Dreams of high school vampires inspire a toothsome debut
Literary legend has it that Mary Shelley's tortured Frankenstein monster came to her in a dream that inspired the classic horror tale. Twilight, a young adult novel by debut author Stephenie Meyer, has similar origins, but the otherworldly characters in her story are not lumbering monsters. Instead, they're beautiful vampires who make excellent use of their unusual abilities while trying to fit in with the other students at a small high school. "I never really thought about being a writer, but when I had the dream, the characters were ones I didn't want to forget," Meyer says from her home in Arizona, where she and her husband are raising three sons, all under the age of 10. Writing Twilight was "an unusual experience because I felt obsessive about the process. It wasn't like me to be so focused—it's hard to be, with all the kids around."
A neophyte in the publishing world, Meyer is truly an overnight success. Just two weeks after she sent her manuscript to a Manhattan agency, she was signed on. Soon after, Twilight landed in the hands of editor Megan Tingley, head of Little, Brown's MT Books imprint. And not long after that, movie rights were sold to MTV Films.
"It's been a real whirlwind—more like a lightning strike," Meyer says. "Sometimes I feel guilty. People go through so much [to get published], and I skipped over the bad parts. It feels like cheating, somehow." Despite the occasional pangs of guilt, Meyer kept up a furious writing pace.
"I just kept going after the first one, and wrote four books in one year." Now, she's in the midst of editing her second book, a process she likens to labor: "It's equal in pain, and can drag on and on." Despite all that editing, Twilight is 499 pages long, quite a tome for teen readers. "If it weren't for J.K. Rowling, I think publishers wouldn't be willing to put out lengthy books," Meyer points out. "It just proves that if a book is good enough, young people will read it. People say teens have short attention spans, but they are quite capable of reading [longer books]. There are tons of kids aged 16 or 17 who dig Shakespeare and Austen."
Meyer has no idea why she dreamed of vampires that fateful night, but she's always been fascinated by superheroes, and she reads science fiction and fantasy titles as eagerly as classics. In her house, J.K. Rowling and Orson Scott Card books share shelves with ones by Shakespeare, Binchy and Bronte. And, Meyer argues, as monsters go, vampires are pretty appealing: "Vampires, while dark and icky, are attractive, sophisticated and intelligent. They're forever youthful, powerful—things people crave or envy. No one looks at a zombie and wants to be like that."
The vampires in Twilight are certainly worthy of envy. The lithe and beautiful Edward Cullen looks at protagonist Bella with loving eyes (even as he fights his urge to, well, suck her blood). His gorgeous siblings are athletic, drive great cars and are far less awkward than their classmates. Of course, they don't lead a typical teen lifestyle: instead of McDonald's, they subsist on blood. Since they want to live among humans, they force themselves to feed on animals rather than people.
Meyer also has a knack for developing her human characters, especially Bella, a troubled 17-year-old who comes to realize her own intelligence and strength. "Hopefully," says Meyer, "most girls who read it will find something in Bella they can respond to."
Through Bella and the vampiric Cullen family, Meyer conveys the importance of making one's own decisions, a value drawn from her Mormon background. "Mormon themes do come through in Twilight. Free agency I see that in the Cullens. The vampires made this choice to be something more that's my belief, the importance of free will to being human." Twilight builds to a dramatic and suspenseful second half, not to mention a nail-biting conclusion. Fortunately for impatient readers, Meyer's next book is due out within a year. In the meantime, the author will embark on a book tour this month to cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, Milwaukee and Chicago, where there will be—appropriately enough—a blood drive.
Linda M. Castellitto writes from North Carolina, where there is a Transylvania County. Hmm.