Talking With the ‘Princess Diaries’ creator

Meg Cabot is chick-lit royalty. And that's not just because she pens the well-known "Princess Diaries" series, which Walt Disney Pictures turned into two movies starring Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews. The 41-year-old author has sold more than 15 million copies of her 50-plus books, including "Queen of Babble," "Every Boy's Got One," "Big Boned" and "Size 14 Is Not Fat Either." On March 1, Scholastic comes out with her new series, "Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls," her first foray into tween tales. NEWSWEEK's Karen Springen talked with the prolific, funny author about her latest novel, among other things.

NEWSWEEK:  You came up with the idea for the Allie Finkle series when you wrote about your fourth-grade teacher for an anthology by David Levithan, and he suggested you write for tweens, right?
Meg Cabot:
I just kept thinking about it. Fourth grade was a very pivotal time in my life. The whole Allie Finkle story was true. Moving and starting a new school was horrifying.

Where did you move?
I moved from the suburbs into town, in Bloomington, Ind. My dad taught at the university. Fourth grade was really traumatic. I started looking back at my old diaries that I kept when I was that age.

Is Allie based on you?
She is. She's a little feistier. I had two little brothers. My dad--he's deceased now--taught the same thing as her dad, computers. It was actually decision sciences. I still don't understand what it is. My mom was the same thing Allie's mom was--college advising. My mom also worked for Planned Parenthood for a while. She was an illustrator. There were bizarre birth-control devices around the house so she could draw them. That won't be in the Allie Finkle books!

How many Allie Finkle books are you planning to write?
I've written three, and there are three more planned.

What about kids in your own life?
I know a lot of people with 9-year-olds. I love kids. My husband and I have cats. I've been waiting for my biological clock to kick in, and it never has. My brother has little girls, and I'm an excellent aunt. They're only 3 and 2.

Are you planning to write more "Princess Diaries" stories, or just to work on Allie Finkle and your other new series, "Airhead," due in May, about a tomboy who becomes a supermodel?
I'm writing the very last "Princess Diaries" book, No. 10, right now. I have another series I'm going to be doing for Scholastic, too. The first book is called "Abandon." It's a retelling of the myth of Persephone, set in modern-day high school. It should be coming out fall of 2009.

What were your favorite books as a kid?
I think "A Wrinkle in Time." I loved that one. I also loved the old classics like "Little Women." I loved sneaking my parents' books--my dad's spy novels and my mom's, like Erma Bombeck. My parents didn't mind.

Unlike your teen novels, "Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls" has no kissing—yet. Will Allie age throughout the series and get to kiss?
She's definitely going to get into fifth grade and possibly sixth grade. She's going to get a crush eventually. I don't know about kissing. There's going to be a kissing controversy in one of the upcoming books. It's more like catch a boy and kiss him, which happens on the playground.

How is she going to grow up?
Really slowly. It's not going to be like Harry Potter, where he grows a year with every book. In the six books I have planned now, she's still in fourth grade, if that tells you anything. I managed to keep Princess Mia in high school for like 16 books.

How did you come up with the name Allie Finkle?
I try to choose first names that are people I like. I had a great boss named Allie. It started out as Finklestein, but that seems a little too long and a little too much like Frankenstein. My last name was Cabot, so people cruelly called me "Cabbage." I needed something they could call her something mean, like "Stinkle." I was Maggot Cabbage.

How did you become an author?
I always loved to write. My mom won the Seventeen magazine fiction contest when she was 19. She was really encouraging, but she also said you need to get a job. She said study something in college besides writing. When I was 16, I met this college guy at a party, and he was a creative-writing major. He said don't study it. I studied art and said I'd be an illustrator like my mom. I moved to New York to be an illustrator. The weird thing is, I met that guy from the party in New York, and we're married now! He was the one who was super encouraging. He got me a job working in the housing department at New York University because he was getting his Ph.D. in American literature there. I was the assistant manager of a 700-bed freshman dormitory. I actually wrote a series about a girl who works in a dormitory and every book there's a new murder. When the kids were sleeping, I would write. I got rejected brutally for, like, 10 years. I quit when they sent me the check for the ["Princess Diairies"] movie.

The next Allie Finkle book, "The New Girl," will be about encountering a girl bully at a new school. That happened to you, right?
It all did. I have to write about stuff that really happened--except the princess thing!

What's your advice for kid writers? Should they keep journals, like you did?
Absolutely. We're working with the American Library Association to encourage kids to keep journals, and not post quite as much information online.

Did you read a lot as a kid?
I read a lot of comic books. I was obsessed with the idea of narrative and how stories were told.

What do you read for fun now?
Magazines! And mysteries. I love those hard-boiled whodunits by Robert B. Parker. I love those tough-guy mysteries.

What does it feel like to have your books made into movies?
It's really bizarre to see your characters come alive, walking around on the screen. It's great. These are characters that live inside your head, but to see them come alive is amazing, especially when it's Julie Andrews. The best thing is to get letters from kids who are like, "I saw the movie of your book, and I went out and bought the book, and now I can't stop reading. It's so amazing, the power of Hollywood. The second movie they made on "The Princess Diaries" was not actually based on my books, and that was a little weird. But they still paid me!

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