At a Q&A following fan screening of The Fault in Our Stars this weekend, author John Green announced he was writing a sequel to the story of two teen cancer patients who fall in love. It was a joke, but the crowd went wild. "I'm not going to write a sequel to The Fault in Our Stars," Green said. "It would make Fox too happy."
The audience's excitement at just the mention of a sequel was amusing given the movie they had just watched, based on a book they presumably adore. In The Fault in Our Stars the young lovers—Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) and Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort)—are obsessed with a book (titled "An Imperial Affliction") by a reclusive author that ends in the middle of a sentence, signaling that the narrator, also a girl with cancer, has died. Hazel and Gus are preoccupied with knowing what happens to the rest of the characters in the aftermath of the book, even traveling to Amsterdam to meet with the author. Though the story is about, yes, disease, love, and death, it's also about what it means to be infatuated with a work of literature, a feeling with which the members of the audience at the screening were clearly familiar.
So, when The Wire sat down with Green—a YA superstar who has amassed a fervent following through his novels and his online antics with his brother, Hank—thoughts of fandom and Green's own cultural loves were in the air.
One of the things that struck me when watching the movie was how there's an element of the story that is about being a fan of something. Then after the screening when you joked about writing a sequel and everyone squealed I thought that was really funny within context of the movie.
For a while the working title of the book was The Sequel. The idea that it was going to be a sequel to An Imperial Affliction in some way, or offer some kind of closure that An Imperial Affliction didn’t. I’m really interested in the relationship we have with the stuff we love. Particularly today. Because of the internet it’s easier to connect to people who share your passions. So even with something as obscure as An Imperial Affliction, in real 2014 Hazel probably could have found a community of dedicated An Imperial Affliction fans online, on Tumblr, on the Imperial Affliction tag.
Who have written fan fiction...
Right, right, their fan fiction endings. I am really interested in fandom because I am a fan myself. I mean, the videos Hank and I make started in a way as a fan fiction of a kind because we were such huge fans of early video projects like the show with zefrank and lonelygirl15 that we were making a kind of fan response to those shows. I’m also interested in the weird relationship between the things we love and the people who make those things. Because often, of course, the thing is much better than the person. Usually the thing is better than the person or at least easier to love than the person, because people are complex and flawed and troubled. I think in the age of the internet—in the age of social media—it’s just much harder to separate the artist from the art. Particularly when the artist is constantly inserting himself into the conversation on Twitter or Tumblr or whatever.
With the movie there are so many opportunities for you interact with the fans of the book, like last night at the screening. How is that for you through the prism of what you’ve written?
We’ll it’s very surreal. It’s just very surreal. I can’t process it very well. I’m so grateful to people who care about that story. I’m so grateful to them for reading it so generously. I’m so grateful to them for kind of protecting it, if that makes sense. I feel that they have kept it alive, they have made it successful, and I am very grateful for that. The attention or the scrutiny can sometimes be a little overwhelming. It’s easier in person in some ways because you can talk. You can have—or something approaching—a real conversation as much as you can have a conversation when you are kind of screaming at each other. But it’s very useful. It’s very good for me to talk to people who care about the book and care about the movie. Every time someone has seen the movie, I want to interrogate them, you know? I had this 2,800 person line at the LA Times book festival and everyone was putting lots of pressure on me, like, go faster go faster go faster. But when someone was like "I got into an early screening of The Fault in Our Stars movie," I was like: "Stop everything. Did you like it? What did you like? What did you not like?"
I wanted to talk to you about fandom and inspiration. Hazel and Gus have become—and will become even more so once the movie comes out—an iconic teen couple. One of the things I loved in the movie was a shot of the two of them watching Buffy and Angel on TV…
That was a very smart decision from [director] Josh [Boone] to make a subtle comment about fandom. Because that could have been anything, and Josh was very smart it to make it Buffy and Angel. Josh is such a genius.
Going off of that, I was wondering if there are teen couples in literature and movies that have inspired you…
You know, we are really lucky to have rich, really rich, young adult literature—lots and lots of great young adult books. I love young adult romances, I don’t just mean romance novels, I mean the stories in them.
Who do you 'ship, basically?
