The acclaimed author of the Princess Diaries series is introducing a new generation to Genovia. Royal Crush, the third installment in Meg Cabot’s middle-grade series, From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess — “written” by Mia Thermopolis’ pre-teen, half-sister, Olivia — was released earlier this week.
EW chatted with Cabot about the real-life inspiration behind her books, joining the Star Wars canon, and what Genovia’s Queen Julie Andrews is really like.
From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess: Royal Crush is available now.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made you decide to tell The Princess Diaries story from Olivia’s perspective?
MEG CABOT: I have siblings, so I thought it would be fun to tell the story of Genovia from the point of view of another sibling. And also because, I need to be honest, I have so many readers who are always asking me for books that are at a slightly lower reading level for their younger brothers and sisters. But now — this makes me feel so old — but now, I have some readers who have kids! [Laughs.] So they want stuff that’s at a reading level for their kids. And I also have a lot of readers who’ve become teachers, and they want stuff for their students that… are a little less racy. I’ve always had this problem where the books were slightly racier than the movies.
They were “Disneyfied.”
Yeah, I totally got “Disneyfied,” which I did not mind at all, and I don’t have kids, so I didn’t really see what the problem was with discussing French kissing. … Some parents didn’t agree, so this is a nice way to kinda ease into it.
Was Olivia inspired by your own siblings?
Yeah, a little bit. I actually have a biracial younger brother. And this has always been my dream that I would find out that I was really a princess, [and would be] whisked off to a palace. I actually specifically wanted Princess Leia to come and save the day. So I just took that dream and kinda switched it up and made it be Princess Mia [who would] just like, take you away from your horrible school and the bullies that are so mean to you and whisk you off to your kingdom. I mean that was literally my dream, so this book is basically for me.
You’re one of the writers contributing to the Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View anthology. How’d you get involved with that project?
When I was 10, I saw the first movie, A New Hope, in the theaters, and just, right there, my love for all things Star Wars was born — particularly Princess Leia. … I started writing Star Wars fanfiction, of course, because that’s what you did back then. It really helped me to become a writer, and then, little by little, I started making up my own countries — as you know, Genovia was the country I made up — and made up my own princess. That really is how that came about. So I had all the action figures, and I would try to get the other kids over and play with me, but all the girls wanted to be Princess Leia, and they would only play if they could be Princess Leia. So I had to be all the other characters [laughs]. I think that really helped me as a writer, because I had—
You had to do the different perspectives.
Yeah, so when they actually contacted me about being in the Star Wars From a Different Point of View, I was like, “Oh I can do it. I can be anyone.” I’ve been them all, but I really wanted to be Aunt Beru because I just love her. I mean, first of all, she’s one of the only other female characters [laughs], which is a little bit of a problem — there’s not been that many other females. But also, if it wasn’t for her sadly, spoiler alert, passing away, you know, Luke would never have gone off and saved the universe. … I felt like she’s really an important character and never got to really be glorified in the way that she needed to, so, that’s my character.
Is this all from the New Hope perspective or timeline?
Everything’s canon. Well, she’s dead obviously, so she’s looking back over her whole life, so it doesn’t include some of the stuff that happened in the prequels. … She’s a lot sassier, let’s put it that way, than anyone would think from New Hope, and she maybe had had other plans, you know? … She may have had some dreams in her life, other than just raising this kid, although she loved him very much and was happy to do that in the end.
Back to Genovia, Clarisse in the book is so different than the Julie Andrews incarnation. How did that come to be?
It was really funny, ’cause I was working my day job still when I got the phone call that Disney had optioned the rights to the movie—I couldn’t believe it, I thought it was a joke, but it turned out to be true. [Laughs.] And then they said, “There’s just one thing,” and that’s they had to kill off the character of the father in my book.
I was gonna ask.
Yeah [laughs]. I mean he is completely alive in all of these books—which is why there is this character of Olivia.
And he plays a big role too.
