The more than 150,000 fans who preordered John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars got their signed copies on Tuesday. By today, they are probably wishing they’d also received a coupon for Sephora with their purchase, because seriously, those up-all-night-crying eyes are not a good look. The superstar YA author’s latest is a tearjerker of Jody Picoult levels: It’s about a girl, Hazel, who’s had terminal cancer in her lungs for years, and a boy, Augustus, who had his leg removed due to bone cancer. Luckily, though, it’s also a John Green novel, so there are just as many laughs as there are gutwrenching sobs.
“You have no idea how sad I wanted it to be,” Green told us on the phone on Monday, when we jokingly asked him if he ever wanted to write a “happily ever after” story. “My responsibility is to try to tell true stories. To me a true story is always hopeful, but never simply, uncomplicatedly happy.”
Just to be clear, by “true” he doesn’t mean nonfiction. Though the Looking for Alaska author was inspired to write TFIOS (as fans call it) after befriending a girl with terminal cancer, he is very careful to warn readers that the book’s Hazel is not his late friend Esther.
“There are a lot of particularly superficial similarities between Esther and Hazel. The main superficial similarity is that they’re both very empathetic people,” he said. “But in a lot of ways they’re very, very different, and since Esther isn’t here to defend herself, it was important to me to not claim a close association.”
Hazel and Augustus bond over a novel within the novel about a girl with cancer, and they manage to travel to Amsterdam to visit the book’s reclusive author, Peter Van Houten, to find out what happened to his characters after the book’s abrupt ending. Fiction though it may be, Green also identifies with the grumpy old man. “Hopefully, I’m not a sad miserable alcoholic, but because a couple of my early books had very ambiguous endings, I know what it’s like to have readers come to you really desperate for answers and really frustrated when you can’t provide them and not entirely convinced of your avowals that you genuinely don’t know what happened after the end of the book. … And I also like Swedish hip-hop.” (No kidding, he’s actually been posting songs on his Twitter.)
Naturally, we wondered if there are plans under way for a TFIOS movie. “Nothing against my friends in Hollywood, but I did not want anyone in the movie business to get this book early because leaks tend to come from that world,” he said, so we imagine those movie execs are starting a bidding war any minute now. “I can’t picture it as a movie, but I’m also very very close to the story, and I’ve been working on it for 10 years, so for me it’s a novel. But if the right people come along and can picture it that way, that would be awesome.”
In the meantime, what of the long awaited movie adaptations of Looking for Alaska or his other books?
“All of them are supposedly still in development, so who knows,” he said. “They keep threatening to make Looking for Alaska. … I love, love, love, love the screenplay that Josh Schwartz wrote, and I think that it’s so beautiful and funny and perfect, and I love everything about it. I really hope that someday the opportunity comes along to make that, not because I would like to see a movie made but because I think Josh’s script is so beautiful. It’s hard to get movie studios to pay a lot of money for movies that don’t have robots or explosions.”
Now that he’s recovered from the “nerve entrapment” in his elbow after signing all those books, Green and his musician brother Hank, who make up the wildly popular YouTube duo the Vlog Brothers, are on a nationwide tour. The events feature Hank’s songs about books, John reading from TFIOS, Q&A sessions and “a little bit of electrocution.” If the one in your town is sold out, check his site for videos. Or just read the book again. With extra boxes of tissues in hand.