Matthew Peterson interviews Meg Cabot
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Matthew: My next guest is Meg Cabot, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Princess Diaries, the Airhead trilogy, The Mediator Series, the 1-800-WHERE-R-U series, and Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls. She's sold over 15 million books worldwide and has received the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award and the American Library Association's Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers. Thanks for being on the show today, Meg.
Meg: Hey, thanks for having me.
Matthew: Let's start out with the Airhead trilogy. Now Airhead came out last year and was nominated for the Teen Choice Book of the Year. I totally got the wrong impression of this book. I'd seen the cover here and there, but I didn't pay much attention to it. I actually thought it was something like Gossip Girl.
Meg: Yeah. Well, that's the point of the book is that the model on the cover looks like an airhead, and it's called Airhead, but it's actually about a girl who is really brainy and smart and is kind of perceived as a brainiac and thinks of pretty girls as airheads. And then suddenly she's trapped in the body of one and realizes that you shouldn't judge people by how they look.
Matthew: And someone told me that. And I was like okay, so how did that happen? How did she actually swap....
Meg: Yeah. The book is actually about brain transplants, it's actually sci-fi. So, the cover is a little misleading. 'Cause I think, you know, I actually wanted to pull in that audience. As well as get my hardcore Mediator fans, which is a series of books about a girl who kind of kicks butt and she sees ghosts and she has to get them to go to the other side. I wanted to pull into the Princess Diaries audience and also the Mediator fans. So, this book kind of combines both those elements. It's kind of got fashion, but then it also has the fact that this brainy girl gets into this horrible accident, the upshot is that her brain is transplanted into this teen model's body by this evil corporation and she has to find out why this happened and how it happened and who did it and get out of the situation. So, it's actually kind of a dark mystery. But then she also has to go fashion shows. [laughs]
Meg: So, it's kind of weird, it's like dark, there's this romance too, where she's in love with this guy, but he doesn't know that she's her. And she can't tell him that, you know, that she's not this horrible model who he hates. And it happened as I woke up one day and I was like, I hate my body and I hate my hair. And I think every girl feels that way, and guys too. And wouldn't it be great it I were this super model instead and I'd love to get my brain transplanted into one. But what's the moral implications of this? And that's what this girl is living through. You know, they've done this to her. And actually there's murder involved in it, when book two, Being Nikki, came out we find out that there has been a murder. And, you know, did they just throw this girl's brain away? And now I'm working on Runaway, which is the third book in the trilogy, where this happens even more, I mean, if you don't like your body, could you have your brain transplanted into a beautiful person's body? And what is the moral implication of doing this?
Matthew: You know, there was a TV show a few years ago, my wife and I used to watch it, it was like our favorite show. And I can't remember the name . . . it might have been Now and Again?
Meg: Oh yeah, I remember that!
Matthew: The person's brain had been put into this, you know, handsome, strong, strapping person.
Meg: I do remember that!
Matthew: Yeah, and I think it was John Goodman who was actually the original person, you know, his brain. It was such an interesting story. I loved it. And then they just ended it. My wife and I were so upset. So this sounds like a really interesting concept.
Meg: Yeah, I like to take stuff that people made for adults and make it for teenagers.
Matthew: I have a younger niece that would kill me if I didn't talk to you about your Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls.
Matthew: And actually her name is Meg.
Meg: Aahh, that's so cute. I love that name! Yeah.
Matthew: Well, tell us a little bit about that one. That one's a little bit younger audience, not quite teenage, but a little bit younger. Tell us a little bit about that series.
Meg: Well, I started writing Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls because, I had so many little sisters of my teen series' fans wanting to read my books, but the teen series do have kind of a little bit older kind of things in them, like french kissing and stuff, that maybe their moms didn't really want them reading about. So, I thought, I need to write a series of books that don't have that. That the little sisters of these readers can read about, or that they can share with their big sisters or their moms. So, Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls is about a 4th grader. She's nine years old and she's just kind of getting into that period where girls start being mean to each other and I think that really happens around 9 or 10, where they start kind of .... girl's your best friend one day and she's not your best friend the next day. And they're all kind of whispering about you. And so it's really, there's rules for math and science, but there's no rules for friendship. So, she starts keeping a little book on what the rules are for friendship. And that's really what the book's all about and really is about me, when I was nine and what I remember. But also, there's a lot of girls that age in my neighborhood, so I've been spying on them.
Meg: They all caught on of course.
Matthew: Yep. I did that when I was doing research for my young adult novel, Paraworld Zero. I'd go to fast food restaurants. I'd sit in there, listening to the kids in the booth next to me.
Meg: Isn't it fun? Yeah, they're all crazy, they're so fun. And there's just crying, and drama and tears. And little boys do it too and so it is kind of universal around that age, is when all the friendship drama starts.
Matthew: Yeah, oh definitely.
Meg: They get kind of mean. So that's what Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls is. And I get letters all the time from little kids now who are reading those books and they're all like, "Can you write more about fighting?" [laughs] "I love the books, but they would be good if there was more fighting." So, there's lots more fighting in the future books 'cause that's what they do. And you know I always thought, when I was writing the teen books, "Gosh, you know, I never want to write for younger kids, because they don't have dances, and there's no kissing, it's so boring." But really it's not. There's such a huge well of drama to draw upon! And I completely forgot about it.
Matthew: I have two nine year old boys, they're twins. And believe me they are interested in girls.
Meg: Oh no! Really? Wow, I'll have to tell the girls that, because they totally think all the boys hate them.
Matthew: Oh no no. They talk about girls.
Meg: Well, yeah because you know there's no cussing. There was a kissing game going on in one of my books, Best Friends and Drama Queens, that there had to be a stop put to it. Basically it was all the girls would just chase one boy and try to kiss him and you know, he would pretend like he didn't like it. Now I'm wondering, maybe he did!
