Author Interviews
2:30 am
Thu June 5, 2014

John Green's 'Stars' Shines Bright On The Silver Screen

Originally published on Thu June 5, 2014 11:40 am

It's a writer's fantasy. You author a book. It hits the young adult jackpot. It sells 10 million copies. Hollywood actors fight for parts in the movie.

Welcome to John Green's reality. Not too long ago, in New York City, he introduced a screening of the film based on his novel, The Fault in Our Stars, to an audience of hundreds of teenagers ecstatically screaming his name. They cried copiously throughout the film, which follows a romance between two teenagers with cancer.

The next morning, in his hotel suite, Green appeared somewhat dazed. The sandy-haired author said the process of writing a book is like a long, lonely game of Marco Polo.

"In which you're in your basement alone for years and years, saying, 'Marco. Marco. Marco. Marco. Marco. And then if you're lucky, someone writes you and says ... Polo."

Plenty of people have shouted "Polo" since Green's novel came out two years ago. The Fault in Our Stars has spent 132 consecutive weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, and it's been translated into 47 languages.

People who knew him as a kid would've had a hard time imagining him as the recipient of such adult adulation, Green says. He claims he was a terrible student and a giant nerd who felt isolated and misunderstood.

"I had a lot of emotional problems. I had a lot of behavioral problems," he says. "But I was still very nerdy. I was just that awful kind of nerdy where you're nerdy, and not that smart."

Now, 36-year-old John Green and his younger brother Hank call themselves "nerdfighters." They don't fight nerds. They are nerds. As they explain on their hugely popular Vlogbrothers Youtube channel:

"Nerdfighter is basically just the community that sprung up around our videos. And basically we try to get together and do awesome things and have a good time and fight against world suck."

(World suck, in case you were wondering, is the amount of suck in the world.)

In their video blogs, the Green brothers talk about politics, share jokes and host an online book club. Right now they've got thousands of people reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a nonfiction book about life in the slums of India. Green says their video communities are meant as a refuge for people like them, nerds who sometimes feel alone.

"And the great thing about these tight-knit Internet communities is you don't have to feel alone anymore," Green added.

There's a community inherent to fandom, and that appeals to Green. He attended a Harry Potter convention in 2009 where he met a teenage girl with an oxygen tank. She had thyroid cancer. Esther Earl also posted videos on Youtube that Green came to admire.

"I was a fan of her humor and her openness," he said. And Esther, who died in 2012 at age 16, is something of a model for Hazel, the fictional heroine of The Fault In Our Stars.

"The superficial connections between Esther and Hazel have been talked about a lot," Green noted, but he said he did not see their main commonality being cancer. "The main thing for me actually had very little to do with their illness. For me it was that Esther was an uncommonly empathetic teenager."

And that's partly why fans like Samantha Tan feel a connection to Hazel in The Fault in Our Stars. The 20-year-old won a fan competition that brought her to the sneak preview in New York City.

"This isn't, like, some stupid teenager," she said of the main character. "This is a smart girl, and I could definitely relate to her."

And the movie more than exceeded her expectations, she said — "by a billion, thousand percent."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's hear about an author who might find it hard to top these last two years. John Green wrote a book. It hit the young adult jackpot - sold 10 million copies. Then Hollywood actors were fighting for parts in the movie. The film adaptation of "The Fault In Our Stars" comes out this week. NPR's Neda Ulaby met up with the author.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: You know what writing a book is like? John Green says, it's like playing a lonely game of Marco Polo.

JOHN GREEN: In which you're in your basement alone for years and years, saying, Marco, Marco, Marco, Marco. And then, like, if you're lucky, someone writes you and says, Polo.

