Meg Cabot, NO WORDS

Meg Cabot, NO WORDS

Zibby is joined by Meg Cabot —author of over fifty novels— to talk about her latest book, No Words. The two talk about how the story and many of its characters were inspired by Meg’s own experiences at book festivals and by many of her friends and colleagues who she has missed during the pandemic. Zibby also asks Meg about how she first got her start as a writer and what her husband said that convinced her to keep pursuing a career she loves.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Meg. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss No Words and your amazing career and everything else.

Meg Cabot: Thank you so much for having me. It’s wonderful to be here.

Zibby: Should I make a joke about your having to find words for this interview, or are you going to make that a million times? What do you think?

Meg: You know, this is actually my first interview about this book. Actually, that’s good. It’s refreshing. You can say that.

Zibby: I feel like this book is a guilty indulgence. I love it. Every time, I kick back. I am amused and having so much fun reading it that it always feels like I’m cheating or something. It’s just so fun. I love your sense of humor. It has to be your sense of humor. I would say the character, but you know. I just love it. I’m so into all of it. I look forward to reading it at night and just relaxing and pretending I’m in Florida in part of this.

Meg: Good. That’s what I was hoping people would get out of it, was that you’re going away on this nice vacation. It’s going to be totally easy and fun. Then of course, the main character is freaking out the whole time because she has to see someone she doesn’t want to see, which hopefully doesn’t happen to anyone in real life.

Zibby: It doesn’t matter the setting. You always are where you are kind of thing. You can’t leave the anxiety in New York City. It always follows you around.

Meg: Exactly. You still get to enjoy vicariously, her wonderful trip. Then at the same time, you’re going, why is she freaking? She’s freaking out for the dumbest reason. Ultimately, she is because you know that it’s a nice, fun, romantic book, and everything’s going to be okay. I feel like we’re living in a time where that’s what we want to read, books where we know everything’s going to be okay because life right now is so crazy.

Zibby: Totally. There’s something very comforting about it. I love how it’s all set in the literary world too, how it’s a book festival. The couple — what are their names? Saul and the New Yorker.

Meg: Frannie.

Zibby: Their funny relationship and being so skittish about everything, even the pool and what diseases are in the pool. How could you swim? Did you not look out the window? We crossed a bridge. It’s just so funny.

Meg: I was really missing book festivals because we haven’t gotten to have any for about a year and a half now. I haven’t been to any. I thought it would be really great to vicariously go to a book festival in the book I’m writing, so that’s what I did. I have to admit that I did kind of insert people that I know and miss.

Zibby: Oh, really?

Meg: Even though I say in the acknowledgments, none of these authors are based on real people, some of them kind of are. I hope that people don’t recognize themselves, but I know who they all are. It was done very lovingly. I’m like, I got to visit with you guys. Maybe if they figure out who they are, I’ll be like, you and I went to a book festival in my mind.

Zibby: I love the guy on the plane who does all the magic. You’re like, okay, creepy, weird.

Meg: Thank you for agreeing that that’s kind of creepy. That has happened to me at book festivals. I’ll be on the author bus on the way to an event at eight in the morning. It’s usually not magic. It’s usually, somebody with puppets will suddenly spin around and start doing puppets in my face. I haven’t even had caffeine yet. They’ll be like, hi, Meg, good morning. We’re on the way to the festival. I’m like, oh, my god. It’s always a man. I’m sorry. It’s always a man. I’m just like, stop it. That is not cool. I’m glad that you agree that that is creepy. Sometimes people are like, no, that’s fun. I’m like, it’s not fun. It is not fun.

Zibby: No. Time and a place.

Meg: People who haven’t read the book yet are like, what is this book about? I’m telling you, it’s all the author secrets that happen on book festivals early in the morning and late at night after the festival is over, the weird stuff that goes on, some of it sexual.

Zibby: Even how they were all talking about the donor reception that they had to go to and the free food and the alcohol and the servers who were like — . So funny. It’s making fun of just excess and the need to show off and this narcissistic character.

Meg: It’s true, but it’s fun. I’m not putting book festivals down. I’m actually on the board of the Key West Literary Seminar, which I love and we are going to have this year. Fingers crossed. I get to see a lot of the ins and outs from the point of view of somebody who’s planning one of these. As well as going to them, I also am now on the end of, okay, who are we inviting? Is this person going to get along with that person? That’s kind of where the idea for this book came from as far as two authors who really do not get along ending up being at the same book festival because I’ve experienced that from the point of view of someone who plans these things. It’s very funny, or it could be a disaster.

Zibby: As someone who is more an attendee type of person, it never occurred to me, some of the behind-the-scenes things or how often you would have to be with the person. I guess it depends on the location. It’s not like BookCon or something, but smaller islands. If this festival happens, you have to let me know. I don’t know if you’ve watched the movie Vivo yet.

