What kind of question would you like answered?

Q: Peter says that the Dutch Tulip Man represents God. Have you ever put in a character that represents an idea like this or something similar?


The Dutch Tulip Man. :)

Q: When writing TFIOS, were you more focused on telling the story at first or the metaphorical meaning and the symbols in the book?

I don’t think of story and symbols as separate, really. They emerge from the same place, a desire to go on a journey with the reader that will be interesting (and hopefully helpful) to both of us. So I don’t sit down and say, like, “Green will be the color of all the dreams we were foolish to dream,” or anything like that, because then I think it usually ends up seeming clunky and obvious and inauthentic.

The truth is that metaphor and symbol are all around us, and that we are constantly reading our lives and the world symbolically. I want figurative language and symbols to be as deeply integrated into the story as they are into our lives.

Q: What did you do with previous drafts of the novel?

I save every draft of the novel as a different file name (there are several hundred file names related to TFiOS). So it’s possible to chart the edits and rewrites of the novel over time, but the book I published is the only one I want to publish and I’m not inclined to show off all the terrible sentences I wrote before writing the (hopefully not terrible) sentences that ended up in the book.

However, all this stuff will go to a university library when I die, so if you are really inclined, and you outlive me, you can view it eventually.

Q: Does answering all of these questions annoy or offend you? Do you ever want your readers to take the book as it is without asking a bunch of questions about metaphors and deeper meanings?

I feel bad that I can’t answer more of them, but I never feel anything except lucky to have readers who read my books with such care and thoughtfulness.

That said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what Salinger called reading and running—like, I don’t think that critical analysis or whatever is the only reason we read fiction or the only enjoyable thing about reading (or writing) fiction.

There are plenty of ways to read a book, and I’m grateful to anyone who finds my work encouraging or useful.

Q: You say that there are 14 dead people for every living person. However, in ELIC, it is stated that there are more people alive than have ever died. Who is right, Augustus or Oskar?

Oh, Oskar is overwhelmingly wrong. (In his defense, I think he is like nine years old.) It’s a nice moment in that book, when he imagines that there aren’t enough skulls for everyone alive to play Hamlet, but yeah, that’s just total horseshit. There are plenty of skulls. We could all have freaking juggling acts with all the skulls.

Q: Did you ever consider having another character tell the story?

Yes, Isaac, because it would have fit in nicely with how epics usually work, complete with being told by a blind guy. But in the end I wanted to give Hazel the voice of her own story, particularly since that is so often denied the dying. (We read about them a lot more than we read them.)

Q: Due to the success of TFIOS, will your books now be marketed to all age groups?

I like my job. I like my editor. I like my publisher. I am very grateful that so many adults are reading The Fault in Our Stars, but I really like writing and publishing books for teenagers, and it’s difficult for me to imagine wanting to do anything else as a writer.

Q: By answering so many questions about your book, aren’t you kind of teaching it in a way? Or creating sparknotes of reflections?

Legit question. My only defense is that this is for people who’ve already read the book, which is rather different from sparknotes. :)

Q: Did you intentionally draw a connection between Augustus and Hazel watching kids play on the bones and the reader getting enjoyment from a book about kids who will inevitably die young?

No, there’s nothing wrong at all with playing on bones. We’re all doing it all the time. I was struck by this in Vienna when I saw those kids breakdancing on top of the catacombs. To dance on the dead is not to dishonor them.

Q: Did any philosophers inspire your writing about the universe and oblivion?

Well, sure, definitely. Kierkegaard, etc. But the thinker who most deeply influenced my thoughts on the topic, and who gave me a vocabulary for talking about it, is Vi Hart.

Q: Are TFIOS references in early Vlogbrothers videos (such as talking about hurdles and the title “An Imperial Affliction”) intentional?

Those aren’t intentional easter eggs. If anything, I find them unfortunate, because any moment when you’re reading The Fault in Our Stars and get drawn out of the narrative and become conscious of the fact that it’s a story constructed by an author. But inevitably there’s a lot of overlap between my thoughts when I’m writing and my thoughts when I’m making videos, and sometimes the one shapes the other.

Q: How do you put so much meaning into a book meant for young adults?

Teenagers are plenty smart. I don’t sit around and worry whether teenagers are smart. I mean, most of the people currently reading The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby…are teenagers.

Q: Can you elaborate on this idea of a contract between author and reader?

I think the writer’s responsibility is to tell an honest story (which is also, I would argue, by definition a hopeful story) and to make it as a gift to the reader.

The reader violates the contract when s/he reads poorly or distractedly or ungenerously. (It seems to me that mutual generosity is kind of the key to the reader-writer relationship. We are basically trying to give each other a gift, but it doesn’t work unless both of us are really trying.)

Q: Did you consider ending TFIOS midsentence?

I agree with Augustus that there is a contract between reader and writer and that not ending a book violates that contract. Also, I try really hard in my work generally not to do ostentatious things like ending books midsentence.

Q: Did the themes and ideas from stories you had abandoned in the past help shape TFIOS?

Yes, in a lot of ways. There are so many lines from the sequel and the desert island book that ended up in TFiOS in different ways. (“It was kind of a beautiful day,” which occurs at the end of TFiOS, was the first line of one of the drafts of the desert island book.)

The desert island book was primarily about how we behave around each other when we are scared, how fear makes us both more and less human. I don’t know what the sequel was about aside from trying to prove that I, too, could write fancy metafiction, but then I ended up including a lot of metafiction in TFiOS, so it found its way in as well.

I was thinking a lot about the relationship between books and their readers, and how the author of the book can get in the way of that relationship just as much as s/he can facilitate it, so I think that had a lot to do with shaping my thoughts onTFiOS.

Also, all three projects are about deprivation and how people respond to it. So basically I took so many spare parts from those other stories that there’s no way I’ll ever be able to finish them.