(SOUNDBITE OF GIRLS CHEERING)

ULABY: That's the sound of hundreds of teenage girls saying Polo. They're at a sneak preview of "The Fault In Our Stars" at a theater in New York City. When John Green comes out to introduce it, they scream his name. Green's novel came out two years ago. It's been 132 consecutive weeks on The New York Times' Best Seller List, half at number one. The story's about a teenage girl with cancer who meets a boy who's recently cancer free. He shocks her, in the movie, by sticking an unlit cigarette in his mouth.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FAULT IN OUR STARS")

SHAILENE WOODLEY: (As Hazel Grace Lancaster) Even though you had freaking cancer, you're willing to give money to a corporation for the chance to acquire even more cancer?

ANSEL ELGORT: (As Augustus Waters) Hazel Grace, they don't actually hurt you unless you light them.

ULABY: The boy, named Augustus, says the cigarette is a metaphor.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FAULT IN OUR STARS")

ELGORT: (As Augustus Waters) You put the thing that does the killing right between your teeth, but you never give it the power to kill you.

ULABY: Author John Green never had much power growing up as a kid in Orlando, Florida. He was an outsider, he says - a nerd and a poor student.

J. GREEN: I had a lot of emotional problems. I had a lot of behavioral problems. But I was still very nerdy. I was just not that smart.

ULABY: Now 36-year-old John Green and his younger brother call themselves nerdfighters. They don't fight nerds - they are nerds. They explain it on their hugely popular YouTube channel.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "HOW TO BE A NERDFIGHTER, A VLOGBROTHERS FAQ")

HANK GREEN: Nerdfighter is, basically, just the community that sprung up around our videos. And, basically, we just get together and try to do awesome things and have a good time and fight against worldsuck.

J. GREEN: What's worldsuck?

H. GREEN: Worldsuck is kind of exactly what worldsuck sounds like. It's hard to quantify exactly, but, you know, it's, like, the amount of suck in the world.

ULABY: In the videos, the brothers talk about politics, philanthropy and they host an online book club. Right now, they've got thousands of people reading a nonfiction book about life in the slums of India. Green says their videos are meant for young people who sometimes feel alone.

J. GREEN: And the great thing about these tight-knit Internet communities is that you don't have to feel alone anymore.

ULABY: The quest for communities led Green into fandom. In 2009, he went to a Harry Potter convention. There, he met a teenage girl with an oxygen tank. She had thyroid cancer. She also kept a video diary on YouTube.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "NOTHING MORE THAN FEELINGS (VID 7/AUGUST 9)")

ESTHER EARL: I feel happy that I'm still alive. But I feel kind of ashamed that I'm not doing that much with my life.

ULABY: Green became her friend and her fan.

J. GREEN: I was a fan of her humor and her openness.

ULABY: And the girl, named Esther Earl, became the model for the heroin in his novel, "The Fault In Our Stars."

J. GREEN: The superficial connections between Esther and Hazel have been talked about a lot. But the main thing, for me, actually, had very little to do with her illness. For me, it was that Esther was an uncommonly empathetic teenager.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "NOTHING MORE THAN FEELINGS (VID 7/AUGUST 9)")

EARL: I feel like I'm fooling you all because I'm not always amazing. And I'm not always awesome. And I'm not always strong. And I'm not always brave. I get angsty. I cry. I hate my cancer. I yell at my parents.

ULABY: Esther Earl died in 2010, soon after turning 16. The story she inspired causes copious weeping at the screening of the movie "The Fault In Our Stars."

SAMANTHA TAN: (Sniffling) I cry.

ULABY: Twenty-year-old Samantha Tan won a fan competition that brought her here. Obviously, she loves the book. The movie exceeded her wildest expectations.

TAN: By a billion-thousand percent.

ULABY: Tan says she just doesn't see a lot of fictional heroes like the girl in "The Fault In Our Stars."

TAN: This isn't, like, some stupid teenager. This is a smart girl, and I could definitely relate to her.

ULABY: A girl not defined by her disability - an outsider to cheer for. "The Fault In Our Stars" seems to find the inner nerdfighter in us all. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.