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John Green: novelist, vlogger, force for good



Editor's note, May 2014: Hi there, people of the future. Care to revisit this 9,000-word, extensively footnoted interview with John Green? It's endorsed by Green himself, we swear. Look for a fresh Q&A with Green in next week's (June 4) NUVO, not to mention Ed Johnson-Ott's review of The Fault in Our Stars. And Green will appear in our June 11 issue, as well, as one of our 2014 Cultural Vision Award winners.

John Green's Broad Ripple office has something of a rec room feel. Its central axis has at one end, a flat screen TV equipped with an Xbox 360 and at the other, a recliner. On the periphery are a standard-issue office desk (off to the corner, looking largely unused), a treadmill overlooking the Broad Ripple Canal where it meets the White River (equipped with a desk where he says he writes just about every morning), bookshelves filled with hardcovers of his five novels and plenty of artwork on the walls, much of it inspired by Green's fiction.

On the coffee table in front of Green - who's seated comfortably in his leather recliner this morning, sipping on his drink of choice, Diet Dr. Pepper - are three stacks of posters, each bearing a quote from one of Green's books rendered in water colors by a Malaysian fan. Green signed all 150,000 copies, or the entire first print run, of his latest book, The Fault in Our Stars. Apparently addicted to the activity, he's going to sign the hundreds of posters sitting in front of him, employing his professional athlete-style signature, a single swipe with a Sharpie that leaves behind something resembling "JG."

Green, 35, has called himself a "professional Person of the Internet," and, to be sure, he's amassed quite the following, with 1,315,820 Twitter followers as of Dec. 30, 2012. Many of those followers would consider themselves Nerdfighters, or super-fans of the work of John and his brother and fellow video blogger, Hank Green, who have taken the brothers' lead in raising money for charity (including over $400,000 in December 2012 during an annual YouTube-based fundraiser, Project for Awesome), or, say, reading good books other than those written by John. The term describes, to be sure, nerds fighting against global injustice (or "worldsuck," as it is called within the Nerdfighter community), and not those who fight nerds. The slogan of the community is "Don't forget to be awesome," an effective summing up of the Green brothers' unashamedly optimistic approach to life and learning.

Green has found readers from the beginning - his first novel, 2005's Looking for Alaska, won the young adult fiction world's top award, the Printz - but 2012's The Fault in Our Stars could be described as his breakout hit, riding atop The New York Times bestseller list for weeks. NUVO spoke to Green in September 2012; since then, plans have come together for John and Hank Green's Carnegie Hall debut in January. Called An Evening of Awesome, it will celebrate the one-year anniversary of the release of The Fault in Our Stars, and is currently sold out.

NUVO: A representative quote about your work: "Adult readers need to look in the teen section if they're tired of what passes for literary fiction."

John Green: I like adult literary fiction a lot, and I feel bad when people say to adult readers, "You should also consider this novel, this novel and this novel" which are published for teenagers because adult literary fiction is bad. Much of it is - there's no question that a lot of it has become very disconnected from emotional reality, but also very disconnected from this kind of pleasures and consolations of storytelling and story reading. But not all of it; I mean there's tons of it. There's no shortage of good, living, American novelists who write great fiction for adults.

That said, I like being published for teenagers. I don't want to be published for anyone other than teenagers; I don't want to write any other kind of books. But most of my readers, of this book at least, are adults. And I like them, and I'm grateful for them, and I'm glad that the book is finding so many adult readers. In the end, a really good book, if it's a good book, it doesn't matter. My friend said something that at the time I thought was a little bit pretentious, but now I find myself agreeing with it. He said, "When someone reads my book, and then puts it on their bookshelf in their home library, I don't want it to go into the young adult fiction section or the adult fiction section. I want it to go into the 'my favorite book section,'" and that is true. That is what you want.

NUVO: Why do you think that this has come to find more adult readers than not?

Green: For me, traditionally, it's been half high-school, half college. Which is great; I love that because they're reading critically in school. They're reading Gatsby, and they're reading Catcher in the Rye, and they're reading all the books that I want the characters in my novels to be conscious of.4 But I don't know why it's reaching a much larger adult audience. Some days I think it's because my other books aren't as good, some days I think it's marketing. And then also I think, in the new publishing world, some of the genre distinctions are breaking down a lot, particularly if you read on devices.


John Green, by the novel: The Fault in Our Stars
Green's first book set in Indianapolis opens as Hazel Lancaster, who has lived several years with a terminal cancer diagnosis, is nudged by her mom to attend a cancer support group. She meets there another reluctant attendee, Augustus Water; equipped with a prosthetic leg, he's a bit more outgoing than Hazel, and the two soon fall for each other. They eventually make a trip to Amsterdam to meet Hazel's favorite author, a passage which gives Green the opportunity to spoof himself and the kind of fans who ask him about what really happened in one of his books. Green signed the first 150,000 copies of Stars; more than 270,000 copies had been sold by the beginning of December 2012, according to Neilsen BookScan.

John Green, by the project: Project for Awesome
The Project for Awesome, an annual YouTube based fundraiser created by the Green brothers, raised $483,446 in 2012, for various charities, according to the project's website. The Uncultured Project (see note 18) was, in part, behind the installation of pond sand filters in Bangladesh villages, working in concert with Save the Children and with support from Project for Awesome participants. Subsequent work in Haiti - done in collaboration with, a massive developmental aid organization co-founded by actor Matt Damon - was a core part of the 2011 Project for Awesome.

John Green, by the novel: Looking for Alaska
Green's first novel follows Miles Halter, aka Pudge, a skinny non-entity obsessed with the last words of famous people, as he escapes from his boring, safe home life to a boarding school. There he befriends his roommate, the fearless Colonel, and falls for the free-spirited, troubled Alaska. Hijinks ensue, but a pall is cast over the entirety of Alaska; the book's countdown structure - leading day by day to an unspecified event that demarcates before and after for Pudge - was inspired by the events of 9/11, according to Green. Winner of the 2006 Michael L. Printz award, the top prize in the young adult fiction world, Alaska has been published in more than 15 languages.

4. John Green, by the novel: Paper Towns
High schoolers Margo and Quentin, aka, Q, ransack their town during a night of score-settling mischief. And then she disappears. Puzzled, Q looks for clues as to her whereabouts, happening upon a poster of Woody Guthrie that leads him to Guthrie's song "Walt Whitman's Niece" (first recorded by Wilco and Billy Bragg), which in turn leads him to a copy of Leaves of Grass suggestively highlighted by Margo. Q follows Margo's leads down several forking paths, some of which end up in dead ends (including a fruitless trip to an abandoned subdivision in Florida). A 2009 Edgar Award winner for Best Young Adult Mystery.


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