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Sunday, November 30, 2008


If you have been around here for a while, you will know that I am more than a little obsessed with the holiday season. I love Cheer. I cannot get enough. Soon, I’ll be opening the MJ Holiday Workshop, as I do every year, to distribute CHEERFUL things, like books and cards.

And in the past, I have often liked to use this special time of year to give out advice. I thought I’d do a little of that today.

It seems now that when I am working a lot, I check in with Facebook once or twice a day, as it is an excellent way of seeing what and how everyone is doing. The other day, I asked people if they had any questions that needed answering. I got many excellent questions. Here are a few of them.

Julia asks:
is there a bad reason to leave and never come back?

Well . . . and I’m not saying I have any direct experience with this . . . but say you burned the place down by accident because you were decorating a makeshift disco with hundreds of tea lights and you didn’t know your spray glitter was an accelerant and the whole place went up like Edward Cullen riding a rocket on a sunny day. That’s a really good reason not to come back.

Faith asks:
do you accept apprentices of awesome?


Tim asks:
How should one handle bitchy customers at work?

I have held many jobs in which I dealt with the public. I remember well dealing with bitchy, longwinded, annoying, unfriendly people who have come to take your time and ruin your life. This kind of customer is impossible to dismiss. They don’t care about you, or the other people, or common decency. They’ll scream, they’ll throw money in your face, knock things off shelves. They’ll make twenty people wait in line behind them while they rant and rave and announce that they don’t care. You can never be rude back, sadly, as that just adds fuel to the fire (and see the above questions for where that will get you).

This kind of anti-Cheer behavior must be stopped. I used to employ many methods for doing this. Here is one of my favorites. It never failed me.

Say you work at Target, at the customer service counter. For the last twenty minutes, you have watched a horrible woman screaming about the fact that the store has run out of the Hannah Montana Rockstar Powerdrill and Bake Sets that were advertised in the circular. She has been taking out her wrath on an innocent checkout girl. The checkout girl, reduced to tears, pointed at your counter in defeat. Now it is your turn for punishment. But no. You will not go down quietly. You need to be one step ahead of her. Before she even gets to your desk, run around so that you are standing in front of her on the same side of the counter. Bow low at the waist and pretend to take off a hat.

From this point on, speak entirely in Renaissance Fair speak. Wring your hands together and say something like, “Please, good madam, speak to me that I may absorb the gist of your need!”

This should set her a little off-balance, but she’ll keep rambling on. Whatever she says, just look shocked and exclaim “Most injurious, sweet lady! Most assuredly injurious!” Offer her a chair. If there is no chair, offer your own back as a bench. Say, “Fie on this! Fie, fie! Come. Together we shall investigate this injustice and rectify all that seeks rectification.”

Lead her away. Make sure to keep stopping and bowing and that you always walk a few steps behind. Go to the toy section, but to the wrong aisle. Proceed to take every single toy off the shelf and ask, “Doth this be the object of merriment?” Whenever she looks like she is tiring of you, jump up and down and exclaim, “Curseth my pumpkin head! I have possessed the knowledge all this while! I will bring the bauble henceforth!” Disappear. Come back with a toaster oven.

After an hour or so, when you have exhausted all the objects in the aisle, scream at the top of your lungs and say, “Fair lady! Fair lady! Do you hear the sound of carriage wheels on the road and the steps of a hundred mighty horses? I THINK THE QUEEN IS COMING!” Run out of the store and never come back.

Tobias asks:
Maureen, where does one meet cute nerdy gay guys who like to watch Dr. Who and House?

Tobias, everything you need to know—all of the essential skills of attracting the ladies or the mens—can be found in the works of 1990s manboy band, Color Me Badd. Color Me Badd was so bad that they had an extra “d” on their name. What did the “d” stand for? No one knew. That was just one more thing that made Color Me Badd so very badd. These guys were so goodd with the opposite sex that they could have all the consonants they wanted.

