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Meg Cabot! Squee!

February 14, 2008

If there’s one YA author who doesn’t need an introduction, it has to be Meg Cabot. Prolific and bestselling author, popular blogger, and today’s interviewee! Can you tell how excited we are? So read on to find out more about writing Missing You, upcoming projects, some of Meg’s favorite romantic novels, and more.
Is there a difference between how you approach writing novels that are part of a series versus standalone books? With your series, how much do you have plotted/planned ahead of time, and how much changes when you actually start writing a new book in the series?
Well, obviously with a series book you already have your characters and their world mapped out for you, so it’s more like visiting old friends than discovering new ones (both of which are fun in their own ways). Still, you have to keep it fresh to make it interesting (as much for yourself as for readers)–otherwise it gets old fast.

So, like with the Princess Diaries series, while I do have things loosely planned ahead of time, I try to keep things a bit free so I’ll surprise myself along the way. Otherwise, Mia would never end up growing and learning from her mistakes, and then making fabulous new strides towards becoming an adult, as she does in Princess Diaries 9. It’s like Mia says in the end of PD 9:

Do one thing every day that frightens you. And never think that you can’t make a difference. Even if you’re only sixteen, and everyone is telling you that you’re just a silly teenaged girl-don’t let them push you away. Remember the other thing Eleanor Roosevelt said: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Mia’s learned a lot since Book 1 and by the end of the series, Book 10, she’ll be (almost) all grown up. But not so grown up that she won’t still be making mistakes so we can go back and visit her once in a while for hilarity’s sake.

There was a four year gap between the publication of SANCTUARY and MISSING YOU. You’ve said that you had hoped to continue writing 1-800-Where-R-You books, but Simon & Schuster cancelled the series. So when HarperCollins offered to publish additional novels in the series, was it an easy decision to say yes and write MISSING YOU?
Well, they didn’t exactly offer. I pushed! It’s not like a new publisher is super eager to take on a series an author was fired from while writing for another publisher.

So, kudos to HarperCollins for being such a good sport about both the Mediator and the 1800 series! And kudos to the new guard at S&S for re-issuing the 1800 series under my real name.

A good lesson to learn from all of this is…if you like a new author’s books…buy them. Really, if you love a new author, invest in her. That’s the only way her publisher knows readers care.

What was it like to return to the 1-800 series? Did you have to re-read the first four books prior to writing MISSING YOU, or were you able to just dive back into that world and start writing?
I re-read parts of them (okay—the romantic parts). Mostly I just dove back in. I had a completely new idea, about a girl who was totally burnt out, and had post traumatic stress syndrome. Mainly what mattered to me was getting everyone’s eye and hair color right.

How different is MISSING YOU from your original ideas for post-SANCTUARY novels?
Well, totally, completely different. Obviously the series was conceived pre-9/11. Post-9/11, which is when I took it up again, if there really were a girl who could find missing people, I would think her powers would be put to a different use.

With the war in Afghanistan, Douglas and Tasha’s alternative high school, class, the mentions of developers, chains putting locally owned stores out of business, and more, I thought MISSING YOU was a lot more serious, a lot darker, tackled more issues than a “typical” Meg Cabot novel. Do you agree? If so, was there a conscious effort on your part to address these topics?
Well…in many ways MISSING YOU was about going back…not just for Jess but for me too. I was going back to a series I’d been fired from, and Jess was going back to a town and a job and a guy she’d left behind.

In my mind, too, the end of the series, anyway, was always kind of wrapped in 9/11 (my getting notice they weren’t buying the next 4 books in the series—and also letting my editor go—happened around then; my husband worked across the street from the Trade Center, and I thought he was dead that day; plus, we lived about 20 blocks from there. I remember working on the copy edits of the last books, and breathing in the smoke. I was also getting emails from readers who wanted to know why I wasn’t continuing the series, not knowing I’d been fired from it. Also wanting to know why Jess didn’t find Osama Bin Laden…it was all pretty stupid and awful).

Plus, around the time I started writing MISSING YOU, I went back to my hometown and saw what the chain stores were doing to the locally owned businesses I once loved, and in Key West, where I live now, the whole place is going condo.

So, I guess all of that turned into MISSING YOU.

On second thought, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by how serious MISSING YOU is. After all, class has been an issue since WHEN LIGHTNING STRIKES, racism was a huge part of SANCTUARY, and Douglas has schizophrenia. What was the inspiration behind Douglas’scharacter? I can’t recall reading any other YA book with a schizophrenic character, and Douglas is such a great brother to Jess.
Thanks. Well, two things, really. One, I have an adopted brother who’s black. We lived in a small, Southern Indiana town where there were very few other African American families, so we often had to deal with racism. What were referred to in the 1800 books (and in real life in my town, back then) as “Grits” (people who lived in town were “Townies”) were people who occasionally, despite the crosses they wore around their necks, called my brother a “nigger”, and myself a “nigger lover”. They drove around with Confederate flags on their pick ups and spat on me and my little brother. Sometimes we wouldn’t get served in restaurants (hi, Denny’s!) My other brother and I would occasionally be called upon to fight the violent ones (so, the detention story from the first book is real).

