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Tuesday, July 10, 2007


A few things right up front about my friends before we get to me. Because once we get to my story, we aren't coming back.

You must go and read this ongoing interview with Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier in which they reveal all of their writing secrets!

Help E. Lockhart, Lauren Myracle, and Sarah Mlynowski find a title for their new book!

Punish my brothers John and Hank Green!

Watch Holly Black’s movie trailer for the Spiderwick Chronicles! (This will make you weep with joy.)

And read about Free Monkey’s traveling adventure! I think he is currently headed to his last stop in the U.S. . . . Bartlesville, Oklahoma!

Catch up with Free Monkey

When I last left you, I was on my way to Paris. I have been there and back and had even more adventures. You will soon find out how broadly the quality of my experiences can swing.

Mostly, what you do in Paris is eat. And eat and eat and eat. The first time I went to Paris, I was with Daphne Unfeasible, and we were broke college students. So broke, in fact, that we could only afford one part of one meal. If you’re sitting down to a meal in Paris, the general thought seems to be, “Why not just stay for four courses? Why not just sleep under the table, where we can wake you up once every hour or so and feed you more? Why not, indeed?”

I realize now I had never gotten this true experience before. Even when I went to Paris three years ago to research 13 Little Blue Envelopes, I ended up going during hail season, I had a napkin as a companion, and I spent most of my time in the Louvre, getting strung out on little tiny coffees and taking notes.

This time, I was prepared. Before I left, Scott and Justine gave me a book that they used during their trip to Paris.

“This book is good,” they said. “It is full of magical restaurants.”

When Justine and Scott say something is good—it’s good. So I used the book, and it was just as they said.

Here’s something I knew, but that somehow didn’t penetrate until I was actually hungry and sitting down to eat: the French like the meats, and they would like to know if you would like some pork in that. Soup? How about a slab of pork in it? Sandwich? Obviously needs some pork. Cheese? Naked without a spot of pork. How about that bowl of cereal? That glass of juice? That piece of pork?

This is a bit of a problem if you are a vegetarian, and is probably the only reason I am still albe to walk around unaided. I couldn't eat everything on offer. But I could still eat quite a lot.

We did do some other things aside from eating, most of which involved wandering around and occasionally pointing. We stopped in a FNAC bookstore to take this now-obligatory photo (it was still exciting, even if it does look like a whale is coming to eat the book):

We went to the Luxembourg Gardens. If you’ve ever read 13 Little Blue Envelopes, he Luxembourg Gardens serve as Keith and Ginny’s hotel one night. Oscar recreated the scene by lying on a bench at the place where this happened, facing the large fountain where the children can play with the boats.

This would be Keith's view from the bench.


Two of my books collided in this one moment. Thankfully, no jellyfish were spotted in this fountain.

To give you some idea of how much you are served in Paris, this is a picture of our appetizers from the last night. Across the way, you will see that Oscar was given an entire jar of something, and I got the soup. The soup came with a bowl full of croutons (in the front), but the actual soup arrived in a vat which is much bigger than the wineglass next to it. It could fill the soup four or five times over. Not that I tried it. It just never emptied.

Before we knew it, we were running for our train to get back to London. We were seated in some large and lovely seats around a table, and then we were off. Our car, I noticed, had an abundance of staff members, the lead of which was named Jacques. Jacques was very, very happy. It’s possible that living in Paris just makes you that happy. He was a stark contrast to our neighbors. Across the table from us was a rather disgruntled-looking English couple, grumping their way back to England. They did not like Jacques the Happy, or the train, or the countryside, or us. They just sat their with their arms folded, as if to say, “This is how you travel—grimly.” I was getting ready to take a nice little nap with my head bouncing against the window (why is this acceptable when we travel? we do we even like it?) when Jacques the Happy came bouncing down the aisle, tossing out brunch menus like handfuls of rose petals.

Apparently we had purchased fancy class tickets on the way back. Within minutes, we were presented with massive trays of croissants, rolls, jams, juices, yogurts, and about two pounds of silverware.

“I weel be back!” J.T.H. promised with a promising French smile. “I weel take your ordeur for ze brunch!”

So, this half a bakery was just a snack while we waited.

“I’m going to die,” I said to Oscar. But Oscar was already shoveling a croissant down his throat. It was like he had disconnected his jaw like pelicans can when they eat whole fish. Jacques crept back up on us with a cart that contained goat cheese (and ham), cheese flans (with ham). Also, there was just generally some ham.

“And for your waanane?” Jacques asked, waving at a massive cart full of wine bottles.

“It’s ten thirty in the morning,” I said weakly, looking up at him with a wet, tadpole-like stare.

