.

John: Yeah, it's based on Herceptin, the breast cancer drug. There's this breast cancer drug, Herceptin, that can, uh, control tumour growth in certain kinds of breast cancers, so I invented that for Hazel's kind of cancer.

Mark: Now, I don't know if I'm reaching here, but it seems like when you, when you set up a book with characters, with young people who have cancer, one of which is terminal, you are setting up two scenarios, one in which these characters have to deal with all of the things that any person, any teenager has to deal with, or any person has to deal with, questions of love, questions of friendship, questions of loneliness. At the same time, they're also dealing with the cancer. How did you, how did you deal with those two tensions? I mean the characters are going through two significant things, not unrelated, but they're two things that are, you know, they're in different strands. Like, I don't know if I'm making sense here.

John: Yeah, but whenever you're a teenager, like you can't, so whatever your situation is, you can't not be that. So they can't not be, like Hazel can't not be sick, there's no... And in someways because she's been sick for so long, she's never been able to imagine adolescence any other way than being, sort of, you know, inherently ostracized and feeling other, but pretty much every teenager feels that way. Pretty much every teenager feels ostracized, feels other and feels like they can't not be whatever it is that they are that they wish they weren't, and so, I mean there's too many...

Mark: There's too many negatives.

John: Sorry, you know, I'm not a novelist. Um, and so in some ways it's a universal experience, it's just that the particular otherness that they're dealing with, um, is you know, likely to shorten her life, or make her life shorter than other people's, than our sort of expectation of what a life should be.

Mark: Now one thing that's interesting is the characters, you have this, there's one kind of character, in fiction that has a disease, that wants to just be treated like everyone else.

John: Yeah.

Mark: And to a certain extent, they do, but they're real characters in that they understand there's no way that that's possible.

John: Yeah, Yeah, it's not possible, I mean particularly because there's physical ma... For both of them, there's physical manifestations of their diseases that are, that you see and that you know about and that you can't get rid of. Um, and I think most sick people are conscious of the fact that, um, while they would like to live in a world in which they aren't sick, they don't. Um, and that other people are going to be conscious of their sickness. Now the challenge that both sick and well people face is to overcome that and, um, in the same way that like, you know, like you're able to look at me and talk to me, even though I'm hideously ugly, like, um, you have to-

Mark: John!

John: -you have to overcome it. I can see it in your eyes. How difficult it is.

Mark: Should've worn my glasses

(John laughs)

Mark: You, uh, there are several times in the book in which I think different characters, I know Hazel does, kind of rails against the cancer fiction genre, and certain cliches in it. And I would assume that, well, the book isn't, the characters aren't you, that there's a part of that that's definitely you.

John: Yeah!

Mark: A revulsion to that.

John: I-I mean I don't really buy into the conventions of the cancer book genre.

Mark: Which are?

John: Which are that there's this sad-eyed wiser than her years child who suffers heroically and without complaint and then dies in such a way that both her death and her life are transcendent. Um, I worked at a children's hospital as a student chaplain for about 5 months and I knew a lot about sick kids and none of them, you know like, had the secret of the meaning of life hidden deep behind their pupils. They were just people. And so, um, I don't, I don't buy into that. And I also don't buy into the idea that, you know, illness does give you some insights, maybe? But they're insights that can be won more cheaply. I mean and I've always, I've always felt that way. Um, uh, not to compare my gallbladder surgery with cancer

Mark: I knew we'd start talking about your GI problems, like 5 minutes in and it was 3 minutes in.

John: Sorry I can't, I can't help myself!

Mark: How is your stomach?

John: It's all right! But I, like, the process of, like, suffering through what turned out to be a diseased gall bladder, like I'm sure I learned something, but I would've rather learned it elsewhere.

Mark: Yeah, like in a book or...

John: Yeah right! I could've just read about something-

Mark: A math set or something like that.

John: Yeah yeah!

Mark: There's a line in the book, 'Without pain, there can't be joy.' And that's crap.

John: Yeah Hazel see's that written above Gus' parents' mantel, and then she responds by meditating on the fact that the taste of broccoli does not effect the taste of chocolate.

Mark: (Laughs) Or weather! I always think, you know, people say, 'If you move to Los Angeles, you'd hate it because you wouldn't appreciate the warm weather and that's not true.

