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Saturday, March 29, 2008


As many of you have surely noticed, there is a new look around here. The long-promised new website has arrived! This is all part of the general roll-out for SUITE SCARLETT, which creeps closer and closer every day. There’s a new Scarlett page (complete with the official Hopewell Hotel logo and my interactive map of Scarlett’s New York, which I will be expanding over time). There’s the HUGE NEW FAQ for your book report questions! And I have actually started updating news in the Bulletins section, so if you look there, you’ll get info on signings, the big contest, the release date . . . you name it!

I’m in the London Office at the moment. I was out with Justine Larbalestier yesterday. Among our many stops—we went to the place where the Queen gets her bras. For those of you who read 13 Little Blue Envelopes, I claim to know where the Queen gets her underwear. I was guessing. Right now, I definitely know where the top halves come from.

Tomorrow, I am off to Italy with the YA Scooby Gang to meet publishers from around the world, and generally talk about Scarlett until I go blue in the face. Oh, and eat.

Speaking of Scarlett . . . today is, of course, the day Scarlett’s Eleven are named.

Once again, making a decision on this matter was very, very hard. There were a LOT of applications—and there was a LOT to be impressed with. I went over and over them. People created videos, websites, Facebook pages, myspace pages, buttons . . . someone even stood outside of public place and got 42 signatures on a Free Alan Rickman petition.

Picking people for jobs is hard. I mean, look at this:

So I was basically in AGONY trying to make my selections. Picking people is hard. I wanted to make EVERYONE a member. But it’s hard enough for me to coordinate the making and sending of eleven t-shirts, eleven code names, and eleven special assignments.

So, there I was last night, enjoying a delicious Linda McCartney vegetarian sausage and reading the entries, when there was a banging from the mail flap, like the postman was struggling to get something through. I got up to open the door and give him a hand—not even stopping to think that the postman doesn’t come around at eleven at night.

What happened next, therefore, is really my fault. JK pushed through the door as soon as I opened it a crack, knocking me out of the way.

“So,” she said, “what’s this Free Alan Rickman business? And what are you EATING?”

“Alan Rickman should be released from your basement,” I said, getting ahead of her and blocking the way to my sausage. “And that is MY Linda McCartney vegetarian sausage.”

“I’ve never had a vegetarian sausage before. Give it here.”


“Give it to me!” she cried. “I need it! I need it!”

“No,” I replied. “Kidnapper.”

She saw that I was playing tough today, and she moved away a few steps and appraised me.

“If you give me that sausage,” she said, “I will tell you what I’ve done with Alan.”

Now, while I liked my Linda McCartney sausage, I was prepared to give it up for information on Alan. I held the plate out to JK, who clawed up the meatless goodness.

“Very nice,” she said, licking her fingers.


She looked like she had already forgotten our deal. But I anticipated this. I grabbed the nearest food-like item, which happened to be a bottle of HP sauce, and waggled it in her direction. She caved fairly quickled.

“Now, what is this Scarlett’s Eleven you keep talking about?” she asked, drinking it back.

“Only my hand-picked team of renegades who will band together to spread the word of Suite Scarlett and free Alan Rickman from your clutches. Look! Look at all these highly qualified people who have been writing in!”

She reluctantly came over and looked over my shoulder. I heard her made a low noise, not unlike the noise my circus sparkle gun used to make, if I only pulled the trigger halfway.

"I am going to tell you why you are going to fail," she said, backing away.


“Yes. You and your little gang won’t succeed because Alan is happy. He will refuse to leave.”

“Why don’t I believe you?” I said.

“I’ll prove it,” she said. “I’ll tell you about his days. First of all, in the mornings, I bring him his breakfast personally—newspaper, coffee, and a jar of jam and a spoon. Then I take him upstairs for his daily exercise.”

“Which consists of?”

“A few hours in the tank with my dolphin,” she said. “Fatso LOVES Alan. You should see how they play! He treats Alan just like a little beachball, bounces him all around, bangs him from side to side. The tank’s fully sealed, so there is no danger of Alan getting thrown out. We had a little scare the other day when his oxygen tank got knocked off for a few minutes, but we fixed that. Then we take Alan back down to his room, because he’s usually pretty tired after that. Sometimes he can’t even talk for the rest of the day! Good, healthy exercise will do that.”

“Or brain damage from lack of oxygen,” I said.

“After the nap,” she said, ignoring me, “we revive him, usually with smelling salts, and he has lunch. He always has a nice cup of tea and a jar of jam.”

“More jam?”

“Alan LIKES jam. Everyone LIKES jam.”

“Not as a meal,” I said.

