Hank Green Talks About His Debut Novel, "An Absolutely Remarkable Thing"

hello we're cold what is up well gonna build I'm your host Matt Forte we are here live at the build studio in New York City our next guest is a CEO of vlogger an educator philanthropist a podcaster and today with the release of his highly anticipated and absolutely remarkable thing a novelist now I could regale you with stories of his millions of followers or his billions of video views and honestly there's like a hundred other things as dude does that I got out of that list but we only have like 15-20 minutes to chat and I really want to talk to him about this book because I read it and I loved it so ladies and gentlemen please welcome author of an absolutely remarkable thing the great Hank green hello Hank green everybody hi I feel so inadequate in terms of my shoe game right now can we just bring them up like show me just like we're in my 20 minutes this is the interview no it's kind of relaxing okay good yeah yeah yeah well good I say that I do half the job isn't it good I think congratulations sincerely on this on this wonderful book man I've been reading it over the past couple of days I really got lost in it and and I loved it and I really did so I'm excited for you thanks and I'm very excited to hear how things are going with you and that's exactly where I want to start we'll get into the process we'll get into all of that but because we have time one of the things I love to begin with is just how the hell are you how's Hank doing I'm doing okay yeah I got up this morning I took a shower I came out of the shower my baby was screaming and I was like what's wrong I have a two-year-old saira come and I've got my just underwear on and I'm wet and he's having a bath so he's having a nice New York City hotel room bath and and is hating every minute of it but he's loved the city we're from Montana so we don't see a lot of helicopters and he's just like there's another helicopter you have a lot of those here I have no idea what any of them are doing but stopping down the Hudson I don't know keeping an eye on yea-ah I'm doing good I see the whole world through his eyes now every pretty amazing that's gotta be a wonderful way to go through everyday right yeah she's really cute it's intense ya know it's too much I'm like its tone it down can you take it down – cute notches cuz everybody is way too charmed right you're only two you've got so much life ahead of you you can't be this guilt bitterly don't burn the candle – too bright my man you know as a dude that's been putting out content and making content and a creator for the better part of a decade man like how has this been different how does this release been different this process been different has it been I mean this was this I started writing this book five years ago so like that's different that's what that's a very different thing like Mike most of my content either takes you know I'm about to tweet and that's my content ooh tweet I tweeted it happens and then a video is oftentimes the process of a day and and at the end of that day I have feedback and people are telling me what they think and I get to take that and iterate and make a different video next week this is so scary because like when the book comes out like 12 people have read it and they've told me what they thought that's not a huge data set to work with and I yeah so so it's definitely scary but I've gotten a lot of good opinions from good people who I trust and so I'm gonna go with that and you also liked it you know thinking of like the data set and coming from the world that you come from is that something you plan to do as you get ready to make the next one and however many are you looking for data to any luhan's the process it's it is day two the right word I don't know but yeah feedback for sure I like the interesting thing about like a book is that there's like a whole review infrastructure there's all these journals that will tell you what they think and there's there's blogs and like people review books people review YouTube videos you just get like a like a like or a dislike and like the the like how many views it gets is review and so getting like actual input from people that's more than just this like binary like or don't like or watch or don't watch is really wonderful and and I'm so excited about getting like like theories about how this book works and like what's going on in it and and fan art and like that stuff is what I live for like I'm I have always been a fan I've been a fan of fandom and I want that and like and to imagine I'm trying to like expect that too much but like my hope is for that well it's funny that you because you kind of stoke the flames a little bit I was looking at your Twitter feed you're doing a really cool thing today where you're sharing a lot of art I thought the story behind how that all came together was kind of it was kind of funny if you wanted to share like where that that that flame as it was sparked for you yeah this so I got this book deal and like I realized the thing I was most excited about wasn't like I was gonna be a novelist it was like maybe somebody's gonna make fan art from my weird robot book and and seeing that in my mind's eye I got so excited about it that I wanted it to happen before the book came out so I I reached out to a artist who I follow on Twitter I'd never met her before and I was like can I pay you to make some art based on my book because I just got an advance from my publisher and I could spend some of it on you and then we actually worked together and she became the art director for this project where we worked with 12 different artists to make art based on the book and those are there's there's all this the tweets are scheduled so one just went live and I haven't looked at it yet yeah but but yeah they're a really beautiful art from like a really like wide array of independent artists that make very different stuff from each other and those coming into my inbox were