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Saturday, January 27, 2007


I was bragging the other day about how I never get sick.

“I never get sick,” I was saying to someone. “I have the immune system of . . . someone with a really good immune system. “

I’ll bet you know what comes next, readers! You are a bright bunch. Certainly brighter than yours truly, who should have known better. Why didn’t I say something like, “I never get stun guns”? Or, “People never show up my door with Vespa keys”?

No. I realize it wouldn’t have helped with those things, either. I have a cold, and I’m still not zipping around the streets of New York on my Vespa. Not that I would be today, anyway, because it’s about 50 below zero, and I can’t stop sneezing.

Despite my weakened condition, I have five points to discuss with you.

FIRST OF MY POINTS: I am extremely pleased to announce that Devilish has been named one of the 2007 Best Books for Young Adults by the ALA. It joins some great company. BUT, I think there were some crazy omissions from the list, too. So I am both happy and wistful.

Thank you, librarians. You know I love you.

POINT TOO: Some people are suggesting that because John Green, E. Lockhart, and I work together, we get nothing done. Au contraire, doubters! We are getting muchos, muchos work done. And come on . . . who better to bounce ideas off of when you get stuck than John Green and E. Lockhart? Aside from, like, Shakespeare. Or Meg Cabot.

Can anyone doubt the “in your pants” revolution? That was just one ten minute conversation we have . . . and now it is SWEEPING THE INTERNETS! Look here and here and here. If we could do that in one morning . . . just think what we can accomplish over time!

That’s also where I caught my cold, but no matter.

POINT TROIS: Are you in France? Well, 13 Little Blue Envelopes is about to be released there. French bookstore FNAC will be featuring Treize Petites Enveloppes Bleues during the month of February as part of their Attention Talents program.

Not only do I just like saying Treize Petites Enveloppes Bleues and “Attention Talents” in my best French accent, but I am deeply in love with this cover, which is a map of Western Europe made of tiny, tiny icons related to the book. The more you look at it (you may have to look closely), the cooler all the little icons get. I could stare at this for a half an hour. In fact, I have been! But that may be the cold medicine kicking in.

So many tiny pictures.

POINT FORE! . . . is a big one. I have avoided it long enough. I need your input.

Okay. I have heard a lot of things about the U.S. cover of 13 Little Blue Envelopes. Some people love it. Some people hate it. I have been approached more times than I can count about the cover.

The cover earned me this Cuffie Award in Publisher’s Weekly:

Book We Could Have Sold with a Better Cover
13 Little Blue Envelopes("Could someone please stop giving the publishers stock photos of slutty teen girls?")

More recently, this debate has continued on the fabulous bookburger. This post features the cover of Girl At Sea (which is a similar concept to the 13 Little Blue Envelopes cover).

And here is an interesting take on the subject by Ally Carter.

I want to know what you think. I invite you to throw down right here, in the comments. What do you make of this subject?

THE POINT I LIKE TO CALL POINT FIVE: (strictly for my pirates) The Pirate Dance Camp Society has sprung into action, and several members have come up with some exceptional plots to promote Girl At Sea. I will be sharing the winners in the next blog.

Until then, I will be working. I am well underway on a very exciting new book. Also, I’ll be sneezing, and if this cold gets any worse, probably sitting here reading Rent fan fiction about my alterego Maureen Johnson while waiting for the NyQuil to really take hold.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007


One of the major perks of being a writer is that, every once in a while, I get to witness something truly exciting--a real event in the literary world. Today was one of those days.

I didn't know it when I first arrived to work this morning. Writing partner J. Green, author of Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines, was slumped over the table.

“Wake up!” I said, cheerfully slapping the space next to his head. “It’s Monday! Time to write your fingers off!”

He made a noise sort of like the noise that I once heard a ferret make when it got stuck in a bag and couldn’t find its way out.

“You seem to be kind of dead,” I observed. “Is there a reason?”

“Katherines, um . . . won a Printz Honor last night,” he said. “There was champagne.”

This was big, big news, and the cause of much general shock. Not shock because Katherines had won—just shock that this was the first thing I was hearing this morning. I had been all prepared to tell a great story about how I had gotten a grocery delivery from Fresh Direct, and the container holding my soup had exploded, resulting in my having a large box full of soup. I had all kinds of funny things to say about the soup box, but J. Green’s story eclipsed mine in a second, and I knew it.

For those of you who don’t know, the Printz Award (and its children, the Printz Honors) are like the Oscars of YA. John won the Printz last year. And now, he had won one of the coveted runner-up awards, making him the Prince of Printzes.

The Printz Award is, of course, named after actor Freddie Prinze Jr., even though it is spelled differently. It was created to honor Freddie’s performance as Fred in the live movie version of Scooby Doo.

The Printz Award

“No it isn’t,” J. Green said, breaking into my thoughts. “It was created to honor Mike Printz, a school librarian and advocate of YA literature.”

“Says you, Mr. Fancy McWinzalot,” I said dismissively. “We in the hoi polloi know different. It was created by Sarah Michelle Gellar to celebrate her husband’s achievements. Buffy gave us this award.”

“That’s just totally wrong.”

“Not at all,” I went on. “And there’s more to know. Freddie Prinze Jr.’s father was Freddie Prinze, better known to the world as Chico, from the 1970s sitcom, Chico and the Man. So it’s kind of a Chico and the Man Award.”

Another view of the Printz Award

J. Green put his head back down.

“Just kidding,” I said. “None of that was true. You were right about Mike Printz. Anyway! There has to be a celebration! Let’s get champagne!”

“It’s 10:30 in the morning,” he said.

