Author Meg Cabot is a one-woman marketing sensation. She is a publisher's dream because she is able to produce novels with amazing frequency. At one point, Cabot, who began publishing in 1998, was pumping out a novel almost every month; by early 2006 she had published forty-four works of fiction. She is also a diverse writer who has found equal success in a multitude of genres, including historical romance, young adult fiction, and contemporary adult fiction. In 2000, however, Cabot hit the jackpot when she penned The Princess Diaries, a young adult novel that quickly caught on with readers primarily because the wryly humorous author was able to accurately capture "teen-speak." In 2001, The Princess Diaries was adapted for the big screen by Disney and its popularity catapulted Cabot from writer to celebrity. In 2004, the movie The Princess Diaries 2 was released, which further followed the escapades of Mia, the Princess of Genovia. A few months prior, Cabot signed a seven-figure deal with her publisher, HarperCollins, to continue writing the Princess series and to build on her other young adult series. As Cabot told Teenreads.com, "I hope to write about [Mia] as long as people want to keep reading about her."
Meg Cabot was born on February 1, 1967, in Bloomington, Indiana. She was an avid reader from a very early age, at first gobbling up comic books and science fiction at the local library. In many interviews, Cabot claims that she found her way to the library during the summer months because she was looking for air-conditioning. While cooling off in the library, Cabot soon discovered classic literature, such as To Kill a Mockingbird, by southern writer Harper Lee (1926–), and Jane Eyre, written by English novelist Charlotte Brontë (1816–1855). Jane Eyre, the story of the romance between a man and his daughter's nanny, in particular, had a lasting effect on young Cabot. As she explained in a 2004 interview with Christina Nunez, "It introduced me to the world of romance, which I have never left."
In addition to reading, Cabot was also obsessed with princesses. "I was a traditional Disney-princess worshipper," she told Trudy Wyss of Borders. "You know, I had the Snow White birthday cake when I was six, drew Cinderella endlessly on my notepads." Cabot read about princesses (her favorite fairy tale is Beauty and the Beast ) and fantasized about being a real-life princess, often telling her mom and dad that her "real" parents, the king and queen, would arrive one day in Indiana to find her. In 1977, after seeing the movie Star Wars, the ten-year-old's mania for royalty grew to new heights. "I became obsessed with Princess Leia," Cabot explained to Wyss. "It's one thing to be
"I am living proof that it is possible to profit from being a high school freak."
princess of a kingdom; it is quite another to be princess of an entire planet!"
While in high school Cabot began to write her own stories because, as she claimed in an Onion Street online interview, there was absolutely nothing else to do. "That was back in the days before cable and VCRs were popular, so there really was nothing to do but write stories of our own." In addition, Cabot wrote for the high school newspaper and kept detailed journals. She also was active in after-school activities, including choir, theater, and the art club.
Although she enjoyed writing Cabot never planned on becoming a professional author. Instead, she dreamed of being an actress or a veterinarian. Unfortunately, she flunked algebra and did rather poorly on the math portion of her SATs. (As part of admissions requirements most universities require a student to take SAT examinations; they are divided into two sections—verbal and math reasoning—and help assess what a student has learned throughout their school years.) Following graduation from high school, Cabot decided to study art at the University of Indiana, where she could attend tuition-free since her father was a professor. In 1991, with a bachelor of fine arts degree in hand, the budding artist moved to New York City to pursue a career as an illustrator. Instead, she landed a job as a freshman dormitory assistant manager at New York University. It was not exactly her dream job, but there were periods when work was slow, which gave her plenty of free time to return to her early love: writing.
Success, however, did not come overnight. Seven years and thousands of rejection letters later (Cabot claims she has a mail bag full of rejections), her first novel was finally published. It was an historical romance called Where Roses Grow Wild (1998), and it was written under the pen name, or alias, of Patricia Cabot. Several more romances followed in 1999 and 2000. At the same time, Cabot was busy trying her hand at a novel, called The Princess Diaries, that was aimed at younger readers. Even though she was a published author, Cabot's young adult novel was rejected seventeen times before it was finally purchased by HarperCollins and released in 2000.
The inspiration for Princess came from an event that happened in Cabot's own life. After her father died her mother began dating her daughter's former art teacher. Cabot was so horrified that she began keeping a diary. She expanded the diary entries into a story about a ninth-grader named Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldo, also known as Mia, whose mother is dating her algebra teacher. Cabot also visited her old high school diaries to add a true teen voice to her character, a gangly, shy freshman being raised by her single mom in a Greenwich Village loft in New York City.