Matthew: Maybe he did!
Meg: According to you.
Matthew: Well, Meg, you've written over like 50 books now and your most popular series definitely has to be The Princess Diaries, it's been published in over 40 countries, Walt Disney made 2 movies on it. It was even voted one of England's 100 best-loved novels.
Meg: Aaahh, yeah.
Matthew: I was interested . . . tell us a little bit how you got started with The Princess Diaries.
Meg: Well, that was funny because that's a book that I started writing, really as a diary I was keeping myself. And I really started because my mom started going out with one of my teachers.
Matthew: Uh oh.
Meg: Disgusting, yeah, I mean it really was something that I started .... it was a personal thing that I was upset about and I just started writing in my own voice. And actually the character was 30. [laughs] Surprise. And I passed it around to some of my friends and they were like, "Well, this would be a lot better if she wasn't thirty, and maybe something else happens besides the fact that the girl's mom's dating her teacher. And I decided to throw in this whole thing about her turning out to be a princess and I made her 14. Nobody wanted it! It got rejected everywhere. And I was like laughing. I would get these rejection letters that would say, "This is totally inappropriate for children and no we don't want it." It was kind of hilarious. But finally she did find one editor who just started that day. And she said, "I am going to take it." But I had planned it on being this huge series and she was like, "I can only buy one, 'cause my boss won't let me buy any more." You know, and it turned out, of course. Then Disney wanted to make a movie based on it and of course then she got a promotion at work because of it! They did end up buying the whole series and it did much better than they did think it would do. Except for me, I was like, "I think it's going to be great."
Matthew: Yeah. [laughs] Well, I love hearing those stories. I talked to one of the editors who turned down Harry Potter. You know, so, I know it happens.
Meg: Yeah, I look back and I still have all those rejection letters. And I look back at them and I'm like, "Wow, that was a tough time!"
Matthew: Yeah, well you've gotten a lot of books in the series now. Forever Princess came out earlier this year. The paperback's coming out soon. Do you plan on writing any more in this series?
Meg: I do, I would love to. I mean, I was surprised at how many letters I got from readers who were saying, "Please, please, please don't end it, and we would love to hear about Mia in college." I really didn't plan on it going, though, passed her turning 18 and graduating from high school. So, I have no idea, like what could happen next. Really when I envisioned it that first year that I was writing it at work, I was like, "Oh this is great, this will go until she graduates from high school and that'll be the end." So, I don't know, I think though now because so many people have said, "Well, why can't she? Why can't you write about her going to college?" I think, "Well, yeah, actually, why can't I?"
Matthew: That's what the second movie is about.
Meg: [laughs] Yeah, the second movie wasn't based on any of the books and truthfully I never actually saw it because I was just like, "That's Disney's vision and I don't want my integrity to be polluted by Disney's vision." So, I actually never did see it. So, now maybe I will watch it. But I don't know. I think maybe I'll just let them have their separate vision. That can be theirs and I'll keep mine pure.
Matthew: You know, I have seen the first one with Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews.
Meg: Yeah, it's adorable.
Matthew: But I haven't seen the 2nd one either.
Meg: Ok, maybe we'll just both be the only people.
Matthew: We'll be the only two.
Meg: But I took the check, I was like, "Oh thanks! That's great!"
Matthew: Well, I have an idea what it's about, you know the name is Royal Engagement.
Meg: Yeah, apparently. Yeah, I have to say the guy that she ends up with is totally invented by Disney. He's not in any of the books. So I was like, "Mm, no that's not going to happen. I'm not going to watch it."
Matthew: Another one of your series, 1-800-Where-R-You?, was the basis for a television series called, Missing.
Meg: That's right, yeah! And that also had nothing to do with the book. So, I kind of adopted, I think it was Ernest Hemingway who actually, I live in Key West, so I listened to what he said. He said, "If you're going to sell a book to the movies, just drive to the border of California and drop the manuscript over the border get the check and drive away as quickly as possible."
Matthew: Yeah, take the money and run.
Meg: [laughs] Have nothing to do with it. For your mental health, that's what you should do. Because you know, you just have no control. But actually, I loved the first Princess Diaries movie. I loved, you know, Gary Marshall was so nice to me and Julie Andrews was just adorable and Anne Hathaway was so sweet. So, I think that I was really lucky.
Matthew: Well, you have been very fortunate because even though the movies are not quite like the books, the movies themselves have done phenomenally well.
Matthew: So, Meg, what are you writing now? What can we expect from you in the future?
Meg: Well, there's the last book in the Airhead trilogy, Runaway, which is coming out in May 2010. So, I just finished writing that. And then, obviously, there's more Allie Finkel coming, which is very exciting, 'cause I love her. And she's an adorable character. And then I'm writing more adult books. So, I have a new adult book called Insatiable, that'll be coming out in the Fall of 2010. Which, you know, I can't really tell you anything about, but I think it's going to be exciting and huge. And then I'm going to work on some more teen books. I think there's a new series coming out called Abandon, that'll be out in, hopefully, maybe 2010 or 2011, that's going to be really fun. And it's going to be paranormal, so that's going to be exciting.
Matthew: Well, good. Thank you! I've been speaking with Meg Cabot, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Princess Diaries, the Airhead trilogy, and Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls. Thank you for being on the show today, Meg.
Meg: Well, thank you for having me. It was super fun!
Matthew: Well, everyone head on over after the show to www.TheAuthorHour.com to hear more of Meg Cabot's interview.
For additional questions not asked during the live show, visit TheAuthorHour
This interview was originally aired on 10/22/2009