What kind of question would you like answered?

Q: “Without pain, could we know joy?”- I’m trying to grasp Hazel’s opinion. She thinks it’s ignorant, and I agree. But aren’t they relative? Why did you give Hazel that view? What is your stance on this?

Well, okay, join me in the following thought experiment: Let us imagine a world without pain, in which everyone is overwhelmingly joyful each moment of their lives.

It is possible that these people wouldn’t call joy “joy,” because it would just be the omnipresent, unshakeable emotional reality. But it would still be joy, in the sense that it would be identical in feeling to our joy, only we have something to contrast joy with.

So pain helps us to define joy, but pain does not create the possibility for joy or allow joy to exist. Joy could exist without pain. We might not have precisely the same relationship with joy, but it would still be there. (Similarly, an awareness of broccoli might make one grateful for the existence of chocolate, but it doesn’t create the taste of chocolate.)

Q: Why is Hazel a vegetarian?

Well, as she says, she wants to minimize the number of deaths for which she is responsible. (And more generally, Hazel’s conception of a well-lived life is all about walking lightly upon the earth while she’s here.)

I should add that this idea came not from me but my friend Marina. I was telling her about Hazel’s character and she said, “So she’s a vegetarian right?” And I blinked ever so slightly and said, “Yes, of course,” as if I’d thought of it years before.

Q: Does it bother you at all when people refer to Hazel as Hazel Grace? It feels like only Augustus should be allowed to call her that.

The first time I read on tumblr someone say that only Gus should be allowed to call her Hazel Grace, I literally burst into tears*.

I still can’t believe how generously readers have responded to the novel and its characters, and how lovingly they’ve treated Hazel and Gus.

* Total misuse of literality, as nothing in or on me burst in any way. I just started crying.

Q: How does an incredibly socially awkward girl act all cool and awesome around a super hot guy?

Hazel strikes me as very much a popular person who happened to get cancer, not as a socially awkward girl. (I mean, she’s very intentional about spending most of her time alone, but that’s not because she’s awkward in social situations or something.)

Q: Why does Hazel shy away from physical contact with her mom?

Well, I think this is a pretty widespread teenager thing. Your parents still imagine you as a child, but you are this sentient sovereign creature, and there starts to be something almost CREEPY about cuddling with your parents for a lot of teens.

This was one of those places where I wanted to establish that just because Hazel is sick and dying or whatever, she is still a teenager, and more generally she is still human and developing emotionally at the standard human rate, and not at some wildly increased rate of development that’s only available to you if you have incurable cancer or whatever.

Q: Why is Hazel so upset about the ghettoization of breakfast foods?

I don’t really know the answer. Lots of other readers, some of them angrily/critically, have insisted that it is a metaphor for Hazel’s feeling of otherness and her own sense of isolation/ghettoization. That seems like a legitimate reading to me, but personally I just liked the idea of Hazel’s excessive empathy extending even unto scrambled eggs.

Q: Who does Hazel marry at the end of the book?


(Just not in any literal, actual way. But then marriage itself is not really a literal or actual thing. It is a weird, nebulous, spiritual, constructed thing.)

Q: Is there a deeper meaning to the part where Hazel is talking about the times with her dad in the river at Holliday Park?

Well, the current of the river returns her to her father over and over again, so water is sort of this benevolent force in that scene. But water is not always a benevolent force in the book (for instance, it is filling her lungs and killing her). It was just a little example, one of many, of how water can function both as nourisher and destroyer.

Q: If Hazel gets tired just from walking a bit, how could her lungs support her having sex with Gus?

A lot of people ask this question.

First, people with all kinds of disabilities can and do have sex.

Secondly, despite what I guess you are seeing in porn or in the movies, sexual intercourse does not have to be a particularly aerobic activity. I suppose it’s helpful if at least one partner can do some work, but you’ll recall that Gus ascended the stairs at the Anne Frank House with relative ease.

Thirdly, I don’t know how y’all are doing it, but it’s not that challenging.

Q: You once mentioned that Hazel’s views on infinity was incorrect. Can you elaborate?

Well, Hazel is just flat wrong about infinity.

The infinite set between 0 and 1 is actually the same size as the infinite set between 0 and 2, so Hazel is technically incorrect.