When some people hear this, they’re always like, “Why don’t you write a book about this?” but to me, 1) this is like saying to a Chinese person who likes to cook, “Oh, you should only cook Chinese food,” and 2) the fact is, I think my books ARE about that. I can’t help it if other people don’t see that.

Anyway, my other brother is now a police sargeant and enjoys arresting homophobes and racists immensely, so he’s taking care of the problem.

So: the issue of being an outsider was ever present in all our lives. I wanted to write about the idea of being an outsider in your own town, but the racism thing , back when I was first starting with When Lightning Strikes, was (and is) still too hurtful for me to write about. (I should mention that the stuff about the murder of Tasha’s brother in SANCTUARY is true…I based it on some unsolved murders that have happened in my town that people speculate are the work of a bizarre cult.)

Anyway, later, when I escaped from all that, I had a lot of experience with schizophrenics when I worked in the dorm at NYU. I knew enough about schizophrenia, however, that I felt I could write about that instead.

PS Sorry for the long answer.

(PPS Rob is a made up character, but he’s partly based on a few people I’ve known who were, as people in my town would say, “Grits.” But there were some “Grits” who were super nice and not racist, just as there were some “Townies” who were total racist buttheads. I hope I made that clear in the books, too. Because it’s true in real life. I encounter them all the time.)

Now that one of your books has officially been banned, will you be writing a book about censorship or intellectual freedom?
Maybe tangentially, but not as the sole focus of a book, because that’s not my style.

While a number of your YA novels have paranormal elements, your adult books are straight historicals or contemporaries. Will you ever write a paranormal for adults? Because if you did, I would totally read it, especially since I know it would not be a vampire romance, and I’m all for more non-vampire paranormal romances…
Thanks! And yes, but I’m not ready to say more about it yet, because it’s still in the proposal stages (But no, there won’t be any vampires…I can’t get into the blood sucking thing, but I do love Buffy.)

In your most recent AAR interview, you mentioned a series called Abandon. I haven’t read much about it since, so is there any news you can share?
Yes, this is a series I pitched to Scholastic books. It’s a modern retelling of the myth of Persephone, only set in a modern day high school (well, actually very little of it takes place in school). The scheduling for this series is up in the air though, because I have yet to write most of it. It’s tentatively scheduled to be released in the Fall of 2009.

Before Abandon comes out, I’ll have another thriller-ish romantic series, Airhead, debuting from Scholastic in June 2008. I really can’t say much about this series, though, because if I give too much of the plot away, it will spoil the sci-fi-ish mystery.

And before THAT my first middle grade series debuts this March, Allie Finkle’s Rules For Girls!

You’re known for writing romantic novels and say that you “always consider what I write romance.” How did you get started reading and writing romances? What do you find most appealing about writing them?
Well, I guess it was when my mom handed me a copy of Jane Eyre on a rainy day when I was driving her nuts. I was eleven, which might have been a bit young, but I loved it. I loved Jane, and wanted to read more books with heroines like her, and fortunately my best friend’s mom was a women’s studies professor. She took us to the library and supplied us with Austen and more Bronte, and one day I wandered over to the romance section.

Then I saw ROMANCING THE STONE and realized you could make a living WRITING those books, and I was gone.

I wrote my first historical romance when I was eighteen and started trying to get it and various other ones I wrote published all through my twenties (my first one got published when I was 30). I’ve never written anything that didn’t have a romance at it’s core (well, except the middle grade series books, I guess, but the secret to those is, there IS a romance…Allie just hasn’t gotten there yet).

As for what’s appealling about it…I honestly don’t know. I just love it. It makes me go all girlie. Isn’t that enough? [Yes, it is! – Trisha]

What are some of your favorite romance, or just romantic, novels?
Hmmm, well, obviously, my faves are all the old classics, all of Austen and Jane Eyre (I’m not a fan of Wuthering Heights though); I love the Harriet Vane books by Dorothy Sayers, I love, love, love anything by Mary Stewart, when I was a teen I was a big Gothic, historical romance fan.

Past loves include Robin McKinley (of course). I loved Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm. More recently, Sophie Kinsella is up there, along with Megan Crane and Liza Palmer. There’s a cute new YA coming out called Audrey, Wait by Robin Benway that I liked…I think it’s out in April.

Phew…that’s a long list. The truth is, though, mostly now I read mysteries…I love cozy British country house mysteries by Patricia Wentworth and Ngaio Marsh and Agatha Christie, but I also read those Precious Ramotswe books….I adore the Laurie R King Mary Russell books…really any mystery that’s well written, if it has a romance. I love it!

Thanks, Meg, for stopping by!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 14, 2008 8:55 am

    Great interview! We’re Meg Cabot mad over on Trashionista too. 🙂

  2. February 19, 2008 3:23 pm

    Loved this interview and, like Keris, we here at Book Chic are Meg Cabot mad as well!! We love her and her books. Thanks for posting such a wonderful interview!

    Book Chic

  3. Kym Brunner permalink
    February 21, 2008 8:55 am

    I’m a Meg Cabot wannabe! I love her books and I buy them! 🙂 Thanks for posting the interview – it was fabulous. KYM


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