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scarlett fever
suite scarlett
girl at sea
13 little blue envelopes
the bermudez triangle
the key to the golden firebird
vacations from hell
let it snow
March 7th, 2010

Hello! Welcome to my Frequently Asked Questions page! I have found that many people have questions to ask when they are doing HOMEWORK. Maybe this is you?

Sadly, I cannot answer individual requests for homework help. There are two reasons for this:

1. Homework questions are hard, and many. If I answered them all I wouldn’t get anything else done, including writing books. And writing books is my job. It takes up a lot of time. And if I didn’t write the books, no one would have any reason to ask me any questions. This turns into one of those chicken and egg situations. Except the answer in this case is CHICKEN, because I think we all equate chickens with books. Right?

2. Questions about things like symbols, themes, meaning . . . these are all for you to determine! I can’t answer those no matter what!

But do not think I do not want to help! Below, I have answered some common questions. Hopefully these will be of some assistance!

If you are not doing homework . . . you are also welcome to enjoy the faq!

About Me
The Books In General
The Key To The Golden Firebird
The Bermudez Triangle
13 Little Blue Envelopes
Girl At Sea
Suite Scarlett
Scarlett Fever
Internet Related Questions
On Writing and Publishing
Contact Info

About Me

Where were you born? In a snowstorm, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Why Philadelphia? My mom was there. I tended to go where she went back in those days.

What’s your birthday? The 16th of February.

So, you’re an Aquarius? That’s right.

Where do you live? New York City.

What do your parents do? Are they writers? My mother is a nurse. My father is a retired engineer. They are most assuredly not writers.

Do you have any siblings? Sadly, no.

Where did you go to school? For high school, I attended a private, Catholic prep school for girls. For undergrad, I went to the University of Delaware, and (briefly) the University of Bristol in the UK. For graduate school, I went to Columbia University.

What did you major in at school? Writing (classical rhetoric, technical writing, and nonfiction) and theatrical dramaturgy.

What’s dramaturgy? A dramaturg (someone who practices dramaturgy) is kind of a playwright-director-researcher-editor. Dramaturgs help put together seasons of plays, select and develop new plays, adapt books and stories for stage, choose translations, do research on historical plays . . . basically, anything that has to be done to a script . . . a dramaturg can be brought in to help do it. Mostly what I did was break up fights between directors and playwrights, put out small fires, and find missing actors and musicians.

Why do you go to England so much? I am BFFs with the Queen, and am currently being considered to play the next Doctor on Doctor Who. Please don’t tell anyone. These are both secrets.

Team Zombie or Team Unicorn? Do you even need to ask? Team Zombie, of course!

Do you know that you have the same name as a character from Rent? Yes.

Are you her? No.

Seriously. Are you? No.

Were you named for her? No! I was here first!

Did you know there is a song called “The Tango Maureen”? Yes.

Is it about you? No.

Would you like me to sing it to you? Yes.

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The Books in General

How long does it take you to write a book? Nine months to a year, generally. Sometimes much longer. But there’s one book I’ve been working on for about seven years. It’s not done.

Where do you get your ideas? From the brain monkeys.

What languages, besides English, are you published in? At the moment: French, German, Italian, Swedish, Polish, Catalan, Croatian, Romanian, Hebrew, Dutch, Hungarian, and Turkish.

Are they going to make movies out of any of your books? It’s always possible! From what I have seen, it’s kind of a long and complicated process. And it begins when the movie studio gets in touch with the writer, not the other way around. Someone has to come to you and say, “Hello! We are movie people with lots of cameras and big sacks of money to make films! We need to talk to you!” I have been approached a few times . . . I hear rumblings. If it happens, TRUST ME, I will let everybody know.

Why are there so many headless (or eyeless) girls on the covers of your books? I don’t really have a lot (if anything) to do with the covers of my books. In fact, the first time I ever played a role was for the Suite Scarlett cover—I consulted on the choice of model and the location of the photo shoot. Otherwise, I usually see them when they are near completion. Covers don’t make a huge difference to me, honestly. My job is to write the book. The cover is the shiny thing designed by the art department to catch your eye in the store.

That being said . . . I know what you’re saying about the headless (or eyeless) girls. I get a LOT of comments about them. I know that the idea is . . . the face is obscured so that you can make your own ideas about what the character looks like. What some people are seeing are girls with fabulous abs and no heads. And I get that. I’m really kind of with you on that, actually . . . but at the same time, I appreciate all the work that goes into the cover design. My best suggestion is to take over the dust jacket or put some other cover of your own design on the book if you don’t like it. In fact, some people send me their versions of the covers. I love them!

