A new Twilight book launches today. Its author told Catherine Woulfe about gender politics, anxiety, and the challenges of writing the Twilight story from Edward Cullen’s perspective.
Midnight Sun is the original Twilight story, except instead of Bella Swan narrating it’s her vampire love, Edward Cullen.
It’s a book that I and the rest of the OG Twihards have been waiting for forever. The first chapter was published in 2008, as a teaser at the end of the original Twilight book. But Meyer stopped writing when further draft chapters were leaked online, and only finished the project late last year. She told the New York Times it “was just a huge, pain-in-the-butt book to write … every single word was a struggle”.
It was hard to write questions for Meyer, too. Partly because I have so many questions about Twilight, in particular about how it has infiltrated our culture and all the ways in which that worries me. Top of the pile, and impossible for her to answer, is why do I still fucking love it so much.
My questions were long and complex; apparently they were edited by Meyer’s team before they got to her. These are the edited versions.
The Spinoff: You get asked this all the time, or you used to be, and I wonder whether your answer has changed over the years: why has the story resonated so strongly and for so long?
Stephenie Meyer: I wish I had a good answer for this question. I’ve never stopped being surprised that so many people respond to something I wrote for just myself. I was shocked that people were so excited for Midnight Sun. I was sure most of them would have given up by now.
You said to Variety in 2013: “I get further away [from Twilight] every day. For me, it’s not a happy place to be.” Can you elaborate on that, and whether it feels like a risk to you to re-enter that place now? What made it feel like a risk worth taking?
I am an introvert. I think that’s pretty common for writers; most of us prefer spending time with imaginary characters to facing the real world. At that point in time, it had been several years of intense engagement with the Twilight world, with a lot of required public interaction. It was all pretty far outside my comfort zone. I’m the kind of introvert who can do the occasional large group or public speaking, but then I need a long quiet time to recharge. I hadn’t been getting my necessary recharging, and it made me a little dramatic, ha ha. Since then, I’ve spent a few years hiding out in the quiet, and it’s helped me to feel a lot healthier. I needed the space and the isolation to keep going with Midnight Sun.
You said after writing Life and Death that you were surprised how therapeutic the process was. Was writing Midnight Sun the same – and in what way?
Those were very different processes. Life and Death was therapeutic because it stripped all the outside input away from the story and especially from the characters. None of them could look or sound like the movie actors, they were no longer captured by the graphic novels or fan art. They were pared back to the core of who they were. On top of that, I didn’t feel tied into the dialogue and actions so tightly. The structure was loose enough for me to make changes. It was like getting another editing pass 10 years later, and I really enjoyed that.
Midnight Sun was very rigid. I didn’t have the leeway I had with Life and Death. But I did have my characters back. Life and Death had cleaned them off for me, removed expectations outside of my own. It made it possible for me to finally finish.
Obviously you have changed a lot in the last 15 years, and so has the culture you’re releasing this book into. Have you changed your thinking about the story at all – how different is it from the one you’d write if you had that dream tonight?
I don’t know. It’s impossible to say. Twilight was a product of who I was in 2003, what I needed from fiction right then. It was a very personal escape. I don’t need the same things now, I’m such a different person. If I had the dream tonight, would I even write it down? I really have no idea.
Tell us how much of a play you’ve had with Midnight Sun: are you revising the original Twilight story at all, or have you treated that story as static, and revisited it from another angle?
I had to keep the story static. It wouldn’t have been a true companion to Twilight if I’d played fast and loose with the story the way I did with Life and Death. This is one of the reasons the book took so long; getting to create, to imagine – that’s what fuels me when I’m writing. Working around an old creation was often extremely frustrating. All of my favorite parts of Midnight Sun are the places where I could be freer in my creation – the places where Bella was “off stage”, the places where Edward retreats into his memories. Those are the moments when the writing flowed.
Are there any scenes that you particularly enjoyed writing from Edward’s POV? (I’m thinking about the strut through the school car park – just like an ordinary guy with his girl – as a high point, maybe.)
