Printz-winning (that's the Young Adult novel equivalent of the coveted Newbery/Oscar/Emmy/American's Top Model awards) author John Green has been on a 19-Day-Blog-Tour-of-the-World to celebrate the release of his new book, AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES. In the book Colin, the protagonist, gets dumped 19 times. Each time, by someone named . . . Stuart. Snort! No, actually, by girls named Katherine.
Today, John has landed here and agreed to talk to us, even though he knows we are weird. Oh wait! Visual aids. Here's a color-enhanced photo of John, with his/my agent Jodi Reamer. John is the tall one.
And now, let's get started.
LISA: In both LOOKING FOR ALASKA and AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES, there's a male protagonist who is confused about a girl(s). Are you?
JOHN: Not so much anymore, because now I am married. But for a long, long time, I found girls profoundly confusing. Also terrifying. Also wonderful. I think that's part of why I've ended up writing about guys who idealize and misapprehend girls--because I spent most of my life idealizing and misapprehending girls. That whole answer was an excuse to use the world misapprehending, which I've recently fallen in love with.
LISA: Do you have wives figured out? Do you put the toilet seat down?
JOHN: About a year ago, I came up with this really complex justification for why, if we are going to be truly liberated and treat each other as equals, men should not put the toilet seat down.
(To simplify my argument a little: There are two steps involved in the toilet seat maneuever, putting it up before you pee and then putting it back down after you pee. I feel that by putting it up before peeing, men are doing their half of the work.)
Anyway, I spent a long time explaining this complicated mathematical theorem to Sarah, and then she was like, "That is really stupid," and so now I put the toilet seat down. Which is basically to say, I don't have wives figured out entirely yet, but I believe I'm making progress.
LISA: Just do what Sarah says, and you will be fine. BTW, do you think you will ever write from a female POV? Why, or why not?
JOHN: I wrote a short story for an anthology from a female POV, and I enjoyed it a lot. I can't say for sure whether I'll ever do it in a novel, but I hope to some day. I don't think it's impossible for men to write well from women's perspectives (or vice-versa, as STANFORD WONG shows). I strongly believe you don't have to have been a girl in order to have interesting things to say about being a girl. (The same goes for, say, spiders, as shown by CHARLOTTE'S WEB.)
LISA: Quick! What's on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator right now?
JOHN: Hold on I'll go look. Oh, okay. There's the remnants of a birthday cake I baked my wife three days ago (which is really big, so it takes up most of the bottom shelf) and also there's a pitcher of Crystal Light.
LISA: I like cake.
We've both written books about child prodigies. People often think I am a genius. (Ha!) Do you anticipate people confusing you with Colin? Thinking you are a former prodigy? I saw you on the TODAY show and you were positioned as an expert in being dumped. Colin's been dumped 19 times. Are we seeing parallels to real life here? Am I bunching up too many questions?
JOHN: Bunch away; I can take it!
1. People already confuse with me Colin, which is hilarious, because of course I was not a child prodigy. I cannot do any of the things that Colin can do (he anagrams very adeptly and speaks a lot of languages). But anyway, it's flattering if people find a character so believable they think it's autobiographical.
2. The getting dumped over and over again part of the book, on the other hand, is entirely autobiographical. So in that sense, at least, I was writing from experience. Put it this way: I read thousands of pages about child prodigies before I started writing "Katherines;" I didn't read a word about how it feels to get dumped.
LISA: It seemed to me that the ending was left wiiiiide open for a sequel. Fess up.
JOHN: I would say that I am not not considering one, if I may use a double negative. However, my next book is not related to either "Alaska" or "Katherines," and I never really plan further in advance than that.
LISA: So it's possibly possible that there's a LOOKING FOR KATHERINE(S) or AN ABUNDANCE OF ALASKAS in the future? Hmmmmm.
JOHN: Ha, yeah. Plus then I could continue my tradition of always putting girl names in my book titles. (You are the only other author I know who always uses character names in their books, incidentally.)
LISA: Yep. Just you and me. Oh, and that Rowling chick.
Hey, where do you keep your Printz award?
