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Monday, February 26, 2007


First of all, I have a piece of unbearably wonderful news to share. It seems that Devilish, my take on my high school experience (with a few demons added for good measure) has been nominated for the Andre Norton Award. How this piece of extraordinary good fortune came about, I don’t really know—but I am excited all to pieces about it.

For those of you who have never heard of it, the Andre Norton Award is the YA version of the Nebula, the awards given out by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The six books on the finalist list this year are:

MAGIC OR MADNESSS by Justine Larbalestier
PEEPS by Scott Westerfeld
DEVILISH by Maureen Johnson
THE KING OF ATTOLIA by Megan Whalen Turner
LIFE AS WE KNEW IT by Susan Beth Pfeffer

So it’s kind of hard to root for myself here. Personally, I’d have to vote for Scott or Justine. I would probably have to flip a coin over it. I mean . . . Magic or Madness and Peeps! And I’ve heard great things about The King of Attolia and Life As We Knew It. What a list!

Thank you, Norton committee for including me with such excellent company.

Now, let’s get to business. I noticed the following comment on my last post.

anonymous said...
How do you BECOME a writer anyway? You've already talked about what they do.

Fair enough, anonymous. Enough jibberjabber about the eating habits of J. Green, the cakemaking of E. Lockhart, and the bone-breaking of Cecil Castellucci. (But don’t think this will be the last time I will put you through this.) I like readers who say what they want.

Let’s take a second to clarify the question—I think you’re asking how you become a professional writer, or someone who writes for a living. The broader question of how one becomes a writer is not one I can answer.

The interweb abounds with information about this subject, some of it solid and good, and some of it terrible. I’ve already told you how to write a book and a little about the publishing process. Let’s look at the general state of being a writer—habits, behaviors, tricks and tips.

I have broken this subject down into ten elements that I feel are critical for any professional writer. You can go about these in any order you like.


This is an absolutely essential first step. People forget things easily in our information-rich world. You don’t want people asking, “What’s this person about? Is she an oral surgeon? Is she a lion tamer?” The books will tell them that you are a Serious Writer.


This is the true mark of a writer. Everyone does it. Those who say that they do not are lying.


Because you won’t have health insurance. My mom’s a nurse and can write prescriptions. This helps. You should make similar connections.


If you’re a writer, everyone at the publishing company (and pretty much the world at large) already assumes that you’re two sandwiches short of a picnic. You might as well enjoy it.


Look, no one is going to take you seriously unless you show them that you are a force to be reckoned with. You are a Writer, dammit! People owe you respect! If anyone says anything bad about you or your book, go after them and tell them that they are wrong! Take everything personally! Go to their houses, steal their hamsters, leave threatening greeting cards on their doorsteps. Wax insane on your blog about your enemies, both real and imaginary.

Oh wait. No. People hate that. Just go back to point number four.


Writing is solitary. It’s good to have a few outside interests that get you away from your desk. That means that internet surfing, blogging, “researching,” and Googling do not count. Step away from the keyboard.


Wait . . . you’re saying YOU wrote the worst book/story/play/paper in the world? Because I thought I had. And you, guy over there. You’re saying YOU wrote the worst one? We can’t all be right.

Get in line, Charlie! Every writer claims this, usually at some bleak midpoint. This is pretty much a requirement. Dwelling on it is a great way to use time that you would otherwise fill with tedious writing.


Writers make excellent friends. They will listen to your long, sad stories about how you suck and have no health insurance—and then match them with their own stories about how they suck and have no health insurance. A conversation like this can go on for hours! Blog about the time you spend with them, until someone sends you a comment and tells you to . . . wait. Nevermind. Just get some writer friends.


Writers are always supposed to be thinking, even when their minds are empty except for the sound of softly chirping birds. Practice your thinking face in your spare time. It helps to touch your chin lightly.


You’re going to fall and fail. Keep getting back up. No, I don’t want to hear any excuses as to why you can’t. Just keep getting back up. Also, make sure you make those friends in the medical profession. They can provide useful medications when the getting up is hard.

There you go! I hope this helps. I invite other writers to add to this list, in case I have missed something.

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Friday, February 23, 2007


What you’re about to read was actually written on Wednesday. At this exact moment, it is Friday. I am in J. Green’s apartment, working at a table and watching J. Green play golf on his Wii while talking on the phone.

