After publishing over 50 books that sit on the bookshelves of both teens and adults and shaping the adolescence of countless teenage girls with her famous Princess Diaries series, Meg Cabot is far from finished creating her legacy. Fifteen years after the original Princess Diaries book was published, the author is back with two new novels to include in the best-selling series: Royal Wedding and From The Notebooks of a Middle School Princess.
In Royal Wedding, readers get to learn about Princess Mia Thermopolis as a full-fledged adult who now lives in New York City, planning a future with her longtime boyfriend, Michael. Adding to the expected chaos that her lifestyle brings, Mia discovers she has a younger sister named Olivia. Both Royal Wedding and From The Notebooks of a Middle School Princess tell the story — from juxtaposed perspectives — of two sisters who are just trying to do what Mia's always tried to do: figure everything out.
BuzzFeed had the chance to catch up with Cabot and talk about her new novels, weddings, and the double standards that women face. Here's what she had to say:
It's been six years since you published your last Princess Diaries book and 15 years since the whole series started. What made you want to write Royal Wedding?
Meg Cabot: My first book was published in 1998, and I've had multiple books come out every year since then, so I took last year off as a sabbatical because I was really tired. I had a lot of time to think about what I was doing with my life and I decided, I'm just going to do what I want, because why not? But then after taking some time off I decided that I missed writing the Princess Diaries books — also, the 15th anniversary was coming up — so I decided to write another one. They're really fun and it's been 15 years so I figured, why not do an anniversary edition? The first book in The Mediator series [a collection of six novels about a teen girl ghost hunter who falls in love with the ghost who lives in her bedroom] also came out in 2002, so I'm also going to publish an anniversary edition of that book, which doesn't come out until February. Those two novels, as well as From The Notebooks of a Middle School Princess, ended up being the books I wrote when I was on my sabbatical, even though I technically wasn't supposed to be working. But it was my sabbatical and that's what I wanted to do. I know it's totally geeky that on your sabbatical you would want to write, but that's what I did, because that's what I love to do.
How long did it take you to write Royal Wedding?
MC: I probably started writing it in October 2013. Since it's a diary, a lot of the material and story is essentially my own writing. I used to keep a blog where I wrote down a lot of my own thoughts, but I stopped doing that as much now that social media is such a big deal and I'm always on Twitter and Facebook. So instead, I've just started putting my own thoughts into Princess Mia's diary.
Did you put a lot of yourself into the book?
MC: Yes, I have to say there's a lot of me in Princess Mia. She can't drive either, by the way — technically she doesn't have to because she goes around in limos and town cars, but neither of us can drive and we share a lot of similarities, including our thoughts and ideas about the world.
Why did you see Mia at this point in her life, as a 26-year-old?
MC: Chronologically, it's what seemed to make the most sense. A lot of the readers who started reading the books in 2000 when it first came out are now about 25 years old, which is close to Mia's age. I hear from a lot of those readers about what they're doing with their lives; a lot of them are getting married, not necessarily all of them but a lot of them, and most of them are also starting careers. That's also what's going on in Mia's life; she now has her career after opening a community youth center in New York City and is engaged to get married. It's interesting to hear about different readers' struggles — a lot of them have graduated from college and are seeing what the real world is like. I thought that'd be interesting, too, to describe from Mia's point of view. And now they've discovered that people's cognitive functions aren't fully working until they're 26, which means you're basically still an adolescent until then. So don't make any really big decisions before 26.
In Royal Wedding, Mia ends up getting married as a 26-year-old. How did your own ideas about marriage and feminism shape the story?
MC: At some points in the story, Mia is hesitant to get married and asks herself, "Do I really want to focus on my career? Do I really want to settle down? Am I keeping my independence?" Those are things that I think that everybody goes through and considers before making a huge decision like getting married, but she also loves Michael a lot and there are compelling reasons for her to get married. As a royal, she's constantly being photographed by the paparazzi coming out of his apartment and is being called a slut. It's slut-shaming, which is something that I think happens to a lot of celebrities, particularly royals, and Mia knew that would stop happening if they were officially married.
