Princess Diaries Author Meg Cabot Talks Feminism, Star Wars, and Key West
Author Meg Cabot
Photo by Lisa DeTullio Russell
If you’re familiar with the New York Times bestseller lists, you’ve likely heard of Meg Cabot. A bestselling author of books for both adults, tweens, and teens, Cabot has a knack for creating addictive series. From the supernatural-inspired stories of The Mediator, to the mysteries surrounding former teen pop star Heather Wells, Cabot weaves real life inspiration with fiction to create relatable women going through extraordinary events.
Her most recognizable character following that fate is Mia Thermopolis of The Princess Diaries, a series about a teen girl who finds out she’s actually a princess, one who could potentially inherit the throne to the country of Genovia. The story was made into two successful films starring Anne Hathaway as Mia and Julie Andrews as the queen of Genovia and Mia’s strict grandmother. Now, 15 years after the book’s debut, Cabot returns to the series with two new installments. While From the Notebooks Of A Middle School Princess is written for middle school readers (and illustrated by the author), Royal Wedding marks the first adult addition to the Diaries collection.
Royal Wedding catches up with 26-year-old Mia as she prepares to marry her on-again-off-again boyfriend Michael Moscovitz. Her bliss is interrupted by scandal, however, with the introduction of Mia’s long-lost half-sister, Olivia, who was kept in the dark about her royal lineage. With Cabot heading to Books & Books to introduce both works to Miami audiences this week, we caught up with her to talk writing, fans, and the weirdness of Key West.
New Times: Important, hard-hitting start: Do you own a tiara?
Meg Cabot: Oh my god, so many. I own so many tiaras, of many materials and the plastic kind. But no true diamond ones yet. I’m still waiting for the real one. I’m still waiting for my mom to tell me I was adopted and I’m actually royalty...
You’ve said that Mia is an adult with adult problems. What themes in Royal Wedding will modern women relate to?
With the world being in state it’s in, I always was wanting to make the world a better place, I was always wondering, “How could I do that? How could I, as an adult, do that?” And I think, especially millennials, have that feeling that the world is kind of a dicey place right now, so do we have that obligation to help clean it up? That’s a question we all ask ourselves and it doesn’t really change….
For Mia it’s not as much of an issue because her destiny has been thrust upon her because she has to rule a country. But in a way that’s kind of worse, because she has to do a good job and how is she going to break those traditions that have been thrust upon her and, as a woman, lead this country that has for years been ruled by men?…. Who am I? How am I going to make the world a better place? Am I going to marry this guy or not? Am I going to raise a family? — it’s all the same questions we’ve been asking ourselves for many decades.
What does this book say about feminism? Mia certainly has a feminist slant to her.
Definitely, not only because she is woman who is going to be in a position of royal power and probably ruler of a nation, but she’s been thrust into this position where she’s criticized by social media and the paparazzi a lot. At the beginning of the book...she spends the night at her boyfriend’s house and when she does that she gets criticized. They call her the “Princess of Slutovia”, “of Gehoevia,” and we saw that a lot with Prince William and Kate Middleton before they were married and that’s so unfair, because of course you don’t see that in the media when guys do it, it’s all directed at women — when their skirt’s too short or how they dress, and you see it with female political leaders as well. They get criticized for the way they wear their hair; It’s such a double standard, so she talks about that in the book….They question whether she’s going to be an effective ruler because of her sexuality and the way she dresses and the fact that she’s a woman. It’s a funny book but yes, of course there are some points being raised...
A good bit Mia’s anxiety is related to exposure and celebrity, like Mia being too afraid to have an iPhone, for instance. What’s your personal experience been like dealing with fame?
Weirdly enough, I’ve had some people — men’s rights activists — who are very upset with the character and that she’s been raised by a single mom; that she’s a woman who, according to them, has been able to get along without a man. They’re very upset with me for having written this book because it’s a representation of females they feel should not exist, that it’s a very bad role model for women and young girls. I got some death threats, I have to be honest with you. I put that in the book because I felt that’s something Mia probably would get as a woman. I felt a little bit threatened — I didn’t really feel like they were going to come and kill me — but I’ve had people show up at my book signings and stuff. And I thought as a woman who has to go out there in the real world, and if she was a real character, you would feel a little bit angered. Here you are, you feel like you’re doing something really great for so many women, and here’s these guys who are like, “you’re ruining the world with your view”…
I really wanted to put that in there to let other other girls know, and male readers of the books, too, that there’s this completely different viewpoint out there and it’s not been [a] 100 percent positive experience and we still need to fight that battle because…let’s put it this way, there’s some wackos out there. It’s just crazy. I was like, “Wait, you’re mad about Mia’s mom? OK, whatever, psycho.” Then you hear their reasoning behind it and it’s basically total fundamentalist, those groups who want one man, one woman. And it kind of goes in now with the passing of gay marriage nationwide; they really want only traditional families….So you can imagine somebody like Mia would get that kind of mail, and it can be a little disturbing if you’re trying to get your job done and all of a sudden this pops in your inbox or Twitter feed.
