The Q & A from the February 2007, BYU Symposium

BYU Midwinter Symposium on Books for Young Readers – Stephenie’s Presentation

Stephenie talked about the writing process. She told about her experiences and gave tips on agents, publishers, editors, editing, copy editing, choosing a cover, etc.

One comment that I found interesting was the difference between the quote on the back of Twilight and the actual quote inside the book. She mentioned how one line can go through ten different evolutions. Check out the quotes yourself and you’ll see the difference. The one on the back isn’t the final edit…

Stephenie talked about how during the editing process, sometimes editors want to completely tear things apart. You have to know when to give and when to take. Some elements are central to the story of the idea, so you shouldn’t let those go. She said that when Twilight was first getting edited, there was someone who didn’t like Renee. The person suggested that Bella’s mother (a) suffer a mental breakdown, (b) have a physical problem, (c) should mysteriously disappear and resurface later in the series, or (d) die. What she really tried to do was stand up for her characters. She said that you have to know when to stand up to your publishers/agent.

An example of the editor at work was Bella’s original reason for leaving Phoenix. The way Stephenie’s editor read it was that Bella wasn’t comfortable around Phil because there may have been some sexual abuse. It wasn’t; it was because in Phoenix, Phil was her principal and now her stepfather. It was just very awkward between them—being a teenage girl with a new step-father when you’ve never really had a man living with you. But the semi-implied sexual abuse created a very intense atmosphere from the beginning of the book, which bled into other scenes, so Stephenie rewrote the scene to what we read now, making it not so intense or potentially controversial.

Some people felt like since the book is a romance and the main characters are 17, there should be sex in the books, because “sex sells.” Stephenie said that she tried to explain that that wasn’t “practical”, because of the whole human/vampire thing. Plus, she felt like Bella and Edward are both very innocent, and sex would change them in the wrong ways.

One of the parts of New Moon that got cut was 75 pages of werewolves. (Stephenie won’t tell you about this, so don’t ask! You’ll get more on werewolves in Eclipse!) She didn’t say anything specifically about this section, just that she likes to go back and read about her “pack of teenage boys”. She said that she feels at home with teenage boys. (She has 3 younger brothers and 3 sons, though they aren’t teenagers yet, so this makes perfect sense.)

Stephenie said that while editors can be wrong, they can also be right. Having an editor forces you to bring out the best of your story. Editors are GOOD, you just have to find a good give/take balance.

Stephenie talked about how sometimes her characters are misunderstood. One of the main reasons she started writing Midnight Sun (back when the plan was just to write the first chapter) was so people would understand Edward’s character better. She wanted them to understand that a vampire’s need to drink blood isn’t like, “Umm… I think I’m in the mood for cheesecake.”

Stephenie’s favorite people to talk to are:

  1. Reluctant Readers – People who never really liked to read books, but who felt inspired to read more after reading Twilight/New Moon.
  2. Moms/Daughters or Moms/Sons who read the books together.
  3. Book People
  4. People who say, “You made me want to stop writing.” She said she knows this sounds weird, but whenever she reads a REALLY good book, she thinks to herself, “I could never write a book that good. I should just give up!” So she understands the compliment behind a statement like that.

Stephenie talked about how true feminism is about choice. It means that a woman can do whatever will bring her the most happiness. It doesn’t mean the women have to do everything men do. Stephenie considers herself a feminist because she does what brings herself the most happiness—she stays at home and takes care of her kids. Some people think being a stay-at-home mom is anti-feminist, but it isn’t really. Some people think that Bella is a wimp, and think Stephenie is anti-feminist because she wrote such a “weak” main character, but she insists that she is not anti-feminist, but anti-human. In Twilight, the vampires are stronger, faster, better looking, etc. than humans are. Bella cannot compete with the vampires because she just isn’t physically strong enough. But she deals with being surrounded by super-strong, etc. vampires in her own way.

