By Maureen Lee Lenker
August 11, 2020 at 02:00 PM EDT
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Meg Cabot has used everything from her high school diaries to her time working in an NYU college dorm as fodder for her novels. It's only natural that her current hometown of Key West, Florida, would provide inspiration for a series eventually.

Her newest book No Offense, which can stand alone, but is also the second romance in her Little Bridge Island series, draws from her Florida home. Even if she did change the name. "[Little Bridge is] really based on Key West," she tells EW, while sitting down with us for a Zoom chat. "It's based on Key West completely, except I took a lot of liberties with some of the people in the town and the way the town government is run. So that's the only parts that I changed and that's why I changed the name because I didn't want to get sued."

Cabot says after the success of the first book in the series, No Judgmentsthat she's heard from many Key West residents and they're actually a bit bummed she disguised them. "They're mad that I didn't use the real name, especially some of the bars, and they're like, 'Just use my real name so people will come to the bar,'" she laughs. "In No Offense, I did use a couple of the real names... [like] the wine bar that the librarians go to after work." It's a personal favorite of hers, and has even kept up her "spirits" throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

No Offense combines romance with a bit of a cozy mystery as it follows local children's librarian Molly Montgomery and Little Bridge Sheriff John Hartwell. When Molly discovers an abandoned baby in the library bathroom, she becomes embroiled in a local mystery and finds herself falling for the handsome sheriff.

After the Zoom call, Cabot followed up via email to further reveal that the core of the book itself was inspired by a real local romance. "The Key West children’s librarian here in Key West really is married to the sheriff who she met in the library (well, he’s a sheriff’s deputy and sadly she did not meet him while he was in the library solving a crime. But he was just there on duty)," she writes. "I heard this story through the grapevine and HAD to write a book based on it (I got her permission and interviewed her for the book)."

Cabot also touches on how her brother's own experiences as a police officer and a father helped inform Hartwell's character, as well as the nuances of writing a police officer character in a time when policing is a national conversation. "It's something I was thinking about before because I have a brother who's a police sergeant and I also have a brother who's adopted who's Black, so this is a conversation that has been going on in my family for a long time," she says. "My brother and I have had long discussions about this way before the George Floyd murder."

In addition to being a bestselling author of titles like The Princess DiariesCabot is also a gifted illustrator, having majored in studio art in college and provided the art for her middle-grade series From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess. So when her publisher asked what she wanted her cover for No Offense to look like, she drew a mock-up herself, including a cut-out of one of the inspirations for her hunky sheriff, Stranger Things' Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour).

meg cabot

Harper Collins didn't stray very far from Cabot's vision when designing the final cover.

Watch the video above for more from Cabot on her obsession with true crime podcasts, what kicked off her entries in Princess Mia's coronavirus diaries, and more. No Offense is now on shelves.

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