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Saturday, April 07, 2007


I am constantly amazed by you, readers. Your comments and e-mails are my favorite reading material.

Daphne is thrilled that you are sending in questions for “Ask an agent.” Keep sending them in! This is your chance to have a fancy-pants New York literary agent give you the scoop on the publishing process. And trust me, Daphne is the business. She has the dangerous-looking heels and the impressive view from her office window and everything.

Also, I have been reading your suggestions for my UK challenge with great interest. So far, I have been invited to go to Cambridge to participate in an experiment on autism, to go to the Netherlands, and to run through London with Daphne pretending to be Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. But I think the one I am leaning towards at the moment (and this is not over) is to do a scavenger hunt at Harrods. Harrods is at the center of 13 Little Blue Envelopes, after all.

But I can’t do a scavenger hunt unless I have things to look for or tasks to perform. So what I propose is this: you send in ideas for things to find and do. Harrods is a huge store, and there are plenty of opportunities to do strange things in it.

I leave this to you. There are two more days to get your ideas in for what I am now calling THE GREAT HARRODS CAPER.

Today’s mail brought something that knocked my socks off. Midshipman Tirzah has three pigs, all of which she has made official members of my Pirate Dance Camp crew! Behold, crew members, the Pirate Pigs!

Firstmate Bob, Bosun Arnold, and Captain Fred

But let’s look at a question I get a lot: “Is writing a good career?”

I often dodge and weave around this question, because it is a hard one to answer. But it should be addressed. I would never want you to think that I would avoid a topic just because it is a sticky one.

First of all, writing is not a career in the way that being an accountant or a nurse is a career. It does not have the structure, the hours, the promotions, or anything else associated with a “normal” job. You will also have to go through this conversation a lot:

SOME GUY: Hey, what do you do?

WRITER: I’m a writer.

SOME GUY: No, I mean for your real job.

WRITER: I’m a writer.

SOME GUY: No, I mean for money.

WRITER: Oh. I’m a ditchdigger.

Because you might be. Writers often take other jobs in order to make ends meet. You really shouldn’t consider writing as a career goal if making a lot of money is a priority for you. I’m not saying that writers can’t make a lot of money. I’m just saying, if it’s a requirement, become a banker or a celebutard.

People should be writers if and only if they feel that they have to write, no matter what the consequences. You’ll do it even though you may never, ever get paid for it. You will do it using whatever you have on hand. You prefer a computer or a Moleskin notebook, but you will use napkins if that’s the only thing available. You will probably write when you are supposed to be doing something else, like your German homework or your ditch digging.

I have wanted to be a writer since I was just a tiny mj, and as you can see from this old author photo, I was not the brightest kid in the world. I’m getting my picture taken in a two-foot-by-two-foot photo booth and it seems pretty clear that I can’t even spot the camera.

Look up, Maureen! No, up! Up! At the shiny thing!

I also once ran out of the house to play at my friend’s house, and it was only when I got there and saw her mom that I was informed that I had forgotten to put my pants on. So seriously, don’t base anything on my childhood dreams and desires, because you will be setting yourself up for a world of confusion.

If you are still reading now, you may have your heart set on this idea, so now I will tell you some of the career perks of the writing life.


The writing life is a respectapalooza. If you say you are a writer, people will assume you are smart. As I’ve previously said, this is hardly the case, but I never correct this assumption. I get away with it because I have mastered point number nine on my how to be a writer list: I can plaster a smart look on my face for hours and never once will a deep—or even sensible—thought fire across my synapses.

Mostly, I think up sandwich combinations—that’s a big favorite thought of mine when I’m supposed to be being smart.

Reading, or sandwichizing? (Note the touching of the chin. This is key.)


Writing is one of the few careers for which you essentially train yourself, the other two major ones being juggling and pickpocketing. A good education helps—but this is truly one of the cases where you won’t be left behind just because you didn’t go to an expensive school. It also means that people from interesting backgrounds get to work together—doctors, lawyers, ice skaters, chefs, cat burglars. They can all be writers.

Be aware, though: equal opportunity does not mean fair. Very few things are fair.

There is no board of standards to determine who can or cannot be a writer. This means that sometimes bad writers get published and amazing writers get ignored. And if a bad book (or what you think is a bad book) becomes super-successful and gets a huge movie deal and celebrities start coming to the Bad Author’s house to hang out in their tub . . . well, it’s all part of the deal.

If you are the kind of person who thrives on being recognized for your achievements—if you just live for the day when the class rank is announced because you’ve fought tooth and nail to get a 4.3 GPA instead of a normal 4.0 through a clever combination of advanced classwork, alchemy, and kissing up—well, you may find yourself in a near-constant state of frustration.

“Why is Wolves on Skates number #17 on Amazon?” you will ask. “It’s incomprehensible! The narrator DIES in the first chapter. Didn’t anyone NOTICE this?”