Actually, mostly what I am doing is sneezing. For someone who claimed she never gets sick, I am kind of . . . well, sick. Or at least sneezy. This is no good. Tonight I am going to see my friend Broadway Joey in the lead role in The Drowsy Chaperone. And while he is singing his heart out, I’m going to be THAT person. The one making all the noise and grossing out everyone around them with her non-stop sneezing and sniffling. And I am smack in the middle, right in front of the stage—so the WHOLE CAST is probably going to think I am going to contaminate them, which I probably am. I might get them all sick, and then this beloved show will have to close for like A WEEK. There will be headlines in the New York Times and the Post: Drowsy Chaperone Sleeps, or something like that.

I apologize in advance.

I think J. Green has caught on to the fact that I am reporting that he is playing golf on his Wii, and has sat down with his computer to work on today’s installment of Brotherhood 2.0. I am especially excited about this, as I am on this one.

But let us go back a day or two, to a table full of writers.

Wednesday, February 21

Today in WHAT WRITERS DO ALL DAY, I am sitting here with normal writing partner John Green. E. Lockhart has left for the day. However, we have been joined by some new members to our little group. Across from me is Holly Black, next to me is Cecil Castellucci. And at the end of the table, Cassandra Clare is carefully balancing her computer on the edge of the table. AND, we have just been joined by Libba Bray.

I know what you are thinking. That is a lot of writers. And what writers. I’m jealous of myself.

I’m writing this FROM THE TABLE. This reporting is fresh. I’m an embedded reporter.

The day started with just me and E. E. is working on a new book that sounds very exciting. We were working away, until J. Green showed up. We decided to move to a new location, because our table was too small. (J. Green needs room. He’s a boy.)

E. told us about a castle cake she is making for a 5 year old’s princess-themed birthday party. It is going to be blue, with ice cream cone towers and coconut snow and gummy penguins. This makes me want to have a princess birthday party. I did not think of it in time. Also, I did not know about the gummy penguins. That’s something to keep in the mental files.

1:15 PM. Cecil C. appears. Cecil is here for Comicon, where she is promoting her new DC comic, The Plain Janes. She has given up pants for Lent, and is wearing a very nice skirt. Cecil broke her wrist playing hockey, and it is very hard for her to type. J. Green, who has obviously never broken his wrist, smacks her cast a few times asking, “Does this hurt? Does this? How about here?”

1:18 PM:
I explain that I have broken my right wrist twice, the first time while singing the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn into the tube of a canister vacuum. Cecil does not know who Tony Orlando is, so I show her a picture.

Tony Orlando and Dawn

1:37: E. has to leave to go home and make a piñata shaped like a dragon for the princess party. My jealousy increases.

2:17 PM: Holly and Cassie arrive. They are in extremely good form. Holly has been to see the sets of the Spiderwick Chronicles movie, and Cassie is gearing up for the release of her first book, City of Bones.

2:36 PM: Everyone settles in to work.

Working away at the Writers’ Table.

2:54 PM: Continuing the debate from Justine Larabalestier’s blog, a conversation on the relative merits of zombies vs. unicorns breaks out. This is a surprisingly heated discussion. I, of course, am for zombies. (See here for details.) Overall, the group seems to favor unicorns, mostly because they are harmless. J. Green refused to give any opinion at all, which makes me think he is hiding something.

3:01 PM: I notice that we all use Macs. We are a walking advertisement. Or a sitting one. Also, there are a bunch of cameras. J. Green filmed us for Brotherhood 2.0, and Cecil filmed us for her own YA writer film. So there is a lot of proof of what I am saying.

3:08: So much filming. I ask if someone will help me make an audition tape to be a dead body for Law and Order. Cecil, who is a trained performer and who lives in California, tells me that I should sign up with an extra service. They constantly cast dead bodies. This is a dilema for me. I want to be a dead body, but I don’t want to start throwing myself at extra casting agents, because that is something an actor might do, and like I said, I’m not an actor. I want the magic of the internets to work for me.

3:15 PM:
Cecil and Holly leave to make phone calls. Cassie, J. Green, and I get back to work . . . on writing. My job.

3:18 PM I look up casting agencies for dead bodies on Law and Order.

3:21 PM: Do you guys think I could use my author photo as a headshot? I look kind of dead in it, right?

3:22 PM: I could also play a zombie. But now I am thinking like an actress. I should be thinking like a writer! I am surrounded by my own!

3:37 PM: J. Green says he thinks it could be a headshot. I would ask Cassie, but she is getting a drink.

