SH: So when you were writing Eclipse, Twilight hadn‘t come out yet.
SM: Twilight was not yet in stores. I had finished the rough draft of Eclipse. I still had a lot of editing to do, but it stayed pretty much in its present form.
SH: Was Twilight successful immediately?
SM: Yes—more so than I thought it would be. I mean, nothing, obviously, to what‘s going on right now. But when I was out on tour, it did, for one week, hop onto the New York Times list—which, for me, was like the epitome of everything. It was like: For the rest of my life, I get to say I‟m a New York Times bestselling novelist.
SH: [Laughs] Right.
SM: So, for that one week, it felt like that was it—that was all I ever needed. [Laughs] So it started out really well. Booksellers were really great about getting the word out and hand selling it—which is awesome. Before New Moon came out, I had a couple of events with like a hundred people—and they were all excited and ready for what was coming next. That was really, really gratifying.
I had also started to get that people-didn‘t-like-Jacob vibe, which really took me by surprise.
SH: So at what point did you have to start balancing the success and the pressures from the outside while you were still writing?
SM: I think the first real pressure was with New Moon, when the advance reading copies came out. New Moon had those two spoilers. Edward leaves, Jacob‘s a werewolf. Once you know that, most of the suspense is gone from the book. Whether you figure it out or not, it‘s still huge. So those two things ruin any possibility of suspense in the story, pretty much. Then a review written by someone who had an advance reading copy was put online and it gave away every plot point of the whole book six months before the book came out.
That was the first time, I think, my publisher started to realize the power of the Internet with this particular series. Because it just started this huge outpouring of letters and people were so upset. Has this really happened? Why did this person tell us this? Can we read the book now? Is it out? What‘s going on?
So I felt pressure then—but the book was already written. And then, with Eclipse, it started to feel like a lot of people had their specific ideas about what should happen. That was the first time I was really conscious that people were writing the story differently in their heads. I had also started to get that people-didn‘t-like-Jacob vibe, which really took me by surprise. I think it‘s because they weren‘t hearing his first-person the way I was. So then they got to, later.
SH: I don‘t know if you felt this way... but I never thought I would write from the point of view of a boy. Maybe because I read a lot of books where men wrote from a woman‘s point of view, and I found them unrealistic characters.
SM: Yes, yes!
SH: Especially, you know, books written in the last century. But I was like: That is such crap! A woman wouldn‘t think that—wouldn‘t do that—and it bothered me. So I thought I would never write from the point of view of a boy.But then I met a character—almost exactly the same way you did. With Goose Girl there was a minor character named Razo. And then the book after that, Enna Burning, he was in it again—a minor character. And so by the time I got to the third book in the series, and I started to write from his point of view, I‘d already known him for two books. And I was thinking: I‟m not writing this from the point of view of a boy; I‟m just writing this person that I know. And the gender wasn‘t an issue. Was it sort of like that with Jacob?
SM: Yeah. You know, I felt a little presumptuous when I started working on writing Twilight from Edward‘s perspective, because I‘m not a boy. But Edward was so much a part of the story, and such a strong voice, that it didn‘t seem to matter. So I‘d kinda gotten that out of my system by the time I decided that I needed to write from Jacob‘s point of view. But, again—I wasn‘t writing a boy, I was writing Jacob. It was not like a universal male thing.
I do think that I have a sense of boys, because I have three brothers; I have three sons; I have a husband and my father and my father-in-law. I‘ve seen a lot of teenage boys in action, and they‘re actually very fascinating, hilarious, and heartbreaking creatures. I mean, they can beat the crap out of each other, and then be laughing with their arms around each other with black eyes five minutes later. I do think that I‘ve observed enough to be able to get the outside right, and that I knew Jacob enough that I could get the inside right.
Either one could have been the one that was wrong for her, and either one could have been the one that was right.
SH: I love the Jacob chapters in Breaking Dawn. But I need to go back to Eclipse. You‘ve talked about Wuthering Heights influencing Eclipse.
SM: Yeah. You know, and that‘s one of the ones that‘s interesting to me, because Wuthering Heights is not a book that I like. There are characters in it that fascinate me, but, as a whole, I don‘t enjoy reading that book. I enjoy reading the very end of it, and I enjoy reading a couple pieces in the middle, but most of the time I just find it really depressing. When Edward speaks about it, he has my opinion being spoken through him: It‘s a hate story—it‘s not a love story.
The pull between Edgar and Heathcliff is strong—and, you know, Cathy makes the wrong choice. Both of them had something to offer, and she chose the part that didn‘t matter. Even though I don‘t like to read Wuthering Heights, I think about that part a lot. It‘s one of those things that stays with you.