“Anyway,” she went on, “he has his afternoon jam, and then we read to each other. Alan reads very nicely. I wanted to test the theory that he could read the phone directory and make it sound interesting. He did! Hours and hours he read, and I was riveted!”

I had no idea what to say, which was fine, because JK never needs my input anyway.

“After the reading, he has his tea, and then he puts on the Snape costume and we practice.”

“Practice what, exactly?”

“I call our exercises “Snapeshifting.” Right now, we are working on the Snape twirl. This takes a few hours. Then it’s the smelling salts again, and a hot bath with bubbles, and then he gets his dinner.”

“Not more jam . . .” I said.

“Don’t be stupid! For dinner, gets a lovely plate of pickled onion flavored Monster Munch, sting cheese, crushed Oreos, and assorted ketchups. We watch home improvement shows, then we play Risk. After Risk, he gets a half an hour of free time, then it’s back up into the tank for an evening swim.”

“This is so much worse than I thought,” I said.

Monster Munch: the jam alternative

“You see? He’ll never go willingly. So you might as well just call off your little pack of wolves. Come with me to the house, you can see for yourself.”

“There is no way,” I said pointedly, “that I am going to your house. Especially not today. I have to go to Italy tomorrow.”

“Italy! I love Italy. I think . . . I think I bought Italy last year. And it’s your loss. Now, give me a box of those, what were they . . . Beatle fingers?”

“Linda McCartney vegetarian sausages,” I corrected her, as I went to the freezer. “And here. Feed Alan these, please.”

She took one out of the box and ate it. Frozen. She watched me as I came back to the computer, and she watches me as I type this now, and she’s still eating them.

Never has the need to Free Alan been greater. It’s time to call the Eleven. So, without further ado, here they are, with their code names:

Rebecca Leach: Lone Star
Karen Budig: Alley Kat
Savannah Randall: The Caffeinator
Christina (sparky91): Rickshaw
Heather C.: The Vespator
Caroline Barnett: Sparkles
Danica Eakins: Diamond D
Kelsey Murphy: Snapeshifter
Tobias Huisman: McQueen
Kelly Graham: Crackers Cate
Judy Lunsford: Jamblaster

To all who entered . . . thank you! And your services are STILL NEEDED!

I hope to keep updating from the Scooby Shack in Italy, but I have no idea what our internet access will be like. So . . . if you don’t hear from me . . . I’m still out there and will be back! Probably with a video.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Hello, friends. I made it. I’m at the desk in the London Office, drinking my tea.

I got two pieces of news while I was in transit. One, Girl At Sea was named one of the 2008 New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age. The second is that Girl At Sea has been named a finalist for the Romance Writers of America RITA award, in the YA category.

So much love for Clio and the gang! And just in time for the new paperback. (Okay, it comes out on May 20th, but close enough. Love is love.)

Naturally, I have to point out that tomorrow is the deadline for anyone applying to become a member of SCARLETT’S ELEVEN . . . the crack team I am assembling to spread the word of Scarlett and to Free Alan Rickman. Like I said before, the applications are coming fast and furious, and it’s going to be quite a task picking just eleven. I’m going to need help.

In the meantime, if you go here, you can get this excellent FREE ALAN RICKMAN button for your site or blog.

So, I want to tell you about this 100% true story of something that happened about two weeks ago. I was writing with some members of the YA gang . . . Scott Westerfeld, Cassie Clare, Robyn Wasserman, and Delia Sherman. We were at one of our favorite haunts (name redacted because our haunt is our sekrit, but it’s a pretty well-populated place south of 14th Street). We were writing away, minding our own business. Scott was talking a little about the awesome ZEPPLIN RIDE he is going to take as research for his new book . . . and these people came in and took the cluster of tables next to us.

Which is totally fine, obviously. These people were a little loud, but it was no big deal. One of the people in the party was sitting diagonally from me, next to Scott. And when I looked up, my brain said, “You know that face.”

I did. I knew who this person was. She was female, very pretty, quite tiny. Very, very familiar . . .

And then my brain found the file. It was Parkey Posey. I was sure of it. I have seen Waiting for Guffman 500 times. I know Parkey Posey.

Parker Posey

But still, my brain was doing this little “Are you sure that’s Parker Posey? Because I’m not going to let you work. I’m going to keep asking you this question.” dance.


So e-mailed Cassie. Which is totally ridiculous, I know, since she was six inches from me, but I was trying to be polite and not start shouting Parker Posey’s name . . . because I think Parker Posey is a totally excellent actress. And even if I didn’t . . . everyone deserves to eat his or her sandwich in peace.

Cassie got my e-mail and did this totally slick thing . . . she pretended to get up and check her cell phone over near where Parker Posey had, and she came back and said, “Yep. That’s her. I’m sure of it. She just said her name about ten times into the phone.”

