Stephenie Meyer and the dark-blood prints

This is all sounding a little too familiar. Here's how the story goes:

A mother with no writing experience is struck by inspiration. She sits down one morning and starts to jot down a story. She creates characters and sketches out a whole world for them, full of magic and danger and dramatic rescues. Her characters are almost ordinary, which is their charm, except for the fact that they are (fill in the blank: wizards or vampires).

She sends the story to a publisher, not expecting much in the way of a reply, but soon finds herself writing a successful multi-book series and earning millions of dollars.

Yes, the creation of Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight Saga" series, and its subsequent arc toward fame, recall J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" success story to no small extent. (Take a look over there at the best-sellers list.)

If you haven't heard yet, "Twilight" and its sequels are vampire romance novels for teen-agers. But the series is only nominally about suave, bloodsucking representatives of the undead. After all, Meyer is a devout Mormon from Phoenix, and her books are squeaky clean.

Meyer's vampires don't hail from Anne Rice's world of darkness; the Cullen family of the "Twilight" series comprises seven vampires who exercise great self-control by not drinking human blood, because it's immoral. They rely on the less nutritious, less delicious blood of animals; Edward has a predilection for mountain lions, while his brother Emmett prefers grizzly bears.

So in Meyer's books, nobody sucks anybody's neck, let alone gets stabbed through the heart with a wooden stake. And while they're first and foremost romance novels, nobody has premarital sex.

Instead, in a departure from the more action-packed halls of Hogwarts, discussions of feelings and emotions and such fill Meyer's tomes. "Twilight" is written from the perspective of Bella Swan, a high-schooler who is in love with classmate Edward Cullen, a 107-year-old vampire; Meyer lingers for pages at a time on their exchanged looks, passionate declarations and innocent touches. They can't be together that way because he might kill her by accident, but she loves him unequivocally, even though he's a monster, and he loves her back, even though she's klutzy. The adolescent yearning is palpable.

Amy Clarke, who teaches an undergraduate Harry Potter course at the University of California at Davis, says her two teenage sons, both of whom read the Harry Potter series several times, refuse to read the "Twilight" books. "They gag when we go by the movie poster," she says.

Megan Tingley, Meyer's publisher and the senior vice president of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, says she's noticed more boys reading the books and showing up at Meyer's events.

"Girls are making their boyfriends read it," she explains.

Fans insist that "Twilight" defies classification, that it's not a girl book or a boy book, not a vampire thriller or a romance story.

Tingley says she wouldn't have published the book had it really been a vampire romance. "I don't publish genre fiction," she says. But when she read the manuscript in 2003, "I had such a strong response to it that I knew other people who wouldn't identify themselves as vampire or romance fans would feel the same way I did."

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