I promised to blog "SO HARD" about this on Twitter the other day, but then life smacked me in the face, but here it is, my write-up on what it was like to get to go see Meg Cabot, author of many of my favorite stories, speak. Warning: there are lots of capital letters, quite a bit about Frea's past, and yes, dragons, aliens, a chuckwagon, and pirates.
Would I make that up? Well, yeah. But I'm not this time! I swear!
A friend of mine texted me over a month ago, letting me know that Meg Cabot was coming to St. Louis and did I want to go to the book signing with her? Of course, my answer was something closer to "HELLS YEAH WHEN" rather than "Sure!"
A little explanation of the history between the participants:
Met friend (I'll call her Agnes) in 2004, possibly 2005 (we're still trying to figure out if we spoke before or after our plane landed in Germany, which is of course a Very Important Detail). Friend and I were coworkers at three different jobs, shared a major, traveled internationally together a few times. What this means: friend knows that Frea is completely forgetful, random, has seen Frea an inch from death due to exhaustion. Hell, Frea and Agnes walked across the graduation stage one right after the other (Frea tripped).
"Met" Meg Cabot back in 2001 when I read Princess Diaries and then saw the movie. I was a couple of years older than her iconic character Mia Thermopolis, at the time. Ever since, have been devouring every new Meg Cabot book with frightening speeds and have even been lazy enough to claim to be the "before" version of Mia Thermopolis for Halloween whenever I didn't really want to wear a costume. Spent the later half of high school and the earlier half of college reading Meg Cabot's blog, her backlist, every single thing she published (seriously, book premiere days were HUGE events). Kind of wanted to BE Meg Cabot when I grew up.
So the chance to go see Meg Cabot and get a book signed by her? HUGE DEAL to me.
I got there early on no sleep, thanks to the fact that I usually wake up around 8 o'clock at night, but got up at 4 o'clock instead to make it. Friend and I ate at a German restaurant for old times' sake, then walked over to the library headquarters where the signing was taking place, books to be signed and camera in tow. To pass the time while we waited for the room to fill, we made friends with a Harry Potter fan behind us who had brought eleven books for Meg to sign (Agnes and I: O.o). The room was, of course, filled with 98.9% women rather than men. I was expecting the crowd to be a lot younger than it was, too, knowing that Meg writes a lot of books for younger girls. What I didn't know at the time is that Meg is actually touring for "Overbite," a sequel to "Insatiable" and one of her adult novels to boot. So Agnes and I were probably the average age there.
The event started a little late, and finally, Meg Cabot — MEG CABOT — walks in and up to the front of the room. My one experience with book readings and signings has been with Brian Jacques, the fantastic author of the Redwall series. The man had the most brilliant pirate impression I have ever seen, Geoffrey Rush aside. But yeah, it did mean that I really wasn't sure what to expect this time (for the record, I can't rate Meg Cabot's ability to imitate a pirate). I wasn't expecting a power point, and Meg Cabot cracked a few jokes about it ("I bet that's what you wanted when you woke up this morning! A power point!"). So she starts off by giving a little background about herself (some of the books she's published (over 16 million copies sold worldwide), covers, some of her more famous series, etc). And following that, there's this picture of a milk crate full of notebooks, manuscript envelopes, and so on. "And these…are the books I've written that are not published."
The power point continued, chronicling Meg Cabot's journey through childhood and college, starting with her first written story at seven (there were pictures. It involved a dog, tornadoes, a ghost town, and a chuckwagon). By the way, if you get a chance to see her in person, take it. She could have a career as a stand-up comedian, I'm pretty sure. She talked about some of her favorite books as a kid…one of which was A Wrinkle In Time, a book I've adored from the beginning. Moving on to high school, she showed pictures of her notebooks, which were covered in drawings. "This is algebra, I think. And here's English, and here's…" When she talked about being on the basketball team, but being too busy daydreaming about aliens to actually be any good at basketball, my friend finally leans over, "Um, this is getting a little creepy."
By this point, I'm sitting in the back, thinking of my own drawings-covered algebra notebooks at home, and the fact that I was never good at soccer because I was daydreaming about dragons or government agents trying to blow up the school (my friends and I were always the heroes). "Um….yeah."
Fast forward to college, where she didn't want to major in English because she was scared it would suck the fun out of writing. On to moving to New York, finding out that there wasn't really any jobs in the career field she'd picked. And I'm still in the back thinking, "That's why I went mass comm…and then moved to…New…York…oh man."
So that was the fun and almost unsettling part of her slideshow, and a great story to share, but I more wanted to talk about another subject she covered. Meg Cabot received rejections every day when she first started out, she said (except Sundays. And Christmas). She was rejected by thousands of agents and probably twice as many publishers. She says that she keeps all of her rejection letters in a mailbag that she likes to dump out in front of kids when she visits schools, just to show them that life is going to be hard, and full of rejection, and you can still do it (she also says the kids miss the point a lot and are more interested in whether or not she came to their school in a limo, which she claims she did not). Being rejected isn't a sign that you're terrible. It just means they went in another direction, and you've got to keep trying.
I'd definitely call the whole experience inspiring. It was interesting to hear about her writing process during the Q and A (she doesn't use an outline like me, for very similar reasons; she too knows the ending before she starts writing; a lot of her story ideas stem from real life experience (no, I didn't spend years in a bunker in Siberia)). She had a lot to say about doing what you love and keeping at it against the odds. Since it wasn't a writing convention, she didn't really discuss the technical aspects of writing, so I can't share that with you here, though she gets into it a few times on her blog.
After her presentation of sorts, she did a signing, and so my friend and I got to stand in line to get our books (and in my case, Kindle) signed. Did I almost forget to talk to her because I was too busy talking to the librarian about Game of Thrones? Um, it's more than possible. Was she even cooler in person than you'd expect? Definitely. Did my camera nearly break said librarian? Uhhhh…yeah. Whoops.
Was it the BEST DAY EVER? It's no Disneyland, but it still rocked.
PS — Some other interesting factoids I found out:
Princess Diaries was actually optioned to Hollywood first, picked up by Whitney Houston's production company, and then published by Harper Collins later on. So Meg Cabot was working as an assistant hall director for a res hall at NYU (I'm an ex-RA myself) at the time while her book was being made into a movie…but not being published… That must have been surreal. Also, nobody expected Princess Diaries to do as well as it did.
Drag queens really like Julie Andrews.
Probably best not to bring the "fancy camera" (Meg Cabot's words, not mine) to book signings from now on unless I actually use it. A simpler camera breaks fewer people.