(It is not easy to succinctly explain why this is, although this site does a reasonably good job—there, the example used is the set of positive integers being the same size as the set of all integers, but it’s the same principle.)

However, Van Houten is right* when he says that some infinities are bigger than other infinities. For instance, as proven by Cantor’s diagonal argument, the infinite set of real numbers is bigger than the infinite set of natural numbers.

So Hazel takes Van Houten’s correct observation and makes an intuitive but incorrect conclusion from it, albeit one that provides her with real and lasting comfort.

The idea there was that I liked that 16-year-olds could make—as they do—incorrect abstract conclusions about complex mathematics. But even if these conclusions are incorrect, they can provide real and lasting consolation. I felt like it would be too neat/tidy to have everything be correct; I wanted her to make incorrect inferences from Van Houten’s monologue that still guide her thinking in a correct/helpful direction.

*I am not a mathematician, but I tried my best to get this stuff right. I don’t mean ‘think’ in the sense that this is the kind of thing you’re allowed to have opinions about. You don’t get to have an opinion on whether .999… is equal to 1, for instance. It is equal to 1. People smarter than us have worked hard to figure this stuff out, and we owe it to them and to the universe to respect what they’ve figured out.

Q: Why did you have Hazel use “text language” when she abbreviates “Yours” to “Yrs”? As a teenager who hates “text language,” I find this very offensive.

I didn’t see it as txt language; I saw it as a callback to 19th century (and earlier) written correspondence, when yrs was a popular salutation.

This obviously dates me and is a weakness in the book, and I’m sorry.

I never think about txt language. I had no idea that people on sms contracted yours into yrs.

Q: When Hazel demands to know what happens to Anna’s mother, she’s asking what happens to her own mother. Was this intended to address an idea of a sequel? Implying that sequels don’t exist for a reason?

Right. It’s okay to live with finality. (And also, within these finite spaces/lives, there are infinite sets to be found.)

But this is dangerous thematic ground to tread, because saying that sequels don’t exist for a reason (i.e., that a book ends when it ends for a reason) and then linking finite fictions to finite human lives is dangerously close to saying that lives end for a reason, which (I hope) the book does not argue.

It seems to me that one of the pleasures and consolations of fiction is the ways in which it is not like life.

Q: Why was Hazel so hung up on what happened to Anna’s mother and the other characters in AIA?

Well, I guess Hazel wants to know what will happen to her own mother after she dies, right? Hazel is very concerned about the way that her illness hurts her parents, and she is very concerned that her death will devastate or incapacitate them, which is why it means so much to Hazel when she finds out that her mom is planning to have a life even when she is gone.

But to think about those things directly is so terrifying and so awful and so upsetting that she thinks about them through the lens of AIA instead. (We all do this a million times a day in one form or another.) So she is focused on whether Anna’s mother ends up okay for the same reason Holden Caulfield wants to know if the ducks in the pond end up okay: She wants to know that she’ll be okay, and that her family will be okay.

Q: Was it purposeful to make Hazel an only child?

It was purposeful. I needed Hazel to believe (at least at the beginning of the book) that upon her death, her mom would no longer be a mom. That was really important to me.

Q: What is the significance of Hazel calling Augustus “Gus” towards the end of his life? It was pretty unnoticeable until August mentioned it.

Yes, well, I had to have Gus point it out just in case you weren’t noticing it. :) 

Augustus is a big name. It’s the name of the first emperor of the Roman Empire, a name one associates with confidence and bravado and marble statues and stuff. Gus is a much shorter, smaller name—the kind of name that appears in children’s picture books, for instance. In some ways, they’re opposites: the one a big, strong man; the other, a fragile and endangered little boy.

Hazel calls him Gus more as she knows him better, as the manic pixie dream boy falls away and she comes to know and grapple with and love this fragile, desperate, beautiful boy.

When they’re on the plane together and his facade breaks down and he gets nervous and excited about flying for the first time and she can’t help but like him, that’s Gus. When he’s using big words slightly incorrectly, that’s Augustus. :)

Q: Why does Hazel get annoyed when her dad cries around her?

I think she just hates hurting him. She worries a lot that she will become a mere sadness in her parents’ lives, and at one point explicitly says that she feels like she is the alpha and the omega of her parents’ suffering. And it becomes impossible to forget that when she sees her dad crying.