Previous: Toyota's Green Cars at NAIAS 2009
Next: John Green -- The Interview Show Part 2



View count:53,949
Last sync:2023-01-28 04:00
John Green, author of "Looking for Alaska" and "Paper Towns," talks about his life and work with "Interview Show" host Mark Bazer. Next Interview Show is April 3 at 6:30 p.m. at The Hideout, in Chicago. for more info.

Next Interview Show is April 3:

John: Good to see you Mark.
Mark: Yeah, thanks for coming.
J: Well, thanks for having me.
M: You had a ridiculous 2008.  Paper Towns came out, hailed by the critiques, loved by teenagers and adults all over the place, and librarians.
J: Mostly librarians.
M: You started writing a, you started writing a script for paper towns,
J: Yeah
M: Looking for Alaska, your first book, is going to be made into a movie.
J: Yeah, probably a bad movie.
M: Well, okay, that's fine.  You had too many friends on Facebook, they told you, no more friends on Facebook.
J: That was the accomplishment of the year, really, I mean everything, the New York Times best seller list and everything, that can, that, that, they can take that away from you, but they can't take away from you having too many friends on Facebook.
M: If I can get off of Facebook that will be the thing of the year for me. Anyways, 
J: I'd appreciate it, because then I could have a new friend. Every time-- (audience laughs)  I've got a lot of people sitting in the wings, you know.  I've got 983 friend requests,
M: I'll tell you what, tonight I'm going on, and I'm deleting you from my friends.
J: That'd actually kind of hurt my feelings.
M: So I, what I wanted to ask you was you've had all this success this year, what's it been like emotionally for you?
J: Um, uh, pretty much the same.
M: Which is what?
J: Which is sort of medium. Uh, you know it's, it's, it's astounding how, uh, how little, considering how much time and energy we all spend thinking about how if one thing happened or if one more thing happened, then we would be happy.
M: Yeah
J: It's astounding how wrong we are about that.  I mean, I always, you know, I always thought that, that if I had a book that people liked then, then I would be happy, and I am happy, but mostly because I like my wife, you know, it has very little to do with, 
M: I think I'll be happy if I can just get a new couch here, this couch is getting, 
J: You think so, 
M: So ratty, 
J: I mean, I think this is, this is sort of the corner stone of the show, I mean, you, of course
M: So I should leave?
J: Well, you'd like to think that it's about you, but I think that without the couch, you've got nothing.
M: Well every time I've got to bring it up afterwards, and every time I break another piece of it.  Pretty soon I'm going to have to bring it down in pieces and put it back together.
J: Yeah
M: But, well, well that brings, leads me to the next question: there was a survey you filled out, I think I read it on Facebook, and, uh, it asked you, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" and you said I wanted to be this, but I pictured it differently.  But you didn't answer how you pictured it differently, which left everybody hanging, and I want to be able to get you to answer that.
J: Uh, well, when I was, I mean when I was a kid I pictured, I didn't think about the business side of writing, or any of that, or, I just thought about,
M: You don't have to sell your books, you could just write
J: I don't have to, but then I , then I, um, wouldn't be able to pay the mortgage.  So I mean, the, I didn't think about the balance that, that there is between the, the work that I love and then having to back it up.  Also I think., like a lot of people I really like, uh, starting something, but then doing it is awful.  You know?
M: Is that why your novels are pretty short?
J: I'm just like enough already.  Someone asked me that recently, like a kid emailed me and asked me, "did you rush through the end of paper towns?", and I was like, I spent 3 years writing the book, you don't think, I like, looked at the end and couple times?
M: That's horrible. That's really mean.
J: Yeah, they don't know.
M: I wrote, I wrote a column about a year and a half ago that was kind of a satire, I won't go into the full details, but,
J: It was very funny
M: It was very funny, and, uh, some teacher in Aurora assigned it to her 6th grade class, 
J: Woah!
M: And now I have all these 6th graders emailing me, and asking, what did I mean?, was it supposed to be funny?
J: I like it best when they don't, uh, when they don't say what they mean, when they're like, "what would you say that the themes of your novel Looking for Alaska are?", and I'm like, oh, I'm sure you're just curious.
M: What, what, well that was, that was my next question actually.  The last time we talked, you were being chased out of Buffalo, I think it was.  
J: Yeah.
M: Were you, what happened, did you get back in there?
J: I was being my, well my book was being, my first novel was being, Looking for Alaska was being taught in a, uh, curriculum, in, in a high school in Buffalo, New York, they didn't, somebody didn't like the cut of my jib, they didn't like the fact that I, I acknowledged that blow-jobs are something that happen in the world, uh,
M: shhhhh
J: it's true, um, 
M: Your books, I mean, your books, if they were made word for word into movies, because of the arcane laws of whatever does the ratings, would probably be rated R. 
J: At least. Yeah, but I, but, but, but, uh, but, the great thing about, the great thing about books, which is that we don't have that.
M: Right.
