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Not even novelist Stephenie Meyer could have predicted the impact her series of vampire novels would have on a new generation of adolescent girls. America’s answer to the Harry Potter franchise in literary circles, her books have redefined a genre. Her first novel, Twilight, has been adapted into a highly anticipated film, and the author, wife and mother greeted the media to discuss the film version and the future of her literary franchise.
Paul Fischer: Why would you say is the reason for the incredible popularity of this series you’ve started? What do you think is the essence of why so many 12- to 14-year-old girls cannot live without reading every one of these books?
Stephenie Meyer: [laughs] I don’t know; it’s hard for me to answer that because for me it’s an absolute mystery. I read a lot of books and some of them that I love are really popular, and there’s just others that I just think, “Why isn’t everyone in the world reading this book, it’s so amazing.” So when one book takes off, it’s why, why does it ever happen? I don’t know why people respond to these books the way they do. I know why I do: because I wrote it for me. It’s exactly what I wanted to read, so of course, I’m really hooked on it. For other people, it’s kind of bizarre actually.
PF: Did you write with the idea of it was going to be sort of preteens or young teenage girls, that was going to be your audience for the Twilight series?
SM: No. I had a very specific audience, and it was a 29-year-old mother of three. No one was ever supposed to read this except for me. And if I’d had any idea that anyone else would ever see what I was doing, I would’ve never been able to finish it. Way, way too much pressure. [little laugh]
PF: I’m curious about how much input you had into the script and how much they listened to you as far as lines that you needed to keep in or events that you needed to keep in.
SM: It was a really pleasant exchange from the beginning, which I think is not very typical. I don’t know, they were really interested in my ideas, and I really didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I don’t know how to make a movie. I didn’t want to get in the way and make it worse or you know, screw it up somehow. So I let them come to me, and they did and they kept me in the loop. And with the script, they let me see it and said “what are your thoughts?” And so they really opened themselves up there, and I sent them back this script with red marks through the whole thing. And it was stuff like, “Wouldn’t Bella say this more like this? Wouldn’t this sound more like her voice?” It wasn’t things like “this whole scene needs to go,” because it was in really good shape from the beginning. But they let me have input on it, and I think they took 90% of what I said and just incorporated it right into the script.
PF: There was a key line about the lion and the lamb that you insisted they keep the way it is in the book?
SM: You know, that was an interesting thing because I actually think the way [screenwriter] Melissa [Rosenberg] wrote it sounded better for the movie; it really did, it was just a little bit more relaxed. But the problem is, is that line is actually tattooed on people’s bodies—which I don’t approve of, by the way—but I said, you know, if you take that one and change it, that’s a potential backlash situation. And if there’s a place where we can make it, you know, give a little shoutout to the fans, do something for them, that’s what I thought about that.
PF: Is it true that you didn’t want to commit to doing the film until they promised you there would be no fangs?
SM: Yes. It was an interesting thing because when we started out with this, I actually sold the rights to a different company. I got a look at a script that, you know, objectively probably a decent vampire movie; it had nothing at all to do with Twilight. I mean, you could have produced that movie and never given me any credit because it wasn’t anything to do with the books. And that was kind of a horrifying experience, like I had realized that it could go wrong and that they could do it badly, but that they would do something that had nothing at all to do with the story was kind of shocking to me. And I know that’s because I’m really naïve. [laughs]
But so when I went back into this and I had learned and Summit said “we really want to do this,” and I was wary and I said “you know, [sighs] I’m just not sure.” And they said “what can we do for you.” I said “what if I give you a list of things that absolutely can’t be changed.” And I’m not talking, like I said, okay, you have to read, it has to be exactly like the book. It was very fundamental, outline things like, you know, the vampires have to have the basic rules of the vampire world I’ve created, which means no fangs, which means no coffins, which means they sparkle in the sunlight. The characters have to exist by their present names and in their present forms, and you can’t kill anyone that doesn’t die in the book. And just basic things like that that were really just the foundation of the story.
PF: You got that in writing?
SM: I got it in writing. That’s the nice thing about working with a new company is they’re really open to working with you. You don’t get that with, you know, a big, huge group.
PF: How did you get the rights back?
SM: The option period was up and they weren’t gonna use it, and that’s actually where Summit came in and said “can we roll over your option; can we have it?” And I wouldn’t have done it because, you know, I’d learned my lesson. Except that I could tell—if I’d come to them and given them this list and say “Okay, these are the things I want” and if they had hesitated or put on the brakes and said “Whoa, I’m not sure about this”—but they were like, “Oh, of course.” So, I knew that they wanted to do it the way it was in my head.