“So what? Champagne is a morning drink. They serve it at brunch. It’s given out like milk at French schools! It helps you think!”

“I can’t drink ever, ever again,” he said. “I had some last night. And I don’t have enough Weight Watchers points.”

“You can’t count Weight Watchers points at a time like this!”

“I can,” he said. “You just watch me. I’m going to lose these fourteen pounds.”

“But . . .”

He held up a silencing hand.

“Let us say no more about it,” he said. “I like Weight Watchers. I like only eating my daily points allotment every day.”

On saying this, he began to cry very softly, but I pretended not to notice. I opened my computer and began to work.

The fact of the matter is that J. Green is quite humble, and he seemed quite apologetic about having won. He is one of the nicest people in the entire YA world.* But then, he seemed to have been hit by a resurgence of energy.

“You know what?” he said. “You’re right. I just won another ^@#&$*^#& Printz award! Let’s roll!”

And with that, he leapt up, leaving his coat and computer behind, and ran out on to the street.

I shuddered. This seemed entirely too much like the Jekyll and Hyde-like mood switch that came right before he assaulted the audience at our reading at Books of Wonder in December.** I quickly gathered up my things and his. By the time I caught up with him, J. Green was already standing outside the liquor store down the block, pouring champagne down his throat. The foam was spilling out of the corners of his mouth and down to his t-shirt. He had a second bottle waiting by his feet.

“That’s the spirit,” I said cautiously.

“Your #^$#&ing right it is,” he said, triumphantly smashing the empty bottle on the ground. “Come on. We’re going to Barnes and Noble.”

He lurched off, popping the second bottle as he did so. He was talking the entire time, but with every second, his voice became harder and harder to understand. He forced his way into the store and up to the children and YA section, where he rapidly cleaned the shelf of all copies of Waiting for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines.

“PRINTZ BOOKS!” he yelled to everyone on the second floor. “Get your $*&^#“PRINTZ BOOKS!” Written by me, a #$^$%#&^$ Printz author!”

Some of the parents in the section quickly picked up their children and hurried off. John flung copies after them.

“You forgot your books!” he yelled. “Give your kids the gift of #&^$&*# quality!”

This entire time, I had been trying to stop John. But he’s a lot bigger than I am, and surprisingly fast. He darted around the teen romance table.

“Can’t catch me!” he said, devilishly.

But security could. They came up behind him and got him by the arms.

“I won the Printz,” he explained, as soberly as he could. “Named after Freddie Prinze Jr.”

He continued explaining this, even as he was deposited back on the street.

“Forget that place,” he said, punctuating the remark with a loud belch. “I hate it in there. Let’s go to the zoo.”

“John,” I said, “maybe we should just get you a coffee.”

“I’mgunna buy myself a monkey,” he went on. “That’s what I need. A monkey. A lil monkey to help me and get me my pencils. Why hasn’t anyone gotten me a monkey? All writers should have a monkey. It can dust my awards.”

Wheeling around, he noticed the PetCo behind us, and staggered in.

“Monkey!” he shouted. “I need a monkey!”

It took five salespeople to convince him that PetCo does not sell monkeys, so he settled on buying three dozen six-cent goldfish, nine mice, and 50 pounds of cat litter.

“A lil’ present for my wife,” he said, passing over his credit card with great aplomb. “Shhhhh! Big secret!”

“I wish E. was here,” I said quietly. (E. Lockhart, maybe anticipating this, had gone away for the weekend and had not yet returned to us.)

We found ourselves outside again, this time with goldfish, mice, and litter to deal with. But John seemed to have an agenda. He ran into Union Square and dumped the litter on to the ground.

“It’s the John Green Printz Award playground,” he said proudly. “For kids. This is the sandbox.”

“It’s a pile of cat litter in the middle of Union Square,” I corrected him.

He shhhed me again, then snuck off with the mice and goldfish. He didn’t have them with him when he returned, and I didn’t ask where they had gone.

The fish were gone when he returned.

“I have to go,” he said. “Gotta go see my editor. Gonna have lunch. You watch the playground. Shhhhh!

And with that, he ran down the street, arms flailing in the cold January wind.

If you want to see John’s actual reaction to the news (and who doesn’t want to see what it is really like to win a major literary award?), you can check it out here. And please, buy An Abundance of Katherines, because he’s still out there somewhere, and he may come to your house if you don’t. And you don’t want that. Not if you don’t want a pile of cat litter on your floor, and whatever it is he does with the mice and the fish. That’s what these literary genius types are like.

* This story is, for the most part, true up until this point. Well, except for John Green literally crying over his points. After this point, the reader is cautioned not to expect much in the way of facts. Don’t give me any grief about this. I never promised you facts.

** Which also didn’t happen, but you know that.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007


First, dear readers . . . if you have not been watching Brotherhood 2.0, you should be. John and his sensational brother Hank are doing an experiment. They can’t e-mail or text each other for a year. They can only talk or visit in person. And they have to record a video blog to each other every other day.

You should not only watch this because it is excellent, but I feel the need to point out that E. Lockhart and I are featured at the opening of the January 16th installment, saying good morning. And then January 17th, internet sensation Hank carries out a suggestion I made in a comment. He speaks to me! Hank speaks to me!

Now, you may remember that it was E. Lockhart and John Green who spearheaded the attack against the audience at Books of Wonder in December, so sitting with them does make me a little nervous. But it is good to be a little nervous when writing. It prevents you from falling into a dangerous state of complacency.

But wait, you are asking yourself . . . why were you sitting there with E. Lockhart and John Green? Is this what writers do all day, just sit around with each other?