John: No that's not true at all. They're all...

Mark: I'd appreciate it every day.

John: Yeah! 'Cause every day you wake up and you're like, 'Am I gonna wear a shirt today? I don't know! (Laughter) Whereas like, here, 8 months out of the year, we're like 'Gonna wear a shirt.'

Mark: Well, let's talk about where you live and then we'll get back to the book. And the book takes place actually where you live.

John: Yeah.

Mark: In Indianapolis. You take some shots at Indianapolis in the book.

John: Ohhhh, I dunno about that.

Mark: You say that there's no culture.

John: I do.

Mark: Doesn't your wife work at the art museum in Indianapolis?

John: She does. She does work at the art museum. You know the thing that I say that's really cruel is Gus asks Hazel 'What is Indianapolis lacking?' and Hazel responds: 'skinny adults' (Audience laughter) Um, that's a bit of a shot I guess.

Mark: Yeah, there are some shots.

John: And I do say it's the 137th nicest city in America. But I have a great, I have a great love for it. I mean look, when you grow up in a place obviously you're going to see nothing but its flaws and your sort of desire to get out and your wish to live in someplace romantic like Amsterdam, but having lived in both Indianapolis and Amsterdam I can report to you that I genuinely would rather live in Indianapolis, yeah. I mean despite the availability of drugs and Trinidadian morbidly obese prostitutes, um and I should say that it's not just Trinidadian, I mean there's a world-wide phenomenon. I don't mean to single out one -

Mark: People come from all over.

John: I don't want to single out one small Caribbean country when it's people from everywhere-

Mark: It's all the Caribbean countries.

John: Every gender, every sex, intersex people, I don't want to - all human beings can, and do, work as prostitutes in Amsterdam. (Audience laughter) so, um but -

Mark: Was that what your grant was for? (Laughter)

John: Yes, yes I had to sleep with all of them. Um, it wasn't easy, I only had two months.

Mark: I look forward to the next book. (Laughter)

John: But I, but, what I love about Indianapolis is that, it's humility, and its lack of intellectual retention. And there are a lot of really talented people, there, um, and there - this is like Chicago too, they're talented and they're working hard whereas - you, you've spent a lot of time in New York so you know this. In New York you always sort of look at people are you're like - 'but what, but what do you do?'

Mark: Right, right

John: You know? So I love, I love -

Mark: Here it's like, 'What do you have to eat?' (Laughter) So but, but they do, Augustus and Hazel go on an adventure.

John: Yeah.

Mark: They go to Amsterdam, and I don't want to give too much away but one of the reasons why they go is because there is this book, which is about a young woman with cancer. And they are, especially Hazel, is just, bothered deeply by the fact that she doesn't know what happened to all the other characters in the book when it's done. And I was just, to me, on the one hand, that's a very human reaction, but it's also an immature reaction when it comes to a novel.

John: Totally.

Mark: And I imagine that you have got emails and letters -

John: Oh you think? (Laughter)

Mark: That say what happened to this character, and I wanted your take on it because I can see you being annoyed, but I can also see you also thinking about it. (John shakes his head) No?

John: No.

Mark: Not at all?

John: Just annoyed. Um, well not annoyed, but I, I agree with you that it's not... On the one hand it's not a mature reaction to reading a novel, on the other hand I don't really want mature reactions to reading a novel necessarily. Like I don't, I don't want to have readers who finish Gatsby and, like, you know, nod and give it the thumbs up. You know? Like I want to have people who are deeply emotionally involved in the story in the way that I am when I read Gatsby. Like I guess I have an immature reaction to, to Gatsby because I want to know what happens to Meyer Wolfsheim and I want to know what becomes of everybody after uh, after Nick goes back to the Midwest and what-not. But um, I both, I have that experience as a reader but then as a novelist you do have that - whenever uh... a couple of my books have very ambiguous endings, so I get those questions over and over and over again. And the answer that I don't give, because I'm not a dick, but I, I want to give, on some levels.

Mark: Because you are a dick.

John: Yeah, exactly, the dick inside of me, if you will.

Mark: I've got a dick inside of me too.

John: Can we, can we take that out of the YouTube part of it?

(Audience laughter)

Mark: Alright, keep going.

