Listen in as Meg Cabot and I discuss, among other things, her books (and movies), past, present, and future, the difficulties faced when writing for different audiences, fighting censorship, blogging, and, yes, our cats.
Hi Meg! Thank you for chatting with me. I know you have a busy schedule, so I appreciate your time and your thoughts.
Thanks for having me, Little Willow! I've dropped by your blog often, so I'm delighted to be here!
You have written for more than fifty novels and short stories for kids, teens, and adults, ranging from romantic comedies and historical romance to mysteries and supernatural tales. Are there any other genres you'd love to tackle?
Hmmm, none that I can think that I haven't yet. Maybe some weird combination of ones you mentioned above that I haven't tried...supernatural tales for kids, or something. But I've got plenty keeping me busy at the moment!
Your first book for kids, Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls: Moving Day, comes out in March 2008. You shared the short story Allie Finklestein's Rules for Boyfriends in the 2007 anthology Shining On. Will your new Allie series follow her through her childhood and teen years?
Well, we'll definitely follow Allie through fourth and fifth grade, maybe sixth grade. That short story was actually the original first chapter of Ready or Not (Ready or Not was going to be told by the POV of Lucy Madison).
But it wasn't working, so I rewrote it from Sam's POV (much better, right?). I eventually changed the character's name to Allie Finklestein and made it into a short story for the Shining On collection to raise money for cancer (good thing no rough draft ever gets thrown away...to the chagrin of my Mac support techs)!
And, because I also recycle, I loved the name Allie (I never met an Allie I didn't like), so I used it again for the middle grade series.
So the two Allies are NOT the same person, by any means. I've written three Allie Finkle books so far and she's still in fourth grade and not at all interested in kissing or lipstick.
But you never know!
What are the biggest differences between writing for kids and for teens? Between writing for teens and for adults?
Well, obviously, in kids books...no kissing (or Allie doesn't like kissing...at least, not yet)! Kissing is important (to me, anyway) in teen and adult books.
When I first started writing books for teens, I had no idea there were things you "couldn't" talk about in YA, because other than Louis Duncan and Paula Danziger, which I'd read YEARS earlier, I'd never read any YA. So I just wrote what I wanted and my editor took out what she didn't feel was appropriate.
Now I'm turning my attention to writing books for even younger kids. The only thing I've put in these books that she made me take out so far is the "B" word -- BUTT! My editor (who has been the same editor for all my books, except the adult books), prefers I don't use that word in the kids books, or the "F" word in the teen books. I believe this is more a matter of taste than ethics.
I think the fact that I write the way I talk and I "talk" to kids and teens the same way I "talk" to adults is probably why the people who read my books read them. I don't "talk down" to anybody.
Even my cat.
Your pen names include Jenny Carroll and Patricia Cabot. If Mia Thermopolis could change her name or adopt a pseudonym, what do you think she would pick?
Wow, Little Willow, are you psychic? Because that's a big part of the plot of Princess Diaries 10 (that I haven't told anyone except a few friends)! How did you guess? Naturally I can't answer this question on the grounds that it's a spoiler.
The ninth Princess Diaries book, Princess Mia, finds the royal girl utterly distraught after Michael breaks up with her. Though the PD series is fun and light, with Mia's drama often making readers laugh rather than cry, it is true that teens can sink into a real depression due to the end of a relationship (including those with best friends). What's the best way to get of that funk?
Well, besides therapy (I went through a depression similar to Mia's when I was a teen and also had to see a therapist -- only mine was related to bombing the SATs, not to a relationship), not allowing yourself to become isolated is super important. Making sure you FORCE yourself to see friends, even if you don't feel like it, is crucial. Friends make us see there's a world outside of ourselves, which is a good thing when you're feeling down!
And of course, doing what Mia did, WRITING DOWN YOUR FEELINGS, is very important (only I don't recommend doing this on a public blog or MySpace...do it in a private journal where only you can see it, so you don't get in trouble with your friends or school if you say something mean about someone...do it in a safe space where you can't get in trouble)! This helps you get out those gloomy feelings (plus, it's fun to go back and re-read when you're feeling better).
And finally, wearing appropriate depression clothing is important. Roomy pajama bottoms (flannel is highly recommended) and big T-shirts for pigging out is great...but remember, ONLY FOR A FEW DAYS. Anything past three days is bad. Then your friends have to stage an intervention and get you bathed and out the door.
Because short-term wallowing is all right, but long-term, you have to get on with your normal life, and get out there and show them that you didn't let "them" win (of course, with chemical depression, it's not that easy...that's when you have to bring in the professionals).
