Q&A with John Green

Posted by Goodreads on October 10, 2017
John Green The world fell in love with John Green the way you fall asleep: "slowly, and then all at once." The vlogger and author is now a bestselling powerhouse, beloved by readers and moviegoers who often need tissues to get through any of his tearjerkers. (Oh, something was just in your eye? Sure.)

It's been more than five years since the publication of Green's last novel, The Fault in Our Stars, which took home a slew of awards and was adapted into a hit movie starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. While the wait has been long, his new book, Turtles All the Way Down, promises to be his most personal—and, let's face it, potentially heartbreaking—book yet.


Rate this book
Clear rating
Turtles All the Way Down is 16-year-old Aza's story. While attempting to be a good daughter, friend, and student without drowning in an ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts, she stumbles upon an irresistible mystery involving a fugitive billionaire, catapulting her on an adventure of revelation and redemption.

Green answers your questions about identifying with Aza, realizing The Fault in Our Stars wasn't destined to be his last book, and developing a lifelong habit of crying while reading.


Steph: Your books have meant so much to me, and I honestly feel like I can hardly wait for Turtles All the Way Down! What do you hope your legions (yes, legions!) of fans take away from Aza's story?

John Green: I hope the story makes people who live with obsessive thoughts feel less alone and maybe that it also helps people to understand what it's like not to be able to choose your thoughts. The story is also about a lot of other things—friendship, the presence of the past, parenthood, and so on—but I most wanted to explore what it's like to feel that your self might not actually be yours.

Nicole: Say you wake up and there's water gushing out of the ceiling light fixture that's above your bookshelf. What book do you save first? This may or may not have happened to me. (It did. It happened.)

JG: I am sorry about your flooded books! The book I would save is unpublished: Before Sarah and I started dating, we corresponded by email for almost two years. When we got engaged, she had those emails printed and bound into a book. The email addresses and the emails they contained are long gone, but the conversation survives in physical book form.

Beth: Do you have most of your books' pivotal plot points mapped out in your mind before you start writing, or do you just start with a general idea in mind and see where it takes you?

JG: I know almost nothing about the story when I start it. I usually begin with characters and a few questions—and I see where they take me. (In Turtles All the Way Down, for instance, I started with Aza and Daisy and some questions about the relationship between obsessive-thinking spirals and self.) Not knowing much about what will happen means that my first drafts are more like 80,000-word outlines; I delete almost all of them while revising because once the characters and questions have started to come into focus, I then need to build a story around them.

That said, my way isn't the only or best way!

Jessica: How do you want to be remembered decades from now? One hundred years from now?

JG: I don't think my work will survive for that long, to be honest. With both videos and books, I try to make stuff for people who are here with me now, struggling to make sense of life as we find it.

Cindy: Your books make so many people reach for the tissues. What was the first book you read that made you cry?

JG: My family has long made fun of me because almost ALL books make me cry. Even funny ones. Even terrible ones. But the first book that made me cry was Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, which is the story of a boy and two very good dogs. I remember reading the last few pages and tears dripping onto the book. But I loved the way that book left me feeling. I remember being astonished that I could be so deeply moved by scratches on a page that I had to turn into ideas.

Soon afterward I read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, which cemented my love for books (and my habit of crying while finishing them).

Carrie: I have a 16-year-old niece with whom I share a love for reading—and a connection when it comes to your books, Mr. Green. Beyond this shared interest, however, my niece doesn't seem to be motivated about her future or anything else. You know more about teens than I. Any advice? Or am I just a nagging ancestor?

JG: I'm a bit biased here because as a teenager, I was a terrible student and spent large swaths of my days playing Super Mario Kart. But I wasn't exactly unmotivated. Partly, I was afraid of failure—so I pretended not to care about school or life; partly, I was dealing with monsters within, too scary to talk about in casual conversation; and partly, I felt like school was a series of hurdles I had to jump over for no discernible reason.

That I've gone on to have a fulfilling professional life is largely thanks to luck and privilege: I received second chances that most people don't get and eventually was able to attend a high school (Indian Springs School) where amazing teachers got me excited about learning and showed me that school was not primarily about tests or grades.

There are so many kids with potential who don't show up as high-achieving on standardized tests. If you keep believing in them, and giving them chances, they will usually find their footing at some point. The tragedy of inequality is that most people don't have those opportunities.

Chastity: Hi! What's your favorite memory from the writing process of Turtles All the Way Down?

JG: This was a hard story to write partly because Aza's challenges are familiar to me. Like her, I've lived with obsessive-thought spirals for most of my life, and they've often made it impossible for me to feel like my thoughts belong to me. So I struggled a lot with the ending.

