Exclusive Interview With HMOCL #6
Most Tuesdays I post the newest Hot Man of Children's Literature (or HMOCL) for the viewing pleasure of you, my reading public. Today we're shaking things up a bit. Returning to the fold is one Mr. John Green, former HMOCL, and author of Looking For Alaska. His newest release is An Abundance of Katherines and to better publicize his work Mr. Green is doing a blog-wide tour. Today he has chosen to stop by here to answer some questions of varying importance. Let's see how he does.
Fuse #8: Mr. Green, you have done something that seems wholly and utterly original. Currently you are going on a self-described blog book tour for the release of your new book, "An Abundance of Katherines," wherein you visit 19 blogs over the course of 19 days. This seems an intelligent way to use the blogosphere to your best advantage. How'd you get the idea? Were you the first to think of it to the best of your knowledge?
John Green: It's not quite wholly and utterly original, by which I mean that I stole the idea from Frank Portman, who went on a shorter blog tour when his novel, KING DORK, came out. But it's a fun opportunity to talk about the book with people who know a lot about YA literature. Sometimes, it gets frustrating talking to newspapers or magazines or whatever, because the reporters you're talking to don't have a very good background in YA literature. So this makes for more interesting conversations--for me at least.
Fuse #8: And what, in your opinion has been the most peculiar question you've received on this blog-tour thus far (and how did you respond)?
John Green: Someone asked me what I'd be on the TV show "Intervention" for, if I were on that show. I thought that was a pretty hilarious question. (I said Myspace.)
Fuse #8: Fair enough. Now you won the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award (the highest award a young adult novel can garner) for your book "Looking For Alaska" when you were a mere lad of 28. How did that affect your life in general? To be blunt, do you have groupies?
John Green: I don't think I have groupies, but I'm open to the idea. If there are any groupies looking for a new thing upon which to group, I am certainly available. Winning the Printz obviously means a lot for "Looking for Alaska," and it was a great thrill for me personally, because I think so highly of the award and its previous winners.
But I don't think it has affected me much personally. It certainly hasn't made me famous, even among my own family. For example, just this weekend I was at my brother's wedding, and several of my family members asked me if my new book , "Too Many Katherines," was also going to win "The Pritzker Award."
Fuse #8: Huh. Do you think the Printz is going to get better known over the years or dwell in relative obscurity for the rest of its natural born life?
John Green: It will definitely get better known, but it will take some time. The Printz has been around for just six years; its counterpart in children's books is like 100 million years old. That's part of the difference. Also, publishers need to start supporting the Printz a lot more, and acting like it's a big deal. If you pretend something is a big deal for long enough, it will become a big deal. (Example: MTV had to pretend that Ashlee Simpson mattered for several months before she actually started to matter.)
Fuse #8: "Looking For Alaska" was based, in large part, on your own experiences in a small high school boarding school. "An Abundance of Katherines", if The Today Show appearance is to be believed, is based on how you were dumped 59 times. You've noted on your blog that it was only 53. First things first . . . were you really dumped 53 times? Really really? I mean, define "dumped".
John Green: Well, Colin Singleton, who is the protagonist of "Katherines," has a very narrow definition of "dumped," just as I do: If you kiss someone, or hold their hand, and you want to kiss them and/or hold their hand again but they don't want to, then you've been dumped. So according to that definition, I have really been dumped 53 times, yes.
Fuse #8: So is "An Abundance of Katherines" based on anything else from your life? Friends, enemies, women who might try to get some royalties out of you since they're one of the 53 women who dumped you, etc?
John Green: I don't think any of my exgirlfriends can sue me (although a couple of them are now lawyers), because "Katherines" is really and truly not about them. I didn't even steal very much from them. Some of the characters were inspired by people I know, but the story itself is entirely imagined, for better or worse.
Fuse #8: You know, I'm fascinated by how young adult authors like yourself have been using the internet to reach young fans in increasingly creative ways. What kinds of internet stuff have you done that really got the attention of teens? For example, you chose a MySpace page rather than a Friendster one, right?
