What kind of question would you like answered?

Q: Is Gus’s name related to Gus is a Bug?

Total coincidence, but good example of what I was talking about before—how Gus is a little kid’s name and Augustus is an emperor’s name.

Q: Why the name “Augustus Waters”?

Augustus: see above.

Waters: There’s a lot of water in the book. Key moments occur in a city famous for its canals, a city basically that engineers built by pulling away the water, and Hazel is herself a person surviving thanks to doctors pulling away the water in her lungs. (Hazel explicitly makes this connection at one point, calling herself Dr. Maria’s Amsterdam.) Also, water is both a source of nourishment and a potent force of destruction.

Q: In chapter two, when Augustus wants to take Hazel down to “show her the basement,” are his attentions honorable?

Oh I assume because he wants to make out with her. Is that strictly honorable? I think it is!

Q: When Gus is dying, he seems meaner, or at least less charismatic. Was this intentional?

I am really bothered by the idea that people in pain who are being wrenched from existence should be perpetually cheerful and compassionate about it.

More generally, I wrote this book partly because I was tired of reading stories in which dying or chronically sick people served no purpose in the world except to teach the rest of us to be Grateful For Every Moment or whatever. Making the lives of the dying about the betterment of the social order for the well really offends me, because it implies that the dying are already dead, and that their lives have less intrinsic meaning than other lives.

I wanted to try to reflect dying as honestly as I could, and part of that is frustration and anger and shortness and fear. Gus is supposed to seem less charismatic and less heroic (at least by standard definitions of heroism) as he gets weaker, but he is more human, and the love they share is more human and more sustainable than the performed, monologue-laden love they both initially think of as perfect.

We have this cultural idea—some of this is due to certain interpretations of Christianity that have held sway over our culture—that humans are made more heroic and more perfect through dying and death, that dying elevates us to perfection. Romantic epics tend to further that idea, but I didn’t want to: I wanted to show that people in dying often become weaker and more human, but that this humanness is what is actually heroic, not grand gestures of sacrificial suffering. In my opinion, actual heroism, like actual love, is a messy, painful, vulnerable business—and I wanted to try to reflect that.

Q: What are some of the words Gus misuses?

He says soliloquy when he means monologue, for instance. There are a few other examples, but I can’t think of any at the moment. You’ll notice them as you read, though.

Q: What did Augustus mean when he said, “I like my choices. I hope she likes hers”?

The line before that is, “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who does the hurting.” What he’s saying is that the only choice you have is in who hurts you, not in whether you get hurt. Then he says that he likes his choices—i.e., that he does not regret loving and being loved by Hazel.

And then Hazel says, “I do,” which is her saying that she also likes her choices—and also simultaneously saying the words that one says when one gets married.

Q: Is there any reason for why Augustus always hung the phone up first?

Same reason his movie starts first on the plane. Foreshadowing.

Q: Do you think that Augustus is the manic pixie dream character of the novel?

Not really. Augustus’s way of imagining a good and heroic life is really problematic for Hazel, and she thinks that he is completely wrong. That’s very different from the standard manic pixie dream interaction, in which a character appears whose worldview the protagonist finds wholly convincing and totally revelatory. It’s true that Gus helps bring Hazel out into the world, but she never really buys into his wanting to live a big life crap.

Also, Gus’s obsession with living a kind of performed life can be really off-putting (like when he makes everything just so at the funky bones with all the Dutch things, except the conversation is bad because he just wants to deliver his memorized lines and the food is also bad because food chosen for metaphorical resonance does not tend to taste good).

Hazel is conscious of these immaturities, but she has some immaturities of her own. Their great gift is that they’re able to put that stuff aside and care for each other while also not backing down from their convictions.

Q: Did Augustus actually want to go see Van Houten to get answers? Did he care or did he do it exclusively for Hazel?

I don’t know; I wanted that to be ambiguous. (Like, in general I think people have very complicated reasons for wanting things, and we often have no idea whether we’re actually motivated by altruism or a desire to hook up or a search for answers or what.)

I always get annoyed when in books or movies characters want clear things for clear reasons, because my experience of humanness is that I always want messy things for messy reasons.

So I try as best I can to reflect that in fiction while still writing stories that you will hopefully like.

Q: Hazel and Gus have sex before he tells her about his cancer which is unethical. It's like Gus is clinging to his romantic delusions, but is lying to her. Is it supposed to be a romantic scene?

It was supposed to be complicated. Here’s this moment that should be this great moment of romance and emotional connection, but Gus isn’t being honest with Hazel, and besides that, the whole thing is awkward and nerdy and physically challenging, and Gus still wants to be someone he’s never going to be, and Hazel thinks she’s going to make Gus’s life worse in the long run, but they still love each other anyway.

