Author Stephenie Meyer does not enjoy comparisons with JK Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter. Matt Sayles / AP
Night-time dreams rarely come true (thankfully, for most of us), although they can certainly shape our destiny. Just consider Stephenie Meyer. Five years ago, she was a bubbly if unassuming mother of three from Glendale, Arizona. One night in slumber land, however, her life changed forever.
It was a day like any other, dominated by the school run, nappy changing and laundry duties. Meyer and her husband, Pancho (his real name is Christian but no one has called him that for years), went to bed as normal.
When she awoke next morning, a vivid dream about vampires was seared into her memory. She wrote it down. She kept on writing. She published a novel. She published three more. Now she is a best-selling author, and her work has been translated into 37 languages, including Vietnamese, Croatian and Latvian. In the US, she’s been heralded by booksellers as “the new JK Rowling”, and her series has become a true obsession for American teenagers, who have helped boost book sales (her fourth novel sold 1.3 million copies in the US on its first day) now that Harry Potter has cast his final spell.
The first of her four books, Twilight, has been made into a movie, which opened in the US at the end of November. On opening night, it made more than $35 million (Dh129m), outstripping Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), and all the individual instalments in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The response also transformed its cast – primarily the American actress Kristen Stewart and the English actor Robert Pattinson – into overnight sensations.
“I know, it’s crazy, isn’t it?” says Meyer, 34. “I’ve always loved literature – it’s what I studied at university – but I never dreamed I could become a writer, and now this movie has done so well. And to think it all came from a dream. I’ve never had a dream that I wanted to write down before, or since, but that one was so vivid.”
The day after her dream, Meyer set her fingers pecking at the keyboard the very moment she woke up. “Well, OK,” she says, “I made everyone’s breakfast and changed some nappies and then I started!”
She had dreamed of a teenage couple, the girl a human, and the boy a vampire. “It’s strange because I’m really not into horror. I’m a complete coward, so I’ve no idea why I dreamed about vampires.”
The words that Meyer wrote that day open Chapter 13 of Twilight. The other books in the series include New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn.
“The interesting thing for me is that I had a vampire called Edward, and a human, Bella,” continues Meyer. “But Edward was no monster. It sounds so cheesy, but he was telling her that he wanted to kill her because she smelled so tasty. When I woke up, I felt an overwhelming urge to write it all down. I don’t know why. I didn’t tell my husband or the kids what I was doing. I never once considered trying to get it published. I only planned to write the story down for myself.”
The story follows Bella Swan, who moves to live with her father in the rain-sodden logging town of Forks, in the Pacific Northwest. There, she meets and falls in love with a beautiful boy who, it transpires, is one of a clan of (mostly) benign vampires. These bloodsuckers have tempered their desire for human blood and are trying to blend in with the local community.
“I wrote it in three months straight, and during that time I barely called anyone. Then one day one of my sisters, Emily, called and moaned that I’d been ignoring her. I came clean and told her about the book. I let her take a peek at my first finished draft and she was like, ‘You have to get this published’.
“I really fought against it to begin with. We sent out manuscripts to lots of publishers and got loads of rejections. Then one day, just as I was getting into the car to pick up one of the kids from preschool, I got a phone call. It changed my life.”
It certainly did. The call was from Little, Brown, a young readers’ imprint of the Hachette Book Group, which offered her $750,000 (Dh2.8m) for a three-book deal. “I called my husband and screamed and cried. He couldn’t work out what was going on!”
In person, Meyer is an engaging and giggly character in a flattering russet top and loose black trousers. Perhaps not surprisingly, the secret to the books’ success is rooted in Meyer’s upbringing. She insists that her characters do not directly reflect her Mormon faith, but her story is, undeniably, shaped by her own experience. As the second of six children, with very “traditional, authority-figure” parents, Meyer had what she terms a “long childhood”, and says that her dating experiences were mundane.
“I was never really attracted to bad boys – well, there was one guy who dated all my friends at the same time, but he was still a very sweet boy at heart – and, generally, everything in my life was so safe. I was very practical and I chose the nice boys, like my husband.”
She met Pancho at Bible class, when she was four, although they didn’t get together until their early 20s. “If you’d told me at school that I would marry Pancho Meyer, I’d have taken a jump from a very tall building,” she laughs. “Seriously, though, for me, writing Twilight was something dangerous. It was new ground; I was nowhere near as mature as Bella at her age, and I would never have dated Edward. Bella, however, she’s like, ‘Oh, I’m in love with a vampire? Fine, I’ll deal with it!’”
Meyer says that watching her first book play out on screen was rather difficult. “But so much has been weird for me these past five years. I’m a shy, quiet person and all this has really forced me to become more confident. And I’m glad success has come later in my life, when I’m old enough to be grounded. My husband has given up his job as an accountant to manage my career, while I try to keep the family’s feet on the ground.
She smiles. With the kids, this is quite easy. “My middle boy, Seth, has a bit of a speech impediment and the other day he was talking to this little boy who I could see was having trouble understanding what he was saying. So I went over and what he was trying to ask was, ‘What books does your mummy write?’ Because to him, that’s what mummies do.”
It certainly is what his mummy does, and, judging by the sales figures, she does it rather well. But Meyer insists that she does not enjoy the comparisons with the creator of Harry Potter.
“I am not all that keen on the JK Rowling comparisons, no,” she says. “I remember Eclipse [the third book in the series] was scheduled for publication right after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and I threw a huge fit with my publisher. I did not want my book to come out so close to hers. I saw a tidal wave of Harry Potter that would erase Eclipse. I thought that the book would disappear. But eventually it knocked Potter off the top spot. I still can’t totally believe it. But she’s sold so many more books than I have, and there’s only one JK Rowling, right? For me to be compared to her puts a little too much pressure on me, I think. Really, I’m happy that I am Stephenie Meyer.”
And so, no doubt, are her millions of fans. On the night the movie opened, thousands of girls attended special Twilight proms and events all over America. Not since the Potter franchise took to the screen have cinemas welcomed so many enthusiastic teenagers. Indeed, Twilight’s potential was so obvious that it was optioned as a movie before it had even been published.
“In terms of the film, I loved seeing my characters on the big screen, although having a book you cherish so much be made into a movie is terrifying at times,” she adds. “When I went to watch a rough cut and give my feedback I had to take a whole bunch of friends. I needed their reaction. I knew they’d be really positive and excited and felt that would help if I had any problems with it. But I had so much fun I forgot to critique it. I was just swept away.
“And with the money and success, it’s not totally the Cinderella story that everyone thinks. In fact, JK Rowling has a much better Cinderella story than me. She was really down on her luck and then it went crazy in the other direction, but I was in a pretty good place. Yes, we’re much better off now, but we had enough money to get by before. I wouldn’t have given anything I had before for all this extra stuff. If I hadn’t ever sold one book I would have still carried on writing. Now that I’ve found it, I don’t ever want to stop.”
By Will Lawerence The National