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Looking for Alaska:
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In which John discusses, exactly five years after winning the Michael L. Printz Award for Looking for Alaska, the complex series of collaborations involved in creating a book.

By the way, I don't know if anyone actually reads the dooblydoo, but more than five years after "Looking for Alaska" was published, it had its bestselling week EVER two weeks ago. I can't tell you guys how much I appreciate you reading "Alaska" and sharing it with your friends. You are...I'm just going to say it...better than pizza. Thanks.


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A Bunny
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Good morning, Hank. It's Friday, January 21, 2011. I want to continue our discussion about how the truth resists simplicity by talking about narrative complexity, but in order to do that I need to talk about my favorite person: ME! Okay, Hank. So the biggest award in young adult literature is called the Printz Award, which looks like this (award stamp on Looking for Alaska) on a book, and looks like this (actual Printz Award) in a basement. And the single most important moment in my whole professional life happened five years ago, almost to the day, when I received the call saying that Looking for Alaska, my first novel, had won the Printz Award. And it was especially meaningful to me because my first job after college was as a temp at the magazine, Booklist. And on my first day at Booklist, I had to retype, that's how old I am, all these speeches that were given at the first Printz Award reception. And that is the good narrative, right? You start out with this twenty-two year old professional data entrist who writes a novel for years and years at night and on the weekends, and then eventually it comes out and he wins the very award that he used to type the speeches for. And you can imagine this young writer working in isolation and getting rejected over and over and over again until a publisher takes a chance on him. But Hank, the actual story of how this book came to exist and have this shiny piece of gold on it is different and more complicated so I thought I would try to tell that story today.

So I did write this story at night and on the weekends for three years, but I had constant help from my friend, Ilene Cooper, who was one of my bosses at Booklist and who's also an author. Ilene probably read and commented on like a dozen drafts of Looking for Alaska--which by the way, wasn't even called Looking for Alaska until my friend, Keir Graff came up with that title. Then, once Ilene was happy and I paid Keir his two dollars for coming up with the title, Ilene and I sent it to Penguin and they agreed to publish it, provided I revised extensively. Although, I had no idea about how extensively I would have to revise it.

So this book, for those of you who haven't read it, is about a guy who memorizes the last words of famous people, and falls in love with a girl named Alaska. Only, when Penguin agreed to buy the book, it wasn't about a guy who memorizes the last words of famous people. In fact, a lot of what people like about the book, from the "Great Perhaps" to the labyrinth, came out in those revisions after I'd sold the book to Penguin. So Hank, about four years after I started, I had a reasonably finished manuscript. Although, it would be wrong to say that I wrote that book. The truth is that Ilene wrote parts of it, and my editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel wrote parts of it, and my wife wrote parts of it. In fact, all these people (Ilene Cooper, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Keir Graff, Robert Frost, Princess Diana, Henrik Ibsen, W.H. Auden, James Dean, Emily Dickinson, Bill Ott, Dr. Bob Cooper, Ernest Hemingway, Dr. Perry Lentz, Sarah Green, Dr. Don Rogan, Arthur Miller, Julie Strauss-Gable, Jenny Lawton, Emily Chambers, Kurt Vonnegut, Edgar Allan Poe, Francois Rabelais, David Foster Wallace, Edith Wharton, Charlotte Bronte, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Eugene O'Neill, Herman Melville, Leo Tolstoy, Sydney Green, Hank Williams, Antoine de St. Exupery, Mike Green, The Mountain Goats, Todd Cartee, Emmett cloud, Dave Eggers, Amanda Key, Braxton Goodrich, Bill Monroe, William Faulkner, Pablo Picasso, Chinua-Achebe, Toni Morrison, & EVEN YOU, HANK GREEN) wrote at least a little bit of Looking for Alaska. And I am grateful to each and every one of those people, although no, they cannot have any of my royalties.

We all like this idea that a book is created by a single person for a single reader because it's a narrative that makes sense, but the truth resists that simplicity. As the great Carl Sagan said, "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe."

So all these people worked to make a book. It came out. Twelve people in a room decided this award (Printz), and I was really happy. And then a little part of me was like, so what? What I eventually realized is that the real business of books is not done by awards committees, or people who turn trees into paper, or editors, or agents, or even writers--we're all just facilitators. The real business is done by readers and the Looking for Alaska that you read is not quite like the Looking for Alaska that anyone else reads. The hundreds of thousands of Looking for Alaska readers' stories are not something I can hold in my hand or even get my head around.

But Hank, I do want to say to you and all the Nerdfighters who've read my books, that being able to participate in big, interesting conversations with you through stories like this one (Looking for Alaska) and my other books is really the most fulfilling thing about my life. Just kidding! It's Henry and Sarah! But you guys are great too. Seriously, if I didn't have such a cute kid and a great wife, you would be at the top. Well, pizza. It goes Sarah and Henry, pizza, the rest of my family, Nerdfighteria, The Mountain Goats--that's my top five. Hank! I am Freedom in Panem, and I will see you on Friday (rolls up to look at calendar). It is Friday! I'm so bad at that! (while spinning around in chair and flailing arms in agony)