What kind of question would you like answered?

Q: When you write an eloquent sentence (i.e. “I think the universe is improbably biased (…) in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed”), do you realize that you’re being profound?

I stole that sentiment from a friend who I’m inclined not to identify, because I think she probably does not actually believe that the universe is biased toward consciousness and would be embarrassed to be associated with such an aggressively theological statement.

Anyway, the friend in question never actually said the quote from the book, but she got me close enough to it that it was easy for me to do the rest, so when I was writing that, I mostly just felt like a thief.

But yeah, I am aware that I am fairly good at turning phrases, and I do get a rush out of it. That said, I delete most of them, because they’re usually pretty Encouragement-ey.

Q: In the epigraph, you quote An Imperial Affliction, which isn’t a real book, just like F. Scott Fitzgerald quoted a made up poem in the epigraph of The Great Gatsby. Was this on purpose? Why?

Yes, it was on purpose.

1. I thought it would be funny.

2. I wanted to create in the reader that uncomfortable, excited feeling that she is on somewhat unstable ground, entering a story that seems to believe in the existence and importance of fictional stories.

3. I wanted to make a nod to my old, dear friend Gatsby.

Q: In Chapter 11, when Hazel wakes up to the excruciating pain in her head and tries to unmake the world, what do you mean when you say “when there was the Word”?

Hazel is referencing the Gospel according to John, which begins, “In the beginning was the Word.”

In the Greek, the word used there is logos, which is a really fascinating work in both secular and religious contexts, and a word she might’ve learned about—or so I imagined, anyway—in college literature classes.

Q: I really love the line, “Pain demands to be felt.”

Thanks, but I did not write that line. Peter Van Houten wrote it.

Q: What do you mean by “depression is a side effect of dying”?

Depression is (literally) a side effect of all processes of dying.

Hazel’s broader feeling is that dying—its permanence, its ubiquity—is kind of the defining characteristic of human consciousness, and that all feeling proceeds from it.

Or at least that is her contention at the beginning of the book. It’s worth noting that characters often (always?) say things at the beginnings of novels that they would not say by the end of those novels.

Q: In the chapter where Augustus and Hazel first use “okay” as their “always,” it ends with “it was Augustus who finally hung up.” Is that foreshadowing his death?

Well, as always: Books belong to their readers. I didn’t have to intend foreshadowing for it to BE foreshadowing. I was conscious of doing that, I guess, but it seems to me that foreshadowing doesn’t really have a point except to instill a sense of unease in the reader that can only be resolved by continuing to read—like, I think foreshadowing is just a subtle way to ratchet up the pace. I don’t see much, like, real philosophical or thematic guts to it. (I might be wrong, of course. I don’t really know how much about how/whether writing works.)

Q: In regards to the quote that talks about how one feels after reading a great book – how does it feel to know people feel that about your books?

It’s wonderful if people feel the connection to one of my books that Hazel feels to AIA. I didn’t write that bit thinking about my books, though; I was thinking about my own reading experiences as a teenager.

Q: You use the phrase “irreparably broken” in both Looking for Alaska and TFIOS, but with two different viewpoints. Had you changed your stance on the phrase between writing the two novels?

Interesting question. (I reused that phrase by accident, for the record.) It certainly doesn’t reflect a change or evolution in my thinking. But I’ve had a very different life from Hazel, and also a somewhat different life from Miles, and if I’m doing my job as a writer, they’re coming to the question of irreperability from their own perspectives, not from mine.

Q: I construed Augustus’s movie exhibiting he knew more than Hazel about the future. Since he was sick, he knew what was coming next in both life and the movie whereas she didn’t. Can it be both?

Yes, that too! BBTTR! That is a great reading!

Q: Was there a deeper meaning to the passage on the plane where Hazel and Augustus both pressed play at the same time, but Augustus’s movie started first?

I believe that is known as foreshadowing. :)

Q: The story begins, “Late in the winter of my seventeenth year…” But, it later says that Hazel is 16. Am I missing something?

One is sixteen in their seventeenth year. (You are still 0 in your first year; you are one in your second year; etc.)

This is one of those annoying grammatical things where being right means being confusing.

Q: The phrase “Late in the winter of my seventeenth year…” makes it sound as though Hazel is reflecting on something that occurred a few years ago. Does that mean she lives on for a while longer?

It is certainly meant to give the reader enough freedom from fear that they don’t spend every page worrying that Hazel might die at any moment (ditto the first person narration).


Q: Do you believe, as Mr. Lancaster does, that our universe “is improbably biased toward consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed”?

I’m not going down on record personally as saying the universe is biased toward consciousness, but it does seem to Mr. Lancaster at least a reasonable thing to hope. (For the record, I tried very hard to keep my own worldview on these topics out of the text of the novel, because none of the characters are very much like me, and also they’ve all had to live with things very different from the things I’ve lived with.)