After a year of revisions and trying on different endings, Sarah made a suggestion that completely unlocked the ending for me. I spent a few days alone attempting to execute her idea, writing it through tears. It felt so cathartic, and I was so immensely relieved. I often thought I would never write another book after The Fault in Our Stars, but when I wrote Sarah's ending to this story, I knew it would be a book. There were still many difficult months of revision in front of me, but I knew it would be a book.

Christina: How can we, as a community, push back against the stigma surrounding mental illness and talk about it authentically without glorifying or romanticizing it?

JG: I don't want to talk about mental illness as if it's one thing because it's many things. And I also don't want to pretend to be an expert. I am not a psychologist. But I do think stigmatization of mental illness is a huge problem in our culture—stigma makes it harder for mentally ill people to get jobs, to sustain relationships, and in general to be seen as complete and complex humans. And in my experience, all of that can compound the horrors of psychic pain.

And in a way, romanticization is the other side of that coin because it also imagines the mentally ill person as somehow separate from the regular social order. For instance, I started writing Turtles All the Way Down in part because I was so tired of the popular narrative of the brilliant detective with OCD. That may be true to some people's experience, but it isn't true to mine. In my experience, obsessive thinking makes me a TERRIBLE detective because I can't pay any attention to anything happening outside the torrent of my so-called self. And I do think there are real risks with romanticizing mental illness.

I think we fight the urges toward both stigma and romanticization by listening—listening to people's experiences, trying to empathize with them, and learning to imagine them as richly and fully human.

Brionna: It's the end of the world, and you get to throw the ultimate end-of-the-world concert with your top five favorite musicians, dead or alive. Who would you choose? (The first musician/band would be your opener, and the last musician/band would close the show as the world is crumbling down around us.)

JG: I think I'd like my opening act to be Kimya Dawson, whose love and light shines through so beautifully in her songs. Then I'd ask my brother to perform some of my favorites, including a few of the songs our dad sang to us as kids. Third, I'd bring out Aretha Franklin. (I saw her perform live once, and it left me in a bubble of awe for days.) Fourth, I'd ask John Coltrane to come back from the other side for a bit to play "A Love Supreme." And then the Mountain Goats would definitely close the show as the world crumbled around us, ideally ending their set with "Up the Wolves."

Catherine: You're one of my absolute favorite authors ever, but I know you're a reader, too, with your own favorite authors! What one question would you ask them? (And if you can, how would you answer that question?)

JG: The truth is that whenever I meet my favorite authors, I can't ask them anything because I lose the ability to speak. So I wouldn't ask Toni Morrison or Sherman Alexie or Mary Oliver a question. I'd be lucky to squeak out a quick thank you.

Read more of our exclusive author interviews on our Voice page.




Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Jada (new)

Jada Grisson *squeaks out quick thank-you to Goodreads and John* But really, thank-you. Any opportunity to hear him speak (especially about books) is like receiving a little present at a randomly decided time.


message 2: by Jacob (new)

Jacob I quite enjoyed reading this, but if we are being technical John is an author turned vlogger :)


message 3: by Mandy (new)

Mandy John Green is my author. Yeah he is mine. Not in a romantic way ofc. Well i won't mind that too. But what I mean from 'my writer' is- He always writes things which I can easily colligate to. And i loved this interview. Thankyou Goodreads. I cannot wait to grab my own copy of 'Turtles all the way down'.


message 4: by Caitlin (new)

Caitlin Jacob wrote: "I quite enjoyed reading this, but if we are being technical John is an author turned vlogger :)"

I came here to comment the exact same thing.


message 5: by Rosella (new)

Rosella Lewis I've only read Fault in he Stars and loved it so I'll definitely check out Turtles but can I just say that I loved everything he had so say in this interview. He came off as humble, passionate, well-informed and kind. Consider me a new fan.


message 6: by J.T. (new)

J.T. SHEA Bravo to John Green for his sharing and candor!


message 7: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Wow, this is so cool. I love Toni Morrison and Sherman Alexie, too! I was introduced to their work when I took a minority literature course in college, and have followed them ever since. And I've cried with sad books or when I think a character is going to die. My 5th grade teacher read "Where the Red Fern Grows" to the entire class. It was nice to cry together as a group.

It's so nice to know I have a few things in common with one of my favorite authors. My husband loves your brother Hank's Sci-Show series on youtube (all of them). Thanks for this interview. Nerdfightaria for the win! DFTBA!!!


message 8: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Rosella wrote: "I've only read Fault in he Stars and loved it so I'll definitely check out Turtles but can I just say that I loved everything he had so say in this interview. He came off as humble, passionate, wel..."
Oh! Read "Looking for Alaska"! It is right there with "The Fault in Our Stars".


message 9: by Nema (new)

Nema Usman My daughter had finished reading Turtles all the ways down few days after its release . She loved it.
Most authentic book on OCD. I have read initial chapters. They were simply awesome.


back to top