This post originated as a comment on Justin Kownacki’s post about Stephenie Meyer, Twilight and the Very Bleak Future of Culture. It got a bit bloated, so I thought I’d drop it here instead, because I feel the points are valid.
I’m frustrated that fame as a writer is so ephemeral. Seeing the “of the decade” lists come down, usually recalling only the last two years and claiming it represents the entire ten, is always a hassle for me – but there’s something to be said about Meyer’s fame.
Yes. Her books are formulaic. But they work; this means she’s either oblivious to her own skills as a businessperson, or is so masterful at marketing she ought to start a firm. Clearly, she has an understanding of the genre and how to communicate it the rest of us simply can’t grok. I don’t think you’re being elitist, I think people just lump “books” together and call it literature.
Is the Twilight series a set of decent fiction novels? Dunno, only watched the movies. As movie-fodder, they survive quite well, even if they do immediately suffer some problems I’ll riff on tomorrow.
Is it literature? Resounding no. Literature usually addresses cultural phenomenon, rather than becoming one. The problem Twilight is having is exactly what the Harry Potter series had; it’s a half-decent fiction series of semi-filling plane-ride worthy books idolized and beatified by its fan base.
That was the original comment I had intended to leave on Justin’s site. Courtesy got the better of me, as did a few ideas.
I watched New Moon last night for the first time, oddly before this riff began, and it made me a bit frustrated in and of itself. I’ve never read the Twilight books – I don’t intend to. Neither have I read Harry Potter, though I may eventually. Part of the reason for this is how I treat movies and books in general, and it’s part of why I was annoyed at New Moon not only as a movie, but as a potential book as well.
When authors publish their first works, a lot of it is tailored around being a possible stand-alone story. Even larger format works like the Wheel of Time, Harry Potter and, yes, Twilight, can and do stand aside as self-contained stories. They have to. What if you don’t earn out your advance? What if it doesn’t sell?
But then it does sell, and authors are left scrambling to make two, three, or ten more books work. What was geared to be a story now becomes a very strong prologue. This is especially annoying in trilogies, because the middle part – as New Moon is, as Matrix Reloaded was, as The Two Towers was – is pretty much guaranteed to be entirely filler. There’s no purpose, aside from levelling the page counts into acceptable levels, for most middle books. I’m aware I’m generalizing, but the looking at New Moon from the perspective of a writer expecting part three, it’s a lack-lustre long form prologue and build up to the final pages or scenes. It doesn’t help that the inevitable cliffhanger ruins any sense that there’s a proper ending.
This gets mitigated sometimes in longer running series. Wheel of Time, for example, famously steam rolls its page count on purpose. Robert Jordan was a hell of a writer, but even I gave up after nine books mostly because every book was just putting off the inevitable. When you can write an entire book explaining why the main character is slightly more or less happy on a day to day basis, you’ve got word-count gold. This is one of the reasons I love Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series so much; every one of the now ten books can be taken as a self-contained story within an overarching myth-arc.
What does any of this have to do with Stephanie Meyer? Simple: whether she knows it or not, she knows her business, which is selling books. The trouble with this is that the series she’s created have so effectively done their job that, in the absence of real commentary and lesson, the subject matter has become the substance, and the subject matter simply does not stand up under scrutiny.
The Cullens and their ilk are not vampires. I’m sorry, vampires do not sparkle. They can’t go out in the sunlight and just get prettier. Meyer’s interpretation of the entire genre worries me in part because I was a White Wolf geek back in the day, I come at gothic horror more from the realm of Poppy Z Brite rather than early Ann Rice like most people did. To say that seeing the vampire genre “warped” bothers me is a horrific understatement, but it’s the most adequate I can afford to make because, clearly, the books sell.
Anyone who wishes to get anywhere with words from their keyboards needs to respect it. Hate it all you want, but respect it.
As for culture? There will always be schism. If the meteoric rise of Stephanie Meyer can tell us anything, it’s how quickly superstar authors are forgotten. After all, the final Harry Potter book came out two years after Twilight was published. It broke swift-seller records. The movie isn’t even out yet. But who got on the list as author of the decade? Stephanie Meyer.
I have a lot of respect for anyone who can turn a dream into a book in three months, then go on to sell millions of copies globally. I can only hope that when my own efforts fruit, they’re so handsome.
But that doesn’t mean I have to force myself to think Fangirls and Fanboys are anything other than sheeple until they demonstrate some understanding of exactly why they like the object of their adoration just so much.