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Interview: May 26, 2006

May 26, 2006

In addition to authoring popular teen series like The Princess Diaries and All-American Girl, Meg Cabot has written numerous novels for adults, including SIZE 12 IS NOT FAT and the recently released QUEEN OF BABBLE. In this interview with Carol Fitzgerald, Wiley Saichek and Terry Miller Shannon, Cabot describes the disparities of writing for different age groups, explains how she's honed her sense of humor, and shares her favorite step in the writing process. She also dishes on favorite clothes, exes, and her inability to keep secrets. Tell us about what inspired you to create the character of Lizzie and write QUEEN OF BABBLE.

Meg Cabot: Like all of my books, QUEEN OF BABBLE is semi-autobiographical. I had NO idea what I wanted to do when I grew up. I still have nightmares about that scary time of life --- just out of college, trying to make your own way in the world for the first time, not knowing whether or not you're going to be able to make the rent that month. Of course, it was much more fun to relive that period of my life when I was doing it through Lizzie, who is a bit more adventurous than I am.

BRC: Lizzie has a passion for clothing and fashion. How closely do Lizzie's passions mirror your own? What's your fashion weakness? Shoes? Jewelry? Clothes?

MC: I went through a serious vintage clothing obsession in the '80s and early '90s. One of my (many) majors in college was fashion history. I wanted to be a costume designer! So I transferred that love to Lizzie. She's way into vintage Lilly Pulitzer, who is a favorite designer of mine, although you can't really wear her clothes in New York without sticking out like a sore thumb --- flamingo pink capris kind of draw attention when everyone else is in black!

BRC: Lizzie's deft way with fashion rescue is intriguing. Is this an interest of yours? Was there much research involved?

MC: Oh, yes, I'm hypervigilant about VPLs (visible panty lines) and loafers with tassels (they make me so sad). I am addicted to makeover shows --- "What Not To Wear" (both the BBC America and TLC versions), "Ambush Makeover," "A Makover Story" --- you name it. I don't know what's so compelling about seeing a badly dressed ugly duckling transformed into a beautiful swan, but I love it --- and so, consequently, does Lizzie.

BRC: We loved Lizzie's wacky family, especially her Grandmother! What inspired those characters?

MC: Lizzie's family is based very loosely on the relatives of a friend of mine. Of course, eccentric family members never seem as fun to their own relations as they do to those of us who aren't actually related to them.

BRC: Your descriptions of London and France (and of vineyards, French chateaus, and the Chunnel train) are so vivid. Have you spent much time in these locations?

MC: Yes, I've been to England several times --- lately, on book tours. And I was lucky enough in college to be going out with a guy who had a chateau in the Dordogne. Of course, now he's going to read this and think the book is about him. But, it's not --- I said it's semi-autobiographical!

BRC: In QUEEN OF BABBLE, you perfectly capture Lizzie's sense of desperation when she finds herself alone in London and tries to find her way to France. Has a similar incident ever happened to you?

MC: I have been lost --- and generally penniless --- in foreign countries more times than I could count. I seriously don't know how I made it home. Mostly due to people taking pity on me, I think.

And, okay, full confession time: I also had a British boyfriend who pulled a similar stunt to the one Lizzie's British boyfriend pulls in the book. And, great, now he's going to read this and think the book is about him!

Let's just put it this way: Some parts of QUEEN OF BABBLE are more semi-autobiographical than others.

BRC: Humor is so difficult to carry off, yet your books appear effortlessly hilarious. Does comedy come naturally to you, or do you have to work at it?

MC: Wow, thanks! I come from a family of amateur comedians. In my house, if you weren't funny, no one would pay any attention to you. I fought against my tendency to write funny stories for a long time, out of fear of never being taken "seriously." Then a great fiction-writing instructor I had, the novelist Judy Troy, told me that being able to write humorously is a gift, not a curse, and that I should embrace it, not be ashamed of it. So I did! It was a big relief when I finally realized being taken seriously isn't actually all it's cracked up to be.

