Meg Cabot knows that one of the best cures for feeling gawky and conspicuous is reading about someone who sticks out even more than you do. Her books for young adults invariably feature girls who have extraordinary powers that carry extraordinary burdens. Cabot's Princess Diaries series offers up the secret thoughts of Mia Thermopolis, who discovers at age 14 that she is actually the princess of a small European country. This revelation adds significantly to her extant concerns about crushes, friendships, school, and other matters falling under adolescent scrutiny.
Cabot, a native of Indiana weaned on Judy Blume and Barbara Cartland, was already a successful romance novelist (as Patricia Cabot) before she began writing for young adults; her alter-alter ego, Jenny Carroll, began a new series shortly after The Princess Diaries debuted. The Carroll books are divided between the Mediator series, starring a girl who can communicate with restless ghosts; and the 1-800-WHERE-R-YOU books, in which a girl struck by lightning acquires the ability to locate missing people.
Cabot writes her books in a conspiratorial, first-person style that resonates with her readers. She has obviously kept a grip on the vernacular and the key issues of adolescence; but what makes her books so irresistible is the mixing of the mundane with the fantastic. After all, who wouldn't like to wake up and be a princess all of a sudden, or a seer? Cabot takes such offhand notions and roots them firmly in the details of average, middle-class American life. She has also tiptoed into mystery and paranormal suspense with other YA novels and series installments.
Cabot continues to write adult novels under various permutations of her given name (Meggin Patricia Cabot): from 19th-century historical romances to contemporary chick lit. And, as with her books for teens, these romances have earned praise for their lighthearted humor and well drawn characters.
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Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Cabot:
"I am left handed."
"I hate tomatoes of any kind."
"I really wanted to be veterinarian, but I got a 410 on my math SATs."
"Writing used to be my hobby, but now that it's my job, I have no hobby -- except watching TV and laying around the pool reading US Weekly. I have tried many hobbies, such as knitting, Pilates, ballet, yoga, and guitar, but none of them have taken. So I guess I'm stuck with no hobby.
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In the fall of 2004, Meg Cabot took some time out to answer some of our questions about her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
Growing up, I mostly read comic books and sci-fi. Then I discovered the book Jane Eyre by Jane Austen. It introduced me to the world of romance, which I have since never left. Also, the world of the first-person narrative.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons -- I love its not-so-gentle satirical humor.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee -- This book reminds me of a pearl necklace. Every word has been as carefully strung together as if it were a precious jewel. Besides which, it's a kick-ass story.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen -- Again, gentle satirical humor with a dose of romance. What's not to love?
Anything by Mary Stewart -- The Moon Spinners, My Brother Michael, Nine Coaches Waiting, Thornyhold, and more. They're Intelligent mystery/romances for the discriminating reader.
Don't forget Thursday Next -- not the date, the character! I love the brilliant and hilarious
Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. If you like to read, you'll like this series.
I love Susan Juby's hilarious, irreverent Alice diaries (Alice, I Think and Miss Smithers) not to be missed, if you're 12 or 112.
Robert B. Parker's Spenser series are the only books my dad and I could both agree were great, and for that reason I continue to read them, in homage to my dad, who passed away but undoubtedly knows exactly what Spenser is up to next.
I adore the bubbly "Shopaholic" series by Sophie Kinsella, as well as her departure novel, Can You Keep a Secret? for good solid escape reading.
I couldn't live without Dorothy Sayers' characters Lord Peter Wimsey and his companion in crime, Harriet Vane. Check out Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, and Busman's Honeymoon for mysteries that will thrill the senses (and romance that will tingle them).
And finally, a brand new discovery (well, to me): P.G. Wodehouse's Leave It to Psmith, a madcap comedy of errors that makes me long for a hot milky cup of tea in the summerhouse.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?Star Wars -- Because it was the first "adult" film I saw, and up until I saw it, I had never seen a movie like it. As a sci-fi fan, it blew me away, and still does -- because it creates a world the likes of which no one had ever seen before, or ever will see again.
