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Saturday, April 28, 2007


I had started writing a post for today, which was all about my experience trying to buy a video camera so that I can begin my role as John and Hank Green’s secret sister . . . and believe me, it was quite the tale. But all of that is being pushed to the side because of this e-mail I just received from Ninja Librarian Susan Hunt of the Bartlesville, Oklahoma school district:

For the past several weeks a committee headed by Mrs. Janet Vernon, Executive Director of Secondary Instruction for Bartlesville Public Schools, has been reconsidering the YA novel The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson. A challenge to the book was submitted to the school board on March 4, 2007. Yesterday, the Mid-High Principal and I appeared before the committee at 10:45. By 2:00 this afternoon, I was informed by [a BHS librarian and committee member] that the decision has been made to pull the book from the Mid-High library.

Well, well, well. Looks like I went and got myself banned! Apparently I have written something so dangerous that it can’t be contained on the shelf of a high school library.

Now, if you’d said that FREE MONKEY couldn’t be contained in a high school library, you’d have a point. But my book? Really? Ninja Librarian Susan says that she has been working in this school for around 19 years, and this is the first objection that has ever been raised there.

For those of you who don’t know it (which is going to be a lot of you), The Bermudez Triangle is about three girls, all incredibly close friends, and what happens when one of them goes away for the summer and the other two begin a relationship. The story is really about what happens to friendship when you start dating. That two of the characters are female and dating is not the entire focus of the book, but it is a fun chunk of it. There is no sex in the book. There is kissing. And a lot of studying and student counsel meetings and working in chain restaurants.

I was permitted to see the objection that caused this to happen, and it sort of took my breath away. Even Free Monkey got quiet for a moment, and it wasn’t his usual thoughtful quiet. One parent saw the book, and this is what she had to say in a letter to the school. I’ve reprinted the entire text as it was given to me, removing only the names:

I’m shocked and appalled at the lack of discretion, and moral decline in the selection of books at the Mid-High library. Homosexual content, unprotected sex, underage drinking, and reckless promiscuity are not values that belong in a school library. I understand there are parents or teens who are dealing with these issues, but not all parents want their kids exposed to this material. Personally, I would not endorse any of these types of book as “14-and-15-year-old-friendly.” Giving teenagers knowledge without guidance is irresponsible and dangerous. As a parent, I screen my 15-year-old’s television, Internet, video game, magazines, and books. There are things she’s not mature enough to handle, or are simply wrong for her. Parents are a child’s best line of defense in a world that rushes to grow them up too soon. This book, “The Bermudez Triangle” has no moral fiber, and wrongly promotes a “do whomever you want to discover yourself” mentality. There’s no mention of the myriad of diseases, pregnancy, destruction of friendships and lives that are very real consequences of a “sexual free-for-all” decision. I ask that his material be removed at once. You have a responsibility to the children at school to protect them and educate them. Let’s raise the bar a little higher, respect moral values and a parent’s right to guard that which has been entrusted to their care.

YOWZA! This is the most badass I have ever felt! I think . . . I think I like it!

No moral fiber? Really? I beg to differ. The book is entirely about what happens to friendships when relationships enter the picture. That is, in fact, the whole book. Since there is no sex in it (just some kissing), pregnancy is not really an issue. I would have brought it up if there had been. Maybe the writer of this letter does not know how babies are made. She could probably use a book on the subject.

The idea that Bermudez is a “sexual free for all” is a joke. My mother read Bermudez—the same mother who wouldn’t let me wear denim skirts and who still tells me the stork brought me—and said, “I can’t see why anyone would object to this book.”

I’ll move on to the form that went with this (called a Citizen’s Request for Removal of Instructional Materials, which is a scary sounding form right there), the one that prompted the removal. I got a scanned copy of the handwritten note, so I couldn’t make it all out. Here are the highlights:

Q: To what material do you object?

A: Homosexual content, unsuitable for children (pages 105 and 363), and underage drinking

I was immediately tantalized by the prospect of “unsuitable content,” and had to go look up those pages. I was left baffled. They aren’t even kissing pages. They’re just people talking.

As for the other concerns . . . sadly, it was what I was expecting. I was really hoping that there was going to be some really creative objection, like that I was discriminating against Bennigan’s. (P.J. Mortimer’s, the restaurant that Avery and Mel work at, is a direct mockery of this chain and its fake Irish food.) I would have been interested in reading a spirited defense of the Blooming Onion. Instead, it sounds like garden variety homophobia.

DID YOU KNOW: that the blooming onion is not actually Australian? And that it is Spike's (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) favorite snack, aside from kittens? Sadly, the letter mentions none of these facts.

Q: In place of this material, would you recommend other material which you consider to be of superior quality?

A: I recommend a Bible, or other morally + ethically sound material.

I think there should be Bibles in libraries, for sure. But I think there should be other books too, you know, for variety. That’s what makes it a library, as opposed to a Bible repository. It’s part of being . . . oh what’s the term I’m searching for . . . oh right. A democratic society, with freedom of belief.

Look, I’m not saying The Bermudez Triangle is the greatest book ever written. It’s not. I happen to like it, but if you don’t, it’s okay. If you want to criticize the writing, by all means do so. I can take it. Maybe I’ll even learn something. But this single person is trying to get it removed simply because it talks about homosexuality. Forget the sex thing. There isn’t any.