The answer is yes.

There are advantages and disadvantages to the way writers work. The good part is that we get a lot of flexibility and can work when we want, where we want. The bad part is that we often work by ourselves, and we can slowly go crazy and procrastinate.

Writers love to procrastinate, as I have said before. We e-mail, and we Google random words in our stories. We Google ourselves. We Google you.

This is all very normal. It gets a lot worse when you don’t know what to write. For example, I got stuck one day and found myself polishing a silver trash can for an hour. And it wasn’t even my trash can. It was Oscar’s.

So, by banding together, we make ourselves strong. We decided to meet for a few hours each day to work, so that at least for part of the day, we were accountable to others.

It also gives me the opportunity to see what other writers do all day, because I really had no idea. I sort of assumed they were all being super-productive, all the time. Here, for your reading pleasure and edification, is a glimpse into the working life of three writers.

(It should be pointed out that J. Green and I are approaching deadlines. J. Green’s is quite soon, and mine is a few weeks later. This means that we experience constant mood fluctuations about our books—ranging from just plain worry to a kind of soul-freezing doom. E. Lockhart is not in this predicament right now. Also, E. Lockhart is one cool cucumber, whereas J. Green and I are a bit more sensitive and histrionic. I don't think he would deny this.)

10 AM: Due to stalled train, I am last to arrive. E. Lockhart and J. Green are talking about “books.” As I cannot read, I avoid this conversation and stare into space for fifteen minutes, waiting for the caffeine in my tea to take effect. E. Lockhart is working on a title for her new “book.”

10:11 AM: Though I am not familiar with the subject of reading, I propose that adding the words “in your pants” to any book title makes it better. We discuss this subject for several minutes, trying it out. Come to the conclusion that “Looking for Alaska in Your Pants,” “The Fly on the Wall in Your Pants,” and “13 Little Blue Envelopes in Your Pants” would all have been better book titles.

I cannot read, but can pretend very well.

10:21 AM: Work begins.

10:23 AM: “An Abundance of Katherines in Your Pants” is also very funny.

10:25 AM: J. Green, bemoaning the restrictiveness of the Weight Watchers point system, gets himself a bagel with low-fat cream cheese, which is somewhat runnier than normal, fatty cream cheese.

10:47 AM: E. Lockhart asks J. Green if he is going to eat that bagel, or just let it is sit on the windowsill and get cold. J. Green replies that he is going to let it get cold because he likes it that way. E. Lockhart clearly thinks that J. Green is weird, but is much to polite to say anything like that.

11:05 AM: J. Green tries to eat bagel with cream cheese. Plan goes horribly awry. Cream cheese everywhere. Face, hands. Drops bagel on his leg. E. Lockhart and I laugh and laugh and laugh. Finally get him a napkin.

11:11 AM: I point out that the cream cheese has taken hold in the corduroy folds of J. Green’s pants. J. Green acknowledges that this is true.

11:23 AM: “A Great and Terrible Beauty in Your Pants” is also very funny. But that is not one of our books. That is Libba Bray’s. Also, “Magic Lessons in Your Pants” by Justine Larbalestier would have been a great success. I only think these things to myself, and do not share them with the group.

We are too busy working for me to discuss the new titles.

11:28 AM: J. Green still has a lot of cream cheese on him.

12:18 PM: J. Green has a lunch commitment. Clearly, the bagel has not satisfied him. He says that he will be back shortly.

12:35 PM: E. Lockhart and I have lunch. Neither of us eat meat, but find the selection available to us at our writing location adequate. I declare that smoked almonds are my eighth favorite food. As I think this through, I have the horrible realization that when I made a random guess at what my favorite food is, the first thing that leaps to mind is tacos. This seems very sad and third grade of me, so I do not reveal it to E. Lockhart.

12:41 PM: I don’t think tacos are my favorite food. Wonder what actual favorite food is. Decide it must be something like Thai curry or miso soup, both of which I love.

12:46 PM: Nope. I’m still only getting tacos.

12:48 PM: The prospect of a taco is sounding pretty good right now. I haven’t had tacos in ages. I wonder where I can get a vegetarian taco. I do not ask E. Lockhart, even though she probably knows.

1:13 PM: You may think that famous writers like J. Green have their lunch commitments at some of the best restaurants in town. J. Green has been to Chick-Fil-A, where he had a salad. J. Green hates Weight Watchers.

1:24 PM: E. Lockhart further explains the intricacies of the Weight Watchers point system to J. Green. He thought he would be finished with his diet in about three weeks. She delivers the news that, in order to meet his stated goal, he will be doing it for fourteen weeks or more.

1:30 PM: J. Green is clearly unhappy, both about his deadline and the prospect of thirteen more weeks of Weight Watchers.

E. Lockhart accidentally causes palpable dismay on the part of J. Green.

1:45 PM: E. Lockhart’s work for the day requires internet access, so she leaves us. I move over to her spot.

1:47 PM: J. Green and I get down to work again.

2:15 PM: J. Green and I stare sadly at each other from across the table.

2:32 PM: I tell J. Green my favorite parts of Printz Award-winning Looking for Alaska. He sighs and looks deeply into the cream cheese still in his pants. This actual "in his pants" is not really as funny as our conceptual "in your pants." At least to him.

2:46 PM: I tell John Green that I heard that Treasure Island was written in just three weeks. I’m not actually sure if this is true, but this encourages him.

Just after a word count check.

3:08 PM: J. Green yells out loud at a car scene in his book. Also, J. Green makes hand gestures when he writes, as he tries to figure out how characters will move and how to describe these movements. J. Green says I do the same thing.

