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Stephenie Meyer's chaste vampires lure young readers

Article from: The Courier-Mail

Fiona Purdon

July 19, 2008 12:00am

STEPHENIE Meyer has bewitched several million readers, mainly female, with her Twilight series of vampire novels.

The secret to her spell is that her lead character is modelled on three of the most enduring romantic heroes in English literature.

Speaking to me over the phone from her home in rural Arizona, Meyer, 34, revealed that Twilight's vampire Edward Cullen, a literary creation set to rival Harry Potter, is a subconscious combination of her three favourite leading men _ Jane Eyre's Edward Rochester, Pride and Prejudice's Fitzwilliam D'arcy and Anne of Green Gables' Gilbert Blythe.

Meyer says she simply wrote the stories she wanted to read.

``I've never had the confidence to be an author so everything has taken me by surprise, she says. ``It's still surprising, it doesn't seem real, it's a big departure from reality. I live a fairly normal life with my family but this new world, I don't quite believe in yet.

``My story is not how it normally happens. I wrote a book in three months, I got an agent in a month, a deal the next month and then the success of the books. Why is it happening to me? It's hard to comprehend. It's mind-boggling.''

Watch the trailer for the Twilight movie

The fourth and final book in the series, Breaking Dawn, will be released in Australia on Monday, August 4, and Australian bookstores are bracing for the biggest children's book event since the launch of the final Harry Potter book last year.

Packaged as Young Adult fiction, the Twilight saga has slipped under the radar in Australia until now, even though Meyer has attracted fans (mostly female) of all ages from around the world.

While the Twilight saga is still a long way from achieving the 400 million worldwide sales of Harry Potter's seven-book series, it is attracting the same sort of word-of-mouth buzz and fanaticism that propelled Potter mania.

Excitement for Breaking Dawn has been building since the start of the year when stores around Australia started taking pre-orders. And many retailers report being barely able to keep up with demand for the Twilight books.

Last year, Meyer's third book, Eclipse, knocked off Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from top spot on the New York Times bestsellers, selling 150,000 copies on the opening day.

Now a Hollywood movie is coming out, opening in Australia on January 8, with the lead characters featured on the cover of this week's Entertainment Weekly.

The vampire stories, with no blood or gore and crafted around a beautiful and old-fashioned love story, have attracted about 500 Stephenie Meyer fan groups on social website Facebook.

Despite all the success, including being named on Time magazine's top 100 most influential people list, Meyer comes across as a genuinely nice, warm-hearted and generous American mother-of-three. I felt as if I was having a chat with another school mum, especially when halfway through the interview she invites me to visit her at her home.

``Come in winter unless you like the heat,'' she says casually.

It started with a dream

But chances are Meyer will be too busy to entertain guests on the eve of the launch of the latest title in the Twilight series, which incredibly started with an hypnotic and spell-binding dream.

Meyer says she often writes down her dreams so she can read them over and over again to herself and her siblings.

Then one morning in June, 2003, Meyer experienced a dream about young love involving a boy who was so brilliant and dazzling that she started writing and could not stop.

``It was really realistic, the scene was so clear,'' she says. ``There was a young man, Edward, who did not look like a vampire but he was all sparkly and he was telling this young girl how much he wanted to kill her but also how much he loved her and it was this struggle which kept me so interested.

``There was nothing that felt like a vampire.

``It was early in the morning, 4am, and I woke up in the middle of the dream, right at the climax. I wanted to know the next thing that was going to happen.''

In between making breakfast and packing her children off to swimming lessons Meyer kept writing until she filled 10 pages in that first day.

At the time Meyer's sons, Eli, Seth and Gabe, were one, two and five years old but she still managed to churn out 130,000 words in three months.

Meyer's books are highly addictive and passages burst with emotion and passion, which is how she talks.

I tell her how a friend of mine says the Twilight books were the ``perfect escape'' after having a mastectomy. Meyer says she also sees the books as ``a gift''. They ``saved'' her from the hardest time in her life when for six years she barely functioned as all her sons suffered ongoing ear infections.

Meyer is not surprised that other young mums have also become successful writers, their ranks including J.K. Rowling, Jodie Piccoult and Brisbane's Kate Morton.

``I do feel that it was probably building up in me for such a long time,'' she says. ``What gave me a real kick in the butt was I had this beautiful, sublime dream,'' she says.

``For six years I didn't have a good night's sleep and then this dream burst through. It was such a joy, so much fulfilment. The children had to learn to have an absent-minded mum and to get their own juice. As a good mum, you've got to be selfless. There's a little bit of taking away who you are because it has to be all about the children. Babies need you so much, you don't have much time for yourself. All mothers experience that.

``Twilight was an escape. It gave me myself back.''