I happen to find homophobia shocking and appalling. I think it is morally corrupt. I would like to see it removed. Where is my form?

And from this, a committee was called. People had to go and defend the book because of this form and letter. And they lost the effort. The committee decided this objection made sense. I'd laugh if it wasn't so alarming.

I think that book banning is like mold. You have to stop it before it takes over and contaminates everything. So here is what I plan on doing:

1. First, I’ll be taking a note from the excellent Chris Crutcher and sending a whole bunch of Bermudezes to the local public library in this area. I’ll send some Devilishes as well, just to keep up the theme of evil.

2. I’m going to try to find out exactly who was on this committee, and see if I can talk to them about why they thought it was a good idea to remove Bermudez from their shelves. Let's chat, people. If you happen to see this, I invite you to get in touch.

Also, make sure to have a look at As If!--Author's Supporting Intellectual Freedom. I'm a member, along with many other excellent writers. The lead post right now about the two girls kissing . . . it ties into this sadly well. How do we stop this nonsense?

Maybe by supporting the fabulous Human Rights Campaign. That could help.

Book banning sucks. Homophobia sucks.

Free Monkey agrees: Let’s raise the bar a little higher. Please chime in with your ideas--about book banning, what video camera I should buy, the blooming onion, and FREEDOM! Or anything else. I won't object.

My friends the movie people have made this wonderful graphic, which pretty much sums up what I am thinking.

UPDATE: read the continuing adventures of the Bartlesville showdown here.

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Monday, April 23, 2007


Well, I might not have to get that video camera after all, because the amazing people who brought you HOW TO WRITE A BOOK: the movie have made DEATH AND THE AUTHOR: the movie based on an entry I wrote when I was writing Girl At Sea revisions in the hot English summer. Why should I make videos when I have people willing to film my blog entries, and willing to do it so well?

I love the people who made this movie. Free Monkey loves you too.

This movie took some of the sting away from the fact that the price of my accidentally putting my toes on my computer when I tripped is either $650 or $900, depending on the extent of the toe damage. Even worse: Apple needs to have Gilda for a week. A week! I can’t live without Gilda for an hour! I’m going to have to use a stupid rental computer.

The lesson in this seems to be: don’t trip. For me, this is obviously going to be a hard lesson to learn.

Anyway, because I have gotten this wonderful gift, I must give something back. So, I am announcing my GIRL AT SEA SIGNING MADNESS! Back at Christmas, I custom-made cards for anyone who asked. Well, if you are thinking of picking up a Girl At Sea when it comes out on June 1st, won’t you let me personalize it with a Girl At Sea card?

You will? Oh, thanks!

How do you get one? You write to me, and you include the following:


YOUR ADDRESS (don’t forget this—a lot of requests over the holidays came in without this vital piece of information)


I will start sending these out next month, about two weeks before the book comes out, and I will continue to send them all through the month of June. Or until I run out. So sign up now!

Also, this is a preliminary announcement of the currently top-secret FREE MONKEY AT SEA WORLD TOUR. Want to know before everyone else what this means? Sign up for my newsletter by entering your e-mail in the box on the right. Be the first to get the skinny on this exciting development.

Who is Free Monkey calling? Is it you?

By the way, thank you to the reader who let me know that my blog pops right up when you enter the search terms “dead body” and “Law and Order” in Google. No casting agents have gotten in touch with me yet, but I still believe. If I can get movies like this, anything can happen.

And thank you to all who have sent in questions for ASK AN AGENT. I will be recording with Daphne in the next few days, so get them in now if you have yet to ask. I still haven’t made up my mind about the video camera. Please leave your input on this matter below. More video blogs? What do YOU think?

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Sunday, April 22, 2007


I am sorry about not posting for a few days. This is partially because I have been traveling back to New York (missing the YA prom in the process--I was supposed to be there), and partially because I thought it would be really smart to step on my computer. It wasn’t a huge step. Just a little trip, a few toes landing on the smoothy-smooth bit under the keys. I thought nothing of it when it happened.

Surprisingly, Gilda (my baby computer) did not like that at all. Especially since I seem to have crushed her disk drive. This amazes me and makes me feel powerful, like Godzilla.

Thank you for the many lovely comments about my first attempt at video blogging. John Green has told me that he wants me to video blog every week now, and that he will make me a Secret Sister.

Do I want to be John and Hank Green’s Secret Sister? YES!

Do I own a video camera? NO!

There’s the rub, readers. I borrowed the camera from Oscar. I explained this to John, and he said, “Oh, just buy one! They’re, like, ten dollars!”

John is notoriously off when it comes to figures, and he makes wild promises. He still owes me a thousand dollars from the time I got up and went out in the cold to get him a snack. Plus, I seem to be in a bit of a breaking streak. Gilda is only the latest victim.

It started when my computer bag broke. It’s pretty new, so I was surprised when the zipper popped out of joint and tore. Then I dropped my iPod headphones and stepped on them. The handle of my favorite mug snapped off in my hand when I picked it up. The bow on my favorite pair of shoes fell off. I broke the head off my precious plastic Japanese lady statue from the World’s Fair of 1939 while trying to put it on my head for a picture for John Green. The zipper on my suitcase snapped when I was zipping it up before going to the airport. And my DVD player is haunted and keeps opening and closing itself for NO REASON AT ALL.

