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Friday, January 11, 2008


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

catherine said...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Because I want it. Really, really badly.

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

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

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

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

The good news is: I have another copy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ME: What question?

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

ME: That’s not what I asked!

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

ME: What about the scene?

BRAIN MONKEYS: What scene?

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

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

ME: It won’t.

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

ME: Do I even know that smell?

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

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

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

The writer's brain is always at work.

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

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

ME: Yeah . . .

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

ME: That’s true.

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

ME: Slow down . . .

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

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

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

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

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This has nothing to do with anything you said in this blog but I just wanted to let you know, in case someone else hasn't already, that I can write a really long sentance before I ever get to the point of what I was trying to say adn that I don't always mean to do it; it just happens! Also Taser international has a new Taser out that can come in Fashion Pink or Metallic Pink or Leopard Print. You can also buy a soft pink holster to put it in. Enjoy!

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Maureen I know you like England, that Kingdom over the Sea (right? I mean you are there a lot, your Brain Monkeys must've told you) so if you can, you should subscribe to THE GEOFF SHOW on Virgin Radio, they have podcasts! It's hilarious and would be a great thing to listen to on any more cold nights in Scotland. You'll be warm with laughter!

12:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I was not expecting that. At all. xD Wow! Thank you SO much, MJ. Fo' serious. I am filled with so much Cheer, that I am in the mood for hot chocolate and Christmas carols, despite the fact that it's January. :D

I am sending you my address via e-mail as we speak. (Er... as I type.)

12:55 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Congrats Laurenzo!

Now Ms. Johnson, I must ask you all fierce and scary like. How come you didn't tell us that shoe-obsessed superagent Daphne Unfeasible has a blog?!?!?!?! I heard it on a commentary on Justine's blog and then had to Google her! Just to save others the Google induced trauma, here is a linky: http://ktliterary.com/daphne.html

(except for the fact that for some reason, my links never work, so you will have to c & p it into your browser window)

2:25 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Daphne's new agency is newer than your newest pair of socks. Newer! It's barely even open yet! She's just left the big NYC agency she worked for to go out on her own, and the link to her site will undoubtedly be included in the site revamp.


2:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

congrats Laurenzo!even if I am secretly sad at losing the contest while I am typing this--congrats! I am so glad there'll be another contest! And I must add that your brain monkeys seem closely related to my brain heffalumps--a group of perfectly purple elephants who have a tendency to ramble about ritz crackers; Fatso, J.K's magical dolphin; dogs with overly large ears; and of course, everything that goes on in the Hundred Acre woods with Tigger, spelled T-I-double guh--er!!!!!!
<3 Katie

2:36 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Newer than the pink camoflage socks I found yesterday? WOW! (I am done being stern now, by the way. I can never sustain my sternness.)

Hee! I did notice when I was poking around her site that officially it is not up until February first. But she has still been favorited. Kudos to marrije too, who mentioned it first.

4:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

okay, so we have this god/goddess project to do in english and we had to draw the names randomly. When i got mine i was like "Hestia, well i dont know her so she must be boring." So I went home and searched "Hestia". IT said that she was the goddess of the hearth. Hm that sounded familiar. So there I go in my room to get 13LBE and search for the Greece letter. And to my disapointment.. nope her name was Vesta.. But alas! I went to school and read in a book That Hestia IS Vesta. I couldn't stop smiling! So now I just have to find all the info there is on the internet!
Okay thats my story lol

8:21 AM  
Blogger Jotter Scalems said...

"We (writers) are, by nature, a lazy people."
A quote to remember!
I'll put it next to the one from Esther M. Friesner:
"If you don't want a writer to come back, don't feed them. It's a simple rule and applies to cats as well."

3:58 PM  
Blogger Reese said...

I didn't know what to ask. I have a million questions. But one that would be good for a faq? It can't be something totally out there because well, it has to be frequently asked. Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmmmhmmmm.

Who is free monkey?

9:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What was your most traumatizing childhood experience? I'm pretty sure that everyone writing book reports will want this question answered. i would, anyway

10:02 PM  
Blogger emily said...

maureen, that was an amazing video. it was awesome in every way. i was laughing out loud for most of the video, and my mom, in the other room, was like, what's so funny?

and i just kept laughing. and laughing. and laughing.

also, who are you married to? i can never figure that out.

11:30 PM  
Blogger Shausto-la said...

hola mj!
another contest?
,maybe we could all give our plans to escape the inevitable zombie appocalypse, and the best one wins. although it would be somewhat hard to compete with your beastly pink tazers..

oh but then the zombies would know what are plans are. no, that would not be good. we can all write them in wingdings and such writings that the zombies have not yet figured out how to decipher in word.

is ask mj -month- still on?
cause i have a rather pressing question.

so have you ever thought about the names of some our gadgets and machines? and thus realized how completely UNCREATIVE humans can be with their naming! More specifically, our naming a big machine that washes clothing a "Washing Machine." and a big machine that dries the clothes a "Dryer."

i propose that we change these names to something that infinitely more fun to say.
like syzygy.

or floccipaucinihilipilification.

12:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

faq question: how do you feel about school libraries and such? For example: Are you frustrated with all the people who ban awesome books, or do you just take it as a compliment and add your newest book to the list of the banned? (most books that are banned, I find, are the most interesting)
And another faq question: why do people not realize how crucial it is to be prepared for the zombie apocalypse?
It would be cool if you could answer these in faq form, because I am completely sure that many people would like to know about your zombie-related views and present it in a book report. :)

5:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yay for laure....the winner person. which isnt me. so sad....sad.....
and MJ I am like so thankful that you talked about brain monkeys becuase i have always had them and there so stupid(no offense) that they didnt tell me about themselves. so sad sad sad day!

9:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG you have brain monkeys too? Wow, looks like everyone does. And here I thought they were there just to drive me crazy with all their random things. Good to know that they can come up with useful things at times.
FAQ: hmmm what to ask MJ? Two quistions I keep hearing that you might be married, is this true are you? What were your favorite books in high school? Did you also read in class when you were bored? Oh that was three. Sorry.

12:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

FAQ's huh? Well I guess what I want to know (who cares if it's frequently asked) is a little bit more about how you got published. Sure we all listened to your Ask an Agent podcast, but what about you specifically? How many queries did you send out before you got signed? How many gallons of what flavor of ice cream did you consume when you recieved your first rejection letter? Did someone as talented as you actually get rejected? Did you ever have one of those moments where you said to yourself "Well, all these agents think my book sucks so I'm just going to take my talents to Burger King where they'll be appreciated. Would you like fries with that, sir?" or do you have some kind of superpower that helped you stay eternally optomistic?

Another not-so-frequently-asked-question: what do you think an aspiring writer should choose as their college major? Do you think it's practical to choose a major that will help hone one's writing skills, or do you agree with Meg Cabot when she says that we should all go to medical school or choose an equally sensible backup plan?

And last, but not least, the really hard questions: What's your favorite food, and do you believe that diet drinks actually taste even remotely like the real thing?

3:09 AM  
Blogger Lauren said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:25 AM  
Blogger Lauren said...

1) I'll be able to enter this time
2) I have four assignments in the next week, three of which involve math, and while I'm good at calculus for some reason, addition always gets me.
2) I have a Japanese essay and test due in next week and I still don't remember all my kanji
3) I had Model Parliament all weekend WHICH I WAS LOOKING FORWARD TO WITH GREAT EXCITEMENT. WITH HAD AN ORBITAL LASER ON OUR LIST OF THINGS TO BUILD. But no, instead of having fun with my friends all weekend and BEING IN THE SENATE ROOM ITSELF, I find myself getting sick and miss the two most exciting days. How fair is that??
4) You're never been to Ottawa, Canada, where I've live.
5) As you can see from 2-4, I've had a pretty horrid few weeks, and entering a contest will probably cheer me up!

6:28 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

YAY! Girl at Sea finally was returned to the school library where I work and I got to sign it out! WOOT

8:50 AM  
Blogger tigressflowers said...

I would just like to say...

Thank you MJ, thank you for not writing *any* long drawn out series, that will only end in my frustration at how long and unending and pointless the series has now become! I thank you, with all my heart, that I do not feel the need to throw the entirety of your series at you, in hardcover. *coughcough Terry Brooks, Brian Jacques *cough*

And so, just to let you know of your standing, you MJ now have the honor of being 3rd on my Absolutely Favorite Authors List, right after Philip Pullman, and Scott Westerfeld, and followed by Chris Wooding

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So MJ, I was at ALA midwinter and met your SUITE publicist. I was hoping to witness the greatness of the new book, but someone had STOLEN her only copy!!! I didn't even get to sniff it. Hopefully there will be copies availalbe SOON as I am going a little crazy to read it!

:-) Laura

12:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is just a random comment, and my first one here, but I get so much pleasure out of reading your hysterical blog posts that I think you should publish them. Maybe you can write one of those ubiquitous "ho-to-write" books and compile all your blog posts about writers? Sure, I could print them out and put them in a binder, but I'd rather pay you for them. Plus, I'm lazy. (c:

9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm . . . that should be "how-to-write" not "ho-to-write," which is a totally different and possibly more disturbing thing. Darn typos!

9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lauren, you sniff books too? I thought I was the only one...

MJ, I'd love to hear why you spend so much time with other authors. Is it for moral support? mutual understanding? an ambiguous plot to take over the world?

8:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

please blog soon! I am dying under a avalanche of papers, tests, projects, and the fact that I am practically the only one in my class who is not indeed going to.....Disney World! And I wanted to say hi to goofy too....
please help cheer me up Maureen!
:) KrazyKatie

2:33 AM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

I really want to know why you are in Britain/England/the UK all the time. Is it your regular writing holiday place? Is it because the brain monkeys work better over there? Is JK Rowling blackmailing you somehow? WHY WHY WHY WHY? :D

P.S. Have you ever met Jonathan Stroud? (not necessarily FAQ-worthy, but I felt like asking)

3:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what is your email address mj??? i really want to email you, but it doesnt work when i press contact maureen :(.. help please!

10:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi MJ,
I'm sorry to hear you were stung by a bee on the lip. When I was seven I had the misfortune of a bee attack to my eyeball. Almost when blind, and it is kind of gross.

2:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

omg Maureen, are you really going to be blogging Insideadog this month? because that is so fawesomely fool!

8:43 PM  
Blogger Little Willow said...

Since I don't have a camcorder with which to film anything, I offer you boring plain text. Boring because it's plain text. Boring because it's a public entry and I'm guarded, so I wrote random, basic things rather than really personal things. Sigh. The end result is not at all quirky or interesting, which I wanted to do, because I'd like to think I am both of those things.
And now I'm asleep.

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please, please, let us hear your brain monkeys more often.

1:46 AM  
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