So my brain was content, because it could now label the image “Parker Posey” and move on. But John Green was on IM, and I like to remind John Green that he should be living in New York so I can write with him, so I always send him little New York moments to lure him back.

So I wrote and said, “Hey, guess what? Parker Posey is sitting across from us.”

I was expecting him to say, “Cool! I miss being there. I miss you guys.”


And I said, “Why? She is eating a sandwich.”


And I said, “I can’t. She is eating a sandwich.”


But I am not the kind of person who can interrupt Parker Posey while she is talking to her friends and eating a sandwich. John was very, very disappointed in me.

Meanwhile, Parker Posey got out her phone and made a phone call. She was buying something—flowers or something like that. I know this because the conversation went like this:


ME, to John: Parker Posey is totally screaming her address at us.



ME, to John: And her phone number.

JOHN, to me:

PP: And my credit card number, which is BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. And the expiration date is BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. And the security code is BLAH, BLAH, BLAH . . .

At which point, Scott lifted one of the Westerfeld eyebrows in a look that clearly said, “Parker Posey, esteemed actress, you should really not be screaming your credit card information in a public place like this.”

Because she really was screaming it. It was impossible NOT to hear Parker Posey’s address and phone number and credit card number. I actually put in headphones to block it out.

On the other end of the IM, I could tell John Green was pacing. He thought I should be flinging myself on Parker Posey, letting her know that I AM A YA AUTHOR. We were all YA authors. She needed to know us.

But I didn’t. And she sat there for about another hour.

Anyway, Parker Posey, who really is playing a YA editor on a new show . . . we were there. And you were there. And we are all a bit worried about someone stealing your identity if you keep this up.

And if you need to do some research, I am right here. You know where I get my sandwiches.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


As far as I am concerned, there are two kinds of clowns in the world:

- incredibly professional artists who have worked long and hard to master an ancient and revered form of theater art, which includes extensive physical training as well as a wide repertoire of acting skills

- people who want to kill you and bury you under their house

While there are no clowns in any of my books, per se . . . anyone who has ever read or who ever will read Suite Scarlett will know that there is falling and fighting and unicycle riding . . . basically, many of the skills that a clown from the first category would know about.

Because I always try to do my best to get these things right for you, I got in touch with a former Ringling Brothers clown named Steve. For a while now, Steve has been my point man on all questions relating to HOW TO FALL DOWN.

I have been running around the New York office, because tomorrow I am going to London, and from there, I am going with Scott and Justine and Holly and Cassie to the Bologna Book Fair . . . which is all very exciting, but it means that things are in a bit of a tizzy. Scarlett’s coming out, big contests are happening, this website is being redone, Alan Rickman is still not free . . .

But when Steve dropped me a line and told me that the circus was coming to New York, and would I like to go and see it, and he could show me around and take me backstage . . .

Flashback: a tiny mj. Age four. I have gone to the circus. Mostly I remember that I liked it, and that it was really dark, and I got a program and a big yellow SPARKLE SHOOTER. I really think this yellow sparkle shooter was the thing that made me want a stun gun so much, and was obviously a precursor to a lifetime of loving shiny things. I loved my yellow sparkle shooter, but my mom had to take it from me because I wouldn’t stop sparkle shooting for love nor money, and it was seriously upsetting the cat.

I PINED for my genuine Ringling Brothers sparkle shooter.

(I just found one on ebay. The seller claims this is from the 1950s, but I was in no way alive in the 1950s, and I promise you, my SPARKLE SHOOTER looked EXACTLY like this, down to the color!)

I kan has my sparkle gun back?

So at 9:30 AM this morning, I was at the circus at Madison Square Garden. Packing be damned. I had research to do, for you! For Suite Scarlett 2! I was IN NO WAY SIMPLY TRYING TO RECOVER THE LOST JOY OF MY SPARKLE GUN.

Here is the excellent thing about going to the circus with someone who used to work there . . . you feel like a insider at the coolest and weirdest club in the world. As we walked around during the pre-show, men in leotards, clowns, handlers . . . everyone came up and said hello. At one point. Steve said . . . “I’m going to hook us up, don’t worry.”

And I said, “Hook what up?”

But it was time for the show.

The show itself was pretty good. I got very nervous for the people on the trapeze (obviously), and very much wanted to go down and see the tigers, the elephants, the dogs with the Frisbee tricks, the tiny white horses, and the porcupine. But I was often enchanted by the many NEW SPARKLING TOYS that were all around me, in the hands of the thousands of kids who had turned up. (We were at a school show.) These NEW SPARKLING TOYS are totally princessed-out. They are pink, they have stars on top, glitter flowing from the sides, and they kind of look like hand blenders. Still, tiny mj was in my head, saying, “WANT.”

