Friday, August 01, 2008

Teenage readers eagerly await latest from vampire saga

Twilight fans celebrate release with their own Halloween
By EDWARD NAWOTKA Special To The Houston Chronicle
July 31, 2008, 6:33PM

If, driving in the wee hours this weekend, you spy in your headlights a vampire in a tuxedo accompanied by a teen in a prom dress, fear not. You're not hallucinating nor have you slipped into a time warp and landed on Halloween.

You're merely encountering one of the legions of teenage book lovers who will be lurking late into the night, marking the publication of Breaking Dawn, the fourth and presumably final installment in Stephenie Meyer's runaway best-selling Twilight Saga, which goes on sale at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

Not familiar with Meyer? You're probably not a teenage girl or parent of one. Meyer's young-adult romances have become the most popular literary sensation since J.K. Rowling sent Harry Potter into his final battle with Voldemort last year.

The first three books in Meyer's quartet — Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse — tell the tale of two star-crossed lovers: high-school student Bella Swan and her boyfriend, Edward Cullen, a vampire. Jacob Black, Bella's closest friend, emerges as a rival for her affections. He happens to be a werewolf.

The first three books have sold 5.5 million copies across 28 countries. Earlier this year Time magazine picked the 35-year-old Meyer as one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2008. In May she published her first novel for adults, The Host, now in its 11th week on the New York Times best-seller list. The movie adaptation of Twilight arrives in theaters in December.

Breaking Dawn (Little, Brown, $22.99) promises to reveal which of her suitors, Edward or Jacob, Bella will choose. With a 2.5 million first printing, it's expected to be the best-selling book of the year.

In a pattern established by the Harry Potter phenomenon, many Houston booksellers are throwing special parties tonight leading up to the 12:01 a.m. on-sale time. Starting at 10 p.m. the Bookstop/Alabama Theater is taking prom-style photographs for those who show up dressed as one of the characters, while at 9:30 p.m. the Borders on Kirby will host a debate about whether Bella should choose Edward or Jacob.

Barnes & Noble in The Woodlands is hosting a Vampire Masquerade Ball, while at the Barnes & Noble at Town & Country Village the party includes a trivia and costume contest. Both start at 10 p.m.

"We're expecting hundreds of people," said Katrya Pekarsky, community relations manager at the latter store.

Blue Willow Bookshop on Memorial in west Houston will treat fans to red velvet cupcakes and commemorative T-shirts, starting at 11:17 p.m. Valerie Kohler, Blue Willow's owner, said while teenage girls "overwhelmingly" make up the book's audience, many adult women "are dying to find out what happens next."

Julie Landreth, a 37-year-old mother living in the Heights, is one such adult reader. She was introduced to the books in June by the 18-year-old baby sitter who cares for her son. Soon she was hooked.

"I like them because I can remember how it was in high school when I had my crushes, the dilemmas of dating," she said.

Meyer's ascendancy as a literary superstar happened fast. She has said the story for Twilight came to her in a dream in 2003. Her sister encouraged her to write the dream. Nine literary agents rejected her manuscript before it was pulled from the slush pile at Writers House, the company that represents top-selling romance novelist Nora Roberts. Not long after, Meyer had a three-book deal worth $750,000.

As a Mormon and mother of three, Meyer has been vocal about her desire to keep the books wholesome. They're virtually devoid of sex, drugs, drinking and foul language. Even the monsters struggle to be good, with the vampires choosing to feast on bears and other woodland creatures instead of humans.

Carlee Eberly, 18, a baker at Crave Cupcakes in Uptown Park, appreciates that the books don't deliver typical horror-novel fare. "They're not what you expect. There's no blood dripping from their teeth, for example." She pre-ordered the book from Blue Willow two months ago and plans to go to the launch party with her older sister, 20, and two of her friends.

As to the question of Edward or Jacob, Eberly opts for Edward. "He was Bella's first love," she says. "Jacob is more of a friend."

Iris Cronin, 11, a sixth-grader at Memorial Middle School, prefers Jacob.

"The whole thing about Edward hounding Bella for her mortal soul bothers me," she said. "Human experiences are interesting because they have an end. If you're a vampire, you'd have to witness all the rise and fall of mankind."

Plus, she added, Jacob "has a really cool motorcycle."

That Cronin would have such a sophisticated opinion of the books comes as no surprise: Her father is Rice University professor Justin Cronin, an acclaimed novelist who is himself writing a much-anticipated trilogy of vampire-themed novels. The first in his series, The Passage, is due in stores next summer.

In May, Meyer read from The Host at Klein Forest High School, sponsored by the Barnes & Noble at Champions Village, and drew more than 1,000 fans.

Among those in attendance was Hannah Nerdin, 14, a ninth-grader at Morton Ranch High School in Katy. She said meeting Meyer in person left her "speechless." As a member of the Mormon church, she had to get her mother Stacy's approval first.

The elder Nerdin, 34, called the books so entertaining they are like "crack for the suburban housewife" but conceded she had "mixed feelings" about her daughter reading them.

"It's troubling to me how obsessive Bella gets about Edward," Nerdin said. "I wanted to make sure Hannah knew there was life beyond boys."

Nevertheless, Nerdin was happy to pre-order Breaking Dawn and expects to have it delivered from sometime on Saturday.

For her part, Hannah just hopes her mother lets her read it first: "It is," she said, her voice breathless with anticipation, "the one thing I've been looking forward to the most all summer long."

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