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Queen of Twilight: The Biography
By Chas Newkey-Burden
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2010 Chas Newkey-Burden
All rights reserved.
a mormon childhood
Twilight is obviously not an autobiographical novel. The author did not spend her teenage years surrounded by vampires and werewolves, as Bella Swan did, though she is amused when fans ask her – with a straight face – whether she did. Nor was Stephenie invaded by an alien 'soul', as in her novel The Host. However, the clues to the plots, themes and characters of her work are written across the childhood of this literary giant. She was born Stephenie Morgan in Hartford, Connecticut, on Christmas Eve, 1973. Some would say it is unfortunate to have a birthday so close to Christmas – and Stephenie would very much agree with them. She groans that her festive-season-timed date of birth 'has always given me a bad attitude to birthdays in general', an attitude that no doubt helped influence the disdain that the Twilight heroine Bella Swan feels towards her own birthday, which she expresses in the opening passages of New Moon. (Though, as a Virgo, Bella at least avoided having a birthday near Christmas and instead had one in late autumn.)
Stephenie's December date of birth makes her a Capricorn. For those who believe in astrology, Capricorns are said to be creative, sensitive, ambitious and hard-working. These are all qualities that she has shown plenty of in her adult life. She is by no means the only famous scribe born under this sign. Other famous literary Capricorns include fantasy novelist JRR Tolkien, who wrote The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and famous authors of other genres including Catcher in the Rye writer JD Salinger and Rudyard Kipling, of Jungle Book fame. Each of these literary talents tallied with the purported drive for success of the birth sign and achieved enormous appeal, recognition and wealth as their reward. Stephenie would follow gracefully in their footsteps, receiving plenty of those gifts as she did so.
Putting astrology to one side, a perhaps more pertinent – and almost certainly more tangible – effect her date of birth had on Stephenie was that it gave her a place in what has become known as 'Generation Me', or 'the entitlement generation'. A host of respected thinkers in the fields of psychology, sociology and philosophy have written about this trend. They have formed a broad consensus that people born in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s often exhibit a sharply increased element of narcissism in their personalities. The author Jen M Twenge even published a book called Generation Me, which drew on an enormous, authoritative study of more than a million respondents spanning six decades. This trend has been abbreviated as 'GenMe', and those who display its traits have been shown to sink into depression in their late teens and twenties as they accept that their own inflated sense of self-importance is not matched by the adult world at large. However, the impact that her place in 'GenMe' has had most noticeably on Stephenie is seen not through her so much as through her literary characters – particularly Bella Swan. In many ways – not least in her level of loyalty and in the way she marries hard work to her undoubted ambition – Stephenie bucks the 'GenMe' trend, but its characteristics are seen writ large in some of the fictional characters she created, as we shall see.
The first years of her own life were spent in Connecticut, one of America's first states, which was founded in the early 1600s by intrepid Dutch fur traders. It lies in the northeast of the United States, bordered by the states of New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It is the fourth most populated state in America and many of its residents enjoy a high level of prosperity, though it tends towards the Democratic side of the political spectrum. Among other famous Americans to have lived there are the author Mark Twain, former President George W Bush and film star Meg Ryan.
Connecticut is a rather cold area in winter, but Stephenie would not have to worry about that for long, as the family were to move just a few years into her life. As soon as Stephenie was born that Christmas Eve, her father Stephen and her mother Candy were so proud of her. They decided to name her after her proud father, simply adding two letters to the end of his name to make their newborn daughter's name Stephenie. This slightly unconventional spelling of the name led to a lifetime of frustration for her.
'It drives me mad because it's been spelled wrong all my life,' she has said. Indeed, she nods to this name tweaking in her novel Breaking Dawn in the form of a character whose middle name is Carlie. 'Carlie. With a C. Like Carlisle and Charlie put together,' she has said, referring to the first names of two characters from her books.
Stephenie was the second of six children, coming after Emily and before four other Morgan children who followed as the family swelled. She would later describe her family back then as being akin to the famous television clan the Brady Bunch, stars of the sitcom of the same name, which was hugely popular in the 1960s and 1970s. 'I filled the Jan Brady spot in my family,' she has said.
Played by Eve Plumb, Jan was plagued by 'middle child' insecurities. However, the character was more of a painter than a writer and eventually went on to become an architect. Stephenie stops short, though, of comparing her mother to Carol Brady, the mother of the television clan played by Florence Henderson. 'We never had a maid, so my mom is clearly superior to Florence Henderson's character,' she says, 'and also has a better singing voice.'
