Sunday, February 4, 2007

Author Series: Meg Cabot

I went back and forth on whether to include Meg Cabot in this series. My intent is to write about authors I consider in some way influences or inspirations, not just those whose books I happen to enjoy, and there's no obvious connection between my work and Cabot's. I write historical fiction that's a touch on the gritty side, while she writes chick-litty contemporary fiction, much of it YA. And yet when you look at my LibraryThing author cloud, there's her name in giant print. (Print size indicates how much of an author's work is in your collection.) So I pondered for a bit, trying to figure out what it is that makes me so willing to try any new Cabot book even though her work doesn't fit my normal reading patterns, and I realized that she may be more of an influence and inspiration than I'd thought.

For one thing, Cabot is all about the series, and I love a good, long series where you can settle in with the characters and get to know them over time. On the surface, Cabot's Princess Diaries have next to nothing in common with series like Sharpe or Aubrey/Maturin (or Little House or Anne of Green Gables, for that matter), but my pleasure in all those wildly different books is enhanced by the fact that there's so many of them, and I don't have to abandon a character after one brief story. And few things would make me happier as an author than to be able to create an ongoing series myself. One book isn't enough for a good character, IMHO.

Another thing Cabot does that I'm trying to do better myself is writing about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. VERY extraordinary circumstances. She doesn't just write about an ordinary, bright Manhattan teenager, she writes about one who discovers she's heir to a European principality. When she writes about a young woman with few marketable skills trying to restart her life, that woman is an ex-pop star fallen on hard times. I can learn a lot from that because my instinct as a writer is to go too ordinary and subtle out of fear of producing something over-the-top and laughable. But reading Cabot's stories reminds me that big characters in extraordinary circumstances work, as long as you make them human and show all that ordinariness in the life of your princess or former pop star.

Cabot reading recommendations:

The Princess Diaries: Introduces Manhattan teen and reluctant princess Mia Thermopolis.

Shadowland: Introduces Susannah Simon, a teenaged "Mediator"--a person with the power to interact with ghosts in order to help them leave this world and move on to the afterlife. Usually it's a simple matter of clearing up the deceased's unfinished business, but every once in awhile it turns complicated and violent. A lot like reading early Buffy, right down to Suze's Giles-like senior Mediator mentor.

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