I mentioned the hand-blender thing to Steve, who agreed, but said they would probably short out mid-smoothie.

When the show was over, Steve used his special powers to get us on to the stage floor. Another clown, a very nice guy named Gabor, came and got us and I went BACKSTAGE AT THE CIRCUS!

For reals.

And the first thing I saw? Elephants. Like, just there. Elephants. Hanging out. Not wandering around and buying coffees and reading the paper, but in their own special area . . . and just THERE. Right in front of me. All of the stuff was there . . . the trapeze stuff, and the little motorcycles . . . all of it.

“The clowns are over here,” Steve said. “In this box.”

He was right. In the middle of this big open area, next to the elephants, a makeshift room had been set up. Each side was lined with open trunks, each one a dressing table.

“Welcome to the alley,” Steve said.

This was the Clown Alley, the place where (as far as I can tell) the clowns get dressed and put on their makeup and have their coffee. It had a little refrigerator and a microwave. There was a curtained off area so the girl clowns could change in privacy. It was all very relaxed. The clowns were all really nice and low-key, taking off their noses and makeup and talking about getting lunch and running errands. The most excitement was when I noticed a dog cage over in the corner which housed the littlest dog from the dog-Frisbee act. It was one of those really fancy dog cages, and the dog was all decked out in a little sweater, and it weighed about three pounds. I walked near the cage and was saying, “Oh, he’s so ador . . . “


I usually get along really well with dogs, but I know when to leave well enough alone, even when the dog is no bigger than a sandwich. I backed away, and one of the clowns apologized and said, “Yeah, he hates girls. Sorry about that. Girls and Cricket.” (Cricket being one of the other clowns.)

Cricket confirmed that the dog did indeed hate him, for reasons unknown.

Steve asked me if I wanted to join them all in grabbing some lunch. Five of them were going. The answer was, of course, yes. Yes I want to go to lunch with five clowns. Because that is awesome. “What did you do for lunch today, mj?” “Oh, you know, went out with five clowns, grabbed a bite.”

Awesome. I mean, even more awesome than this picture of Abba dressed in tin foil standing in front of the Swedish flag, which has long been my benchmark of awesome.

The bar was high.

It turns out . . . the clowns? Pretty much the most laid back people imaginable. Honestly . . . sub in the table full of YA authors, talking about a good day we had writing, or how it’s not going so well . . . same thing. A fall turned out better than expected. Something went wrong with a prop. Just another day at the office, except their office has people riding motorcycles around in something called the Globe of Death. And the YA gang is kind of louder.

They all really seem to like what they do, but they have some horror stories as well. Sometimes, tigers pee on their things. Elephants sneeze on them. They accidentally bust their cell phones in bizarre accidents and have to run and get them swapped out between shows.

Some circus goers sometimes don’t treat them like people—they get pulled into photos, or get jabbed or whacked with toys or pens. Some people see them and spontaneously start crying. Sick or well, good day or bad, they have to look happy. They live on a massive train and go from town to town—so every stop brings new audiences, and all kinds of little challenges, like where to get new eyeglasses, or find a bookstore for some stuff to read, or get lunch, or get that cell phone fixed because the tiger peed on it.

Which, frankly . . . is all pretty much the coolest stuff I have ever heard. I mean, if my iPhone has to go, that’s what I want to have happen. “Oh yeah,” I want to be able to say to the nice folks at the Apple store as I hand over the shorted remains. “Tiger pee.”

But the long and the short of it was that they were all very nice, very professional, very cool people. So if you go to the circus this year, please be really, really nice to the clowns, because they are awesome. And I’m not saying that tigers have peed on ALL of their phones.

So you would THINK that would be the end of my circusing for the day, right? You’d be wrong.

I had another meeting, later in the day, with another writer . . . someone who has nothing to do with any of this. And I was trying to work in my “What did you do for lunch today? Because I was out with five clowns, you know, they’re all really laid back and cool and . . .”

You know. Because I want to be cool. And she just stared to nod and said, “Oh yeah, I know. Aren’t they the best? I was with the circus for four years. I did silks.”

Aside from the fact that in that very sentence, “I did silks,” I felt a new obsession coming on . . . I was really wondering what it all meant. Where did all of these circus folk come from? Had they always been in my life? Has everyone been in the circus but me?

Even I’ve kinda sorta had my brush with circusdom, when I worked on a show for a week in Las Vegas that turned out to involve Cirque du Soleil and live tiger and I almost got into a fight with a chorographer who was really mean and a man dressed as a bird flew across the room into a panel of huge balloons loaded with explosive charges (long but true story).