3:58 PM: My computer goes insane, crashes, scrambles my entire book document. J. Green is forced to listen to my cries for the next 40 minutes as I reassemble it. He is very patient about this, but then again, J. Green used to be a hospital chaplain and knows how to deal with people in distress.

4:07 PM: J. Green ruminates out loud about other possible career choices.

4:58 PM: J. Green continues writing at a steady clip until his departure. Packs up slowly shaking head. We discuss the great strides we will make in the next few days.

5:17 PM: I conclude that “Peeps in Your Pants” by Scott Westerfeld is my favorite new YA title. I would share this with the group, but there is no one to tell. I am nonetheless satisfied, and close up shop for the day.

A successful day's work . . . in your pants.

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Monday, January 15, 2007


Daphne Unfeasible, my much-loved agent, and I go way back. And we have an agreement. We don’t talk about Paris. Even when French rights were sold for my books, we still won’t talk about Paris. We just kind of skip over the subject. There is a reason for this.

Daphne and I knew each other somewhat in college, but not incredibly well. We were both in the same theater group, but never worked on the same shows. Also, Daphne worked at the information booth in the studio union, so she was on display a lot. One day, we happened to be at the fast food place in the studio union at the same time, and we had lunch together. The following conversation ensued:

DAPHNE: So, what are you doing this summer?

ME: I’m going to go to London and work. Don’t ask me where, or doing what.

DAPHNE: Me too! Want to live together?

ME: Okay!

And that was that. What followed were apartments in London and New York, incalculable hijninx, and eventually, Daphne becoming my stupendous agent.

But first things first. We went to England.

I arrived in London two weeks before Daphne, and in those two weeks, I was generally living in the worst conditions I have ever had the misfortune to experience. Daphne’s arrival brought much joy—along with better weather, and the sudden availability of a good apartment.

I worked two jobs. I was a waitress during the day at an upscale lunch place in the City, and a bartender by night. Daphne found work in the office of one of the major London theaters, which was currently the venue for THE hot show of the summer.

And we were broke. So, so, so, so broke. Whatever money we had brought along from America had quickly vanished—and our new English money was taking time to process. There were forms that needed to be filled out, special clearances needed (because we were foreign), processing time needed at banks. The result was that for at least a week or two, Daphne and I lived on the tips I brought in from the restaurant and the pub. Quite literally, we lived on change. There is a written record of the day we found a pound coin in the sofa. That is the level we had gotten to.

We ate a lot of cereal (specially, Honey Nut Cheerios, called Loops in England). For fun, we either watched TV, sat in the hallway trying to get glimpses of the mysterious guy who lived in the other room of the apartment and rarely came out, or went and stood in the wings of the show at Daphne’s work. On the nights that I worked at the pub, Daphne came there.

But then, one fine day, our checks started to come through. They definitely didn’t amount to much, but it was enough that we didn’t have to have cereal every single night. We had a Pizza Hut feast and discussed our options. We were, after all, in EUROPE! We could travel! And so we decided, one Wednesday night, that we would go to Paris that weekend.

That we could make this kind of decision amazed us. Just go to Paris! Just like that! It was only a few hours away.

All of the planning was done on Thursday. We would maximize the weekend, we decided—while taking advantage of the cheapest travel times. That meant we would take a coach from London to Dover at 11 PM Friday night, to catch at 2 AM ferry across the channel. We would arrive on French shores right before dawn. From there, we identified a train that would take us right to Paris. We would be there just as the city was waking.

As for sleep, we figured it would happen on the various coaches, ferries, and trains. We would have one full day in Paris, returning on Sunday afternoon.

At work on Friday, Daphne booked all of the necessary arrangements. We met at our apartment on Friday evening, ate our Loops, and packed our small bags. To save money, we had purchased a small amount of food to take with us. We liked that. We would be taking English food to France. Hilarious, we thought. Then we tried to nap for a little while, but it was useless. We were way too excited. We were going to PARIS!

Around nine thirty, we gave up on sleep and headed out to the coach station across town, getting there in plenty of time. Daphne went up to the window to get our pre-paid tickets. The coach was right there, ready to go. I smiled. We were clever travelers, I thought to myself.

Then I noticed that Daphne seemed to be in some distress at the ticket window.

“But I spoke to someone,” she said. “It’s already paid.”

“Sorry, love,” the ticket seller was saying. “I have no record of it.”

Funnily enough, all record of Daphne’s ticket transaction had mysteriously disappeared. Daphne begged and pleaded for them to search. I stood outside and put my hand on the coach, as if that would prevent it from leaving.

It departed one minute before Daphne came running out with our tickets, which had just been found.

We marched back inside. The ticket window was now closing for the night. No refund could be offered they explained, not until Monday morning. But if we ran, very, very fast, we could catch the train leaving from Victoria train station in fifteen minutes time.

So we ran out into the balmy London night and down the street to the train station, where we missed the last Dover train by three minutes. The next train was at five in the morning.

Daphne and I would not give up. We figured it was senseless to go home. We would only want to sleep, and then we would never wake up on time to get back and make the train. The only solution was to stay awake.

“Let’s just go to the middle of town,” I said.

There were some policemen standing outside the station. We asked them if the night bus ran all night. The policeman openly laughed at us before directing us to “the little man in the box” who could help us. We did not like the sound of directions that seemed to have been taken directly from The Phantom Tollbooth, plus we were tired and already out of a lot of money and opportunity. And when we did find the box, the little man was gone.

“They are mocking us for being American,” I said bitterly.

That night, we wandered London. There are photos of me drinking warm wine (from our food supply) on Trafalgar Square at 2 AM. By three, we were throwing Pringles into the Thames.

