Friday, November 20, 2009

Stephenie Meyer and New Moon

By Susan

(Warning: Contains a few spoilers about the Twilight Series!)

Last night at midnight, millions of women and young girls headed to theatres to watch Stephenie Meyer's New Moon - her second novel turned screenplay about an unsuspecting girl, vampires, and werewolves.

Unlike many writers who swear they've never read them, I admit freely that I've devoured all four books from the Twilight series. Why? It's simple.

I have a 10-year old daughter.

Not only do I have a 10-year-old daughter, I have a girl who is a prolific reader, consuming To Kill A Mockingbird, Little Women, and the entire Harry Potter series all in one year. So when she said to me at age nine that she wanted to tackle Twilight, I felt it my motherly duty to read the book first. My perspective of this series is shadowed by my view as a writer, a reader and a mother. And I must admit, my opinion differs from many of my peers. Here's why.

1) My view as a writer: Writers criticize the series because the books have simple editing errors like passive sentences, dangling participles, run on sentences, and the like, and that's just the beginning of their complaints and critique of Stephenie Meyer. They've picked apart each paragraph, trying to comprehend how in the world this housewife from the northwest could possibly pull off what they've been trying to do for years - achieve the status of Superhero Fiction Writer. I have a simple answer to that: the mass market doesn't care.

The reader cares about the characters and the story. Now, that is not to say that shabby, lazy writing will get you to the bestseller list. It is to say that if you have innovative, unique and compelling people in extraordinary circumstances, you might have a chance. Stephenie Meyer has done just that. And millions of young girls - and their mothers - can attest to it.

2) My view as a reader: readers want entertainment.

Bella cuts her finger, blood oozing everywhere, in a room full of vampires. The one who loves her dives to her rescue. To save her from vampires and their never ending thirst for humans, he leaves her forever, driving her into the arms of the lusty werewolf. Hello? So cliched you can't stand it? Guess what? The mass market can't wait for the next installment. Will the vampire come back? Or will he leave her in the arms of the werewolf?

My 10-year-old couldn't wait for the next chapter. Why? Because she was utterly captivated by the story. She identified with the main character, the cliched and clumsy Bella. Story. Character. The same things that cause millions of American women to read flimsy paperbacks on the beach every summer. There is a chance for love. There is a chance for heartbreak. After all, whether we admit it, like it or hate it, isn't that what we're all looking for?

3) My view as a mother: I must say from a mother's perspective that the Twilight series has it all. Love, lust, longing? It's all real and opens a great channel for discussion. Besides the fact that (SPOILER!) Bella gets pregnant in book four, there's basically no sex. Vampires, werewolves, and consortiums? Not real. All the other stuff? A great venue to talk to my daughter about growing up.

I guess I should point out that as a daughter I was told basically nothing about puberty, growing up, boys, and what is natural. I was left to my own devices, sneaking Judy Blume's Forever under the covers when I was about ten (the same age my daughter is now, remember). Embarrassed as I was, I would have loved an opportunity to talk to my mother about all the weird things going on inside me and around me. Like it or not, our daughters mature. My daughter read most of the Twilight series in her bed with me lying beside her reading my own books. What better opportunity to discuss scenes, and life, and everything else?

I understand not everyone will agree with me. Writers will tell me Meyer is garbage. Sophisticated readers will tell me she's not literary enough. (Well, duh. I agree!) But ten-year old girls? They will tell me they got sucked into a fantasy world that entertained, spurred their imagination, and kept them reading. I'm here for my daughter, poised to explain that there is no knight in shining armor - especially the blood-sucking kind. But for the sake of a good, fast, and entertaining read? Good job, Stephenie Meyer.

And although I don't want to be her, or write like her, I have only one bit of advice: Write on, girl. I can teach my daughter about real love and real loss, about romance and heartache. Life will teach her even more than I ever will. But you, Stephenie, are keeping her eyes on the page, furtively reading, engaging her imagination. For that alone I say keep it up. Leave the life lessons and discussions to me. You've opened a great window for conversation without even knowing it.

As a final note, I didn't get tickets for the midnight showing. Frankly, it wasn't my style. But for my girl? Eventually, I know, I'll see it a million times over. And each time, I'm sure, we'll have a different conversation.

For that alone, it's worth it.