Maybe we are all a little bit circusy.

Are we all in the circus? I have no idea. But I really do have to finish typing this blog and eating this mango (I’ve been eating a mango) so I can finish packing.

In the meantime, please keep sending in your applications to be in SCARLETT'S ELEVEN. They are coming fast and furious, and they are excellent. Soon, the Eleven will be stealthily bringing Scarlett to the world and even more stealthily freeing Alan Rickman by wearing this shirt:

ALSO . . . the new website is coming THIS WEEK. So if you have any questions that you think I need to answer in my HUGE NEW FAQ, please leave them in the comments.

As ever . . . Free Alan Rickman! (Update: as part of the Scarlett's Eleven applications, people have been doing many things, including making Free Alan myspace pages, Free Alan Facebook groups, and this Free Alan Rickman website. Please join! Keep the applications coming! We will get him out of the basement yet!)

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Monday, March 17, 2008


Things are buzzing in the mj office these days. I’ve been gearing up for the release of Suite Scarlett, working on the second Scarlett book, and preparing to leave at the end of the week to go to the UK office and then to the Bologna Book Fair. (Which I am very, very excited about.)

I also made a quick visit home to Philadelphia to see the Family Johnson, and my lawyer, C. Catso Fangola. Aside from being my legal representative, C. Catso is a Siamese cat, and therefore very, very chatty. I spent an embarrassing amount of time with him on Friday doing duets like this:

ME: (singing) They try to make me go to rehab and I say no,

CATSO: meow.

ME: No. They try to make me go to rehab but I won’t go,

CATSO: meow.

ME: Go.

It was a brief moment of leisure in a whirlwind!

In the next few weeks, it’s going to be a Scarlettpalooza around here. This entire website is getting an overhaul, for a start. It will be prettier, shinier, and even more jellyfish-free. And it will feature cool things, such as an interactive map of Scarlett’s New York City, and the F.A.Q. to end all F.A.Q.s (and thus solve many of your book report dilemmas).

The Really Big Suite Scarlett Contest is still being finalized. I actually have nothing to do with the Really Big Suite Scarlett Contest (that is, I have nothing to do with how it is run, or how the prize will be given out, but I may have something to do with the prize itself), so I can’t make that happen any faster or tell you anything right now.

But that will not stop me from giving out things on my own. There will be book giveaways, and Suite Scarlett sleep mask giveaways . . . just as soon as I get them.

The upshot of all of this is that my office looks like . . . well, it looks like someplace recently visited by J.K. Paper and books everywhere, half-eaten coasters all around, hundreds of unanswered e-mails . . .

In the midst of all this, I was incredibly heartened to see just how many you want to FREE ALAN RICKMAN. Naturally, this cause has taken up much of my time this week as well, as I have been lobbying several human rights organizations to try to secure his release from J.K.’s basement. Unfortunately, J.K. is above the law in many people’s eyes, and no one took my petitions seriously. Alan is still down there, getting “Snape training.”

I am also glad to see how many of you liked the shirt, which I hastily designed while on hold with the U.N. Many of demand the shirt—you demand the world know of Alan’s wrongful imprisonment!

The shirt.

I hear your plea. And I have a reply . . . and a challenge.

With all this madness, I kind of need help. There’s so much to do, so many people to tell about Scarlett. So I decided to combine my need for a Crack Team of MJ Fans with a FREE ALAN RICKMAN LIMITED EDITION T-SHIRT GIVEAWAY.

Yes, I am ordering a batch of these excellent shirts as a kind of pre-Scarlett celebration, and also to spread the word of Alan’s plight. There will be only twelve FREE ALAN RICKMAN shirts made! One, I will keep and wear myself. But other eleven . . . will be going to Scarlett’s Eleven.


Scarlett’s Eleven are a group of wily readers of this blog, chosen for their skills, dedication, and desire to spread the word of Scarlett and to FREE ALAN RICKMAN.


You will get a FREE ALAN RICKMAN shirt.

You will get a NUMBER.

You will get a CODE NAME.


The primary mission of Scarlett’s Eleven will spread the word of Scarlett, but they will also spread the word of Alan Rickman’s plight by the wearing of awesome t-shirts. Members of this secret gang will use the internet and ALL OTHER AVAILABLE MEANS to get the word out. They will work together as a unit. A secret (or sekrit) unit!


Um, the shirt company was selling the shirts in batches of 12. Also, it was the title of a movie.


