Thursday, June 05, 2008

Mormon Housewife's Vampire Story Drives Fans Wild; New Rowling?

By Edward Nawotka

May 29 (Bloomberg) -- Stephenie Meyer, a 34-year-old Mormon mother of three, is the closest thing the book world has had to a rock star since J.K. Rowling finished writing about Harry Potter.

The author of the ``Twilight'' series, a trio of young adult books about the romantic travails of 17-year-old Bella, her vampire boyfriend, Edward, and her best friend, Jacob, a werewolf, Meyer has just published her first book for adults. Not that the Y.A. label has stopped grown-ups from reading Meyer: The ``Twilight'' series has sold some 5.5 million copies worldwide.

Her new book, ``The Host,'' a sci-fi yarn about alien body snatchers, was published earlier this month with a first printing of 750,000 copies. It has already reached the top of bestseller lists.

Meyer, who lives in Phoenix, says the story of Bella and Edward came to her in a dream in 2003. Within a year she had a book deal valued at $750,000.

She's since taken over the throne of Vampire Queen abandoned by Anne Rice when she devoted herself to writing about the life of Christ. Despite their seeming incompatibility, Meyer sees no conflict between her subject and her faith.

``I'm a religious person,'' Meyer said by telephone from Los Angeles, where she was taping a segment for MTV. ``Real people think about (questions like): Why are we here? What are we doing? A vampire is a character who has to ask similar questions. They have to wonder what state their soul is in and does it even exist.''

No Sex, Please

While Rice titillated her audience with baroque prose and explicit sex, Meyer writes simply and depicts her monsters as moral -- they feed on wild bears instead of people -- and her humans as utterly chaste. There is no underage drinking, no drugs and, much to the relief of millions of adults, no sex. Jana Riess, co-author of ``Mormonism for Dummies'' and religion book review editor of Publishers Weekly, is a Meyer fan and believes the books are heavily influenced by the Book of Mormon.

``Mormon theology places a big emphasis on agency or free will,'' Riess said. ``It establishes a clear difference between immortality, a curse, and eternal life, which is a gift from God.''

Meyer denied that she's writing a religious allegory.

``Any (Latter-day Saints) Church that appears in my books is accidental,'' said Meyer, ``a reflection of the world as it has appeared to me through my life.''

Nevertheless, the fervor of Meyer's fans is akin to that of converts. Her book tour regularly packs thousand-seat venues, with people camping overnight to get tickets. Not all those lining up are teens.

Tribute Band

Sheryl Nash of Arlington, Texas, first read Meyer's books after her 14-year-old daughter formed a ``Twilight'' tribute band with friends.

``They wrote a song called `Sexy Vampire,''' Nash said, ``so I had to find out what the books were about. I started listening to them when I was commuting to work. Now I've got my van pool hooked, even some of the men.''

Not everyone is keen on the books. Sue Corbett, a children's author and journalist in Virginia, is ``disheartened'' at Meyer's popularity.

``Bella is constantly in need of getting rescued. She moves in with her father and immediately starts cooking for him and doing his laundry. She's on track to go to an Ivy League college, but doesn't because of Edward. It's the exact inverse of the values I'm trying to teach my daughter,'' Corbett said.

Questioned about such criticism, Meyer was terse. ``The thing about Bella,'' the author said, ``is her story isn't finished yet.''

Midnight Parties

Indeed, the buzz around ``The Host'' is building anticipation for ``Breaking Dawn,'' the final ``Twilight'' book, which goes on sale Aug. 2 with a first printing of 2.5 million copies. Booksellers are planning midnight parties to launch it, as they did for the release of a new Harry Potter title.

After that, fans can look forward to the film adaptation of ``Twilight,'' to be released on Dec. 12. For her next book, Meyer plans to write ``Midnight Sun,'' the story of ``Twilight'' retold from Edward the vampire's perspective.

Asked when she plans to publish another novel for adults, Meyer said, ```The Host' is a taste of things yet to come.'' She wouldn't commit to anything specific, in part because she doesn't agree with traditional publishing classifications.

``I just don't buy the whole divide between Y.A. and adult lines, or even different genres,'' Meyer said. ``Many of my most ardent fans are adults my age. My books may be about aliens or vampires, but ultimately they're all about what it means to be human.''

``The Host'' is published by Little, Brown (619 pages, $25.99).

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