What kind of question would you like answered?

Q: Was there a reason that you chose your hometown as the setting for TFIOS?

My best friend Chris just read The Hunger Games, and he was like, “I really loved the world-building in that book. Panem just felt so real, you know?”

And I was like, “Yeah, I totally agree.”

And then he said, “I mean, the worldbuilding in your books feels real, too, but you just have stuff happen at, like, the Speedway at 86th and Ditch.”

I wrote about Indianapolis partly because I know Indianapolis, and I wanted to ground the story in a place I know and love. But there were other reasons, including:

1. Indianapolis is a very typical, very American city. This is a stark contrast to Amsterdam, a city that lights up the romantic imagination with images of canal boats and the red light district.

2. Indianapolis, like Amsterdam, is a canal city. They are both places that live amid water, just like Hazel does.

Q: Why did you choose an Episcopal church?

Well, 1. I am Episcopalian, so I could picture the church, because I’ve been in churches like that a lot (and in fact the church at my college looks very much like the church in the book), and 2. there aren’t that many cruciform churches in the United States, and they tend to be either Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, or Episcopalian, and I suppose I’m just biased.

Q: Why Anne Frank’s house?

It’s a sacred space, but it’s important to remember that real people lived there. Our usual way of honoring the dead–by freezing them in time and mythologizing them, by building the marble statues Shakespeare rails against in that sonnet–that’s not Hazel and Augustus’s way of honoring the dead. As Hazel notes, Anne Frank made out with a boy in the Anne Frank house. I think Hazel wants (and I wanted) to reclaim that sacred space for doomed people who are nonetheless still alive, and still full of desire.

Q: You used Amsterdam as a setting because of the water metaphor. Is there a reason you chose it rather than another water-dependent city, such as Venice?

Well, Venice is not really a city anymore, to be honest with you. Fewer than 60,000 people live there, and while it still hosts important events like the Venice Bienale, it is primarily a tourist destination. It’s very different from a city like Amsterdam, which has a million people, a very good soccer team, and a present-tense vitality that Venice just lacks.

 

Q: Why Amsterdam?

1. Drowning city; drowning girl. (Hazel makes this explicit at one point, saying that she feels like Dr. Maria’s Amsterdam.)

2. Indianapolis and Amsterdam are both canal cities, but in our imagination, they’re total opposites: Amsterdam is a city of romance and freedom and debauchery; Indianapolis is a midwestern city of straight-laced worker bees living in suburbs. Hazel romanticizes Amsterdam as much as she romanticizes Van Houten, and I needed her to want to be in some place radically different from Indianapolis.

3. Anne Frank.