I loved Reality Bites with Winona Ryder, because it summed so exactly my own after-college experience. As a Gen-Xer, this film really hit home with me.
I love Cold Comfort Farm, the movie, because it's also my favorite book, and extremely well done.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I tend to like pop far too much -- whatever is out now and in the top 40, I will listen to endlessly, so long as it is upbeat and features a female vocalist. I also like alternative.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I don't give books as gifts. Books are extremely personal and I would hate to give someone a book that they don't like or want, because it would break my heart if they didn't read it. That said, I love getting gifts of funny essay collections by Sarah Vowell or David Sedaris or Laurie Notaro.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
No. I can write at the pool, in bed, on a plane, at work, in a crowd -- wherever, whenever. A good writer can write under any conditions. This was one of the first things I learned in my 8th grade writing class under Mr. Dan Gotch at the Junipero Serra Mission school in Carmel, California. Thanks, Mr. Gotch.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
I have a U.S. postal mailbag in which I keep my rejection letters. It is too heavy to move. The Princess Diaries was rejected 17 times. For a while, I was getting a rejection letter a day for several years (except on Sunday, when there was no mail). This however only fueled my conviction that the entire publishing industry is completely insane. Now that I am a published author, I have been let in on the secret: I was right all along. They are all insane. But then, so are the writers, so it's a nice fit.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Some tips I would give to aspiring authors:
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. Just keep it to yourself, and be sure to get a job to fall back on if your writing career doesn't work out right away.
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.
Don't push too much pressure on yourself to get published by a certain age. I didn't get published until I was 30, and I turned out all right, I promise.
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!
It is nearly impossible to get published these days without an agent. The guide I used to get mine was called Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents. It was well worth the money I spent on it, since it lists every agent in the business and what he or she is looking for. It also tells you how to write a query letter, what to expect from your publisher, and all sorts of good stuff. A must-buy for any aspiring author!
And above all, become a good listener. In order to write believable dialogue, you need to listen to the conversations of the people around you -- then try to imitate them!
Good luck, and keep writing! If I can do it, so can you!
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|Meg Cabot Home
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|Meg Cabot Movies
|Where Roses Grow Wild, 1998|
|Portrait of My Heart, 1998|
|An Improper Proposal, 1999|
|A Little Scandal, 2000|
|The Princess Diaries, 2000|
|Shadowland (Mediator series), 2000|
|Lady of Skye, 2001|
|Princess in the Spotlight (The Princess Diaries series #2), 2001|
|Ninth Key (Mediator series), 2001|
|When Lightning Strikes (1-800-WHERE-R-YOU series), 2001|
|Reunion (Mediator series), 2001|
|Educating Caroline, 2001|
|Code Name Cassandra (1-800-WHERE-R-YOU series), 2001|
|Darkest Hour (Mediator series), 2001|
|Safe House (1-800-WHERE-R-YOU series), 2002|
|Princess In Love (The Princess Diaries series #3), 2002|
|Kiss the Bride, 2002|
|Nicola and the Viscount, 2002|
|All-American Girl, 2002|
|Sanctuary (1-800-WHERE-R-YOU series), 2002|
|The Boy Next Door, 2002|
|She Went All the Way, 2002|
|Haunted (Mediator series), 2003|
|Princess in Waiting (The Princess Diaries series #4), 2003|
|Princess Lessons: A Princess Diaries Book, 2003|
|Boy Meets Girl, 2004|
|Princess in Pink (The Princess Diaries series #5), 2004|
|Princess Diaries Volume I & II: Mia Tells It like It Is, 2004|
|Teen Idol, 2004|
|Twilight (Mediator Series #6), 2004|
|Victoria and the Rogue, 2004|
|Princess in Training, 2005|
|Every Boy's Got One, 2005|
|Ready or Not, 2005|
|Holiday Princess: A Princess Diaries Book, 2005|
|Queen of Babble, 2006|
|How to Be Popular, 2006|