PF: I know you were approached to do a movie before you were actually published, so did that change the way that you wrote the next three books? Did you write them a little more cinematically thinking they might be turned into films?
SM: No. What’s funny about that is when I was writing Twilight just for myself and not thinking of it as a book—I was not thinking about publishing, and yet at the same time, I was casting it in my head. Because when I read books, I see them very visually. I cast every book I read pretty much; you know, “Who could play this? Who would do this?” And I did exactly the same thing when I was writing it.
So, if I haven’t had that feeling about it, I probably wouldn’t have agreed to do a movie in the first place. Because it’s a huge risk, and it was that sense that this was a natural step for the story that made me feel like I could go ahead with it. With the others, it was very similar. But I’d already had, I don’t know, it was like a movie anyway with the first one. And so the others were very similar but it was the same experience.
PF: Did you have any direct interaction with the actors? And what did you think of [director] Catherine [Hardwicke]? She’s kind of an interesting person as well as a director?
SM: You know, Catherine’s fantastic. The first time we started talking to each other about things, I was surprised. Because I knew this was the person whose focus was going to shape this film, and so if this person had a different idea from me, it wasn’t going to turn out very much like how I’d seen it in my head. And we were on the same page from the very beginning, and things that I was worried about, she was already on top of.
And I’d be like, “Hey, Catherine, about the wardrobe: I’m a little worried this is going to go all chokers and leather and everything.” And she’d be like, “Oh, no, I already talked to the wardrobe person, and we’re thinking ice, and this is what I want it to look like.” And it was exactly what I wanted.
So, she was great because she got it, the same way I got it. And I just really loved working with her, and you know, we’re kind of buddies. She’s really cool to hang out with; she’s just an awesome person.
Now, tell me the first part of your question again “cause I have lost it.
PF: Did you deal directly with actors, did you have like an direct interaction with Robert [Pattinson] or Kristen [Stewart]?
SM: A little bit, a little bit. With Rob, I actually, we sat down and talked about Edward’s character before the filming started. And I’d just come in and met everyone, and it wasn’t an argument, but we actually disagree on his character. [laughs] And I’d be like, “No, this is how it is.” And he’s like, “No, it’s definitely this way.’
And the funny part about it, you know, is here we are arguing about a fictional character, and yet in the performance, he did what he wanted and yet it was still exactly what I wanted. So that was really cool.
PF: When you saw the finished film, what was your most significant moment where you sort of felt dislocated from the finished film, as opposed to the world you had in your head? And was there also a similar moment where you felt, “Ah, there it is” as far as the world in your head in the film.
SM: You know, it was a funny experience and it’s hard to pull out a moment, because as a whole, it was just so overwhelming. I think probably if you just said the first scene because it took me a minute, you know, and I was so braced for it. Because what if it was really horrid, so I was just like all ready for it to be bad. You know, almost watching through my fingers. And I had my little notepad because it was a rough cut and I was gonna give them the notes on what I wanted. So, after a couple minutes, you know, you start getting into this voice, and you start hearing Kristen’s voice and it becomes Bella’s voice. And you see the scenes—it got to where I completely forgot why I was there. And all the scenes, there were so many things that were like déjà vu to see them that when the movie was over, and the producer I was with there, she said, “Okay, let’s have your notes.” And I said, “Give me a minute, I really just have to just—” I was so overwhelmed, I had to just have a moment to just sit and think because it was so much to take in.
And it was so many scenes were the way I had envisioned them that it was partially creepy and partially wonderful.
PF: Could you tell us a little bit—you wrote this for yourself, what was the day that you sat down and said “I’m going to do this” and how did it get published and how did it all work?
SM: You know, I don’t think many authors have as specific answer to that question as I do. [laughs] It all started June 2, 2003, and I know the exact day because I had all these other things on my calendar that I had to do that day.
And I had this really great dream—I tell this story a lot and I think it starts to sound like I’m making it up, but I’m not—I had an awesome dream. And it was odd because it was coherent, because it was a really complicated conversation. And because I don’t ever dream about vampires, so that was also very odd.
And I woke up and I was just wrapped up in this idea of what was gonna happen next: Was he gonna kill her or were they gonna be together. Because it was 50-50 at that point. And I wrote it down because there were a lot of nuances to the conversation I didn’t want to forget, and they knew they would go. I forget everything.
Once I got started, within that day, I was completely hooked on writing. And this was something brand-new to me. I had no ambitions for a writing career. [laughs] I had a career; I was really, really busy with it.
PF: Being a mother?