After finishing Twilight, Meyer wrote 15 letters to agents, five went unanswered, nine brought rejections. The last was a positive response from an intern at Writers House, who persuaded Meyer to send in a three-chapter sample. When the intern showed the chapters to her boss, a $750,000 three-book deal was soon organised. That intern is now Meyer's agent and Twilight was released in 2005, followed by New Moon (2006) and Eclipse (2007).

Meyer says it was only when she finished Twilight that she realised there were similarities with Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. And that Edward Cullen was a combination of her favourite romantic protagonists, especially Jane Eyre's Edward Rochester, because the two Edwards see themselves as ``monsters''.

Mormon background

One of the biggest ironies of this remarkable story is that Meyer is a devout Mormon. She claims to have never read any vampire or werewolf stories apart from her own. She can't even bring herself to watch horror movies.

However, the supernatural twist in her stories has enabled Meyer to wring every last emotion from her addictive love story, as the lead characters experience torment and conflict in a classic case of true love ``not running smoothly''.

Meyer sets Twilight in a high school, in the rarely-sunny town of Forks in Washington state, to write about first love. New arrival Bella Swan immediately notices a mysterious and good-looking family, the Cullens, who are really a coven of vampires. The bronze-haired and incredibly handsome Edward will eternally look 17 years old, even though he's been on this Earth for more than a century.

Once Meyer finished Twilight she did not want to say goodbye to Edward and Bella, so she wrote three epilogues.

One of these became a secret second book which Meyer will never publish because ``it definitely was not young adult fiction''. She says it was set ``way ahead'' of the three sequels.

Another has become the foundation for Breaking Dawn.

Old-fashioned romance

One of the attractions of the Twilight series for female readers is the old-fashioned romance centred around Edward's strict moral code. Even though there are no sex scenes in the books, all the pent-up emotion creates more sexual tension than any sex scene.

``The idea of a man being a gentleman has gone out of style,'' Meyer laments.

``It's seen as olde-worlde charm, people miss the fact that people are no longer considerate. Edward goes to great lengths so nothing bad happens to Bella, she is cared for so much. A lot of the book's appeal is the thought of being loved to that extent.

``There has been some antagonism from men about Edward. They are jealous because they don't want to try that hard.''

Meyer writes about sacrifice with such power and real emotion through experience. She studied English at Brigham Young University, a college run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Utah, and adhered to a strict college honour code.

``It's nothing different from the way I live my life, following the rules,'' she says.

``I'm a black and white person, I have first-hand experience in making those sacrifices. Maybe that's why I was engaged a couple of times to different boys in college.

``Mormons tend to get married early. We don't believe in sex before marriage.

``The media would like to tell us that boys can't help themselves, that there's an inbuilt sex drive so they can't hold themselves back, but there are so many great men out there, who make decisions based on moral standards. They do the right thing. Men like Edward do exist,'' Meyer insists.

``The sacrifice is worth it. Both my husband and I were very committed to chastity before marriage. It has helped our long-term relationship, to keep control of ourselves.''

Edward needs a huge amount of self-control simply to sit with Bella because the smell of her blood is like a drug. They have to limit the physical extent of their love so Edward can resist feeding on Bella.

Meyer says she withstood pressure from an editor to put a sex scene in Eclipse and is glad most of her fans backed her stand, although she has received flak from some other fans.

``You want books to pause over the first kiss,'' Meyer says. ``Books can miss a lot of the romance because they go straight to the sex part. It's encouraging that children have not changed as much as people think, that there is a place for romance and sweetness.

``It's a really good sign that children want to be children and adults want to be children again and experience that first kiss. I wish more of them didn't feel pressure to have sex. I know sex sells but I think romance does, too, especially if you do something well and there is obviously a need out there for more books like this.''

Oh, Edward, he's just so...

Meyer says her husband, who she calls Pancho, is regularly asked whether he is jealous of Edward.

``My husband is not at all like Edward, '' she says. ``He always says he's not jealous because Edward lives in a world that doesn't exist. `He's just a figment of my wife's mind', he says. He's very involved with what I've done, in the business sense. He reads the books, he sort of gets it, he's a facts-and-figures type person.''

Meyer has known her husband since childhood but they were not romantically involved until she came home from college and he had returned from a mission in Chile with the Mormon church. They were married within nine months of being reunited.

Pancho has quit his job to look after the children, attending ``fun things like plays and parent interviews'' since his wife's writing career took off.

Meyer still writes most of the day with the door open so ``I know the children are not getting into trouble''.

Enter the movie

Like the Harry Potter series, the Twilight series is set to become a movie franchise. Meyer is excited because she believes producers have got the ``right actors''. While Meyer had not heard of either Robert Pattinson, who played the doomed Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, or Kristen Steward (Into the Wild), having gone on set and watched 15 minutes of the movie, she is happy.