Q: How is it that Hazel and Augustus have known each other for a week, but he wants to give his wish to her?

At that point in the novel, they’ve known each other for quite a bit longer than a week, and he doesn’t give her anything; he shares it. But more generally this points to something very important about Augustus, which is that he is given over to grand, Romantic (in the larger sense of the word) gestures. (See also, smoking unlit cigarettes.) I think Hazel initially sees this as a very endearing quality, but it comes to be really frustrating for her—a frustration that reaches its sad pinnacle at the Speedway when he is trying to buy himself cigarettes. This is meant to be part of Gus’s attempt to embody traditional, sacrifice-based models of heroism.

Q: Did you intend the metaphorical similarities between Gus and Ann Frank?

Well, Gus is definitely conscious of this. (Hazel doesn’t know he’s sick in the Anne Frank House, but Gus sure does.) And I think that’s a lot of the reason he feels so angry and defiant, and probably also some of the reason it does not feel inappropriate to him to make out in the Anne Frank House.

Generally, I wanted both of them to take back the weird, empty, quiet, sacred space that is the Anne Frank House (and more generally is the reverent but distant way we are always thinking of the dead) and find a different way to honor her life.

Q: Is there any reason why Augustus always answers the phone by saying “Hazel Grace”?

Well, a couple things here, I guess:

1. One of the weird things about cell phones and the ubiquity of caller ID is that there is no longer a need for hello; there’s this instant familiarity so conversations start quicker than they used to, which I find fascinating.

2. Hazel makes a point early in the novel that she likes people (like Gus/Augustus) with two names, and that she has always just been Hazel, a name that doesn’t lend itself to nicknames. But Gus finds a way to choose her name anyway by calling her Hazel Grace. I just liked that, I guess.

Q: Was Augustus partially inspired by Josh Sundquist, the famous one-legged vlogger? What were you trying to say about having this particular disability in the book?

Augustus was not inspired by Josh Sundquist, although Josh Sundquist is a wonderful guy and I am also pretty fond of Augustus.

Really, Augustus and Josh are complete opposites. Josh responded to his amputation by becoming an amazing athlete; Gus responds to it by abandoning all athletic endeavors. Josh is positive and project-focused; Gus is brooding and introspective and finds it difficult to finish anything even as he fetishizes his ideas about heroism and sacrifice.

I also started writing about the character who became Augustus many years (like, seven) before I knew Josh Sundquist. Josh helped me out by answering questions about disease progression and that kind of thing, but I want to be very clear that Josh responds to life and everything in life in a much better-adjusted way than Augustus ever could.

I gave him one leg because that’s the most common disability resulting from osteosarcoma. I gave him osteosarcoma because A. it’s one of the most common cancers among teens, and B. it has a pretty good survival rate, but not as good as the other cancers I considered.

Q: In your opinion, what is Augustus really doing when he goes to get a hamburger in the airport?

He could be doing a bunch of things, including disposing of some kind of liquid medicine that he realizes he can’t take on the plane when he gets in line, or throwing up, or freaking out, or he could be telling Hazel the truth. I wanted that moment to be ambiguous and out-of-character so the reader might start to feel just a smidge unsettled about Augustus and his well-being.

Q: Did you know that Humphrey Bogart used to hang an unlit cigarette out of his mouth like Augustus?

I did not know that, but now I will pretend that I knew it the whole time.

Q: The venn diagram confused me. Why is Gus still inside the virgin circle?

17-year-olds with one leg are mostly in the circle, but there’s a little space outside of the circle. The space outside is Gus. The space inside is the rest of 17-year-olds with one leg. (This references an earlier joke in the novel.)

Basically, Gus is not the only 17-year-old with one leg.

Q: Did you intentionally prolong Augustus’s suffering and deterioration at the end of the book?

If anything, I shortened the timeline because I didn’t want to be unnecessarily cruel either to Augustus or to the reader. I talked a lot with doctors and families of sick people about this, about the timeline and the pace of deterioration etc. to make sure I was reflecting it as accurately as possible. It is a very, very difficult thing to live through, because a lot of what you value about life, particularly as a teenager—autonomy, physical vibrancy, social connections, dignity—is stripped away from you, and you’re left being the thing that you never thought you’d have to be again: a child dependent upon your caregivers for every little thing.

I felt it was important to reflect that as accurately as possible, because I didn’t want to romanticize suffering, and I didn’t want to conflate it—as so many stories do—with beauty.

Q: Did Augustus choose to have an unlit cigarette in his mouth because he likes having control of what happens to his body after feeling helpless from the cancer

I think that is a good reading, about wanting control over a killing thing.