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Award-winning author John Green came to Worthington, OH and answered questions from Worthington-area nerdfighters! In Part 1, he discusses the topics of books and writing.
JOHN: This is John Green, the author of Looking For Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines and my new book, Paper Towns. You have, uh, very wonderfully given me some questions to answer, which I am now going to answer as quickly and succinctly and yet brilliantly as possible.

Q: Which Paper Towns cover is your favorite?

A: Uh, there are two covers, the blue and the yellow. I'm going to imagine that right now, they're coming on your screen, one blue, one yellow. My favorite, uh, is, is both. Together. Because I don't think - I think if you have one cover or the other, um, it doesn't make quite the statement that both covers together make, which is that there are many ways of, um, misrepresenting or misimagining someone else. That's not to say that I think people should buy both covers, because I think one is sufficient. I would say, if I were going to read one, I'd probably read the blue.

Q: Uh, I was wondering whether John had any say as to which model/actress would portray Margo on both covers of Paper Towns.

A: To answer that question would take 73 years. Yes, I had some say in it...um, uh...it was a long and somewhat tortured process because initially I didn't want a photographic cover at all. I kind of resisted the idea of a photographic cover and then when we settled upon the idea that we eventually settled upon, that there would be two different photographs of the same young woman that would sort of represent different, um, but equally wrong misconceptions about her, uh, then we started going through models, and a lot of the models that, uh, were sent to me initially looked like, you know, like kind of like clothes hangers or very, very thin - sort of disturbingly thin women, often seemingly in their thirties or forties, and I was looking for, like, a sixteen-year-old girl who looked like a sixteen-year-old girl. And we finally found one - her name is Dana and she lives in Canada and she's super-cool. I don't know her personally, but I have looked at her MySpace. Her MySpace is fantastic. She has a lot in common with Margo.

Q: Do I feel weird that readers will now associate this specific girl with Margo rather than leaving it up to their own imagination?

A: Yeah, I do feel weird about it, although I think that, um, whenever you are, uh, kind of constructing a character in your mind, the, uh, the photograph, or if there's a movie, the movie, um, should be ignored as much as humanly possible. And also to remember that both of the, both of the covers of Paper Towns are, um, are wrong. Like, neither of them represents anything that's essentially true about Margo, and that's intentional.

Q: Are any of your characters autobiographical, or which character is most like you?

A: I mean, I guess - I guess every character is a little bit autobiographical in one way or another, but the character who's most like I was in high school is probably Alaska in Looking For Alaska. It's an odd pick because she's a girl and I'm a guy, but Alaska's probably the character that I'm most able to relate to of anyone in my work.

Q: Uh, the address of your Web site is www.sparksflyup.com. By the way, thank you for the plug! Why "sparksflyup"? What does that mean to you?

A: Um, it's a quote from a line in the book of Job, my favorite line of scripture: "Man is born to trouble, like the sparks fly upward." So I stole that. I only stole it because johngreen.com was unavailable because it was taken by a realtor in southern Mississippi.

Q: Uh, are you religious? Are there hidden religious themes in your writing?

A: I am religious in the sense that I'm - uh, I go to an Episcopal church. "Are there hidden religious themes in your writing?" I don't think they're particularly hidden.

Q: What inspired you to become a writer, and what gave you the inspiration for your stories?

A: I think a lot of it was just the books that I read and wanting to be a part of that conversation in a different way, not just as a reader but also as a writer. Um, so I think I was inspired by a lot of other people's books along the way. I mean, um, in a way by every book that I ever read, whether I liked it or not, because they all, um, sort of had a cumulative effect on you. Also, this is terrible to say, but I was kind of initially inspired by, like, this profound desire to convince certain people who had dumped me that, um, that they made a mistake. So, yeah, so I wish that that weren't true, but it is. I mean, that's not my motivation anymore, like now I'm - now I'm motivated by readers and by the kids I meet and the people I meet, um, and talk to about my books and who read my books. That's my inspiration now, but yeah, when I was, like, sitting in that basement when I was 23, writing Looking For Alaska, I definitely spent some time thinking about girls who'd dumped me. By the way, that totally doesn't work, if you're curious. Um, I mean now I'm happily married, it's all irrelevant, but, like, for instance, one of those girls, uh, I reconnected with her via Facebook like with everything in contemporary times, and, um, she was like, "Oh, you're a writer?" I was like, "I've worked so hard, and for that? For 'oh, you're a writer?' All right, next question.

