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Thursday, January 31, 2008


Explained here, on today's insideadog post. (WHERE I AM GUEST BLOGGING UNTIL FEBRUARY 15th . . . oh, I am getting so tired of typing that!)

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Today on insideadog (where I am guest blogging until February 15th, like I say EVERY DAY) . . . the return of the cheese lobster, mild dish on the Keith Dobson-Spencer Martin connection, and the secrets of my high school math success.

The first chapter of Suite Scarlett remains up right here, until . . . the end of the internets or something. I'm not sure. But it's still there.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008


Today, over on insideadog (where I am blogging until February 15th, as I promised to mention EVERY TIME) . . . I give away another copy of Suite Scarlett.

Even better . . . the first chapter of the book is made available to EVERYONE! NOW!

Yes, NOW!

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Thursday, January 24, 2008


While I’m doing my blogging residence at insideadog until February 15th, I’ve decided to leave tiny recaps of what I’m writing over there on this blog . . . . just so it doesn’t fall to pieces in my absence. I will probably repeat the fact that I have temporarily moved every single day*, just for any new people who come along. Seasoned readers, just ignore that, okay?

Today, there is an entry of epic importance. Today, I have unveiled DAPHNE UNFEASIBLE, and in doing so, provided an amazing resource for any budding writers out there. Also, the competition to win another advance copy of Suite Scarlett continues!

*Meaning that every day on this blog, I will say, "I am temporarily blogging at insideadog until February 15th." Not that I am going to make a temporary move every single day. Because that would REALLY be annoying!

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Monday, January 21, 2008


Starting tomorrow (January 21st), I am doing a one month blogging residency on insideadog. In case you’ve never read the excellent insideadog . . you should. It’s the YA site for the Centre for Youth Literature of the State Library of Victoria, Australia. I’ll be posting my normal posts there until Friday, February 15th. And posting more frequently, at least three times a week! Will I also be posting here? MAYBE. I don’t want this site to get all dusty.

As my first act on insideadog, I will be giving away another copy of Suite Scarlett, and will any luck, there will be some other Scarlett tidbits and treats on the site!

But today I am here . . . and there is a lot to talk about. I’m in the UK right now, working on the Secret Project I’m Not Allowed to Talk About. I’ve been so busy that my mailbox overfloweth a bit. I was going through it today and found all kinds of interesting notes and links. For instance, it seems that the first copies of Suite Scarlett that made their way into the world are being read by their very first readers. One posts a fabulous recap on her blog.

Then the lovely ladies at Trashonsita wrote in to ask me some questions.

See you tomorrow on insideadog!

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Friday, January 11, 2008


Here’s the problem with having a contest in which the only task is to finish the sentence, “MJ should send me Suite Scarlett because . . .” I read all of the entries. Three times. And there are a lot of them. And they are all really good. I learned that a lot of you have never won ANYTHING, EVER. I found out that Scarlett has been creeping off her card and following quite a number of you. Just look at some of the reasons that came in!

catherine said...

Oh, and I also wasn't able to participate in the Amazon challenge because I was away at my grandmother's house, which smells like cabbage and broken internet.

MJ: Does your grandmother live in my old high school? It sounds like she might. My high school REEKED of cabbage. It was the sisters’ #1 favorite side dish at dinner. Their favorite main dish was yelling at me to pull up my knee socks.

italianeyes83 said...
MJ should send me a copy of Suite Scarlett b/c
my only sister just ran off to Italy and I don't know when she's coming back.

MJ: If she sends you 13 blue envelopes, let me know . . . because I think she’s in my book.

norah said...
MJ should send me Suite Scarlett because I Googled "Maureen Johnson" and discovered that MJ the author no longer has any Google gainers! In fact info on, about or by Maureen takes up the entire first page except for one hit somewhere in the middle that is about the girl from Rent.

