Meg Cabot Wouldn't Be A Writer If It Weren't For Her Elementary School Librarian

In a text-message Q&A, the prolific writer talks about the importance of writing women of all ages, the librarian who inspired her love of books, and a minor obsession with Chief Hopper.

Meg Cabot's newest novel, No Offense, is the latest book in her Little Bridge Island series. New to the Florida island, librarian Molly Montgomery finds an abandoned baby in a bathroom stall. When the local police department search for answers, Molly embeds herself in the investigation, much to the annoyance of Sheriff Hartwell. However, Molly's obsession with true crime proves more helpful than either of them expect, and as they work together on the case, they also develop very unexpected feelings for each other.

I chatted with Cabot via text message about romance and mystery, feminism, getting inspired by the world around you, and her incredible literary legacy.

Hi Meg! This is Shyla from BuzzFeed. Thanks so much for chatting with me today. How are you? I hope quarantine has been treating you okay!

Hi Shyla, it’s my pleasure! I’m doing great, thanks for asking. How are you?

I’m doing well! Just staying at home and reading most of these days. We’re living in such crazy times! But, some good things have definitely come out of it. Like, you’ve been writing updates about the coronavirus from Genovia, with a fun quarantine edition of The Princess Diaries!

Ha, yes thanks! I’m here in Key West, FL, where I’ve been since the pandemic broke out, and watching how Florida has been dealing with COVID has been... interesting. Our local government has been really great. Our mayor shut the island down right away which really kept our numbers down, so I was inspired to write about her — Princess Mia is basically the Key West mayor.

Although I should mention that she’s since been sued by local bar owners to open back up, and as soon as she did — both in Genovia and Key West — COVID numbers soared.

Oh no! Things are…kind of a mess here in California too, but hopefully our governments (and Genovia!) will get things back on track. But, speaking of being inspired by things, I know that a real-life mix-up at your gym inspired your Little Bridge novella, Bridal Boot Camp, and that No Judgments was loosely inspired by Hurricane Irma. Is No Offense inspired by anything in particular?

Aw, I know! Poor California. Yes, No Offense was actually inspired by a rumor I heard here in Key West that one of our librarians was married to a sheriff — I couldn’t imagine anything cuter! And it turned out to be true! I got to interview the librarian and everything. But the story I wrote about it is entirely fictional! In No Offense, my librarian finds a baby abandoned in the library and calls 911 and meets the sheriff that way — sparks fly as they butt heads over solving the mystery over where the baby came from. That is NOT how the real life librarian met her husband!

I’ve always loved librarians because they’re the ones who got me into reading as a kid — I was a reluctant reader. And one of my aunts went to Indiana University, where my dad taught and where I grew up, to study to be a librarian, so I was always fascinated by the whole librarian thing — especially since she wasn’t at all the way librarians are portrayed on TV!

Wow! You’ve written over 60 books — it’s hard to imagine you as a reluctant reader! But, I agree with you about how librarians are often portrayed. And Molly is far from the old, stuffy, strict ones you see on TV. Not only that, but both Elijah and Sheriff Hartwell are inspired by the librarians in their lives. Is there a particular book that a librarian gave to you, that finally got you into reading?

I know, I HAVE written a lot of books! But reading and writing were hard for me. It still shocks me when I hear about kids who are expected to be reading and writing by age four or five. That’s crazy! I couldn’t read or write until first grade and even then I hated it and made all my letters backwards, etc. Not due to dyslexia, which I know some kids have — it’s just hard for kids!

So I did hate reading because I was bad at it. But yes, there WAS a librarian in my school in second grade who took the time when I was in the library to ask what I liked, which of course was... horses! So she took me to the nonfiction animal section and got me a book on the evolution of horses. And I loved it! And after that I read all the animal books. (Life Cycle of a Kangaroo was a particular favorite.) And eventually she got to me move onto fiction like Black Beauty and Lassie, etc. She was the best! I wouldn’t be here today without her.

And it’s great that your books reach such a wide audience, too — kids, teens, and adults. There’s something for everyone, and they can kind of grow up with you, in a way.

Thanks! That’s sweet. I’ve been so happy to learn that some of my readers have gone on to become teachers or librarians as they’ve gotten older, and are passing my books on to new generations. It’s unreal! I love it!

I’ve noticed that your recent books tend to feature even more girls and women of all ages. Like in No Offense, there’s Molly who’s in her late-20s/30s, Katie who’s a teen, and Mrs. Tifton and Joanne are in their 70s. Do you find one age group easier to write more than the other?

As a feminist, I’ve always been interested in women’s issues and those issues change over time with age, so I like to include all different generations of women in my books (like Princess Mia and her mother and also Grandmere). I loved listening to my mother and my aunts and their mothers gossiping when I was a kid! So I like writing about ALL ages — but all ages of women, mainly. No Offense does feature one of my few attempts to write from the male POV though 😳.

Yes! I was so curious about that. Your first book in the series, No Judgments, only had one narrator, Bree Beckham. But, readers get the perspective of both protagonists in No Offense. So what makes Sheriff Hartwell special where you wanted readers to get his side of the story, so to speak?

Honestly, I’m obsessed with Chief Hopper from Stranger Things. I wish I had a better answer for you than that. Is No Offense Chief Hopper fan fiction? NO! Absolutely not!! How dare you!!

Hahaha! Honestly, I love that. I love Chief Hopper too, and now I’m gonna picture Sheriff Hartwell in one of those Hawaiian shirts!

Ack! Well, he’s also a little bit based on my brother who is a police sergeant in Denver (with two teen daughters). But yes, mostly Hopper.

Even though Sheriff Hartwell is the professional crime-solver, it really felt like he took a back seat to Molly, who is obsessed with all things crime, whether it be mystery novels or true crime TV shows, which leads to her interfering with the investigation. Is there a favorite true-crime podcast, show, or book that you love?

Oh my God yes, I am a longtime Forensic Files addict, have watched everything on ID channel, and listen to Crime Junkies and True Crime Obsessed podcasts obsessively (because of course I’ve seen every true crime documentary ever made). It drives my husband insane because of course he doesn’t want to watch shows about serial killers because he is normal.

I LOVE the ID channel. I’m definitely going to be adding those podcasts to my list! Of course, No Offense is a crime-solving story, in part, as were your Heather Wells books. You actually genre-bend a lot — like using mythology in the Abandon series, horror/fantasy in Overbite, and somewhat sci-fi in the Airhead series. I’m going to guess that crime is your favorite, but are there other genres you’d like to explore that you haven’t? Or, one you’d like to do more of?

Good question! To be honest, no. Mystery-romance is my favorite genre to both read and write, because I think the two things satisfy what’s missing from so much of real life all too often — with mystery novels, we get to see justice prevail (if it’s a well-written, satisfying book), and with romance, we get a sense of hope and a happily ever after. Especially right now, we need both so much!!!

You’re so right! We really do need hope and more happily-ever-afters in our lives ❤️ Well, it’s been SUCH a pleasure chatting with you. I so, so enjoyed No Offense and the whole Little Bridge series so far! Reading about this little town makes me feel like part of the community, so I hope we get to visit them again in the future. Just one last question, before I go. If you could describe No Offense in three emojis, what would they be?

Oh it was great talking to you, too, Shyla! Stay safe and well. Now onto the last question. That is tough! No Offense in emojis: 🌴 🥧 📚 (That's supposed to be a pie!) ●

Parts of this interview have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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