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The Key to the Golden Firebird

Is this book based on your personal experience? No, not really. It takes place where I grew up, though.

How do you write about siblings when you don’t have any? I have a lot of close friends. And a lot of my close friends have siblings and tell me what it’s like. And I just watch people. And I just make it up.

Are you a big baseball fan? I don’t follow any sports at all, so I needed a lot of help with the baseball sections. The only thing I had to go on was my limited experience playing softball when I was ten or eleven. I watched games with baseball-loving friends and went to Camden Yards.

Do you really like cars? Ha ha! Again, no. Few people know less about cars than I do. That scene where Pete explains “the second battery” to May? Something a lot like that happened to me.

Are you writing a sequel to this book? No. This book is a stand-alone story.

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The Bermudez Triangle

Did any of this happen to you? Well, I did work in a theme restaurant that was a lot like P.J. Moritmer’s. And I used to play piano very badly. And, like Nina, I really like Swifters.

Is it true this book has been banned? It’s been challenged twice, once in Oklahoma, and once in Florida. In both cases, the book was kept on the shelf, but with restrictions. And in one of these cases, a librarian of over thirty years gave up her job rather than back down.

Why was it challenged? From what I could gather, because it has a positive portrayal of two girls dating. Both challenges seemed to result from either an incomplete or very confused reading of the book, as the claims made about it were almost entirely false. Book banners are not known for their critical reading skills.

Someone complained because of THAT? That’s ridiculous! I know. Hey, some people try to ban Harry Potter. Banners . . . they love to ban. It makes them feel important.

Do you have an inner raccoon? Does it like shiny things? Yes. Yes.

How about this book? Are you writing a sequel to this one? Again, no. This is a stand-alone story.

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13 Little Blue Envelopes

Did you go to all the places in the book? No. At the time I wrote it, I’d been to about half of them. I bought a massive map of Europe, one that took up a large section of my living room floor. I used that to track Ginny’s journey, covering it in post-its with train times and distances. The rest was all research. Librarians are our friends!

Did the book change a lot as you wrote it? Massively. You wouldn’t recognize it from the first draft. There was a baby . . . there was a pub . . . I almost sent Ginny to Lapland . . . things like that.

Is it true you wrote the book in a Scottish castle? I started it in one, yes. I won a writing fellowship, and spent a month living in this castle in the winter.

Is Keith real? There is no one real Keith Dobson . . . however, he’s sort of a portrait of several friends of mine. I could introduce you to about three people, and you could think that any one of them was the “real Keith.”

The name and the kilt came from a real Keith, who is really an actor, who is a Scottish friend of a friend. I met him while he was visiting here in New York. He went all around the city in his kilt (he had rented it for a wedding). He was quite a hit. His name is properly pronounced “Keef.” When I was writing the book, I stuck him in there.

So, the answer is no . . . but it’s also sort of a yes. Does that make any sense?

Is Harrods real? Extremely.

Do you have proof? Would you accept ten massive cans of ox tongue in jelly as proof?

Or. how about this video?

Is Mari Adams real? Mari Adams is loosely based on a real artist named Vali Myers.

What’s with the 13th envelope? (spoilers) YOU WILL FIND OUT IN THE SEQUEL.

What happens to Keith and Ginny! I HAVE TO KNOW! YOU WILL FIND OUT IN THE SEQUEL.

Wait. Did you just say SEQUEL? Yes.

What’s it called? The Last Little Blue Envelope.

Is the sequel available? Yes! The Last Little Blue Envelope came out in April 2011. Look for it at your favorite bookstore!

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Is St. Teresa’s based on your own school? A bit. We didn’t, to my knowledge, have a demon organization operating quietly in the shadows—but we did have polyester uniforms, a complicated demerit system, and some pretty scary statues.

Why did you go to a Catholic girls’ school if you weren’t Catholic? It sounded fun at the time.

Are you like Jane at all? I sound a lot like Jane, but I’m not nearly as smart as she is.

Was Devilish based on any books or stories? It’s my take on the classic Faust story—and a bit on The Devil and Daniel Webster.

Sequel? No. Jane couldn’t take it.

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Girl at Sea

Where did Girl At Sea come from? A powerful childhood obsession with Pompeii and the Titanic. I totally nerded out on these two subjects.

Why doesn’t Clio have a tattoo on the U.S. cover? I have no idea.


Is it true that you took SCUBA lessons for the book? Um, yes. One. I was not fantastic at it.

