By Stephanie Schaefer
I, like many girls my age, grew up with Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series. The book first came out when I was a preteen (braces, bangs, the whole nine yards) so something about a frizzy-haired socially awkward heroine resonated with me.
Fast forward 15 years and leading lady Mia Thermopolis is now 26 (like myself), frizz-free, and engaged to her handsome beau Michael in the latest installment of the series, Royal Wedding. Reading the adult installment of my favorite childhood book sparked nostalgia, making me feel as if I was reunited with old friend.
Naturally, I couldn’t let my inner 12-year-old down so I jumped at the chance to interview Cabot about writing, royalty, and those rumors about a “Princess Diaries 3” movie.
Stephanie Schaefer: Did you always know you wanted to be an author? At what point did you realize you could make a career out of writing?
Meg Cabot: I loved writing stories from an early age and was lucky enough to have a lot of great teachers who encouraged this love.
But I never dreamed I could be an author because I grew up in a college town, and I was always hearing the “publish or perish” lament, both from my father (who was a professor) and the parents of my friends.
I decided a more attainable goal would be to become an illustrator (I was also good at self-delusion).
My parents were understandably concerned about this career goal, and they were right, because it turns out there weren’t many people hiring illustrators after college graduation (at least who also lacked computer skills).
So I ended up utilizing my prodigious typing skills at New York University as an administrative aide.
But I never gave up writing stories in my spare time, and took writing workshops at NYU to “network” and learn to make deadlines. After my father died, I started sending some of those stories out.
Several years later, I got an agent, then got published.
SS: What advice can you give to writers on dealing with rejection?
MC: The important thing is to keep a sense of perspective. It took my father’s death (I was 26 at the time) to motivate me to send out my work. His death taught me that time is short, and if there’s something you’ve always wanted to try, you better do it soon, because you may never get another chance.
Of course the first hundred or so query letters (and few dozen manuscripts) were rejected.
But the worst thing in life is to lose a loved one, not have your work rejected by someone you don’t know. Each time I got a rejection, I stuffed it into an empty U.S. Postal bag I’d stolen. I kept that bag under my bed, and the more stuffed it became with rejections, the more resolute I became to get published, and the more I refined and honed my manuscripts (this included writing completely new books during my off hours from my work).
Finally, something I wrote caught the attention of an agent at a firm that had passed on me previously.
She’s still my agent today.
Re-reading much of the material I sent out in those earlier days, I can see why it was rejected. I agree there probably isn’t a market for a three-book series about a high school basketball coach who solves crimes. I’m kind of glad now that it wasn’t published, because a) I hate basketball and know nothing about it, and b) every person in that series was based on one of my friends and I did nothing to disguise that fact and they probably would have sued me.
I still have that U.S. Postal bag, though, and I like to take it around to schools and drop it very dramatically on the floors of classrooms (it makes a huge booming sound because it’s so heavy). Then I tell the kids, “This is what you can expect if you want to be a writer. Rejection. But if you love what you do, don’t give up, because failing is the only way you’re going to learn to get it right.”
I’m not sure the kids really get it, but the teachers love it.
SS: Royal Wedding is the first adult installment in the Princess Diaries series. How did your writing process change when gearing a book to a more mature audience?
MC: The language and situations are more adult. Obviously, there’s more sex because the characters don’t live at home anymore with their parents, and don’t have curfews. I was thrilled to be able to use the word “vagina” without fear of being banned.
SS: It’s difficult to turn on the television or go online without seeing gossip about Prince William and Princess Kate. Did the royal family influence your novel at all?
MC: Other royal families are far more interesting than the Windsors.
Take, for instance, the royal family of Monaco. A few years ago it was revealed that the current Prince of Monaco, Albert, had had a child out of wedlock, a girl who’d been raised in the U.S. with no knowledge that she was a princess. Sound familiar?
As if this wasn’t weird enough, it was later revealed that Prince Albert had another child, this one a boy, who is biracial.
I knew none of this stuff about Monaco before I wrote the Princess Diaries series, but how could I not be inspired to incorporate (some of) it into another book? What would it be like if Princess Mia found out she had a secret sibling? (I actually have a biracial sibling myself, who is adopted, and certainly not a secret. But I do know what it’s like to be raised in a mostly white community with a sibling who is often perceived as “other.” Granted, that community was Southern Indiana in the ‘80s, and not a modern European principality, but there were still often challenges.)
Not that what happened in Monaco would ever happen in Genovia. For instance, Prince Rainer (Albert’s dad) changed the law before his death so that none of Albert’s children conceived outside of wedlock could legally inherit the throne. In Genovia, this won’t happen!
Anyway, this is only to say that authors often need to research a little more deeply to find their inspiration. There’s a whole world out there beyond the headlines about William and Kate.
SS: There were recently rumors that Disney was interested in making a “Princess Diaries 3” movie (Julie Andrews even admitted that she would be all for it). Even though these rumors were since shut down, do you think there would ever be a possibility of turning more of your novels into feature films?
MC: There’s always a possibility. Books often get optioned by producers to be made into movies, and sometimes they actually even get green-lighted . . . unless, of course, an author retains the film fights, which I’m now doing with several of my book series.
It’s become fashionable for authors to be on set during the filming of their novels, but unfortunately I can’t take that much time away from my busy career as an amateur sleuth.
SS: What’s it like to see your characters come alive on the big screen?
MC: It’s very exciting and surreal. I tend to think of the books and the theatrical versions made of them as two completely separate entities. Both are fun, but only one is correct!
SS: You’ve said that Royal Wedding is the final book in the series. Was it difficult to say goodbye to your characters? Do you think you’ll ever change your mind and continue the series?
MC: I don’t remember saying that Royal Wedding was the final book in the series. I think the press release from the publisher said that. The characters will be returning in future installments of the middle grade series, and of course in the mystery series I’m planning, where Princess Mia and her handsome husband, Michael, dash around Genovia in a roadster, solving crimes.
SS: What’s one random fact about yourself?
MC: I love detangling necklaces when they get all twisted up from being in someone’s bag.
I think books are very similar to necklaces . . . each word of a well-crafted novel is a bead or jewel that, when chosen carefully and strung in the right order, can create a scene that’s beautiful, or ugly, or so sad, it moves a reader to tears. Writers, like jewelry makers, have the power to create order out of a chaotic universe. I love turning chaos into order.