'Size 12' Finds The Right Mix Of Snark And Drama
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Moving from sports to the rough and tumble world of young adult fiction. YA, as it's called, requires the right mix of pop culture, snark and page-turning drama. That is a skill set Meg Cabot has in spades. The author became a household name - at least in households with girls - after writing the wildly popular "Princess Diaries" that was made into a movie starring Anne Hathaway. Meg Cabot has channeled some of those same sensibilities into a series of mysteries about a young spitfire of a character named Heather Wells. In the latest book in the series, the heroine is working on a college campus trying to solve a murder, and also trying to plan a wedding at the same time. The book is called "The Bride Wore Size 12." Meg Cabot dropped by our studios to explain how Heather Wells got into such a predicament.
MEG CABOT: Heather is actually a former teen pop star. That's how she came to fame. But, unfortunately, she lost her recording contract, her home, her boyfriend, when she gained a little weight. And so she had to go out on the mean streets of New York City and find a job and a place to live. And she ended up working at a 700-bed freshman residence hall for a college called New York College. Weirdly, that happened to me. I was not a teen pop star, unfortunately. But when I moved to New York City with a college degree in art and could not find a job, I also worked in a New York residence hall. I was almost going to say it was New York College but it was actually New York University.
MARTIN: So, what kind of storytelling opportunities does a college campus, especially a dorm, provide in terms of characters?
CABOT: They're endless. Every day there was a new opportunity for some kind of, basically, a book, because, you know, you have these young people who this is the first time they're living away from home and they have these problems that normally they probably - well, maybe - would have gone to their parents with. I'm not sure. But, you know, they would walk into my office and they would say something like, you know, OK, my roommate used all my shampoo and I want to know what you think I should do about it.
CABOT: You know, so that was a minor one. But then you would get a kid who would come in and go, Meg, there's a guy on the elevator who's unconscious. I think you should go check it out. So, of course, you know, I would jump up from my desk and I'd go look and it would be a guy, literally, who was on his mattress naked, unconscious. And I, of course, would think, oh my gosh, he's dead.
MARTIN: Did this really happen to you?
CABOT: Oh yeah. Oh, 100 percent. First of all, I, of course, checked his pulse and he was not dead. He was completely unconscious from alcohol. And his roommates had put him on the elevator as a prank. So he had been riding the elevator naked on his mattress up and down all night long. I mean, it was that kind of thing. It was hilarious. There were, of course, serious incidents that occurred that were, you know, life-threatening. But, I mean, it was just a different thing every day.
MARTIN: There's a lot of dialogue in this book. How do you know how to do this? This seems to me to be a hard thing to be able to do, to channel the voice of an 18- or 19-year-old girl or boy and talk like they talk and capture that. Do you spend a lot of time with people who are that old?
CABOT: When I was in - I did take some writing workshops, and one of the greatest pieces of advice that I got from a writing instructor was to listen and then try to write it exactly the way that you heard. I had a lot of trouble originally writing it from the point of view of men. And so her advice was to go bars, especially sports bars, and then try to write the way men talk. So, I did the same thing with young teenage characters. And so when I was working in the dorm, I just listened to them talk. And that's the greatest writing advice I ever got.
MARTIN: You wrote an essay listing the top 10 reasons why you write young adult fiction. I'd love to just tick through a couple of these, if we could. Number eight: YA is one of the few genres in which it is perfectly acceptable not to have any sex scenes.
MARTIN: Is that - so, that's true. But that doesn't mean there's not romantic drama, right?
CABOT: Of course, there is. There's also a lot of romantic kind of suspense and, you know, will they or won't they get together. And there's kissing, although I should say that now there are YAs that do have sex scenes in them.
MARTIN: But you don't have to.
CABOT: You do not have to, and you shouldn't always expect them. Sometimes they pop up. But I think it's the kind of thing that some readers really enjoy because they just want the sweet, you know, the kissing at the end, so.
MARTIN: And my favorite reason that you write YA - you say you can get back at all the cheerleaders who were mean to you in high school by modeling characters after them.
CABOT: Oh no. Oh, my gosh.
MARTIN: That's brilliant. Have you done this?
CABOT: I plead the Fifth. But there may have been some people who are mean to me that I did model a few characters after, yes.
MARTIN: Meg Cabot. Her newest novel is called "The Bride Wore Size 12." She joined us in our studios here in Washington. Meg, thanks so much for coming in.
CABOT: Thank you so much for having me. This has been great. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.