By Rick Bentley
A dream come true
The idea for Stephenie Meyer’s tale of vampiric teen romance came to her in her sleep.
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Stephenie Meyer did what many professed to be impossible. She persuaded millions of teens and tweens to read something other than a text message or a computer screen. She got them to read her book called “Twilight,” which is a novel about star-crossed lovers where one of the high school juniors happens to be a vampire.
Meyer’s readers devoured her three other books in the series: “New Moon,” “Eclipse,” “Breaking Dawn.”
Why have her books captured the attention of teen and tweens?
“My books must be accessible somehow. I know I get a lot of new readers, who don’t read for pleasure, who read them. And that is cool,” Meyer said during an interview less than two weeks before the film version of “Twilight” hit theaters Nov. 21.
“I always loved to read. So it is kind of a cool thing to be able to open that door.”
So far, “Twilight” has sold more than 17 million copies in 37 countries. Half of that total has been in the United States.
Those kinds of numbers make it no surprise Hollywood leaped at the chance to bring “Twilight” to the big screen. And promotion for the movie is what has brought Meyer from her home in Phoenix to Southern California. Advance ticket sales for the movie are high, according to online movie ticket site Fandango.
Meyer is snuggled into a chair near the window of a small room at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Between the dark sweater pulled around her shoulders and the bright green strand of oversize beads around her neck, the 34-year-old is fashionably dressed. But not in the sense of the chic shops on Rodeo Drive that can be seen just over her right shoulder.
She has a welcoming smile and a down-to-earth attitude.
Except for a few school papers, Meyer had never written anything before stealing a few hours at night to write “Twilight.” Even her attempts to tell original stories to her three sons was greeted with little enthusiasm.
“My middle son likes when I make up stories with him as the main character. But the other two boys don’t like that. They prefer I just read to them,” Meyer says. “I had stories in my head all the time. My whole life I was telling stories. But there was such a difference between what was for me and what anyone else in the world would want to see. That’s why I did not write them down for other people.”
The idea for “Twilight” came to her in a dream. Meyer woke up and jotted down the details of a scene in a meadow with the book’s central characters. But she didn’t intend to share the story. It was just for herself. Meyer is convinced if she had suspected during the writing process someone else would read her story, she never would have finished it.
Once she started writing, she could not stop. Meyer had to see where the characters would go.
“I discovered what a rush it was to create something in writing. That wasn’t something I expected. And then I was addicted,” Meyer says.
She knows the exact day she became a writing junkie. She had the vampire dream on June 2, 2003. Meyer is not certain what sparked her to dream about vampires for the first time in her life.
“I started another diet that day. So I must have eaten really well the night before,” Meyer offers as the possible spark for the book series.
The spark started a firestorm. A month after deciding she would share the story with others, Meyer had secured an agent. A month after that, she had a book deal. From dream to bookstores took six months. The author almost apologetically admits this kind of quick reaction in the book publishing world is as rare as a vampire at a tanning salon.
She has been writing ever since. She’s a graduate of Brigham Young University with a bachelor’s degree in English and points to a hodgepodge of writers who influenced her from William Shakepeare to “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” author Douglas Adams. She says the common thread of her literary influences is how they were able to create memorable characters.
And although her books have been praised for how well Meyer writes dialogue, she has created memorable characters through a redefining of the vampire mythology. Her vampires are a blood-drinking sect who have no fangs and cannot turn into bats. They can even walk around on a cloudy day.
Vampires were the perfect fit for her tale of romance. She points out that most scary creatures aren’t that easy on the eyes. In most cases, vampires have been portrayed as rather good-looking.
“I don’t think vampires started out that way. I think over the years we have softened them up because there were things about them we like. So we give them a good side,” Meyer says.
Her take on vampires resonated with fans. They sent “Twilight” to the New York Times best-seller list. It was in that moment Meyer knew she had created something that was as immortal as her vampires. She would forever be known as a New York Times best-selling author.
Hollywood executives come calling with such literary success. She quickly signed a movie deal with MTV Film to turn “Twilight” into a film. That deal did not go so well. She says the story would have changed and would have no resemblance to her writing.
“The fact they could do something that had nothing to do with the story was shocking to me,” Meyer says. The option or time specified to make the film ran out so the deal ended.
She became more wary and protective of her stories. So when upstart film company Summit Entertainment called and asked to take a crack at the project, Meyer gave them a written list of what she expected: no fangs, no one could die who had not died in the books, no coffins, and some other items.
Except for having to condense a few scenes and scatter some of the action, confined to the last quarter of the book, early into the movie, the film adaptation by screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg stays very close to the original book.
Meyer did take exception to one well-known line of dialogue being changed. In the book, where vampire Edward finally admits he has fallen for Bella he tells her” “The lion has fallen in love with the lamb.” Rosenberg rewrote the line.
“I know it sounds cheesy. But I told them that line is actually tattooed on people’s bodies. If you take that line and change it, that is a potential backlash situation,” Meyer says.
The original line is in the film. Such loyalty to the source material should please the legions of fans — the majority being female — who have blogged, text messaged and e-mailed their deep feelings about every aspect of the book and the film.
Fan reaction to her fourth book was so negative, Meyer delayed plans to do “Midnight Sun,” a male-perspective version of “Twilight.” She will get back to that book. It won’t happen until some of the online furor subsides.
“The fan expectations add a little pressure. When I am writing I tune that out. But when I am editing, I get online and see one blog that says ‘if A and B don’t happen, I will burn this book’ and then another says ‘if A and B do happen this will be the worst book ever.’ So you know going in there is no way to please everybody,” Meyer says. “I can’t even please half the people because everybody has wants that are so different.
“They have written this story in their heads to a way they are happy with.”
All of the Hollywood hype and Internet chatter aside, life has changed little for Meyer. She still considers herself a mom first and foremost. Now that her sons are old enough to be in school, she has tried to write during the day. But Meyer still finds late night a better time to work.
Once she has completed all of her promotional duties for the film, Meyer knows exactly what she wants to do.
“I really, more than anything else, want to go home and lock myself in a room and write for a couple of months. That’s because I feel like I have been removed from that for too long,” Meyer says. “It has been a really busy year and I have not had that unbroken time to just concentrate. There is always something else that has to be done.
“And I really just want to write again.”
XRick Bentley is a books columnist at The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.).