3:56 PM: Seriously. We’re working.

4:01 PM: Agent Daphne Unfeasible writes me to ask if I am working, and I tell her I totally, totaly am. Daphne does not believe me. I can feel it. It is no good having an agent who knows you this well.

Sometimes I do things that do not look like work. But I am working. It's all part of my process.

4:16 PM: Holly and Cecil return, and they are joyful. Cecil tells us about what she will be doing at Comicon.

4:32 PM: Dr. Betty Vox calls me. She needs my help! All stops for Betty Vox.

5:23 PM: Libba Bray arrives, straight from working on Great and Terrible Beauty/Rebel Angels III. Libba has been writing for many, many hours straight and barely has the power of speech. Right now, Libba could play a mean dead body, if she wanted to. J. Green gives the order to wrap things up, as we all have to go off to our secret YA author club. (Yes. There is one.)

Beyond this point, I cannot say, as it is secret. On Monday, we are being joined by Scott Westerfeld, but I never talk about him, ever. Except maybe once.

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Friday, February 16, 2007


Friends, I have good news.

Late last night, the first draft of my new book went in to my editor, Emma Lollipop. I can’t tell you how much I love this story.

And today, as I mentioned before, is my birthday. To those of you who sent in birthday wishes, thank you very much! Oscar Gingersnort decided to be slick and British and hop on a Virgin Atlantic flight to come over and assist in the celebration. Just wait until he gets here and sees all the dirty snow and ice that’s covering the city. He will be all “Wot? Wot? Wot?”

Speaking of Virgin Atlantic . . . this takes me nicely to my point for today.

I have a myspace page. To be honest, I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to be doing with it half the time, or what it’s supposed to do for me. There’s a section called “Who I’d Like To Meet.” So I wrote that I wanted to meet you (readers), people from Virgin Atlantic airlines, and that most sisterly of the Scissor Sisters, Ana Matronic.

And guess what? People from Virgin Atlantic got in touch with me!

“Who knew?” I said to myself. “I could be using this whole internets thing to make more of my wishes come true.”

And I do have a wish. I would really like to play a dead body on Law and Order.

I don’t know why I want this, but it’s been a little dream of mine for years. Sometimes, you just take a shine to an idea, and there you go. A few years ago, a friend of mine who knew the casting agent heard me explain my dream, and he thought my argument was so compelling that he gave me the phone number and said I could use him as a reference. But I chickened out and threw the number away.

Oh, how I regret that decision.

But I think this is a good, possibly achievable goal for this year. I’d like to be a fake dead body before my next birthday. I want to be able to go to parties and say, “Well, I was just a dead body on Law and Order, and it was great. Really great. What a professional team that is.”

But I can only do this with your help. I am asking you to forward this post to as many people and places as you can, so that maybe in the next year the Law and Order people can read the letter below and realize what they’re missing. Of course, if I succeed, I will share all with you, right in this blog.

Can it happen? I just don’t know. Together, maybe we can do this. Please help me get my message out there.


Dear Law and Order dead body division,

You are New York’s #1 employer of fake dead bodies, and as such, I am writing to you to tell you why I am perfectly suited to your needs. Please note the points listed below. I think you’ll see at once why you need to get in touch with me.

1. I can stay very, very still. That’s half the job of writing. Ask anyone who has ever met me—I can keep my face so perfectly still, and my stare so unblinking, you might already think I was dead. But I’m not. I’m like a lizard in that sense.

2. I’m a writer, not an actress. I don’t want a SAG card. I’m not going to try to convince the director to expand my storyline. I’m not going to ask Jesse L. Martin for advice on my acting career, because I don’t have an acting career. I am purely there to be the dead body. To me, this is in and of itself a laudable goal.

3. Though I am not an actress, I worked in theater for several years, so I know how to behave. When you say action . . . I’m dead. I’ll stay dead until you sat “Cut!” I can follow along like a pro. No training required. You just tell me where to lie down, and watch me shine.

4. I am very low maintenance. At most, I require a hot beverage, but I’ll be more than happy to bring that along. Savings for you!

5. I’m easy to work with. I invite anyone who has worked with me to provide testimonials in the comments. (Note to friends: don’t blow it for me, guys.)