I find the best way to fight that is to keep doing your thing and concentrate on the good things going on….To me what’s important is to put out the message I want received, which is there’s all kinds of family and diversity is important. America is changing for the better, I think, and we should celebrate that by putting out positive messages, not negativity and hate. That’s what Mia does.
How much of Royal Wedding was inspired by THE royal wedding — be it William and Kate or other royal ceremonies?
I really researched that, I also researched the Game of Thrones, all of those weddings. I was very into what they served and how much it costs and what kind of gifts they received. I have a whole Pinterest page to go along with it because that's the stuff we love. I'm just fascinated by it because I eloped, my husband and I didn't have a wedding...so I'm kind of living vicariously....Poor Mia just wants to have a small event with family and friends but of course her grandmother takes the whole thing over....But ultimately she realizes that weddings are about hope and providing people who are going through a bad time with something else to think about.
I read you started writing Star Wars fan fiction when you were a kid, fueled by a fascination with Princess Leia. That is a longterm love for princesses.
Those were my first great novels, until my mom told me, “By the way, George Lucas owns the copyright for those characters,” and I was like “what!? copyright?” I always have to tell people that was before the Internet was widely available so I was handwriting it and don’t have any posted. Although there may be some I post for people to read, but it’ll be handwritten.
I was very obsessed with Star Wars, I still am. I collect Star Wars action figures and all that stuff. I’m such a geek, it’s so embarrassing but I don’t care because I love Princess Leia. She was such a feminist. She was a huge role model. She actually brought down the Galactic Empire while leading the Rebel Alliance! Some people forget that. I wrote reams of fan fiction about her and Han and going through Jedi academy school — she was the best shot, by the way — and then it morphed into my own kingdom after my mom told me about the copyright thing….So I invented my own kingdom, which is Genovia, and my own princess….I think I fell for the whole empowerment thing. A lot of people say “oh it’s because you want to be rescued,” and I was like Princess Leia wasn’t really into the rescue thing, she really wanted to get those battle plans.
How long have you lived in Key West?
We’ve been living here 11 years. We came down on vacation from New York and we loved it. We split our time between here and New York, that was the goal, but ultimately we stay down here because, why go back?
Do you find the people and atmosphere inspire your writing?
Oh yeah, people here are so...Well it helps to tell the story, it’s a true story. On our first night down here, we went out to eat and the first restaurant we sat down in, there was this guy kicking his dog every time it whined. And the first time he did it, this guy at the bar said “If you kick that dog one more time, I’m gonna hit you.” And he did, the guy punched the guy who was kicking the dog in his face, he flew off the bar stool and onto the ground. We were New Yorkers, you didn’t see that kind of stuff in New York at that time and we were like “oh my God what is going on?” And everyone just went on eating….But the guy who got punched came back with the cops and said “That guy punched me! Everyone saw it,” and everyone said “no we didn’t, nobody punched that guy. But we did see that guy kicking his dog all night.” So the cops arrested the guy who kicked the dog, and the guy who punched him kept the dog. And I was like, “I love this place.” So we knew we made the right decision, and it’s been that way ever since. Like dog kickers get arrested but you can punch anybody you see being mean to a pet. It’s the best place ever. The people are the best.
I think they say this about Miami, too: Key West is where the weird go pro, they say. They’re very weird but they’re super nice once you get to know them.
How did your Mom influence your writing?
My mom was writer and she actually won Seventeen magazine’s fiction contest when she was 19 or 20, out of high school. So she’s a really good writer and a good artist so she influenced me a lot. She was really supportive and great, though she was one of those moms who said “it’s really hard to be a writer so you’re going to need to get a day job.” She’s always been my biggest fan.
What are some of your favorite books?
I have so many, so many writers I admire; that I loved as kid. I love George Lucas… I love Judy Blume, who lives here in Key West as well. She’s always been a big favorite of mine and I’m a big supporter and fan of hers. I love some of the classics, too, from Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. I like comics, too: Spiderman and Batman and Prince Valiant, which I’m sure no one reads anymore but it used to be in our papers growing up. I also loved mysteries and I read a lot of romance novels. There’s really nothing I didn’t read. I was lucky that I didn’t have anybody saying “that’s junk!” I just had a very supportive environment where I was encouraged to read whatever.
Meg Cabot will appear at Books & Books (265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables) Wednesday, July 1 at 8 p.m. Call 305-442-4408 or visit booksandbooks.com.
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