Meg: I know of it.

Zibby: Part of it takes place in Key West. My kids thought it was a made-up place. I’m like, no, no, it’s a real place. Now of course, they want to go.

Meg: Come on down. The more the merrier.

Zibby: That’s hilarious. What was it like to write it? Did it all just come right out? Did you have to plan it? What was that whole thing like?

Meg: I think probably, you’ve talked to other authors about this. It was weird because you’re writing during the pandemic. I just kept going, it’s so weird to have people be shaking hands and, of course in this book, kissing and making out and doing more than making out. I’m like, is this ever going to happen again? I know it is. I know from experience. I have people in my family and neighborhood that are hooking up, and so I know people are doing that. From my point of view being a married lady for many years, I was like, are people going to ever do this again? That part was very fun. Then I just decided, you know what, yes, people are going to do this again. It’s all going to be okay. I’m just going to go with it. We are going ahead with our book festival. That part was probably the hardest thing to overcome, just the uncertainty at the time I was writing this book. Vaccines hadn’t even come out yet. The rest of it just really did flow because it was so much fun to write about a book festival that I was not going to. I had no stakes in it. That part was fun.

Then just getting that point of view of this very tense New York writer who’s the main character, Jo — really needs a vacation. She needs to get out of the New York winter and into this Floridian atmosphere where there’s a beautiful pool at her hotel. She’s just totally going to lay back. She’s getting a huge stipend. She doesn’t know why, but she’s very excited that they’re actually paying her to go on this free vacation and to really just enjoy it until, of course, she finds out that her rival and the guy she hates more than anyone else in the writing community is also there. She was practically going to leave, but then her writing friend convinces her, no, you need to stay. You need to face your demons. That’s what the book is about. She doesn’t have words because she’s got writer’s block. Then this guy, he is very bad at verbalizing what he means. He can write it down, but he can’t speak very well, which is how he keeps putting his foot in his mouth. To me, it’s kind of a good summary of what it’s like to be a writer. Sometimes you can’t write and sometimes you can’t speak, usually at the worst time.

Zibby: I also love how you poke fun at authors. Jo is a middle-grade author, really like an early reader-ish, middle grade. People are always coming up to her saying, I used to love your books. You’re like, why do I have to be the person that you used to love my books?

Meg: She compares it to being like one of the actors who was on Friends. Everybody comes up to Rachel, Jennifer Aniston, and is like, I used to love your show. She’s like, oh, my god, I still do things. I still write things. I’m still acting. She’s so mad. She learns it’s okay. It’s okay to be the person who, I don’t want to give it away, but maybe the person who, your books meant so much to somebody because they learned to read from your books. Your books are what captivated them and made become a reader. She’s kind of getting used to that. She’s like, maybe it’s okay to be who I am. Then of course, her rival is the guy whose books everybody’s reading now. He’s the guy. I don’t want to say he’s Nicholas Sparks because he’s not. Everybody’s comparing him to Nicholas Sparks. I’m like, okay, fine. He’s not, but that’s kind of who he is a little bit. That’s what his books are. In the book, you can read little sections of his new book that has just come out. I’m not saying I tried to make them like Nicholas Sparks, but everybody says they all are doing that.

Zibby: I had him on this podcast.

Meg: Did you? I’ve never met him.

Zibby: I’ll send you the link.

Meg: You know what? I’m going to go and — no, I’m not.

Zibby: It was a while ago. Not that long. That’s funny.

Meg: We won’t talk about that anymore.

Zibby: No, it’s fine. It’s funny. There’s this whole, it’s never enough for authors. It’s not okay that Jo is this massively successful author with this whole Kitty Katz series or whatever you want to call it that everybody in the world knows, sort of like Dog Man or something like that.

Meg: , yeah.

Zibby: Right, or something. Now it’s, something else needs to be done.

Meg: It’s true. She’s definitely suffering from horrible writer’s block because her rival said something mean about her in an interview. Now she can’t get past it. She’s got a problem in that way. She’s one of those people who can’t let go. She can’t let it go, like in Frozen. She needs to learn. That’s what the book is about.

Zibby: Her friend tries to psychoanalyze her and is like, is this because of your dad, that you have to find him a nursing home or an old-age home? She was like, what?

Meg: Exactly. It was fun to write.

Zibby: You also wrote The Princess Diaries, which, of course, became another family favorite here. You’re just winning points right and left. How did you get your start being a writer? How did you come up with these breakout hits and all of that?

