For those who follow the happenings of the literary world, teach junior high or have a “tweener” at home, you can’t help but have heard of our cover girl, Stephenie Meyer. After her new novel, The Host is released, the rest of the world will catch up on the works of this amazing author. Stephenie is the author of the popular Young Adult Twilight series, fantasy novels whose main characters are (mostly) vampires. Her first adult novel, The Host, is a science fiction work that, in my opinion, will appeal to anyone liking science fiction, romance, or adventure. It’s just downright amazing.
We were fortunate enough to sit and chat with Stephenie recently. Following is Part One of our interview (Part Two will be in the June mid-issue update).
Tell the readers a little about your background.
I’ve lived most of my life in Phoenix, Arizona, and I’m addicted to the desert heat. I have two sisters and three brothers; I loved being part of a big family, and we’re all still really close. I live down the street from my mom and dad and I talk to them on the phone probably once a day. I’ve been married for thirteen years to a boy I grew up with, and we now have three boys of our own. My favorite hobbies used to be reading, drawing, and scrapbooking, but now I mostly just write.
I got a degree in English from Brigham Young University, but I didn’t study creative writing—just literature. I was too much a coward to write my own stories and let people see what was going on inside my head. One of the biggest challenges of my writing career has been getting past that shyness.
In what ways did your childhood influence you as a writer? As a person? Most writers are avid readers. What authors do you read as a child? And today? Do you have a favorite author or book growing up?
“Reading was really my only training in fiction writing. I never took a class or read a book on how to write. I just absorbed the basics from reading thousands of other people’s stories.”
I was always a voracious reader. Since I was seven years old and I first discovered the joys of a big, fat book (The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks introduced me to that world), I’ve probably read two or three books every week, sometimes more. I loved adult novels like Gone with the Wind and Pride and Prejudice even though I was really young, because the story didn’t end too quickly.
Reading was really my only training in fiction writing. I never took a class or read a book on how to write. I just absorbed the basics from reading thousands of other people’s stories.
What is the last book you read?
Gods in Alabama by Joshlyn Jackson
What about your children? What do you read to them….and what do they like to read?
I try to read a little bit of everything to them, hoping that they’ll end up being interested in a lot of different genres. I’ve recently read them Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy, Eva Ibbotson’s The Island of the Aunts, Terry Brooks’s The Sword of Shannara (my first favorite), and right now I’m reading them The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stuart. I’ve also read them Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and The Host. They’re all fans.
For their own reading, they all love Dav Pilkey. My seven-year-old likes Goosebumps and The Magic Treehouse books. My ten-year-old’s favorite is Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney.
“It took me three months of super-obsessive behavior to complete. I did no plotting or planning, I just let the story tell itself, and my only challenge was typing fast enough to keep up”
Let’s talk a bit about your Young Adult Novels. Was Twilight something you wrote at a fast pace, or is it something that you worked on for years?
I wrote Twilight at about the pace of a runaway semi on a steep down slope. It took me three months of super-obsessive behavior to complete. I did no plotting or planning, I just let the story tell itself, and my only challenge was typing fast enough to keep up.
When you wrote Twilight, did you already have the others plotted in your head? (and when you pitched Twilight for publication, did you pitch it alone – or the full series?)
When I’d finished the body of the novel, I started writing epilogues…lots of epilogues. This eventually clued me in to the fact that I wasn’t ready to let go of my characters, and I started working on the sequel. I pitched Twilight as a stand alone novel (after all, I’d only written just one book, I couldn’t be sure I’d be able to do it again), but I did tell my agent and publisher that I was working on a sequel.
Did the sequels come easier than the first? Did you feel pressure from your publishing house to move faster – or was so much of it written prior to publication?
The sequels were actually a lot harder than Twilight—not because I was lacking material or motivation, but because knowing people were going to read what I was writing gave me this weird kind of stage fright. It was tough to work through. I’ve gotten used to that now; it doesn’t bother me anymore.
I write pretty fast, so I didn’t feel pressured by my publisher in the beginning. It wasn’t until I was working on book four of the Twilight Saga (Breaking Dawn) that I really had to deal with a deadline. All the publicity and touring cut into my writing time.
Did you expect for the novels to be such a success with adults as they are for kids?
I didn’t expect the novels to be a success with anyone, so no. However, I’m not surprised that there is an adult following. I wrote the first book with no other audience in mind besides my own 29-year-old self. It seems natural to me that Twilight appeals to other women my age.
What is the approach to a “mainstream adult” novel VS the approach you make when writing the Young Adult novels you have become famous for?
“To me a story is a story—I don’t even think about where it might belong until long after it’s written.”
I did not make any changes in my approach to The Host. To me a story is a story—I don’t even think about where it might belong until long after it’s written. The world I’ve written about in The Host is quite different from the Twilight world, but I think people will find my style very consistent. The only reason it’s considered “adult” is the ages of the characters.
Maybe I am more open minded than other parents, but I can see me allowing my 12 year old to read The Host. What, in your mind, defines the difference between YA and Adult?
