Meg Cabot reveals why she chose the myth of Persephone as the inspiration for her bestselling Abandon trilogy—which draws to a close in the recently released novel Awaken.
Zola: You’ve published more than 70 books across 12 series and stand-alones for adults and teens. What’s your writing process like? How long do you usually spend with an idea before you develop it into a novel? How long does it usually take you to write each book?
Meg Cabot: First off, thanks for having me!
As for my writing process, when I get an idea for a book, I like to play around with it in my mind for several months—sometimes a year or more—to see if it has staying power. Any idea seems better than the book I’ve been working on for days on end!
If the idea still seems exciting after whatever I’m working on is finished, and there’s nothing else due, I’ll write the first few chapters, to see how it feels. If it feels good, it’s a keeper.
How long it takes to write varies. If a proposal has already been submitted and the book is under contract and due by a certain date, obviously I have to put the pedal to the metal and write it. If I’m not writing to a deadline, finishing the book can take anywhere from a few months to a few years. Like most writers, I have books I’ve started and work on only when I get the chance, between other commitments, other books, or even day jobs. The Princess Diaries was one of those books.
Zola: The near-death experience Pierce has was inspired by your friend’s near-death experience. What—if any—details of her experience did you include in the Abandon trilogy?
MC: It’s funny, because my friend now remembers very little about her near-death experience—unlike Pierce in the Abandon series, who remembers everything about hers—even though she called me from her hospital room afterwards to tell me all about it!
She’s only forgotten the details from the incident, though. Like Pierce, it changed her completely as a person, and has given her a new zest for life. She’s taken up a lot of new hobbies, given up some old ones, and is selling her house and moving closer to the sea.
I’m sorry to say that she did not, like Pierce, meet the Lord of the Underworld.
Zola: The trilogy is based on the myth of Persephone and Hades, which you’ve said you first read in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. What so fascinated you about it then? Has its significance changed at all for you since?
MC: Everything’s different now, of course, but when I was reading it as a kid, strong female heroines in fantasy fiction were few and far between. Anne McCaffrey and Sylvia Engdahl supplied the few standout characters that I remember.
Even most Greek myths involving female characters were disappointing. Many get turned into a plant, tree, or animal after their run-in with a god. Poor Atalanta, famously celebrated on the Free to be You and Me album that I played over and over, actually gets turned into a lion at the end of her story.
What excited me about Persephone when I discovered her was that she ended up both the goddess of spring and the queen of the Underworld. So goth and yet hopeful at the same time…so dark and light. So teen!
I’ve never outgrown my love for her story, and I tried to capture all of that darkness/lightness in the Abandon series.
MC: I’ve already told two, actually! My 2005 novel Avalon High, which was made into a Disney channel movie a couple of years ago, is a modern retelling of the myth of Camelot. And I’ve just written a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast—which is based on the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche—for an anthology for my Brazilian publisher.
Zola: You live on Key West—as have other authors such as Tennessee Williams, Shel Silverstein, and, of course, Ernest Hemingway. What is it about the place that’s so conducive to writing?
MC: Well, I think of Key West as a tropical Greenwich Village. It’s got all the narrow streets and secretive hideaways of the West Village of Manhattan, but then it’s got the subtropical weather. To me there’s nothing better for meeting a deadline than a humid, stormy day, and maybe other writers feel the same way?
Offshore it’s also still amazingly beautiful and remote, closer to Cuba than the continental U.S. And when the Europeans discovered it, the island really was covered in human bones—Cayo Huesos, which means “bone key,” is the original name for Key West.
Nobody knows for sure why there were bones everywhere, which adds an aura of mystery to the place: the setting for the Abandon series was Isla Huesos—which means “bone island”—which plays an integral part in the story, as does the weather, of course.
Zola: A love story, countless trips to and from the Underworld, the rebellion of evil spirits, multiple murders, a few near death experiences, a couple of arrests, a hurricane—with everything that happens in the Abandon trilogy, it’s hard to believe it all takes place over the course of just a week or so. Why did you decide to pace the series this way?
MC: The entire story actually takes place over a decade, starting from when Pierce, the main character, first meets the hero at age seven. Some of those scenes are told in flashbacks, though, so it doesn’t feel like a decade to the reader.
The main action occurs over the course of a week, which makes sense, because that’s how long it takes a tropical hurricane—which plays a huge part in the narrative—to build strength and reach landfall.
Zola: From The Princess Diaries to young adult paranormal to adult fantasy, you really have written it all! Do you have a favorite series or book you’ve published? Any other genre you’d like to try?
MC: There isn’t really a genre I haven’t written that I’d like to try. There seems to be a craze for writing memoirs right now, but honestly if you’re a fiction writer and you write a memoir, what secrets will you have left to fuel your fiction? Some things are better left a mystery…
Like which one of my books is my favorite. I do have one, but I’m sure it’s not what people think, and I’ll never tell.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.