I fear that if I buy the camera, it will explode the moment my credit card is accepted. I even managed to break my credit card a few weeks ago. Or rather, someone managed to break it for me by stealing my number. I found this out when I was blocked from buying a sandwich. I called up the company, and they said, “Oh yeah. We were just about to call you. Did you just buy $780 worth of stuff from NFL.com? In the name of David Jensen?”

Answer: no.

So, my credit card was canceled, and they had to send me a new one. This was clearly not my fault, but still. You can see this pattern developing, right? I’m not sure what to do—toy with fate and buy the camera, or sit in my apartment in a fortress of cardboard boxes and wait until this whole breaking spell is over.

I am happy to take your input on this matter. Like, if any of you are witches, could you maybe do some kind of spell to fix this up for me? In the meantime, let me get to one of your questions.

Anyway, question is: what's the difference between copyediting and proofreading and regular editing and anything else a book might go through prior to publication? I ask b/c I'm trying to figure out a good job for myself to try to get after graduation. :D

Editors, like my editor Emma Lollipop, manage books on a big scale. They buy them. They work with the author to shape and improve the story. Editors have to do many things aside from actual editing, like working with the marketing and sales teams and making sure the author doesn’t melt down and hide inside a cardboard fort.

Copyeditors work with a book or a piece of text once it’s done, checking it to make sure it is grammatically and structurally sound, that it makes sense, and ensuring that there is nothing in there that seems flat-out wrong. Copyeditors can have conversations about things like comma usage that go on for hours and hours and can sometimes end in blows.

Once the copyeditors are done, the changes are made. Sometimes mistakes are made during the inputting. Proofreaders check the prepared or printed copy against the edited version to catch these mistakes.

I did all of these jobs at once time or another. I was iffy at best at the last two. Proofreading bores me to tears, and I spent much of my time drawing pictures of fanged rabbits on post it notes for my friends at work before getting back to writing whatever story I was using work hours to work on at the time.

What was REALLY great, though, was when I was an editor and had an assistant. I thought my boss was crazy to give me another human being to command, but I didn’t breathe a word of complaint.

“Thank you,” I said instead. “I will put him to good use.”

My assistant was a very nice guy who I immediately gave the name Cartography Jones (Carto for short). There was no shortage of actual work, but it seemed ridiculous to waste a fine assistant like Carto on that. I had other ideas.

Every day, I had new demands for Carto. I would command him to go to the conference room, where I would try to hypnotize him (I was reading a book on how to hypnotize people and needed a subject). I cut out pictures of scary cats and marmosets and hid them strategically around his desk, so when he would move his mouse or pick up papers, beady eyes would peer out at him. I would sneak up on him when he was making copies for me in our spooky copy corner and frighten him. I insisted on having conference calls with him even though our desks were only a few feet apart. I had mandatory dancing times. I would tell him to steal me a car. I fired and re-hired him dozens of times a day, depending on my mood. He knew I never meant it. I couldn’t go a day without Carto.

Carto would often start the day by finding something like this peeking out from under his keyboard.

I’ll bet you that if he reads this he will tell you all about the hundreds of post-its I left on his desk. When he would ask for my comments or advice, I would silently hand him notes that said things like: I AM AN IMPORTED CHEESE, which were obviously no help at all. Whenever I actually needed to send him notes, I would make paper airplanes out of them and throw them at his head when he was least expecting it.

When his nerves were jangled by all of this, I made him drink one of the dozens of healing teas that I kept in my drawer.

“What you need, Carto, is a ginger tea,” I would say. “I know this because I am your boss and therefore very wise. Get that down you so that we can race our chairs down the hall.”

It’s probably best that I’m not doing that anymore. Anyway, I have too much writing to do. And a fort to make. And maybe a camera to buy. No matter what, I will be posting more this week—and I look forward to hearing from all you witches out there.

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Monday, April 16, 2007


Well, friends, it is done. We completed the Great Harrods Caper. The event was recorded on video, and edited together with questionable results.
Daphne and I followed the list, after a fashion. I think we found the most expensive item in the store. We also found the oldest (the fish you will see on the wall are 50 million year old fossils).

What you'll notice most, I think, is the preponderance of live animals.

Also, I learn an important lesson about gambling.

I should also point out that I am still in England, sitting here comfortably, and not (as I would have been) packing my bag and getting out my passport. This is because I seem to have the ability to attract storms whenever I fly home anymore. As much as I enjoyed sleeping on the conveyor belt all night at JFK the last time I flew home, I decided to skip it.

So, I'll be reporting from here for the next few days. Until then . . . here you go. 13 Little Blue Envelopes fans, here is your virtual visit to England’s most famous store, home of Richard Murphy.

(I have just put up a slightly higher quality version, so it may take a moment for youtube to catch up. Please come back in a few minutes if it doesn't play.)

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Friday, April 13, 2007


I asked, and you answered.

Right now, Daphne is zipping up her suitcase in New York. Then, after spending a few hours attending to important agently business at Unfeasible Enterprises, she will board a fast jet and hurl herself across the Atlantic in my direction.

