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!
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.
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.
Who is Zelda? Zelda is my dog.
Who is Oscar? An English person who lives in my house. He is not, as many people think, a cat.
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.
Do you know that you have the same name as a character from Rent? Yes.
Are you her? No.
How often do you get this question? About 5-10 times a week.
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.
Where do you go on your book tours? I go where I am sent by my publisher, and where I go varies each time!
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? Sometimes I do. It depends on my work schedule. Sometimes I am just writing or just traveling, so I don't do them then. But other times I am here and ready to stare you down via the tiny camera on my computer. Penguin works with Skype to set these up. You can email them 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 on two occasions, 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.
I would like to interview you! How do I go about this? Thank you! Email here with your information (media outlet/site/topic/timeline, etc.). I answer to the best of my ability--sometimes I'm working or away or having a "life" but I do what I can, as I can!
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 ten years (not consistently). It’s not done.
How many languages, besides English, are you published in? At the moment: twenty-four. I'll forget to update this, so assume it is at least twenty-four.
Are you going to make movies out of any of your books? This one isn't totally my call. Here is how this works: movie studios may see your book and get interested in it. If so, they get in touch and offer something called an option. An option is an agreement that, for a certain amount of money, they are the only ones who can make that book into a movie for a certain period of time. Movie studios and producers option stuff all the time, but they only make some of it. (This is why sometimes you hear a book you like has been "optioned" and then you sit around waiting for your movie and it never comes.) Sometimes, though, the stars align and they decide to make the movie! Which is nice. But often the author has very little to do with the whole process.
All of that being said...there are some things of mine in various stages of development. Should one of them materialize into a movie, I SHALL INFORM YOU.
Where do you get your ideas? Everywhere, all the time. Every moment, every day, there is something to observe!
Okay, but seriously, where do you get them? The Olive Garden.
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.
On the Count of Three (previously The Bermudez Triangle)
Why was the title changed??? Penguin (the publisher, not an actual Penguin) thought it might be a good idea. That's the entire reason.
So the book isn't different? No.
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.
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.
13 Little Blue Envelopes/The Last Little Blue Envelope
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.
Is Mari Adams real? Mari Adams is loosely based on a real artist named Vali Myers.
Will there be a third book in this series? I think this story is complete in these two books, so probably not. I say probably because you never know with me. But I am fairly certain it is finished.
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.
Sequel? No. Jane couldn’t take it.
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.
Are you a SCUBA diver? HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA . . . no.
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.
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.
The Scarlett Series
Are the Scarlett books based on any real experiences? A bit, yes. 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.
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. But I love writing about the Martins more than I can say, so if you keep reading them, I will keep writing them.
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.
Seriously, where is the third Scarlett book? No kidding, I will shout it from the rooftops when I have definite information on this. BUT THERE IS ONE COMING.
The Shades of London series
How many books will be in the Shades of London series? Five. Three of these exist already (The Boy in the Smoke, The Name of the Star, The Madness Underneath), one is about to come out (The Shadow Cabinet), and the final book (title as yet UNANNOUNCED).
Why is The Boy in the Smoke only available in print in the UK? The Boy in the Smoke is a novella originally written for World Book Day UK 2014. It can be read in its entirety FOR FREE, by ANYONE, on Wattpad!
What is the release date for The Shadow Cabinet? The UK release is February 5, 2015. The US release is February 10, 2015.
Where did the idea for this series come from? It started one day in London, when I was working on a book called The Last Little Blue Envelope. I was taking a historical tour of Westminster and I noticed the guide kept saying all of the buildings were haunted. This struck me as an odd thing to do on a historical tour. By the second hour, I was really annoyed. I started thinking that if there were really all these ghosts knocking round all these buildsings, they would be more regulated. In England, there's a form for everything. There would be paperwork. There would be police... The idea went from there. I sat down and started scrawling all of these notes. I shoved a notebook in my pocket and walked and wrote. I got most of the idea that day--not every single detail, but a lot of it. And it all happened in one long afternoon.
Let It Snow
How did you and John and Lauren end up writing a book together? We all knew each other. At the time, John and I were writing together every day in New York. As I remember it, John called up one say and said, "Hey, do you want to write a holiday book with me and Lauren?" And I said yes so fast I may have gone back in time. I LOVE HOLIDAY BOOKS.
How did you guys write it if you were in different places? The first thing we did was talk a lot of the phone about what we wanted to do. We set up that we wanted it to be in one place, over a series of days, in order, with characters that would come in and out of each other's stories. Then we figured out the order: I was to start the book and get some of the characters into the town and establish the snowstorm, John was to get some of the characters to the Waffle House, and Lauren's characters were townspeople who would be impacted by people who were on the train in my section.
How did the Waffle House get to be so important? John was talking about Waffle Houses and their prevalence in the south. If you get stuck anywhere in the south, you might be near a Waffle House. It was also funny to us to have a bunch of people trying to get to a Waffle House. A lot of things ended up in the book as an attempt to make the others laugh.
How did you come up with the Flobie Village and the Flobie Five? Out of all my stories, this one comes (in a small way) from something that is really in my life--namely, my mother's Dickens Christmas Village, which is a series of ceramic houses based on Victorian England. She has about a hundred, along with tiny figures, a tiny train, tiny trees, fake snow. There are even TINY CERAMIC GEESE about the size of a fingernail that hang from a little ceramic goose stand. It is a BIG DEAL in our house and can take up to two weeks to set up. When I was a kid, she even got the soundtrack tape (an actual cassette tape) of VICTORIAN SOUND EFFECTS (horses' hooves, vaguely Victorian talking, wheels on cobblestones). She didn't play this very often because it turns out that is weird. I took that, converted it slightly, and put it right in the book. The factory arrest of the Flobie Five came from a Polyphonic Spree song I was listening to at the time that contains the line, "A factory showdown/the images reviewed," which immediately became in my mind a showdown at the Flobie factory over the newest piece in the collection. As a Christmas fanatic myself, I fell into the rest of this story very naturally.
THE BANE CHRONICLES
How did you and Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan end up writing stories about Magnus Bane? We are good friends, and I love Cassie's books. We often write together, and sometimes we talk through each other's books and help each other out. Over the years, we have made loads of jokes about things that would be funny to happen to certain characters. Magnus came up a lot, because of his age. We realized that the things we were joking about were actually real story ideas, and that it would be fun to write these stories on a serialized basis. And so, we did!
How did you write about a character from someone else's books? This is an enjoyable and not uncommon writing challenge. TV writers do it all the time. I'd read them all. I re-read them, marking every single thing that Magnus did (literally, with a post-it). I complied this into a master file of All Things Magnus. We sat down together and came up with ten story ideas--each one of us pitching something that appealed to us in terms of time period and setting (for me, the French Revolution, and New York in the 1920s and 1970s). We sketched out our stories with Cassie, and then worked on our own. Then we'd pass them back and forth for a while. I really enjoyed doing this.
Is it true you are working on a second series? YES. We are working on The Shadowhunter Academy. It begins next year, and will be written by me, Cassie, Sarah, and Robin Wasserman. I am doing two stories. It focuses on the character of Simon Lewis. He is my favorite.
Is it true you insist on calling this new series City of Simon? Yes.