BRC: Lizzie cannot stop talking. How about Meg Cabot? Can you keep a secret?

MC: Yeah, not so much. I warn all my friends and co-workers not to tell me things they want kept confidential, because I know I won't be able to keep them to myself. It's surprising how many of them go on to tell me things anyway --- they honestly seem to think I won't put their secret in a book someday. Sillies!

BRC: We loved Lizzie's "History of Fashion" thesis sprinkled throughout the book. Did you write these paragraphs as you went along, or was the entire "thesis" written at one time and then divided up?

MC: Actually the thesis is a real paper I wrote my senior year in high school. I just had to tweak it a bit for the book because the emphasis in my paper was on the punk movement and the role British designers (Vivienne Westwood, etc) played in it. I got an A, I'm happy to say!

BRC: QUEEN OF BABBLE touches on a number of universal --- if controversial --- topics such as sexual attraction versus true love, as well as relationships with family and friends. What do you want readers to take with them after reading QUEEN OF BABBLE?

MC: Heh! Well, yeah, when I decided to fictionally recreate my post-collegiate experience, I decided to FULLY re-create it. Seriously, though, I think there comes a time in every girl's life when she realizes that if she's giving sexual pleasure, but not getting any in return, she's in a dead-end relationship. If I can help anyone reach this epiphany before she's wasted too much time on the loser, mission accomplished.

BRC: You have written numerous books for younger readers and an increasing number for adults. What are the challenges and rewards of writing for each age group?

MC: Well, most notably, you can have sex scenes in adult fiction. It's possible to have them in YA as well, but you can pretty much count on getting some angry mail. On the other hand, in YAs, your characters can go to the prom. It's sort of a toss-up: sex scenes, or prom. Both are fun to write about in their own unique way.

BRC: You are incredibly prolific. Have you become more so as you've become a more experienced writer? Do you write everyday? Do you experience spurts where you get so caught up while writing a book that you can't stop working on it?

MC: Definitely more the latter. I tend to go weeks without writing a word, then suddenly, weeks where I can't STOP writing. I wish I were more even --- I've heard of writers who write a page or two a day, every day. I wish I could do that. But it's feast or famine with me, I'm afraid.

BRC: What is your favorite part of the writing process (getting the idea; researching; actually writing; revising; publicizing; etc.)?

MC: I love writing that first draft. For me, writing has always been a hobby, so it's especially fun for me when the manuscript I'm working on is spec, meaning I haven't pitched it to anyone yet, and no one knows about --- or is paying me --- for it. When I don't have to think about anyone's expectations but my own, that's when I really love my job.

BRC: What do you read for enjoyment?

MC: I'm a huge mystery fan. Mostly, I like British country manor house murders set between the World Wars, or just after. These are getting harder to find than you would think. So lately I've been supplementing my mystery addiction with some excellent chick-lit from writers like Megan Crane, Valerie Frankel, Robyn Sisman, and Sophie Kinsella.

BRC: QUEEN OF BABBLE is the first title in a trilogy. What can you share with readers about the next two books and when will they be available?

MC: If everything goes according to plan, readers can expect to find copies of QUEEN OF BABBLE IN THE BIG CITY on shelves around this time next year. In it, Lizzie and her friends hit the Big Apple, looking for jobs, apartments and --- in the case of one character --- love, after a romantic relationship fizzles. Lizzie's going to find out just how hard it is to make your dreams come true in the city that never sleeps! In QUEEN OF BABBLE GETS HITCHED, which will be out in 2008 (with luck!), Lizzie finally gets a chance to design her own dream bridal gown.

Whether or not she actually gets the opportunity to wear it remains to be seen --- readers should remember the books ARE semi-autobiographical --- and my husband (who is not French OR British, but a Hoosier, just like me) and I eloped!