Stephenie hates when people come up to her and express to her their desire to see Jacob Black die. She loves Jacob Black (and all her other werewolves) very much—he’s practically a son to her—not to mention the fact that he is a great guy! So don’t say things like that to Stephenie!

Stephenie is about halfway through writing Book 4 (currently entitled Breaking Dawn).

Music has a huge influence in her writing. Stephenie says that some scenes only exist because of songs Stephenie heard. Her favorite band is Muse.

Stephenie is also influenced by classical books. Twilight was loosely tied to Pride and Prejudice, and New Moon was more obviously influenced by “Romeo and Juliet”. She said that future books will NOT be as strongly linked to another story as New Moon was. 

BYU Midwinter Symposium on Books for Young Readers – Q&A Sessions

Q: What is Prom Nights From Hell

A: Prom Nights From Hell is a compilation of stories from 5 different authors. Meg Cabot is heading it up. The story Stephenie contributed is not about Edward and Bella or vampires or werewolves. She said the story isn’t really scary at all, but more philosophical. According to (where the book is available for pre-ordering), it will come out APRIL 1, 2007.

Q: Is Edward based on your husband?

A: While her husband believes this to be true (he thinks all the hot male Twilight characters are based on himself 😉 ), she said that if her husband were like Edward, she wouldn’t have had to create Edward. Her husband does not feel threatened by the fictional characters in her life.

Q: What’s up with The Host?

A: The Host is Stephenie’s adult Sci-Fi book that should be out spring of 2008. She will be able to start editing in March. She said that it’s technically Sci-Fi because it has aliens and things, but that it doesn’t really feel like a Sci-Fi book. The Host will be a trilogy also.

Q: Where do you get your ideas for stories?

A: She said that she hasn’t had any more vivid dreams like she did with Twilight, but she tends to get ideas on long car trips. She got the idea for The Host during a drive from Phoenix to Salt Lake.

Q: (From a girl named Lauren) Why is it that both Lauren and Laurent (with their very similar names) are both mean/bad?

A: Stephenie said that she didn’t even realize that before. And she actually really likes the name Lauren. Her sister (or friend?) wanted to name a daughter Lauren, but wasn’t able to, so Stephenie offered to put the name in her book. The woman was like, “Ok, but she has to be a blond.” And Stephenie was like, “There’s a blonde, but she’s not very nice…” And the woman said that was ok… and thus Lauren was born. The pronunciation of Laurent: Lor-‘ahnt (with the emphasis on the second syllable). Stephenie said that a lot of the names she uses come from her life. Victoria is her mother-in-law…

Q: What about Twilight attracts your many male readers?

A: She said that she doesn’t know why boys read her books, but that it should be good for them! If more guys were like Edward, the world would be a better place! So if the boys who read her books learn how to treat women better, she’ll be happy. She said that some critics have said that Edward is TOO perfect—how he is this unattainable perfect man. And Stephenie’s response is that the world could USE a perfect man! She hopes that girls learn from these books, too. She said that if all girls held boys to higher standards, the boys would rise to meet them. And Edward DOES make mistakes—BIG ones—but he tries REALLY hard.

Q: What is the first thing that comes to mind when I say, “Twilight: The Musical”?

A: It would have to be progressive rock music. She said she’d totally go for it if Matthew Bellamy (of Muse) would write it!

Q: Why are there some people who don’t like Jacob Black?

A: She said that she doesn’t understand at all why there are some people who don’t like Jacob Black. Some people think that he has deep, dark, evil motivations, but he doesn’t. Jacob is a “truly good individual”. And then she said something that made us all sit up and listen: “We will see if people can still hate Jacob after Eclipse.” And then she shook her head and said, “We’ll see…”

Q: Do you purposefully write religion into your stories?

A: Stephenie said she doesn’t do it on purpose, but because she is a religious person, religion tends to work its way into the stories. The Host doesn’t have any religion in it at all.

Q: Is Carlisle like your dad?

