Maureen Johnson (or MoJo, as we like to call her) wrote a lovely novel, just released in paperback, called 13 Little Blue Envelopes, which has its teen heroine traveling through Europe on a very personal quest. Now she's got a new book out, Devilish. It's a YA take on Faust, complete with soul-selling, Catholic-school shenanigans, and other naughty & nifty twists. We think Devilish is delish, and so we asked MoJo to dish with us. Here's what she said.
Who is your favorite writer that most people have never heard of?
I’d like to think these writers are commonly known, but just in case they’re not:
Christopher Isherwood, who wrote The Berlin Stories, as well as several other amazing books.
Patrick Dennis, whose Auntie Mame books should be read by everyone
What kid or teen books rocked your world growing up?
Two always stick out. The first is The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. I was completed obsessed with that book.
The other one is The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois. I must have read this when I was really small and I loved it. But then I couldn’t quite remember for a while if this was something I read or I dreamed . . . a story about people who live on an island full of diamonds, each family owns a restaurant, the ground shakes. I was describing it to someone years later, and they knew it instantly. So I ran out and got a copy, and it all came rushing back—the illustrations, the balloons, the restaurants and diamonds.
Describe your ideal place to write.
I like a little noise around me, but not too much. And I don’t like to have too great of a view. I prefer tables to desks, so I can spread out my pages.
My dream is to find some kind of coffee place that has decent tables, good music, and someone to watch your computer so you can get up and wander around. Do such places exist? I would love to know.
Your life is a TV series. Name the theme song, one event that would be
on the "best of" episode, and one that would be on the blooper reel.
Best of: Day two, freshman year of high school. A school assembly. We were generally being berated by the principal for being idiots simply because we were new, and how we were generously being given three more days to memorize and master the school’s endless, Kafkaesque list of rules. I am already slightly terrified, because I’m not Catholic and this school is very strange and unfamiliar to me. (Plus, right by the front door, there is a picture of nuns being mowed down by machine guns and falling into a mass grave. That’s the school’s welcome mat. Really.)
Suddenly, my best friend (seated next to me) is seized by the Muse of Comedy and begins buzzing in my ear the single most hilarious commentary that I have ever heard in my life. I am trying not to laugh. Tears are running down my face. I claw at her leg and beg her to stop. She says she can’t, she’s been possessed. I hiss that we are about to get kicked out of the school after 48 hours, which has to be a record. She says she can’t help that. I start smacking her as much as I can without being seen. Nothing will stop her. I stab her with my pen. She only gets funnier.
The principal stops, stares right at us, and says that she is—at this very moment—witnessing the single most egregious violation of behavior, ever. I more or less die at that point, and my soul leaves my body halfway. I am 100% certain that we are about to be expelled, possibly taken out and killed. To this day, I cannot entirely explain why this did not happen. This experience, however, would set the tone for the next four years of my life, which is honestly a lot more fun than it sounds. (And I turned the school into St. Teresa’s Prep School for Girls, the setting of Devilish.)
Blooper reel: Me, aged four, singing the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree” (as performed by Tony Orlando and Dawn) into the suction tube of a vacuum cleaner. So excited am I by this performance that I run around the vacuum in circles as I sing, then I trip over the cord and snap my arm in two. I was a smart kid.
Burger-flippers want to know: have you ever had a job that required you to wear a geeky uniform? Details, please!
Several. There were certainly a lot of aprons involved. When I first moved to New York to go to grad school, I worked in a haunted house theme restaurant. I had to wear an Indiana Jones hat and a shirt with a big skull on it. I also had a nametag that said my name was Dixie. (I honestly can’t repeat the jokes that came with that.)
We'd like to name a burger in your honor. What kind of fixins should it have?
Veggie burger please. I’ll have mine with roasted red pepper, avocado, and Monterrey Jack. Pickles on the side. And all the condiments in the house.