  1. When I was in graduate school a little book called The Bridges of Madison County was at the height of its popularity. All of the professors scoffed at the poor writing, the cliché story, and Waller’s thinly veiled portrait of himself as the hero. ‘Pretentious fluff’ was the term most commonly heard in the halls of Ross Hall at Iowa State. My dog-eared and tear stained copy of the novel remained at home, and I never would have dared admit that my romantic soul bled for Robert and Francesca.

    Fast forward twelve (gasp) years, and I found myself again surrounded by a group of writers and wondering what the hell was wrong with me. The target of scorn was the Twilight series. The poor writing, the clichéd story, the whiny characters. I sat there listening to the rants and watching the parodies of the New Moon trailers on You Tube, silently wondering what everyone would think of me if they knew I devoured the whole series in less than a week, and then re-read Twilight. That there’s a part of me that remains a little in love with Edward Cullen. I said nothing, and I’m frankly a little ashamed of myself.

    Thank you, Susan, for having the courage to speak up. I think that sometimes we, as writers, subconsciously get jealous of the success of others. We spend years honing our craft, agonizing over ever word, attending conferences and piling up rejections. Meanwhile, some woman had a dream and wrote it down simply because she wanted to remember it. She never ever set out to write a novel, and now she’s a multi-millionaire. The nerve! It’s easy to sit there and nit-pick about poor composition, but whenever a book touches so many people, it’s an important lesson for writers to try to figure out why.

    In the case of the Twilight series I think it’s about far more than a clumsy girl and a beautiful vampire.

    I attended a midnight party for the release of Breaking Dawn, and I was shocked at what I found. Yes, there were a lot of teenage girls, and a fair number of teenage boys. But a surprising number of those teens were there WITH their mothers and grandmothers. They were all there ready to share an experience, to not only devour a book, but to discuss it with each other, to connect in a way that rarely happens during those impressionable years. As a reader, I found the books entertaining. As a parent, I appreciate that the entire series is clean. No profanity, no sex until Bella and Edward are married, very little blood considering the genre, Edward treats Bella with the utmost of respect, and Bella becomes a kick-butt vampire and saves the day at the end of the series. Yes, sexual desire is a central theme, which is part of what makes it so compelling, yet Myers message is that desire is normal, yet NOT acting on it can be even more satisfying than jumping into bed. I have read that a lot of teenage boys hate the books because their girlfriends now expect them to behave like Edward, to be gentleman. I see nothing wrong with that!

    Leaving the midnight party, I saw the most amazing sight. Easily a hundred young people who may never have read a book for pleasure before this series cracked open Breaking Dawn while walking across the parking lot at Barnes and Noble. Many intended to forgo sleep until they finished all 754 pages. As a writer, I have to say this is nothing to scoff at.

    I’m going to see New Moon in the theater tomorrow, and I’m going to stop apologizing for that now.

  2. I am a high school English teacher, and I couldn't agree more with both of you ladies. I saw the movie yesterday at midnight--not because I was dying to watch it but because I was dying to talk to my students about it. And sure enough, today we had some GREAT conversations. (Many of them also saw it at midnight, and most others were planning to see it this weekend.) I LOVE discussing literature and life with my students. Through these books/movies, I've been able to talk about relationships with these impressionable teens. We've discussed what's healthy and what's not about the Edward/Bella love story. We've discussed what's realistic and what's not about the Edward/Bella love story. I've talked to them about my marriage and what "real love" can be like.

    Would I have ever had the opportunity to discuss these topics with many of my students without the Twilight series? Probably not.

    Thanks for the blog and the interesting post!

  3. Susan, this reminds me so much of when Harry Potter came out. My son was eight and eager to read it. But there were people who cautioned about letting kids read them since they contained witches and spells and magic. We knew some who didn't allow their kids to read them or later to see the movies.

    So, I read the first two Harry Potter books aloud to my boys and that's all it took. The older boy devoured them all, and I credit JK Rowling for making him into the reader he is today.

    Sure, I'm one who read just Twilight and decided not to read the others, but I can never fault an author who has the ability to get kids hooked on books. That's surely no small feat.

  4. I agree on several points here, but even us adults love it on the big screen. What is weird my husband doesn't like the paranormal, but her stories he gets into watching them and can't wait to see New Moon. So it's just not the kids, it's the concepts, the character's, situations that draw even the older crowd in.


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