just such great creative fuel for me yeah how so I guess she got the advance is gonna say how far along were you and where had you written everything already or did you give them yeah at that point the book was done yeah the book was done by but it wasn't done with editing and yeah yeah I and I just mentioned that you started five years you've worked on it for five years and I saw the great tweet as well from John that he got the the pitch and is that to say that you consistent we were like four five years that you would keep going back or it kind of an on-and-off thing when you found the moment you'd go in when you had another new idea you'd go back in and stuff like that is that good and there's a there was a lot going on in my life and and kind of what kept bringing me back to the book was like when I would need to process something about my own career my life my relationship with the Internet my relationship with my audience and like that's a weird thing it's like being like a person in the public eye is weird and and there aren't there's not a lot of not all people that I think are like talking about how to do it because it's you know it's fairly rare and and also talking about like what it does to you and what the responsibilities of it are that I had to work through a lot of that and and that kept bringing me back to this story well that's yeah that's what I guess I was really curious about was if you if the original pitch or the original idea within those 20-some odd pages that you had if it was mostly the the giant robot story or if it was I want to explore my relationship like what chicken or the egg guy was it was the giant robot story I had some very very specific scenes in my mind for what like that I wanted to get to there was if if you've read the book there's a scene that involves grape jelly that I was that like that was sort of like the first seed and I was like how do I write a book around this yeah and and then like what you find is you you have these individual moments and you connect them together and and that's where like the characters that you've created and the experiences that I've had sort of like became so useful and and then I realized that like ultimately the book wasn't about giant robots or the grape jelly scene it was about it was about like you know tell telling a story about you know 2018 and how we interact with each other on the social Internet and how and how to imagine Fame and and the power that we all have that's the beauty and that's why I love the book is because this for me is like sci-fi at its best is when you're exploring and sort of dissecting these these things that we all kind of sit back and ponder from time to time but you're doing it to this fantastical lens of oh there happens to be a giant robot and some grape jelly stuff going on it you strike me based on that you strike me as a Star Trek guy yeah yeah sense of power because that was something they were always known for what were some of your other influences as you were writing your giant robot story what were you thinking of what were you trying to sort of harken to and I love stories where things are very very serious but there's also these weird absurd silly moments Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a huge influence and I and that is seeable I think in this sort of like the squad of friends taking on you know sort of universe sized problems and and in that weird way that like you know like that you can be experiencing this like grief and powerlessness and like terrible things but simultaneously like there's something dumb and silly and just doesn't make any sense happening and those things don't rub against each other they rest on each other and that's something that I really love and and hope that I achieved some in this book I also I like comic sci-fi cat Valenti's space opera is knock my socks off it's a recent book John Scalzi has always been a favorite of mine but I you know I also read a lot of hard science fiction the books that first got me excited about books were Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy back in the 90s and that's very different from what I do but like any time KSR comes out with a new book I'm I'm in line I've actually just got because I'm a writer now and I'm gonna get up I'm gonna get a galley of his new book red moon which is coming out soon so like I can do that that's that's really the whole reason why I can get Kim Stanley Robinson's books early so I'm done thank you very much it was good this is it works you did it it looks like and I because it has just come out today but is it still a little weird for you going I'm a writer well I haven't been to a bookstore to see it yet you have and I think and I think that's when it's gonna be like add there like I've got seen lots of pictures of it sitting on bookstore shelves but like because I haven't seen it in a bookstore but honestly like the the moment when that first hit was when I got the final book in the mail and I am I like a crate of 30 of them and I was like I gave one to my son and I was like can you read this and he's 2 and so he opened it and he looked at it and I took a picture and I was like I'm done but like yeah but I think the next the next like it's weird the process is a lot of like little moments like that instead of one big one because it like I finished the book when my son was like four months old and he's 2 now so come on publishing industry I'll make a video in a day has that been a difficult thing for you to adjust to it sounds like you're still coping yeah no I literally I was like can we get it up by Christmas and that was last year and they were like no we cannot and I was like but what if we do anyway like what if we break what have we move fast and break things it's the internet era stop saying the word disrupt over and over again we're not it's not gonna happen this is when it comes out but how about you defer to the expertise that the people who've been doing it for 150 years hard to