You'll probably end up going to some dinner, and you'll be seated next to the author of Wolves on Skates, who will tell you sordid tales of fame, like wild nights of partying at the Amazon mansion and makeout sessions with J.K. Rowling . . . as their assistant sits next to them, cutting up their food into small, triangular pieces because said author is obsessed with pyramids.

Some of these stories will be lies, but not all.

The author of Wolves on Skates may test your patience.

If you really want to be a writer, you will learn not to worry about these kinds of things any more. You will be thinking of new sandwich combinations instead.


It’s true. You can read pretty much anything you want, and it all counts. Manga. Vampire buddy novels. Phone books. Whatever you want.

The writer at work.


I watched a show the other night called “Killer Jellyfish,” because that is exactly the kind of thing I have to watch. Did you know that there are people who are professional jellyfish researchers? And that they wade into jellyfish filled waters and pick them up and put them into buckets? In this show, two of the researchers were stung, and they were filmed as they spent the next two days in the hospital, twisting in agony as toxins invaded their system—toxins with no antidote, that produce pain so severe that not even the largest dose of morphine can even dull it?

Writers never have to do that. I mean, some of the rugged ones do it because they want to, but not this writer.

This is one example of a situation a writer is unlikely to end up in, unless they are that kind of writer.


Writers laugh at the idea of casual Friday. It’s ALWAYS casual Friday! It’s a “pants optional” profession, which is obviously good for me, considering my history.

Acceptable workwear? YES.

I leave you with that, and I hope that you will be sending in ideas for the GREAT HARRODS CAPER. I put myself in your hands.

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Blogger ozjazza said...

Pyjamas are the only acceptable work wear for a writer.

5:58 AM  
Blogger mcewen said...

Great post, inspirational and funny, what a coup! I'm so old those pictures actually resonate.
But go on, do the Autism one. Who could resist going to London? Afterall it is Autism Awareness month. [although I am a little biased]
Best wishes

6:09 AM  
Anonymous Nona said...

Your baby pictures were so cute, lol!

Although, that workwear outfit may be a little stuffy and imagine leaning over a keyboard with it on, lol.

Btw, just finished 13 Little Blue Envelopes. Major <3, especially the ending. Devilish is next on my list.

6:37 AM  
Anonymous Sasha said...

Hm... well, I've never actually been to Harrods. But seeing as it is a big store, I would suggest riding every single escalator/elevator and going on every staircase as part of the caper. I did that at the Mall of America once. It was NOT easy.

And I just finished Bermudez Triangle. SOO good. I'm pretty sure I am in love with Parker. Seriously. Devilish is also next for me, but they don't have a copy at my local library. I HATE my local library.


7:01 AM  
Anonymous sarah said...

This week we had spring break and I wore pajamas for at least ninety-six consecutive hours, although not all of those hours were spent actually writing.

Actually, a good deal of those hours were spent on the computer, opening the document that contains my novel every few minutes and then going back to looking at whatever random stuff amuses me.

I am a bad writer. I hope that this laziness will magically disappear when I leave my teen years behind (unfortunately they are just starting at the moment. High school, here I come. *fetal position*) and I will be compelled to sit in front of the laptop all day, typing away! Yes, this is my dream. I never had illusions about being a writer--ever since I decided I wanted to be one, I knew I'd be sitting on a couch or similar cushy surface for several hours at a time. Maybe that's what appealed to me.

8:14 AM  
Anonymous Dawn said...

I've never been one to really worry or care about how much money I am going to make in whatever career I actually end up in. I've recently changed from Elementary Education to Secondary Ed. English, so even my "real" job isn't going to be a high paying one. Who knows if I'll ever get published? It would be really nice to see my books on shelves with...a pretty cover all that jazz, but I will never stop writing no matter if I get published or not. I love to write, and I really do think that it keeps me sane as well as pushes me further into insanity. That's just dandy with me. There are times that I struggle to even call myself a "writer". I know its not some exclusive club that you have to be a part of so that you can be a "writer", but I just don't feel like I'm good enough for the title yet. MAYBE if I get published, I'll allow myself to be classified as a writer. And the reading? I've definitely got that part down. As a random sidenote: I loved the pictures that you posted of you as a tiny MJ. You were so cute! The Great Harrod's Caper? Hm. I'd say look long and hard for as much loose change as you can find. Report back how much wealthier you are by the end of the day. :-) I loved 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and I'm partway through Devilish right now. I love it too! (Sorry for the hellaciously long comment, by the way.)

8:19 AM  
Anonymous sarah said...