Actually, I don’t believe in categorizing books into age groups. (Obviously, some books have material that’s inappropriate for younger readers, but shopping in the YA section is no guarantee for finding appropriate books! Maybe a rating system would be better, like movies (or maybe that’s silly)). I think separating sections in the bookstore keeps people from reading books they would love. In my head, there is no YA and Adult. A good book is a good book for any age.
I read a large quantity of novels and The Host is truly fresh and innovative. I truly loved it…. If you had to describe it in a nutshell, what would you say?
I’m horrible at nutshells! I guess I would say it is an invasion of the bodysnatchers that succeeded, and a story of human survival against the odds. At the same time, it’s also the story of discovering what it means to be human from the outside. And it’s the examination of all the kinds of love that make us do the things we do.
How did the idea come to you?
“I have no idea what sparked the strange foundation of a body-snatching alien in love with the host body’s boyfriend over the host-body’s protest. I was halfway into the story before I realized it.”
The kernel of thought that became The Host was inspired by absolute boredom. I was driving from Phoenix to Salt Lake City , through some of the most dreary and repetitive desert in the world. It’s a drive I’ve made many times, and one of the ways I keep from going insane is by telling myself stories. I have no idea what sparked the strange foundation of a body-snatching alien in love with the host body’s boyfriend over the host-body’s protest. I was halfway into the story before I realized it. Once I got started, though, the story immediately demanded my attention. I could tell there was something compelling in the idea of such a complicated triangle. I started writing the outline in a notebook, and then fleshed it out as soon as I got to a computer. The Host was supposed to be no more than a side project—something to keep me busy between editing stints on Eclipse—but it turned into something I couldn’t step away from until it was done.
Tell me about the initial stages of writing about Wanderer and Melanie. The voices of Wanderer and Melanie are both so strong at times……and their emotions are so real and fresh…..
Wanderer and Melanie were fascinating to me from the beginning. Their relationship is so complex, and it evolves so much. That relationship was really the impetus that kept me writing. As individuals, they both have traits I envy, and traits I wish I could say I didn’t have. Melanie is so strong in both body and spirit, but she can be very unkind and inflexible. Wanderer, on the other hand, is adaptable and almost perfectly compassionate, but she can be weak—if someone was coming at you in a dark alley, you’d prefer Melanie at your side. They are flip sides to a coin in a lot of ways, and watching them react and grow in response to each other was endlessly interesting.
Contrast for me the differences between the Wander’s species (the souls) and Humans.
I don’t think I need to explain the human side of the equation; we all know the highs and lows human beings are capable of. The souls are all about the highs. After a world is theirs, there is no more hunger, no more war, no more crime. All souls are inherently kind, responsible, trustworthy creatures. There is no need for a police force, because no soul would ever harm another. There is no need for money, because no soul would shirk his job or take more than his share. In many ways, a planet occupied by souls is a utopia. It’s a great place to live—but we humans aren’t invited.
The worlds that the Wanderer comes from are so richly developed. Tell us about each of those worlds that the Wanderer has lived at……
I really don’t want to spoil too much of the fun of reading the novel. None of Wanderer’s previous worlds are studied in too much depth, and I like that the reader will be able to imagine some of it for himself or herself. These aren’t TV sci-fi worlds, though. We aren’t talking about human bodies with blue skin or ridged foreheads. The creatures Wanderer has been are not like anything that lives on this planet.
It was a love story, which wasn’t quite what I expected. However, I see more than one love story here: the love triangle of Wanda, Melanie and Jared – but also the love affair (or is it only respect?) between Wanda and Melanie, Wanda and Jamie, Melanie’s little brother, the love between Wanda and Melanie’s uncle……I could go on….
This book was my way of exploring every kind of love. In my other novels, I’ve really focused on romantic love. That’s still an element of this story, but only as important as the other bonds, the bonds between species, communities, friends, families… This was my first chance to write about the mother-child bond (though in a surrogate form), and that was a very emotional thing for me.
The ending was a true shock and not at all expected. Did you have alternate endings in mind or did you write the first chapters knowing how it was going to end……
The ending of this novel changed quite a bit from what I intended. I outlined a different ending, but that path became obsolete as some of the characters evolved in ways I wasn’t expecting—in particular, one character who was supposed to be no more than a minor bad guy but who somehow managed to become the lynch pin character in the dénouement.
The business side of writing is interesting…and you mention this on your website: tell us about the “bidding war” for The Host….and how that was handled……
There were several publishers interested in The Host. I spoke to editors with every house to get a sense of how they would handle the property. Aspects of several houses tempted me, but in the end, I went with Little, Brown for a variety of reasons. Some of that was from loyalty, because they had given me my first chance. Also, I knew from experience that their marketing and publicity couldn’t be beat. But most of all, I liked the direction they wanted to go with The Host. Instead of putting out with their science fiction imprint, Orbit, they wanted to publish it as mainstream fiction. I don’t think The Host really fits with genre sci-fi, so I liked that. Also, they offered me the fantastic Asya Muchnick as my editor. I couldn’t pass that up.
(Also see Part 2 of our interview with Stephenie)