What kind of question would you like answered?

Q: An Imperial Affliction is supposed to be written in Ana’s point of view. Why, when you use an extract of AIA as the epigraph, it is written in a third person point of view?

This has been fixed. But yes, YOU ARE A VERY CLOSE READER. I was pretty mad about this when I first discovered it; it should only be a problem in the first two printings of the book.

Q: Did you put the fact that Anna died mid-sentence in the book just to rule out the theory that Hazel would die (because she was the narrator)?

Well, that was certainly on my mind. There’s an argument to be made that first-person narration takes the teeth from the monster in any story, right? The I survives: You know, because the I is telling the story in the past tense, as something that happened to that I, and here the I is, still writing.

I guess it’s true I didn’t want to offer readers that luxury in this story, because it seems like a cheap kind of hope, you know? (I really tried to make TFiOS a hopeful novel, but I did not want it to be the kind of easily won or ill-considered hope that both Hazel and Augustus find so little consolation in.)

Q: Can you explain the Dutch Tulip Man / God thing?

All we ever know about the Dutch Tulip Man is:

1. He claims to be very rich (which in our world is equivalent to powerful), but he might be a fraud.

2. He may or may not really love Anna’s mother.

3. Peter Van Houten, who created the Dutch Tulip Man, claims he not but an unambiguous and obvious metaphor for God.

4. The way that Hazel and Augustus talk about the Dutch Tulip Man is very similar to the way that Hazel and Augustus might talk about God. Like, when Augustus says the Dutch Tulip Man is “not a con man, but not as rich as he’s letting on,” if you were reading the DTM as a metaphor for God, you could conclude that Augustus was saying something about his beliefs re. God and the limits of God’s power.

5. So my joke about going to church was based on that reading of the novel. Like, if you take Peter Van Houten’s word that the Dutch Tulip Man is a metaphor for God, and you see everything Hazel and Gus say about him through that lens, then asking me what I think about the Dutch Tulip Man is just asking me whether I believe in God.

Q: Is the Dutch Tulip Man God within TFIOS as well as An Imperial Affliction?


I mean, it’s no coincidence that throughout the novel, Hazel and Augustus keep talking about whether they think the Dutch Tulip Man is what he is claimed to be, and when they talk about this, you could very easily replace the words “Dutch Tulip Man” with the word “God.”

Q: Was the Dutch Tulip man a con man?

I suppose that depends upon your perspective. Van Houten tells you that the Dutch Tulip Man is God.

Q: What is the opening line of An Imperial Affliction?

The first line is “My mother’s glass eye turned inwards,” at least according to Gus’s reading to Hazel.

Q: How much of An Imperial Affliction did you write?

Only what you read in The Fault in Our Stars. (There are a few AIA lines that I wrote into TFiOS and eventually cut, but they were pretty bad.)

Q: Aren’t you even a little tempted to write An Imperial Affliction?

No, I could never write a novel like An Imperial Affliction, and I don’t think I would enjoy writing it. There’s a variety of writing that David Foster Wallace once described as, “Look, mom! No hands!” AIA, as I imagine it, is very much that kind of novel: prodigious and ostentatious and full of that Pynchonian need to show every possible thing that words can do. I love reading those books, but I’m not interested in attempting to write one.

Also, one of the magical things about books (or bands) that don’t exist is that they can achieve a kind of greatness that isn’t available to real artworks. Writing An Imperial Affliction would only ruin it, sort of by definition.

Q: Is AIA a real book? Can you make it one?

I get asked this question all the time, often by journalists. (I won’t name any names, but a pretty well-known journalist once asked me how Peter Van Houten felt about my depiction of him.)

An Imperial Affliction is not a real book, and Peter Van Houten is not a real person.
However, An Imperial Affliction is in some ways based on two books I love. The first is David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Most of the references Hazel and Augustus make to AIA are related in some way to something from Infinite Jest, and I wanted readers of IJ to be able to make those comparisons.

But Infinite Jest is not about cancer. Peter De Vries’ amazing and beautiful and hilarious novel The Blood of the Lamb IS about cancer, and most of the broad observations that Hazel makes about An Imperial Affliction—how it is a book about cancer without it being a cancer book, how is is funny and respectful and reflects the reality of experience in a way she has rarely encountered—come from my own experience reading The Blood of the Lamb.

I can’t make An Imperial Affliction real. It’s not the kind book I could write well, and on some level, the thing that we imagine will always be better than any real approximation of it that might come to exist.

But if you wish to read An Imperial Affliction, I’d encourage you to read Infinite Jest and The Blood of the Lamb and then try to blend the feeling of those two books.