Oh, right, the Great Harrods Caper. I have a few suggestions:

-Find a large salmon, fresh or otherwise.
-Hide inside those circular racks of clothing and when someone goes to look through it, pop out and say "It's cheese time! Break out the Monterey Jack!"
-Walk around in Sherlock Holmes gear while carrying FREE MONKEY. Mutter observations and evidence to FREE MONKEY, yelling at it occasionally for not taking adequate notes, and pet Daphne Unfeasible's head.
-Dribble blue cheese onto your hand (I'm in a cheesey state of mind) and run around screaming in part of store with most foot traffic, claiming that your hand is being eaten by a mold monster.

Those are the best I've got right now.

8:21 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Lynn Barnes said...

So happy you picked the Harrods one! It was totally inspired by 13 LBE. I'm not sure if you can take pictures in Harrods without their security staff confiscating your camera, but if you can (or if you can just be really, really stealthy about it), we definitely need photo footage of the scavenger hunt.

As for items I'd like to see, here are a few ideas (pick and choose as you like):
+ Go to the baby clothing department and look for a new outfit for the FREE MONKEY. Bonus points if you actually ask if he can try it on.
+ Locate the largest, most obnoxious useless trinket you can find in one of the many useless trinket departments.
+ Go to the candy department and buy and taste the weirdest chocolate-covered-something you can find.
+ Go to the bridal department, so Daphne Unfeasible can look at dresses!
+ Try on the most ridiculous hat you can find.
+And speaking of putting stuff on your head, go to one of the non-clothing departments (home appliances, maybe?) and put something on your head, a la Brotherhood2.0

More to come...

6:36 PM  
Blogger Amirah said...

I loved this post! I'm sure I could be a writer while saving the world... or, you know... Ditchdigging. =)

6:56 PM  
Anonymous Nuwon Wearspants said...

I want to be a writer - so it is very fun to read all of these things. When I want to be recognized, I just send it to my friends. They tell me if I suck or not. Then I got back to my cave to contemplate whether mayonaiise and chocolate is a good or bad combination on a turkey sandwhich.
BTW - you rock. I love reading your blog. If there was a Blog Award of The Year, you'd win. <3 - I write without pants.

9:03 PM  
Anonymous Becky said...

Maureen, you've got to go try those champagne truffles... And after that, um, go up the down escalator and down the up escalator. Or maybe you should leave that until last, because it might get you kicked out.

Ooh! I just looked at the website, and they have this scanning thing where they scan you in and then find the perfect suit for your body type. So you should do that, but instead of opting to find a woman's suit (which probably wouldn't be any good to you, in your line of work), find a man's suit, so that you can wear it to the next dinner you go to. You would be so much cooler than the author of Wolves on Skates!

Then, go to the jewelry counter and ask to try on their rings. After trying on at least fifty, announce that you've decided not to get any.

Grab a bunch kiddie toys and then walk over to Daphne and say, "Mommy, can I puh-lease get them?"

Ride a child's electric car around the lingerie department, snagging horrendous underwear from surrounding racks.

Okay, none of these are actually scavenger hunt things, but perhaps you will do them anyway...?

And I just realized something else! Jewelry is spelled incorrectly on the website. You should ask to see the manager, in order to inform him of this great mistake.

That's all for now....

9:04 PM  
Anonymous Jill said...

Hmmmmm for GHC ((Great Harrods Caper)) I was thinking something along the lines of:

*A rubber chicken
*A friend for FREE MONKEY
*The biggest, most ugly piece of jewlery that you can find
*A trench coat to go along with your caper-like attitude. ((Maybe that should be fist on the list))
*a left-handed screwdriver

...That's all I got for now. If come up with more I'll let you know. I hope you can take pictures of the exciting scavenger hunt.

Hmmmm If I do finally decide to become a writer, I wonder what my second job would be. I was considering becoming a ninja. Because ninja's are cool

9:25 PM  
Anonymous sarah said...

Becky's comment made me think of another one--instead of trying on fifty rings, try on fifty rings that are too small for you, so every time you try one on you have to run to a saleslady and beg for her to help you get it off. My sister did that once, but not on purpose. It was a fun day. I have lots of blackmail material on my sister.

10:14 PM  
Anonymous A. Bee said...

I love your books!!!!!!!!!
They rule!!!!!!!!!!
For the G.H.C. I think you should
-find some one named Richard and ask him how Ginny is.
-ask some in the art department ( if they have an art department, I don't know. I never went to Harrods)and aske for a painting by Aunt Peggy.
-go to the bridal department, for Daphne and try to find an out fit for Free Monkey.
-And I second Sasha 's riding every elevator and escalator in the store.
I really want to be a writer, too.
Causal Everyday!!!