MJ: Ha ha! Take that, Johnson! You may still have a tango, but I rule your Google world!

jen said...
MJ should send me Suite Scarlett because I am fighting the good fight against the oceans. Last time I went to the beach I didn't go in the water once, I just stood and gave that pool of evil my most steely glare.


How am I supposed to choose? Why do I have so few copies? Am I going to have to take my personal copy and come to your houses and read it to you? It’s an idea, but frankly, this would not be so good for you, as you never know when or in what state I will arrive. You will just hear the clank of my ladder hitting your bedroom windowsill, and there I will be, book in hand. I’d be worse than J.K. (Well, that may be overstating it a bit.)

At least I planned for this eventuality, and I recruited a crack team to help me, which included John Green and Oscar Gingersnort. They assisted me in the effort of reading and going through the anguish of choosing one winner.

After much consideration and hand-wringing, this was the chosen entry. It appealed to the judges because it was all about bringing Cheer to others, and because the winner had been shafted in the Amazon Challenge (which, as promised, provided bonus points):

laurenzo said...
You know why I should receive Suite Scarlett? 

Because I want it. Really, really badly.

I have never won a contest of any sort EVER in my short, pathetic little life, but maybe that's only because I'm hardly into it yet. My life, I mean. Regardless, I shall use that important point to lure you into giving me a copy of your precious novel. 

Secondly, I did not get much for Christmas (a truckload of pajamas and some chocolate), because my family gave most of our Christmas money to St. Jude's hospital, in order to help Spread The Cheer to kids who were in more need of it than I was. And Suite Scarlett would be the ultimate belated Christmas present. Much more rewarding than trivial items such as cell phones and video game consoles (because I play Super Mario OLDSCHOOL, YO.)

And to receiving those extra special BONUS POINTS (look, capslock!), I will not hesitate to inform you that I have been away from my computer during most of this Christmas holiday, and missed out on the Amazon Challenge of Awesome.

Laurenzo, please send along your address. Scarlett is on her way.

The good news is: I have another copy!

Whenever I get a copy, I obviously have to give it away, so . . . this means I have to think of another contest. I thought about having a contest in which people give me suggestions for contests, and the winning contest suggestion won the contest . . . but that logic made me so dizzy that I had to go sit down for a while. I will come up with something.

Today, I want to talk about The Writing Of Books.

I have many things on the To Do List for 2008 besides writing the next Scarlett book. One of the big ones is . . . revamping this site! And one of the big things that this site needs, I know, is a big FAQ to help you with your book reports. I know this because I get letters almost every day from book report sufferers—and most of them contain ten questions or more that you need answered IMMEDIATELY!

The sad truth is . . . I’m almost never able to reply to these, not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t have time to answer them all individually. However! I want to make something that helps you! So I am compiling a list of Questions You Think I Should Answer in an FAQ.

But since it seems to be the height of book report season, I’ll answer one I’ve gotten a lot recently, one all authors get . . . where do you get the ideas for your books?

You know, I asked Libba Bray this question the other day, just to see how she would react. She did exactly what I do . . . she got a spooked, far-away look in her eye, like she was noticing Zac Efron slipping out her window with her prize hamster in his jaws.

Almost every writer I know hates this question. We are, by nature, a lazy people. Hard questions disturb our state of mind. This is one of the hardest of the hard, topped only by things like “How do you write a book?” and “Why are there so many headless girls on the covers of your novels?”

I always try to make something up . . . some weird, cobbled-together, IKEA-quality answer that will definitely fall apart the second you attempt to deconstruct it. This is because, for me, there IS no answer.

The ideas just come from my brain. I store stuff up there, and the brain monkeys play around with it and put together different combinations. They come to me with stuff all the time, as your brain monkeys must do for you. They are not always helpful.

BRAIN MONKEYS: Hey! Guess what we put together today! That time you got stung on the lip by a bee, your hatred of fried eggs, and that wallpaper pattern from your bedroom when you were little!

ME: That’s nice. What am I supposed to do with that?