“Yes! Is parfait! No waaaane now? OK! I will be back with champagne later!”

The Grumps did not approve of this AT ALL. When he did come back with his champagne, they shook their heads disapprovingly. We were much more obliging by that point. He kept coming back, with coffee and tea and hot towels and general well-wishes, until we were back in London. Jolly old London, where you are always treated reasonably, where hospitality means a lukewarm cup of tea and a light smack on the back of the head, and no one will tries to put pork on your toast.

So, when a day starts like that, you tend to think it’s going to go supernova, right?

Read on.

As I mentioned last time, the London Office has just moved. The new office is not the sleek modern techoflat like before . . . it is older, bigger, with a fireplace and a cat flap and lots of character. I told you about the Red Cat District in the garden and the general feeling of nature that abounds, despite the fact that it is in the middle of town.

Well . . .

Oscar, though he has many excellent qualities, is not the king of organization. And I am exactly the kind of person who likes to set things Right. So as soon as we dropped our bags to the floor, I clapped my hands and said, “Let’s get to work!” Within fifteen minutes, the champagne bubbles had given way to shredding, sorting, and unpacking. There were things everywhere—papers, wires, general stuff.

“What we need to do,” I said to Oscar, “is go to IKEA.”

I don’t know what my mental problem is with IKEA. I don’t even like the stuff that much when I get there. IKEA is more of a concept in my head—an ideal that can never be reached—a magical land of storage solutions. I seem to forget that every time I go to IKEA, it ends up going horribly wrong. The memory gets wiped away, and ten minutes later I’m begging to go again.

Oscar thought it was a good idea, so we finished up some errands in town and got in his car to go to IKEA LONDON!

Have I told you about Oscar’s car? I must have. It’s a really nice car. Really. It is. But it is a sporty car. And by sporty, I mean that it is small. And by small, I mean that it is possible that you could pop it in a post box and mail it to your auntie. A small bird could lift it away. If you weren’t careful, you could accidentally eat it. Do you get my point? The only shopping you can really do in this car involves a trip to the post office, as long as you don’t buy more than 10 stamps. It’s not really the ideal car for a trip to IKEA. But never let it be said that we will be stopped by these kinds of practical concerns! By evening, we were zooming off to Croydon, with a list and a dream (that’s all that fit in the car).

First, we managed to lose IKEA entirely. This may not seem that hard, except that the London IKEA is built on the site of an old power station and looks like this:

After driving around and around, we finally made it. I was so excited as we pulled up that I suggested to Oscar that I should do a tour of IKEAs of the world. He said nothing in reply.

I was really hoping that the English IKEA would be different, like maybe they would sell IKEA chimney brushes or something—but it mostly seemed like the same stuff. Amazingly, though, this IKEA was actually quite a lot bigger than the New York IKEA. We thought we would be in there for an hour, which was crazy. Three hours later we emerged, having measured everything in the store to see if it would fit in the car. We couldn’t buy half the things we came for, but we did get some storage containers and flower pots and all of the other things that you end up with when you go to IKEA. (Although, they don’t push the votive candles as much as they do in the U.S.)

It was well past ten when we headed back to the L.O. I’d gotten used to four course feasts over the last few days, and I hadn’t eaten anything since J.T.H. had gleefully flung food at us that morning, so I basically began moaning and scratching at the window of the car the entire trip home, begging for food. I was so hungry that it hurt. I do love England, but one thing is a problem in situations like this: things do not stay open that late. Even the service station food shops were closed. I ate mints and watched the clock.

“When we get back,” I said to Oscar, “I am going RIGHT to the kitchen.”

And so I did. I ran to the kitchen, raided the fridge. There was some apple pie in there, so I switched on the oven to heat it up. I was turning on the kettle when I heard Oscar squeal. I spun around to see . . .


Not a tiny slug, either. A big sluggy, slug. A slug that had not been there a moment before.

At first, we gave cries of alarm and sadness and did a little sadness dance in the middle of the kitchen, then I grabbed the salt and flung a handful of it and the slug, and it exploded into a gooey mess, as slugs do when you salt them.

This begged the question: where had it come from? Though the kitchen faces the garden, the windows were well sealed. We opened the counter under the sink to have a look and get the cleaning supplies out and we saw . . .


More sadness, dancing, throwing of salt. We also noticed that there was a leaking pipe under the sink. This was a potential slug development area. We looked around the room carefully, keeping away from all surfaces. I noticed something. I thought there was something funny with the finish on the surfaces of the cabinets—it turns out, what I had noticed were OLD SLUG TRAILS.