SM: Being a mother, which is about the most full-time job you can have. And I had three little boys, and there was no time to do something else, but I was obsessed with it from the first day. I mean here, I’d painted before, I’d done a couple of little other creative endeavors that always, they were good—you know, it felt good to be creative—but it wasn’t completely fulfilling. And in writing, it was like I just found it, you know, like you just found your favorite flavor of ice cream, all the sudden there it is: “This is what I should’ve been doing for the last 30 years. What was I thinking?” So then I was in, and then I had to just keep going with it.
PF: How’d you get it published, though?
SM: Sheer luck or fate or what have you. I had the easiest publishing experience in the entire world. I sent out 15 query letters to agents, got five no replies, nine rejections and one “I want to see it.” A month later, I had an agent; another month later, I had a three-book deal with Little, Brown. And it does not happen that way, and if you expect that going in, get ready for heartbreak.
PF: Could you believe it was happening?
SM: No, I still don’t.
PF: We talked a couple months ago and you had just come from the set and described the cafeteria scene. You touched on how odd it was seeing everyone there. What I wanted to ask was, I know you listened to Muse a lot when you were writing this: How important was it to you that they be on the soundtrack in some form.
SM: You know, I knew that was out of my hands with the music. I think I would have always felt like there was something lacking in the soundtrack if they hadn’t been a part of it. And then even more so, knowing what I know now, having seen how Muse brings that scene to life, and how just that’s a moment where everything—music, action, atmosphere—comes together so perfectly. I mean how could you not have that? I mean, it would just not be right if you didn’t have “Supermassive Black Hole” playing in that scene. It was so perfect. So you know, watching that, I think that was one of the most surprisingly enjoyable things. I knew I was going to enjoy it, but not that much. That was cool. [laughs]
PF: I’m curious: Why this enduring interest in vampire culture that’s been going on for centuries? So I would appreciate your views on that, and how great was your own interest when you started this.
SM: Well, my answer here has to be hypothetical because I am not a vampire fan and I never have been. I don’t do horror; I’m an enormous scaredy-cat. Hitchcock is about as much as I can handle, and I love it, but anything more than that, you’re not gonna see me in the theater.
And I’ve never gotten it: Why are people obsessed with vampires? You know, and I know a lot of people who are. I’m actually surprised—now I know how many more people are. And so the fact that I would write about them is wildly out of character and bizarre and nobody who knows me believed it for a really long time.
But this is my theory having talked to a lot of people about “why do you like vampires so much’: Besides myself it seems like everybody really loves to be scared in a controlled environment. Horror movies do really well; you know, it’s a big industry. People read a lot of really scary books. So, I’m missing that gene, but clearly we like to be scared.
And then you look at the monsters we can scare ourselves with, and most of them are disgusting and, you know, gruesome, and they’re covered in nasty things. And we don’t want anything from them; we just want to get away from them. They’re just there to scare us.
And then we’ve got vampires, who are often beautiful and eternally youthful and rich and cultured and they live in castles. There are so many things that are ideals in our culture that we want that they have. So there’s this double-edged sword: They’re gonna kill us and they’re terrifying and yet maybe I even want to be one.
I don’t want to be a vampire. A lot of other people do, and I think it’s that dual nature that we have, you know, terrifying and intriguing
PF: Have you had any other dreams that have fueled maybe future projects? And the second part of that is now that you’ve had a taste of the Hollywood system, would you think about writing a screenplay rather than doing a book first, just going straight into the idea and do a screenplay?
SM: Okay, well, with the screenplay. I’m gonna have to ask for the other one, because I get going and I forget everything else. Like I said, bad memory.
I don’t think I could do that unless Hollywood is ready for a 14-hour movie experience. [laughs] I tried once to write a short story and it was a horrible thing. I just, I don’t think in short; I have to explore every tiny little detail of things. And I really admire people who can come in and streamline it and get all the information across but they do it so simply. And that’s not my talent. So, I can’t imagine doing that. Although my ideas are often very visual, I’d have to have a partner who would know how to do it. [laughs]
Now give me the first one again.
PF: Have you had any other dreams that have fueled ideas for stories?
SM: Oh, dreams. You don’t get a dream like that twice. You know, I got my chance. And I do feel like I was supposed to be writing, and this dream was my kick in the pants to get going. And once I started, I didn’t need another one, because once I discovered how wonderful writing was for me, I was ready to go with it.
PF: What’s the difference between your vampires and the vampires of yesteryear? What do your vampires do that’s different?
SM: Well, in general, because I know there’s a lot of varying legends, you know, and there’s the ones that turn into bats and mists and then there’s the ones that are more concrete.