You could look at Edward and Jacob from one perspective and say: Okay, this one is Heathcliff and this one is Edgar. And someone else might say: No, wait a second. Because of this reason and that reason, that one is Heathcliff and the other one is Edgar. And I thought that was great, because either one could have been the one that was wrong for her, and either one could have been the one that was right. I like that confusion, because that‘s how life is.
SH: And when we‘re reading Wuthering Heights, we‘re reading it from an outsider‘s perspective. From the future looking back. So, as a reader, we know who she should choose. And we see her choose the wrong one, and that‘s why it‘s a tragedy. But with Eclipse we don‘t know who she will, or maybe even should, choose.
SM: Well, in Wuthering Heights we see who Cathy should choose. But we also see the person that she should choose is a horrible person.
SH: [Laughs] Right.
SM: And so, maybe, she should choose the nice guy, but, you know, Heathcliff was who she loved. But, at the same time, was he really healthy for her? What would have happened to them if they had gone off together?
And when I write stories, they‘re very specific—it‘s about this one situation, and one person who‘s not like anybody else in the world. So that person‘s decisions and choices are not a
model for anyone else. SH: Now, this reminds me of something that I‘m really interested in. We‘re talking about
who she should or shouldn‘t choose. I think sometimes readers assign a moral to a story, and think that, from the outside, we‘re writing the story in order to teach people how to live. [SM laughs] But I can‘t think about a story‘s moral when I‘m writing—I can only think about whether this story is interesting to me.
SM: And when I write stories, they‘re very specific—it‘s about this one situation, and one person who‘s not like anybody else in the world. So that person‘s decisions and choices are not a model for anyone else. And it bothers me when people say: Well, this story is preaching this, or the moral is this. Because it‘s just a story. It‘s about an interesting circumstance and how it resolves. It‘s not intended to mean anything for anybody else‘s life.
SH: I do think there are some writers out there who are trying to teach something through their stories. And I‘ve read moralizing books that just don‘t work.
SM: Well, you have to be really talented to make it work. You know, C. S. Lewis does it well. I love his books, and he is very much out to put a message into his stories. But he‘s so good that he gets away with it.
SH: I think it‘s really important as readers to expand our understanding of the world, to get really close to characters that are different from us—and watch them make mistakes, or make good choices, and then think: Would I do it that way?
SM: Sometimes people tell me: ―So girls are coming away from your books with this fill- in-the-blank impression.‖ Maybe something like: ―You should hold out for the perfect gentleman.‖ In which case I could say, ―Well, that‘s a positive message: You should not let people treat you badly. If you‘re dating somebody who doesn‘t put your well-being first, if they‘re being mean or cruel to you—get away from that.‖ And that‘s a great message: If you‘re with a mean, nasty boyfriend, run away right now. [Laughs]
SM: But that‘s not the message of the book. Just because Edward‘s a gentleman, and he cares about Bella more than himself—and maybe that‘s something that you would wish for in a romance—it doesn‘t mean that that‘s a message I was trying to write.
SH: On the flip side, if someone comes away thinking that the moral of the story of New Moon is that there‘s only one person who‘s right for you in the whole world, and if they leave you, then life is not worth living...
SM: Exactly! Some things you could take away from books could be turned into a positive thing in your life, but you could also make them into something negative, and that would be horrible. So I think it‘s easier just to look at the books as: This is a fictional account—I wasn‘t trying to teach anyone anything—I just wanted to entertain myself. And I did. I was really entertained. [Laughs]
When I read about someone like Jane Eyre, I say: ―I want to be stronger. I want to know myself so well, and to know right and wrong so well, that I can walk away with nothing.‖
SH: I‘m always trying to figure out where the line is with author responsibility. What we write and then send out there is going to affect people‘s lives. But I have absolutely no control about how people will interpret what I write. If readers need to find a moral, or a lesson, in it, they teach it to themselves. And I don‘t think I can control what it is that the readers teach themselves. Do you think that reading does more for you than just provide entertainment?
SM: It does a lot for me—but I don‘t hold the writer responsible for what I get out of it. When I read about someone like Jane Eyre, I say: ―I want to be stronger. I want to know myself so well, and to know right and wrong so well, that I can walk away with nothing.‖ I just loved her moral sense. But I don‘t think that Charlotte Brontë meant for me to use that as a guide to life. If you can find something inspiring in characters, that‘s awesome, but that‘s not their primary purpose.
SH: And it can‘t be, or it kills the story. The primary purpose has to be telling the story. SM: It has to be entertainment.