10:41 PM  
Anonymous Kiersten said...

you should totally do the up on the down escaladers and down on the up escaladers thing. (sorry for my atrocious spelling) apparently people dont apretiate that very much. i also think that you should try to find matching outfits/hats/amazingly gaudy jewlery for you and FREE MONKEY. erm... oh yeah i think hidding in the clothes rack would be fun too. my brother did that when he was about 7 and just sat there and some person started looking at the clothes and saw him. she could scream REALLY loud. im not exactly sure what else they have there but i think you should dress up in a random outfit (matching is not manditory) and stand next to the manaquins and watch people's reactions. tehehehe you should definitly take pictures.

12:07 AM  
Blogger Trish said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:12 AM  
Blogger Trish said...

I agree that pajamas are essential to the creative process. I come home from my day job and usually slip immediately into my orange flannel "thinking pants". (I call them that so I'll feel less like a slug who wears pj pants all the time and more like a writer.)

5:14 AM  
Anonymous Joanna said...

GHC Scavenger Hunt ideas:
1. Find the absolute ugliest dress in the store. Try it on, and make sure you take a picture.
2. Search for at least two items that have names that unintentionally sound dirty. (Today at work when looking for change I said to my coworker, "I'm just going to check out your money box" and it came out sounding so dirty that I snickered like a 12-yr-old boy for the next 5 minutes.)
3. Stand by the Diana statue and greet everyone who passes with "you know, everyone says I look exactly like her" until you can get someone to agree.

7:16 AM  
Anonymous Liz said...

Thing to find/do during the Great Harrods Caper:
- your books in all they British wonderfulness (Harrods DOES have a bookstore, right? There must be one in there!)
- Act out scenes from 13lbe in the appropriate places
- If you want to get kicked out--use a service phone and call for Richard Murphy. Unless they are really smart and hide the phones so such incidents do not occur, then you can shout for him at the top of your lungs.

8:32 PM  
Anonymous Alexa said...

hey for my 13 b-day we had a mall scavenger hunt... and we had to find just randome things, like get a bag from the subway place, and go and find out what the item of the week is in old navy... and that kind of stuff that didnt cost money!!

so here are some ideas for the "Great Harrods Caper":
1. get a free sample of chocolate at the chocolate counter...
2. see if their is a Richard working at Harrods, then ask him about pants!
3. find the most expensive thing in the kids department
4. get a cup of tea in the cafe'
5. get your makeup done at the makeup counter...
6. look to see for the first book that you can rember reading as a kid (this was in your Extras for 13lbe... well at least in the one that i got)

just do any thing that might be fun... or embarising... for my b-day one of the things was to go to the underware section and ask a guy for a size XXXL and then go and try them on... just a joke tho!!

so i hope that you have fun... and please make a vido for all of us to see!!

xoxo Alexa

1:17 AM  
Blogger Tobias said...

I think you should try to find a picture of the queen (no idea why, and I have no idea what you should do with it)
and I agree about getting Free Monkey a friend; something like "Bought Monkey"

7:22 PM  
Anonymous Daphne Unfeasible said...

Ooooh, oooh, ooooh! let's do the wedding dress hopping thing! Way to go, mj readers!

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Amy said...

I think a photo scavenger hunt is in order (with the successful photos posted here, of course!) - do some of these crazy things that your fans have been suggesting, but just get a photo of you doing them (so you don't have to actually purchase any of the great items you find - I hear Harrod's is expen$ive...)!
I'll add to the list:
1. Get a photo of you with 24 purple "somethings" (your choice)
2. Stand with a maniquin for a few minutes and see if anyone notices you there
3. Get a photo of you hiding inside a display tent
4. Join a display of stuffed animals
5. Take a (pretend) nap on one of the display beds

Have a great time!

9:39 PM  
Anonymous Marz said...

Nice. Loved the tips for writers part. Most helpful. Oh, and I saw your stuffed monkey on John Green's video blog and it has inspired me to get a stuffed pet something...I'm not quite sure yet. Maybe a snail. Snails are great.

As for your scavenger hunt, I loved the photo idea commented by Amy. Only I would like to add that you should also walk around with a sign that says "Free Hugs" in brightly colored letters and hug randomo passers by while either video taping the reactions or simply taking pictures. Seriously, it would be amazing.

8:55 PM  
Blogger Candy said...

no, no, don't go to harrods! head for cyberdog in camden market, push the cage dancer from her cage and take over, then buy some lovely goth baby gear for your friends with goth babies.

camden market (saturdays and sundays) is the setting of blade runner but with bright sunshine and plenty of tea.

have a lovely time in london,

candy (in london)

11:25 PM  
Anonymous Kiersten said...

i also saw free monkey on john green's blog. free monkey stole the show. you should do a flat stanley type thing with free monkey while you're there. if you dont know what the heck im talking about ask and ill post later.

10:30 PM  
Blogger Jacinta said...

This comment is a solid two years after the original post, but I had to mention that I have seen that same Killer Jellyfish program! While I was actually *in* Australia, home of the killer jellyfish. It left me feeling less than reassured about the local beach.

4:00 AM  

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