PD9 also shows Mia waiting and waiting to hear from Michael in email. Once those emails come in, she would rather delete them than reply to them. Have you ever hit the DELETE key or SEND key and then thought, "Oops?" If so, was it while drafting an email, a blog entry, or a manuscript?
There was an incident many years ago when my agent was trying to sell The Princess Diaries to a publisher in the country of Germany when she forwarded me an email from them saying they were rejecting it because "diary books don't sell well in Germany," and I sent her a very sarcastic email back saying, "Well, of course diary books don't sell well in Germany, look what the Germans did to Anne Frank," and I accidentally hit Send All so the Germans received it as well as my agent.
So, yeah, that was a big Oops moment.
That said: I LOVE GERMANY! SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE GERMAN! THE BEST MAN AT MY WEDDING WAS GERMAN! THAT WAS A JOKE BECAUSE I WAS SO MAD THEY'D REJECTED MY MANUSCRIPT! That's how I deal with rejection, by joking.
Needless to say, this email did not make them reconsider their decision. Fortunately, another publisher did agree to publish all my books there, and The Princess Diaries series went on to become BESTSELLERS in Germany!!!!
Still, talk about embarrassing. I carefully consider each email now before sending.
In PD9, Mia would rather write in her diary that participate in P.E. class. Do you feel the same way?
Ha! I always hated P.E.. Except swimming, and it would pretty be hard to write in your journal during swimming.
Do you keep a pen-and-paper journal in addition to your online diary?
No, I don't. But I do (shhhh) keep a secret computer journal in addition to my public blog. Of course there's stuff I can't tell you guys--my MOM reads my online blog! I just hope my laptop never gets stolen.
Princess Diaries 8: Princess on the Brink was challenged by a parent of a middle school student in South Carolina. (I read this at Maureen Johnson's fabulous blog.) What was your first reaction to the challenge?
At first I was really shocked because of course no parent (that I'm aware of) has ever formally challenged one of my books in a middle school before. Then I got angry, because the book was challenged on the grounds of "immorality," and frankly, I think my books are highly moral -- they teach young girls how to be strong, independent young women in today's society -- ESPECIALLY at a time when pregnancy rates are rising for the first time in twenty-five years, and that includes IN MIDDLE SCHOOLS.
However, then I realized...maybe some people think women being strong and independent is a bad thing. Maybe some people think women being leaders and taking their lives into their own hands and saying, "I'm not going to let anybody tell me what to do with my body" isn't a positive thing.
So, to them, my book WOULD be immoral.
Then I looked at the parent's other charge -- that the book has "untraditional values," and I realized...yeah. It does! ALL the Princess Diaries books argue that girls shouldn't accept the traditional gender roles that have been thrust upon them for centuries by men.
So then I was like, YEAH!!!! BAN ME!!! GO RIGHT AHEAD!!!!
I'm proud to have a book that's banned for being immoral and having untraditional values. BRING IT ON!!!! BAN ME SOME MORE!!!
So ever since then, I've been quite pleased with myself.
When I was given the opportunity to interview you, I shared the news with my friend Adrienne, who is, among other things, a children's librarian, a freelance writer, and a big fan of yours. She asks: Will Michael have a bigger role in Princess Diaries 10: Forever Princess?
Ha! What do you think? Of course. I'm writing it now. This could change because the book's not done or edited yet, but as of now, it's Mia's 18th birthday; her senior prom; the first Genovian prime minister elections; senior thesis projects are due; graduation's around the corner; everyone's deciding what colleges they're going to (there are a lot of tears); and Michael is back from Japan. All hell is breaking loose. It's all I can do to remember every day what all is happening in my real life. I keep getting it mixed up with Mia's world.
Will Forever Princess really be the last book about Mia?
It will be the last book for a while, as I haven't proposed a new contract for more, because I need to recharge with some new series about new characters for a while. But of course I'd like to go back and peek in on Mia and her friends now and then to see how they're doing.
At your website, you reveal that the idea for The Princess Diaries came from a very personal place. When you were little, did you write stories and share them with your parents?
Oh, sure! My parents were both big storytellers. We had a tradition of storytelling around the dinner table (no TV at dinner) and there was much competition to see who could crack people up the most. I stopped sharing my written stories, however, when they began to take place more and more in space, and I could see my parents were less and less interested (they were more into situation comedies).
If you did have the opportunity to be a princess, in which country (or fictional land) would you reside?
Oooh, I definitely would choose a tropical island. I think one of the Hawaiian islands, maybe? I've never been there, but I've always wanted to go!