And then, the Great Harrods Caper begins.

Caper Central

I have probably mentioned that Daphne and I lived in London together after we graduated from college. We spent a long, hot summer here, during which we were Extremely Broke. I mean, living on change, eating cereal as a form of nightly entertainment, breaking in to our own apartment by climbing over trash cans, saving up to go to Pizza Hut kind of broke. When things got better and we were only Somewhat Broke, we spent a lot of time hanging out at each other’s places of work. I worked at a pub, so Daphne logged a remarkable number of hours there, and she worked at a major West End theater in the management office, so on occasion we got to crash big theater parties, where we would quickly eat all of the snacks and drink all of the drinks before the actual famous people showed up. Boy, did we impress them when they got there.

Things are different now, friends. We can buy snacks.

I am now armed with a video camera (Oscar’s, of course). I have a cup of tea next to me, nice and hot. And I am making the final list for the Great Harrods Caper, which starts in 24 hours. You wrote in with so many good suggestions that I am starting to think you all work at NASA, such is the quality of your thoughts.

One of the reasons I am doing this challenge is that Harrods plays a huge role in 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and this would both fascinate and horrify Keith. Harrods is BIG. It has 7 floors, 28 restaurants, and its own casino, bank, and airline. There are a handful of stores in the world that are bigger (including Macy’s in NYC), but none, I would argue, are as confusing and bizarre as Harrods, which has departments hidden inside of departments, and freely mixes up pianos with swimsuits and pet supplies.

So, tomorrow, I will meet Daphne at her London hotel, and then we will proceed to Harrods at around 2 in the afternoon. We will begin with a drink in one of the 28 restaurants, during which we will come up with our battle plan to tackle the following:

Ride every single escalator/elevator and going on every staircase

Find the cheapest and most expensive items you can

Find the weirdest thing with a Harrods label

Collect as much loose change as you can find and tally it up

Get a photo of you hiding inside a display tent

Find a friend for FREE MONKEY

Find the absolute ugliest dress in the store.

Find a stun gun (they don’t sell them in England, as far as I know, but I can try to find something close)

Find a Vespa

Find all 28 restaurants

Find the creepiest looking doll in the toy department

Find a trampoline

Find a Canopic jar

Daphne quickly latched on to the “go to the wedding dress department.” This is now as dangerous as taking Daphne to the shoe department. I’m kind of afraid that the Caper will come to a grinding halt the minute Daphne sees those poofy white dresses. She will go very still, her eyes will dilate, her lips will quiver. I will see a little flash and feel myself falling backwards as she propels forward, and that will be that. So I think we might have separate challenges here. She’ll try to find the dresses, and I will try to hide the entire department.

I don’t exactly know how this will all go down—all I know is that it will be recorded and put here for your examination and comment.

Along with your suggestions, some of you also let me know about some other important issues.

sarah said...
I have a doll that looks like she could kill me. That's why I worship her and stuff...you know, keep her satisfied. Maybe then she will wake up in the middle of the night and strangle my enemies. Or at least sit on their faces or something so they wake up screaming.

And here it is:

Believe it or not, this is the same doll that Daphne uses on me when I am late on my deadlines. I wake up to find this sitting on the foot of my bed. So here’s a top writing tip from mj: NEVER GIVE YOUR AGENT KEYS TO YOUR HOUSE.

kiersten said...
why does justine hate unicorns so much? i dont like them either but she absolutly HATES them. (or so it seems on her blog.)

No one knows. But you know what? Justine and Scott are off at the Texas Library Association conference right now, and she’s not updating her blog. This is a GREAT opportunity to sneak in there and FILL her comments section with unicorn-related remarks. Just an idea.

nuwon wearspants said...
I love reading your blog. If there was a Blog Award of The Year, you'd win. <3 - I write without pants.


kiersten said...
i also saw free monkey on john green's blog. free monkey stole the show.

Didn’t he? He’s like that everywhere he goes. And he will be coming tomorrow.

Please leave any last minute requests, wishes, complaints, and other remarks in the comments.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007


I went on to Amazon to order a book before I left for England the other night. I already knew that Amazon was kind of, well, challenged. It’s always suggesting things in the “Just for you!” box that I couldn’t possibly want to buy, like tap shoes and bagpipes. But Amazon has outdone itself! This is what it had chosen for me:

Yes, it’s a set of four Canopic jars, the hottest gift of 2007. Make that 2007 BC. I think that is the last time anyone really needed a Canopic jar.

In case you don’t know what Canopic jars are (and I do, because I am an Ancient Egypt Nerd Fighter, something you’ll definitely notice if you read Girl At Sea) . . . Canopic jars were ceremonial jars used during the mummification process to store internal organs. These are the jars your liver, stomach, intestines, and lungs went in.

That these jars exist is annoying to me. I think this may be one of those signs that we officially have enough stuff in the world. But that Amazon picked this for me actually made me a little angry. I'm not exactly sure why. It's not like every object in the New York office is a paragon of good taste. There was just something about this that felt like a personal attack.

What astonished me more than the jars themselves was the review that went with them. I have already discussed the varying quality of Amazon reviews for books, but this is another matter entirely, which is why I have no problem at all copying and commenting on them. If you buy Canopic jars and write about it, it’s open season.

