Friday, August 01, 2008

Interview with RITA finalist Maureen Johnson

>Maureen Johnson is the author of The Key to the Golden Firebird, The Bermudez Triangle, 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Devilish, Girl At Sea, and Suite Scarlett. She earned her MFA in writing from Columbia University, where she also studied theatrical dramaturgy. Before she was published, Maureen had a number of jobs-including waitressing in a haunted house theme restaurant in New York, working with live tigers in Las Vegas, and being the token American employee at a comedy pub in London. Maureen lives in New York City, where she is part of the thriving YA community. She frequently reports on her exploits, both real and imaginary, at

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m an author. I live in New York City. I love shiny objects.

2. How did you get the inspiration for your Rita-nominated book?

I had several major obsessions as a child—Pompeii and the Titanic being just two. I also love old musical comedies. When I sat down to write Girl At Sea, I had just watched It Happened One Night with Clark Gabel and Claudette Colbert—and I had this idea that I could combine the three things. I was obsessed with the scene of Claudette Colbert leaping off the boat at the start of the film, and ending up with a guy who thinks she’s spoiled. So I took that idea as a staring point and tried to make the first YA archeology comedy-romance. I think the genre will be huge.

3. What authors do you read?

All sorts. I’m useless at listing favorite writers.

4. Who is your favorite character?
Probably Bertie Wooster. Or Auntie Mame.

5. What five things are always in your purse?

My wallet, iPhone, keys, a small notebook, and a lip gloss. My purse is pretty boring, now that I think of it. I should start carrying brass knuckles or a severed finger or something.

6. What music are you currently listening to?

Let’s see . . . there’s always a lot of Abba, David Bowie, Aimee Mann, Grant Lee Phillips, Spoon, Super Furry Animals, and Roxy Music. At this exact second, it’s a combination of The Go! Team, Phantom Planet, and Justice with old Berlin cabaret songs mixed in. I have no idea what this says about me.

7. Tell us about your pets.

I wish I had pets, but I don’t. I live in the city and travel too often for that to be practical. Eventually, I will have about six dozen different animals.

8. One item of makeup you can't live without.

I wear foundation every day, since I was probably twelve. I just use nicer, lighter stuff than I did then—mineral makeup. Mineral makeup is genius.

9. First thing you drink in the morning.

It used to be eight cups of coffee, but now it’s just a cup or two of tea.

10. Best/worst prom/high school memory.

Well, I went to school in a convent—to an all-girls Catholic prep school. Which is kind of weird, considering that I’m not Catholic. So my high school experience was marked by a massive absence of boys, a lot of nuns, and a lot of rules I didn’t quite get. All in all, though, it wasn’t a bad time. I made a lot of good friends.

But my best friend and I did get stuck in traffic on the way to the prom, and the nuns who ran it were very, very serious about timeliness, and threatened to hold our diplomas if we were late, or left early, or did anything wrong like show up in a sleeveless dress. So when we got stuck six blocks away, my friend and I RAN in our dresses and heels to try to make it on time. We were two minutes late, and we had to face twenty-five nuns in a reception line. The reception area was mirrored, so it looked like that final scene in Star Wars where it looks like there are thousands of . . . whoever it is in the final scene of Star Wars. Basically, it looked like we were getting yelled at by two thousand nuns who were never going to let us graduate, even though we ran six city blocks in formalwear. They did, of course . . . but we BELIEVED they wouldn’t.

High school was weird like that.

11. If you could go back in time and talk to the teenage you, what would you tell her?

I would tell her to be more confident. I think I thought I was being very confident, but I think a lot of girls cut themselves down in ways they don’t even know.

12. What are you working on next?

I’m writing the sequel to my newest book, Suite Scarlett. The new book is called Scarlett Fever. My goal is to get it done in time to get to the opening of the Abba Museum in Stockholm.

The Girl: Clio Ford, seventeen, wants to spend the summer smooching her art-store crush, not stuck on a boat in the Mediterranean. At least she'll get a killer tan.

The Mission: Survive her father's crazy antics. Oh, and also find some missing underwater treasure that could unlock the secrets of civilization.

The Crew: Dad's wacky best friend Martin, his bizarre research partner Julia, her voluptuous daughter Elsa . . . and then there's Aidan, Julia's incredibly attractive, incredibly arrogant assistant. What's going on behind Aidan's intellectual, intensely green eyes,anyway?

As Clio sails into uncharted territory she unveils secrets that have the power to change history. But her most surprising discovery is that there's something deeper and more cryptic than the sea-her own heart.


  1. Hi Maureen~

    I absolutely loved Auntie Mame too. I stop and watch the movie every time I see it on TV. Wow, Catholic all girls school...I bet you have lots of interesting stories.

    Your book sounds really good! I have been really into YA books lately.

  2. I love the story behind the story. And I agree, the YA archeology comedy-romance should be a huge genre soon.

  3. Hi Maureen. Great interview. I enjoyed reading your answers.

  4. Great high school story! ROFL! I can totally relate having gone to an all girl catholic school too.

  5. How odd... you are the second person this week to mention Roxy Music... the other was my cousin... cause he was invite to participate in a tribute cd for them and is looking for a song to do...

  6. I've got to bother my library to purchase Suite Scarlett.

    Great interview, ladies!!

  7. Who doesn't love shiny things?

    And I love your prom story. That's the important thing about threats . . . they don't work if they aren't believable. Or backed up by twenty-five nuns standing in a mirrored hall. (I knew there was a reason I wanted to be a nun!)

  8. That is some prom memory - sounds like a great scene for a book!

  9. I have added this to my MUST READ list. Sounds fantastic.

    Congrats on your nom, and thanks for being here.

  10. Oh ditto on Auntie Mame! I love that movie.

    Another great interview.

  11. Anonymous2:08 PM

    I love all of Maureen's books, though have yet to read Suite Scarlett (a friend of mine read and reviewed it for my site). But what I'm excited about is that I recently got Let It Snow by her, John Green and Lauren Myracle. I can't wait to read it.

    Great interview!! :)

  12. Girl at Sea sounds like a great summer read...perfect for the rest of my three-day weekend. :)

  13. ROFL about your prom story! And your inspiration for Girl At Sea is pretty interesting, too. :P I get lots of ideas that way, but haven't had much luck actually getting a whole story out of them. :(