What kind of question would you like answered?

Q: Pudge seems to lack autonomy and only does what he’s told to do. Is this intentional?

Yeah, he starts to affect the action in the second half of the novel, but he is very conscious of this passivity. (He calls himself drizzle to Alaska’s hurricane, and the tail to his friends’ comet.) This inability to act is part of what keeps him from following Alaska out to the pay phone, a decision that he’ll have to live with for the rest of his life.

It was important to me when writing the story that Pudge not be blameless. It’s natural to feel guilty in the wake of a friend’s death, but usually, you can eventually say to yourself, “You know what? This wasn’t actually my fault. There was really nothing I could’ve done.” But in Pudge’s case (arguably like Alaska’s case with her own mother), there is something he should’ve done. He should’ve followed her to the pay phone. He should’ve stopped her from leaving. He should’ve acted.

And that’s a much more complicated kind of guilt to live with. Alaska’s death still isn’t his fault, of course. But he will always know he could’ve—and should’ve—stopped her.

The question for me becomes whether you can find a way to live with yourself, whether forgiveness is still available to you even though the person you need to forgive you is gone. Alaska can never reconcile that question for herself with regards to her own mother. Pudge does eventually find an answer that brings him comfort, but along the way he has to become much more proactive about his life and his choices.

 

Q: Miles promises his dad that he won’t smoke/drink, but he starts doing so right when he gets to Culver Creek. Did you intentionally make him a weak-minded character?

Oh, I think Miles is probably just lying to his father. You know, as one does. I don’t think he has any intention of clean living at Culver Creek.

But yeah, Miles is weak-willed. He engages in self-destructive behavior and fails to recognize the seriousness of the self-destructive behavior around him. He doesn’t take full advantage of his extraordinarily privileged opportunities. He gives money to tobacco companies, which do not deserve his money. 

And he drinks horrible wine when he could afford to drink better wine, which is one of the worst sins of all.

But let me submit to you that we are all weak-willed, that we all participate in destructive systems, that we all fail to use our opportunities as fully as we might, and that the whole business of being a reader (and also being a person) is empathizing with the flawed and uncertain people we meet in books and in life. Miles is not simply heroic, but neither is your friend. Neither is anyone.

And for the record, he does make some changes. (Most notably, you don’t see him drinking in the second half of the book.)

 

Q: Do you think that Pudge chose to “seek a great perhaps” by going to Culver Creek or was he always going to be sent there because that’s where his dad went?

That’s an interesting question, and it gets into the subtle way that privilege functions throughout the entire novel.

If you’re like most American teenagers and you announce to your parents that you wish to attend boarding school so that you can seek your Great Perhaps,your parents will say, “Yeah, no.” This may be because they don’t want you to leave the house yet; more likely it is because they don’t have 30,000 spare dollars to pay for a year’s tuition and board.

Pudge is privileged in many ways, and what he sees as “seeking a Great Perhaps” other people might see as an expensive lark where he wastes his opportunities by drinking too much wine and not studying enough. And I think it’s fair to assume that if Pudge hadn’t come from this relatively privileged background, he wouldn’t’ve found himself at the Creek. He would’ve had to find a different way to seek his Great Perhaps.

But at its core, your question gets to free will, and to what extent we are governed by our backgrounds and experiences. I can’t answer that question here. I will keep trying to write stories that poke at that question from various angles, though, and hopefully together we’ll learn more about whether the fault is in our stars or in ourselves.