In general, my vampires don’t have fangs, and they don’t need them, you know, strong as they are, it’s kind of unnecessary. They’re fairly indestructible; wooden stakes and garlic are not going to get you anywhere. They don’t sleep at all. They’re never unconscious; they have no periods of unconsciousness. And sunlight doesn’t harm them, it just shows them for what they are because they sparkle in the sun.
PF: How about reflections?
SM: Oh, they totally have reflections, and you can take pictures of them. All of that is kind of these myths—in my world, these are myths that vampires actually anciently spread around so that people would say, “Oh, well, this person can’t be a vampire because I can see them in the mirror, so I’m safe.’
PF: As the fan base built for the series and it became more of a phenomenon, did that change how you approached the later books? And what was your response to the fan reaction to the fourth book?
SM: Well, as far as changing things, it couldn’t because I actually had the first three books and a rough draft of the fourth one written before Twilight ever came out.
So, the story was there, and it’s funny, I had this conversation with a friend of mine who wrote nonfiction, like, obscure historical stories. And she was saying how “It must be so hard for you, because when my editors come in, they can’t change anything; this is what happened.” And it kind of clicked in for me because that’s exactly how I feel, like it’s historic. Like, “This is what happened, it’s not like I can just change things. This is how it went down.” And that’s a kind of awkward position to be in when your editor does want you to change things. [laughs]
So the fan expectations, I already knew the story. It did add a little bit of pressure and it was particularly difficult when—You know, when I’m writing, I tune that out and I don’t think about it at all.
But when I’m editing, I get online and I see one blog that says, “If A and B don’t happen, I’m burning this book.” And then on another page, “If A and B do happen, this is gonna be the worst book ever.” So you know going in, there’s no way I can please everybody. I can’t even please half the people because everybody wants things that are so different. And they’ve written this story in their heads to a way that they are happy with.
I read an interview that George Lucas did about Indiana Jones and how all the fans have already written their sequel, and if they don’t see that sequel, they’re gonna be upset. And I really found myself in that same position, and so I was braced going in. I knew that this was gonna be bad. And it was also good.
That was the thing about the fourth book is it was so much more in every aspect; it was bigger than I ever would’ve dared to imagine. It was better in a lot of ways, and it was worse in a ton of ways. And it was a lot of overwhelming stuff that I couldn’t really take in. I’ve found that it’s easier for me when I’m at home and I don’t have to talk into a microphone in front of a bunch of people [laughs], I just forget that this is all going on. And I just live my life, and writing is a part of it, but I don’t think about this part because it’s too hard.
PF: What did you think when you went to the set? How often did you go first of all?
SM: I think I went about four times and all together…
PF: …both in Arizona and in Oregon?
SM: No, I was never on the set—it was actually California—but I was in Portland about four times, in and out, probably a total of about two weeks all together.
PF: What did you think about the filmmaking process?
SM: That was one of the coolest things that agreeing to do a movie gave me. You know, because I’m right in the middle with this, I had two book tours this year, and all kinds of crazy stuff going on. And the movie was just fun; I found it fascinating.
One time, I had my brother with me for a couple days, and I know he was bored stupid. That poor kid, he was just like “Uh [sighs], how can they say the same line again for the 16th time?” And for me, every time—I was with the humans that week—and every time Anna Kendrick said it, she added a new little twist or her eyebrow raised just a little bit differently, and the nuances were fascinating to me. And that’s ‘cause it was mine; I don’t know if I’d be that way on another film. But I was just riveted, I’m like edge of my seat, looking at the monitor and “Oh, I love that.” And you know, just thrilled.
PF: Did the end result embody what you had envisioned for the most part? I mean, could you see everybody, like “That’s Bella,” “That’s Carlisle’?
SM: Yeah. I mean, if somebody had pulled me in there and said, “Okay, we’ve got a room full of your characters, let’s see if you can pin the names on them.” Oh, it would’ve been cake. It would’ve been so easy; they were so clearly who they were.
And really I think the acting in this movie is something special. It’s amazing, here’s all these people that really people haven’t heard of yet. I mean, some of them to an extent, but a lot of these kids are new and they’re so good. I mean, they’re just so believable. You feel like, yeah, you’re just sitting there with a bunch of kids in high school because this is how they sound. It didn’t sound like people acting; it sounded like people being people.
PF: What is the status of Midnight Sun?
