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Young-adult author John Green | Interview

The novelist forges a hit career without vampires, wizards or (gasp!) sequels.

 (Photo: Ton Koene)
Photo: Ton Koene
Author John Green
The Fault in our Stars

How popular is teen-lit novelist John Green? Last summer, after he announced his fifth novel—The Fault in Our Stars, about two teens dealing with cancer, an admittedly tough topic—pre-orders rocketed it to the top of both Amazon’s and Barnes and Noble’s charts. As a result, Penguin Young Readers Group bumped up the release to January from the original date in May.

Loosely inspired by Green’s brief experience as a chaplain in a children’s hospital, Fault tells a story he’s been trying to write for years. “It was very difficult,” he said. “It’s not easy imagining teens dying so young, but it’s something they all think about.”

It’s not just his prose that’s won the New York Times best-selling author such a dedicated following. He loves his fans and recently spent nearly a month at home in Indianapolis—12 hours a day, seven days a week—signing all 150,000 first-print copies of Stars to show his appreciation. “It was actually kind of fun,” he says. “I got caught up on a lot of television.”

He’s been a Hoosier for the past four years, but Green, father of a two-year-old son, started dating his wife when they lived in Chicago. An Alabama native who’s also resided in Manhattan, the 34-year-old completed his first two books during his six years here. During our phone chat, we ask what he misses most about the Windy City. “Everything,” he says, though he visits every couple of months. “My first stop is always Lincoln Square and the Book Cellar,” he adds, citing his former ’hood and the bookstore where he wrote some of his second novel, An Abundance of Katherines.

Green has since rocketed to YA superstardom, an impressive feat in a competitive field, considering his novels are more literary than fantasy-laden. Most notably, he’s forgone the patented route of inventing a sales-savvy series, like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games.

Then again, he has invented a series in a whole different media—one that’s partly propelling his success: Five years ago, he and his brother Hank started a YouTube channel, Vlogbrothers, which features Green’s characteristic humor and manic energy. With more than 900 videos under their belt (collectively viewed nearly 190 million times), the Green brothers have spun out of their vlog numerous teen-friendly websites. The most notable is Nerdfighters, a geektastic community devoted to helping “increase awesome and decrease suck” by providing an outlet for teens to discuss hot-button issues and post their own videos.

As for The Fault in Our Stars, the novel follows precocious 16-year-old Hazel Lancaster, who’s battling a dire case of thyroid cancer, and Augustus, whom she meets at a cancer support group. She lends him her favorite book, and ultimately the pair embark on a funny, heartbreaking journey.

“This is the story I’ve been trying to write for years,” he says. “I just hope I got it right.”

Our educated guess: In the time it took you to read this article, dozens of fans likely posted videos online, assuring Green that he has.

Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (Penguin, $18) is now available at local bookstores.