The family were growing, and so a move was on the cards for the Morgan clan. There was a big change on the horizon for young Stephenie when her father got a new job in his chosen profession of finance. When Stephenie was three years of age, Stephen and Candy decided to move the family to Arizona so he could take up the new post, which was as the chief financial officer, or CFO, with a contracting firm.
Arizona is a far warmer part of America than her birthplace, and Meyer remembers with approval how the move from Connecticut to Arizona meant she was 'transplanted to a more reasonable climate ... [where they] consider temperatures under seventy-five degrees frigid'.
It was now, once they'd moved to Phoenix, that the two sisters were joined by Heidi, Jacob, Paul and Seth. Stephenie was a caring elder sister, helping out her parents by mucking in with babysitting and nappy-changing duties for her younger siblings.
It is beyond sensible dispute that the large, close family she grew up in had an effect on her fiction. There are few lonesome characters in her work, for instance. Far more common are characters surrounded by other people, as she always was in her childhood. 'When you grow up in a big family, there's always someone to hang out with,' she says – and always someone to give you ideas for future characters, one could almost add on her behalf. The Morgans also had a dog to complete the wholesome, American family picture. It was called Eagle.
So there was rarely a lonely moment for Stephenie as she grew up, but with such company came a certain neurosis for her. She worried about her brothers frequently, she says. Indeed, when she speaks of them, it is almost as if she were speaking about her own children, not her siblings: 'I used to have mom nightmares about my brothers. When you're a mom you have nightmares about terrible things happening to your kids and you can't stop them. I had those about my brothers.'
Some might say that part of this precocious neurosis was due to her being a Capricorn, who are believed to be people with old heads on young shoulders. (This is a Stephenie preoccupation: in one of her novels, Breaking Dawn, her heroine is told by her mother that she was never a teenager and was always older than that in her head.) Later, as she built her own family, she could have drawn on plenty of practice for the worries that plague any mother in the form of those childhood nightmares she had about her brothers and sisters. Stephenie has always had an overactive imagination in her sleep, not just in a bad way. Later in life a dream would change her life and the face of publishing, when she awoke one summer morning and her life changed for ever.
The Morgans' new family home was on the outskirts of Phoenix in a decidedly suburban area, which Stephenie remembers as being 'free-for-all land'. Accurate words, for, while her neighbours owned horses, the Morgan family built huts and constructed bike paths and a paintball range. Her brothers loved playing war games: '... they made [the area] weaponised', she remembered.
Meanwhile, as her brothers' cries of war filled the air outside, Stephenie would be pursuing a far more gentle hobby. She could be found curled up inside the house with her head buried in a book. She describes her teenage self as 'geeky, quiet and book-obsessed'. As such, she found that her place in the family was always clearly set out. 'I was the bookworm,' she says. It was in the blood: both her parents were readers to an extent as well, but it was Stephenie who was the most bookish member of the clan by some distance. She lived for books, particularly novels, and was often to be seen with her head buried in one; and at other times she was read to.
'She was kind of in her own little world,' said her father. 'She would always be making up stories. If she was in a good book, she was perfectly happy off by herself, enmeshing herself in that world.' Despite this interest in books, her parents never predicted that she would become an author. 'We always thought she was going to be a painter,' said her father.
Stephen would often sit in the hallway at night, reading aloud to the children, who lay in their respective bedrooms. A book Stephenie particularly remembers him reading is The Sword of Shannara. It was published in 1977, so it would still have been a new affair at the time Stephen read it to the children in the evenings. The Sword of Shannara was a big deal as a book at the time, becoming the first fantasy paperback to appear on the New York Times bestseller list. It was written by Terry Brooks, who had been influenced by reading JRR Tolkien's classic trilogy The Lord of the Rings, which has become an international sensation and a hugely grossing movie series, too. Brooks spent over seven years writing The Sword of Shannara, as he was busy studying law at the time. Stephenie would write at a much speedier pace later in life, but the combination of legal studies and fictional writing would echo later in her own life. For now, though, she lay there at night, hearing her father's voice reading from the pages of this fantasy novel, and she felt gripped by the plot and characters. It was always, she emphasises, Stephen's choice as to which books he read to them. The book had to interest him, but fortunately she shared his interest in this particular tome. The Sword of Shannara is a long book, which interweaves two separate narratives in a fictional world called the Four Lands. It is set 2,000 years after a nuclear holocaust – the 'wars of Ancient Evil' – has taken place and destroyed much of the planet. However, a young boy, half-Elfin and half-human, survives and lives in peace, until a Warlock Lord returns to threaten everything. The only weapon able to keep the evil at bay is a special sword, which must be found for redemption to occur.
