12:00 AM CDT on Wednesday, July 29, 2009
If you encounter a group of dramatically dressed women walking the streets of downtown Saturday night sporting Goth garb, Venetian masks and fangs, cover your necks: You've just encountered some of the 3,000 Twilight devotees in town for TwiCon 2009, four days of Stephenie Meyer-inspired mania.
Expect lots of screaming – of a good kind.
The Twilight books, featuring the star-crossed lovers Edward, a vampire, and Bella, a human, have sold 53 million copies worldwide. The first movie in the series grossed more than $380 million, and the sequel New Moon is due in November. So if the phenomenon is not quite at Harry Potter levels, it does seem here to stay.
TwiCon 2009 has sold out, even at $255 a ticket. That buys attendees four days of access to serious-minded academic panel discussions (one is called "Your mood swings are kinda giving me whiplash: Twilight Fans and the Negotiation of Gender and Feminism"), Bella-themed self-defense classes, a TwilightMOMs meeting room, a fan fiction contest and (natch) a Red Cross blood drive.
The highlight for many will be the opportunity to mingle with cast members from the movies. None of the leads will be there, but the schedule includes a half-dozen others, such as Alex Meraz, who plays a werewolf in New Moon, and one-time Midland resident Jackson Rathbone, who played Jasper Hale in Twilight. (Autograph and photography sessions with the stars cost extra.)
There are sessions on running Twilight fan sites, writing seminars, talks about vampire genetics and an end-of-conference "Volturi Masque Ball" – a Venetian-style ball modeled on one from the books and hosted by the Volturi, the de facto royal family of vampires, who live in Italy. TwiCon's version will feature music by Twilight tribute bands, and the Volturi will be played by the conference organizers.
TwiCon is the brainchild of 19-year-old Becka Grapsy, a student at Penn State University, and Bailey Gauthier, a 20-something Canadian (a.k.a., vlogger "NoMoreMarbles"), who together last year circulated an online petition among Twilight fans asking about interest in a convention and gathered some 10,000 names.
The result caught the interest of North Carolina-based freelance book publicist Becky Scoggins. "I contacted Becka and Bailey last August, and we decided to form a company to stage it," Scoggins said. She emphasizes that the event is unofficial and not endorsed by Meyer or her publisher Little, Brown.
Dallasites may be disappointed to learn that their city was chosen as the site for TwiCon not because Twilight fans have any particular affinity for the place, but because it is convenient to get to and relatively affordable.
Contrary to the general perception that Twilight fans are primarily tween girls, "Eighty percent of those registered fall in the 25- to 40-year-old age range," said Scoggins. "The rest are 13-25, and nearly all are girls and women. There are some men, but those are almost all dads."
One young male fan who will be there is 20-year-old Richardson-native Kaleb Nation, who runs the popular Web site TwilightGuy.com and whose debut novel, Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse, is being published on Sept. 1. He's one of the featured guests.
Scoggins says interest in the convention has been strong enough that she and her partners have planned two more for next year: one in Las Vegas and one in Toronto.
And if all goes well, Scoggins says that she might approach Meyer, her publisher and Summit Entertainment, who is producing the films, to officially participate.
"Our biggest goal for this year is to make sure that Stephenie knows we appreciate her," said Scoggins. "We're not trying to make money off of her, we just want her to know that 3,000 fans got together to talk about her books. To even think that people are getting together to talk about books feels really good."
Ed Nawotka lives in Houston. He is editor-in-chief of PublishingPerspectives.com and covers the South for Publishers Weekly.