BRAIN MONKEYS: We have no idea. We just put stuff together. Now we’re just going to run “My Humps” through your head for an hour while you try to work.

ME: #%$#$&*^&^!

BRAIN MONKEYS: Oh, and that question you were going so crazy about . . . what was it, two weeks ago?

ME: What question?

BRAIN MONKEYS: About that scene you were writing, with the thing . . . anyway, your iPhone cord is in your purse.

ME: That’s not what I asked!

Yes you did. You were wondering about that an hour ago. About an hour. Maybe it was yesterday. Anyway, that’s where it is.

ME: What about the scene?

BRAIN MONKEYS: What scene?

ME: You just said you figured out that scene I was having problems with! What scene was it, and what’s the solution?

Oh, we don’t have a solution. We were just thinking about it. That was a tough one. We have some random facts about squirrels, if that will help.

ME: It won’t.

BRAIN MONKEYS: How about the smell of blue cheese after a wild summer rainstorm?

ME: Do I even know that smell?

BRAIN MONKEYS: Probably not. We were going to work on it for you. Do you think Fergie felt at all self-conscious when she sang the words “my lovely lady lumps”?

ME: Just shut up, okay? Turn off the song.

BRAIN MONKEYS: If you want. We have some commercial jingles we were going to play for you later, but if you want them now . . .

The writer's brain is always at work.

But every once in a while . . . a great while . . . they get lucky with the soldering iron and make something I can use. In the case of Suite Scarlett, for instance, I can tell you that I was sitting at my desk when then the brain monkeys handed my something that went roughly like this:

BRAIN MONKEYS: Hey! You know how, when you were little, you liked stories about a lot of people crammed together in one building, like in The Westing Game or the All-of-a-Kind-Family stories?

ME: Yeah . . .

BRAIN MONKEYS: You know what buildings have a lot of people in them? Hotels.

ME: That’s true.

BRAIN MONKEYS: And how you love New York, where you live? And how your best friend was the poster child for Easter Seals when you were in third grade? And all those hours you spent in theater school sitting on the floor watching actors learn how to do stagefights and pratfalls? And how you love Patrick Dennis? And we found this Art Deco sunburst pattern.

ME: Slow down . . .

It went on like this for a few hours, a string of pictures and voices and memories of all stripes. By the end of it, I had written the premise of Suite Scarlett. All six Martin family members arrived, along with Mrs. Amberson, their long-staying guest. The Hopewell Hotel landed right on top of me, like that scene in The Wizard of Oz where the house lands on the Wicked Witch. Obviously, the book wasn’t done, and it took a long time to develop it all, but that’s how it started.

I think this is, in some fashion, how all ideas for books come about. Your brain fuses together a bunch of things. So, you can either take “I don’t know” or “Brain Monkeys” as my official answer. When I make the FAQ, that’s what it will probably say!

If you have questions YOU think would be useful for the FAQ and any potential book reports, please leave them in the comments! I will be coming up with another contest for the next galley.

In the meantime, you can also see me rambling about myself in this quickly-made video. Hank Green (brother of John Green) tagged me in this YouTube thing where you have to say five things about yourself. I am not proud of my answers, but that has never stopped me from answering anything before.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008


While I am reading all these entries in the Suite Scarlett contest, you can maybe watch this video of me interviewing Libba Bray about her new book, The Sweet Far Thing. If you like that sort of thing.


Also, because it's important that I always get something wrong . . . the book is The Sweet Far Thing. I keep calling it A Sweet Far Thing, maybe because I always dropped off the article when talking about it. Or maybe just because I am dumb. Hopefully, I will not confuse too many people. A Sweet Far Thing . . . The Sweet Far Thing . . .

It's sweet. And it's far. That's what you need to know.

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Friday, January 04, 2008


Hey guys! Guess what! I come bearing BREAKING NEWS!