By four, we were just tired. We returned to the station to find that it was locked for its nightly cleaning. We could barely stand, but we had nowhere to go. There were new policemen guarding the entrance. I don’t precisely remember what I said—but I distinctly remember lying to these policemen in order to gain admittance. We slumped on the floor in the corner. There were a few other stragglers in there, including two clearly insane people who taught us their favorite game—throwing trash at pigeons.

“This is not how I imagined it,” Daphne said, struggling to keep her eyes open.

“It’s going to be great!” I said, leaving wearily though the Paris guidebook I had purchased (a major purchase, as a matter of fact).

After a very cold train ride, we stepped out at Dover. Daphne pointed toward the famous chalk-white cliffs. Normally, we would have greeted this sight with great enthusiasm, but we just weren’t feeling it.

“There are the white cliffs of Dover,” she said unenthusiastically.

“@#$#&*^$* the cliffs,” I said.

It was a cool, grey morning as we passed over the English channel. We arrived on French shores just as the morning was really starting. We punished an unsuspecting ticket agent with our terrible French, asking for two tickets to Paris. We were summarily informed (in perfect English) that we had missed all of the good morning trains. The next one of the type we wanted left at ONE O’CLOCK, getting us into Paris at FOUR.

This did not work with our “one day in Paris” plans very well.

The only alternative, we were told, was the fast train. That was leaving in 45 minutes. It would get us to Paris by noon. It was also four times more than what we were planning to spend.

We scrapped together whatever monies we had and bought the tickets.

The fast train was fast, and it deposited us in the center of Paris as promised. I had dressed warmly for the Scarlet Pimpernelesque night crossing, only to find that we had arrived during a blazingly hot Paris afternoon, and I almost fainted immediately from heatstroke and lack of sleep and food.

Also, we arrived in the middle of a gay pride parade, and were accidentally shuffled off the sidewalk and into the rainbow-colored fray. This is something I would have normally have liked, had I not been sleepless, wearing a turtleneck, and profoundly confused.

Using my guidebook, we then set out on foot to a number of promising Parisian hostels that I had noted. They were all gorgeous, fun, cheap, and completely full.

By three in the afternoon, we weren’t having fun anymore. We were running on fumes and badly in need of food, showers, and rest. We had eaten all of the English food and had no French money yet to buy more.

Mercifully, we found a hostel around three that had two empty beds. It was a massive, airy place—some kind of old school or public building. We were given keys to a Spartan, yet very clean room. We spoke to our new English roommate who told us that she had abruptly left home six months before, and hadn’t managed to get back since. She lounged in her bunk and read.

Once we had showed, we headed out. We sat by a fountain at the Centre George Pompidou. We walked along the side of the Louvre, which, we decided, was extremely, extremely, extremely big. But we were too tired to try to go in, and there wasn’t much time left for admission anyway.

The Eiffel Tower winked far in the distance. We blinked at it.

“There’s the Eiffel Tower,” Daphne said, yawning.

I nodded.

Then we took the Metro back to the hostel and fell asleep.

The next morning, we were woken by a loudspeaker at 7, and we were out on the street by 8. We had a few hours to see Paris, most of which we spent looking around some of the famous graveyards and pretending to be dead. Then we went to the Tuileries (a famous park), sat down on some chairs in front of a fountain, wrapped our bag straps around our ankles, and fell back asleep.

Then we went back to London.

I went back to Paris while I was working on 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and the visit didn’t go much better. I did spent two days in the Louvre, but I have still never been to the Eiffel Tower. And I watched a drunk guy steal a bottle of whiskey.

In any case, I didn’t say much about it to Daphne. She’s busy at Unfeasible Enterprises, and I am busy writing. We pretend that our schemes will all work perfectly.

But there is always Paris—the glittering symbol of everything that doesn’t work quite right, yet marches on restlessly . . . the magical lights too far in the distance, the tickets that vanish, the little man escaped from the box. That’s travel. That’s life.

I’ll bet you one thing, though: it all would have worked out if I had a stun gun. I’m just saying.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


I have several points I have to follow up on today. Five, to be precise.

1. Okay. I admitted my shame in front of everyone. I admitted I wanted a stun gun—a weapon seriously frowned upon by Amnesty International—because I saw it on the one and only episode of CSI I have ever watched, and because it reminded me of a toy I got at the circus when I was four. I said this was a bad, low, evil thing to want.

And then what do they do? THE VERY NEXT DAY? They make a pink one.

Color me appalled. Who is this for, if not me? And I don’t want it. I shun it.

(Also, I asked Daphne again if I could have one and she said, “No, no, no, no. Not ever. No.”)

2. I’ll tell you what I did buy, though. I bought a super-cool microphone. And why should you care? I’ll tell you why. Because starting in the next few weeks, I will start recording the MJ PODCAST. Also, I will probably do at least one “audio book guide” to 13 Little Blue Envelopes—which will be me rambling about 13 Little Blue Envelopes for about a half an hour.

As for the podcasts, I’m hoping to do excellent interviews as well as the general rambling you’ve probably come to expect from me, if you expect anything at all.

Is there something (or someone) you feel I must include? A topic you would like covered? By all means, e-mail me. The less actual thinking I have to do, the better!

3. The very first official blurb for GIRL AT SEA has come in. It’s from none other than Jodi Anderson, author of Peaches! She says:

Maureen Johnson's clean, clever writing bestills my heart. If this blue-skied, starry-nighted sea voyage doesn't enchant you, you must be sleeping with the fishes!

