During one mad summer, while her husband and three young boys slept, Stephenie Meyer wrote a mountain of pages about a heady romance between a smart 17-year-old girl and a handsome god of a vampire. Mystified as to how a nice housewife living in Phoenix goes about cracking the New York publishing world, she joined a small writers' group of cozy, supportive women who were working on trivia books, Hallmark cards, and song lyrics. On a lark, she'd gotten up the nerve to contact a handful of literary agents whose names she'd found online, sending them each a tease about Twilight. The right one bit, and landed her new client a three-book deal for $750,000. (''I'd been hoping for $10,000 to pay off my minivan,'' says Meyer.) Unsure what to expect from their new Mormon author, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers later dispatched a publicist to Arizona to make sure, as Meyer says with a laugh, ''I wasn't wearing a skirt over my jeans or something.''
The birth of Twilight was both five years and a lifetime ago. Now the 34-year-old is a New York Times best-seller, a published author in 37 countries, a millionaire many times over, and, according to fans and booksellers alike, the second coming of J.K. Rowling. When Eclipse, the third installment in the Twilight saga, came out last summer, it shook hands with Harry Potter before sweetly knocking him from his perch at No. 1. This Aug. 2, at 12:01 a.m., cash registers everywhere will start ringing with sales of Breaking Dawn (read the opening pages), Meyer's feverishly anticipated fourth and final volume. The fervor won't die down then, either, as fans can direct their passionate gaze toward the December release of the Twilight movie.
One day late in May, Meyer is in Salt Lake City promoting her first adult novel, The Host, a vigorous blend of romance and science fiction that sold at auction for $600,000 and debuted at No. 1. In the audience, a thousand restless fans scream for the author at a decibel level normally reserved for boy bands. There are young girls and grown women alike wearing homemade T-shirts with slogans like ''I Love Hot Guys With Superpowers (and Fangs)'' and ''I Love Vegan Vampires.'' There are gleeful members from the online community Twilight Moms, who Meyer had breakfast with that morning despite being at a signing until 1 a.m. the previous night, and grandmothers who say if they knew how to use a computer they'd start their own fansite too. There are women who've quit their day jobs and now make a living online selling Twilight-inspired T-shirts and jewelry, and a teenage girl clutching a letter for Meyer that says the books persuaded her not to take her own life.
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