The jars got very bad reviews, as it turns out.

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful:
Terrible!, April 9, 2006

I cannot believe that I bought these. I agree with the former reviewer that these are not quality-looking at all. This does look like it came out of the dollar store and I have been looking for a place to put them and they look good NOWHERE! I am either going to give them away or just throw them away. They are embarrassing to have around the house and take away from any sophisticated decor that you may have.

I really can’t believe you bought these either . . . and then came on Amazon to complain. If I bought these, you had better believe I would be quiet about it. I would buy them under an assumed name and have them sent to the house of one of my sworn enemies. I would pick them up wearing a ski mask while driving a rented car. With a stolen license from a different state.

But, Reviewer, you did buy them . . . and now you’re shocked that they don’t look good in your house? What else do you have in your house that made you think these would blend in? You say it is “sophisticated décor,” and I don’t want to doubt you, but I am having a hard time getting my head around that idea. (Unless, of course, you live in a pyramid.)

Whatever you do, Reviewer, don’t give them away. These jars are a certifiable friendship-killer. Unless you have a friend or acquaintance you’ve been wanting to unload—in which case, these are just the thing. They also make a good threat. I just threatened to get these for Daphne for her wedding.

I guess what bothers me more is that 20 OTHER PEOPLE stopped and thought this decision over and took your advice.

Another dissatisfied review points out:

They look better in the images here than they do in person. I was very disappointed by their size and quality. They are not 4 inches tall they are more like 3 inches. Very tiny and not worth 25.00.

Once I got over the fact that this Reviewer was drawn in by this picture, I got into his or her message. I can see why you might be annoyed—you’re not going to get anyone’s lungs into a 3 inch jar. Believe me, I’ve tried.

If you really like Ancient Egypt that much, why don’t you get something like this, also available on Amazon for much less than $25.

Celebrate your love of King Tut with a street sign.

I did a little Amazon dumpster diving to see what else I could find for these dissatisfied folk, and I think I have some winners. For only $17, you can get this fantastic statue of a dachshund dressed as a ladybug.

Two species, one statue. Delicious together.

If you’re willing to go as high as $40, and I think you might be, maybe I can interest you in this fantastic German shepherd peeing on a fire hydrant?

Worth the extra $15.

Dogs not your thing? Want to stay classical? I understand. What you need, then, is something that blends form and function, and this is just that thing, a bargain at $35:

It’s time to get classy!

How about really classical? I’ve been threatening to buy this for Justine Larbalestier for about three weeks.

Not only is this beautiful, but it has a touch-on, touch-off feature.

Amazon has some great offerings, but I want to see useless and insane things in person, which is why THE GREAT HARODS CAPER is on. It will happen on Saturday, when Daphne arrives in London. I’ve been compiling all of your suggestions for what we should do in Harrods into one long list. Please keep sending them! They are fantastic. On Friday night, probably over a large glass of wine, I will pare the down and set the challenge.

If you plan on being at Harrods around 3PM on Saturday, feel free to make yourself one of the objects we have to find!

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Saturday, April 07, 2007


I am constantly amazed by you, readers. Your comments and e-mails are my favorite reading material.

Daphne is thrilled that you are sending in questions for “Ask an agent.” Keep sending them in! This is your chance to have a fancy-pants New York literary agent give you the scoop on the publishing process. And trust me, Daphne is the business. She has the dangerous-looking heels and the impressive view from her office window and everything.

Also, I have been reading your suggestions for my UK challenge with great interest. So far, I have been invited to go to Cambridge to participate in an experiment on autism, to go to the Netherlands, and to run through London with Daphne pretending to be Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. But I think the one I am leaning towards at the moment (and this is not over) is to do a scavenger hunt at Harrods. Harrods is at the center of 13 Little Blue Envelopes, after all.

But I can’t do a scavenger hunt unless I have things to look for or tasks to perform. So what I propose is this: you send in ideas for things to find and do. Harrods is a huge store, and there are plenty of opportunities to do strange things in it.

I leave this to you. There are two more days to get your ideas in for what I am now calling THE GREAT HARRODS CAPER.

Today’s mail brought something that knocked my socks off. Midshipman Tirzah has three pigs, all of which she has made official members of my Pirate Dance Camp crew! Behold, crew members, the Pirate Pigs!

Firstmate Bob, Bosun Arnold, and Captain Fred

But let’s look at a question I get a lot: “Is writing a good career?”

I often dodge and weave around this question, because it is a hard one to answer. But it should be addressed. I would never want you to think that I would avoid a topic just because it is a sticky one.

First of all, writing is not a career in the way that being an accountant or a nurse is a career. It does not have the structure, the hours, the promotions, or anything else associated with a “normal” job. You will also have to go through this conversation a lot:

SOME GUY: Hey, what do you do?

WRITER: I’m a writer.

SOME GUY: No, I mean for your real job.

WRITER: I’m a writer.

SOME GUY: No, I mean for money.

WRITER: Oh. I’m a ditchdigger.

Because you might be. Writers often take other jobs in order to make ends meet. You really shouldn’t consider writing as a career goal if making a lot of money is a priority for you. I’m not saying that writers can’t make a lot of money. I’m just saying, if it’s a requirement, become a banker or a celebutard.