6. I think you’ll find me easily adaptable to playing many different varieties of dead body. Say you needed a deceased schoolteacher, or someone’s wife, or a mistress, or a scientist . . . or someone who was all four of those things at once! I can do that. I am fairly well educated, which means that I have mastered the smart face—the one that looks like I am paying attention and understanding everything I hear. Yet many people tell me that at times I have a simple look about me, like I might have just hopped off the short bus. I am the De Niro of stiffs. The only thing I can’t change is the fact that I am very pale white—but then, so are many dead bodies.

7. On that note, you won’t need as much makeup. More savings for you!

8. I don’t care where they find me. I’m not going to complain if I have to rest on the cold ground. That’s all part of being a dead body. The only thing I can’t work with is jellyfish. Jellyfish are a dealbreaker. But we usually don’t have too many jellyfish issues here in New York.

9. Oh, and millipedes. I’m no good with millipedes. Let’s just say that I won’t work with anything that doesn’t have a spine.

10. But even then, I could probably be convinced.

If you are the director or producer of another project requiring a dead body, you can also feel free to get in touch with me.


Maureen Johnson

Let's make it happen, Bernie style.

P.S. to Ana Matronic . . . still hoping to meet you, become BFFs.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007


The first draft of my new book is due on Friday, which also happens to be my birthday. Just so you know, I am taking stun gun off the list of things I want. This is because I had to reach behind my tv the other day to unplug something, and I got a huge shock from the power strip. It zapped my whole arm. So for now, I do not want a stun gun.

But to all of you out there with spare Vespas and miniature ponies . . . they are still very much on the list.

The new book is going very well—at least in the sense that the first draft is going very well. There is much left to be done and it will be written several more times before it is done. I will tell you this much about the story . . . it takes place in New York, and it’s about a family that lives in a hotel. In making this hotel, I had to think about the rules that might govern life there, the things you might take for granted.

It made me think of the rules, and the lies, my parents imposed on me when I was just a tiny mj.

When I was growing up, if my parents suspected me of telling a lie, they would say to me, “Maureen, stick out your tongue.” I would do it. My mom or dad, whoever was doing the questioning, would lean down and examine it. If they doubted me, they’d say, “I see a black spot!” I would run to the mirror and look for the black spots. Sometimes I even thought I saw them.

I was a pretty truthful child, so if I thought I saw one of these spots on my tongue, I would sit and really question what I had said. Was I really telling the truth? Had I done something I was unaware of? This would send me into metaphysical spins for whole minutes at a time.

Eventually, I figured out that this was a trick. It took a while, but I got there.

What I didn’t figure out for a long time was that this is not a universal trick. I sort of assumed that everyone’s parents did this—that it was some kind of wacky old tradition that they’d picked up on.

Recently, someone told me something that sounded like a lie, and I said, “Liar. Stick out your tongue!” It was a bit of a throwback, I realized, like making reference to a really old commercial by accident. It just came out.

The person who I said this to just stared at me. I explained . . . lies, black spots, tongue. I did not see the shock of recognition. There was no, “Oh my God! Your parents did that too?”

I’m no dope, readers. I can put two and two together, and with a little effort, come up with a four—or a really low five. I called my dad and confronted him directly.

“The black spots,” I said. “On the tongue. Where did that come from?”

My dad laughed jovially.

“Oh that,” he said. “I have no idea. I just said it one day, and your mom heard it. She started laughing so hard that she had to leave the room. After that, we did it all the time. She did it more than me.”

I was not overly amused.

“Listen,” I said. “Do you realize that when you did that, I used to go and LOOK for the spots? Do you realize that sometimes I thought I SAW them, and then I would question my own grasp of truthfulness? Because of your little joke, your four year old daughter spent a lot of time wrestling with the full meaning of honesty and the state of her soul?”

My dad started laughing so hard that he had to set the phone down for a minute.

I chose to confront them, but they did not care.

I started thinking back a little more about things that were just considered “givens” in my house. Here was another one: I wasn’t allowed to say that I hated anyone. There was no human being, I was told, who deserved to be hated.

On the surface, this is a very good rule, and one I applaud. But, it had a weird rider, like one of those laws they try to get through Congress with a strange little sentence attached. I wasn’t allowed to say I hated anyone . . . except Hitler. It was perfectly acceptable to hate Hitler. So, if I was angry, I would often shout, “I HATE HITLER!”

Now, maybe this is something that would have been normal in, say, London, during 1941, at the height of the Blitz. And hating Hitler really is the little black dress of hatreds—you can’t go wrong taking a swing at him. Coming out of a small child in Philadelphia in the late 70s, though, it was a bit odd. I hated Hitler when my toys broke. I hated Hitler when I had to go to bed early. I was doing an awful lot of Hitler-hating.