She also pushed for a PG rating.

``The actors are amazing, the script is good, the director is brilliant,'' she says. ``The plot is slightly different because they had to shorten it and combine some things, but the heart is there and the emotion is right.''

With so much hype surrounding Breaking Dawn, especially whether or not Bella becomes a a vampire to experience eternal love with Edward, Meyer will have several message boards taken down to try to limit the chances of anyone spoiling the plot.

``If I read message boards it would hurt my self-esteem,'' she says. ``I would get too hurt. I`m really thin-skinned.

``Some people write things that are not nice about the books so I try and stay away from that.''

All Meyer will give away about Breaking Dawn is that Bella experiences a ``roller-coaster ride with lots of ups and downs''.

``You see things online, `if Bella doesn't marry Edward, then I'm going to burn the book' or `if Bella doesn't marry Jacob, then I will burn the book'. There is no way to make everyone happy,'' Meyer says.

``The book makes me happy to read it and I hope people have a similar reaction. This is the story I wanted to write and I've resolved it the way I'm happy with.''

But wait, there's more

Meyer will not be ending the Cullens' story yet. There is such demand that she is currently writing Midnight Sun, which tells the love story from Edward's perspective.

While Meyer was supposed to be editing Eclipse, she wrote her first adult fiction book, Host, which was released earlier this year. Her Midnight Sun book has suffered from the distraction of a new project.

She has already written the plot and four chapters of a ghost story which will be a ``romance but in a different kind of way'' but ``I don't want to give away too much,'' she says.

Have Your Say

Latest Comments:

Wonderful article! Mostly, people just mention the movie, and about stuff we already know, but this one covered it all, plus with some new stuff! I love Stephenie Meyer and her books, and she shouldn't worry about what people thinks! I just hope she has fun while writing it, and takes her time (poor thing, has a deadline)and just makes it on her free will. I think that gives the best result. Everyone loves the books, and the people who don't, havn't read them. Also, in the end, all that matters is that THERE IS A FOURTH BOOK. I'm a loyal team Edward fan, but if Bella marries Jacob, well, I'll still have Twilight, and I think anyone can agree with me, it doesn't matter. Just wanted to show my support, and YEY for more Twilight publicity! P.S You accidently wrote Kristen StewarD (not StewarT as it's supposed to be)

Posted by: Alba Dogani of 2:00pm today

Im truely fascinated by her writing, Meyer has a really creative mind in writng love stories. Im currently reading The Host and Im slowly getting into it but its catching my attention more. I cannot wait til the movie comes out and Breaking Dawn, im counting down the days. Im way excited to see what Meyer comes out with next! Haha im freaking out just waiting! for the movie and the 4th book!!!!

Posted by: Kayla Packard of Utah 10:39am today

Actually the movie was in the works long before Twilight ever appeared on any best seller list.

Producer interview with Greg Moordian at the Twilight Lexicon.

Posted by: Samantha of 1:08am today

Wow, this was actually a really good interview with Stephenie. It covers everything. Sweet. And I'm proud cause it's Aussie. :D Can't wait til Breaking Dawn. :)

Posted by: Jade of Sydney 8:02pm July 20, 2008

Meyer's work hasn't gone that far under the radar in Australia, thankfully, and I'm one of many people I know who's looking forward to Breaking Dawn - 14 days to go! - with the same sort of anticipation I had for Harry Potter. The two series are compared mora nad more often lately, and while they have a radically different style, storylines and the like, I think they have a similar heart. The Twilight saga is a great series.

Posted by: J of 2:37pm July 20, 2008

I congratulate Stephenie Meyer for her wholesome, yet supernatural, romance storytelling. Having read all three books a few times and only just finished The Host last night, Meyer¿s ability to write a hot romance scene without sex needs to be applauded. Too many people wrongly believe that sex sells, but I along with many people share her opinion that romance sells. On another note, why does Australia have to wait until Monday 4th August for Breaking Dawn when in the US release date is Saturday 2nd August? And why do Australians have to wait nearly a month after the US release date of the movie Twilight? Does Australia have a phobia against vampires? First, with Channel Nine canning Moonlight (TV vampire show that won the People's Choice Award in the US and starring our own Alex O¿Loughlin), and now with the delayed releases of the Twilight movie and Breaking Dawn novel. Catch up Australia. Vampires are the new ¿boy wizard¿.

Posted by: Lisa Pucci of Geelong, Victoria 12:46pm July 20, 2008

so any book that is popular will always become a movie?

Posted by: what the of brisvegas 11:58am July 20, 2008

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