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An interview with John Green, author of The Fault in our Stars.
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[Music & keyboard sounds]

Brian Mercer: Hello, this is Brian Mercer for Author. Today I'm sitting with John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars. John, welcome to Author.

John Green: Oh, thanks for having me.

Brian: So, I read your book and I... wow! A book about young people with cancer, and I was dying to know... I mean, it's a tough subject to handle, and I wonder what inspired you to write it.

John: Well, I worked as a student chaplain at a children's hospital about 12 years ago, um, and I knew a lot of young people with cancer then, and so that was sort of the initial inspiration, but I could never really find a way into the story, I kept trying to write it and write it over and over and over again for almost ten years. And then finally through my friendship with a young woman who had cancer, I was drawn out of the story enough to finally write it.

Brian: So there's humor in it, but it was sometimes difficult to laugh at it. How would you- how did you find a balance to, you know, not being irreverent to the subject, but at the same time wanting to make it a little bit lighter?

John: Yeah, you gotta be respectful, but at the same time you wanna be funny. The truth is that while people are alive, they're alive. And they're funny when, you know, part of being alive is being funny. And having a sense of humor, and sometimes that can be very very dark humor-

Brian: Sure.

John: Particularly in hospitals, and among caregivers and the sick. So I wanted to reflect all of that, but I wanted to try to do it in a respectful way.

Brian: And your friend who had the cancer, is she the protagonist, or-

John: No, no, no, she's very different as a person- or she was, she's since died- but she, she was very different from Hazel, and I think it would be important to her that I say that. She wouldn't want people to think that she watched America's Next Top Model or anything. So she was very different, but I do think that if it hadn't been for knowing Esther, I never could have had a way into the story.

Brian: How do you choose your projects?

John: Well, my editor would say poorly. Because I spend a lot of time choosing, and I often go down roads that are the wrong road for many months or years. But, you know, in the end, I'm always trying to work on the story that I think at that moment will be the most rewarding for my readers. I try to focus on giving a gift to them instead of just thinking about what I want to do.

Brian: Sure, sure, sure. But there's a balance, don't you think, because, isn't it difficult to, if you're thinking too much about the audience, does it stifle what you want to do?

John: Yeah, definitely. I, I can't have - I can't feel like the audience is looking over my shoulder. I never want that feeling, and when I have that feeling, I can't write well.  Um, I--you know, and I can't be focused on the marketplace or think, like, oh, this is a commercial idea or isn't a commercial idea, those are the wrong things to be worried about, in my opinion, so I have to--but if I'm trying to make a gift for someone, um, then I'm not thinking about the market, I'm not thinking about any of that, and so that--that's what works for me.

Brian: Yeah, it seems like it would be--it would be difficult to--to always have to--to think about the--the audience and to think about what your--your next project's gonna be, especially when you have such a following and there's this higher and higher expectations for what you do, how do you handle the pressure when you're going to the next project to kind of uh, to write without that hanging over your head?

John: Well, it is different, um, but at the same time I try to be conscious of the fact that it's a great gift, it's a great gift to have readers, it's a great gift to--to know that the next book that I write will have readers, that it will get published, um, that's a wonderful, wonderful blessing, and that wasn't in my life for a long time, so I'm still grateful for it.  But it does change your relationship with both your audience and your stories when you--when you--when you, you know, have that experience of having had a book come out before.  

Brian: Sure, sure.

John: And as far as how I manage the pressure, uh, you know, primarily by trying to be um, focused on the writing instead of anything else.

Brian: Yeah, I found it uh, surpr--I think it was the only one I think who didn't guess the ending. 

John: Oh yeah.  Yeah, I didn't really want it to be a secret, but I also didn't want it to be not a secret, I mean, generally, with my books, there's no real like, plot--proper plot twists, that's not really the way I write, but um, uh, I wanted the story to be--to have a turn, um, because I wanted to kind of show the--the capriciousness of disease, the--the--the fact that the universe can be pretty cold to us and to our expectations.

Brian: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?  

John: Oh, I mean, I always wanted to write, from the time I was very little, but I never thought of it as a realistic career goal, you know?  I thought of it like the way you think of being an astronaut or something--

Brian: Sure, sure.

John:--but what I didn't know then was that lots of people find--find ways to make a living writing, uh, sometimes it's through writing books, sometimes it's not, but there are lots of different ways to, you know, to use language and writing to get by.

Brian: Sure, and you wrote reviews, book reviews, early in your career.  How did that inform--when it came time to write your own stuff, how did that--what did you learn from that?

John: Oh, it was hugely important for me to able to spend--I mean, I love writing book reviews, I still love it, uh, it's a really interesting exercise in both critical reading and then uh, you know, trying to write with clarity and thoughtfulness about a reading experience, um, so I really love it, but--but--just, in terms of brute numbers, I read hundreds and hundreds of books every year when I was working as a reviewer, and that was huge, because before that, without that, you know, I wouldn't have a thousand young adult novels in the back of my mind when I'm writing.

Brian: Um, I wanna ask you about your vlog, because it's hugely successful, there's a big, you know, emphasis for authors now to publicize themselves through the internet, what do you think--you know, could you speak to that a little bit and what do you think is the reason for the success of that vlog?

John: I don't know wh--the videos are successful primarily because we got in early, to be honest with you.  We started making videos at the beginning of 2007 when it was a less crowded medium than it is now, and um, we were able to connect directly with our--with our audience.  Um, and it just built organically.  Um, as far as you like, you know, "publicizing yourself" goes, I mean, there is a lot of pressure for that, for authors.  I think the truth is you have to do what you find interesting, I use Twitter because I find it interesting, and I don't use Facebook that much because I don't find it as interesting.  There are authors who are using Facebook very effectively or touring very effectively or whatever it is, but you know, you have to find the way that you want to reach out to your readers that feels right to you, that feels organic to you, and that's the key, I think.

Brian: What did you learn from writing The Fault in Our Stars that can take to your next project?

John: Patience.  Be patient with myself as a writer and um, and have faith that I will get there instead of constantly beating myself up over not being there yet.  

Brian: Finish this sentence: If I have learned anything from writing, I've learned ______.

John: Um, to try to be kind to myself and to other people.  I really think that writing ultimately is an act of empathy, so that's what I've learned.