Now, that’s some kinda spicy quote! It also brings me to . . .

4. So many Dancing Pirates out there! I am collecting up your addresses. Soon, I will send out the first SECRET MESSAGE to my Pirate Dance Campers out there. When I made my announcement, I really wasn’t expecting to get such good applications. Here are just a few highlights:

- When I was little I wore a sticky tan eyepatch and went to ballet
class every day. Now that I am grown up-ish, I have a pink eyepatch
and dance jigs in the living room with my dog, who would make an
excellent sidekick if you allow canine members into the Pirate Dance
Camp Society.

- you said members recieve 'strange, memers-only emails' well,I am as good as any a person to send these too. I get a lot of strange and random emails from people. People who knows me see a strange or random thing and 99% of the time I pop into their mind. And two minutes later it shows up in my inbox (this includes,but is not limited to: pictures of Lizzie Borden bobble heads, a picture of plans to build a RAILING-FREE staircase on a traffic island in New York City, and an add for earrings that are replicas of the ones Kirsten Dunst wore in Marie Antoinette).

- I would be a good member of this elite society because I have a variety of talents like the ability to touch my nose with my tounge. I can also bake delicious snicker bar cookies that would be excellent refreshments for any Pirate Dance Camp Society gatherings.

- My friend just had a birthday yesterday. I got her a pirate balloon. No, it wasn't a birthday balloon, but it was cool. My friend and I named the pirate Fred. Fred was put in the doorway. If you wanted to go through the doorway, Fred had to be pushed out of the way. This meant saying "Excuse me, Fred." as you passed because not doing so would be impolite.

- My high school is performing the musical How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying this year, and I am the resident student choreographer. In less than 48 hours, I will have to teach our cast the Pirate Dance (no lie, there is a pirate dance in this show) that I have not even attempted to choreograph anything for yet.

And that is really just a small, small sampling of what I got. I am overwhelmed.

5. A correction from Oscar. I said the other day that he compared the sound of a Vespa to a blender.

“That’s not what I said,” he informed me, in his crisp English accent. “I said it sounded like a hair dryer.”

I don’t care. I still want one. I am trying very hard not to imagine how great it would be to have BOTH a pink stun gun and a pink Vespa. I could do so much good!

Sunday, January 07, 2007


I had a scare the other day. I was looking through the news, and all of a sudden a headline popped up. It read: PERFECT STORM HEADED FOR SYDNEY.

It so happens that superstar Magic or Madness author Justine Larbalestier and her man-companion, NYT best selling author Scott Westerfeld live in Sydney—at least, they are there right now.

“EEEEEEK,” I said. I didn’t want Justine and Scott to get stuck in a perfect storm. I immediate sent Justine a note.

Justine didn’t sound alarmed. In her reply, she said something about going “off to the cricket” and then later made a very special point of making sure I said the words “Ashes” and “5-0” to Oscar Gingersnort, because he is English.


“What storm?” she asked. “Make sure you tell him. ASHES. 5-0.”

So, it turns out that the news here was lying about the perfect storm. Why, I have no idea. And “Ashes” “5-0” refers to the fact that Australia had beaten England 5-0 in a series of important cricket matches.

Except all Oscar said was, “I don’t follow the cricket.”

So, here’s me, in the middle of some kind of INTERCONTINENTAL CRICKET WAR, all the while thinking that perfect storms were attacking my dear friends. Perfect storms that turned out to be LIES!

All of this talk of perfect storms reminds me of my many wonderful kidnapping dates with my friend, J.W. Krimble.

I have been kidnapping J.W. Krimble ever since we were in college together. My shoving him into the car on Thanksgiving (and then subsequently getting us both stuck in a non-perfect storm) is just the latest in a long line of examples. Likewise, his fear of my using a stun gun on him is perfectly reasonable.

I would call these kidnappings “dates.” Typically, they would begin with my pulling up in front of his house at a high rate of speed, then rushing to his front door and physically dragging him toward my car, saying, “I AM TAKING YOU ON A WONDERFUL DATE!”

Our dates included things like trips to the DMV, where I would make him wait with me in 3 hour lines. We’ve had dates at the post office, the hardware store, the emergency room at 3 AM . . . He loved them all. I could tell.

A typical night with me on a WONDERFUL DATE.

One very special date involved me driving him to Center City Philadelphia, to recover things that had been smashed off my car after another driver struck me and totaled it. My bumper was still on a traffic island a week later, and I WANTED IT. Why I wanted it, I can’t remember. (I did get smacked around a lot in that accident, so I may not have been thinking clearly.)

That is clearly not something you can do on your own. That’s a date. I drove my little rental car to the scene of the accident, and then J.W. and I rushed into traffic and retrieved the bumper.

But maybe the best date I’ve ever taken J.W. on was the Perfect Storm Reconstruction Society Weekend date.

See, while I was waiting to become a big, famous author (I laugh as I write that, of course), I wrote all kinds of things to make a living. One of the things I wrote was a book that was part of a popular series about witches.

I knew nothing about witches when I got this job. But what I did know was that the book was supposed to take place in Gloucester, Massachusetts—which is the setting of the book and movie, The Perfect Storm.

I knew what I had to do. First, I called my future agent, Daphne Unfeasible, and told her my plan. Then I called J.W.

“I am taking you on a wonderful double date!” I said.

“Oh dear God,” he replied.

“You will be gone for the entire weekend. Pack warm. Bring cash. Meet Daphne and I at Grand Central Station at 6 pm.”

“Where am I going?” he asked.

“You don’t need to know that,” I said. “But it will be wonderful.”

