What kind of question would you like answered?

Q: What titles did you consider before coming up with “Paper Towns”?

More Light Than Heat. I was really in love with that one for a long time. (Shakespeare)

Love Loves to Love Love. I thought that one was a hot slice of clever. (Joyce)

The Life and Hard Times of Margo Roth Spiegelman.

Chasing Margo. This ended up being the German title.

Margo Roth Spiegelman: An Incomplete Life


They were all more pretentious than Paper Towns. I come up with like 1,000 titles, and then Sarah and Julie laugh at me for my pretentiousness and we try to settle on the least pretentious title. I don’t know how I ever got The Fault in Our Stars past their pretention detectors.

Q: Have you ever thought about turning one of your novels into sequels?

I certainly don’t have any plans to write sequels. It would be hard to take up any of the characters from any of my books again (except maybe Hassan from Katherines) just because I don’t know that I could ever get their voices back into my head to my satisfaction.

I’m not going to say a flat no to this question, because some day I might have an idea I like or I’ll need money or something, but one of the big pleasures of writing for me is being done.

Q: Fear seems to be a concept that comes up often in Paper Towns. Do you think of this more as a characterization emphasizing Q’s anxiety or a recurring theme in the story throughout?

Well, Q is a very anxious person, and his life is circumscribed by that anxiety, but not always in unhealthy ways.

More generally, I was really interested in thinking about the ways that fear works—all the ways in which it can be helpful, and also all the ways in which it can be destructive. And I also wanted to think similarly about fearlessness.

When I was writing the book, I kept thinking of a conversation I had with my high school best friend, who was extremely ambitious and bright and also somewhat poor. We were at McDonald’s, and I was talking about going out that night and trying to meet up with this girl I liked, and Todd was like, “I’m gonna stay home and do some work.”

And I told him, “Carpe diem,” and he said, “If I only think about maximizing the pleasure of today, how am I ever going to get into med school?”

So you could argue that I was being bold and fearless* and that Todd was being ruled by his fear of poverty or failure or whatever. But the truth is a lot more complicated than that, and I wanted to explore that stuff.

* You could also argue that I was being fearful by not applying myself as completely as I could to my studies, for fear that my best still wouldn’t be very good.

Q: Which cover of Paper Towns do you prefer?

The one with the map on it. I don’t like covers with human faces on them, as a rule.

Q: Can you explain the title?

Sure. The phrase “Paper Towns” is used in three different ways in the three different parts of the novel.

In the first part, “The Strings,” Margo and Q use the phrase “paper town” to refer to Orlando, and Margo calls it a “paper town” because it’s flimsy and planned—from above, Orlando looks very much like a city that someone built out of origami or something. But of course what Margo’s REALLY doing by using this phrase is giving Q a clue. She’s doing a lot of things that night that he misreads, and this is one of them.

In the second part, “The Grass,” Q discovers a new meaning for “paper towns.” He learns that they can refer to subdivisions that were started and then abandoned—subdivisions that exist on paper but not (entirely) in real life. These abandoned subdivisions are pretty common in Florida.

In the final part, “The Vessel,” Q learns a third meaning of “paper towns,” this weird cartographic phenomena wherein mapmakers will insert fake places (called copyright traps or paper towns) onto their maps to make sure no one is copying their maps. It is through this that he eventually finds Agloe, a town that was fake but then made real by virtue of having been put on a map, and in doing so finds Margo.

Basically, I wanted a different definition of “paper towns” for each section of the book, each representing a different way of his imagining Margo. In the first part, he’s viewing Margo very one-dimensionally. She’s paper-thin to him; she is nothing but the object of his affection. In the second part, he’s seeing a girl who’s half there and half not—so he’s thinking about her with more complexity but still not really thinking of her as a human being. In the final part of the novel, his complex imagining reconnects him to her, albeit not in the way he might’ve hoped.

Q: Is Agloe pronounced like Aglow or like AGG-low?

I suspect if I say one more time that books belong to their readers you will potentially punch me in the face, but books belong to their readers. Never has this been more true than in the example of Agloe, which I didn’t even invent. (I’ve never heard any cartographer familiar with the story say Agloe out loud, so I don’t know how they say it, either.) I happen to say it AGG-low; my lovely editor Julie Strauss-Gabel happens to say it Aglow. It’s up to you!