What kind of question would you like answered?

Q: Do you have advice for young writers?

That is not really a biographical question, but yes, I do. I believe that reading is a writer’s greatest apprenticeship. We learn how to write by paying attention to all the ways that writers who’ve come before us used this meaningless scratches on a page to bring stories to life in the minds of readers.

My other recommendation is to tell stories to your friends and pay attention to when they get bored. I still do this a lot, and it helps me understand how to pace a story, and what kind of phrases and images audiences find engaging.

Finally, trust your critics. When someone identifies a weakness in your story, they are almost always right. They may not have identified quite the right weakness, and they may not have quite the right solution, but if your readers are bothered by something, then things have gone awry. If you’re going to ask for readers’ time, after all, the story you write has to be a gift for you and for them.

Q: What was your childhood like?

I was extremely fortunate. My parents loved and encouraged me; my brother was empathetic and supportive; my friends (when I had them) were lots of fun without being too dangerous. That said, due to some malfunctioning brain chemistry and also due just to the nature of being a person, I often felt isolated and alone and scared. I was quite nerdy and dearly wished that I could be popular. I think I was quite difficult to be around–my insecurity and anxiety made it difficult for me to have straightforward, engaging social interactions with anyone, and I was really super self-absorbed.

I don’t particularly recommend any of these personality traits, but I do think spending a lot of time in my youth (particularly middle school) alone was helpful to me as a writer: For one thing, I read a lot. For another, I spent a lot of time listening to other people talk.

Q: Where do you get your ideas?

I don’t really know. If I had a better understanding of where my ideas came from, I would go there and acquire more ideas. I don’t tend to have big ideas, like, “A SCHOOL FOR WIZARDS!” or “VAMPIRES IN SUBURBIA!” My stories tend to start out with people: a child prodigy who hits the wall of his intellectual talents. A religious but not fundamentalist Muslim in the South. A young woman kept alive but uncured by a novel cancer treatment. These characters mix with questions that interest and/or haunt me: Why are we so interested in leaving a legacy? Can we construct meaning in a world that is so profoundly apathetic toward us? Is it possible to have a full life without having a long life? That’s where my books start, really. They begin at the intersection between people I’m imagining and questions that bug me.

Q: Did you want to be a writer when you were younger?

Yes, but I always thought being a writer was, like, being an astronaut or playing in the NFL or something. It always seemed to me a very unrealistic dream. (I still don’t think of writing as my fulltime job: I make videos and help run merch companies and other stuff.) Shortly after I graduated from college, I began working at Booklist Magazine. Booklist is an amazing magazine. Every two weeks, they review HUNDREDS of books. It slowly dawned on me that each of those books was written by someone, and I started to feel like maybe I could be one of those someones. During these years, I was also very blessed to have one of my editors at Booklist, Ilene Cooper, mentor me and encourage my writing. Ilene is an author, and through our friendship, I realized that people who write books are not, like, fundamentally different from other people. (Well, Ilene is smarter and funnier and better-informed than almost anyone else, but you know what I mean.)

So, yes, I wanted to be a writer. But it wasn’t until I was much older–in my 20s–that it seriously occurred to me that I could be a writer.

Q: Did you receive any formal education?

Yes, I graduated from Indian Springs School (in Alabama) and then received a B.A. from Kenyon College (in Gambier, Ohio), where I double-majored in English (mostly Mark Twain) and Religious Studies (mostly Islam).

Q: Where do you live?

I currently live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I wrote most of The Fault in Our Stars and much of Paper Towns here. We used to live in New York City, where I wrote part of Paper Towns and most of An Abundance of Katherines. Before that, I lived in Chicago, where I wrote Looking for Alaska.

Q: Where did you grow up?


Primarily in Orlando, Florida but also a little bit in Birmingham, Alabama

 

Q: When were you born?


August 24, 1977