What kind of question would you like answered?

Q: Can you explain the significance of the last few sentences?

It is an invocation of hope in the life of the world to come.

 

Q: Can you explain Alaska’s knock-knock joke?

No one gets the knock-knock joke. It was a bad joke, and Julie told me to cut,and I should’ve listened. If they ever give me a chance to release like a “revised and updated” version of the novel, it will be the exact same book only without the goddamned knock-knock joke.

So the joke is: You say, “It’s a knock-knock joke. You start,” and then the person says “Knock Knock,” and then you say, “Who’s there?” and then the person realizes that they’ve been had, that one cannot start a knock-knock joke without knowing the end of the knock-knock joke. So when you say “Who’s there?” the other person has a slight little self-deprecating chuckle over not having realized from the beginning that they were going to end up in this pickle.

I had all kinds of super symbolic reasons for this knock-knock joke about Alaska asking Pudge, “Who’s there?” and Pudge not being able to answer, about his failure to really know Alaska, about how her air of mystery was mostly about his just not being very perceptive, etc. etc., all of which was stupid and irrelevant because no one gets the joke.

Q: Is there significance to the Colonel calling Miles “Miles To Go Halter”?

 Halt Her.

 

Q: Was “from a hundred miles an hour to asleep in a nanosecond” supposed to foreshadow the way Alaska dies?

Yup. I like foreshadowing, because as both a writer and a reader I value anticipation over surprise.

 

Q: Where did you come up with the idea for, “No one can catch the motherfucking fox”?

In high school, I had a friend who would wear a fox hat when breaking rules, and when asked why he was wearing a fox hat, he would always say, “Because no one can catch the motherfucking fox.” 

 

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Q: Why did you decide to use the word disintegrating to describe the school after The Eagle told everyone of Alaska’s death, rather than say falling apart?

These little language choices are really interesting and important to me, and it’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about, even though often especially in my early drafts the word choices often aren’t particularly good.

But because I have this uncommonly brilliant and thoughtful editor in Julie Strauss-Gabel, she is always calling word choice to my attention, and wondering whether there might be a more interesting way to say something, etc. What I like about the word disintegration in that moment is that it implies there had been up until then an integration. Pudge had assimilated into the culture of Culver Creek, and although certainly not all the students like each other, there is a feeling of balance and unity and integration: Almost everything that has occurred so far in the story has been either about people living on that campus or visiting it.

There are no outside events at Culver Creek. You only see Jake when he visits. The kids on other basketball teams are only relevant when they come to campus.

There are trips to McDonald’s and Coosa Liquors, but they’re all about Pudge and his fellow students. (In the case of the Coosa Liquors trip, Pudge never even gets out of the car.)

This integrated life is totally destroyed with Alaska’s death, though. She doesn’t even die among them: She dies off campus, away from this integrated world Pudge has created, and so what follows feels like a disintegration. Pudge later uses the phrase “falling apart” to describe the general condition of things in the universe, but in that intensely personal moment, it doesn’t feel like a general falling apart. It feels like his specific, insulated world has disintegrated.

 

Q: Does it bother you that the drizzle/rain quote is used so often?

No, I am totally delighted that people/rain/drizzle/hurricane has become so widely quoted online that an extensive tumblr is devoted to it.

The original line was “If people were precipitation, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane,” but then the brilliant Julie Strauss-Gabel stepped in and improved it, thank God. And then in the last big round of edits, I wanted to cut the line, and Julie was like, “Eh, I think we should keep it in,” and BOY, WAS SHE RIGHT.*

Of course, I hope lots of people read (and buy!) Alaska, and that the p/r/d/q quote is not their only interaction with it, but that little quote has brought a lot of people to the book who otherwise might never have heard of it.

* Julie was also like, “You should really use the word deadpan a bit less often in this novel.” Sadly, I ignored that advice.

 

Q: Was the blow job scene based on something that actually happened?

Right, let’s talk about the blow job. (I am not going to comment on my private sexual life, because…ew. No one wants that.)

The oral sex scene in Looking for Alaska between Lara and Pudge takes place immediately before a far less sexually intimate but far more emotionally intimate encounter between Pudge and Alaska.

The language in the oral sex scene is extremely clinical and distant and unsensual. The word “penis” is used rather than member or hot rod or whatever else you’ll find in romance novels. The adverbs and adjectives that appear in that scene include weird, nervous, and quizzically.

This is in very stark contrast to the scene where Pudge and Alaska kiss a few pages later: “Our tongues dancing back and forth in each other’s mouth until there was no her mouth and my mouth but only our mouths intertwined. She tasted like cigarettes and Mountain Dew and wine and Chap Stick. Her hand came to my face and I felt her soft fingers tracing the line of my jaw.” There’s a lot of evoking of senses in that paragraph (some might argue too much), and it’s much sexier and more passionate than the language used to describe the blow job.

I wanted these two scenes to present a dramatic contrast because I wanted it to be clear 1. that Pudge and Lara were curious about each other, and interested in exploring, but not really that passionate about each other, whereas 2. Alaska and Pudge were clearly very passionate and caring and attentive in the way they kiss, and most importantly that 3. physical intimacy isn’t and can never be an effective substitute for emotional intimacy.

It seemed to me pretty obvious that I was arguing against vapid sexual encounters in which no one has any fun and celebrating the underappreciated virtues of super-hot kissing in which everyone keeps their clothes on. (Some censors, clearly, feel otherwise, although most of them never read the blow job scene in context.)

 

Q: Can you explain the ending of Looking for Alaska?

Well, when I was writing “Alaska,” I wanted the end NOT to give us what we want, which is of course to know whether Alaska’s death was a suicide or an accident. The truth is that in our lives we are all going to encounter questions that should be answered, that deserve to be answered, and yet prove unanswerable. Can we find meaning to life without those answers? Can we find a way to acknowledge the reality (and injustice) of suffering without giving in to hopelessness? Those are the questions I think Miles is confronting at the end, and I wanted to argue that through forgiveness, it is possible to live a full and hopeful life—even if our world is saturated with injustice and loss.