Daphne had secured us a fast car at the other end of the train trip. We bought J.W.’s tickets, so that he could not see where he was going. When we arrived, we stuffed him in the back seat of the waiting vehicle.

“Aren’t you going to tell me anything?” he said.

“Think George Clooney,” I said.


I smiled, then unfurled my map.

“North!” I said to Daphne, and she started the car.

After a few hours, it became clear that we were going to New England. For a while, J.W. thought we might be going to Boston, but then we veered East. All the while, we dropped tiny Perfect Storm clues.

In the end, he had no reason to complain. I had gotten us a suite in a beautiful bed and breakfast. It was the slow season, so the owner insisted on showing us all the spots in the building that were haunted, and then a clip of his recent appearance on a decorating show. Then we settled into our lovely rooms, where we spent most of the afternoon hiding behind the curtains, pretending to be ghosts. (This was partially because it was very, very, very cold outside and we didn’t want to deal with it, and partially because we are just the kind of people who like to hang out in hotel rooms and pretend to be ghosts.)

As my dates went, J.W. was pretty impressed with this one, even when I dragged him around relentlessly that night and the next day, doing incredibly tedious research for the book. We capped it all off by taking off our shoes and running into the freezing sea, about up to our ankles, and pretending to be the crew of the Andrea Gail.

Why am I telling you all of this? Obviously, I am leading you to my next big point. My e-mail inbox has been spilling over the last few days, and the question I am getting a lot is . . .


For a while, Girl at Sea had no name. It was just this crazy book I was writing about being stuck on a boat off the coast of Italy, and a stone that would change the history of the world. When it came time to turn it in, I realized I had to call it SOMETHING.

The trouble was . . . I had no idea what to call it. I was stumped. I made a list of something like 22 different titles, but none of them were right. So, to spare myself having to refer to it as, “The book. You know, the book? The one I’m working on? That book? With, the boat? And, the stone?” I started calling it Pirate Dance Camp whenever I spoke to my editor. (In case you are wondering, Girl at Sea DOES have pirates in it. It does not have a dance camp. There is a scene that involves dancing, but it is not in a camp setting.)

Though it was never meant to be a permanent measure, I liked the name enough to want to keep it around. And so . . . I have created the PIRATE DANCE CAMP SOCIETY! What does it mean? Well, members will (at some point) be given exciting pirate names, and I will put them on a special mailing list, and they will receive strange, members-only e-mails. And undoubtedly, when my first shipment of Girl at Seas arrives, I will be reserving a few copies for PDC members. Perhaps there will be a sneak preview. You never know. I certainly don’t. It will be an adventure for all!

“How do I join?” you ask. “I must know!”

Simple. You send me an e-mail with the words: I AM A DANCING PIRATE in the subject line. And if you want, you may include a few lines on why you feel you would make a good member of this elite society. I may post some of the best reasons on this blog. Again, WHO KNOWS? Mystery is part of the game.

Maybe I will even kidnap you and take you on a wonderful date. You never know what you’re going to get when you sign up with me.

WANTED: dancing pirates!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Welcome to 2007! I’m sorry for the long silence. I’ve been off doing the holidays and running from place to place. But I’m back now, and am officially cracking into the ’07 blog. There will be many things to look forward to from the MJ Workshop this year. I have many things planned for the release of Girl At Sea, including the start of my PIRATE DANCE CAMP SOCIETY, which already has two members. There will be book giveaways and various STRANGE SURPRISES.

Most importantly, I’ve started work on a new book that I think (hope) you will all really like. I am extremely excited about it, and I will be locked inside my house for all of January working on it.

Basically, 07 is going to be a big year, and I spent part of the time off plotting some of the many things that will be going on here.

But let’s talk about the holidays. And let’s start with my gift admission.

I pretty much begged my friends and family to give me a stun gun for Christmas. I got the idea one night when I was making those handmade signed cards, and an episode of CSI came on. I am the only person on the entire planet who has never seen CSI before, plus I couldn’t really get up, as I had cards and ink all around me. So I watched. In one part of the episode, a character leapt out of nowhere an attacked the bad guy with a stun gun and incapacitated him. It made a cool zapping noise.

My eyes lit up. That light was desire.

I am no weapons collector. I do not believe in using violence. I haven’t even owned pepper spray since the squirrel incident. I didn’t want a stun gun to use on a human being. I just wanted one because it looked a lot like a toy zapping gun that I got at the circus when I was four and that my mother took from me because it scared the cat. I still miss that thing.

I figured I had just enough time to start planting the idea in people’s minds.

My agent, Daphne Unfeasible, was the first to turn me down. Admittedly, we had been drinking champagne for three hours (hey, it was the holidays) when I made the demand.

“I need a stun gun,” I said, as we stumbled out to the street. (It’s possible that this came out more like, “I . . . need . . . a sttttungun.” And then I tripped over a dog.)

“No you don’t,” she said, flagging down a taxi.

“I do,” I insisted.

“Okay,” she said. “Why do you need a stun gun?”

“To stun,” I said crisply. “Obviously.”

“Stun who?”

“Bad guys. Thieves. Insider traders. Pirates.”

“You have never met a pirate,” she said dismissively. “And if you tried to stun a thief, you would just end up stunning yourself. I know it.”

It turned out that the taxi Daphne had been waving at for the last minute at the red light was, in fact, a Domino’s delivery car. The pizza guy stared at her, and she turned to examine a mailbox in minute detail until he drove away.

“You can cook with it,” I lied. “You can use it to make toast.”

“No you can’t.”

“You’re just saying that because you are have had too much champagne,” I said. “You’re not seeing sense. It’s the bubbles. They’ve gotten to your brain.”

