Maybe it’s because she’s a mother to three boys; maybe it’s just because she’s a compassionate person. But Stephenie Meyer loves to see the good in people—even the “bad guys.”
“My books really aren’t horror novels,” Meyer says from her home near Phoenix.
“The vampires are a source of light in my novels. I tend to look at the bad-guy side of things—giving them their side, letting them talk.”
The vampires in question populate “Twilight,” “New Moon” and “Eclipse,” the first three books in Meyer’s outrageously successful Twilight Sagaseries. The fourth, “Breaking Dawn,” will be published Aug. 2.
Young-adult readers and older ones have embraced the vampire series with the kind of passion J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter elicited: millions of copies sold (4 million in the last 12 months alone), ardent devotion (143 weeks combined on the New York Times best-seller list), and the inevitable film adaptations—the first, “Twilight,” hits theaters Dec. 12.
As for why the books enthrall readers: There’s always the old-fashioned sex appeal of vampires—the taking of blood, neck biting, the intimacy of the exchange. Yet Meyer downplays it a bit: “Since I haven’t read a lot of vampire books, I really haven’t absorbed that assumption. The act of sucking blood is not this sensual, sexual, romantic thing; it’s a very violent, gruesome act.”
Perhaps. But these characters are teens. In “Twilight,” Bella Swan is a “new kid” who leaves Phoenix for a small town in Washington state, where she feels (of course) out of place.
She falls for Edward Cullen, a handsome boy vampire. As Booklist opined: “This is a book of the senses: Edward is first attracted by Bella’s scent; ironically, Bella is repelled when she sees blood. Their love is palpable, heightened by their touches, and teens will respond viscerally.”
Viscerally but also safely, or at least somewhat innocently, given the fantasy setting. At the very least, the Twilightbooks are once removed from the realities of teen sexuality explored in such young-adult books as Meg Cabot’s “Ready or Not.”
Now comes the publication of “The Host,” in which Meyer will take her fans in a different direction: It’s a non-“Twilight” novel that is ostensibly science fiction, though on her Web site (www.stepheniemeyer.com) the author calls it “science fiction for people who don’t like science fiction.”
Pre orders already have ensured “The Host’s” success; last week it ranked 24th on amazon.com and 19th on bn.com.
“It’s definitely a departure in that it’s a whole new cast and crew in my head,” Meyer says. “But, at the same time, I think my established readers will be comfortable with it; they’ll get into the rhythm of it and find that it sounds like me. Stylistically it’s very similar.”
“The Host” is the story of Wanderer, a member of an alien species that takes possession of human minds and bodies. Nearly all of humanity has yielded to these alien beings, but Wanderer’s host, Melanie Stryder, is an especially strong human. Her will is not entirely broken; she pushes back at Wanderer, and the two minds must find a way to deal with each other.
“It’s science fiction because it’s about aliens,” the author says, “so there’s no other way to categorize it. And I like science fiction. But this doesn’t feel to me like science fiction; once you get past the basic premise, it’s just about being human.”
The very word host, in this context, can give one the willies. Indeed science fiction writers and filmmakers have addressed this in works ranging from Ridley Scott’s “Alien” and its sequels to Jack Finney’s “The Body Snatchers” to John Wyndham’s “The Midwich Cuckoos” (filmed as “Village of the Damned”). In those works, though, it was clear the invaders were sinister, while “The Host” is a bit more ambiguous.
The book “is told from the perspective of one of the aliens,” Meyer says, “and the aliens, instead of being these horrible monsters who destroy everything ... they’re kind of the good guys.”
Of course. Meyer’s compassion rears its head again.
“I think that’s still kind of a hard stretch for us to accept, good guys who are not us. But in this case, arguably, they’ve done a much better job with the world than we have. They’ve ended world hunger; there’s no more violence; everything’s happy and peaceful; and everyone’s kind and trustworthy.”
As with her vampires, Meyer’s aliens come off as sympathetic in part, she thinks, because of her role as mother to Gabe, Seth and Eli.
“They’re 10, 7 and 5. They’re perfect. If I could stop them from aging, I would! There are no diapers (now), everybody’s self-sufficient, they’re fun. We can go to an amusement park, and everybody has a good time. And yet no teenagers—no drivers!”
Life in Momworld, Meyer says, means you’re always looking for the best in people.
“Being a mom is a crash course in deep compassion. Everybody’s somebody’s kid, right? So as a mom, compassion comes with the territory. You want people to be happy; you want to understand them; you want them to be well-adjusted.”
When it comes time to write, those values translate easily to Meyer’s pages.
“Your characters become your children, and you want good things for them.”
Dad, by the way, is Christian Meyer, though Stephenie calls her husband Pancho, based on a nickname bestowed by his grandmother. She has known him for 30 years, since she was 4; their parents were friends.
They were not high school sweethearts; the attraction happened in Meyer’s college years, after they hadn’t seen each other for a while.
“We saw each other again, and we’d both changed a little bit.” Her reaction: “He looks good!”
Meyer earned a bachelor’s in English from Brigham Young University. But motherhood might yet have been her only job were it not for a dream she had in 2003—a dream about a girl and a vampire sitting in a meadow.
That was rather odd, given her background. Yes, she’s a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but she also describes herself as “a total chicken,” not a lover of scary yarns.
“I’ve never read a Stephen King book in my life. The most I can handle as far as scary movies is Hitchcock; anything beyond that, count me out. Suspense is OK. I really don’t like gore; I hate the slasher type of thing.
“I have never seen a vampire movie. I don’t read vampire books. The `Twilight’ series got started because of (that dream) I had, and I still have no idea why I was dreaming about a vampire.”
She started writing with no other intent, she says, than to entertain herself.
“I wasn’t planning on publishing it. It was for an audience of one.”
That audience has multiplied quite dramatically. Meyer confesses to being a bit shy in front of crowds, but now that experience is part of her life. “I wrote these stories because I wanted to tell them to myself. And that was ... kind of enough, to get that much joy out of something. You don’t ask for more. To have other people respond to it as emotionally as they have, that they care as much as I do about these characters, was unexpected and overwhelming.”
“Fanaticism is the reason the word fan exists. It makes me feel great.”
But the work is what motivates her. After this book tour, she’ll return to writing “Midnight Sun,” which will be the fifth “Twilight” book. Her Web site has a tab labeled “Other Projects.”
It’s empty for now, but one suspects that won’t be the case for long.