Color Me Badd

The theme of every single Color Me Badd song, as far as I can tell, is how much they want to get wit chu. Their hit song “I Want to Sex You Up” is more or less the only textbook you will ever need to learn the Art of Love. They are very on-message. What do they want to do? They want to sex you up. The song never deviates from the theme of sexing you up. We are never left scratching our heads and wondering what is going on. Sexing up is going on.

Lines like “we can do it until we both wake up” and “we can make love until we both drown” made many people think Color Me Badd was a little confused about what “sexing up” was. But that’s the baddness of Color Me Badd—no one knows what they’re talking about, really! You just know that it a). is smooooove and b.) involves really big pants.

I think it could only help you to learn every move and line of this video, get the biggest pants you can find, and head to the nearest con. Slide on up to the debate about who the eleventh Doctor will be, and at the first pause bust into your move. But you will, of course, have changed the lyrics of the song to reflect the occasion, so you will sing something like:

Want to get you in my Tardis
Just like that Rose Tyler
Show you my big blue police box
And my sonic screwdriver

By the time you are done, EVERYONE will be attracted to you. It is merely up to you to select the appropriate nerd.

Kayla asks:
I'm trying to compose a short, fun little song for kids....and I'm not for sure what it should be about. Giraffes who love giraffes? penguins? llamas? I just don't know. What do you think? :)

Back when I was an editor, I had an assistant named Cartography Jones (not his real name, but a name I bestowed on him). I spent the majority of my time at work trying to make Carto’s life better, and one of the ways I did this was by hiding pictures of lemurs all over his desk. Dozens and dozens of pictures of lemurs. He would come in in the morning, tired and bleary-eyed, and slowly notice the round, gleaming eyes of a lemur peering from just over his monitor, or just under his mouse, or on the fourth page of a report, or out of an “urgent e-mail of instructions” I had sent him. Sometimes the lemurs were under his mug. Sometimes they were in a book, waiting to be discovered weeks later. Sometimes the lemurs were in his lunch, carefully placed just under the wrapper of his sandwich when he stepped away from his desk. Sometimes he would even go home and find lemurs in his bag, his hat, his laptop. I buried pictures of lemurs deep in actual work files, attached them to spreadsheets, planted them in the conference room . . ..

There are many pictures of lemurs on the internet!


Because I was his boss, Carto knew that the many, many pictures of lemurs that haunted his every waking moment were important, and good for his personal and professional development. Sure, they made him shaky and screamy and sometimes he would beg for NO MORE LEMURS, but I would just smile and nod and send him more important e-mails, only some of which were full of the moony, crazed faces of lemurs. What I was trying to show him is that sometimes, life gives you lemurs. Now, I know that it sort of follows to say something like, “When life gives you lemurs, you should make lemurade.” But there is no such thing as lemurade, and if there was, it would be disgusting.

The main point is that it is awesome to be someone’s boss because you can send them 2000 pictures of lemurs and there is nothing they can do about it. So stay in school and become a boss!

(You are probably thinking that this means that I want your song to be about lemurs but I would actually like it to be about penguins.)

Ariel asks:
How might one go about getting free Starbucks on a daily basis?

I have a plan that will not only get you free Starbucks every day, it will also SPREAD CHEER! Pick a local Starbucks, the busiest one you can find. If it has disaffected, emo staffers, so much the better. Purchase one (1) shiny holiday sweater. If it lights up or has tinkling bells, again, so much the better. Also get one bag of discounted holiday chocolate from the drugstore. Let this get a little melty and misshapen, and then put it in the refrigerator to harden it in its deformed state. Also, if you can, get your hands on a slide whistle.

Now you are ready for action.

Position yourself in the middle of the Starbucks with a large smile on your face. Wish everyone who comes in a happy holiday. Then, when people are least expecting it, break into Jingle Bells. Don’t go for quality—go for Cheer. Use that slide whistle as much as you can. Emulate this sound:

Leave the store abruptly. Come back again 15 minutes later. Stand around for a few minutes, and then sing again. Make it look like you are going for the door, but then pause and come back in. You must build a sense of anxiety in the staff, who are now watching your every move. Make sure you are always smiling. Pass out a round of deformed candy to customers and staff. Do this all day.

