It occurred to me recently that since I've been running this site for well over ten years, it might be interesting to take a look back once in awhile to see what I was up to a decade ago, especially since more than a few of the people who started off as my interesting online buddies eventually went on to do some very impressive things (probably due to the magic of knowing me, right? Right?) One of these people is John Green, bestselling, award-winning author, close personal friend of Barack Obama and undoubtedly soon to be the breakout star of The Fault In Our Stars, a movie based on the book of the same name that he wrote. When I first interviewed him ten years ago today, he was still living in Chicago (before decamping to New York and then Indiana), hadn't yet started dating his wife, hadn't yet started Funny Ha-Ha with me, and hadn't yet published his first book, Looking For Alaska. A lot's happened since the day we IM'ed our interview (which I don't typically do but as you may know John is very convincing.) I pulled up the old chat and followed up with him a few weeks ago:
In our last interview we were watching the MTV Video Music Awards as we IM'ed. I am pretty sure Miley Cyrus wasn't even alive yet. When was the last time you watched MTV and what's the last music video you cared about, new or old?
A couple years ago in a hotel room I watched half an episode of Jersey Shore. It made me really sad, partly because I couldn't believe people actually chose to watch that show, and partly because I became intensely aware of my own age and demographic predictability. I didn't like the show in part because MTV wasn't making it for me. I do, however, like Deadliest Catch, which is designed for people of exactly my age/gender/race demographic. Anyway, watching Jersey Shore made me feel very predictable and average.
But yeah, I can't watch MTV anymore. I wouldn't even know where to find it amid the 7,000 cable channels.
The last music video I cared about was Watsky's "Strong as an Oak."
I actually watch a lot of music videos now, because I watch a lot of YouTube. My 3-year-old son Henry is a huge fan of "Gangnam Style," and so we watch that music video regularly.
Back then you discussed your five-year plan to quit smoking. How did that go for you? I sort of can't believe you were ever a smoker. When was the last time you lit up?
Yeah, when I go back and read that interview, I cringe at pretty much every word I wrote, but the smoking stuff is the worst. I did quit all forms of nicotine about eight years ago. I chewed Nicorette for a long time but finally weaned myself off it after several pieces ended up in my washing machine with catastrophic results. I don't miss smoking, but I do sometimes miss Nicorette.
"I'm so tired of people making fun of Alabamans," you lamented in the last chat. Do you still feel compelled to defend your home state or that doesn't come up as much anymore?
It doesn't come up as much. I mean, I left Alabama half my life ago, so I don't identify as closely with the state as I did ten years ago. (My wife is also from Alabama, and feels the same way.) Also, back then I was always bringing up my Alabama-ness as a way of establishing myself as special and different. I think I wanted you to think that I was some kind of Authentic Article, which of course is ridiculous because I spent my childhood in suburbs in Florida and Alabama that looked and felt pretty much like any other suburb.
I just really wanted you to think I was cool. The urgent need to convince you of my cool is really, glaringly obvious in that interview from ten years ago. I still want you to think I'm cool, but hopefully I've gotten better at hiding it.
You know of course that even if I did think you were cool I would never tell you. When we last spoke you had just sold Looking for Alaska, saying, "I wrote a Young Adult novel about a small boarding school in Alabama. It's a comedy about suicide. I sold it to Dutton." At that place and time, what were your wildest dreams for the book and what would happen after that? And what did you try to tamper those dreams down to (if you did do that)?
CRINGE. I can't believe I described it that way! DOUBLE CRINGE. I hadn't really written the meat of the book when that first interview happened: I had ideas for the plot that I ended up stripping away, and it's weird to look at that now, because now in my mind the book is neither a comedy nor is it about suicide.
When we were talking ten years ago, I hoped the book would survive into paperback and maybe hang around for a while. I kept the goal right there and tried really hard not to fantasize beyond that. I worked at a book review journal, Booklist, so I had a pretty good sense of what happens to books: They come and go very quickly, painfully quickly, and even good ones rarely find a large sustained audience. My wildest dream was probably that LfA would win the Printz Award, the big award for YA novels. It did win that award, but also went on to do many things I never imagined, like make the New York Times bestseller list more than seven years after coming out.
You said, "The girl behind The Devil Wears Prada is going to find out exactly what the devil wears when her time comes." But the joke's on you, John, because she came out with a sequel to the book. The question is, did you enjoy the movie, The Devil Wears Prada? And what's the most current update, large or small, on the Fault In Our Stars movie?
I did like the movie! Why was I such a jerk to that woman? Why was I always so snarky about everyone? I wish her well with the sequel, and I will probably read it.
As for the TFiOS movie, it is supposed to start filming August 26th, so I guess it is really going to happen? I try not to get ahead of myself, and things could always fall apart, but at this point it looks very likely that they're at least going to film a movie, which is really exciting. I like all the people involved in the movie a lot, and they all seem to care very deeply about the book. It's been a wondrously positive experience, which is not something I can say about every time one of my books has attracted interest from Hollywood people.
Previously, you complained about your roommate issues. How are your roommates now?
I have one roommate who never pulls his pants up after going to the bathroom and another who is 100% incontinent, so I don't know what I was complaining about before. I live with my wife, 3-year-old son, and newborn daughter. They are all great roommates, although I remain very close to Shannon, who I lived with ten years ago, and who now works as a guardian ad litem for neglected and abused children in Cook County.
Do you still fear air travel? What do you do to make it more tolerable?
I fear it less, but I still get nervous on planes. I used to have a lot of extremely rigid rituals surrounding air travel, including buying a true crime book in the airport and having to touch the outside of the plane as I stepped inside of it and a bunch of other things. But slowly most of those rituals have faded away as I've learned other strategies for dealing with anxiety. But all things being equal, I'd still rather drive.
How many of those 51 women who dumped you just happened to reach out to you since you started hanging out on the bestseller list? And do you talk to your old girlfriend Giordana at all anymore? I know all this is far in the past and I very much like and admire Mrs. Green but I just wanted to honor the whole "revisiting the interview" thing.
I haven't spoken to Giordana in a long time, although we are friends on Facebook so can keep tabs on each other. She still travels a lot and seems very happy, and I wish her all the best. It probably speaks to what a horrible boyfriend I was that very few of them have contacted me in the last few years. (I am clearly also a horrible ex-boyfriend, by the way; I mean, what kind of jackass names the girls he has kissed by first and last name in an interview?!)
You were just giving them the gift of Googleability, which not everybody has. Do you remember what Steve and I got you for your wedding? Because I was just gesturing to the shelves in our kitchen to an admiring houseguest saying "John and Sarah Green bought us those." (I really hope this answer is not going to make me realize that we still owe you a wedding present.)
I don't remember. To be fair, I have been married way longer than you. Did you get us wine glasses? I know you got us something, because I remember writing the thank-you note. Anyway, thank you.
Yes, you know, I remember that thank-you note now because you wrote it, while tipsy, on honeymoon, which I enjoyed. What are the odds that you'll come back to Chicago for Funny Ha-Ha's tenth anniversary next September?
I'd love to do that. I'm so unfunny now, though! I'll have to try to become funny again. I'll work on it.
How does it feel to be the first person officially interviewed for Zulkey.com once per decade?
This has been great. We should do it every decade.
Talk to you in 2023, friend. I look forward to asking you what it's like to have a teenager in the house.