Meg: Thanks. The Princess Diaries really was inspired by a family incident that happened. After my dad passed away, my mom started dating one of my teachers, which is really what The Princess Diaries, to me, is about. It’s about a girl who’s obsessing because her mom is dating one of her teachers. Then incidentally, my agent was like, “That’s not enough for a story. Something else needs to happen. She can’t just have her mom be dating her teacher and be freaking out.” She’s like, “There needs to be more of a hook.” I had a couple ideas. The one that seemed to be the best fit was that she turns out to be a princess, which is so ridiculous, but it could happen in real life.

Zibby: You never know.

Meg: I wrote it realistically like that’s something that could happen. To my surprise, people seemed to really like it. I never thought that it would be a big hit or that it would be made into a movie starring Julie Andrews. Whitney Houston kind of picked it up out of the slush pile, really. Took it to Disney. Then the next thing I knew, it was being made into a movie. I got to quit my day job at NYU. I was working as an assistant manager of a dorm there. It was crazy. Then after that, I just was able to write full time. It was a total dream come true.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh.

Meg: I know. It was amazing. I blame my mom for all of it. That’s my backstory. If my friend were psychoanalyzing me, she’d be like, it’s your mom’s fault. That was great and yet also totally bizarre.

Zibby: Wow. When did you first write a novel? That wasn’t the first one, right?

Meg: Oh, my god, no. I loved to write. I just have always since I was a little kid. My dad was a college professor. We always had books around. My mom taught reading. She was an elementary school teacher really early on in their marriage. Then she quit to stay home with the kids. They always encouraged us to read. Then when we didn’t have any books in the house because we’d read them all, she’d be like, “Go write your own. Here, here’s a pencil and some paper. Go write your own book.” My brothers didn’t go for that at all, but I loved it. I would sit there. I would write my own stories. I just never stopped. I kept asking her, I was like, “How can I get published?” She was like, “It’s really hard. You need to probably think about getting a day job if that’s something you’re serious about.” I did take typing in high school. I planned that my day job would be that I’d be somebody’s administrative assistant, which is what I became at NYU because I could type really fast. Then on the side, I was trying for years to get published. Just kept writing. I was writing historical romance novels because I heard there’s a billion-dollar industry in romance novels. I was like, I think I have a solid chance. I’m not sure. I wrote those under another name for a while. That worked out, but then I was still writing other stuff just to see what would happen.

Zibby: Is this your real name or not?

Meg: Oh, my god, you made me laugh so hard, I’m coughing now.

Zibby: I’m sorry.

Meg: That’s okay. Yes, Meggin Patricia Cabot is my real name, Meg Cabot. I wrote under Patricia Cabot. You can still find my historical romance novels, but I think they’re out of print. They’re very, very steamy. Oh, my god, you’re making me laugh so hard.

Zibby: Why did you not give up? Obviously, you were successful in what you were doing. Did you just love it? Did you just enjoy the process? Why did you pivot to mainstream? Not mainstream, but commercial fiction.

Meg: Not historical romances?

Zibby: Yeah.

Meg: I got rejected so much those first few years. I couldn’t even get an agent. I kept getting rejected. It actually is because of my husband. He would see me getting these rejections. I’d be like, “I should just quit because I’m never going to get published.” He actually said to me — he loves playing golf. He’s like, “I’m a terrible golfer, but I love doing it. Why would I quit? Just because people are telling me that I’m terrible? But I enjoy it. If you enjoy something, keep doing it. Why not keep trying?” I kept trying. Thank god, because look what happened.

Zibby: How is his golf?

Meg: It’s terrible. He rarely plays anymore because he’s found other things he enjoys doing. It’s weird because his brother’s a golf pro. There’s a little family rivalry going on. He’s found other things he enjoys doing. Thank god one of them is cooking. He’s the chef in the family. I encourage that one.

Zibby: Ooh, nice. My husband cooks. That is the biggest boon to a relationship.

Meg: I know. Somebody has to be good at cooking or at least willing to try.

Zibby: It’s amazing. I saw that this is part of a series. Is that right? It looked like it was.

Meg: Yeah, this is book number three, but it’s not that they are the same characters. They’re just all set on the same island. You can pick this one up without having read the others, but then maybe it will inspire you to want to read the others. I have a fourth one kind of gelling right now in my head. I haven’t started writing it. I don’t have a date when it will be out or anything like that or even a title. I have a plot and some characters, so that’s good.

Zibby: Better than not. Then you would have nothing.

Meg: I know. I’m very happy.