While you stand there, try to figure out who runs the place. Avoid the manager. The manager will be looking for the most legitimate way of throwing you out. What you want is the Assistant Manager, the person who has probably been there the longest and hates you the most. Go up to this person and say, as quietly as possible, “One grande eggnog latte and I am gone. Leave it outside in five minutes or I come back with the accordion.”

Coffee is cheap, and one eggnog latte is definitely worth the price of peace. So while the manager is looking through the corporate manual, the Assistant Manager will be brewing you one hot, delicious eggnog latte. Leave at once with it.

Come back the next day. This time, don’t go in. Make periodic passes by the window, holding up your slide whistle happily. Go away. Return, and sit quietly in the corner for an hour or so. Really build things up for your performance. When the Assistant Manager looks over (these are the people who work every day), make a drinking motion with an invisible cup and hold up one finger. You mean, “One eggnog latte.” It would be really effective at this point if you could pull out some stuffed reindeer antlers or some bells.

You may or may not need to sing at this point. Every staff has a different level of tolerance. But within a few days, you should have them to the point where they will simply hand over the eggnog latte the moment you appear. You may have to travel from store to store, but since most Starbucks seem to be located about ten feet away from each other, you can assume word has spread.

But what about after the holidays? you ask. This works even better in July!

Emily asks:
what's the best way to tie your shoes?

It is best to hire someone for this task. It is quite dangerous.

Al asks:
What happens to socks in the drier?

I answer this and several other pressing questions in Scarlett Fever.

Let’s kick off some CHEER right now. A signed Let it Snow to a random commenter! Please tell me what is going on with you, and if you have any CHEER-related problems that need solving!

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Thursday, November 13, 2008


I had a problem with my bathtub the other day. I usually get along well with my bathtub, which is from the 1930s, and extremely massive, and good at the task of hold water. These are excellent qualities in a tub! But the other day it decided it was going to hold water and NEVER, EVER LET IT GO. It wanted to be with this water forever.

My tub, because it is from the 1930s, is kind of weird. The stopper is this odd little contraption that sits outside of the tub. It looks like a little periscope that comes out of the floor, and you toggle it up or down, depending on what you want the water to do. I toggled and toggled and toggled, but the water remained. I poured drain opener into the tub. I did everything I could possibly think of, but I finally accepted that my tub was broken.

So I called my building supervisor to ask what could be done. He attempted to talk me through a repair. See, inside of the toggley-toggely thing is a thin rod that lifts and drops the stopper. It’s just a stopper on a stick, basically. So he had me pull this out and look at it.

And he said, “What does it look like on the other side?”

I looked at the rod.

“You mean on the bottom half?” I asked.

“No,” he said patiently, as if I was very, very stupid, “the other side.”

I looked at the rod some more. A rod is a stick. And a stick only has one side. Oh, sure, I mean technically there is some other side of a stick. There are probably INFINITE sides to a stick. But when you are dealing with something that thin, for all practical purposes it has one side—the stick side. Every way you look at it, you look at it from the stick side.*

So I explained that I could not follow this logic, because this stick was, from all perspectives, profoundly sticklike and there was no other side to talk about. This conversation went around and around for ten minutes, until I didn’t care anymore. I was worn and broken inside and fairly committed to seeing if I could climb into the kitchen sink for all of my future bathing needs. I was undone by this stick business.

Which brings me to unicorns.

I’m sure most of you by this point are aware of the zombie versus unicorn debate that RAGES ON online. The debate started in February 2007, between Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black. (Many people think that John Green started this. He did not. He later joined the discussion, as did I, both on the righteous side of zombies. But the whole thing started with Justine (zombies) and Holly (unicorns). This is the only known instance in which Holly Black has been wrong. You can read the history of the debate here and here and here and here. Credit for this great battle must be given where it is due.)

You probably thought this was over and everyone had accepted that zombies rule and unicorns are useless, but apparently not. There are still some people who think that unicorns have merit.

