Thursday, March 18, 2010

Biography: Stephanie Meyer: The Unauthorized Biography of the Creator of the Twilight Saga by Marc Shapiro

In 2006, the Twilight phenomenon began. A previously minor sub-genre of the vampire novel, the vampire romance, suddenly became big among teenage girls. The Harry Potter saga was coming to an end -- the final volume was published in 2007, only a few months later -- and there was room for something new.

The author, a Mormon housewife and mother of three, was suddenly being compared to J.K. Rowling. Well, they’re both women who wrote something that appealed to millions of young people and their parents, although I doubt if Twilight will ever be winning any prizes for children’s literature as Harry Potter did, and if there were separate covers for adult and teen editions, I haven’t seen them yet. I suppose they have that in common.

But many folk have Meyer to thank for the fact that they are now able to sell books in the YA fantasy genre, as long as there are vampires or werewolves in them. As a matter of fact, I'm one of them.

I confess that when this book first arrived for me to review, I hadn’t read any of the Twilight novels, mainly because they’re always out. However, I felt that I shouldn’t be reviewing a book to which I had no background, and as a teacher-librarian, I really ought to be reading what the kids were loving so much. I went to Reader’s Feast in Melbourne, where I found the books in the YA section, right next to Foz Meadows’ new novel Solace And Grief which was facing out. Lucky Foz Meadows!

I read the first book and started on the second. It was easy reading as I had expected, because one of our ESL students read it in a weekend and her reading level at the time was about Grade 3. Other readers of the same level made their way through the entire saga without much trouble.

I found the novel pretty slow-moving, with nothing much happening till about three-quarters of the way through the book, but it certainly told me something about kids’ reading habits that I had never known after all these years of observing their reading: they will be patient if they are hooked early on. (Or maybe what I found slow, they found romantic?) I wasn’t hooked, alas, but I have no problem with anything that gets my students not only reading, but being excited about reading. And they are excited -- the girls, anyway. I have seen them sitting curled up on steps and under trees in the schoolyard, noses deep in the adventures of Bella and Edward, and lending personal copies to friends.

Besides, I think I may be able to “sell” Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights to students who have finished and enjoyed this series. The hero of Jane Eyre is even called Edward! (Edward Rochester, that is.) He has a Deep Dark Secret, a tragic past and a good woman who wants to help him.

Author Marc Shapiro has been thorough in his research. Possibly there’s nothing here that a fan doesn’t already know from the Internet, where he seems to have done a large chunk of his research, but I was certainly enlightened. I found out that the Twilight author was named by a father who wanted a Stephen and got a Stephanie, except he added “ie” to “Stephen” instead. I learned that she got the idea from a dream and that she picked the name of the town off the Internet by looking for the wettest place in the US (and isn’t it wonderful that now writers just need to go on-line to check out these things in a few minutes instead of spending hours in the library?). There was a list of music she played while she was writing and the information that Wuthering Heights became suddenly popular again after she recommended it to her fans. There was a good deal of information about the making of the films so far. And fans will be pleased to know that Stephenie Meyer has lots of ideas for more novels.

I actually ended up finishing the biography before I read the novels and quite enjoyed it; it saved me a massive trawl through the Internet. I do wonder where this story can go now. It is already more or less out of date, because the information went right up till the end of 2009, but things had already changed from some of what was said in the book. Perhaps it might have been better to wait a year or two to see how the phenomenon pans out and find out what the author is writing next and how her own life is turning out. A woman in her 30s is really too young to be the subject of a biography. Unlike J.K. Rowling, she hasn’t had a particularly interesting life. She grew up, went to university, got married and had children. Eventually, she had an idea for a novel that did brilliantly. End of story. Apart from discussion of the phenomenon and what happened when the film was being made, there wasn’t much to say.

It reminds me of when Alice Pung was speaking at a Centre for Youth Literature evening in Melbourne. She had written a book, Unpolished Gem, about her upbringing in Melbourne’s west, and it had been doing very well. Someone asked her, “Will the next book be a novel?”

“It will have to be,” she said. “I’m only twenty-five!”

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