There are no restrictions on who can apply to be a member of Scarlett’s Eleven. Ideally, though, you should:

- probably like either this blog or my books (or just pretend to)


- have a deep yet largely inexplicable desire to tell the world about Suite Scarlett and be in my gang

- want to work with ten more people like yourself over the next month or two

- like code names


You e-mail me, telling me why you should be. Tell me about yourself and your special powers. Do you make Youtube videos? Are you a master of myspace? A Facebook fiend? Do you run a reading group? Do you just spend WAY TOO MUCH TIME ONLINE? Do you like to hatch plots? Play nicely with others? Do you have an unusual job? A weird talent? Tell me what you might do as a member.

What have you got? Tell me any way you like. Tell me anything you think is relevant. There are NO INSTRUCTIONS and NO LIMITATIONS.


You have until March 26th to send in your applications. I will chose Scarlett’s Eleven on the 28th of March.


Shirt, code name, and code number will follow. You will introduced to the world on this blog, and in private to your fellow gang members. From there, it is largely up to you what Scarlett’s Eleven does. You will, of course, get secret communications from me.







So there it is! I have thrown down the gauntlet! Now I have to get back to business. It is a crazy week! (And did I mention that I am going backstage at the circus? You’ll be hearing about that later this week as well . . .)

Come on! Apply! Be one of Scarlett’s Eleven! FREE ALAN RICKMAN! And be IN MY GANG!

Are you ready to be in SCARLETT'S ELEVEN?


Thursday, March 13, 2008


Let him know he's not alone.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Today, I’m going to be answering some of your questions about writing! I have somewhat mixed feelings about giving out advice, because there seems to be so much writing and publishing advice out there, much of it terrible and wrong. And I would never want to accidentally misstep and lead you astray.

But there is also very good advice, and this inspires me!

So I confine myself to areas in which I have personal experience--and my answers are just based on my experience, and the experience of Free Monkey.

But first . . . I see from the comments that some of you think I hate J.K. Rowling. Nothing could be further from the truth! Scratch an mj (actually, please don’t), and you will find a Potter fan to the core. I am the kind of girl who wakes up every morning and sings a rousing round of “Weasley is my King” (Gryffindor version) because Weasley IS my king! I was just a tiny, tiny bit happy when Lavender Brown ran into her little spot of bother in book seven. (Stay away from my Won-Won.) I always trusted Snape.

I tell you true . . . you have NO IDEA just how much I love Potter, or how much a part of my life Potter currently is.

I can say no more on this matter. I have secrets to keep.

Also, some other people helpfully suggested putting bars on my windows. Sadly, that won’t work. J.K. can chew through bars with the ease that most of us use to work through a piece of gum. Otherwise, this is an excellent piece of advice.

Advice! That’s what today is about! Advice!

Can you help me? I just got my very first editorial letter and it is twelve pages long. My fellow newbie writers tells me that means I am the worst writer alive. They all got short letters. is that true? What should I do? Give up writing? Kill myself?

This sounds like one of those crazy old adages, like, "If you get a cat, it will sit on your chest at night and steal your breath!"

There is, as far as I know, zero truth in this statement. I say this as someone who was an editor and wrote edit letters, as someone who has received many edit letters (both short and long), and as someone who was given at least the minimum necessary portion of common sense at birth. This sounds like one of those things nervous authors come up with when they in the Waiting Period, where you go a little crazy and start reading signs into everything. In this case, a Hive Mind has developed around the idea. Just because a group of people said it doesn't make it any less crazy.

Editors are people. They have their own style, schedule, and method of doing their jobs. There is no secret code or rote method for doing what they do. Some editors are chatty. Some are exceedingly busy. Some like to labor over long letters, some don’t. Some have colds and want to go home and go to bed and therefore are not capable of writing much. Some are avoiding other work by writing extremely long letters about books they like. Some have just had their computers crash and now have to write everything very quickly. Some are about to get married/go into labor and need to finish everything on their desk. Some like to feel out what they think would make the author feel better—a long or short letter.

Whether the book is good or bad, I honestly can't say . . . but the letter length is just the letter length.

Please put down the paperweight you planned on swallowing, and immediately do some excellent dancing to Abba. Clutch your twelve pages and be merry.

What do you think is wise for an aspiring writer to choose as their college major?

Luckily, Meg just answered this.

If a writer falls in the woods and no one is around to hear him/her, does he/she make a sound?

Forget SOUND. Whenever a writer moves, many adverbs are generated. Should you lack any adverbs because you are extremely still, go here.

Question, not directly writing advice related: What do you think of F. Scott Fitzgerald's method of "title first, book later"?

My first thought is . . . if Fitzgerald says it, do it. Fitzgerald is one of the greatest writers America has ever produced, and I have been a rabid, drooling admirer of his since I was 15.

My second thought is . . . you should do whatever works for you. If the title comes on hard and fast and strong and brings ideas with it, go with it. Use it! And if you have no title, okay!