“No. I am saying it because it is true, and I would say it even if I hadn’t had five glasses of champagne, which I have. The truth cuts through.”

“I can zap jars of water and bring forth colonies of sea monkeys!” I tried again. “I can create life!”

“Again, no you can’t.”

“Maybe not. But I need one. And you are not the boss of me.”

“No,” she said. “I am your agent. And I say you may not have a stun gun. Now get in this FedEx truck. We’re going home.”

I promised to use my stun gun for good, to make toast and sea life. I was denied.

I asked Oscar Gingersnort next. Oscar has fielded many of my recent requests/ideas, such as my total fascination with Vespa scooters after going to Italy. I talked about Vespas non-stop for a month. He successfully argued that if I bought a Vespa scooter for use here in New York, I would probably die within about two hours.

“But they would be a good two hours,” I said.

“No,” he said. “They would be two hours spent going 30 miles per hour on something that sounds like a blender when it runs. And then you would get hit by a truck.”

That was fair. And his explanation as to why I couldn’t keep a miniature pony in my apartment held water as well. But I honestly thought he would immediately see why I should be allowed to have a stun gun.

“Oh no,” he said, when I posed the question. “That wouldn’t be good.”

“Of course it would!” I said. “I don’t really want to stun anyone. I just want to have it. You know. In case of emergency.”

“Why do you want a stun gun?” he asked.

I explained that I saw it on CSI. He shook his head.

“I could use it to restart a car battery if it stalled!” I said. “Imagine, a car stalls in the snow. I zap it back to life with my STUN GUN!”

“Cars are not like Frankenstein,” he said. “You can’t just zap them to life. You think a stun gun is a magic wand, when it is, in fact, a dangerous weapon. You think it looks like something from Harry Potter, don’t you?”

Is it so wrong to want to be like this?

I refused to give him the satisfaction of admitting to that last one, or even explaining the whole circus-zapping-gun connection.

So I turned to one of my less responsible friends, J.W. Krimble, he of the five hour ride home on Thanksgiving.

“Oh no,” he said. “There is no way I’m letting you have a stun gun.”

“Why not?” I said. “You’re highly irresponsible. Why should you care?”

“I care because the very first thing you will do is knock on my apartment door, and when I open it, you will stun the crap out of me just to see how it works. And then you will stand over my twitching body and laugh. Then you will stick light bulbs in my mouth to see if they light up, because you have a very poor grasp of physics.”

He was right about that, I had to admit. I hadn’t realized my true, base desire. I would have definitely marched to his door with a stun gun and a lightbulb the minute I opened the package.

“I would not do it often,” I said.

“I don’t care. You will never have a stun gun, not as long as I live.”

Like the Vespa and the miniature pony, I hadn’t really thought it through. So that was pretty much the end of that.

Instead, I received many lovely and wonderful gifts—including Lil’ Poxy. I also received some totally fantastic e-mails from you guys. I have to address a few of the things that I’ve received in the last few days.

ONE: I got an e-mail from a REAL Jane Elizabeth Jarvis, which is the full name of the main character in Devilish. This is incredibly exciting to me. I KNEW she was out there somewhere! Jane Jarvis can now join me in the People Who Accidentally Share Names with Fictional Characters Club (PWASNWFCC).

TWO: The first winner of the Girl At Sea Holiday contest has received and read the book, and she has sent back the following report:

“I absolutely adored it! I really like had you slipped all that history into it without giving the reader a brain freeze.”

She also wrote up this nice blurb:

Girl At Sea mixes ancient history, adventure, and romance to create my favorite novel by Maureen Johnson. Clio, with her wit and stubborn personality, is a realistic portrayal of a teenager, and is therefore easy to relate with.”

There it is. The VERY first review.

THREE: I also received this fabulous piece of news from five superreaders from New Jersey:

“I just wanted to let you know that every girl in my school has read at least one of your books. My friends and I even have our own book club discussing only your books. :)”

I am beyond thrilled. All five writers of this note are hereby inducted into the GIRL AT SEA PIRATE DANCE CAMP SOCIETY—which I will explain more about later this week. (Your PIRATE NAMES are on the way.) They go on to ask:

“We were wondering if you'd be interested in comng to a Barnes and Noble or a Walden Books in our state to do a signing.”

I add this, because I will be setting up dates for Girl At Sea appearances soon, and I wanted to explain how this works. The answer to this question is almost always, “Yes!”

Here’s the trick: like a vampire, I cannot enter without being asked. I need to be invited by a store or a school. I like getting invitations, and I accept as many as I can. It usually comes down to time and distance.

If you would like me to visit your school, ask your school librarian or teacher to drop me a note here at maureen@maureenjohnsonbooks.com. (They can also go here, but it is easier just to drop me a note, and I can take it from there.)

About stores . . . I’d ask the manager. Stores often book events months in advance, but if you express interest (and if you are this highly organized and have a group of people who want to see a certain author), I’m sure they’d look into it.

As GIRL AT SEA’s release approaches (that’s in June), I’ll be talking about this some more. But it certainly can’t hurt to get any requests in now.

There’s lots more to come, but for tonight, I must sign off. And don’t feel too bad for me about the stun gun. They are actually quite dangerous and have been condemned by Amnesty International. And I really would only end up stunning myself, not performing Harry Potter-like feats of zapping wonder.

But I haven’t totally given up on the Vespa. I’m prepared to ride on a blender, especially if it is pink, with Lil’ Poxy strapped on to the front. What a wonderful sight that would be.

If you have other ideas for me for 2007, please note them in the comments below so that I may give them due consideration.