SM: Oh, Midnight Sun is not on my schedule right now. And you know, it’s part of my writing process that for me to really write a story—and like I was saying before, I can’t think about what other people want and what other people are thinking and what the editing’s going to be and what the expectations are when I’m writing because it’s paralyzing to do that. You really can’t put a word on the page. I have to be very alone with a story. It has to be just me and what’s happening, and I just can’t feel that way about it right now. And it’s a weird thing, and I’m not sure what it’s all about. But I think that, you know, this is gonna die down. This is like what two months old? People are gonna forget about it; it’s gonna go away. And that’ll be, you know, the time when I sneak back in and give it a try again. But it’s gonna have to be after everything is—it’s not writing in a fish bowl because I can’t work that way.
PF: It’s a given that the rest of the books are gonna get made into films: Which one do you expect to be the most challenging to adapt?
SM: That’s a given, huh? [laughs] We’ll see.
If it were a given that every one of these would be made, Book 4 without a doubt is the hardest thing to do. And there’s a really simple reason for that: You have a character in that that you almost have to do with CGI. And while CGI can do dragons and it can do almost anything in the whole world, the one thing that I’ve never seen is a completely realistic CGI human. So, that’s something that either groundbreaking technology will have to develop in the next couple of years or it will be impossible. One or the other.
PF: Which character is that?
PF: There’s a very graceful moment in the film when Bella’s going through possible explanations [about Edward’s difference] and she says “I’m thinking radioactive spiders and Kryptonite” and Edward has a nice counter to that. Did you sort of think it would be sort of tough to switch the teen pop-culture zeitgeist away from the superheroic and back toward the supernatural, or did it feel like something kids were going to be into?
SM: You know, I never worried about that for a second. I was into it, and I am much more drawn to superheroes than I am to vampires. And I really think there’s a closer connection with my vampires between superheroes and them than vampires—traditional vampires—and who they are. So, I really, with my writing, what it comes down to, was I getting a kick out of this? Then, okay, well, go with it. If somebody else it’s not clicking for them, you know, that’s why there’s 40 billion books in the world. Because there’s something for everybody.
PF: Has your writing process changed dramatically since you’re first post-dream attempt at writing?
SM: It has. It’s gone through some evolutions as I experiment with different ways to do things. With Twilight, I didn’t know what was gonna happen when I wrote it. It was just writing to find out the answer. With the others, I had to start outlining. I had to be more careful because I knew when I started the sequel New Moon where it was gonna end. So that takes a lot more work to tie up the threads. And I’ve experimented with a couple of other things on the side, so I haven’t really consolidated what I do.
The biggest change is that when I started writing I had three kids under the school age at home all day. All my kids are in school full time now, so that really has made the biggest change in my writing style. [laughs]
PF: How old are your kids now?
SM: My kids are 11, 8 and 6. And if I could freeze them there, I would ‘cause they’re perfect.
PF: How did you find the time to write this?
SM: I lost sleep to write. I mean, you had to give something up, and I wasn’t giving up my time with my kids. And I couldn’t give up the things I had to do, so it was sleep.
PF: Was there a certain song on the soundtrack that specifically spoke to you like in a really personal way? Because I thought the soundtrack was fantastic, but I was wondering which one particularly inspired you?
SM: Aside from the Muse song, which was already part of what I listen to all the time, these songs were all new for me, and I have to say the Iron and Wine song was really the one that just made me an instant fan, probably because the first time I heard it was when I watched the movie. And in that scene, it’s just so perfectly melted in with the feeling, and so that was one that got me.
PF: Can you talk about shooting your cameo in the movie?
SM: [laughs] Yes, but it’s painful.
It was not my idea to do a cameo. They talked me into it. They thought it would be, you know, cute for the fans because most of them would recognize me.
I was thinking it would be more like a Where’s Waldo? thing. Like, I walk by for one second in a crowd, and if they can find me, cool. That’s the one scene in the movie I would happily cut—the first five seconds—and the one that I had to watch like, I mean, like this [puts hands over eyes] “Ugh, is it over yet?” It was really hard for me.
PF: How many takes did you have to do?
SM: Well, I did however many takes they were doing. It wasn’t about me; it was about the actors.
PF: So what was your cameo? For those of us who didn’t know what you looked like then?
SM: Oh, you didn’t recognize me. [sarcastically, laughing] Really?
No, it was in the scene when Bella and Charlie are at the diner and the waitress is asking them, you know, “What’s the news about Waylon’s murderer?” There’s a woman sitting at the counter, and for some reason, the camera focuses on her for like a good five seconds. And you’re like, “Why are we looking at this person?” And that was me.
PF: So is the series over now, four books, are you done?
SM: It’s done for now. I mean, I can’t promise that I won’t get lonely for the Cullens and come back to them in 10 years. But right now, I feel really satisfied with where it is. So, I’m not planning on doing anything with it, but you know, no guarantees.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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