The Meg Cabot Experience
Posted by M
This morning, I dragged myself out of my Friday night white wine and pizza hangover to see Meg Cabot speak at the Decatur Book Festival at 10 AM. Totally worth it. If you ever have the chance to hear her speak, go for it even if you don’t read her books. She’s a natural public speaker– very funny and engaging and responsive to the audience. She spoke about her books for a few minutes and then opened for questions for the bulk of the session. Though it’s cool to hear authors read their own works, I really prefer this format. You get a better sense about the author and you can learn some things that aren’t in the books. You can also learn the author is hungover too thanks to some fancy vodka at Cakes & Ale.
(Don’t worry, Dad, I know I just wrote that sappy open letter to her, but this is not turning into the Meg Cabot Fan Club Blog. Though that’s the kind of job I would OWN.)
She spoke from the altar of a Baptist church because hearing Meg Cabot speak is a religious experience, evidently.
Here are the high points:
— She started as an adult romance writer, and some of her earliest and best clients were the nun friends of her grandmother. Dirty nuns!
— She once co-hosted an event with Julie Andrews because of The Princess Diaries connection. Evidently, Julie Andrews swears like a sailor and drops more F-bombs than Do-Re-Mis. This is fantastic news for obvious reasons.
— When asked about a memorable book signing experience, she recounted her visit to Brazil and gently suggested that Brazilian teen girls are very dramatic. She likened attending the book convention as an author to being KStew and RPatz at a Twilight premiere– lots of tears and behavior that warrants body guards. Interestingly, the girls stopped crying at once and mugged for the camera when the photographer snapped photos of them with Meg. CURIOUS.
— She discussed the movie adaptation of The Princess Diaries, and she said the book was circulating in Hollywood before it was actually published. She says many studios rejected it because it didn’t fit the YA conventions of the time: anorexia, pregnancy, and rehab. Ultimately, Whitney Houston read it and brought it to Disney and the movie went into production before Harper Collins bought it. (Side note: Though Meg always meant it as a series, Harper Collins didn’t trust that the first book would sell and only started with a one book contract.)
— Meg went on to explain that YA changed significantly after the publication of The Princess Diaries and other series like Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging (not the kind of title you want to get caught reading on the subway). Before that, most YA books concerned extremely weighty matters, like teen girls who have sex and immediately die. She then went all faux arrogant and said, “You’re welcome… I’m so tired after changing the entire course of literature.” She’s great–don’t you want to get seated next to her at a dinner party?
— Right now, she’s reading mysteries because she loves when, “justice prevails.” She especially likes it when two detectives solving the mystery fall in love.
— An audience member asked about her writing process. She got a little sidetracked talking about the Internet, which is fitting. “Sometimes you need to know– was there ever really a unicorn? And then 6 hours later…”
— She’s all in favor of any of her books becoming movies, and she has a flippant attitude about the Hollywood changes. This is healthy because the first Princess Diaries movie took some liberties and the second one was basically just an excuse for Anne Hathaway to hook up with Chris Pine and had nothing to do with the books (this is my assessment, not hers). Anyway, she says adaptations never turn out like the book because screenplays are 90 pages and books are closer to 300. She then said, “The movie version is really nice. The books are the version that are right. But the movies are totally fine.” Essentially, she got paid and she’s psyched that a good movie can drive someone to check out the book and get them reading.
— Books with current interests from movie/TV producers: the Heather Wells mysteries, The Mediator, and Abandon. (On Abandon: “Someone has to usher dead souls into the Underworld, so it’s probably a hot teenage guy, right?”
— Interesting Princess Diaries tidbits: a prison chaplain once wrote her that he shows the movie to all incoming prisoners because it’s so inspiring and positive. I’m sure this has exactly the effect he thinks it does. Also, she had a signing in Thailand heavily attended by some army guys. Turns out they use the first Princess Diaries as their English-as-a-second-language book. Because nothing reflects our spoken word like the diary ramblings of a pop culture obsessed teen girl.
— As a teenager, she wrote Star Wars fanfiction and a ton of space operas, or as she puts it, “sexy stuff in space.” She specifically mentioned a character named Bhaltazar and butlers who would do *anything* for their female masters. She assured us these stories would never see the light of day, and I think I speak for all of us when I say, “Boooo…. hisssss.”
— Someone asked her which book she most liked writing and she groaned that she hated writing all of them. She says what all writers know– writing a book is like childbirth in that it’s terrible while it’s happening, but then when you have the nice shiny book, you forget the pain until you start over again. During this same conversation, she said something about teenagers being horrible and quickly backtracked, “None of the ones in this audience today. You’re all wonderful.” Before you get offended, she mentioned this in connection with parenting a difficult and defiant teenager.
— Spoiler for future books: There will be another Heather Wells mystery, titled Size 12 is the New Black, out next summer but she hasn’t written it yet.
— Fun story: she warned us to never use a real person’a name when writing in revenge. Evidently, Lana is an actual person from her high school years, and she didn’t read the books, but she did see the movie (Meg smirked at this). The real Lana wrote Meg a letter, which she expected to be apologetic for her cruel behavior in high school. Instead, she said, “I did not know that you were a princess.” Meg sighed that sometimes people you think are mean are just really not very smart.
After her presentation, they herded us outside to stand in line for autographs. She was very gracious and signed multiple books per person, personalized all of them, and posed for pictures. As I stood in line, I listened to her greet everyone, and she really does make each person in line feel like they are having a special moment.
For my turn, I was ready with my Ron Swanson mug:
Picking a quote proved tricky. I scoured the Dorothy Parker and Jane Austen archives, but none of them sent a lightning bolt to my head, and then I found a funny one about drinking coffee from Kenneth the Page. But then I didn’t know if Meg drinks coffee since she’s always talking about soda, so maybe she hates coffee. So I spent some time googling that to see if she ever mentions it in interviews or on her blog, and eventually I had a Ron Swanson moment of my own and was like, “Eff this, I’ve got a white wine and pizza date, and I know she likes Parks and Rec, so this is happening.”
She liked it! Or at least she said she did! I think she had a genuine reaction of delight though, so I assume it went over well. I managed to get out more than just “I love your work, the weather is nice,” and we shared a good couple of moments. I walked away with a bounce in my step and a new determination to keep at the writing thing.
And she did all this hungover. Awesome.
And hey, you know what else? “Go to a book convention or workshop of some kind” is Item 26 on my list of 31 things to do this year. One down! Thirty to go! Thanks, Meg!