John: I've got to wait for them to stop laughing, it's going to be like ten minutes, could be the rest of the thing. ]The uh, the yeah, there is a person inside of me who wants to say like "I don't, who cares what happened to them? Like nothing happened to them, the book ended is what happened to them, it's a novel, it's made of words and the words stopped and I, I chose to stop them where I did for a reason, and um, you know if you don't like it, read a different novel. Or, or-

Mark: A longer novel -

John: Or write your own sequel.

Mark: Well there is fanfiction. Is there fanfiction of your books?

John: There is, yeah, which I'm obsessed with, I mean I read it obsessively.

Mark: Do you really?

John: Yeah. I'm really really into it.

Mark: Did you ever read the Back to the Future fanfiction?

John: No, that's, that's uh...

Mark: It's good.

John: Is it good? Yeah I, uh, my favorite stuff is the, really really aggressively sexual stuff like the, um, it's like, it's like a genre, I don't know much about fanfiction, but there is a genre of erotic fanfiction essentially, and I mean when people like put two of my characters from like, different novels together and just have them like... It's fascinating!

Mark: Yeah

John: Yeah, 'cause I mean, that uh never even crossed my mind.

Mark: Let's get serious for a second. There's... I want to quote something from the book because it seems to be something that struck me as being present in, if not all of your books, most of them. And that's, Hazel quotes Prufrock. Is that how you pronounce the poem?

John: Yeah I think so, I don't know.I read it, I don't talk about it...

Mark: "We have lingered in the chambers of the sea by sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown till human voices wake us and we drown." To which Augustus says: "Stupid human voices, always ruining everything." And it seems like, you know, every close relationship in life, you know, with your wife, my wife is, that's a private world. But it seems like in your books the characters, maybe because of the age, are really seeking to have these private worlds with somebody else, would you agree with that assessment?

John: Yeah, but I mean I think we all are, like I think we all are trying to construct these private worlds and there is, you know from your relationship or from my... your relationship with your wife.

Mark: We both have relationships with our wives.

John: With each other's wives, yeah. Um, as I know from my relationship with Gina, when you construct, (laughter) when you can construct that private world with someone, and like the husband doesn't know, and other people don't know it's really fulfilling. (laughter) Um, no but seriously it is. Like there's something tremendously fulfilling about being able to construct, um, a private, a truly private world in which you have your relationship with the people that you love is intense and personal, and complete. And that sense of complete love is, you know, a holistic, um, love, is something that I think teenagers are after but so are probably the rest of us.

Mark: Do you, there's at one point where, it's the father of either Hazel or Augustus who says you know, "Your love, your true love, it's real, it's not puppy love." And the, the inclination from adults often is to not take teenage love seriously. Um, how do you negotiate that, how do you negotiate whether these characters are really truly in love?

John: I mean teenagers, like, adults don't take teenage love seriously but the way I think of it is whenever, you know, like say you've been married for 20 years and then you get a divorce and you come to me and you're like, "I got a divorce."

Mark: As people do, when they're...

John: Yeah, you know, they call me up. (laughter) And, um, you're like, "I was married for 20 years and I got a divorce." And then, I mean, I could easily say, like, "Ehhh, you'll get over it." But, like, yeah, you probably will, but that doesn't mean that it's not real.

Mark: Sure.

John: And I remember when my college girlfriend, um, broke up with me... Shannon's laughing (laughter). My best friend's here and she was, she was there many times. She's laughing because my college girlfriend broke up with me 13 times (laughter). And she's like, "Which one?" But like when we finally broke up I remember calling my mom in tears and I'd been like on the floor of my apartment for a day and a half, and I'd had nothing to eat or drink except for this one warm, 2-liter bottle of Sprite. And my mom said, "You're gonna look back on this and it's gonna be the best thing that ever happened to you." And I was like, "Well, maybe, but not now." (Laughter)

Mark: Right.

John: You know, so like, I don't care what future me thinks of this.

Mark: Yeah.

John: Because I don't get to be future me yet, you know?

Mark: Was it the best thing?

John: Eh, like top 5. (laughter)

Mark: Well, let's talk about some non-book things. So, kinda book things, but in the past six years obviously your readership has grown. What has that allowed you the, has it allowed you the freedom to do things that you always wanted to do, that you couldn't do? Pilates? (Laughter)

John: I mean, the main thing that it's allowed me to do is to publish books when I want to publish them. And to not have to worry about publishing books on a schedule and, I mean, it's been almost four years since my last solo written book came out, and that's possible because of, partially because of YouTube and partially because, you know, I have a broader audience and so, you know, they're still buying the old books so I can make my 60 cents.