But of course, they do not. Unicorns are just stick-headed horses. Like the stick, they lack dimension.

Right now, some maniac, probably a maniac in lederhosen with lunchmeat on his head, is yelling, “It’s not a STICK! It’s a HORN!”

Listen up, my leather-shorted, meat-hatted friend . . . I would give unicorns the time of day if that “horn” was a good kind of horn, like this:

With that horn, I would welcome the unicorn and say, “Come here, little unicorn, have this bag of warm roughage.”

But no. In terms of head-ornaments, unicorns fall squarely into the stick category, even though the horns are technically cones . . . which is a statement that presents a number of geometrical challenges, I know, but we really need to move on and call a stick a stick.** (Or a CORN. Why don’t we call it a CORN, since they are unicorns?)

“But,” I have heard people say, “unicorns represented purity and chastity in the olden days! Therefore we should like them!”

The olden days? Like when you could sell a young girl to an old man to be his bride for three goats, a pound of flour, and some red cloth? You mean the olden days when they used to burn people for being witches? The olden days, when they would cover you in leeches whenever you sneezed? The olden days, when rats ruled the earth, and the ages are simply referred to as “dark”? ALL THE IDEAS THEN WERE BAD.

Good medicine from the unicorn days.

“What do you know?” some other random maniac asks. “Did you research this?”

No, I didn’t, and I don’t need to! Because what could be less useful than a stick on the head? What's there to research? Why don’t unicorns have something on their heads people would actually want, like a sandwich press, or a tire jack, or a nail file? Anything but a stick.

“So,” says the nay-sayer (there are obviously a lot of people out today who want to get involved in this discussion), “what’s so great about zombies, anyway?”

What ISN’T great about zombies is the real question!

But since I must start somewhere, I will say this: zombies are overachievers. As Simon Pegg wrote in his recent, brilliant article on zombies (which should be required reading for everyone, everywhere): “Death is a disability, not a superpower. It's hard to run with a cold, let alone the most debilitating malady of them all.”

This is part of his exquisite explanation of why zombies must be slow. It also explains why zombies are awesome. THEY ARE DEAD. But does that stop them? No, a thousand times no! They battle on against the ultimate case of the Mondays. You hit them? They get up! Kneecap them, shoot them, run them over with a car, and these precious creatures get right back up, because they are CHAMPIONS.

If only we could be more like zombies! We, who suffer daily the thousands of indignities of being alive, who have broken bathtubs and bad hair and sniffles and deadlines . . . we must keep getting back up, as our zombie friends do!

And why do the zombies shamble after us? Because they love us, is why. They want to hang with us. They want to be part of us. Sure, they express love by ripping you to bits and eating your insides, but who is to say that is completely wrong? Maybe it is just more love than we can handle, and whose fault is that?

And who has a greater appreciation of brains than zombies? No one. In fact, the only way you can stop a zombie is by destroying its head. It is as if the zombie is saying, “Without my thoughts, which are admittedly pretty simple, I am nothing.”

Zombies are also COMMUNICATORS, speaking in the universal language of grunts, moans, and hand gestures. When a zombie speaks, everyone understands. Zombies promote global unity and show that we are one people, and that we are all full of tasty insides.

Also, unlike zombies, unicorns are not real.

When will this battle end? How can we resolve our differences and get everyone on the right side of this argument?

Have thoughts? Leave them below. If they are pro-zombie, then they will be welcomed by all and you will be hailed as a hero of the people. If they are pro-unicorn, well . . . if you want to make a laughing stock of yourself and contribute the overall count of WRONG THINGS on the internet, I suppose you cannot be stopped. CHOOSE WISELY.

Also, enjoy this beautiful video made by Lauren Myracle, which features me and John Green! Just skip the opening and the end! Damn it feels good to be a ZOMBIE!

*Shut up, math majors, engineers, and science geeks, shut up shut up shut up. I know you want to say something here about the theoretical (or not-so-theoretical) possibilities of the sides of a cylinder, but you just have to fight that urge, do you hear me? FIGHT IT! Repeat after me: THERE IS ONLY ONE SIDE TO A STICK. I know you feel better.