Your properties have been developed into movies (PD1&2) and television series (1-800-WHERE-R-U became I-800-MISSING, then simply MISSING). You make tongue-in-cheek references to the movies in the later PD books. You also provided the story for the movie Ice Princess. Now there are rumors circulating about The Mediator movie. Do you have any non-confidential production news about any of your works that you can share?
Really, there's NOTHING going on right now because of the writer's strike. I had some other properties optioned right before the holidays, but the studio that optioned them wants to make the announcement about it themselves. So, I can't say anything about it until they do.
As far as the Mediator movie, it's a little bit different because I'm a producer, so I get a LOT of emails from girls wanting to know how they can audition for the part of Susannah. But we're still very far from that, and even then, it will be the normal way -- by sending in a headshot and resume, and letting us contact you. So, if you don't have those, you need to work on getting them.
If you were to cast yourself in the TV or movie adaptation of one of your books, who would you play and why?
Honestly, I don't see myself ever doing this. There is NOTHING more boring to me than a movie set. It's all hurry up and wait. I try to avoid them (and Hollywood...) whenever I can. But if I had to do it, it would be a part with no lines where I'm just standing there in the background (but looking really great of course)!
Tell us a little more about your next standalone book, Airhead.
I would love to, but...I can't. It's too soon, and it's a very different book than anything I've written in the past, because it's a mystery/thriller romance about which, if I say too much, the plot will be spoiled, and one of the things that's fun about it is finding out what's going on along with the heroine. Readers can find out more about it on Amazon, which already has a blurb up. Some have speculated it's a Freaky Friday, body switching story, but it's not. There is also no magic. It's more sci-fi than anything (but there are no aliens, nor does it take place in the future).
I really hope, once advanced reader copies go out, bloggers/reviewers won't give away too much of the story. The advance feedback I've already gotten is that it's one of the best books I've written. I'm really hoping it will appeal to readers who like my Mediator AND Princess Diaries books with it, but I'll have to wait and see. Beyond that, I just don't want to say anything more.
You are very active on the Internet, with a blog at your website, a MySpace page, and so on. Do you feel the need to watch what you say or write online?
Well, yes, I think you do. I get hostile emails about things I've posted in my blog all the time, when I genuinely never intended to hurt anybody's feelings, I was just expressing my own. But what are you going to do, post about the weather (sometimes I think THAT would offend someone)?
I guess the thing I (and most authors) find the most trying is responding to all the feedback we get -- we just can't humanly do it and still find time to write our books. So that's why I started the message boards at my website. There's an Ask Meg section where readers can go and ask me stuff about my books. That way, though I can't personally every email or Facebook or MySpace message I get, I can still have cyber facetime with my readers.
Adrienne pointed out that you often make pop culture references in your books and your blog. She wonders: Have any of the celebs you've mentioned ever contacted you?
Almost every author I've mentioned has contacted me (or their publicist has), which is really nice. But sadly, George Clooney has never said a word! And none of the lesser celebs have, either (except the singer Jill Sobule wrote me back when I wrote to her to tell her how much I love her once)! Maybe they don't have anyone trolling Google Blogs for mentions of them?
You'd think Kathy Griffin would! But no.
You often mention your cats Henrietta and Gem on your blog, and recently featured them in a video. I too am a cat mom, so I wanted to thank you for encouraging people to adopt pets and save strays.
Aw, thanks! That rules! I wish we could adopt more pets than we have. We've brought dogs home a couple of times, but the cats did NOT like that. So we're basically stuck being a two cat family.
Last but not least, the old standby: What are your ten favorite books of all-time?
Wow, that's hard, I like so many books, even reducing it to ten hurts. Can I say ten AUTHORS? This is in now way a complete list, just off the top of my head:
Stella Gibbons -- Cold Comfort Farm
Dorothy Sayers -- The Harriet Vane series
Jane Austen -- Pride and Prejudice OR Emma
Robert B Parker -- can't say which book but the Spenser series in general
Susan Juby -- again, can't say which book, but the Alice series in general
Mary Stewart -- Nine Coaches Waiting OR Madam Will You Talk OR anything by her, really
Charlotte Bronte -- Jane Eyre
Harper Lee -- To Kill a Mockingbird
Sue Townsend -- the Adrian Mole series
Okay, this book will be out January 8, so it's one of my favorite books I've read lately: Liza Palmer -- Seeing Me Naked
Thanks for talking to me, Meg! Hug your cats for me.
Thanks also to Rachel and the divas for making this interview possible, and for Adrienne for her enthusiasm and additional questions.