Why was it so important for you to have Mia have such a blatantly feminist wedding?
MC: We all know about the slut-shaming that goes on in the media and it's horrible. I wanted to really comment on that because you see it a lot with younger generations; young women — especially young women who are celebrities — are held up to this standard that's impossible to live by, and I wanted to reflect that in the book. I got a lot of criticism about my books from people who had read The Princess Diaries after they'd seen the movie. The Disney movie was rated G, so it was really watered down from the books; in the books, Mia's parents are not married and she was illegitimate. A lot of parents of young readers were upset about that because they didn't want their kids to read about that lifestyle. The book has been banned a lot of times and people were upset at the fact that Mia lives with her single mom who openly had sex with this guy she wasn't married to — Mia's teacher — because they said it set a horrible example. I got a lot of crap for it, even from some of my own family members. They said I was promoting this horrible example of somebody who we should not be showing as a positive role model. It was really disturbing to me.
What would you say to someone who played a role in banning your books?
MC: I actually got hate mail and death threats, but it didn't scare me because it was so ludicrous. That's why I wrote The Princess Diaries in the first place, because I wanted to put that out there, that slut-shaming and criticizing women, is so dumb. I can't even verbalize how stupid I thought it was; I didn't think anyone would be upset about that. But there are people who are really upset. They didn't think this was something that girls should see because they said it perpetrated a female role model that is dangerous to young women, because apparently young women should just stay home, not be educated, and never go out on dates ever.
We also meet Olivia, Mia's younger sister, in Royal Wedding. What was behind your decision to include her character?
MC: A big part of the story is about family. My family is diverse and it turns out Mia's family is diverse, too. I think that's true for a lot of families now; it always was but even more so now. Mia finds out that her dad has another child that she did not know about who is biracial, and I have a biracial brother. Families don't look the same as they used to, and I wanted that to be reflected in the book, especially with the royal family.
What was it like to write about Olivia? How was writing Olivia's character different than Mia's?
MC: I wanted to make Olivia as different from Mia as I possibly could because she represents a different generation, and this book is for younger readers. She's super into drawing, which Mia wasn't, and she's coming into her own. Olivia's also from New Jersey, not New York City; she didn't grow up with this super-feminist mom who's an artist in Greenwich Village like Mia. Instead, Olivia grew up with a totally different kind of family, and she's pretty happy overall. She's not neurotic like Princess Mia, who's completely obsessed with the fact that she probably has a life-threatening disease most of the time, which is also like me. Olivia's not allowed computer access in her family, which I think is probably really good; we should all get off the computer more often. She just goes outside and plays, and she also draws. It was kind of a relief to write a character like that.
Do you relate more to Mia versus Olivia?
MC: I do, but it's bad; I wish I could be more like Olivia. Olivia's more of an aspirational character for me because she's who I wish I was, and Mia is unfortunately more like me — although, Mia was a vegetarian for a long time in the book series, which is also aspirational to me. But I can draw and Olivia draws, so it was really fun to write about a character who illustrates and is artistic. Olivia also gets along really well with Mia's grandmother; she thinks she's cool, which is weird.
You published both Royal Wedding and From The Notebooks of a Middle School Princess at the same time, and both Mia and Olivia's stories are paralleled. Did you write the two books at the same time?
MC: I had to because the action in both the books takes place at the same time, so I had to make sure that it all coincided and linked up together. I had to write from two people's point of views. It was really fun; it was a fun challenge. I had to make sure that all the copy edits went together. I have a couple of friends who are not writers but are voracious readers, so I had them read through the books and make sure that everything made sense. My mom also loves to read and was very helpful. Everybody caught different things that were wrong in the original drafts, which was great, and my mom caught the most.
What was it like to write 26-year-old Mia compared to 16-year-old Mia?
MC: I pulled back some of Mia's adolescent personality as a 26-year-old; I toned down her neurotic obsessions because I figure she's more mature now and she's actually happier in her life than she was at 16. When she was younger, she was very unhappy with a lot of things. I toned down the obsession with illnesses and I made her friends slightly more mature, too. Well, Lily was also less of a weirdo. Which actually happened. Lily's kind of based on a true person, she's based on a couple people, but they got less freakish as they got older. Everybody does; as you get older, you chill out more.
