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In which John charts the long and winding road of the movie/television adaptation of his first novel, Looking for Alaska.

Congrats to Charlie Plummer and Kristine Froseth on being cast in the Looking for Alaska series; their auditions really blew me away. I just want to put a note here to restate my gratitude to everyone--including the producers and Josh and Stephanie and everyone at Hulu and Paramount TV--for working together to make this happen. I am so hopeful for the series and so excited about it.


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Good morning Hank, it's Wednesday. Happy Day 3 of Pizzamas! So yesterday it was announced that Kristine Froseth & Charlie Plummer have been cast to play the leads in the 8 episode Hulu adaptation of my first novel, "Looking for Alaska". And today I wanna talk a little bit about the winding road that led to that moment.

"[Looking for] Alaska" was published in March of 2005. I was 28 years old and living in Chicago. Sarah and I had been dating for like almost a year. I didn't know how to refer to her in the acknowledgments so in the end I thanked "the lovely Sarah Urist". But that summer we got engaged on the same day Sarah found out she would be attending graduate school in New York City, which was very exciting. But also it was not clear to us how we were going to like afford to live in New York for two years. I mean "Looking for Alaska" was selling okay, but not like "move to New York and quit your job" okay.

Quick side note, since I'm talking about book sales, to me the point of writing is not to like create a book that sells a million copies or lives for a hundred years or whatever. I think the point is to try to write something that matters to those who find it. There are many books that have long been out of print that are still for me are candles in the way down darkness. So yeah, maybe they're not widely read any more but they still matter.

Okay, back to talking about money, we did not have a lot of it. And you can't eat art. Well I guess you can, but it's not a good long term strategy. And then, quite suddenly, "Looking for Alaska" attracted interest in Hollywood. One morning I was a person with a book that was not selling well and by that afternoon I was a person who had been paid three times my annual salary for the movie rights to that book. It allowed us to move to New York, it bought me time to write, it was life changing. There was just one thing, which is that the deal contained no reversion clause which meant that the movie studio that bought the rights to "Looking for Alaska" would own them forever. Now to be clear, I understood what I was doing and the thing about selling something is that then you don't own it anymore. So the person initially attached to write the screenplay was Josh Schwartz who, with Stephanie Savage, has made lots of great TV shows and Josh wrote an excellent script. But then the studio wanted a bunch of changes, mostly to make it less like the book.

It's really easy to paint Hollywood producers and executives as cartoon villains and I know that some of them are. But actually I just think it's really hard to get a movie made, let alone a good movie. Like it's hard to get someone to say "I would like to write a $20 million check for this thing that doesn't exist yet." And indeed they couldn't get anyone to say that, so after a while "Alaska" movie was dead. It stayed dead until 2014, when a different book of mine was adapted into a very successful movie and then everyone was like "Hey has that guy written any other books?" With "The Fault in Our Stars" movie, everyone, including everyone at the studio, cared so much about the book and having that wonderful process really made me really want there to be an "Alaska" movie. And the studio that owns the "Alaska" rights did try. They hired awesome screenwriters and a wonderful director only to cancel the movie at the very last minute.

In the past I've been pretty philosophical about the failures of the "Alaska" adaptation, but that time I was heartbroken and very angry. So I told them that I was out. That they could obviously make whatever they wanted, because they owned the rights, but I did not want to be involved. And then, a few months later a producer friend of mine called me with an idea. What if Josh and Stephanie, the people who cared about the book and championed it all these years, long before it ever had a big audience, were actually able to make it? And what if they had more time than a movie has? Time to tell, not only the full story of the book, but also things that are only hinted at in the book. And so "Looking for Alaska" was reimagined as an 8 episode limited series that will air on Hulu, a streaming service that did not exist when the book was first published.

This time it is really going to happen! (I think). It is not my series. It will belong to Stephanie and Josh, as it should, but they have been really welcoming to me in every aspect of the process. Which included sending me the audition tapes of the actors who've been cast as Alaska and Miles and I have to say both of them embody those characters for me in ways that I find surprising and kind of overwhelming. I later learned that they both read the books years ago and really care about it. Who knows how the show will end up but I'm so excited and really grateful to everyone who stuck with this for 13 pretty long years. I mean, when "Looking for Alaska" was first published Charlie and Kristine were little kids. I don't believe in fate, but what good fortune that the story waited for them.

Hank, I'll see you tomorrow.