Have you read the Princess Diaries books? If not, please go read them. I’ll wait.
Okay, so you’re set now? Great. Then you get why I’ve always loved them so much. I mean, it’s pretty easy to understand. For one thing, they’re funny. Like, actually laugh-out-loud funny, filled with weird side characters and hilarious situations and a voice-y narrator who instantly feels like she’s your real best friend. And just as importantly, they’re romantic. Michael Moscovitz is near the top of my list of Ideal YA Book Boyfriends (and I’ve read a lot of YA, you guys). The most recent PD book, Royal Wedding, was just as funny and romantic and goofy and sweet as every other book in the series. Meg Cabot is the queen of the YA (and adult!) romcom.
But, if I can keep fangirling over Meg Cabot for a little while longer, she also gave me something even more important than wonderful books: a writing philosophy.
So here’s the thing. I have a lot of friends who are extremely educated. They have multiple degrees and letters after their names. They have big, important jobs where they make actual money and save actual lives. They talk about doing things at work that I can’t even imagine. It’s all enough to sometimes make me feel a little bit inadequate, with my little bachelor’s degree and my job that basically involves sitting at a computer and listening to a weird Youtube mix called STUDY MUSIC BRAIN POWER because it helps me zone out and write fighting scenes, or kissing scenes, or fighting and kissing scenes.
Because that’s what I write! Kissing books! Okay, so I’ve only written the one, but the likelihood that I’ll ever write a book that doesn’t prominently feature a climactic first kiss is pretty slim. That’s what I like, but I’ve spent a long time feeling like it’s not enough. I was lucky to study creative writing with professors who were surprisingly open to genre fiction (that’s not always the case!), but creative writing programs are almost exclusively focused on literary fiction. That means, basically, that you’re gonna end up with a room full of 21 year olds writing about divorce and aging. When I was in school, I just sort of assumed I’d write stories like Lorrie Moore or Charles Baxter or George Saunders. That was partly because I love their stories–there’s no one funnier than Lorrie Moore, or more emotional than Charles Baxter, or better at making me sob while laughing than George Saunders. But it was also because I thought that’s what I was supposed to write. After all, I was “studying” the Best American Short Stories compilation, not paperbacks from the romance section of Barnes and Noble.
Although I love literary fiction as much as the next girl, commercial fiction has always taken up the biggest piece of my heart. Commercial YA, specifically. I’ve mentioned this on the blog before, but I actually read one of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books hidden behind in a textbook. Contemporary YA, the kind that’s funny and involves a whole lot of kissing, is my jam. It’s just what I like!
But even though I like it, there was a part of me that felt like it wasn’t enough. I’m certainly not saving lives with it, like my friends do at their jobs. And writing isn’t exactly a great career to pick if you’re set on making reliable bank. And then there’s the whole thing about how I like to write funny things that involve kissing, not the next Great American Novel. Like, Jonathan Franzen would actually hate everything I’ve ever written (as well as everything about me, if I’m being honest).
That’s where Meg Cabot comes in (seriously, thanks for hanging in there for so long). In one of the later Princess Diaries books, when Mia is writing a romance novel and Michael, her boyfriend, is busy inventing this high-tech robotic arm that’s going to be used by doctors during surgery, Mia starts feeling kind of useless. She’s got this genius boyfriend who’s literally saving lives, and she doesn’t feel like her kissing books are as important. Michael tells her something that really stuck with me: While his fancy robot arm is saving someone’s life, that person’s family members are sitting in the waiting room. And those people are sad and scared and freaked out, and they need something to comfort them. Maybe Mia’s books don’t save lives in the literal robot arm sense, but to those people who need something to read to distract themselves from what’s happening and to comfort themselves when they’re scared, those books can be life-saving in a different way.
It’s something that I’ve come back to over and over again in a year that’s been emotional enough that I simply haven’t wanted to read anything “serious” or “depressing.” I’ve been reading a lot of kissing books, a lot of funny books, a lot of straight up romance novels. And you know what? The Nora Roberts Bride Quartet may not have literally saved my life, but it sure did make it better. When I was younger, I used to think that using art as a means of escaping from your life was somehow weak or sad. (I was dumb.) The thing is, life is hard sometimes. Sometimes it’s really hard. And maybe you deal with it by dancing with your friends to some dope Outkast jams at a wedding (ahem, me last week), or maybe you deal with it by helping other people, or maybe you deal with it by picking up a book that has a guaranteed happy ending. That escapism and comfort is important, and meaningful, and honestly, sometimes essential.
So maybe I’m not operating on anybody, or counseling anybody, or saving any animals’ lives. But I do believe that what I’m doing is making a difference, even if it’s in a less obvious way. I probably would have realized this on my own eventually, but hearing Meg Cabot say it through the words of Michael Moscovitz helped a lot. I remember those words every single time I sit down to write, and I keep them in mind throughout every kiss, every friendship, and every happy ending.