J: Uh, and that we're able to see things in their proper context, and in the end, uh, I, I, my brother and I have this video blog and we have this huge force of people behind us, who are extremely well organized, and so when this little town in New York challenged Looking for Alaska, 7,000 people wrote letters, uh, and they got terrified, and the one, the one member of the school board who was going to vote against, against it being in the curriculum, didn't show up to the meeting. And it's nice, you know, usually teachers and librarians have to, have to be like their suffering alone in this, and, and they're the ones who feel like they're alone, and it was nice to make the person who would challenge intellectual freedom to be scared.
M: You know, John's not kidding, he's got-- if you're 16 years old you probably either like, Miley Cyrus, maybe self-mutilation, or, or John Green. And he's got so many, 
J: I mean, I have to say, those Venn diagrams touch in some places, it's, it's not just an "or."
M: But listen, he is so, let's show the, can we show the slides, you don't have to turn off the lights for this, but John is so popular that people are,
J: I wish you hadn't done this
M: People are making artwork of John Green, let's go to the next one, that's him and his brother, 
J: Yeah
M: This last one, I don't get this last one,
J: Yeah
M: That's John as a hamburger.  I always thought you as more of a, I don't wanna, 
J: Well I put on some weight since I left Chicago.
M: Um, well let's talk a little bit about, explain to me, who the Nerdfighters are. That's a group of your fans,
J: Yeah
M: Are they, are they people who fight nerds, or nerds who fight other people?
J: Yeah, I mean, obviously they're not fighting nerds, or they would beat, they kill us.
M: Right.
J: Uh, no, my brother and I have this, this video blog on, on YouTube that's become quite popular, and our, our fans are called Nerdfighters, because they fight, they're like freedom fighters.
M: Okay
J: You know, they're for nerds, the same way the freedom fighters are for extensively for freedom.
M: Okay, and they, and do you identify yourself as a nerd?
J: Yeah!
M: Yeah?
J: I mean, I, I identify myself as a nerd and then also so does everyone else.  Uh, I mean, pre me identifying myself that way, I was informed by other people.  
M: I feel like I was, like, five years too late on that, 
J: Really?
M: Like I had been in high school when nerds were cool, now nerds are cool, I was just a nerd.
J: Not, not, not, not that cool 
M: No?
J: No, I mean, you'd be surprised.
M: You've got 7,000 people challenging the Buffalo library, what could be cooler?
J: Well, no, no, no, no, no, they, yeah, but they are also nerds.  What, what the internet, what the internet provides us is that instead of it just being our high school, which is unbearable, the world becomes larger than our high school, so instead of there being only two or three of us in each high school, suddenly there are 60,000 of us.  Uh, and I mean, thank god I've got,
M: That's true of everybody, that's true of,
J: It's, it, that's right, it's also true of, you know, fans of ping pong, 
M: Right, right.
J: Yeah.
M: Of which I am one.
J: Of which I am one, too, see? And,
M: Well, let's talk a little about the book, Paper Towns.  I could explain it, but I'm sure you'll do a better job.  What's that, what's the book about?
J: I grew up in Orlando, Florida, and Paper Towns is set, primarily, in Orlando, and it's about a kid who, uh, lives next door to this, in fact, uh, my friend Nathan Raven is here tonight, and he invented, he works for The Onion, and he invented the phrase manic pixie dream girl, which has become really central to, uh, the way I talk about Paper Towns, and also to the way I imagined it when I was writing it, um, this kid Q lives next door to this manic pixie dream girl, named Margo Roth Spiegelman, and if you don't know what a manic pixie dream girl is, then, you're a girl, um, but a manic pixie dream girl is the, uh, the, the, the beautiful, um, quasi-impossible presence, who enters one’s life, changes ones world, and then, uh, um, disappears mysteriously, uh, which is more or less what Margo does, Q and Margo go on this insane all night adventure through the streets of Orlando, Florida, and then Margo disappears, um, the rest of the novel is spent, sort of, searching, trying to discover what, Q trying to discover what happened to her, it seems like she's left clues in her copy of Walt Whitman's Song of myself, that are directed explicitly toward him, um, which is the typical manic pixie dream girl thing to do, um, the manic pixie dream girl it seems to me is like a profoundly dangerous lie, when you imagine someone as more than a person, it's just as dangerous as when you imagine someone as less than a person, and, and uh, what I wanted to do in Paper Towns is to sort of, uh, stab a stake in the heart of that lie.
M: Well, you write, "The fundamental mistake I had always made-- and that she had, in fairness, always led me to make--was this: Margo was not a miracle.  She was not an adventure, she was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl."
J: I mean, it's almost like we set that up before,
M: Can you believe that, 
J: But we didn't, we didn't, yeah.
M: That's how prepared I am.
J: And that was your next card.
M: I have a card for every single passage in the book.
J: Wow! But, yeah, that is preciously the point, I mean, the, the, this is something that Q comes to about two thirds of the way through the book, is, is, is the reason that, what, what makes it so difficult to find Margo is not, or to discover what's happened to her, is not ultimately that she has made it difficult, it's that he has failed to imagine her as a person, he has all this time been imagining her as this fine and precious thing.