Is it true that you went to Sorrento, Capri, and Pompeii for research to write the book? Yes. I go through all kinds of hardships for you.

What does Sorrento look like? It looks like this—which is the exact path Clio and her father use to get back up into town:

Is it true that you bought extremely cheap sunglasses while you were there? Yes.

And ate a lot of gelato? Yes.

The sequel question goes here. I know. Again, this is a stand-alone story.

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Suite Scarlett

Is Suite Scarlett based on any real experiences? It is. Not all of it, certainly. I mean, I made it all up, story-wise. But it’s based on my experiences working in theater and living in New York.

Does that mean you’ve seen Hamlet performed on unicycles? No. But I’ve seen things that actually sound less likely than that. I’ve seen Shakespeare sets comprised entirely of fruit.

Is the Hopewell Hotel a real place? It is in my mind.

What happens with Eric? You have to read the next book to find out.

And . . . sequel? There already IS one!

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Scarlett Fever

Do I have to read Suite Scarlett to understand Scarlett Fever? I don’t think you have to, but I’d recommend it.

How many Scarlett books are there going to be? The current plan is for three.

Who are these four people mentioned in the dedication: Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, Agnetha Fältskog, and Her Serene Highness Princess Anni-Frid Synni Reuss, Countess of Plauen? They are known to the world as ABBA.

Why is Scarlett Fever dedicated to a 1970s Swedish disco group? Because they taught us all that we too can be the Dancing Queen.

Has Dick Wolf contacted you yet? IT IS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME.

When is the third Scarlett book coming out? I don’t have the date yet. I’m working on that now. I WILL LET YOU KNOW.

Why did you end it like that? WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU? heh heh heh

[mild spoilers] Eric or Max? Like I would tell you.

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Internet Related Questions

Who is Daphne Unfeasible? Daphne (a.k.a. Kate Schafer-Testerman) is my agent. She also happens to be a friend of mine from college, former roommate, fellow traveller, and a (usually) willing partner in my various schemes. She blogs about publishing and the agenting process here.

Why don’t you have a Youtube channel? I do. It’s here. I don’t make videos very often. I did substitute for John Green on vlogbrothers when he was on paternity leave, and that almost killed me. Videos are hard and take away valuable time I could be using to eat snacks or write books. Also, I don’t think I am very good at them. Who knows? I may start making them regularly. I AM FULL OF SURPRISES, LIKE A CAN OF POP-UP SNAKES.

What is BEDA? BEDA stands for Blog Every Day April. It started in 2009, in March, when I realized I was way behind on my blog, and I thoughtlessly Twittered, “Hey, I think I will blog every day in April.” Then I got in the shower. When I got out, people had already signed on, saying, “I, too, will blog every day in April!” Three hours later, it had a name, five hours later, it had a coordinator. In the end, BEDA had five hundred registered participants, and many others doing the project on their own. Throughout the project, I featured a reader’s blog every day, and I did a “BEDA BUDDIES” project where I took one hundred applications and matched people into groups of four to be reading and blogging partners. It was an awesome exercise in building a writing community–and it happened more or less by accident, as many good things do.

Is there going to be a BEDA 2010 or 2011? Or, for the folks really into planning, 2012? EVEN MORE UPDATED ANSWER: Because of my schedule, I cannot COMMIT to BEDA again at this time, but I encourage you to go for it! UPDATED ANSWER: I personally won’t be doing BEDA 2010 because my schedule has filled completely. If I try to cram in anything more, I will run giggling into the hills, and you will never see me again. But YOU can do it. And I will probably blog MORE THAN NORMAL.

What’s with the jars? On Twitter, you will often hear me refer to “my jars.” When you follow me on Twitter, I take your essence and put it in a jar. You are well taken care of. Your jars are lovingly polished, and snacks are regularly distributed. I regularly move the jars, so you can look out the window, or get some sleep. Whatever you need.

Who is Free Monkey? Free Monkey was one of a batch of thousands of small stuffed monkeys distributed in boxes of PG Tips tea in England in early 2006, all with the label “Free Monkey.” Through sheer luck, I happened to purchase his box at a Guildford area Tesco while I had the flu. I was amazed when I opened the box and this small monkey immediately began addressing me. Unlike all the other PG Tips monkeys, most of which just sit around and stare . . . Free Monkey possesses a brilliant mind. He is fluent in five languages, and can read a further four. He is deeply analytical, and acts as my advisor on all matters.  He frequently accuses me of “linear thinking,” but aside from that, we are tight. Free Monkey went on tour around the United States and to several international locations for the release of Girl At Sea. Free Monkey has two cousins called the Wee Free Monkeys. They are not nearly as bright as Free Monkey. One of the Wee Free Monkeys now lives with Lili Wilkinson in Australia.

