Meg Cabot was sad COVID canceled book festivals, so she wrote a novel set at one
The COVID-19 pandemic upended all our lives and led to the cancelation of many of our most cherished social and cultural events. But authors can still attend in their imaginations, and bring readers along in the pages of their books.
For Meg Cabot, that was the impetus behind her new novel No Words. The third and possibly final novel in her Little Bridge Island series, it follows children's book author Jo and literary fiction writer Will as they attend the island's first-ever book festival.
When Jo, who is suffering from a crippling case of writer's block, bumps into her nemesis Will, it's the last thing she wants. But she's shocked to find him apologetic about his past actions and determined to prove to her he's a changed man.
The Little Bridge Island series draws a great deal from Cabot's own life living in the Florida Keys, and No Words is no exception. She's on the board of the Key West Literary Seminar and was inspired to set her new novel at a book festival when COVID-19 forced them to scrap the 2020 and 2021 festivals.
"Everything was canceled, and it was so sad," Cabot tells EW. "And I was really mourning that loss, and so it was super-fun to write this book because I got to relive all of the events that I wasn't actually getting to attend, or that we weren't able to invite the authors that we wanted to have down."
No Words is slated to hit shelves in September, but we have your exclusive first look at the cover and more from Cabot below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your heroine Jo is a children's book author, and Will is a novelist. You've written everything from adult romance to YA to middle grade to graphic novels, so how do all those different genres feed into how you shaped your characters?
MEG CABOT: In addition to all that, I'm also now on the board for the Key West Literary Seminar here in Key West, so I'm also deeply involved in holding book festivals. I was like, this would be hilarious to write a book about authors going to book festivals because I've been to many book festivals, but now I'm also on the inside knowing what it's like to hold one of these book festivals and how these authors can behave very badly at the book festivals, and all the different personality clashes you can get. Since the last book in the series was about a librarian, who now is holding the book festIval, I thought it'd be a great way to incorporate her and also have that outsider's view of Little Bridge island.
Jo and Will don't like each other at first. How much of that enemies-to-lovers trope stems from prejudices against genres like romance or YA you might've witnessed at literary festivals?
There's a lot of people who say, "Oh, they dismiss genre out of hand because it's mainly written by women, it's mainly read by women." Women are just dismissed out of hand and blamed for so much of society's ills, and so are the things that we love. And one of the things we love, obviously, are romance novels. So this guy, [Will], he writes what he calls tragic love stories, but I think the rest of us refer to it as trauma porn. Or at least I refer to it as trauma porn. Jo writes middle-grade children's fiction about a talking cat. She's like, "Every single one of your books [are] basically romance novels where everybody dies at the end, just be honest about it." When it starts out, he's dismissive of women's fiction. There's a lot of that going on in the book as well. There's always an assortment of different authors at a book festival. We have all genres represented — we have horror, we have YA, and there's a mystery writer. There's a lot of discussions about that. It's really important to bring out because it's something that I'm sick of seeing. I think it is getting better. We have so many great writers coming out now who are being really extremely vocal about what romance represents. It's about hope and it's about happiness and how it's very important, especially for people's mental health these days, to have those things in our entertainment. You don't have to put down somebody else's favorite to boost up your own, and that's an important part of the message that my book is about.
Were their particular authors who inspired either of them?
No, and I'm really worried people are going to ask me that. They're going to be like, "Who's the guy that you hate so much?" I was really careful because there is no guy that I hate so much. Some of the authors that come to the book festival are based on real authors that I love and I lovingly put in because they [asked me to]. But the guy who is very built up in the heroine's head as a horrible, terrible prison is not actually based on, like, let's say, just to name someone, he's not Nicholas Sparks. Because that would not be romantic in my opinion.
You've written in so many different worlds, from Genovia to more supernatural settings. Between the Florida island and the literary festival, this is two things very familiar to you. Is that easier or harder?
It was really fun because I was writing this during the pandemic. I was like, "Oh, and this is the event we would have had, except we can't because there's a pandemic." So instead of getting to go, I got to write about it. [The Key West Literary Seminal] is a really fun tradition that Judy Blume started with other residents on the island. We meet every month and have our Zoom meeting about the canceled book festival. It was so sad, so I was like, "Oh, at least I get to have a book about it."
Was the festival in the book specifically inspired by the Key West festival, or a mix?
I was thinking about all of the book festivals that I've been to that I love. There's one in Decatur, Ga., that is an author favorite. Everybody that I know who's been loves that one. I was polling different people, like which one do you love? Everybody said Decatur because it's very walkable. Everyone loves the Brooklyn Book Festival, and everybody loves the L.A. Times book festival. When I went to the L.A. Times festival for The Princess Diaries, they had me doing a seminar, and then the person who was doing his seminar right after mine was Bret Easton Ellis. His fans were so rude to these little girls wearing their little pink tiaras. I wanted to make sure [interactions like that] got in there. Especially because the heroine writes about talking cats, and she's like, "I'm literary too." All that snobbery that can happen at these kinds of things. It has to be worked through. So that everyone agrees that all reading is important, no matter what kind of reading it is.
Your No Offense cover was based on a drawing you did. Was that also the case here?
I did not sketch this one. My editor brought up a good point: On every single one of the past covers for this series, which is set on a tropical island, there has not been much of a tropical feel. It was her idea to actually set it on a tropical island for a change. And then she was like, "Send me some ideas," and I was like, "Well, they should be reading or writing because they are at the book festival." That's what we came up with.
Bridgerton has proven so popular, and you started your career writing historical romance. Would you ever want to go back?
Oh, no. I love writing them, but the amount of research you have to do to make it historically accurate is so time-consuming. I just think that there's so many great intelligent historical-romance authors out there right now doing such a great job. I love what they're all doing. I don't think my voice is really needed. Not that it ever was. But I really like doing contemporaries.
Any updates on the Mediator movie?
It's going along. They paid me for another option. They could have just been like, "No, forget it, we're not doing it." They are very serious about it. We're going into the next revision for the screenplay. Screenwriters are used to writing about real people, and there's ghosts. I keep finding myself being like, "Okay, just remember he's a ghost, so he doesn't have to open the door; he walks through the door. He doesn't have to ride in the car; he materializes wherever." That's like my main job now. Continuously reminding screenwriters that the character is a ghost.
Are you helping write the script?
No. I'm the consultant; I'm the ghost consultant. You could say I'm ghostwriting…
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