Mark: And you've got a son now.

John: Yeah.

Mark: So tell me about him.

John: Yeah, his name's Henry, he's almost 2. He turns 2 while I'm on tour, actually. Well, the great thing about being 2 is that we can just like have a birthday party for him when I get back and then like doctor all the photos (Laughter), so he never has to know.

Mark: Have him holding up a newspaper. (laughter)

John: Photoshop it in. Like you know, On January 20th, Mitt Romney, God willing, Lost the South Carolina Caucus to Rick Santorum who's on a Road to the Nomination!

Mark: What are the politics in Indianapolis?

John: I mean, I'm heavily pro-Santorum, but not the politician (laughter). Like the first week I moved there, there was this progressive dinner party in our neighborhood, and I mean, George W. Bush was President, his approval rating was like 4%.

Mark: Progressive, not political progressive...

John: No, like a thing where you go from house to house. (laughter)

Mark: Okay. Yeah.

John: So I... And I made, because I just moved...

Mark: Where liberals go house to house feeding.

John: Yes, feeding on conservative entrails, yes. (Laughter) So I made a joke about how George W. Bush was a bad President, which to me is safer than any other joke you could possibly make, you know. (Laughter)

Mark: Sure.

John: And just, silence.

Mark: Really.

John: And I was like, really? Really? 2007? Really? 2007. Really?

Mark: Yeah.

John: But, yeah.

Mark: Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Mark: And then you got, lastly, you got this video game? Tell me about this. This swindly-poops, or something? (Laughter) What is this?

John: I play the, the Swindon Town Swoodilypoopers. And I play FIFA, this is going to sound very strange to those of you who don't know anything about me, but I play a video game and I record the video game and I talk over it about, generally about maybe like the Greek economy (laughter), or why the gold standard is a bad idea, or whatever. That was met with silence, are there a bunch of Ron Paul people here? (laughter) That's awkward! So, I talk about that and I also talk about this fictional team that I've created, and then I upload the video and lots of people watch 12 minutes of me playing soccer. But you're only watching these video game people, but I've created this fictional team, and like the two forwards are both named John Green and they're married to each other, and, um, the...

Mark: This is where your love of Santorum comes in? (Laughter)

John: Yes. Right, and the center back, his name is Fitz Hall, but his nickname is One Size Fitz Hall. (Laughter) And, there are all signs of other players and lots of songs about all the players, so whenever any of them score, there's a song associated with their name. You know where it's become a big deal, so I play as this Swindon Town, which is a League 2 club, but now we're up in the Premier League. And it's become a really big deal in Swindon.

Mark: Really?

John: Yeah, and the owner of the actual Swindon Town team is a big fan of the video games, and he comments on every video. And his comment is always like, "I wish more of you guys would come to our games!" (Laughter)

Mark: More people are watching your fake games. So you won, though, you won the championship?

John: Yeah, we won the F.A. Cup in penalties against Chelsea, and I mean... (laughter)

Mark: Congratulations.

John: Mark, you know how stressed out I am about this book coming out, and...

Mark: Sure.

John: You know, and everything. Like the week before I played the F.A. Cup final, it's all I dreamt about. It's all I thought about. I imagined every way that one John Green or the other John Green, Bald John Green and Other John Green as we call them... like, who was gonna score? And then in the end, we won on penalties. A player named Parry Parry, who, do you watch Phineas and Ferb?

Mark: My son does. I just sleep while he's watching, so...

John: Yeah, okay. Well anyways, there's Perry the Platypus, and we say he's a platypus whenever he scores. And he scored the winning penalty kick. I fucking cried, Mark. I literally cried. (Laughter) I didn't know what was wrong with me. I was crying.

Mark: Well, John, congratulations on the game. (Laughter) And also the book! And you've got a tour coming up.

John: Yeah, we're going on tour starting on Monday, so I'm actually gonna drive home tonight so I can wake up with the baby in the morning.

Mark: Absolutely.

John: A couple more nights of that, and then tour.

Mark: Sounds good. Well thanks for coming on. John Green, everyone. (Applause)