From the desk of Meg Cabot . . . who e-mailed this to me and told me I could tell you:


Yes! A parent in a middle school in South Carolina has challenged Princess Diaries 8 for “embracing immoral and non-traditional values.” Whatever that means! Meg is still getting details . . . but it sounds like the parent in question plans on taking this one all the way home!


Congratulations, Meg! Welcome to Crazy Club! I hope to hear more about your adventures!

This is the perfect way to bring me back to a question that I have gotten an awful lot. Namely . . . whatever happened in Bartlesville?

For those of you who are new here, I will give the story in brief.

Back in April, one of my books was removed from a school library in Bartlesville, Oklahoma because of the complaints of one parent. She objected to the fact that my book, The Bermudez Triangle, had homosexual characters and themes. She claimed some things about it that weren’t true . . . like that it was a “sexual free for all.” (An accusation that baffled me for weeks, as there is no sex in the book at all. At least, none that I am aware of. And you would think I would know, right?) I was accused of everything under the sun in this complaint, and was basically summed up as being a disgusting, filthy, no-good human being who seeks to corrupt your soul.

My evil plan had been working perfectly, and I was happy . . .

The book was removed from the library shelves. This took place on the quiet, in violation of school policy, and the only reason I knew about it was because the librarian in the school wrote to me and asked for help.

So I tried to help! I called down to Bartlesville every day, trying to reach the members of the committee who removed the book. I e-mailed them. I got nowhere. No one wanted to talk to me! So I thought maybe they would rather talk to YOU.

So I posted their e-mails and YOU wrote to them. Then other authors, like John Green and Meg Cabot and Neil Gaiman, helped by bouncing the link along. And then I started to hear from people in town who wanted to help.

In the end, thanks to everyone’s efforts, it was “realized” that the book was removed in violation of policy. It turns out, you’re not supposed to take books off the shelves and not tell anyone! The issue was reconsidered, and the book was put back up on a special shelf, where it sits, requiring parental permission to take out.

Which is still pathetic. Everyone loses.

In the next few weeks and months, I got a lot of interesting mail about Bartlesville. I got many, many letters of support . . . some from unexpected places. I also got several less-friendly letters telling me that I was a filthy, corrupting, no-good, very bad, etc. etc. I got notes from authors and librarians telling me about their experiences. And I got several really lovely invitations to come down to Bartlesville and visit.

I considered doing this . . . but then I really thought the matter over. And I remembered when this stuff had first come into my consciousness and really started to annoy me . . .

*flashback a few years*

While I was writing and working my way toward my first book deal, I worked as an editor for a few different educational publishing companies. I helped make textbooks and testing materials to be used all around the country. I learned one very important thing in this job (aside from how to creatively use a lot of post it notes to amuse my friends and myself) . . . PEOPLE ARE DUMBING DOWN YOUR BOOKS.

I mean, seriously, seriously dumbing down your books.

Every company I worked for had a set of publishing guidelines, full of things we had to remove or change in textbooks. They went on for pages and pages, and in some cases, quite literally left me with nothing left to include. Some times the things on the Forbidden List were broad (danger, violence), or specific (swimming pools, coffee), or just very strange (“raisin nut delight”).

One day, I got the new list. I felt so sick inside that I had to do something about it. I decided to send it off to Harper’s Magazine, which would publish little snippets of things that were outrageous and weird in the front of each issue. I didn’t hear back from them for months, long after I had finally just given up and quit. One of the editors noticed it in his e-mail and wrote to me, expressing his amazement that these were real instructions from a company that was really making educational materials for hundreds of thousands of students.

I assured him that they were, and that there were a lot more lists like it.

To my unending delight, they published it. And they gave me $150! Not only was I outing something evil, but I got paid for it! (The version they printed is a much shorter version of the original. They couldn’t fit it all.)

Do you have any idea how hard it is to make reading passages that contain no socioeconomic advantages, disrespectful remarks or actions, or young people challenging or questioning authority? I had to remove every single folk story or fairy tale that ever crossed my desk. Every single one. They were all too scary, too violent, too . . . interesting. I had to remove Shakespeare quotes. And why no rats, spiders, rap music, belching, dice, or aliens?

