John did a reddit AMA Q&A this morning, answering a lot of fan questions about his videos, nerdfighteria, his books and of course the TFIOS movie.
Maxillz23: John, how did you go about deciding the names for your main characters? How much math did you have to learn/relearn in order to write An Abundance of Katherines?
John: I had to learn a lot about math to write Katherines, even though Daniel Biss did all the actual math in the book. But I needed to understand the ideas in order to write about them.
As for names: One of the benefits of naming characters that you don't have when, say, naming a baby is that you actually know the person when you name them. So you can use the name to reflect stuff about them.
Like, take Hazel: Hazel is an in-between color, and she's in between a lot of things: In between healthy and sick, in between adulthood and childhood, in between breathing air and breathing water, etc. So that seemed like a small way of communicating the instability and fear (but also excitement) of that time of life.
With Augustus: Augustus is the name of Roman emperors, right? It's a grand name associated with traditional notions of greatness. But Gus is a kid's name. It's short and cute. In the novel, he makes the journey from strength to weakness, which is the opposite of the usual hero's journey. He starts out this confident, pretentious kid who's extremely performative in his every action. And then he becomes vulnerable. He becomes cracked open. For Gus, this is a brutal process. (Remember that moment toward the end when he says to Hazel, "You used to call me Augustus?") But his ability to be in it with her, and to allow himself to love and be loved despite the loss of the self he so carefully cultivated, is to my mind way more heroic than those traditional notions of Great Men Doing Great Things.
In the case of Katherines, I called them Katherine because it's a good name for anagramming. There are a lot of anagrams in Katherines, and I suck at anagramming, so I cheated by picking a name that has the right mix of consonants and vowels.
MORE AFTER THE JUMP and on reddit
vivanya: Why is "Looking for Alaska" not a movie yet? I mean, "The Fault in Our Stars" is good, and "Paper Towns", too. But imo, your best work by far, is Looking for Alaska...
John: I sold the movie rights to Paramount in 2005 when we desperately needed money, because we were moving to New York and Sarah (my wife) was starting graduate school. It was life-changing for us, and I'll always be grateful to everyone involved in that deal for making it happen.
But it did not lead to a movie. (At least not yet.) The reasons for this are complicated, but it boils down to this: It is really, really hard to get people to say "I want to spend $15,000,000 to make a movie out of a book not that many people have read."
I am really proud of The Fault in Our Stars movie, and I think it turned out unbelievably well. It's one of the most faithful movie adaptations I've ever seen, and I'm tremendously grateful to everyone who made it. But that is a rare, rare thing. Usually an author's relationship with their movie adaptations is much more....complicated. And so I have to say, I'm not bummed out that Alaska hasn't been made into a movie. (It may someday; I don't control the rights and never will.) There's something magical to a story belonging to its readers and only to its readers, and I'm very grateful that Alaska has continued to find its way in the world without the boost of a movie adaptation.
Harry Potter will forever be Daniel Radcliffe to me. I can't remember how I imagined Harry before the movies. But your Pudge and your Alaska...they still belong to you. They are still inside your head, and yours alone. There's something wonderful about that.
drunkandinlove: I met you a few years ago at a convention and had several drinks while spending a half hour and three glasses of wine to work up the courage to tell you how much your work and the fact that you do it with and are open about anxiety means to me. It did not come out well. Sorry about that. It was both one of my favorite conversations and most embarrassing all at once.
And I'll add a question on here about TFIOS because, you know, movie time soon! Already got my June 5th ticket :)
What scene was the coolest to see come to life?
John: Don't worry about it. Those conversations are always weird and hard and I often fret about them for years after they happen, but the truth is that it's hard to express this stuff. It's hard for me to tell you how genuinely grateful I am that you've found something valuable in my work. So I'm sure I walked away from that conversation thinking that you were perfectly lovely and I was a complete grapefruit.
As for TFIOS: The cancer support group days with Mike Birbiglia and all the teens living with cancer were the coolest days for me to see come to life. But really, every day was wonderful. It really was just a dream movie experience--the opposite of what usually happens to authors--and while the movie is not mine in any way, I'm so proud of the people who made it.
sophloaf247: Do you think you can keep the community feeling of nerdfighteria even as your fan base explodes due to the TFIOS movie?
John: This is a great question, and it's something that Hank and I talk about a lot.
There were a few hundred nerdfighters in July of 2007, and then Hank's song "Accio Deathly Hallows" went viral and there were suddenly several thousand nerdfighters. That transition was very challenging for us personally and for the community, but I really think we emerged from it with a stronger sense of our shared values as nerdfighters and a better platform for doing stuff together like the Project for Awesome.
In our videos, we aren't talking that much about all the attention and scrutiny that accompanies the TFIOS movie because we mostly just want to keep the community the same. (I mean, my first video after TFIOS comes out will be about Behind the Beautiful Forevers, this summer's nerdfighter book club selection.)
I think it will be challenging for a while, but I also think nerdfighters are generally a pretty welcoming and supportive bunch. I'm very grateful to everybody for their patience with me in my time of intense crazy, though.