People should be writers if and only if they feel that they have to write, no matter what the consequences. You’ll do it even though you may never, ever get paid for it. You will do it using whatever you have on hand. You prefer a computer or a Moleskin notebook, but you will use napkins if that’s the only thing available. You will probably write when you are supposed to be doing something else, like your German homework or your ditch digging.

I have wanted to be a writer since I was just a tiny mj, and as you can see from this old author photo, I was not the brightest kid in the world. I’m getting my picture taken in a two-foot-by-two-foot photo booth and it seems pretty clear that I can’t even spot the camera.

Look up, Maureen! No, up! Up! At the shiny thing!

I also once ran out of the house to play at my friend’s house, and it was only when I got there and saw her mom that I was informed that I had forgotten to put my pants on. So seriously, don’t base anything on my childhood dreams and desires, because you will be setting yourself up for a world of confusion.

If you are still reading now, you may have your heart set on this idea, so now I will tell you some of the career perks of the writing life.


The writing life is a respectapalooza. If you say you are a writer, people will assume you are smart. As I’ve previously said, this is hardly the case, but I never correct this assumption. I get away with it because I have mastered point number nine on my how to be a writer list: I can plaster a smart look on my face for hours and never once will a deep—or even sensible—thought fire across my synapses.

Mostly, I think up sandwich combinations—that’s a big favorite thought of mine when I’m supposed to be being smart.

Reading, or sandwichizing? (Note the touching of the chin. This is key.)


Writing is one of the few careers for which you essentially train yourself, the other two major ones being juggling and pickpocketing. A good education helps—but this is truly one of the cases where you won’t be left behind just because you didn’t go to an expensive school. It also means that people from interesting backgrounds get to work together—doctors, lawyers, ice skaters, chefs, cat burglars. They can all be writers.

Be aware, though: equal opportunity does not mean fair. Very few things are fair.

There is no board of standards to determine who can or cannot be a writer. This means that sometimes bad writers get published and amazing writers get ignored. And if a bad book (or what you think is a bad book) becomes super-successful and gets a huge movie deal and celebrities start coming to the Bad Author’s house to hang out in their tub . . . well, it’s all part of the deal.

If you are the kind of person who thrives on being recognized for your achievements—if you just live for the day when the class rank is announced because you’ve fought tooth and nail to get a 4.3 GPA instead of a normal 4.0 through a clever combination of advanced classwork, alchemy, and kissing up—well, you may find yourself in a near-constant state of frustration.

“Why is Wolves on Skates number #17 on Amazon?” you will ask. “It’s incomprehensible! The narrator DIES in the first chapter. Didn’t anyone NOTICE this?”

You'll probably end up going to some dinner, and you'll be seated next to the author of Wolves on Skates, who will tell you sordid tales of fame, like wild nights of partying at the Amazon mansion and makeout sessions with J.K. Rowling . . . as their assistant sits next to them, cutting up their food into small, triangular pieces because said author is obsessed with pyramids.

Some of these stories will be lies, but not all.

The author of Wolves on Skates may test your patience.

If you really want to be a writer, you will learn not to worry about these kinds of things any more. You will be thinking of new sandwich combinations instead.


It’s true. You can read pretty much anything you want, and it all counts. Manga. Vampire buddy novels. Phone books. Whatever you want.

The writer at work.


I watched a show the other night called “Killer Jellyfish,” because that is exactly the kind of thing I have to watch. Did you know that there are people who are professional jellyfish researchers? And that they wade into jellyfish filled waters and pick them up and put them into buckets? In this show, two of the researchers were stung, and they were filmed as they spent the next two days in the hospital, twisting in agony as toxins invaded their system—toxins with no antidote, that produce pain so severe that not even the largest dose of morphine can even dull it?

Writers never have to do that. I mean, some of the rugged ones do it because they want to, but not this writer.

This is one example of a situation a writer is unlikely to end up in, unless they are that kind of writer.


Writers laugh at the idea of casual Friday. It’s ALWAYS casual Friday! It’s a “pants optional” profession, which is obviously good for me, considering my history.

Acceptable workwear? YES.

I leave you with that, and I hope that you will be sending in ideas for the GREAT HARRODS CAPER. I put myself in your hands.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007


It’s been a rough few weeks here in YA land. It seems like everyone has been on crazy deadlines, or getting sick, or otherwise falling to pieces. I think I should bring you all up to speed.

The other day, I had lunch with Justine Larbalestier and Libba Bray. Libba has been working 25 hours a day on the final book in the A Great and Rebel Terrible Angel trilogy and was looking a little green around the gills. The final days of revision are trying at best. Libba is one of those people who gives off an air of total composure—but it did seem like, with only a slight provocation, she might have flipped the table over and challenge the first comer to a knife fight. Or something like that.

We were talking about the fact that our compatriot, J. Green, was in the hospital with a horribly infected eye. (He’s out now.)

I was saying that I felt bad, because J. Green had been complaining about that eye for a while, and I kept saying, “Blah, blah, blah. Your eye is fine, Green.” Of course, it wasn’t.

And then Libba hit me with a surprise.

“I have a glass eye,” she said.