I’ll tell you why. Because there are people out there who, for whatever reason, object to these things. That’s how the lists get made. People at the publishing company cobble together all of the things that people at large have complained about . . . and make TEXTBOOKS around them. Yes, the stupidest people you can think of are calling the shots. Not being especially well-read or broadminded themselves, they insist that things they don’t like or understand are removed—which, unfortunately, is just about everything. They want you to be just a narrow as they are.

So, flash forward to me a few years later, minding my own business, writing YA books that feature positive homosexual characters . . . AND THE SAME IDIOTS WERE COMING AFTER ME.

The problem can be boiled down to this little nugget: THE STUPIDEST PEOPLE ARE OFTEN THE LOUDEST.

To understand why this is not good, consider this scene. Imagine that you have gone out on a woodland ramble, and in your blissful examination of some flowers, accidentally stepped on a bear trap. Luckily, a passing helicopter scoops you up and deposits you at a local lodge. You stand before a room full of people, pointing at your clamped and bleeding leg.

You: #(^$&#^$&^#$&*^#&*^#&*$^&*^%$&#*^$)()(!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

First person: That looks bad. I think we should call 911 and get help.

Second person: Yes. You do that, and I will see if there are any doctors or qualified medical personnel in the lodge.

Third person: And I’ll see if there is a box of medical supplies.


Person four always has a plan!

Naturally, the other people in the lodge would try to distract person four with some pudding so that they could get to the business of getting you a doctor and fixing your leg. No one would go looking for a talking bear just because person four was loud.

But this is EXACTLY what happens with your books. Person four is running the show more often than you know.

And why? Because running schools and libraries . . . is hard work! People who run schools and librarians have to find the money to keep things going. They have to make a lot of hard decisions every day. So it doesn’t help when some nutcase starts hopping up and down on the lawn, screaming, “HEY! HEY! THIS BOOK HAS SPIDERS IN IT! AND I THINK I SEE SEX! I DEMAND YOU TAKE IT AWAY FROM EVERYONE!”

This is the part where I wish I was joking, but am not. I’ve read complaint letters. This is what they often sound like.

So, in order just to keep things moving along, sometimes . . . it’s easier just to take the book away. Or to edit away the spiders. And the swimming pools. And the conflict. And the entire story. And the dinosaurs. And the dice. And the music. And the raisin nut delight. Because person four will NOT SHUT UP until you do. And you won’t be able to do your job and keep the school or library running well. This isn’t to say that there aren’t schools and libraries that fight back. Because LOADS do. But it’s hard. Books are challenged EVERYWHERE. Every school has at least one Person Four

What motivates person four? From what I’ve seen, the majority of people who start campaigns to get books pulled from shelves do so in order to be seen doing something. Anything. As long as you notice them and their self-perceived righteousness.

So . . . there I am, realizing it is happening again. I can’t believe that because one person is saying things about my book, it gets removed. One person who seems to have misread the book in a fairly profound way.

But then I read the accounts in the local paper, and realized that if I did go down to have some kind of debate, it wouldn’t even be about books. It would be an hour of me saying homosexuality isn’t in any way, shape, or form evil, and someone yelling at me that it is. Which sounds . . . really annoying.

It would also give the person who tried to have the book banned the attention she craves.

Also, several people pointed out to me . . . very fairly . . . that when a community has a problem like this, it’s up to that community to fix it.

Bartlesville was a good learning experience for me. I did some stuff right, and some stuff wrong. But that’s how you learn.

And I still believe in making noise . . . because the key seems to be . . . BE LOUD. And BEING LOUD ABOUT BOOK CHALLENGES is one of my major projects of 2008.

Until then . . . I hope you will be reading Princess Diaries 8 and warming up your voices!

And . . . I hope you will continue to send in Suite Scarlett giveaway entries! So far, they are AMAZING.

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