Here’s another one: we couldn’t sing at the table. No explanation was ever given on this one. It was just a very big deal. If you even started to sing, which I sometimes did, it was stopped, immediately.

I don’t for a second think I am alone. I am certain your parents made up some rule or fake tradition just to mess with your head too. That is what parents are for. I invite you to share them.

In the meantime, I am getting back to work. My editor, Emma Lollipop, reads this blog. She will know I have been taking time off from the book . . . and obviously the black spot thing has ruined me in terms of lying to her about it.

Just two things before I go.

1. The book is also about a show, in particular, a very carnival-like production of Hamlet—so I want to pimp some of my friends who are currently doing great theater work.

If you have ever wondered how musicals are made, you should read this blog. My friend Andrew is an amazing composer who has written a first-class musical called Meet John Doe, which is being put on at the Ford Theater in Washington D.C. (Yes, the theater where President Lincoln was shot.) His blog will show you what it’s like to take a musical from casting to set design to rewriting to performance. Also, he includes many hot photos of model stages and hats.

Also, my friend “Broadway” Joey (my baseball coach for The Key to the Golden Firebird) is in the hit show The Drowsy Chaperone. If you are planning on coming up to get some Broadway action, this is the show for you.

2. I do not normally show pictures of underwear on this blog, but I have to make a special exception for these . . . which are also very much on my birthday wish list. Come on. How great are these?

Better than a stun gun? Just maybe.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007


Today, it is about time we talked about muses. We have avoided the subject long enough.

In mythology, there were nine sisters—the nine goddesses who inspired creative endeavor. When you had a poem to write, or a play to put on, or a painting to paint, you called the muses. They came tripping along in their long robes and danced around you, and your head filled up with ideas . . . or something like that. No one really knows what exactly happened when they showed up, but if the muses liked you, you were good to go.

The muses have been portrayed in film on several occasions, most notably (to me) in the 1980 roller skating epic Xanadu, starring Olivia Newton-John as Terpsichore, the muse of dance. By the time of the movie, she is a roller disco queen who leaps out of wall murals and inspires a guy to open a roller disco, all with the aid of Gene Kelly, who plays a rich clarinetist. Xanadu is the closest you can get to being high without actually being high, but if you like roller skating and think Mount Olympus looks like an old school video game, this is the movie for you.

You should watch this all the way through. At first, you will probably be confused and disoriented, but it only gets better as it goes along. Don’t stop with the two people wobbling on the tightrope. The muses all appear at the end, on a giant glowing Frisbee. Terpsichore rises an entire two feet in the air before they are all vaporized. This is what having a muse is supposed to be like.

I should also point out that the main character of Girl At Sea, Clio Ford, is named after the muse of history. Her muse status plays a part in the book. You’ll certainly be hearing more about this the closer it gets to June.

I realize that most people think that the muses are imaginary creatures, and when writers talk about their muses, they are just being poetic and pretentious. I am breaking the unspoken code by telling you this, but the muses are, in fact, completely real. All writers have one. There are a lot more than nine of them.

The thing is . . . they’re not at all like the description in the history books and annals of mythology. This is why most writers won’t talk about their muse. But I like to be honest with you and tell you what the writing life is really like, muse and all. And I must tell you this . . . it is not like Xanadu.

My muse’s name is Scruffy. At least, that’s what I call him. His real name is something like Scrufistorimachus. Not even he can pronounce it. He came to me one day one I was writing my first book, The Key to the Golden Firebird, and I was stuck on a scene that involved some very awkward making out in the back of an RV.

“#&$^#*&$,” I opined, smacking my keyboard. “I can’t write this #&$*(&#*(#*$(^#($^#&*$^ scene. I wish I had a muse.”

And with that, there was a knock on my door. I answered it to find a tall, very lanky guy in a blue corduroy suit. He was pale, with sandy hair and a washed out complexion. He smelled like cooked cabbage and looked like he had recently been weeping.

“I’m Scrufistorim . . .” he began. “Call me Scruffy. I’m your muse.”

He pushed past me and went into my living room, where he dropped on my couch.

“You don’t look like a muse,” I said, shutting the door.

“Like you’ve ever seen one. Do you want help or not?”

I did want help.

“Yes!” I said. “I’ve seen Xanadu! I know how this works! I’ve waited for this all my life!”