A: Yes. The biggest similarity is their integrity. Her dad doesn’t compromise his standards. Also, Stephenie was saying that one time, she was being interviewed, and she was asked if her family was like Bella’s. It is definitely not. Stephenie told the interviewer that her parents are still married after many years, and how she has 2 sisters and 3 brothers… and then she realized that her family is like the Cullens. 

Q: Can you give us any more information about the Twilight movie?

A: The movie has been optioned, and she will find out more information in April. She also said that when she sold the rights, she did have ONE special provision, and that was a guaranteed PG-13 rating. She also said that when she was deciding whether or not to sell the rights, she had reservations, because turning Twilight into a movie would be SO EASY to do badly. But she said that if they got just one scene right—if they did just one scene well—that would be good enough for her. Even if the movie ended up being a Western. Haha! She said that since she is a visual person, she would love to be able to SEE Twilight. Then she showed us some of the illustrations from the Japanese versions of New Moon, which are on Stephenie’s website on the New Moon International page.

Q: Why can’t Edward read Bella’s mind?

A: Stephenie said that the real question is why can Edward read minds at all? Why can Alice see the future? Why can Jasper feel and manipulate other people’s emotions? Stephenie said that Bella has a closed mind, so powers that affect the mind can’t affect Bella. There’s more about this on her website’s New Moon Q&A and on the Twilight Lexicon.

Q: Did Edward’s mother (Elizabeth) know that Carlisle was a vampire (when she asked Dr. Cullen to do whatever he could to save her son)?

A: No, not specifically. Edward’s mother assumed that Carlisle was supernatural… she had observed him enough to know there was something different about him. She thought that maybe he could do something EXTRA for Edward. (Which he could and did!)

Q: How did werewolves end up in the Twilight series? Was that planned from the beginning?

A: Stephenie said that she didn’t know Jacob was a werewolf in the first book. Even when Bella had that dream with Jacob morphing into a werewolf, he still wasn’t a werewolf—that was just Bella’s mind twisting all the things she had learned that day. But then she was thinking later, “What if ALL the Quileute legends were true?” And BAM! Jacob was a werewolf. She also said that to her, vampires are like science and werewolves are like magic.

Q: Have you heard anything from the real Quileute tribe?

A: No, she hasn’t yet. She said that when she was first writing Twilight, she never imagined that ANYONE would read her story, let alone a member of the Quileute tribe. BUT, she hopes that if they DO read Twilight/New Moon, they wouldn’t be offended! She said that werewolves aren’t supposed to be bad, but “they are wonderful monsters.”

Q: How did you decide where to set the end of New Moon?

A: She said that the clock tower scene was actually the first scene of New Moon that she wrote. She had an idea in mind of what she wanted the place to look like and where it should be, but she didn’t want to use a real city again, like she did with Forks. She knew that the area would have to be VERY old and relatively remote, so that put it in Tuscany. Then (on her map), right where she wanted to put her city was a city called Volterra, which was strangely similar to a name she had made up. Then, she looked on the Internet for pictures of Volterra, and the first picture that came up was of Volterra’s clock tower. She said it was a pretty creepy coincidence!

Q: One thing I’ve noticed is that the story of Bella and Edward is one with universal themes, such as unrequited love. What are your thoughts on that?

A: One of the main themes that I like to think about is choice—free will—agency. You always have a choice to be better, no matter your circumstances. Like the Cullens—the are vampires, but they CHOOSE to be good.

Q: You will be reading chapter 1 of Eclipse at the Eclipse Prom, but can you post it on your website also for the people who can’t make it down to Phoenix?

A: Stephenie said she might be able to post the first chapter on July 1st, like with New Moon, but that her publishers will be releasing an second edition of New Moon that has the first chapter of Eclipse in it. 

Q: Do you like the cover of Eclipse

A: She likes it better than she did the cover of New Moon, but not as much as she liked the cover of Twilight. She said, “It’s no tulip.”

Q: What is your writing schedule like:

A: She talked about how she tries to balance her life between her family and her writing. She said that she writes at night, when it’s quiet, and the kids are asleep, then she edits during the day, because that doesn’t take as much concentration.

