Interview With Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot Meg Cabot is the author of the wildly successful Princess Diaries novels, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers and also All-American Girl, a novel scheduled to come out in the Fall of 2002. Although Meg now lives in New York City, the setting for her most popular books, she was born in Bloomington, Indiana. Her childhood was spent in pursuit of air conditioning, of which there was little at the time in southern Indiana. A primary source proved to be the Monroe County Public Library, where Meg whiled away many hours, reading the complete works of Jane Austen, Judy Blume, and Barbara Cartland.

Armed with a fine arts degree from Indiana University, Meg moved to New York City, intent upon pursuing a career in freelance illustration. Illustrating, however, soon got in the way of Meg's true love, writing, and so she abandoned it and got a job as the assistant manager of an undergraduate dormitory at New York University, writing on the weekends, and whenever her boss wasn't looking.

Meg lives in New York City with her husband, Benjamin, a poet, financial market writer and fellow Hoosier, and their one-eyed cat, Henrietta.

Cover of The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
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What inspired you to create the character Mia from The Princess Diaries? Do any of Mia's characteristics, qualities, childhood (aside from the princess thing, of course!) relate to your own?

I was inspired to write The Princess Diaries when my mom, after the death of my father, began dating one of my teachers, just as Mia's mom does in the book! I have always had a "thing" for princesses (my parents used to joke that when I was little, I did a lot of insisting that my "real" parents, the king and queen, were going to come get me soon, and that everyone had better start being a LOT nicer to me) so I stuck a princess in the book just for kicks...and VOILA! The Princess Diaries was born.

The voice of Mia, of course, is taken directly from my own diaries that I kept when I was in high school...I still have them, though I am the only one who will ever be allowed to read them. I was pretty much a huge geek in high school—although I was pretty involved with the school's drama group. Most of what's in my journals from those days is about boys, boys, boys, and that's why I am the only one who is allowed to look at them! It is too embarrassing!

New York City is described in such rich detail. Do you feel the setting of a story is important?

I really do think New York City would be the best place in the world to be a princess (or, for that matter, a novelist). Where else can you walk outside your door and within half an hour be standing in front of a Vermeer, or a life-size wax replica of Whoopi Goldberg? I think setting is so important to a story. I like to give mine some good solid pavement to walk on. And Mia, of course, just had to be in the best city of the world, New York.

What is the main thing that you hope teenage girls will gain from these books?

I hope girls will realize that they are not alone in feeling the way I did when I was in high school—like a great big freak! Also that "normal" is not what they see on TV. Being true to yourself, and to your friends, is way more important that being part of the "in crowd." I am living proof that is possible to profit from being a high school freak.

Do you think that like Mia, teenage girls are too judgmental of themselves and others around them?

Oh, yeah. Not just teenage girls, either, boys too. And grown ups! We all need to take a deep breath and remember it's what inside that counts.

What advice do you give to budding writers?

Cover of The Princess Diaries III by Meg Cabot
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My advice to young writers is:

Write the kinds of stories you like to read. If you don't love what you're writing, no one else will, either.

Don't tell people you want to be a writer. Everyone will try to talk of you out of choosing a job with so little security, so it is better just to keep it to yourself, and prove them all wrong later.

You are not a hundred dollar bill. Not everyone is going to like you...or your story. Do not take rejection personally.

If you are blocked on a story, there is probably something wrong with it. Take a few days off and put the story on a back burner for a while. Eventually, it will come to you.

Read—and write—all the time. Never stop sending out your stuff. Don't wait for a response after sending a story out...start a new story right away, and then send that one out! If you are constantly writing and sending stuff out (don't forget to live your life, too, while you are doing this) eventually somebody will bite!

What were some of your favorite books when you were growing up?

I read a lot of fantasy, such as the Susan Cooper 'Dark Is Rising' series, and the Lloyd Alexander books. Lately I am exploring all of the great books for girls that I missed because I was too much of a tomboy to read them, such as the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. And I am a big fan of Mary Stewart—though many of her best novels are sadly out of print now.

How did it feel to have one of your novels, The Princess Diaries, made into a major motion picture? Did you have any input on the direction of the film?

I was VERY excited when I found out Disney would be making a movie from my book. And I thought Garry Marshall did a great job—and that Anne Hathaway made the perfect Mia. At first I was a little iffy when I heard Julie Andrews would be playing Grandmere—Julie is too nice to play such a mean character! But when I saw Julie's performance, I knew she had just the right amount of regalness mixed with grandmotherly warmth. I am excited that most of the same cast will all be in the sequel that Disney is planning.

Where did you come up with the concept for All-American Girl, your next book due out in September 2002?

I think every kid—and some of us grown-ups, too—fantasizes about being a hero. And what would be the most heroic thing of all? Saving the life of the most important man in the country, that's what! And that's what Samantha Madison does in All-American Girl—though of course she is ANYTHING but the all—American girl. Being a national heroine is a bit of a burden for her.

Are there any similarities between Mia and Samantha?

Samantha is a little older and a little wiser than Mia, but certainly the two girls share the same desire NOT to be a celebrity...and they both wear the combat boots in their families.

What are you working on next?

Besides the next books in the Princess Diaries series (The Princess Diaries 4: Princess in Waiting) and All-American Girl 2, I'm writing the next installment in The Mediator series, which I originally wrote under the name Jenny Carroll. Book 5 in the series will published by HarperCollins, and will be out as a book by Meg Cabot writing as Jenny Carroll. I am also working on Avon True Romances, a line of historical romances for young adult readers. The first, Nicola and the Viscount, features a Regency-era orphan who thinks she's found the perfect man to marry—until she takes a closer look at her best friend's brother. The one I'm working on at the moment, Victoria and the Rogue, is another humorous Regency romance, about a girl who is a bit of a tomboy for the era she lives in—though the guy she likes doesn't seem to mind!

Posted with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.