Image Credit: Ali SmithShe’s written about princesses, mediators and a former pop star-turned-detective. Now, Meg Cabot is taking on ethics and society’s obsession with youth and beauty in Runaway, the third book in her Airhead trilogy. The author talked with EW about her new book, the challenges of writing for both kids and adults, and the way she knows a series has run its course.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What can you tell us about your new book, Runaway?
MEG CABOT: Runaway is the last book in a series about a girl who wakes up from a coma after what a lot of people assume was an accident, only to discover her brain has been transplanted into someone else’s body. It’s a book about corporate greed, medical ethics, the identity of self, fashion, making out, and our obsession with youth and beauty, and the lengths some people will go to attain it without regard to how important it is to be beautiful on the inside first.
It’s the third book in the trilogy – are you sure this is it? Have you ever kept going with books in a series, even after a planned stopping point?
To quote one of my favorite movies, Adventures in Babysitting, “The dishes are done, dude.” Remember, when they’re all on the roof, skeet-shooting the dishes? I always think of this scene when I’m done with a series. That’s how I know it’s DONE. No more dishes.
You have another book coming out in June, Insatiable. How many projects do you work on at one time, and how do you keep track of everything?
Just like Liam Neeson didn’t work on the movies Chloe and Clash of the Titans at the same time, even though they’re both in theaters right now, I didn’t work on both of my new books at the same time. It just so happened that there were openings in the release schedule close to the same time, so they’re coming out close together, from two different publishers. This happens a lot, but that doesn’t mean I’m sitting around at home going, “OK, chapter two — wait, which book is this again?” No! I do one book at a time, just like Liam does one movie at a time. Release the Kraken!
You write books for young kids, teens, and adults. How do you switch back and forth between the different genres?
Well, sometimes I just want to write a really intense love scene. But I can’t do that in my books for teens, or parents will complain — believe me, I’ve tried. So I get to have those in my books for adults. Parents still complain, just because their teens picked up one of my books for adults. You can’t win. Sometimes I want to write about the prom, but I can’t have a prom in my books for adults. So I put proms in my books for teens (well, not in Runaway, but there’s a scene with a three million dollar bra, which is basically the same thing). I also love writing about fights between tween girls in malls. So I put those in my middle grade books, the Allie Finkle series. Amazingly fun. So getting to alternate — sex, then prom, then tween girls fighting — keeps me happy and entertained and not getting burned out on any one thing. Perfect!
One of your most popular series has been The Princess Diaries, which ended on number ten. Is it hard for you when a series comes to a conclusion, or are you ready to move on?
It was sad but not hard, because I really didn’t have any story lines planned beyond the last book! Now that so many people have written asking to continue the series, I’ve gotten lots of suggestions for how the story could continue…but nothing really compelling enough to me for a whole novel. I mean, Mia gets kidnapped by the Taliban? Noooooo! I’m having fun occasionally updating Mia’s blog while she’s in college, though.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on my next series for teens, a modern re-telling of the myth of Persephone’s abduction to the Underworld by the god of Death and keeper of souls; it’s rough when Death is in love with you and wants to keep you all to himself. That’s not the only complication, of course. The whole thing is turning out to be very Veronica Mars, in a way. The first book in that series will be out this time next year. And then after that, I’ll start working on the sequel to Insatiable. There’ll be a lot more about that on the Insatiable web page when it goes live, closer to the book’s release date.
How much input from fans do you take into account while writing? Have you ever gone down a different path after a suggestion from a reader?
While I LOVE that they’re so excited by the story, I already have the whole thing planned out way before they’ve ever read the first book, so nothing they say really can change anything, because everything has already been set into motion, for the most part. Although I love hearing their theories! And if they’re leaning too strongly in the wrong direction, I often realize I need to tweak something in the next book, to get them back on the right path. Interestingly though, I did put a scene into Runaway that was inspired by a reader – not a suggestion from her about the story, but a painfully said confession I saw her post. She said whenever she asked her mom if she thought she looked pretty, her mom told her pretty didn’t matter, and that she should stop being so vain. The girl said, “Pretty DOES matter! All the girls in my school care about is pretty. Just one time, I want to hear my mom say I look pretty!” I felt really sorry for her, and wanted to address that issue, so I wrote a scene in Runaway that did. Pretty isn’t the ONLY thing that matters — being smart and kind matters more, of course — but all daughters should hear from their moms that they look pretty once in a while. Come on, Moms! Bring out the pretty!