My hunger had pretty much been quashed by this trauma, but I went to the oven anyway to get out my pie. I reached for the door and it . . . and yes, this really happened this way . . . fell apart in my hand. A bolt had come loose, separating the glass from the metal inner door. So I was stuck holding it while Oscar got a screwdriver, and I turned and saw . . .


This one was zipping up the cabinet that we had JUST LOOKED AT. Slugs are not generally fast moving creatures, so this was extremely upsetting. But I couldn’t move. I was holding the oven door. Oscar had to salt it, then we fixed the door and tightened the bolt, I removed the pie, and then we took the entire kitchen apart. We pulled out the dishwasher and washing machine, we got out the flashlight, we opened every cabinet, and we did it all in a very spooked “Scooby and Shaggy” way.

The good news was that there were no more slugs in that kitchen. What we found was small unfinished spot in the wall behind the dishwasher, which had given away just ever so slightly, where the water from the leaking pipe had made a little pool. This had to be the place where the slugs had come in from the garden. We dumped all the salt in the house around it, and on the floor, and anywhere else we thought of, and then retreated from the room.

So that was how I ended the day that I began by waking up in my Paris hotel room, looking up at the tiny chandelier that hung from the ceiling, and the breakfast of champagne on the train.

The next day, we ripped the entire kitchen apart, and that’s what we have been doing for two days. I’ve been writing during the day, and have spent the nights standing on a counter, bleaching the tops of cabinets. The good news is, it’s a nice kitchen, and it’s really, really, really clean now. We also ordered in a heavy-duty cleaning crew, and the landlord is coming to make a list of repairs . . . because it turns out that this apartment sat empty for a while, so while it is lovely, many things went wrong with it that were never checked. We have found them all, like the oven, and the leaking pipe, and the tiny hole in the garden wall. And when THAT is done, this place is getting decorated. I should really take before and after pictures.

So, I have one more night of this labor, and then tomorrow I let in the cleaners who will blast this place with every cleaning machine known to man. Once they are safely here, I am off to London to write with Cassie Clare (who, I am told, wants to go to the sale at Harrods—can I go without Free Monkey?).

I need to talk to you guys about my Bartlesville plan and book banning in general next time. Until then, I have to keep one eye open for slugs.

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Anonymous Laurenzo said...

Once, when I was in the third grade, my little brother [six at the time] decided it would be fun to grab an empty jar of peanut butter, run out into the front yard, and collect slugs. Not big, sluggy slugs. Tiny little ones that stick to the side of your flower pot like some sort of fungus. Anyway, my parents didn't try to stop him, because he was only in the first grade, and you can get away with murder when you're young.

But this little idea soon grew to terrifying proportions. After about two days, he decided it was his life's calling.

Then one afternoon, I took a break from playing to make myself a sandwich. A peanut butter sandwich, to be precise. So, I opened the pantry door, took out the jar of what I assumed was peanut buttery goodness, screwed off the lid...

And screamed.

Really, really loud.

For in that jar of peanut butter was a mass of slugs. Dead, disgusting, stinky slugs.

My little brother had forgotten to punch holes into the lid. The jar had been in his room, and my father had picked it up and put it back into the pantry, having thought that his son had stolen it during the night.

Needless to say, I didn't have peanut butter for a very long time after that.

True story.

Oh, and you know something else?

That was when I lived in Bartlesville, OK.

6:47 PM  
Anonymous Cei Ceei said...

slugs, need to be put on the Things To Be Afrid Of In The Summer. I mean really they are usaly seen attacking random people at the weirdest times. You and my friend Danica have fallen victum to them so far this summer.Danica was attacked on her way to the bus stop. Pleople we must stop these horrible beast befor this gets out of hand. (plus they are way icky).

6:53 PM  
Blogger Allie Beckaliciousness =) said...

Laurenzo, that's hilarious that that happened in Bartlesville! Is it like Hell or something? Sounds like it to me. Slugs, homophobes...

Well, Maureen, sounds like Paris was fantastico. Please do take before and after pictures of the apartment if you redecorate!

Good luck in the future...hope you don't run into anymore slugs. By the way, are you a vegetarian? That would be cool 'cause I am too and people mock me constantly. You know what half of my friends wrote in my yearbook? "Have a nice summer and eat some ham/steak/a cow/chicken."

Yep. Nice friends, eh?

loved your blog today!

7:56 PM  
Anonymous Danica said...

Ugh. That slug story was just about the scariest thing I have ever heard. EVER. I got the heebie-jeebies just reading it.

