Writer Meg Cabot on ‘Princess Diaries,’ ‘Royal Crush,’ + Her Own First Crush: Interview
It’s hard to believe that Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries series kicked off 17 years ago — since that first trip to Genovia, readers have relished Mia’s transformation from a nerdy high schooler to royalty, and all the family squabbles that have come with it.
The original book series continued for 11 volumes, the most recent of which was 2015’s adult release, Royal Wedding, in which Mia and Michael finally tied the knot. And who could forget the books also spawned the pretty incredible Princess Diaries films starring Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews.
Thankfully, the saga doesn’t end there. Cabot has also been hard at work on a spinoff series for middle schoolers, From the Notebooks of a Middle-School Princess from Feiwel & Friends, which focuses on Mia’s long-lost, younger half-sis Olivia Grace Clarisse Mignonette Harrison, who is totally down with the whole royalty thing.
PopCrush spoke to Cabot just before the release of the series’ third volume, Royal Crush, which finds Olivia dealing with matters of the heart and follows Mia and Michael’s next steps in starting a family.
What’s going on in this third installment, Royal Crush?
Royal Crush follows Olivia, who is in the seventh grade now at the Royal Genovian Academy in Genovia. All sorts of royal kids go there and now non-royal kids go there too. It’s become completely egalitarian. They are going on their first field trip outside the county to attend the Royal Winter Dance, but she’s not very excited about it because back home at the palace, her sister Mia is about the give birth to twins and she wants to be there for the big moment because she’s excited.
There’s so many things happening, it’s like Game of Thrones without the dragons! She’s also got her birthday coming up, and of course, she has her first crush. Oh, and the worst part about the trip is that her grandmother is the chaperone because they couldn’t find anyone else and she volunteered. What a royal nightmare!
How much will we see Olivia change as she becomes a full-on teenager?
Well, she is going through some hard times. She’s turning into a young woman in front of the media, which is hard. I remember turning into a teenager, just on my own without having to do it in front of the paparazzi or while being a princess and it’s really difficult. It’s going to be tough for her and she’s got all of these people judging her — some of them in her own family. So, I think it’s an interesting way to portray pre-puberty, because you feel like you’re under a microscope. She feels judged but at the same time she just wants to be true to herself. She’s really the only American, except for her sister and Michael, so she’s also kind of an outsider too. I think it’s an exaggerated look at how we all feel when we’re going through puberty — we all feel like everybody’s looking at us and judging us.
I heard that you pulled the inspiration from your own experience with your first crush. Is that true?
Oh my gosh, I sure did! Actually, the boy in the book, whose name is Khalil, I gave him a trait that the boy I first had a crush on had, and that is that he’s obsessed with herpetology. He loves reptiles and snakes. Which I have to say, I was not at all interested in snakes or reptiles at all and I had to pretend I liked them because he was so obsessed. He wanted to grow up to be a herpetologist and he would endlessly tell me about his snake collection. This was in like fifth, sixth grade.
He did ask me — back in those days, we were really into roller skating with like those big wheels. People would go to the disco and roller skating place and we went as a class trip and he asked me to skate. He skated backwards facing me and we held hands and I thought I was going to die of excitement. But, I still have a respect for snakes from that and I always thought that it was so cute that he wanted to be a herpetologist. I hope he grew up to be one. I don’t know what happened.
It seems fans of the original series can’t get enough of Genovia as a whole, but is it hard for you to tell Mia’s story from Olivia’s perspective?
It’s kind of fun because I get to write these little glimpses of her relationship, especially now that she’s going to rule Genovia and her husband is there. However, I don’t want to have too much stuff that would be inappropriate for kids, but I also want to have stuff that will be fun for adults who may be reading it too. I’m actually working on the fourth one right now and it’s got even more Mia because she’s getting coronated and somebody is threatening the coronation with a DNA test. They think they have a claim to the throne. So, you’re telling it from the point of view of a kid, but you have a lot of adult conversation and you want to make it entertaining for child readers, but also adult readers.
I love the challenge of writing to two different levels of readers, but it’s hard to keep it appropriate. Especially with the grandmother! She’s a very sophisticated lady who enjoys a cocktail at all hours of the day, doesn’t matter when. I also did the illustrations, and one of them was with the grandmother with a cocktail in her hand and the publishers were like, ‘You know, kids are going to be reading this. Maybe make it look like an orange juice glass?’ [Laughs] It’s 11 in the morning and she was drinking a martini. That made her chaperoning the field trip particularly interesting too, but there were some scenes I had to take out.
You’ve been writing in the Genovia world for nearly 20 years. It’s been so long since the first one. Do you think you’ll ever tire of this world?
I always think that I’m going to run out, but then things keep happening in the real world and I think, ‘Oh my God, that would be so funny to write about.’ Just when I think that I don’t have anything more that could possibly happen, more things happen in the real world that I think would be hilarious if set in Genovia. So, I don’t know, we’ll have to see. There are people right now that are doing those genetic tests, like the 23andMe and they’re getting their results back and thinking that they actually have more of a right to the throne of England than Queen Elizabeth. One of them just got a baronetcy because he could prove the current baronet — well, not anymore — had no right to it because he as illegitimate, and he won!
Well the other crazy thing about this all is, Mia was dying for a beeper in the first book and now you have text messages interspersed throughout the pages between characters.
Yeah, that was her dearest desire. I look back on that book and of course, feel bad for kids now, we’re trying to update those first few ones, but then there’s the problem that our technology could be obsolete in a few years. I can’t imagine a day when people won’t want iPhones, but I’m sure it could happen. One of the reasons I think that readers did enjoy the books so much was because they had pop culture references. Unfortunately some of those references included pop stars that are now dead, so we had to go through and update the books so it’s a little less morbid when they’re reading it, like, ‘Who’s Anna Nicole Smith, Mommy?’ Otherwise, you get letters. [Laughs]
You originally wanted to be an illustrator, right? It must be great to do the illustrations for this series and be able to include that in the same outlet.
Yeah, it’s really great. When I went to college, I studied art. I moved to New York City after I graduated to be an illustrator, but no one hired me. I got a few small projects, but it’s very, very difficult to make a living as an illustrator. It’s really hard to make a living as a writer too though, so I was really shocked when that was the thing that took off. I planned on being an illustrator and I had all this art equipment, and I always wanted to go back to illustration because that was my original plan, so it is great that I’m able to do it in these books and say to my mom, ‘Look! I’m finally using that thing that you paid all this money for!’
What else do you have in the works right now?
I do have a story in the new Star Wars anthology coming out in October, Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View. Other than that, I’m just trying to get this book done, who knows what else will come out! But I have a lot of ideas.
Is there anything else fans should know before they check out Royal Crush?
I think it’s a fun book for people who like kissing and also people who don’t like kissing. A lot of kids write in that they don’t like kissing and they don’t need to worry about this one. There’s some thinking-about-kissing and not-necessarily-kissing.
I find that fascinating that that’s an issue at all.
You know what they really love? When girls fight each other. I think that’s a thing that goes on at that age a lot, so we get a lot of readers that write in like, ‘Can we get more fighting?’ Not like fist fighting, of course. [Laughs]
So, there’s a lot of fighting and pretty much zero kissing, but there’s a lot of crushing on people, which is what happens at that age I think. There was no kissing unfortunately between me and my royal crush. He roller-skated away before we ever could, back to his world of snakes. That way it’s even better, so I can remember it fondly.
Royal Crush: From the Notebooks of a Middle-School Princess is available on August 1.