Q: How has your personal life changed since you published Twilight?

A: It hasn’t changed very much! She still lives in the same house, drives the same minivan (she got a new car, but her husband always drives it because she has the kids, and thus the minivan), goes to church, etc. She travels a lot more now, but that’s mostly for work.

Q: Did your education in college influence your becoming a writer?

A: She said that she was never an undecided major. She knew since she was in high school that she would major in English. She never took a creative writing course, but she did have to read a ton of books. Stephenie said, “You live a thousand lives when you read a thousand books.” She said she read books that she probably would never have read otherwise, but that may have influenced her.

Q: Why did you decided to publish Twilight?

A: She said there were 3 reasons: First, her sister Emily (who at the time was the only person who had read her story or even knew what she was doing in her spare time) told her that she thought Stephenie should try to publish her story. Second, she loved her characters, and she thought they deserved to be known. She wanted other people to enjoy and love them like she did. And third, she felt compelled to. She says that she feels like this is what she’s supposed to be doing with her life and that, even though it was VERY out of character for her, she did it without REALLY thinking about it too much—without a lot of second-guessing herself.

Q: What was the deal with Bella’s hallucinations?

A: She clarified that Edward was NOT really there. And even though Bella has insecurities, she really is VERY smart—she picks up on things, almost subconsciously, that others completely miss. And that part of her is trying to say, “Wake up, dummy! You didn’t imagine this! He loves you!” Then she said that if Edward WAS aware of Bella’s situation he would have come back… And then she asked us (as if to quiz us), “When would he have come back? Do you know?” The answer: When Bella was in the meadow with Laurent.

Q: Why did Bella respond the way she did when Edward left?

A: First of all, Bella’s love for Edward isn’t just a high school romance. It is true love. So you wouldn’t just “get over it” in a month like you do a high school boyfriend. Stephenie said that she based Bella’s intense pain on how she would feel if she lost a child. You don’t forget the pain—it doesn’t just go away.

Q: How do you like your rock-star status?

A: She says the fame thing is weird. She’s an author, so people don’t usually recognize her. But her life is totally normal, she just does this on the side. She says her CHARACTERS are the rock stars!

Q: Where do you go to find an agent?

A: Start with It costs $3.99 a month, but Stephenie said you should be able to do everything you need to in a month. Stephenie’s agent says that agents almost always want you to send in the first chapter (which should be very polished and professional looking) even if it doesn’t say so.

Q: What is the schedule for future books?

A: As of now, Eclipse will come out August 2007. Book 4 (working title: Breaking Dawn which she is half way through) should come out August 2008. Stephenie hopes to get Midnight Sun (Twilight from Edward’s point of view) out in the spring of 2009. She said that Midnight Sun (which is really just a working title) shouldn’t be as difficult to edit as a completely original book, because a lot of things about Midnight Sun are set in stone, such as most of the dialogue or the plot. She said she’s excited to see what that editing process will be like.

Q: What is the Eclipse Prom (E-Prom)?

A: The idea originated in California and was originally entitled “Emmett Prom”. She told us a story about how she went to a “black-tie” event in Washington D.C. with President and Mrs. Bush, but her agent told her that it wasn’t going to be too fancy, so she didn’t dress up all that much. And she felt totally gypped because everyone was dressed to the 9s. The women were all wearing elaborate ball gowns, and one woman was even wearing a tiara! So Stephenie is going to have her OWN event, sponsored by Changing Hands (her local independent bookstore), and she says she’ll be wearing a Scarlett O’Hara-huge dress and maybe even a tiara. It will be held on May 5, 2007 in Phoenix. There are still a lot of key details to work out (like they are still looking for a venue), but when more details are available, they will be posted on her website and on the Twilight Lexicon. As for now, Stephenie has announced that at E-Prom, she will read the first chapter of Eclipse and reveal the cover.

A quote by Stephenie that I really like: “Putting words down is where the magic is.”