Both Mia and Olivia journal as a way to de-stress. Is this something you also do in real life? Would you recommend it to other people?
MC: I do, I have a journal that I handwrite in, and I've always done that. I do recommend it to people; I think it's a good way to get out your anger issues, especially with various family members or anyone else who's bugging you. That was actually first recommended to me by my grandma, who was originally the person who gave me my Holly Hobby diary. But then my brothers broke into it, so I started writing a fake diary with crazy stuff in it that I knew they'd find. When I was 10 years old, I pretended that I was an alien and I had been kidnapped and brought to Earth, and I was acting like a clone version of myself. They were too dumb to understand what was actually going on, but eventually they told my mom, "Meg's an alien," so I got in trouble. But I've always kept a journal that I keep hidden. I usually only write in my journal when something really bad is going on or when I'm really mad about something. I don't write in it every day because I think if you make yourself do it, then it's worthless and boring. Only do it when you're really mad about something. I think I'm motivated by anger a lot, so I generally only write in it if I'm mad.
What was it like to contribute your own illustrations for From The Notebooks of a Middle School Princess?
MC: I'm so happy that Macmillan was so open to that. It was a little weird for me though because initially I thought I could just draw whatever I want. I like drawing girls in dresses and dogs and cats, but the publishing house obviously needed me to be more structured. They'd tell me they needed me to draw a private jet on one page and a limousine on another, which aren't things that I knew how to draw. I just never drew them in my life before, so that was really traumatic. I had to do a lot of sketches of those to get them right — I wasn't used to that part. When I worked as an illustrator, I would have to draw what people said. I did not like that part; I wanted to draw what I wanted. But it's about more than just doing what I want because it's really important to the narrative. I had to print out so many pictures of a limo in order to actually draw it because I don't use a computer or illustrative technology; I hand-drew it, and it was horrifying. We didn't have that technology back when I was in school and learning to draw right onto computers and sketch pads. I don't really think [the publishers] knew that's what I was really doing, so they'd come back with notes asking if I could make her heel shorter and I'd be like, "Nope. With white-out, maybe. Maybe you can do it when I send it into you." And the art director was like, "It's so fun to work with someone who does it the old-fashioned way." When I got input back from the kids, it all ended up being worthwhile.
Should we expect more Princess Diaries books in the future?
MC: Yes! There's a From The Notebooks of a Middle School Princess sequel that's going to come out next summer, and after that we'll have to see. But hopefully, yes. Maybe when readers get to the end of Royal Wedding they'll want to know more about what happens to Mia after. I would love to write a sequel spin-off series with Michael and Mia where they solve crimes in the palace, like Hart to Hart with Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers driving around in their El Romeo in Genovia. I could call it The Royal Murders. Also, I really want to do a Princess Diaries musical on Broadway. We could take our nieces to a Sunday matinee and have a big showstopper with Grandmère singing about Princess Power or Princess Etiquette.
If you could go back in time and tell your teenage self anything, what would you say?
MC: "Don't stress so much, everything's going to be fine." My younger self was very, very stressed about my algebra grade — which was an F, by the way — and my dad was a math professor at Indiana University so he was also very stressed over my algebra grade. I know that everyone — especially girls who are not doing so well in STEM — needs to step it up when it comes to math, but I was so convinced I was going to be a failure in life just because of this one grade. I think that everybody needs to know that you can make it up in other ways by being creative or whatever makes you happy.
What would you say to a new writer who doesn't know how to get started?
MC: Sit down and write. That's 95% of what writing a book is, is just sitting there, getting it done, and putting it all down on paper. The rest is getting out there and trying to get people to look at it. I wish there were some magic words I could say but the truth is, it really is just sitting there and writing it down. And then you have to go back over it, rewrite, and polish it up. And then you have to try your best to get your writing out there and try to get people to look at it.