JOHN: I feel that this question is best answered photographically:
That's our mantle. I know it's kind of ostentatious to keep it there, in the middle of the living room, but in our defense, 1. We live in New York, and our apartment is very small, so there aren't a lot of places to put a Printz Award, and 2. I have kind of a thing about real prizes and/or trophies because of the All Star In Our Hearts debacle of 1984.
(The debacle: The last year you could play tee ball when I was a kid was third grade, and by then everyone had moved on to higher levels of Little League, except for me. So it was me and a bunch of kindergarteners. I was better than most of the kindergarteners, but just barely. So at the end of the season, the tee ball all-star team is announced, and I don't make the squad. I'm devastated, so my parents buy me a trophy that says:
Audubon Park Little League, 1984
All Star in Our Hearts.)
LISA: Ooooh, that is so sweet! How do your parents feel about your success?
JOHN: Well, they are very pleased about it, I think, because it means they no longer have to buy me trophies. Trophies aren't cheap. No, but really, my parents have always been just outlandishly supportive of my writing.
Lisa: You used to be on staff at BOOKLIST as a reviewer. And I read your review of THE BOOK THIEF in the NEW YORK TIMES. How does, if it does, reviewing other people's writing affect yours?
JOHN: I should say, to keep my colleagues from BOOKLIST from shooting me, that I was never a staff reviewer; I was mostly a publishing assistant.
LISA: Outline or no outline?
JOHN: No outline. To me, the first draft is an outline. After each first draft, I rewrite pretty much every word in a manuscript. I wish I could write an outline that contained fewer than 60,000 words, because that would really speed up the process. Alas.
LISA: Did you come up with the book title first? Last? In-between?
JOHN: I came up with "Alaska" after I'd finished the second draft (actually, I did not come up with it at all; my writer friends Keir Graff and Ilene Cooper did), and I only titled it then because I was about to send it to publishers. I came up with the title for "Katherines" first. The book I'm working on now has no title as of yet.
LISA: AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES is totally-jam-packed-overflowing with a lotta trivia. How do you think you'd do on JEOPARDY!
JOHN: I used to work for a great trivia-heavy magazine called "Mental Floss," and a bunch of their contributors have gone on Jeopardy! and won. Also, two of my high school classmates are former Jeopardy champions, and so is the aforementioned Ilene Cooper. But I myself will never try out for Jeopardy, because I would fail, and I don't want all my smart friends to dump me when my true stupidness is revealed.
LISA: You claim to have been dumped 53 times. Was your wife aware of this when you first started dating, or did you trick her into thinking you were normal?
JOHN: She was aware of it when we started dating. In fact, we attended the same high school (although we didn't know each other then) so she knew several people who'd dumped me. It took her a long time to convince her that I was, you know, not a carnival freak.
LISA: In your novel, Colin wonders what will happen to him now that he's graduated from high school, and at the top of his class. After you won the Printz Award, did you wonder what would be in store for you next?
JOHN: Yes, definitely. Like Colin, I did worry that I was over the hill and that my best work was behind me. Fortunately, I'd pretty much finished "Katherines" when I found out about the Printz. And because I suddenly felt like Colin, I was able to tell myself, "If you were able to have a fictional character get over this anxiety, you can probably stop being an idiot about it, too."
LISA: Can you tell us what you are working on now? Novel-wise, that is.
JOHN: All I can tell you is that it is sort of a mystery. How's that for a definitive answer?
LISA: A mystery, eh. Okay, solve this for us: if you could have one superhero power, what would it be, and why?
JOHN: I'd like to be able to know people's thoughts. I think it would be very helpful as a writer, and also it might help me understand the popularity of TWO AND A HALF MEN.
LISA: Thanks for spending time with us on your blog-o-sphere world tour. Anything you'd like to add before going?
JOHN: I can't believe you haven't asked me about my ongoing dental woes!
(For those of you who have somehow escaped my constantly whining in a very loud and shrill voice about my dental problems, I've had a series of root canals and oral surgeries in the past year. Anyway, things are looking up on the dental front, which is really unfortunate for my dentist, because for a while there it looked like he could buy a vacation home just with my two front teeth.)
LISA: Okay, then. (I'm going to humor John, here. Stay with me.) When you brush, do you start on the left side or the right side?
JOHN: I start in the middle. Maybe that's been my problem all along.