I was impressed, and I said so. I envy anyone who has a removable body part.

“You know what I was going to do?” she asked. “I was going to go to the hospital to see him, and I was going to say, ‘Hey! Bet you can’t do this!’ And I was going to smack the back of my head and . . .”

She mimicked popping out her eye into her palm and shoving it in Justine’s face.

“If you did that,” I said solemnly, “I would give you ONE MILLION DOLLARS.”

Libba was going to pay John a visit.

“You know,” Justine said. “When I first met Libba, I knew she was missing something, but I couldn’t remember what. I thought it was hearing in one of her ears. So I kept screaming at her.”

“I thought she was insane,” Libba said, nodding.

John is recovering, and by recovering, I mean that he is at home playing with his Wii. At least, that is what I assume he is doing. You don’t need two good eyes to play Wii, you only need the will. And he has the will.

Meanwhile, Scott Westerfeld (who sits next to me as I type this), has something like fifteen minutes to finish EXTRAS, the next book in the Uglies/Prettie/Specials series. He keeps staring off into space, as if he sees a hoverboard floating somewhere in the middle distance.

It is best not to provoke Scott, but it still seems like a good moment to interview him. Let’s do that now. This as in-process as you can possibly get.

ME: How’s that revising going?

SCOTT: What revision?

ME: The one you are doing right now, as we sit here.

SCOTT: (twitching a little) I’m not revising, I’m first drafting.

SCOTT starts typing again. I watch.

ME: Are there hoverboards in Extras?

SCOTT: There are hoverboards and there’s a whole new species of hover equipment.

ME: Are you having fun right now?

SCOTT: I’m having less fun that usual.

ME: Is this a bad time to be asking you questions?

SCOTT: (gritting teeth) No. It’s the perfect time.

ME: Oh, good!

I watch Scott’s fingers closely as he types. He looks at me.

ME: What are you typing right now?

SCOTT: (reading) “Flakes were falling from the sky, like a light snow.”

ME: That’s an official sneak preview of Extras?

SCOTT nods and scoots his computer over a little.

ME: Did you know that Libba Bray has a glass eye?


ME: If you could have any body part made of glass, what would you get?

SCOTT: A tooth.

ME: I would get a foot.

There you go. That’s an mj exclusive.

I’m glad to see that some of you have been writing in with questions for me and for “Ask An Agent” with Daphne. I have to keep Daphne’s brain on track, because she is getting married and is using her considerable organizational skills making notebooks of dresses, cakes, and flowers, instead of figuring out how to get me a stun gun.

Did I not tell you this?

Yes, Daphne Unfeasible just got engaged. I knew it was coming. Her beau, Rexroth Implausible, told me—and I had to be quiet about it. Which I was. Quiet as the grave. It helped that this was when I had the flu and was asleep for about two days.

Rexroth and I get along very well. Like the other day, when Daphne was showing me their wedding registry, talking me through the coordinated china patterns and throw pillows or whatever.

“Know what you need?” I said. “A trampoline.”

Daphne paid no attention to this, but Rexroth perked up at once. I could tell from the look in his eye that he wanted to know more.

“boingboingboingboingboingboing,” I explained.

He nodded, and I could see that he knew exactly where I was coming from.

“boingboingboingboing,” he replied.

Daphne turned and narrowed her eyes.

“boingboingboing,” we both said.

And you know what? There’s a trampoline on the registry now. See, it’s good to have me around.

Let me help you with your registry. Get better stuff.

So, please keep sending me the requests and questions. I have examined them all. In fact, I pose a task for YOU.


I will be leaving for the London office over the weekend. (Hopefully not in a snowstorm this time.) I am now accepting UK CHALLENGES. What should I do in the UK? I need to make up for the fact that I was flat on my back the last time I was there, and you guys seem to be full of good ideas. I have all of London at my disposal. And for a few days, I’ll even have Daphne! (Her participation in any hijinx cannot be guaranteed, unless I kidnap her, which I am not above doing.)

UK readers—I look forward to your weighing in!

I will examine all of the suggestions, both those in the comments and on e-mail, on Sunday night—and I will complete one of them.

Let’s see what you got.

(This will scare Daphne all week.)

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Monday, April 02, 2007


First, there are some new elements of the site I want to point out. For those of you writing book reports, now there’s an expanded bio, updated Girl At Sea information, and . . . drumroll . . . a PODCAST! The first one is just me, talking about the creation of 13 Little Blue Envelopes. It is chock full of book reporty goodness.

These podcasts will be a regular feature! In the future, I’ll be brining you interviews with more authors! Live reports on my pursuit of a Vespa! An exciting feature called "Ask An Agent" with Daphne Unfeasible! (If you have any questions for "Ask An Agent" you should send them in.) Just look up at the top of this page for the podcasts tab, or down along the side for the little iPod graphic. And don’t forget to sign up for my secret newsletter, so that I can assault you using every single program on your computer.

The reason for my brief absence from this blog is that I went home to see the Family Johnson. One of the major reasons for my visit was that my family cat, Gunny, had been ill.

I have an attachment to my cat that is almost unnatural. In fact, I have taken him on as my lawyer. When anyone gives me any trouble when I am at home, like waking me up at six in the morning to ask me what I want for dinner, I pick him up and tell them to address their concerns to him. On these occasions, his name is C. Casto Fangola.