He plays a big role in the books. … I was like, “Oh, oh, my God, what did he do?” [Laughs] I forgot it was Disney and they always kill all the fathers in like every movie [laughs]. And they said, “Well, we have this actress, who’s a really big actress, that we want to play the grandmother. And we wanna make her role much bigger, and kinda raise the stakes, and give her a lot more lines, and we think we can give her a lotta the dad—the dad lines.” And I was like, “Well who’s the actress?” And they were like, “Julie Andrews.” I was like, “Oh my God, kill the dad.” [Laughs] I was like, it’s Julie Andrews, sure.
You’ll do anything for Julie Andrews.
Exactly. And she is just so—such a nice, fun person, and great to be around. And, I mean, I think they tried to make her as horrible as they could, but it’s Julie Andrews.
She had Joe though.
That’s actually right, he had [a] much more kind of fatherly role, and then that ended up giving them a romance for Julie Andrews. So that was kind of a nice, sweet, and very Garry Marshall-esque little touch. And Hector Elizondo’s in all of Garry Marshall’s movies, so that was a really nice role for him.
And Kathleen Marshall, who played Charlotte, was in Pretty Woman.
Yeah, and I think that she’s his daughter. … [The two little girls] Anne Hathaway gives [her autograph to at the school], those are his granddaughters. And that was actually why they switched it from New York — ’cause all the books are set in New York — to San Francisco. Garry Marshall lived in San Francisco. Yeah, and he wanted to be closer to his grandkids while he was filming, and so when they called and said, “Is it okay? You know, I hope you’re not gonna be upset if we move it from New York to San Francisco, but that’s where Garry lives, and he wants to be close to his grandkids,” and I was like, “Oh my God, that’s — obviously, I’m fine with that.” I was so excited just to know that Garry Marshall was doing a movie version of my book. I was ecstatic.
How do you enjoy writing for each audience in different ways?
When I get to write an Olivia book or a book for a middle-grade audience, I really enjoy the challenge of trying to make it exciting without having, you know, naughty words, or sex [laughs], but you get to have, like, a dance, or the anxiety of “Does this person hate me?” Because that’s a big thing when you’re 10 or 11 — the peer pressure kind of stuff — and navigating those waters. But when you’re writing for adults, that’s a different challenge, ’cause that’s really from how do you incorporate maybe stuff that’s even going on in your own life, in an entertaining way, that the reader’s gonna find satisfying. And yet, for me, of course, disguise it so that people won’t know that I’m really writing about my own friends and family, or whatever. [Laughs.] I also really enjoy writing mysteries, so I like to incorporate some dead bodies, every once in a while, and that’s always really fun. … I’ve kind of been steering clear from [YA], because it’s just, I feel like the market is really saturated right now. I like kind of feel like I’ve said all I have to say…
For mysteries, where do you usually get your inspiration for those? Do you watch Dateline or—?
‘Cause I watch Dateline all the time, so.
Everyone watches Dateline, oh my gosh.
Thank you! Thank you.
Yeah. I tape it sometimes.
Yeah. I do — I actually get my local paper here in Key West [which] has a really great police beat; they write the different crimes that have happened overnight in the neighborhood. So I get a lot of ideas from that, because it’s just enough information to tantalize you, but not enough to fully describe what actually happened. … There aren’t very many murders in Key West, and if there are, they’re usually, you know, domestic disputes.
Do you think you’ll have anything where Olivia is solving a little royal mystery, or?
Oh my God! You know I actually did have an idea for an adult book with Mia and Michael solving a mystery around the palace [laughs]. Kind of like Hart to Hart style, like—I just really aged myself.
How did you come up with any of their relationship problems in The Princess Diaries books?
I just kept a diary until, I think, probably my senior year in high school. And I still have them. So I — this is so embarrassing, but I just took chunks out of my own diaries and put them into The Princess Diaries. … So all of her weird anxieties — almost all of them — really did come from me. They were kind of exaggerated. [Laughs.] I was not a vegetarian either.