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On Writing and Publishing

I am an aspiring writer! What advice can you give me? Read everything you can. Write all the time. Keep writing and writing and writing . . . and don’t worry about publishing right away. Writing is a bit like playing an instrument or dancing or acting . . . you have to practice and learn for a long time before you go up in front of people.

How do you get over writer’s block? I just keep sitting down in front of the computer again. I don’t want to keep using analogies, but for me, it’s kind of like a physical activity—when you first start doing it, sometimes you get aches and pains and its hard to work for a long time—but then you build up, and you learn to deal with the aches and the pains and the slow days. You just work through them. I guess I recommend a regular schedule. Just keep going.

I have written a book! Can I send it to your agent? My agent, Daphne Unfeasible of Unfeasible Enterprises (a.k.a. Kate Schafer of kt literary) has a very thorough website. You can read her submission policy here!

I have written a book! Will you read it and tell me what you think? I wish I could. Honestly. The problem is, if I did this whenever I got a request, I would never have time to do anything else, including eat. And I get hungry.

I have written a book that is being published (not self published, but by a publisher). I would like you to blurb it! Can I send it to you? Thank you for thinking of me! Here is how this works. All blurb requests should go to my agent and should preferably come from your agent or editor. Kate manages the flow of requests. She will talk you through it.

Why did you make that distinction about self publishing? Because at this time I do not read self-published works for blurbing purposes. If the industry changes in the future I am sure my policy will change. But that’s how it stands now.

I am a teenager and I really want to publish this book/story I wrote. How can I get published right now? I seriously recommend that you wait to try to get published–and in truth, even if you don’t wait to try, your chances are not very good. I know this sounds harsh but, it is truthful and solid advice. Most books written by teenagers are nowhere near ready for publication. It takes a long time to learn how to write. John Scalzi explains this whole issue in a fantastic article you can read here. I really recommend it, because he’s right.

So, you’re saying I should give up? Definitely not. Quite the opposite. Keep writing. Write all the time. The publishing part is the least important part of this equation. That’s the part that’s a job. Publishing is a business. Writing is your craft. Every writer I know was a teenage writer who just kept going.

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Where do you go on your book tours? Authors are lemmings. We go where we are sent. I am touring in spring 2011 for The Last Little Blue Envelope and fall 2011 for The Name of the Star. I don’t have all the details yet, but keep an eye on this page to see if I will be showing up at a location near you!

Can you come to my town? That would be awesome! Of COURSE I want to come to your town! But someone has to send me. Which means that someone at a bookstore or library has to make the request to my publisher, and my publisher has to figure it all out and schedule it. I can’t go everywhere I’m asked, sadly. But I can go to SOME of the places.

Do you do Skype visits? Yes, I do. My schedule is full right now, but I’ll let you know when I am open to new requests!

AN IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT APPEARANCES: In order to work on my new series and get ready to go on tour to SEE YOU (and to do personal stuff, like see people I like and eat snacks), the mj offices are currently closed. I am instead WRITING things and PLOTTING and SCHEMING. If you would like to set up a visit for THE FUTURE, please drop me a note.

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Contact Info

How can I contact you? You can send me an e-mail at maureen@maureenjohnsonbooks.com. I should also explain that while I read every single email, I sometimes don’t have a chance to reply. I always try—and sometimes I end up replying months later. Please don’t think that I didn’t read your note, or didn’t like it, or don’t care . . . because I do!

Do you have an assistant who reads your e-mail? At the mj office, it’s all about personal service. I read every single e-mail I get. If you take the time to write to me, I take the time to read it. Hence the “I can’t always reply” thing.

I would like to send you a letter! What’s your mailing address? The BEST way to reach me is e-mail, but I know that sometimes people have school projects that require writing a letter (or just like writing letters). So feel free to send one! Please just know that I am really, really bad at replying to snail mail. I have to find paper, a stamp, leave my desk . . .

The address is:
Maureen Johnson
P.O. Box 136
New York, NY 10276

And in the meantime, I will try to convince your teachers that e-mail works just as well.

I have a media inquiry. How can I reach you? You can send it to me here, and I will either reply or I will send it on to my publicist.

I have a question about the rights to your work/some other important piece of business I need to discuss with you. How can I reach you? Please send an e-mail to my agent, Kate Schafer Testerman.