All of couples in Maureen Johnson novels and in Sarah Dessen novels. E. Lockhart writes a great love story, just delicious. Those are the inspirations for me I guess. I do like some of the teen romances in movies. I actually really like the couple in Mean Girls. I don’t remember their names, but the boy and the girl in Mean Girls. You know what I mean?
Cady and Aaron?
Lindsay Lohan and the dude. I never know character names. I just think they are a great couple who come together in a genuinely surprising way. And also in general I think that movie is so smart and so good. The other one that comes to mind is the romance in Easy A, which is another very smart, interesting movie about adolescence.
Any specific characters in books?
Well, I don’t remember character names. Frankie Landau-Banks and whatever the boy’s name is in [E. Lockhart's] The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. What is that boy’s name? Sorry! I’m the worst at character names. I read a lot of books too so all the names always like...
Is there anything you can pinpoint about a romance that specifically draws you in?
There has to be an obstacle in a romance, right? I like it when the obstacle feels authentic. Actually, I love the couple Eleanor and Park in [Rainbow Rowell's] Eleanor & Park. What I love about the love story in Eleanor & Park is that the obstacle is not like, oh, she has a boyfriend or anything like that. The obstacle is the world. The obstacle is their lives. It’s a very similar thing in Frankie Landau-Banks. On some level the obstacle in that romance is patriarchy. And that’s a big, complicated obstacle and it’s very well-drawn. So that they have to overcome their expectations of what romance is and what a boy is and what a girl is. They have to overcome all of that stuff in order to have a romance and I find that very interesting. Oh, also, there’s a great romance in Two Boys Kissing, the David Levithan. In Two Boys Kissing, again, there’s the feeling of history being an important part of a love story. I like it when a love story is connected to a—as I think it is in our real lives—I think love is connected to bigger themes. I think when you fall in love with someone, you’re also at a certain point in your life and certain things are happening in the world and it’s a big interaction. I think this is particularly important now. We have a lot of love stories now not necessarily in books but in real life that wouldn’t have even been possibly 50 years ago because many people couldn’t be themselves. That’s a moment of love shaping history and also history shaping love.
A couple months ago it was the anniversary of the day the Breakfast Club met and a lot of people were talking about feeling like that kind of teen movie has gone away or taken a backseat to YA being a code word for action adventure. But with Fault and the upcoming adaptation of your novel Paper Towns and Rowell's Eleanor and Park…
If I Stay, the Gayle Forman movie. I’m excited about that.
As someone who writes and observes, did you see that falling out of fashion—
I don’t see it as an either/or. In the world of young adult fiction, people maybe from the outside talk about “oh, dystopias are ascendant” or “supernatural romance is ascendant” or “contemporary fiction is ascendant.” Within our world we’re like, “Well, yeah, but there are also mysteries, there's also contemporary fiction, there are also romances, there’s also sci-fi.” Don’t see it as either/or, but I think [they do] in Hollywood because they make fewer movies. They make far fewer movies than we make books. They are much more trend-obsessed. We are a little trend-obsessed in the world of publishing, but Hollywood is super trend-obsessed. I hope it’s not either/or because there are a lot of supernatural romances I love and there are a lot of dystopias I love and would love to see as movies. But there are also a lot of contemporary fiction books and would love to see as movies. I would love to see some of Laurie Halse Anderson’s novels made into movies, but I would also love to see Marie Lu’s series, Prodigy, made into a movie. My hope would be that we can have some breadth in the movies we make for teenagers just as we have some in books.
Was there a feeling when embarking on Fault that this is a different kind of teen story than what movies have been telling?
I think the real—this is probably not what Fox wants me to say—but I think the real people who paved the post-John Hughes path were the people who made Mean Girls and the people who made Easy A, because those are movies that are very different from the John Hughes high-school world. There’s a lot more social fluidity, there’s a different edge to the humor. They feel much more contemporary to me. I more see—I mean I hope it’s in the tradition of those movies. For whatever reason there haven’t been a lot of book adaptations that were realistic. I think there have been a bunch of good movies. I don’t think we’re reinventing the wheel. I mean, I am very proud of this movie, though.