Award-winning bestselling author John Green addressed the student body last night at the Salomon Center at an event hosted by the Brown Reading Board.
As the author of “The Fault in Our Stars”, “Looking for Alaska”, and “Turtles All the Way Down”, Green is widely considered the quintessential writer of young adult fiction. Recently, he wrote a collection of essays called “The Anthropocene Review”, in which he reviews different aspects of “the human-centered planet” in the “geological era” of the Anthropocene, as described of the book.
Green’s books have received several accolades — including a Printz Medal, a Printz Honor and an Edgar Award — and he was a two-time finalist for the LA Times Book Prize, according to his website. In addition to writing novels, Green has created two YouTube channels – the vlogbrothers video blog channel and the CrashCourse education channel – with his brother Hank.
Green recalled the start of his career entering data for book review magazine Booklist, a job that gave him insight into book life cycles and the low success rate of new authors. “I think I was the rare newbie author who didn’t have high expectations,” he said.
“I just got really lucky,” Green said of the success of her debut novel “Looking for Alaska.” “I sent it to editors and one of them liked it, and that person is still my editor today.”
He had no idea the book would be so successful, he said. Had he known the novel would gain such a wide readership, he would advise his 23-year-old self to “fictionalise a little bit,” Green said.
Green also admitted that he hadn’t read “Looking for Alaska” in 18 years, and he couldn’t even remember what it was about. “Part of being a writer is that you really don’t like any of your books,” he said when asked which of his works was his favorite.
Even after finding success as a widely read novelist, Green faced the financial reality of being an artist. His financial situation contributed to his decisions to sell the film rights to his books, particularly around the time of the birth of his second son, he said. “If a movie company was going to write me a check, I was probably going to say yes.”
But the first two film adaptations he worked on were “bad experiences”, especially for the adaptation of “Looking for Alaska”, the production of which was ultimately canceled. Green said the film studio gave him almost no control over the creative process, which made him reluctant to sell the film rights to “The Fault in Our Stars” at first.
He explained that saying “yes” to the film’s production is the last step in the process over which the writer has a lot of control.
Still, his experience with “The Fault in Our Stars” was far better than his previous experiences, as he always felt “welcome and included in the conversation,” he said.
“The generosity that people have shown towards my work while adapting…has been really sweet and meant a lot to me,” Green said.
Although he has always been aware of the collaboration that goes into the creation of all art – contrary to popular belief that it is an individual experience – it is seeing his films made that inspires him. helped understand this on a deeper level, he said.
“I realized that I didn’t really write my own books; a lot of other people were writing them with me,” Green added.
Green also discussed writing about mental health and her own experience with OCD and depression. When he writes about mental health, he tries to write about “how isolating it can be because it’s so hard to find a language to describe the pain,” he said. He explained that people tend to describe pain using only figurative language – even to the doctor.
“We talk about what pain is because we can’t talk about what it is,” he said. “The fact of pain itself resists direct language description because it is so intensely personal.”
With “Turtles All The Way Down”, Green hoped to find a direct form of depicting “psychic pain” instead of the “endless addiction to metaphor or figuration”.
Green also opened up about his online projects with his brother Hank, with whom he started making YouTube videos in 2007. “I remember trying to explain to my editor that (making) YouTube (videos) and writing books are exactly the same thing”, mentioned. “They have a different grammar but are the exact same language to me.”
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Green explained that he tended to move between different forms of creative expression when he got tired of it. That’s why he turned to podcasts at a time when he felt like he couldn’t write books anymore, he said. But, he shared that creating a podcast inspired him so much that he eventually turned to writing as well. The podcast, “Dear Hank & John,” has been posting episodes since he and his brother conceived it in 2015.
Green also spoke briefly about writer’s block. “The hardest part is getting started,” he said, “and once you get started it can be bad, it doesn’t matter…just try to keep the Google doc open. ”