**See above note for your reaction cues.

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Saturday, November 08, 2008


Every year around this time, I get loads of notes asking me if I am doing NaNoWriMo. (That’s National Novel Writing Month, if you’ve never heard of it. It’s where people set themselves the task of writing a 50,000 word novel between November 1st and midnight November 30th.)

I usually say that NaNoWriMo is kind of my life. Every day around here looks like NaNoWriMo. This year, however, I am participating rather literally, as I am finishing up a book deadline on almost the same timescale! Since people have also been asking if I have any tricks or clever tools to help them through the experience, I thought I would share a few PROFESSIONAL THOUGHTS to guide you through an intense 30 day writing stint and make it through to the end. Some of this is guesswork, but it's all based on my own experiences.


So, you’ve committed! Feels GOOD, doesn’t it? It’s good to set up your chair, your computer, your mug. For me, the real thrill comes from opening a new Scrivener document. I love my writing program, with its wonderful way of splitting up chapters and blacking out everything on the monitor but the work.

And the story is NEW. The words, they come. The world shapes itself out of nowhere! What’s the goal? 12,500 words? 1,785.7 words a day? Ha ha ha. You’ll be done by the time Thanksgiving rolls around. You’ll be sitting there with your pumpkin pie, editing.

Ready to write.


By this point, a week by yourself staring at a computer has become a tiny bit wearing. Motivation! That’s the key! Community! Time to take a moment and open the old IM, see who’s on . . .

Oh, look! EVERYONE is on! Let’s see who’s one Facebook. EVERYONE! Forums? EVERYONE! How incredibly lucky! Time to talk shop!

What is everyone saying? Something about how it’s kind of good to start and go charging out of the barn like a MAD HORSE ON SPEED . . . but now at 10,000 and 12,000 words in, everyone has caught the first glimpse of that vast, unmapped plain called THE MIDDLE OF THE BOOK. All the other writers have the queasy feeling that SOMETHING is supposed to happen between here and the 45,000th word, and that something should be very exciting! (A lot of people have ideas about those last five thousand words. The question is, how to get there?)

Much chatting about the excitement of the journey.

Time for some friendly chat!


The conversation has taken on a grim sameness. Everyone has wandered into the sandstorm now, stumbling and coughing his or her way forward, sometimes just 100 words at a time. What is ahead? What is behind? Who knows.

Why is it going so slowly? That’s the question on everyone’s mind. The realization dawns that I must get offline immediately. That is where my words are going! I am BLEEDING MYSELF DRY in chats and e-mails!

Also, will surely kill that person (luv2rite16) who keeps saying how they are sliding through the middle of their book like a warm knife through butter.

Everyone hates luv2rite16.


It seemed like a good idea to get offline, but how are you supposed to Wikipedia things like the history of French toast if you don’t have a computer? You need FACTS. You need names for your characters, and maps of Sweden, and charts showing the average rainfall in Kansas, and a few pictures of wombats. Back to the internets!

Log on to find luv2rite16 happily reporting that he/she is now on 35,000 words and is clocking in something like 3,500 a day. And this one day? He/she did, like, 7,000!


At about the three-quarter mark, as the deadline comes into sight just over the horizon, I typically experience a mental episode which manifests itself in a compulsive need to buy post-it notes.

I own a lot of post-it notes. I own post-it notes of every size, shape, and description. I use post-it notes to leave myself notes on every door, window, and mirror, telling myself that I am NOT ALLOWED TO BUY ANY MORE POST-IT NOTES. But I cannot obey. One time, I tried to reason with myself by saying that I already had fifteen sealed, untouched packages and therefore how could I need MORE? I solved that by ripping them all open. Surely, the holes in the plot can be sealed if I could JUST FIND THE RIGHT SIZE OF POST-IT NOTE TO COVER IT. None of the others, I say, dismissing the hundreds of now-open packages . . . none of those were RIGHT.