In addition to facing the trials and tribulations of teenage life, Mia's world is turned upside-down when she discovers that her father is actually the prince of a tiny European country called Genovia and that she is next in line to inherit the throne. Suddenly Mia is a celebrity, and her worries about boys take backseat to princess lessons, bodyguards, and fending off the paparazzi.
Critics gave mixed reviews to the The Princess Diaries, claiming that at times it was over the top and cartoonish. Publishers Weekly called it a "classic makeover tale souped up on imperial steroids." On the other hand, Cabot was praised for her ability to faithfully capture the angst and emotions of contemporary teens. According to her BookEnds profile, "Cabot writes about the minutiae, the finer points, the ins and outs and the trivia of teen existence—all in an eerily accurate voice." For Cabot, the appeal of the book lies in its diary-entry format. "There is a feeling that you're eavesdropping," she commented in a BookEnds interview. "The reason girls are drawn to the book is an element of naughtiness—ooh, I'm reading something that's not supposed to be read."
A few reviewers, however, were troubled by some of the questionable situations that appear in the book. For example, Mia's parents were never married, and her mother has a boyfriend who sleeps over. In her All About Romance interview, Cabot speaks to the objection by saying The Princess Diaries is timely. "It really does reflect modern-day popular culture, as well as modern-day teen problems and concerns. Many librarians (and parents, as well as teachers) have pointed to those scenes in particular as examples of timely issues, considering how many kids now have single parents or have friends with single parents."
Regardless of the critics, readers were drawn to the book in huge groups. By 2001, The Princess Diaries was selling in seventeen countries and HarperCollins had signed Cabot to write at least three more titles in the Princess series. Perhaps biggest of all, however, was that in August 2001 Disney released the feature film The Princess Diaries, starring newcomer Anne Hathaway (1982–; see sidebar) as the reluctant princess and veteran actor Julie Andrews (1935–) as Grandmere. Cabot did not write the screenplay, but she did work closely with one of the movie's producers, who explained to her why some changes were necessary to translate Mia's story from page to screen. As the author commented in her All About Romance interview, "The essence of the story, or the message, of staying true to yourself, no matter what, still comes through loud and clear."
Critics generally panned the movie, calling the characters bland and the story "sweet but schmaltzy" ( Catholic News Service ). Still, fans flocked to theaters, and in its opening weekend The Princess Diaries took in a whopping $22.9 million. It eventually made $108 million in box office revenue, an amazing feat given the fact that an established star did not appear in the lead role. Disney had enough faith in Cabot's story that in 2004, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement was released.
In just a few short years The Princess Diaries had become a mini-dynasty with Meg Cabot as its queen. By March of 2006, Cabot had penned seven titles in the series, as well as several spin-off books, including Princess Lessons (2003), filled with fashion and beauty tips, and The Princess Diaries Engagement Calendar (2005). Her efforts were rewarded in November 2003, when the author signed a seven-figure deal with her publisher, HarperCollins.
In addition to continuing the Princess series, HarperCollins signed Cabot to expand two other young adult series, Mediator and 1-800-WHERE-R-YOU. As Christina Nunez explained, both series are like Princess in that the main characters are young
The Princess Diaries movies may not have been quite as successful if eighteen-year-old newcomer Anne Hathaway had not been chosen to play Mia Thermopolis, the nerdy American who is transformed into European royalty. In fact, even critics who panned the film consistently praised the fresh-faced, fledgling actress. As David DiCerto of the Catholic News Service wrote, "The mediocre material is elevated somewhat by the buoyant and beautiful Hathaway, whose sunny smile could light up a small kingdom of two."
Anne Hathaway was born on November 12, 1982, in Brooklyn, New York, the middle child and only daughter of Gerald Hathaway, an attorney, and Kate McCauley, a singer and actress. Hathaway was introduced to theater at a very early age since she traveled with McCauley, who starred in the touring company of the musical Les Miserables. McCauley later left show business to raise her three children. Hathaway, however, had already caught the acting bug. While in grade school, she appeared in local theater productions of Gigi and Once Upon a Mattress. She also studied acting at New York City's prestigious The Barrow Group.
Hathaway attended Millburn High School in New Jersey, where she sang in the chorus. When not in school, she auditioned for parts on Broadway and in television. She appeared in several commercials, but got her first big break in 1999 when she landed the role of Meghan Green on the Fox TV series Get Real. Despite critical praise, the show was canceled after one season due to low ratings. After graduating from high school, Hathaway set her sights on attending Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, to study English and women's studies. Her entrance, however, was put on hold after she auditioned for The Princess Diaries.
