Your recent book tour for The Fault in Our Stars — a novel about teens with cancer — was more like a rock tour, complete with a bus, screaming teens, and sold-out auditoriums. What was it like being the subject of that much adoration?
I spend almost all my time in my basement, so it was genuinely surreal for me to meet 11,000 fans in 21 days. It’s been overwhelming to hear from so many people who are living with cancer and other serious diseases, and to hear things they could identify with in the story, things they felt I got right.
You and your brother, Hank, also have a YouTube series called Vlogbrothers. You do everything from teaching history to playing videogames on it — and it has more than 200 million views.
Our YouTube audience grew to the size of a cable-television show in about 2009, and that was when I started to get a lot of Twitter followers and Tumblr followers and everything else. When you have the same number of people watching the stuff you make as watch shows on the History channel, you have [a big] audience but you’re not as quote-unquote famous, which is nice, actually, because no one in their right mind wants to be famous.
What’s interesting is that your following directly affects your books. Esther, one of your young fans who was fighting cancer, inspired Hazel, the main character of The Fault in Our Stars.
All of my books except for my first one have been inspired by readers in lots of different ways, and I hope that will continue. I do have to say, though, that Hazel and Esther are very different people, and Esther has died and has no ability to defend herself. It would be very important to her that people not think she likes America’s Next Top Model, which Hazel loves. [Laughs] Even while Hazel and Esther are very different people, I never could have written the book without knowing Esther.
The Twitter hashtag #nerdfighting became a huge trend thanks to fans of your books — especially after The Fault in Our Stars came out in January. For the uninitiated, what does ”nerdfighting” mean?
Hank’s and my fans identify themselves as nerdfighters because they fight for nerd culture and nerd rights and intellectualism — not because they fight nerds, obviously.
How would you characterize the typical nerdfighter?
They tend to be pretty nerdy. [Laughs] I say that as a compliment. By nerdy, I mean intellectually engaged, thoughtful, and excited about learning. They’re mostly between the ages of 15 and 21, which is great, because it allows me to know who Rebecca Black is.
Fox 2000 acquired the rights to The Fault in Our Stars. Who would you cast as the teen cancer patients?
I’m so old that in my mind they should cast Drew Barrymore and Matthew Broderick! [Laughs] I am so far removed from knowing anything about teenage actors that I really have no idea.
What are you writing now?
I have a few stories in mind that I’ve been working on for a while. The story that I’ll probably try out first is about two kids in West Virginia whose hobby is exploring tunnels in storm drains. I really like adventure stories, even if you might not get that from my books. And then there’s a mystery-ish disappearance story that I’ve wanted to write for a long time. It can be any of those, but it’ll probably be something entirely different, though. Maybe a zombie-apocalypse story.