Zibby: That’s excellent. What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Meg: Obviously, don’t give up. If it’s something you really love doing, no matter what anybody says, just keep trying. I was always open to criticism. I got rejected, but I would often get, with my rejection letters, a nugget of encouragement, maybe, or even, “You know, we don’t –” I wrote a lot of medieval romances. At that time, nobody wanted medieval. They’re like, “We’re not interested in your Knights of the Round Table bawdy romances, but we’re looking for this other –” It was Victorian at the time. “If you could do Victorian, we would like that,” and so I did. “You actually write really not very inspiring male dialogue.” I was like, oh, I need to work on that. I went and I started listening more, which was really great advice, to men talk instead of me doing all the talking, which was very hard for me. When men are talking, you naturally want to say things, depending on what you hear. When I stopped talking so much and I started listening more, I was able to write more realistic male dialogue. That was some really good advice. I started taking the advice I was getting in my rejections and following it. That really helped. As soon as I started doing that, I started getting published, which was weird. Sometimes people get rejections and they’re like, ugh, they’re completely wrong. They’re not always wrong. Often, they are. Not always. Sometimes you have to listen to what people are saying, but not always. Sometimes they’re completely wrong.

Zibby: Not always. I found all the rejection letters that I had saved for a book I tried to sell when I was twenty-eight. In my head, it was this debilitating failure. Everything was bad. Then I went back and I read them. I was like, oh, my gosh, that was actually specific feedback. Maybe I shouldn’t have given up on that. What if I had tried this? Selective memory, you just take out all the bad. All I saw was no. I didn’t read the letters until recently.

Meg: Exactly, it’s really true. I was able to go through it and go, okay, let me try that. There are some things that you’re like, I’m never doing that. No way. I don’t feel like that’s true to the story. If there’s a few little things you can change, then why not try it? Originally, The Princess Diaries, the character was thirty years old.

Zibby: Really?

Meg: Yeah, because I was thirty when I was writing it. Then my agent was like, “This literally makes no sense that she’s thirty and she’s so upset about her mom dating her teacher. What is going on? Maybe try making her fourteen.” I went, “Fine, okay. That’s really stupid, but I’ll do it.” It worked. You just never know. Every once in a while, maybe you should take someone’s advice even if you don’t agree with it. It might not be the worst idea.

Zibby: I started out, as I told you at the beginning, on your website. You have an essay that you say you republish every year around 9/11 about your experience, which was not light, funny, and amusing at all, but heavy and written, obviously, in your style of approachable and relatable, all of that good stuff. What a story, that day, oh, my gosh. I encourage anybody to go to your website and read it, especially around now, which is 9/11 around the corner. By the time this comes out it will have happened. That was really moving stuff.

Meg: Thank you. I just think it’s important that people remember what that day was like. There are people now who are born who weren’t even alive, obviously, when that happened. What’s so weird about 9/11, and I always forget too, Princess Diaries, the movie, came out in August of 2001. Then September 2001 is when 9/11 happened. It was just such a terrible year. For me personally, it was the greatest year and then the worst year. My husband worked across the street from the World Trade Center. I didn’t know that day if I would see him again for a couple hours. Then thankfully, he was fine. It was a day of such terrible lows and then tremendous highs. So many people I know were so brave that day and did incredible, incredible things that I want people to remember it. I do post this same essay every year just as a reminder. I’m really honored that people teach that essay in classrooms now to kids who weren’t around when that happened so they can know what it was like for an average person who had nothing to do with it, just what I saw out my window and in my neighborhood and with friends of mine and stuff. I get a lot of positive feedback from that even though it’s not in my style. I’m very, very upbeat most of the time. That day was not a day for being upbeat. Thank you. Thank you for that.

Zibby: It was powerful. I’m currently reading this other 9/11 book and doing a bunch of 9/11 stuff. This is called Saved at the Seawall by Jessica DuLong.

Meg: Oh, yeah, with the boat lift.

Zibby: You should really — it’s so good.

Meg: Yeah, I will. Thank you for that.

Zibby: What are you reading, by the way?

Meg: It’s funny. I often read upbeat things. Right now, I’m actually reading The Premonition by Michael Lewis, which is about the pandemic, which has been really interesting. I’m reading another book at the same time, which is Well Matched by Jen DeLuca. It’s a fun romance. I have to read funny things and then temper them with not-so-funny things. I find that that works.

Zibby: Yes, I agree. I like to alternate, hence your book and the Saved at the Seawall. I go back and forth. Meg, this is so fun. I’m sorry, I should’ve started out by saying, what’s your book about? I just jumped in because I was so excited. Sorry to make you have to backpedal halfway through and describe it.

Meg: No. Fine.

Zibby: Hopefully, my enthusiasm — it’s just so nice to be able to fall into a book like this. It was particularly enjoyable and really great. Thanks.

Meg: Thank you. Thank you for having me. This was a really fun chat.

Zibby: Take care.

Meg: Thank you. You too. Buh-bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Meg Cabot, NO WORDS

NO WORDS by Meg Cabot

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