Cei ceei, I saw my name in your comment and was terribly confused for about ten seconds. "What? That's my name. Do I know this person? Was I attacked by slugs on my way to the bus stop? I don't think so. Maybe it did happen. I have a bad memory, after all. WHO IS THIS PERSON, HOW DO THEY KNOW ME, AND WHY DO THEY THINK I WAS ATTACKED BY SLUGS???"

...Then I realized you were talking about another Danica.
(It's not a very common name. I'm used to being the only Danica around...sigh...)

8:43 PM  
Anonymous Dawn said...

That is really disgusting! Slugs rank up there with June Bugs...I will definitely keep my distance from them. June bugs are creatures of the Underworld, I could almost swear by it. They attack the moment they have a chance and if they're not attacking you, they're buzzing around your head taunting you. Disgusting things!

I'm looking forward for another Bartlesville update, so post again soon!

8:58 PM  
Anonymous kiersten said...

sale? at harrod's? go maureen! GO! I'm sure FREE MONKEY will understand.

9:58 PM  
Anonymous kiersten said...

slugs ate my swimming pool. no lie. we had propped it up on the fence while on vacation after emptying it so that the little neighbors wouldnt break into our yeard and get hurt in it while wwe were away. (it was i little pool mind you. not a permanent one) we came home, tried to fill it back up, and realized there was a million holes in the bottom. slugs had made their home in our pool. i miss my pool. its so HOTTTTTTT. i want air conditioning soooooo bad!

10:02 PM  
Anonymous Daphne Unfeasible said...

It almost like the slugs are your reward for attempting to go back to Paris.

But that would be cruel.

As it is, if it were not for the fact that I know you are a kind, wonderful person (and you were in Paris for the previous few days), I might almost suspect that you planted the slugs ON PURPOSE in order to convince Oscar to get the super-duper cleaning crew in. You wouldn't do that, though, would you?

Would you?

11:43 PM  
Blogger Maureen said...

Shut up, Daphne.


11:51 PM  
Anonymous jill said...

I grew up in Washington State, where the slugs grow to be about a foot long.

But they never entered my house.

I never, ever want to live in England (despite the temptations of scones, good beer and tea, and men with British accents) if slugs enter your home.

I feel about slugs as some people feel about snakes or spiders. Show me one, I freeze up, and may start crying. Show me one IN MY KITCHEN and there will be a me-shaped puff of smoke where I was standing. (Just follow the fearful keening to find me, but I'll be halfway to New Mexico by the time you catch up.)

I am in awe of your bravery.

Please do not put this incident in your next book. :D

4:31 AM  
Blogger La Reina said...

Gross. Reminds me of Harry Potter 2--Harry Potter and the Best Friend Ron Who Threw Up Slugs. Ahh yes, HPBFRWTUS. My favorite of the series.


Before and after pictures: A must.

6:58 AM  
Blogger Becs said...

Poor slugs.


7:46 AM  
Anonymous Cameron said...

Hi Maureen,

This is totaly unrelated to your post, but is related to being a dead body on TV.

This is how to go about it.

This is the competition. If you're serious you're going to have to step up.

8:12 AM  
Anonymous Susannanstans said...

In Sweden where I live, we've gotten this evil slug that is about to take over the whole country. Not quite sure how it got here in the first place or where it came from, but its a nasty little creature. If you have a garden it will eat the whole thing, fences and all. (Okay, maybe I'm exagerating a tad bit.) We have nice Swedish slugs, but they're facing extinction, the poor bugs.

And since I'm Swedish, all of my furniture is from IKEA. Did you know you can buy of the internet now? I try not to go there because, well because it's IKEA. I'm also lucky enough to have a boyfriend who can put the frigging things together without having a nervous breakdown. He's the only one I know who's capable of that.

Last but not least, I should have signed up for the Free Monkey Tour. If he had come to Sweden I would have taught him to say things like: "Ingen man eller apa är en ö" wich means "No man or monkey is an island", and some good nouns like: "häst, ärta, hjärta, kålsoppa" wich means "horse, pea, heart and cabbage soup". Oh well, maybee next time.

10:43 AM  
Blogger John said...

Susannanstans, how does one say, "Salty Slug Soup" in Swedish? Also, can one buy that at Ikea?

4:32 PM  
Anonymous Susannanstans said...

Hmmm... I'm not sure they sell any kind of soup at IKEA. But in Germany they might have like "Älgsoppa", "Elk soup". Germans LOVE the Swedish elk. Oh boy, do they ever. They steal the road signs that alerts you to be aware that an elk might jump on the road. Every summer the road company have to put up new signs. And this, I now realize, is in this situation not very relevant.

"Salty Slug Soup" in Swedish would be "Salt snigelsoppa". :)

10:56 AM  
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10:01 PM  

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