“Okay,” he said. “The first thing I’m going to need is some Cool Ranch Doritos. They’re my brain food.”

Scruffy did almost nothing but eat Cool Ranch Doritos for the first six hours I knew him. I got him every bag in the store. He sat on the couch and munched away while I continued to try to write the scene. I had just managed to write in a bit about a very dusty Operation board game box that I thought was a nice touch, when the Cool Ranchiness finally hit Scruffy’s brain.

“’kay,” he said, licking the dust from his fingers. “’kay. So. In your book? You know what you should do?”

I turned.

“You should put in a shopping scene. Like a montage. Of shopping. For shoes. And, it could be that your main character is like, really unpopular, but then, she gets these shoes . . .”

“No,” I said.

“Listen! Listen! So, she gets these shoes, right? And, like, everyone suddenly sees her in a new light, because she’s wearing these really cool shoes. And everyone thinks she’s cool.”

He waited for my reply. When I said nothing, he felt compelled to explain further.

“Because of the shoes,” he said.

“This is a book about three girls coping with the death of their father,” I said. “I don’t think shoe shopping really goes, do you?”

“Well,” he said, reaching for my remote control. “If you’re going to be like that . . . do you have cable?”

It turns out, when you get a muse, they never leave. They just sit there and nag you until you do what they want. For hours, I resisted Scruffy’s shoe shopping montage idea.

“Shoe brands say so much about a person,” he said, when I woke up in the middle of the night to find him going through my closet. “For example, I would say that you are . . . wow, your feet are huge! I thought you were like, a six. These things are like boats. I could sail around in these.”

“I’m not doing it,” I said.

“Suit yourself,” he said. He sat on the edge of my bed and ate Doritos until dawn, keeping me away with the crumpling of the bag and the constant, open-mouthed chewing.

Over a breakfast of Cool Ranch Doritos and milk, he explained his theory of character development.

“When a character walks into a scene,” he said. “First thing, I’m looking at the feet. Some people think the mouth does the talking. I say, it’s the feet.”

“Don’t you have any other ideas?” I finally screamed. “What about death? Love? Loss?”

“You can lose a shoe,” he said.

Scruffy passed out in the afternoon while watching a Buffy marathon. He came to a few hours later with a jerk and a snort. I had managed to write a chapter while he was out.

“I got another one,” he said, sitting up and pulling his jacket back on. “’kay. What if . . . what if . . . your character really likes someone, but that someone turns out to be a robot wearing a suit of human flesh? And then they go shopping together?”

“Did you escape from some kind of a home?” I asked. “Where are my leaping skaters? Where are my unsteady tightrope walkers? Or my adorable mime-breakdancing guys in suspenders and hats? You . . . are no Xanadu.”

With that, Scruffy burst into tears and locked himself in the bathroom. This provided me with another chance to get some writing done. I began to notice a pattern . . . when Scruffy left me alone, suddenly, words were pouring from my fingers. I started taking Scruffy into the city, where I would push him out of moving cabs. I would rush home and write until he found his way back. I took him to the airport and left him at an arrivals gate. I pushed him off the Staten Island Ferry.

Over time, it’s gotten harder and harder to shake him, but I’m constantly thinking up strategies. That’s how it works. If you plan on being a writer, you better get used to the fact that you are going to spend your life constantly on the run from your muse . . . because from what I’ve heard, they’re all like Scruffy. Some are worse.

The truth is, my Xanadu looks a lot more like this . . .

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Friday, February 02, 2007


It’s a busy time here.

I am extremely pleased to report that Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld have finally returned to these shores. Justine, being Australian and not having seen snow until the age of 26, is currently traumatized by the actual cold weather we have here in New York. We met for lunch in our usual spot to celebrate this wondrous occasion. They brought along fellow Australian author Melina Marchetta, who had to leave a bit early to go to the airport. It was an excellent time, even if Justine shivered throughout and looked at my gloves as if she had never seen these magical bodiless hand-creatures before.

The lunch was so excellent, in fact, that we barely even noticed when an entire television film crew rolled up five feet behind us (and eventually around us) and filmed some Food Network segment with Mario Batali and one of the Sex in the City women. (I have never seen an episode of Sex in the City all the way through, but I can at least spot at Sex in the Cityite in the wild. Also, Justine told me who she was.)

The three of us were astonished to find ourselves surrounded by cameras.