John Green: Well, I have a page on Friendster, but I only use it to stalk my exgirlfriends (that's how I know two of them are lawyers; God knows they don't talk to me). I set up a myspace profile about a year ago, because I noticed a lot of people on myspace were listing "Alaska" as one of their favorite books, and I wanted to thank them for doing that. Then it spiralled out of control. I really don't think of myspace as a publicity or marketing tool, although my publicist sure does. To me, it's mostly a way of making myself as a writer at least slightly accessible to the audience. When I was growing up, I thought of writers as these geniuses working in ivory towers or whatever. Myspace and the internet generally allows teens to see writers as real people, which in turn shows them that a life spent in and around literature can be a cool, productive life (albeit not, generally, a lucrative one).
Fuse #8: Speaking of which, what authors DID you read when you were just a little Green?
John Green: When I was in middle school, I read a lot of Gary Paulsen and other adventure novels. In high school, the contemporary fiction I read were coming-of-age novels published for adults, books like "The Virgin Suicides" by Jeffrey Eugenides and "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" by Michael Chabon. I was also a big Salinger fan. But we have to remember that when I was a kid, YA did not exist like it does now. In 1993, I doubt "Alaska" or "Katherines" would have been published as YA novels, let alone a book like "The Book Thief."
Fuse #8: Did you feel much pressure after you won the Printz for "Looking For Alaska" to write another YA novel that was just as good? You know... the old second novel curse?
John Green: Of course. I'd almost finished "Katherines" by the time the Printz Award was announced, so that didn't directly affect the book. But I think all second novelists feel pressure to do as well, and I'm keenly aware that second novels tend to get less attention than first novels. But I have to leave all that stuff up to readers and critics. To quote my mom: All you can do is your best.
Fuse #8: So that means there should be a book #3 in the works somewhere. Any hints of what it might be?
John Green: There is a book #3. I'm writing the first draft. It's about a girl. That's your only hint.
Fuse #8: Fine. Be that way. See if I care. *sniffle* Now I'm not going to ask you this question, but I'd like to know if anyone else ever has. Have you ever received the dreaded, "When are you going to write real books? You know... for adults?", query?
John Green: Oh, yeah. Every genre has a chip on its shoulder about how its literature isn't considered "real." I usually respond by saying that "Huck Finn" was published for kids, and that it is pretty real, what with being the great American novel and everything.*
I may write books for adults someday (never say never), but I think my focus will always be on writing novels for teens.
Fuse #8: On the flip side of that (and since this is a children's literature blog), when are you going to write real books? You know... for kids?
John Green: Maybe nonfiction about the Islamic world. But other than that, I can't see myself doing it, just because I suck at writing for little kids. I've tried it. I'm horrible.
Fuse #8: So the cover of "An Abundance of Katherines". Your thoughts?
John Green: I like it. The response so far has been very positive. I suppose it's possible that the math-y title treatment might scare some kids off (you don't have to like math to like the book, however), and some might argue that the cover is too "commercial," but I like commercial covers, and I think it's pretty cool and clever.
Fuse #8: In the book, the main character of Colin manages to date 19 girls all named Katherine. What made you choose that name in particular? I know that for our generation the name "Jenny" was particularly prevalent and that I know a guy who dated 6 of them in a row (not counting the dog of the same name he babysat). Why "Katherine" then?
John Green: Well, first because it really is possible to date 19 girls named Katherine. (Colin lives in Chicago, where there are approximately 250 girls named Katherine between the ages of 16 and 18.) And second, because I have never dated a Katherine and didn't want anyone to think I was writing about them. And third, because Katherine is a great name for anagramming.
Fuse #8: Your book also fun with anagrams. Have you heard from any anagrammatists about it? Are you one yourself? Whence the idea?
John Green: Are there anagrammists? Like, professional ones? If so, I would very much like that job. I'm not a great anagrammer myself (I've met people who anagram every bit as quickly and adeptly as Colin does in the book), but over the course of writing the book, my skills certainly improved.
As for the idea: I wanted Colin to have a number of very impressive talents that have absolutely no real-world application, and anagramming seemed like a good one (although it is useful to professional scrabble players). Also, in a book that's about language and how it relates to storytelling, I wanted him to have a hobby that sort of deconstructed language, that showed how language could be nonsense as well as sense.
Fuse #8: Okay then. Your favorite anagram . . . GO!
John Green: I'm inordinately fond of the fact that "Britney Spears" anagrams to "Presbyterians." Also, I like that "eleven plus two" anagrams to "twelve plus one."
Fuse #8: Well, Mr. Green, you were a delight of an interview. A hearty heaping of good fortune to you as you continue on your whirlwind blog tour.