"I refer you to C. Catso," I say, "of Fangola, Fangola, and Fangola. He’ll sue you if you continue to harass me in this fashion."

He purrs and narrows his eyes in a very persuasive fashion, and the matter is always dropped.

C. Casto, who is normally a frisky and chatty boy, got very sick about two weeks ago. In fact, things looked bad. Very bad indeed. But luckily, what appeared to be kidney failure turned out to be a cherry pit lodged in his belly. Where he got the cherry pit and why he decided to eat it is anyone’s guess, but mine is not to question the inner workings of such a fine legal mind.

(I think many cats have fruit fixations. Trevor and Grace Dangerous, my London actor friends, have a little cat named Macbeth Dangerous. Macbeth has a little cat flap, and he uses that to get into all kinds of adventures, including flirtations with his girlfriend, Ching-Ching Boo Face. Macbeth used to bring home grape stems a lot, and no one knew where they came from. He was very proud of them, as if he was saying, "Where I go at night, there are grapes. What do you have?")

Anyway, a visit to my hometown always brings back memories. Though I am from the Philadelphia area and went to school in the city, my actual town is outside of the city limits (quite close to where The Key to the Golden Firebird is set). When I was in high school, the place made me crazy. There was absolutely nothing to do and nowhere to go. When I lived there, the average age of the inhabitants was something like 75. It was like living in one of those towns mentioned in the Old Testament, where the description runs something like:
And Shawshank begat Rehobeth, who was 612 when he first learnth to ride a bicycle. Rehobeth begat Squamous, who lived to 819. He begat Shellack, who lived to a number too high for us to count. Suffice it to say that he was old.

My next door neighbor was always over 90, as far as I can remember. She was older than the big tree in her yard. They built a large retirement community across the creek from us (we lived on a creek—and still do), which I considered to be completely redundant.

I made my feelings known by generally moping around and complaining about the place.

"I just saw a documentary on mummies,” I would say to my parents. “They said it was about Ancient Egypt, but I think they filmed it here. I recognized half our neighbors in it."

I tended to make my dissatisfaction known.

Things have changed in my town. I noticed this when I got out of the car in front of our house, and looked over at the new inhabitant of my neighbor’s house—the one who was as old as her tree. It was a young guy with arms full of very fancy tattoos. He was getting something out of his own car, which looks like it is from the 70s, funky and low-slung, with flame painted along the side.

"Oh," my mom said, taking one of her countless plaid bags out of the back seat. "That’s Sage. Hi Sage!"

Sage waved back happily.

"Sage is a tattoo and piercing artist,” my mom went on, as we went inside. “I think he holds some kind of world’s record for the amount of weight suspended from his nipple rings. Anyway, do you want to go to the Olive Garden tonight?"

I had stopped moving and stood stock-still in the middle of the kitchen. My mother was talking about dangling weight from nipple piercings like she was telling me about the things she normally tells me about, like illness I might catch or some new ironing board cover she’d just seen on QVC.

I realize you probably don’t know my mother, so I should explain that she is NOT the kind of person who is really into things like hanging weights off of nipple piercings. My mom is very proud of the fact that she has never smoked a cigarette or had more than a half a drink at any one sitting, went to bed at ten o’clock at night in nursing school, and wouldn’t let me keep the knee-length denim skirt someone gave me in high school because she thought it made me "look like a streetwalker." She is also the kind of person who says "streetwalker." The last time I did a signing in my hometown, she reached down over the signing table, yanked up the front of my dress, and whispered loudly, "Maureen! I can see your bra!" (Becoming a published author changes absolutely nothing in your life, in terms of your parents. Just so you know.)

"He and his wife are lovely," my mom went on. "They run the tattoo and piercing parlor on Route 1. Sage is also a blacksmith. You should have seen it on Halloween. He made a talking robot out of car parts!"

I was woozy. I had to sit down.

"Here," she said. "Actually, he made this for me for taking in his mail. This looks more like your style than mine."

She handed me a very cool, industrial statue of C. Casto, made of screws, bolts, and heavy wires.

"It holds letters!" she said. "Look!"

She put a piece of mail on the statue, which displayed it perfectly.

"I can’t believe this," I said. "It’s not fair. Why couldn’t we live next to an awesome metalwork artist who ran a tattoo studio and made talking statues of car parts when I lived here?"

There were no robots in town when I lived there.

My mother went into one of her usual "yes-I-know-we-abused-you-weren’t-we-awful-it’s-amazing-you-survied" speeches, which I haughtily ignored as I placed my lawyer on my lap.

"Tread carefully," I said. "My attorney is present, and you know how cranky he gets before he has his dinnertime wet food. He is liable to hit you with some kind of subpoena."

My mother cannily cracked open some Fancy Feast, and I was temporarily left without representation.

"You win this round," I said. "But I will get you on the appeal."

So, I’m a bit bitter. But the letter holder is nice.

In any case, this is going to be a major week! There is much work to be done on the new book. And to make up for a few days of silence, I am going to try to post here like crazy. Please let me know if you have any important questions you need answered. I am in the mood to enlighten.

FREE MONKEY poses with Letter Holding Cat

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