As I said above, the parts I enjoyed most were the parts that were brand new. The fastest chapter I wrote was, appropriately, the chapter where Edward races along the Phoenix highway, causing major mayhem, to rescue Bella at the dance studio. I also enjoyed seeing Bella through Edward’s eyes in the places where she edited herself. Bella was always more interested with everything Edward said and did; she was analysing, marvelling, working to put together the clues he was dropping. When it came to things about herself, she skipped over the inessentials; she just wasn’t interested. Edward is obsessed with Bella’s every word, and so we get the fuller conversation here. And then the flashbacks were always fun.
When did you finish writing?
I finished the rough draft in November of 2019. It was a comparatively short editing cycle. Both myself and my publisher were aware of the long time the readers had been waiting; we wanted it on the shelves as soon as possible.
What was Edward like to write? Do you think Edward’s perspective – the fact that he can read the minds of other characters, in particular – holds any surprises or upsets for fans?
Writing from Edward’s perspective was a darker experience. Bella is an incredibly well-adjusted, happy person in comparison. Edward is riddled with anxiety, constantly over thinking, and 100% convinced that there can be no happy ending for him with Bella. Though he has a few chapters where optimism forces its way into his life, that feeling is fleeting. Writing as Edward stressed me out.
I think readers are in for some mindreading surprises. Some characters will be even more likeable, some much less. Though I wonder if anything new at this point in time will be able to shake opinions held for 15 years.
Do you think the switch to a male narrator is likely to attract more boys and young men to the Twilight story?
Ha ha, I doubt it. Twilight is too well known as a story about a girl. And there’s a very obviously female author’s name right there on the cover! One of the biggest disservices we do to our male children is teaching them that only male stories apply to them. Girls grow up reading books written by men in school – those are the classics. They have to search out the classics written by women. So girls grow up reading both sides of the story. Boys never have to, and are often taught that they shouldn’t. When my son was 10, he loved the Anne of Green Gables books (which of course I had put into his hands), but he gave up on the series because he was teased at school for reading a book with a girl on the cover. It broke my heart. Girls are never shamed for reading books written by men, but even they are shamed for reading books by authors of their own gender. Why are we teaching kids that female stories are less than and optional? It’s a tragedy.
Do you think those writing for adolescents and young adults have a certain duty of care?
I do, and yet, I certainly never considered that when I was writing Twilight. I didn’t know I was writing a YA book when I started. I was writing for one 29-year-old mother of three. When I was told it was a YA book, I was surprised. I don’t know how much would change if I went back in time and wrote with a YA audience in mind. Actually, I do know. If I’d had any idea of any audience outside myself, I never would have finished.
Does “cancel culture” worry you? You’ve already had so much flak for Twilight, and it seems you’re opening yourself up to it again, and perhaps even more intensely so, with Midnight Sun – partly because of the rise of social media but also because you’re writing from the POV of a male character who is controversial for his protective “pushiness” and knife-edge dangerous nature, and his inclination to stalking (which I have tried to overlook and explain away, because despite it all I am extremely besotted with Edward). There have also been criticisms over cultural appropriation (re the Quileute) and that’s very much in the spotlight right now … I just wonder whether you’re braced for the fallout. It must feel very different to when you were writing the original story, before all this massive slavering interest.
Meyer did not answer this question. Perhaps it never made it to her.
Are you done with Twilight now? Is this, finally, where the story heads blissfully off into its forever?
I really don’t know. I know that I’m going to spend some time in my quiet place now, but I don’t know how long. I have other stories I want to write, and I do long for the chance to create something brand new – a new world, new rules, new characters. So that will certainly take me a while. But the Twilight world is always out there, and there are stories left in it. We’ll see if they tempt me back.
Midnight Sun, by Stephenie Meyer (Hachette, $37.99) is available from Unity Books Wellington and Auckland.
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