Only thing to note: it’s not at all uncommon to have to change your title once the book is accepted. Try not to get upset. Title’s just a bow on the present. A big bow, but a bow. The Great Gatsby, for instance, was just one of many titles Fitzgerald was considering. In fact, he tried to change it to Under the Red, White, and Blue at the last second . . . but the publisher said it was too late. The book was already at the printer. (Ah, Fitz. Deadlines are deadlines, even for you.)

Try not to get upset if something happens to the title.

Is it wise to experience yourself with LOTS of reading of LOTS of novels, both good and bad, to hone and develope your own writing style (not saying overload, but you know)? I'm guessing it is.


Does one have to be a comic genius to write YA?

Yes. But I do it anyway. Sue me.

Maureen, Do you have moments of self-loathing ("Everything I write is wasting innocent data space on the hard drive!!")and how do you get past them to actually write something?

I remember in high school when people would say things like, “Believe in yourself!” And I would think, “I believe I would like to stab you in the eye with my pen, Captain Platitudes.”

I now know what it means, and it means things like . . . when you are sitting in front of your computer thinking, “Every time I write a word, a baby bunny loses a floppy ear in a terrible and largely inexplicable industrial accident” . . . you keep going.

I’m not sure I’ve ever met a writer who didn’t experience this feeling. (And I’m not sure I would want to.) I definitely have. Ask Daphne about my two AM phone calls in which I threaten to overdose on Scrabble tiles. No one writes brilliantly all the time. It takes work. To do the work, you have to sit down and see it through those moments of panic. You can’t give in to this impulse:

Quite often, everything’s fine. Maybe it’s even some of the best stuff you’ve ever written. Who knows? It’s just fear talking, and fear must be BEATEN WITH A STICK.

I know this runs contrary to almost all of my advice, which is to FEAR EVERYTHING, like the sun, and jellyfish, and tiny birds. I’m not talking about those things. That kind of fear is sensible! That is good, solid biology! Fear about yourself, or your general capabilities, or speculating on what you might do wrong, or what people will think of you . . . that’s the fear you have to get past.

I liken it to my swimming lessons. I don’t have the best relationship with the water—never have. And when someone was standing there saying to me that it was Time To Get Into The Pool . . . I had about ten million reasons why I shouldn’t. It was wet. It was cold. What if someone dumped in a hundred lobsters by accident? What if my foot was made of lead and I didn’t know it and I slowly sank to the bottom, unable to be rescued? What if I got sucked into the drain?

And the swimming teacher would just stand there and nod and say, “Into the pool.” Because they were used to people not wanting to get into the pool. And the pool was cold and wet, but no one ever released any lobsters. And I’m not the strongest swimmer, but I can swim. The whole point is . . . you have to get in the pool.

Well, not literally, of course! That’s insanely dangerous! You know what I mean. Hopefully.


Not yet! But soon! Very soon! And some of you are making some very good guesses.

What must we do to win these amazing prizes?

I don't know yet. Hopefully nothing DANGEROUS.

We might be needing to make "Free Alan" shirts soon...

You have no idea how much I want a FREE ALAN RICKMAN shirt. No idea. I literally cannot express my want . . . except maybe in dance.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008


When we last spoke, we were reaching the climax of Zombie Idol, and everyone was a-twitter. I also mentioned that I had some NEWS about the release of Suite Scarlett.

As I sat down today to communicate this news today, I was distracted by the door buzzer. I guess my mind was really elsewhere, because I threw the door open without even checking to see who it was. Maybe what threw me was the fact that she had never used the buzzer . . . or even the DOOR before.

Many of you will be able to guess what came next. I was once again in the presence of my nemesis, Rowling.

“Where is Zombania, anyway?” she asked, pushing past me and heading for my living room.

“That’s not a real place,” I said, following her.

“Says you. I just bought a country. I need a name for it. I was going to call it Fatsonia, after my dolphin, Fatso. But I was reading about these zombies that you seem so obsessed with. They must come from Zombania. I like that name. Zombania. I’m going to make Alan Rickman the king. He’ll like that.”

She threw herself down on my sofa and make it fairly clear that she wasn’t planning on moving anytime soon. Regular readers of this blog understand this fact well. My relationship with Rowling has been a difficult and non-voluntary one. Why she's so interested in me, I have no idea.

“Doesn’t Alan Rickman hide from you because you buzz his house with a plane and hide in his bushes with night-vision goggles?” I asked.

“Not anymore,” she said happily. “Not since I set fire to his garage. He came running right out . . . by the way, these biscuits are terrible.”

“That’s because those are coasters.”

She looked over the coaster she was nibbling on, nodded, and continued eating.