argue with that yeah you know obviously and we've talked about how you have infused tons of your personal experience and your journey into this story into this character there's one moment in particular that are really curious about that I felt like you must have pulled from there's a moment between the President and April and April just has a realization of like oh there's just a human being which is really frail and for some reason in my head maybe I'm crazy I thought maybe you've experienced that moment in the first day and I'm wondering one have you and – were there other moments that were not just you infusing but direct poles from things you had gone through that you through end of the book yeah so for sure yeah I'm I got to meet Barack Obama and interview him and give him a hug a while back and I was he went and he was like he was very it was very sort of charisma of office like it was very like this is a big deal yeah and but also there was that like as a guy and like we joked around a little bit and it was weird you know yeah that's all I can add something that like we all know objectively but like have a hard time imagining and like this like the Us Weekly mentality of like Oh Barack Obama shops for food are you saying that like are you saying Brad Pitt who's like oh my and and that that level of like you know removal of the of the idea of the person from the from the human themselves and that like isn't a Mike I think an important thing to explore generally right now at a moment when we I think are dehumanizing more people more because we're all sort of like building our internet brands and we're carefully constructing the thing that that we present to the world not just not just as people who have big creator audiences but everybody like lots of people are doing that now and I think we should be more aware of what it means and yeah like gods lots of other things are pulled directly from from experience like III also I think pulled a lot from like watching my friends go through some stuff yeah where they you know didn't realize how much and and and like having to be very aware and also as a boss this is the case of like the impact that you have on people with the tiniest little actions or words that you might have where people come away from that like reanalyzing the thing all the time because like you have this influence over their job or over there sort of like idea of the universe and so like that that's a ton of pressure and it can be really like it's gonna be a huge weight and it can stop some people from creating at all and sort of like be like I just can't handle like thinking about every word that I say so much because I'm afraid that like one of these words is gonna hurt somebody that's why there's a lot of stuff in there that I want to I want to unpack a lot of why that that moment stuck out for me actually just like I reminded me of oh yeah he met the president but like April experiencing sort of that humanizing moment at a time like she's becoming less and less of a human herself and the end the end of the world it's just it's a cool moment but something you did mention in there is like kind of looking through the eyes of your friends and people that have gone through this stuff as well because I want to talk about finding April's voice as much as you pulled from your life she's a very different person and human being than you are and so I'm wondering what the process was like in in fleshing her out and discovering her and figuring out who she is yeah it's interesting that you used the word discovering because it felt that way it felt like I did like I wasn't creating something I would write a scene and I'd be like April wouldn't actually have done any of that like that was convenient for the plot but like none of that as stuff April would do and I'm and then I was like but April can do anything I'm in charge she is my creation but it turned out that not the case that like there there were moments when when I was like oh like no I have to understand that this is a person that like she's not real but like in my mind she is and like somehow my mind knows things about her that like I don't on the page which was really helpful it's it said like a sort of like parts of the book being in pen so that like the universe that I could explore isn't infinite it gives me that that sort of little limitation it's pretty amazing we are okay we got we're gonna go to the audience in a little bit about for some audience questions we've got a bunch out there I promise I'll leave time but you like I said early at the top there's there's so many things you're working on I could I got like a million other questions about this book but I do want to mention some other stuff that you're doing you've got tons of cool stuff how to vote in every state I was looking at us 54 individual videos this is incredible tell for the people that aren't the speed tell us what that is a really quick and well in here in the US every state has its own rules for how to vote how to get registered whether you like when you need to do it like because we are we allow we have 50 different sandboxes to mess around with and that's a good thing but it is also kind of annoying in that you can't make one video for how to get registered to vote because it's different in every state so we made 50 individual videos and then we realized that there were some other things Puerto Rico there's like if you're military overseas so we have some extra videos for those people as well and yeah so it's do it's a project so that like and it's not just like how to get registered but like how do you get a sample ballot like where do you need to go if you need to go to the polls how do you vote absentee if you are in a place that allows for that and all that stuff it's so out to do an individual video for real okay it's just feels ambitious is it a project you would have even considered taking on a couple years ago five years I mean we did it yeah this is a second yeah and and honestly like