A very nervous Hathaway actually fell off her chair during her audition with veteran director Garry Marshall (1934–). But since Mia is a bit of a klutz, the accident proved lucky, and Hathaway won the part that day. The Princess Diaries was released in 2001, and Hathaway reprised her role as the reluctant royal in the movie's 2004 sequel The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. In between Princess productions she also appeared in several other films, including The Other Side of Heaven (2001), Nicholas Nickleby (2002), Ella Enchanted (2004), and Brokeback Mountain (2005). In addition, Hathaway lit up Broadway in late 2001 playing the orphan Lili in the musical Carnival.
When not acting, Hathaway continues her studies at Vassar. And when interviewers ask her about her many princess roles ( Ella Enchanted is a modern-day retelling of Cinderella ), she just takes it in stride. She told PBS, "Hopefully my career is going to be longer and bigger than a tiara."
girls "who have extraordinary powers that carry extraordinary burdens." Another similarity is that the inspiration for each series came from an experience in Cabot's own life.
The Mediator series focuses on sixteen-year-old Suze Simon who thinks the biggest problem in her life is that her mother has remarried—that is until she discovers she has the unique ability to talk to the dead. The idea for Mediator was sparked after the death of Cabot's father. During a conversation with her brother, he revealed that he thought he could periodically see their father out of the corner of his eye. Cabot wondered, "What if you could see the ghosts of every dead person?"; thus, the character of Suze Simon was born. The first Mediator title, Shadowland, was released in 2000; the sixth title in the series, Twilight, was published in December 2004.
The 1-800-WHERE-R-YOU series was launched in 2001 with When Lightning Strikes. The inspiration for the books came when Cabot and a friend were literally almost struck by lightning. They were caught in a storm and the scaffolding under which they stood was hit by a lightning bolt. Although it was a frightening situation, the two friends got excited that perhaps the close call would give them psychic powers. Of course it did not, so instead Cabot gave psychic abilities to her WHERE-R-YOU heroine, sixteen-year-old Jess Mastriani, who uses her gift to find missing children.
Cabot's dynasty also consists of several separate young adult (YA) novels, including All-American Girl (2002) and Teen Idol (2004). In addition, she has never abandoned her love of writing novels for adults—both historical romance and contemporary. Her most recent contemporary adult novel is called Size 12 Is Not Fat, and is scheduled to be released in January 2006. Cabot is quick to point out, however, that her adult romances are a little too racy for the younger set. Instead, she steers teen readers to a line of YA historical romances published by HarperCollins. In 2002, Cabot released Nicola and the Viscount under the HarperCollins/Avon banner; the following year Victoria and the Rogue was published.
In 1997, at the age of thirty, a dejected Meg Cabot was ready to throw in the towel as a writer. Less than a decade later she had become one of the most well-known YA authors in America. Hundreds of thousands of readers eagerly awaited each new installment in her many celebrated series, Hollywood was knocking on her door, and girls around the world clamored to share her princess secrets. Cabot was only too eager to oblige them. The dedicated writer puts in full workdays at the computer, snuggled comfortably in bed and wearing her pajamas. She frequently takes time out to answer the many e-mails she receives from fans and to monitor her online book club.
Cabot writes in her pajamas in two homes: one located in New York City, the other in Key West, Florida. She shares both homes with her husband, Ben, a poet and financial marketer, and their one-eyed cat, Henrietta.
Cabot, Meg. All-American Girl. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.
Cabot, Meg. The Princess Diaries. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
Cabot, Meg. The Princess Diaries: Party Princess. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.
Cabot, Meg. Shadowland. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.
Cabot, Meg. Teen Idol. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.
"It's My Life: Anne Hathaway." PBS Kids Go! http://pbskids.org/itsmylife/celebs/interviews/anne.html (accessed on August 10, 2005).
Megcabot.com . http://www.megcabot.com/ (accessed on August 10, 2005).
"Meg Cabot's Interview." BBC: Onion Street. http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/communities/onionstreet/liveguests/interviews/megcabot.shtml (accessed on August 10, 2005).
"Meg Cabot: Video Interview." Teenreads.com (April 23, 2002). http://www.teenreads.com/authors/au-cabot-meg.asp (accessed on August 10, 2005).
Nunez, Christina. "Meet the Writers: Meg Cabot." Barnes … Noble.com (September 2004). http://www.barnesandnoble.com/writers/writerdetails.asp?userid=LF8zzTzA1G…cid=980291£bio (accessed on August 10, 2005).
Wyss, Trudy. "Sleeping Beauty, Snow White...and Mia: Meg Cabot's Modern-Day Princess." Borders. http://www.bordersstores.com/features/feature.jsp?file=cabot (accessed on August 10, 2005).