Over the weekend at The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, John Green, writer of the popular YA novel The Fault in Our Stars was pretty much the headliner for what could be called Bookchella.
Seriously, the line to get into the panel stretched around the building, and his book signing line was at least more than a few hours long. GEEKexchange was able to attend Green in conversation at the L.A. book festival to talk about writing, his body of work, the film adaptation of his best-selling novel and his thoughts about communication on the web. Here are the highlights of the best nuggets of knowledge Green dropped, and his thoughts on the TFIOS movie.
Green on the idea of how reading is an internalized experience:
That idea that you can not be yourself for a while is almost a supernatural idea – maybe it is a supernatural idea because you can’t not be yourself. You’re stuck inside the prison of your body, the prison of your consciousness. When you read a story you’re living inside another character, you don’t feel like yourself. You do feel like you have a kind of empathy that isn’t available on a regular basis.
On his writing method:
When I’m writing a book I see it as a book. I don’t close my eyes and see real life. I see it in the context of other books–usually better books. I think about the kinds of books that these characters would love and that’s always for me one of the defining ways of imagining a character because I know I’m imagining a character. I’m imagining a work of fiction so what kinds of fiction would this fiction like?
Writing a book is a collaboration with my wife, a collaboration with my editors, it’s a collaboration with the people who are going to design the book, create the way that it’s read-the way that it’s copy edit it. It’s a huge collaboration. It’s a collaboration with the person who invented the genre of star-crossed lovers–which occurred over millennia. It was done not really by individuals but in collective story-telling. To try to individualize novels is very problematic for me. All of them–the good ones and the bad ones were kind of in some way made by all of us. Everything that we were doing artistically feeds into the work that we’re doing now. I prefer to think of it that way partly because it makes less pressure on me. It doesn’t mean I have to do something extraordinary, I just have to rehash stuff that other people have already made–basically. That’s my writing advice: steal.
In his novels like Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns, the characters build a family within their group of friends. Green discussed the importance of creating a family of your own outside of blood relatives:
You need a family outside of your family when you’re a teenager. You do, you need a family and you need to make that family. For most people it’s the first experience they have with making a family. Family isn’t just something that you’re born into–family can also be something that you choose and find and build over time. That’s what makes those relationships so valuable but it’s also what makes them so fraught because when a friendship is on the line–it doesn’t feel like a friendship is on the line it’s a family relationship in some ways that’s on the line. To lose it a a huge loss.Whether its a non romantic relationship or a romantic relationship the specter of that loss looms very wide over those relationships because it’s like losing family.
The adaptation of his YA smash hit novel The Fault in Our Stars is set for release on June 6, and the author discusses the process of how the production came about and what got him to say yes:
It started in LA after the book came out. The people who ended up being the producers of the movie, Rick and Issac came to see a Nerdfighter gathering on our tour in LA. They said “We really wanna make this” and I talked to them about what was really important to me. If you’re gonna make a studio movie with a girl who is wearing a nasal cantaloupe in every scene of the movie, then maybe. If you’re gonna make a studio movie where sometimes her lungs feel better so that you can get pretty pictures, you know then no. They cared a lot about the story. From Scott Neustadter who wrote the screenplay and one of the most faithful books adaptations I have ever read to Josh Boone the director, to the cast–everybody who came into the project they really cared about the story. And they were really scared of the readers of the story. They were genuinely afraid of disappointing (them) and I think that that’s a really good place to make a movie from.
On his opinion of the movie:
I really think that it really is good. And I think the reason that it’s good has very little to do with me and I’m not just saying that to be modest I’m saying that cause the reason that it’s good is because Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort they took the book very, very seriously. And they cared so much about those characters. In some cases I think they understand those characters in ways that I couldn’t. It’s their movie, it’s not my movie but I’m extremely proud of the work that they did.
On web culture and how bad people on the internet are at communicating:
What drives me crazy about the internet is a couple things. First off, a lot of spaces on the internet are not super great at nuance. They’re not “Wait, let’s pause and have an extended conversation about that before we decide how we feel about Ben Affleck playing Superman. We’re really bad at that. Instead we’re like “Oh my God! Oh no Ben Affleck is going to be Spider-Man!” And then poor Ben Affleck who just wants to be the Green Goblin, is sitting at home being like “Why do all these people hate me?” He is a human being and he has the internet so he knows. When I think of nuance, we’re not good at imaging others complexly. We’re not considering the possibility that Ben Affleck is actually going to read our tweets or even read our kind of collective thoughts on him. We’re not good at that on the internet.
Another thing we’re really not good at is we’re not good at hearing voices that are different from our own respectfully and generously. We’re not good at assuming the best from the voice of the other. That’s really problematic to me because then you have a choice. You can either live in a world filled in which you only hear voices that you know you already agree with you which is what most of us do or you can live in a world where you fight and scream at each other about whether or not it makes sense to have an individual healthcare mandate and instead of having an actual conversation about that all you do is scream and parrot talking points and try to make your enemy capitulate. That’s not how people actually have conversations. Conversations are not about attacking one another. Conversations are about cooperation. Conversations are about a kind of collaborating. And I worry that we don’t do that well on the internet. Well, we do it terribly. I’m struggling with this–we are all struggling with this. I really want there to be better spaces online where we can assume the most generous way of imagining the voice of the other. We can share generously and openly. Where we can disagree without fighting. Where we can have constructive conversations. You know, what real life used to be like.
And his favorite line from his books:
By far the one that has been the most useful to me in my career is a line that (almost got cut from the last copy edit of TFIOS) the line at the time was “If people were precipitation, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane” I asked to cut it because I thought it was cheesy and thought it was a little too much and Julie (Green’s copy editor) said, “I don’t think you should cut it but I think there’s a problem with the ‘precipitation’ ” And I explained to her that a hurricane wasn’t really rain and she was like “Just-Just-Just do it!” And this line “If people were rain, I was a drizzle and she was a hurricane” has become–you know–there’s a Tumblr that erects hundreds and hundreds of artwork made around this particular line. I can’t be anything but grateful for it.
The favorite line for me from any of my books is a line my wife said to me on our first date(Which he used in his first novel Looking for Alaska):
“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia”
The Fault in Our Stars opens on June 6. Green and the cast will be heading to a town near you for a small tour along with the film around the picture’s release.
Image: Sabina Ibarra