as I have had more connections with people who are good at producing video good at writing video good at doing research like it's easier because you know Nicole Sweeney put it all together my friend Taylor did like most of the research and then like did some writing and like helped with others with writing and Nicole co-hosted it with me so yeah and like I don't want it to sound like it's super hard to get to vote it's actually pretty easy most of the videos are very short some it's interesting making the whole series because some places it's much harder than others and it's like wow it's almost as if some places make it harder for you to vote for what reason could there be was it was it difficult for you to kind of check that at the door and it'd be like look we're just telling people how to get it done we cannot infuse this with right well there's a couple of moments where where you where you do honestly say like I'm like you almost have like apologized like we're sorry that you have to register by mail in your state but like you can't register online yet and that is something that you should be aware of and that's to me that's bipartisan like like making voting easier should be something everybody wants so those are out there now and then the other big thing I wanted to congratulate you know I saw that WNYC you and John just got a deal with wmic for your podcasts and a bunch of your stuff going over there that's pretty exciting yeah I love podcasting it's such a great medium and and it's been it's it's a joy to create in its doesn't have a platform in the way that all these other things do where you're like working on YouTube or Facebook like you just put it on your server and an RSS feed and you're in control and so it's and then you have I think like a much more like a long-term connection with the audience because you spend so much time in their ear holes and that is great I'm in there just invite me right in my name is Green put me in your earholes I believe that's how I sent the email to get you to be here I said we want to put you in people's ear holes yeah well that's right I'm going to your holes – well we that's the only ones though just those four of course at which point then we'll figure that out and then how many things are you doing Hank you're at Town Hall today I'm I'm at Town Hall in New York City and then I'm going across the u.s. to Boston tomorrow Canton Ohio of the day after that because you know New York Boston Canton the three big ones with me to Boston and then he goes – he's missing I'm sorry – our huge Canton contingent by the way yeah yeah he's going to hang out with his sister-in-law and what are they called cousins like I said man I love this book and you are an awesome guy and I'm really excited you came by we're gonna go to the audience now but thank you for making the time out of that ridiculously busy schedule to come hang out with us a great album here we've got a bunch let's start the first one's gonna be right here all right so we were able to hear a lot about your book today but for people who may not have the same opportunity how would you describe it in three words how would I describe my book in three words no you didn't ask me to like pitch the book at all thank you gosh giant robot mystery giant robot mystery that's that's good okay you did it okay now I want to read the book that sounds good you're a writer I was wonderful thank you for that we've got a few more next one's gonna be right here in the green couch okay my daughter Nicole couldn't be here today oh no she wanted me to a Nicole she's watching on komm so you're an incredible number doing Thanks round of applause for her real quick for coming I open a coral realizes how lucky she is go on she's got my ticket for tonight so she's really lucky great in your latest blog brother's video parable of the perfect pot you talk about how writing a book is the opposite of your normal business creative production process huh coming out of it how do you think you've changed as a person constantly wanting to start new creative ventures dftba thanks to your daughter i-i-i think I changed a lot while writing the book but I don't know that was the creative process that changed me as much I think that it was like actually working through some issues I had and and like pre like I I kind of feel like April made some mistake so I didn't have to almost like seeing seeing the stuff that she went through and and there was the second part of the question I forgot do you remember what it was she's consulting her notes okay no just really was a really good question yeah and yeah I I have not though this is what it was I have not started to have less creative business ideas my wife will attest to this she'll be like what if like you do fewer things you did a book and now you've done that and we could just have a normal life and I'm like yeah but I just had this great idea about we're gonna revolutionize forks it's gonna the world will never be the same they're called tines not prompt not prongs yeah well I know that because I've been investigating how to revolutionize before you got fort guys calling you day and night yeah we've got a couple more we got next one's gonna be right here I think in the front all right who's mic is on let's try you arrested hi hey mr. green nice to meet you let's meet you I was wondering I was reading about this book and into and I saw this is the first book of four broken up for books no this there will be two books hopefully there will be two so the next one it's it's following the same the same line is a story or yes totally different about this story I basically I I had a very sort of specific I had a bunch of this is the process of writing for me I have a bunch of scenes that I would like to get to and they're very important to me and I love them and they're beautiful and perfect and then I have to figure out how are we gonna get all these characters in the emotional and physical place they need to be in to have the scene