Backstage, a high school tech crew lounges on a ratty sofa eating pizza while Meyer, her thick, russet Anne of Green Gables hair pulled back in a barrette, sits with her publicist and vets a basket of audience questions. (Out is the most popular question she gets asked: If vampires go nuts for the smell of blood, what does Bella do when she has her period? ''Gross,'' says Meyer.) A techie in a black T-shirt rolls her eyes over the geyser of energy bursting forth in the crowd. ''They're really great books, but I think some people out there need to get a life,'' she smugly tells the room. ''It's the 50-year-old women who are screaming the loudest!'' ''Oh, they're a little excitable is all,'' Meyer says warmly. Meyer's publicist then recounts the time some fans started calling themselves Twihards instead of the long-accepted moniker Twilighters and the blogosphere erupted. When a marketing executive at Little, Brown announced plans for a Twihard button, the publicist begged him to abort, insisting he'd be fanning the flames of war.
When Meyer eventually takes the podium, her pale face and neck flushed from stage fright, she talks about her new novel and gives reach-for-the-stars counsel to all the aspiring writers in the crowd. When she mentions Breaking Dawn, the screeching starts up again. The grand finale that will answer once and for all the future of Bella's humanity has been the No. 1 best-seller on Amazon.com for well over a month. ''I kept saying that there will never be another book in my career like Harry Potter 7,'' says Borders' director of children's merchandising, Diane Mangan. ''Who would have thought a year later we'd be talking like this again?'' With anticipation online hitting DEFCON 2 should Bella end up with the sexy Edward or the faithful Jacob? Meyer is feeling the pressure. She went so far as to write her publicist a parody entitled ''Breaking Down,'' in which she cataloged all the various ways she could enrage fans. ''You have to understand,'' Meyer says wearily, as if speaking to her younger, innocent self, ''that no matter what you do, people are going to be mad at you.''
A few weeks later, Meyer opens the door to her friendly five-bedroom house in Cave Creek, Ariz. Her husband, Pancho, whom she married when she was 21 years old, and who recently quit his job as an auditor at an accounting firm to be a stay-at-home dad, is with the boys at a water park. When the tour for The Host wrapped, Meyer came home exhausted to confront the biggest deadline of her short career. She had just three days, working out of her home office from 6 a.m. until midnight, to make the final tweaks to Breaking Dawn. Releasing two books in one summer was madness, and she says she'll never make that mistake again. And yet, says Meyer, there was great satisfaction in proving to both her publisher and herself that she wasn't ''just a vampire girl.'' In Salt Lake City her dear friend Shannon Hale, the Newbery-award-winning young-adult author of Princess Academy, congratulated Meyer on The Host. ''I'm so proud of you! Because we're not sure if J.K. Rowling is a one-hit wonder,'' Hale gushed teasingly before the signing began. ''But you're not!''
NEXT PAGE: '' I read these other authors and I think, 'Now, that's a good writer. I'm never going to reach that level.' But I'm going to be a good storyteller,'' she says, sitting up a little straighter in her seat. ''And what a thing to be!''