It was not exactly comforting bedtime reading, but it was a book that interested Stephen, so that was what the children would listen to at night. And Stephenie wasn't complaining. Eventually, each evening, like all parents, Stephen would decide that was enough reading for the night and would close the book. After wishing them a good night's sleep, he would return to his own business. The children would roll over to sleep, but one of them was rarely satisfied with the amount of the story her father had read them. Stephenie routinely wanted more.
'He always stopped reading when suspense was at its high,' she remembered. The next day, she would rustle through his cupboard and find the book. She would then hide in the cupboard, secretly and silently reading further into the story. She always wanted to know what happened next and wasn't prepared to wait until the next sanctioned evening reading from Stephen. This was not terribly rebellious behaviour from a child, but she could not help but feel she was being naughty during her furtive reading sessions. She remembers 'feeling like I was doing something wrong, like I wasn't supposed to sneak ahead'.
She was hooked, though, by this fantasy story and always needed to know what happened next. But how could she have known, back then, that she would one day write her own novels, which would keep readers – predominantly girls – utterly hooked, too? Millions of girls across the globe have become engrossed in her stories, and snatched every chance they can find to read them.
Her mother, too, had her own literary preferences back in the day. Candy preferred more prim reads, though. These included 19th-century British classics such as those of Jane Austen, whom Meyer loves, too, and has since described as her own 'favourite, favourite' author. She would borrow her mother's books and quickly came to love Pride And Prejudice, with its tale of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. One can almost see the style and form of Stephenie's own novels being shaped right there. Take the fantasy of The Sword of Shannara, and add in the romance and troubled relationships of Austen, and you have much of the basis of the Twilight series.
'The reason I'm obsessed with the love side of any story is my mom,' she says of her mother's Austen novels. 'I always evaluate a story on relationships and the characters.'
Her parents had formed her interest in stories back then, and were unintentionally forming the perfect balance for her imagination: the fantasy and romance combination that would underpin the novels she would later write, which would be read by many millions of avid fans.
Among the other books she read and loved were Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. 'I read it when I was nine,' says Stephenie of the Brontë classic, 'and I've reread it literally hundreds of times.'
In the process, she became obsessed with the titular character in Brontë's novel, which deals with desire and the complexities of childhood. As she curled up with the book, she immediately connected with the title character of the story. It was a connection that brought her much comfort as she herself dealt with the ups and downs of childhood and then adolescence.
'Jane was someone I was close to as a child,' she says. 'We were good friends! I think in some ways she was more real to me than any other fictional heroine.'
Stephenie's army of fans – many of them teenage girls, of course – speak similarly of the heroine of the Twilight series, Bella Swan, who has guided many a troubled teen through her adolescent days. For this reason, Bella could almost be linked to Jane Eyre in a fictional family tree.
It was not just that Stephenie read stories, but she told them too – first to herself. 'I was always a storyteller,' she said in 2006, 'though I only told stories to myself.' Soon, though, her immediate family were being treated to the earliest attempts she made at storytelling, but not on paper. The Morgan family would often drive to visit the grandparents in Utah. They were long journeys, frequently in excess of eight hours, but they were enlivened by Stephenie, who would tell them all stories she had made up in her head. Her imagination would run wild and she would create diverting plots, characters and tales. They may not have been the polished, instant classics she would later create, but they were enough to keep a large family happy during otherwise boring car journeys. Young Stephenie was already showing a definite aptitude for storytelling. Nowadays, kids sit in the backs of cars around the world and read Stephenie's stories to help pass the journey, or listen to the audiobook versions. Others discuss the stories of hers they have already read. Back then, Stephenie's tales on the trips to Utah were often entertaining for the rest of the family.
As a child, she continued to read, and some of her reading was of a more serious nature. Alongside the fantasy novels of her father and the more romantic reads she borrowed from her mother, she also regularly studied a religious tract, The Book of Mormon. This is the text of the Latter Day Saint (LDS) movement, whose followers are more commonly known as Mormons.
The Mormon movement was formed in the 19th century in America. It has since grown into a large international movement with more than 12 million members. Although it believes in and focuses on Jesus Christ, it has a number of differences from the more familiar, mainstream branches of Christianity. Other famous Mormons include Brandon Flowers, lead singer of the Killers, former teen idol Donny Osmond (and many of his family) and American Idol pin-up singer David Archuleta, who finished runner-up in the 2008 series and has gone on to considerable commercial success with a string of hits. Stephenie and her parents are Mormons and it was a Mormon household in which she was raised. This has influenced her life and work in many ways, right from when she studied the holy books as a child.
Excerpted from Stephenie Meyer by Chas Newkey-Burden. Copyright © 2010 Chas Newkey-Burden. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
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