“I’ve installed more things on my roof since we last spoke,” she went on. “I have a J’accusey up there.”

“A Jacuzzi? That’s nice.”

“No. A J’accusey. As in j’accuse! You sit in it, and it incriminates you.”

A J’accusey.

“Get out of my house,” I said. “Seriously.”

She didn’t leave. She never does. She just sat there, smugly snacking on my coasters, and prodding the remote control with her toe.

“I’ve come to give you advice,” she said. “I understand you have a book coming out. Simply Scarlett or something.”

“Suite Scarlett.”

“Whatever. As the most popular author in the galaxy, I am just the person you need to speak to. I was reading on your, what’s it called . . . blog . . . that you had some news about it.”

“I do, but . . .”

“You will tell me this news,” she said. “I am eager to learn more about Sweet Valley Scarlett.”

“Suite Scarlett."

“Don’t interrupt. What’s it about?”

I remained silent for a moment, unsure if she wanted me to speak.

I’ve told most of you what Suite Scarlett is about. I don’t want to bore you by saying it all over again. If you don’t know, you can read about it here or here or here, and you can read the first chapter here.

“The news!” she cried, once I had finished explaining. “What is the news?”

“Well,” I said, “the first piece has to do with the release date . . .”


“All right,” I said. “Here’s the story. Suite Scarlett’s official release date is May 1st. But boxes of the book will start going out in April, and people could very well see it in stores then.”

“You’re saying that if people are dying to get their hands on Sweeney Scarlett . . .”

“Suite Scarlett.”

“Must you keep breaking my train of thought?” she snapped. “Where was I? Oh yes. The book could show up sooner than advertised. There is a very good chance that your friendly neighborhood bookseller will have it in a matter of weeks. You aren’t sure when online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble will start shipping, but there is a chance that they may send the books before May 1st. In essence, you know that the books will be available everywhere by May 1st . . . but will appear on the landscape starting at the start of next month. So pre-ordering it now is not such a bad idea."

She had it. She really did. Rowling was talking sense.

“That’s right,” I said, stunned.

“Of course it is. Now, tell me more about this contest. You said there was a contest as well?”

“You’re right,” I replied. “There is.”

“Share. I want to know all about this book of yours, 20 Thousand Leagues Beyond Thunderdome.”

I didn’t even bother correcting that one. I mean, she had been doing pretty well.


“I can’t talk about the contest yet,” I explained. “The details are still being finalized. But the prize is . . . really excellent.”

“Is it a car?”

“No,” I said. “It’s not a car.”

“It is a boat?”


“Is it a horse?”


“Is it Sting?”

“Sting?” I repeated.

“Sting, from the Police. He would make an excellent prize. I thought about getting Sting to keep Alan Rickman company in my basement. Don’t you think they’d get along?”

“I think you should let Alan Rickman out of your basement,” I said. “Do you really have him? Again?”

“I told you, when I set fire to his garage, he came running right into my arms. I called dibs. I’m helping him prepare for his role as Snape.”

“He’s played Snape five times now. How much preparation does he need?”

“I’ll tell you what he needs—a few hours in the J’accusey with me. rwar!”


“Forget Alan,” she said, over my many strenuous objections to this. “I am taking excellent care of him. I want to know what this prize is. Is it a fabulous adventure in New York?”

I fell silent. I could not, as I said, reveal any details. And she had gotten too close. Too, too close.

“Forget the prize for now,” I countered. “I’ll be telling everyone what it is soon enough. I can tell you about some of the other giveaways.”

“Fine,” she grumbled. “Bore me with details, why don’t you?”


“They’ll be books, of course,” I said. “And I’ll also be giving away some of these AWESOME SUITE SCARLETT SLEEP MASKS.”


“I approve of those,” Rowling said. “What flavor are they?”

“No flavor. Sleep mask flavor.”

“Ah. My favorite. Give me one of those for Alan.”


“Spoilsport. See if I credit you in the next book. Now, let me summarize. You are saying that Suite Scarlett will start appearing in stores in a matter of weeks. You will be giving away books and sleep masks, and there is a remarkable contest with a prize so big, you can’t even talk about it yet.”

“That’s right,” I said.

“And that the name Zombania is free.”


“And that the next time you post, you’ll have all kinds of exciting advice for writers.”

“How did you know that?" I asked. "I didn’t say that. That was in MY HEAD.”

Rowling got up and went to the window.

“When you are me,” she said, “there is no such thing as a brain you can’t access. All doors are open to Rowling!”

And with that, she jumped out of my window, without even bothering to open it. I heard the soft whoosh of a parachute, and she was gone. For now.

I guess I’ll see you next time with a bunch of advice on writing. Got any questions?

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