Interview with Meg Cabot!

Meg Cabot

Image courtesy of Ali Smith.

We’re indebted to the imagination of Meg Cabot. She takes the dreams of every girl…and then allows us to live them. What if I suddenly found out I was a princess? What if I magically became a runway model? But Meg’s heroines show us that life’s problems don’t suddenly disappear with newfound beauty, power or wealth…and this is why we truly love her. As fun as her books are, they make us think too.

Meg Cabot is the author of over fifty novels for adults and teenagers. Her “Princess Diaries” series is available in 38 countries and has been made into two hit Disney movies (both of which are so charming, even your dad will enjoy them–though he might lie about it later!) In addition to this series, Meg is the author of “All-American Girl,” “Mediator,” and “1-800-Where-R-U” series. Her latest “Airhead” series has been described as part romance, part science fiction, and part crime-thriller! The final installment of the trilogy, “Runaway,” is released on April 20. We can’t wait to get our hands on it.

And now, YARN’s interview with Meg Cabot!

YARN: You’re being interviewed by Cecil Castelucci at the LA Times Festival of Books.  Readers and writers often wonder how pairings of writers and friendships between writers come about–How did you meet Cecil?  What other writers are you in regular contact with, and what brought you together?

MC: Cecil is an amazing writer and it was obviously divine intervention that she and I got paired up for the festival, because I have loved her work from afar for years!  I adored “The Plain Janes,” especially because I used to work as an illustrator and if I’d ever gotten an assignment like “The Plain Janes,” I never would have quit in frustration because no was giving me good female empowerment stories to draw (I felt like I had to start writing my own)!

I’ll be speaking on another panel at the Festival with Rosalind Wiseman (another author whose work I love.  “Mean Girls,” anyone?), and Robin Benway (“Audrey, Wait” is one of my all time faves!), and also Don Calame, whose book “Swim the Fly” is hysterical, and also Amy Goldman Koss, whom I think is FAB!

Most writers  are workaholics who shun social activity in lieu of meeting their next deadline until their publisher forces them out of their house for events like the LA Times Festival of Books, so I’m really looking forward to seeing so many of the writers whose work I’ve admired for so long!

AirheadYARN: Has being a writer for adults and children ever gotten you into any sticky situations with readers or their parents?  When writing adult books, do you ever feel a responsibility to your teen readers in case they pick up one of your adult titles?

MC: My responsibility as a writer is to entertain!  I do that by staying true to the voices of my characters.  Having readers who are Allie Finkle’s age (middle grade) reading at an 8th grade level (YA) and above (adult) is pretty common–I was the same way when I was a kid!

This is something parents should be proud of!  I know mine were.  I wanted to read everything I could get my hands on.  The worst thing a parent can say to a reader like that is “No, you can’t read that. It’s not appropriate.”  That only makes her want to read it more, and then she’ll sneak it, have questions, and the parent won’t be around to answer them.

Just the other day a foreign publisher emailed me to ask if it was OK if they could put WARNING: FOR ADULT READERS ONLY on one of my adult books because a parent had complained that she’d caught her teen daughter reading it.  I just laughed and was like, “Really?  So putting a warning on the book is the way this lady wants to solve the problem of the fact that she can’t communicate with her daughter?” Way to parent, lady.

My parents let me read whatever I wanted, because we live in a free country, and this is one of our constitutional rights.  They just made themselves available in case I had questions.  And I did!  “What does this mean?  Why did they do that?”  My parents were just like, “Well, that’s something adults do, you can’t do that until you’re older, and when you do, you should blah blah blah.”

By not making a big deal out of it, it wasn’t a big deal.  Just because your kid is reading about older people doing stuff doesn’t mean your kid is going to go out and do that stuff, because the values you teach in your home are more important to your kid than anything he or she reads about someone doing in a book.

So while I totally understand the concerns of the parents I hear from (and I hear from a lot of parents), I certainly can’t write with those in mind.  Parenting their child is not my responsibility.  Entertaining my readers is my responsibility.

YARN: As a writer who understands the world of deadlines, do you have any advice for our teen readers who often get writing assignments that feel like a drag?

MC: Don’t wait until the night before it’s due.

YARN: Many of your books are about a character’s quest for, or unexpected attainment of, popularity or celebrity (Mia from “Princess Diaries,” Samantha from “All-American Girl, and Em from “Airhead” all come to mind).  As a celebrity writer, what aspects of their plights to you sympathize with most?  What parts of being a celebrity writer do you most enjoy?

MC: I can’t really think of any of my characters who sought out popularity or celebrity, except Steph in “How To Be Popular”!

And she learned a sad lesson that I saw many of my own friends learn in middle school and high school when they tried to hang with the “in” crowd.

And that’s that, once you become popular, you often find that some people will seek out your friendship for reasons other than that they genuinely like you: they just want to use you to become popular themselves.  Or if you have money, they often just want you to give them some.

This may sound  cynical, but look at all the cases in the media today of people like Tiger Woods, or Sandra Bullock’s husband.  Did those women like those men because they were such nice people?  No.  They liked them for the fame and money they could attain because of them.

That’s why your best, real friends are the people who liked you before you became popular.

I don’t consider myself a celebrity writer, and I think it’s funny that anyone would consider me one!  If you saw me right now you definitely wouldn’t say that.  I haven’t showered or brushed my teeth yet and it’s nearly noon and I look really gross.

YARN: The “Airhead” series allows readers to live like a supermodel through the main character, Em.  However, Em quickly discovers that perfect looks don’t fix problems caused by a lack of confidence. Do you have any advice for your teen readers about how to develop self-confidence? How important is confidence as a writer?

MC: You have to love yourself before anyone else can love you!  There are definitely things you’re good at, maybe even better than everyone else you know.  Part of growing up is finding out what those things are!  You might have  to fail at a few things in order to find out what you truly enjoy and what your strengths are (I tried: ballet, softball, theater, art, singing, musical theater, social work, art therapy, just to name a few).  No big deal!  Don’t let failing get you down.  It’s part of finding out who you are.  Practice makes perfect.

Develop your strengths and skills, and believe in yourself, no matter what anyone else says.  I got rejected a jillion times, but because I believed in myself and loved writing more than anything (maybe a little TOO much), I was like, “I don’t care what anyone says.  I’m going to keep trying!”

But of course, be sensible, too!  You still need to pay the rent.  So go after your dreams, but always have something to fall back on if they don’t work out!  The last thing you want to do is live in your parents’ basement.  ACK!  (I mean, unless they have a really cool basement.)

YARN sincerely thanks Meg Cabot for chatting with us! If you want to see more of Meg, head to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this weekend–April 24 and 25 on the UCLA campus!

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2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Giulia Caterini says:

    I remember reading The Princess Diaries and loving every second; thanks for the awesome interview!

  2. Grace Litam says:

    Meg Cabot is a great writer. In this interview she gives a lot of great advice. She really knows how to communicate to teens through her writings. Thanks for all the great books.

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