So out I go, into darkness, wind, rain, or snow . . . off to my favorite Staples. I linger gleefully in the aisles, touching all of the shiny new things. Which is how I end up with pens, colored paper, binders, markers, highlights, three-hole punches, and index cards. But the precious thing is always the post-it notes.

I lug home my new stash and dump them out on my desk, which I have cleared off just to properly display my new post-it notes. I look at them happily for at least an hour, not wanting to break their pristine plastic covers. I’m happy because I now have the exact item I need to make this story WORK. If only I had gone out and gotten them sooner!

Eventually, I come to grips with the fact that I have to write things on the post-its. It upsets me to defile them, but I purchased them for a reason, and that reason was TO MAKE SOLUTIONS! I busily open the packages and start writing things down.

My quest for post-it notes is relentless.


I am now the owner of a manuscript covered in 300 4x6 post-it notes (along with post-its shaped like arrows and lips). The ones at the front of the manuscript seem to have some pretty clever ideas on them, like “move this paragraph to page 16,” not that I can remember WHY I thought this was a good idea. But I’ll do it, because the me that wrote that note is clearly a smarter me than the one I am stuck with now, the one who writes notes that say things like, “make funnier,” or “make shorter,” or just “fix.”

Not to mention the 45 random flags I stuck all over the place which now FLAP IN THE WIND but tell me nothing about what I’m supposed to know about those pages. Oh, I’m sure I had my reasons for putting them there. But those reasons are gone. Gone like the dinosaur, with only little clues about their existence left behind, like a random thigh bone in a tar pit. What did it belong to? How did it die? WHO CAN SAY?

Set manuscript in corner of desk and try not to look at it.


I was such a moron to think that post-it notes could solve my problems. What is this, 1983? Why did I turn away from my beloved Scrivener, which gives me everything I need? I have a virtual corkboard to outline the story. I can move chapters around. I can annotate. This program has it ALL!

Technology is the key.


Have done nothing for past day and a half but shuffle chapters in the sidebar and change the colors of the cards on my virtual corkboard in an attempt to see the pattern behind it all.

There is no pattern. Whether I label some broken scenes pink and other broken scenes blue, they are still broken.

It is clearly time to go back to the post-it notes. DO I HAVE ENOUGH? Back to the store!

More post-it notes are needed.


Dreamed about being out in a rowboat with luv2rite16. luv2rite16 was rattling off beautiful, perfectly turned phrases about the scenery with seemingly no effort. When luv2rite leans over to gaze into the water and make comments about the nature of ripples and reflections, smacked him/her in head with oar and then beat down until he/she stopped clawing at the side of the boat.

Back at shore, luv2rite is there, working on laptop as if nothing happened.

Woke up in cold sweat.


Time to tally up and see what’s left to do!


Look, just LEAVE ME ALONE. I’m FINE. Just LEAVE THE FOOD BY THE DOOR AND BACK AWAY. I just have 14,835 more words to write. I DON’T CARE WHAT THEY ARE.


Not, you will notice, the sound of things like showering. Or the sound of having a life.


That crick in your back? And neck? You embrace it. You have never known a time it was not with you. Also, who needs pants? NOT YOU!


You don’t know what it is, exactly, that you’ve created. But you’ve created a lot of it. but that’s a first draft! A pile of who-knows-what! Doesn’t matter as long as there is a pile of it!

WEEK 4.932467

Errr . . . did that . . . was that . . . is that . . . does that say 51,236 words?

Step away from desk. Confused. Look out window.

Go back to desk. Submit.

Ignore the fact that luv2rite16 submitted five days ago.

Now, at this point . . . this is where I would take the shower and get ready to do all of that AGAIN. Not starting over, but going right back to the start. Every month.

I hope this helps! If there are any specific questions you need answered, I will certainly do my best! Leave them below!

(Many of you want to know what I did for Lauren Myracle’s scare-a-thon challenge! I’ll tell you what I did! I got an extension, along with Libba Bray. Libba got one because she was on tour in Europe, and I got one because of the election, so we are likely doing something scary TOGETHER. Video to come!)

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