Q: Where do you get your inspiration from, uh, and how - how do you know it will work for a story?

A: Well, I kind of answered the inspiration question, but the "how do you know it'll work for a story" is a very good one. Um, I don't know if it will work for a story. Uh, and I don't know if anyone knows in advance. I think that the initial idea ultimately is sort of less important than the slow, laborious work that is executing that initial idea. Like, if you think about great books, um, sometimes they start off with really lame ideas and sometimes they start off with-with really awesome ideas; like The Catcher in the Rye, which I think is one of the great books of the 20th century, starts off with the idea - some kid who's really sad and kind of screwed up leaves boarding school and spends the day in New York. That doesn't sound like that good of a book at all, but then, in the execution, it's a really good book. Other times, there are really great book ideas, like Huck Finn - you know, uh, some kid leaves home, kills his dad, hits the road, but the road is made of water and he's with a slave and it's about slavery. That's a great idea. But for those of us who don't get great ideas every couple of weeks like Mark Twain did, um, I think it's important to remember that, uh, you can get a - you can get a medium-sized idea and turn it into a great book.

Q: Uh, are you working on another book right now, and if so, what is it about?

A: Um, yeah, I am working on another book very, sort of preliminarily. Um, and you can never really tell if it's gonna, like, turn into a real book or if it's going to become, uh, something that you stick in a drawer for the next 20 years. But, um, so I'm a little hesitant to talk about it for fear that it might never be a book and then you'll be like, "Oh, but where is that book he said he was writing?" Um, but the thing I'm working on at the moment is a sequel to a novel that doesn't exist.

Q: Does it get any easier to write a book once you've written a few?

A: No. (Laughs.) Um, I don't know - have I written a few? Maybe it gets easier later, but I - Paper Towns was not any easier to write than any of my other books and, um, the thing I'm starting to work on now isn't any easier, either. So I want to find some sort of way to James Patterson it, you know, where you can just publish a book every three or four days, but that hasn't happened yet.

Q: How did you get started writing your books?

A: Well, you know, I just wrote - I wrote Looking For Alaska - I was working at a magazine and I had a mentor there, an editor named Eileen Cooper who's an author for children, and she really encouraged me to write this story, and it took a couple years or maybe three years - I don't remember. When I'd finished a draft and revised it with her and revised it again, um, that's when we sent it off and it got published. Well, it got - they agreed to publish it and then I spent another two years rewriting it and THEN it got published. And so, that was sort of the process for me.

Q: Uh, what would your advice be to young writers today?

A: Read a lot. I don't think there's any apprenticeship for writing other than reading. I don't think there's any way to figure out how stories work or what they do or what they can accomplish and what they can't accomplish except for reading. The other thing that I would say is that I think it's kind of - strangely important to tell stories to your friends and listen to their stories. Like, when I was in high school, most of my time was spent on a couch with two other guys playing Super Mario Kart, which is a game so old that no one who's watching this will remember it, and making each other laugh. My whole goal in life was to tell stories that these guys liked, and so I was very conscious of when they weren't paying attention to the stories or when I lost them or when I had them, and I think that's a great way to learn how to pace a story, um, what - what works is just to tell stories, and translating that to text, I think, is a process and it takes some time, but if you can learn how to tell a good story to your friends, um, then I think that's, um, making progress.

Q: This question is, "Which character is most like you?"

A: I've answered that already, but maybe this time, I'll answer it differently. Maybe I'll tell, like, a complete lie. Like, the character that is most like me is the eagle from Looking For Alaska. Or let me think if I can think of another even more obscure character. Oh, someone pointed out to me recently that in both of my first two novels, there are characters named Hollis. Because clearly, I am a huge fan of that name. I guess that came through. So I will say that in both books, I am very much like whoever Hollis is in that particular book.

Thank you guys so much for watching - it's such a pleasure to be here in Worthington, and in these nice, fancy green chairs, and thank you for your wonderful questions, and, uh, best wishes!