Princess Mia grows up, creator Meg Cabot moves on

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 13, 2009

By Leanne Italie
Associated Press
NEW YORK ó With a regal air kiss for Princess Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldi, it’s time for girl fans of the smash-selling “Princess Diaries” to bid adieu, but author Meg Cabot isn’t going anywhere.
Cabot and the journal-crazed Mia part ways this month with the final Diaries installment, “Forever Princess.” The klutzy teen royal graduates from high school and sorts out her love life, leaving the multitasking Cabot to tend to the many other chick novels swirling in her head.
There’s also restoration of her spacious 1870s house near Ernest Hemingway’s place in Key West, Fla., her auction of celebrity-created tiaras to benefit the New York Public Library, and the care and feeding of her one-eyed cat, Henrietta.
“It’s a little bit weird. I’m so used to writing about Mia,” says Cabot, who launched her career with the first princess book back in 2000, boosted by two Disney movies starring Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway. “I’ve already started talking about doing the college years and my editor’s like, ‘NO!’ ”
Cabot, 41, has left a lot of herself behind in Mia, the gawky Greenwich Village girl who discovers at age 14 that she’s the sole heir to the throne of the tiny European principality Genovia. Through her high school years, Mia barely survives princess lessons with her lush of a grandmere while managing a world of teen angst, scribbling frantically in her journals from many a bathroom stall about boyfriends, bullies, bad grades, friends and other crises du jour.
Like Cabot, Mia wrote romance and had a hard time with algebra. Like Cabot, Mia was completely grossed out when her mom hooked up with one of her teachers. Like Cabot, she has a hefty cat. And like Cabot’s first princess book, Mia’s steamy “Ransom My Heart” ó her fictitious final senior project ó was rejected by a steady stream of publishers before she hit it big, so big that Cabot put out the bodice-ripper in real life as a companion to the last Diaries book.
“I started out writing romance novels under a different name so my grandma wouldn’t find out,” says Cabot, who grew up in Bloomington, Ind. “Princess Mia’s romance novel is getting four stars in People and I’m like, ‘What the hell, Patricia Cabot never got those reviews.’ For some reason sex didn’t sell for me. I’m the only person.”
Before her writing career took off, Cabot graduated from Indiana University and headed to New York at 22 to be an illustrator, peddling her portfolio after earning a degree in art.
At age 30, after the death of her dad, Cabot’s mom called her one day: She was moving to Maryland with one of Cabot’s college art professors.
In the Princess Diaries, Mia is scandalized when her mom dates, gets pregnant by and marries her algebra teacher, who eventually grows on the teen. Cabot’s parental tryst trauma was no less disturbing.
“I was totally disgusted and freaked out,” Cabot says of the experience that inspired the books, along with Cabot’s 10-year stint as the assistant manager of a 700-bed freshman dorm at New York University. “I can actually say I’ve seen my mom kissing my teacher at Christmas in his underwear. My friends were, like, ‘Why are you so upset?’ So I started writing the Princess Diaries.”
It took Cabot three years to get Mia into print.
“They hated it. It was rejected 17 or 18 times,” Cabot said. “There really weren’t any kind of funny chick-lit books for girls. There was a little bit of a feeling that there had to be a strong kind of moral message in children’s books.”
Mia’s life is more like a moral morass.
The combat-booted, tiara-toting princess was born out of wedlock to a Boho artist mom after a college fling with Phillipe, the playboy crown prince of Genovia who is left sterile from chemo for testicular cancer. Mia’s parents have kept her in the dark about her royal status, but they’re forced to ‘fess up when Phillipe is incapable of producing more heirs to the throne of the tiny, made-up principality that features white sand beaches and a thriving olive industry between southern France and the west of Italy (think Monaco).
Like having feet as big as skis and a flat chest aren’t bad enough, Mia must add paparazzi and a parliamentary mess of her own creation to her nervous breakdown list as her life rolls on to age 18, college prospects and her transition from Greenpeace-loving Everygirl to throne-sitter with a heart.
While contending with princesshood, Mia bites her nails, hates her hair and isn’t quite sure how to French kiss. She sees a therapist for depression and slips as a vegetarian. Her strong-willed and highly opinionated best friend, Lilly Moscovitz, who is the sister of the love of Mia’s life, turns on her and creates, where haters pile up.
But Mia’s charm is that she soldiers on, enduring life as it comes with help from her addiction to journaling, a fresh genre when Cabot began the books.
The princess series ó with 10 books and six extras ó has been published in 38 countries, selling more than 5 million copies in the United States alone. With nearly 50 books to her credit, fangirls crowd online chats for time with Cabot and gather on message boards to talk among themselves.
Offline, Mia’s reach extends to even younger readers, 8- and 9-year-old girls who may not be old enough to date, kiss or jet off to far away principalities alone, yet appreciate the princess for who she is ó royal but true.
“She’s basically herself even though she’s a princess,” says third-grader Ruby Karp of New York. “She’s still, like, a cool, normal person. She does what she wants.”
Erin Marie Lavitt, 15, a high school sophomore in Granby, Conn., says she’s happy that Cabot ended the series “with a better Mia.”
“Mia finally stopped worrying and being afraid to talk about her problems and actually did something about them,” she says. “I like that she finally became self-actualized.”