After that, we all snuck up on writing partner John Green, who was deep in the terminal throes of finishing the very last sentences of the first draft of his new book. In general, I do not advocate sneaking up on John Green. I have painted him in the past as a man on the edge. But he took it well, greeted everyone with joy, and got himself a sensibly-pointed, Weight Watchers friendly lunch. I pointed this out, and he confirmed it.

“Five points,” he said proudly.

“Wait,” Justine said. “You really are on Weight Watchers? I thought that was a lie that Maureen made up for her blog.”

“Lie?” I said. “Me? I don’t even know the meaning of the word. I am a creature of pure truth. When I blog about this, you will see. Every detail will be recorded with pinpoint accuracy.”

“What about that fight at Books of Wonder? What about John getting drunk when he won the Printz and trying to build a sandbox out of cat litter in the middle of the street?”

“Okay,” I admitted. “Those two instances were what I like to think of as truth explorations. John is an artist. He is capable of great swings of emotion.”

John nodded away and ate his low calorie lunch with gusto. But Justine was not done.

“Or that time you claimed that Scott was an alien with reptile eyes who tried to steal a non-existent helicopter from the top of the New York Times building?” she added.

I glanced over at Scott. He gave me a lightening-fast shake of the head and made a quick slit-throat gesture. Then he put his sunglasses back on.

“Well,” I said quickly. “Of course THAT didn’t happen! But that post was otherwise brimming with facts. I said that you don’t like chocolate and that Scott doesn’t wear jeans. You can’t deny that those things are true.”

“Be that as it may,” she said. “Sometimes, you tell stories.”

Reader, she is right. Sometimes I do. But everything I tell you is based in a deep, essential truthiness. And it was only those three times. Justine was astonished to find that my account of what authors do all day was actually the real deal, right down to the low fat cream cheese in John’s pants . . . in his pants.

And I’m certainly telling you the truth when I say that John Green and I are currently in similar boats. We are both finishing up first drafts. He’s done now, but I am not.

In a past entry, I described the process of finishing up a book in its very final stages, when the deadline is well and truly upon you, and the curtain is coming down. Maybe I should tell you a bit more about the other end, the part that is . . . as one of my most beloved theater instructors would have said . . . very loosey-goosey.

Maybe you imagine that writers sit down and start with the first sentence, and then keep writing away, until they finally type the words THE END. And maybe some do. But that’s not how it goes with me.

I may start with the beginning, but I may start with the middle. I may write a page, and then think of a sentence I want to write somewhere down the line, so I write that sentence, knowing someday I will catch up to it.

It’s like I’m building a house out of Legos—really, really small legos. Like, those single prong ones. But I don’t necessarily start with the ground and build up, carefully creating the base of my Lego house, leaving spots for the windows and the door. I often start with the windows. I hang things in mid-air. I build the roof. I put single Legos in where I think the bedroom will be. Sometimes I begin work on the pool in the back. Sometimes I build an entire LEGO CITY this way.

The result is that absolutely no one can read my drafts until they are complete, because they are literally masses of single paragraphs and sentences connected by the invisible ink that is in my head. And that’s fine by me, because I don’t usually want anyone reading at that stage.

I spend a lot of the first draft thinking about what the second draft will look like, because the two usually have little to do with each other. In draft two, I am Lego Godzilla, stomping all over the place and ripping things out with my squarish Lego claws.


But what I have right now is still Lego City. I happen to love this particular Lego City, and I have been working on it assiduously. I think this may be the best Lego City yet. But it is too soon for me to talk about it in depth.

But . . . what this has done is get me behind on letting you know about the newest members of my PIRATE DANCE CAMP CREW. I posed a challenge to my crew members to come up with some ways of getting the Girl At Sea message to the world. They didn’t let me down.

I am happy to introduce challenge winner Thea, now First Mate Katfish Kate, who is working on a short jellyfish-themed video about Girl At Sea. This won my heart, because I am terrified of jellyfish, and this fear of mine plays out in the book. I cannot wait to see this.

Also, an entire mini-crew form the second place Pirates Too. They include: Pirate Mandy Too Diefor, Pirate Miley Too Divine, Pirate Faith Too Dangerous, and Pirate Juliette Too Delicious. They are working on a plan so secret that it cannot be revealed here.

To all who entered, the ideas were all excellent. And there is a lot of time between now and the release of Girl At Sea, which means a lot of time left for more scheming.

Until then, I return, in all truthfulness, to work. Really.

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