happen and I was writing this book and I was getting ready for like the for me like the most important scene and then I realized the book was over and then I had written the climax and that I couldn't I wasn't gonna get to the scene cuz if I start if I wrote that scene it was gonna be like like I will have had this thing and then it would have been like ooh resolution and then if I wrote this scene it would be like and uh and then I'd be like and now I'm done I guess so that what that didn't work at all and and I realized that like because I had know so much more of the story than you will when you finish this book but like you will also finish the book and be like that seemed like on end in the same way that I did when I was like oh that I did it I finished a book that uh yeah that that I had to I had to continue writing the story but I couldn't do it in one book have you built up momentum our Martinus on this one have you built up momentum are you think I've written about thirty thousand words of the next one um I'm working on it actively I really do not want to do that but not like not because like I have I I'm so frustrated with the other authors who've done that but because like I'm friends with some people who are in the process of having waited a long time between sequels and it's just really hard for them and like I know that and I don't I just like want to do my best and not get in that position cuz it's rough I know you can't because you don't want to we don't want to spoil anything with this book you don't spoil anything on the next book and so if you can assist that's fine but like you spend so much this I'm exploring you said Apryl making mistakes he wouldn't have to having worked through a lot of that explored a lot of that do you know already as you're working on it what it is you're exploring on the second book are you trying to find that as you go yeah no I know what I'm wearing oh yeah yeah it is it's some of the same stuff it's it's it's some of the students that same stuff about power but but in a different way it's more about money than it is about fame which i think is something that we need to grapple with a lot in society and something that we're not good at grappling with because it's super taboo and and then I also want to talk maybe more about what social media might look like in 5 10 15 years than what it looks like right now that's really cool all right thank you for answering that we've got one more final question here we go right up front so you're in charge of you know you started VidCon you did like videos and now your book like how does it feel to know that you making a lasting impact on people because I know those events and you know your videos like they have impacted my life I'm in college and I'm still watching your videos like you know so how does it feel to know that you impact people long-term um it's the best thing like the the thing that I've come out of this realizing is that like we like all value is created by people and there isn't like there isn't some there isn't some like ultimate source of mattering and so so what I like what what I know is that like the impact that we have on each other is like the main thing that like we we get to do as people and so that is huge for me and like we make a lot of educational content and knowing that like we help students and we help like particularly teachers which is a very difficult job and a very and like but also the most important one is it matters so much to me and like that really gives me a kind of like security and who I am and and also like a sense of responsibility to do it well but like without a sense of like I don't know without a sense of weight to that because it just feels like it feels like a joyful path so thank you very much for that question and and it makes me feel good yeah oh thanks for making all of us feel good Hank man because uh this was this was so much fun I'm so happy you were here to do this I want to thank everybody for your questions all and they were great near and far those were wonderful questions we're gonna wrap things up but a quick reminder the book you can get it right now over an audio book there is there's nothing about the audio book there's a physical book it's out there go get it here in New York he's at town hall tonight if you're in Canton just keep your eyes open he's on his way but also there's gonna be a national tour there's a million things going on but you know how to find them the great Hank green everybody make some noise please for this man please come on [Applause]

21 thoughts on “Hank Green Talks About His Debut Novel, "An Absolutely Remarkable Thing"

  1. i just need to say this somewhere because i have no one to tell. i got the book for my birthday in november knowing nothing about it other than that it was hank's first book and might have something sic-fi going on. that being said, something in me said it was not the time to read it. i just visited somewhere over the weekend that didn't have internet and that voice was like "now. now is the time". so i read it and realized that it is almost the end of April (and i will no doubt be thinking about it into May) and THAT is the time when my gut told me to read a book about a girl called April May. i had no idea that was her name going in. I'm still shook about it

  2. "…when you spend so much time in their… ear. holes."
    I just spit out my coffee, thanks Hank XD

  3. just finished this and reviewed it if anyone wants to check it out: https://thereadingreaper.blogspot.com/2019/01/60-absolutely-remarkable-thing.html

  4. im waiting to read it while vacationing on the beach soon. signed copy woohooo

  5. Hank making random sounds while processing thoughts is my absolute fave

  6. Sometimes (like now) I think about how lucky Catherine is to have found a man like Hank in her life

  7. I got it on audible the day it came out and I have already listening to it 3 times and I cried everytime!

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