Monday, March 22, 2010

A Twilight-related apology.

Don’t foam at the mouth yet. I can explain.

About a year and a half ago, around the time the first Twilight movie came out, I had to read the first of Stephenie Meyer’s novels for work. (Really—I had an editing job that required me to make sure my client wasn’t plagiarizing it.) I was unimpressed. I posted a blog entry on my MySpace page, titled something like “Why I don’t like Twilight (please don’t kill me),” explaining my principal objections to the books. Those objections still stand, and I’ll restate them here because the MySpace blog engine is quite buggy and I need them to explain my position here.

The odds that I’d like Twilight were always fairly low, because it’s basically a romance story in which nothing else happens--at least, not for the first 500 pages, which suggests the book has no other reason to exist. I don’t enjoy nothing-else-happens romances; call it a genre preference.

My other major objection was that while Bella was fairly low on personality, Edward seemed to have none whatsoever, and I really don’t enjoy stories that are supposed to have two main characters (like romances) and completely neglect the needs, wants, thoughts, or feelings of one of those characters. There are words for romantic relationships with only one character in them, but the only kind I feel comfortable mentioning on a blog read by minors is “narcissism.”

But I consider my objections to Twilight reasonable, intelligent—and personal. Nobody else has to dislike nothing-else-happens romances, and certainly any reader in the world is free to enjoy one-character stories; as far as I can tell, fully half the romance market is books structured in this way. I don’t like Twilight, but I don’t think it’s a unique abomination or anything like that. It’s just a book I don’t happen to enjoy. I like other kinds of books better, which is why I wrote a novel that is also, in its way, a romance … but in which the two main characters are both richly developed (and, indeed, the book is more or less evenly split between their perspectives) and in which a lot of other interesting stuff (superhero action, witty banter, high school drama in and out of high school, supernatural ooga-booga, and some well-disguised philosophy) also happens. As far as I’m concerned, Twilight is chocolate ice cream, and I’m more of a Rocky Road kind of girl.

But Twilight fandom is another story.

Last week, Yen Press (which publishes my current favorite manga, Nightschool) published a graphic-novel adaptation of Twilight, presumably to reach those last two teenage girls who hadn’t yet read it. The fan opprobrium has been memorable, especially among the members of the manga crowd who feel their territory is being invaded by uncouth barbarians sprinkling glitter all over the place. I will not print the comments here, as I have a strict PG-13 policy on this blog. Suffice it to say there are a lot of fans out there who find Twilight fans so repugnant as to threaten them with various forms of assault, sexual battery, and/or murder.

I pretty much ignored all this, as the next Nightschool volume isn’t out until April. Then I wandered across a blog entry by Melinda Beasi titled “Dear Fandom: Please Grow Up.” (You can find it at Ms. Beasi makes an excellent point, which I feel I should restate here, partly because I’ve gotten some email from readers who feel the need to run down Twilight and its fans, perhaps to make Masks look better, and me feel better, by comparison.

Ms. Beasi points out that the symptoms of Twilight fandom are remarkably similar to the symptoms of most other obsessive fandoms (anime, manga, comic books, Harry Potter, SF and fantasy, Star Wars) … except that a large number of Twilight fans, statistically speaking, will grow up to be allegedly normal people who don’t read very much else. So combine all that obsessive energy, that passionate devotion to a first literary love, with a population whose members are not all heavy readers by nature, and you’re bound to get something silly. But not much sillier than existing fandoms get. Except for the fact that a lot of Twilight fans are, by definition, the kind of people who don’t hang out with the book nerds in school, and that can create sectarian conflicts of the kind usually associated with car bombings in the Middle East.

The essay really hit home with me. Suddenly I was 13 again, with my nose jammed into a copy of Edmond Hamilton’s Starwolf, scowling over my pages at the girls in my class who shrieked over the Backstreet Boys or Titanic. And while I don’t make a habit of running down Twilight fans in public, I certainly let others run on about how irritating they are. And yet I would like to think I’m more mature now than I was at 13.

So here’s the summing-up. Yes, Twilighters are annoying sometimes. So was I, and so were you, when we were 13, physically or emotionally, and obsessed with something. We mostly grew out of it. So, mostly, will they. And if you call yourself a reader, you should have the mature perspective to recognize that someone who doesn’t love your favorite books, or who loves books you don’t enjoy, is not necessarily the devil incarnate. Treat this as an opportunity. If you’re not on the Twilight side of the Great Fandom Divide, make friends with someone who is. Talk. Laugh. Share the books you love. Perhaps you’ll make a new convert, and perhaps you’ll just learn a little bit more about what it means to be a civilized being. Either result is well worth your time.

The more fans Masks collects, the more comments I get beginning with, “You’re SO much better than that [expletive deleted] Twilight.” Let’s save that vitriol for targets that deserve it. Child molesters. Nazis. People who talk on their cell phones while driving.

And hey, while you’re reaching across the barbed wire, see if you can pull a few of the Twilighters into Masks fandom. I’ve always wanted to endow a scholarship fund …


  1. well, said, ma'am

    when my daughter was twelve, she started reading Twilight. She read them all, and then read them through, again. To be involved, I also read them...and cringed in large part for the reasons you have pointed out. When she wanted to read them through for a third time, I told her that she had to read four other non-Twilighty books first. She did. And then read the Twilight books again. But my subterfuge had already worked. New authors, new characters, new voices had already worked their way into her mind. Her once-passionate longing for more Edward and Bella has cooled into something that sits on the bottom shelf of the fridge. She has seen a light called "well-developed characters with a well-developed storyline" and, there is no going back.

    You're right. We all have been annoying in our lives. We all have read pablum. If that is what it takes to develop us as literatti, then so be it.

  2. Thanks for your comment! In my day job as a writing teacher, I am constantly reminded that most kids weren't lucky enough to have their parents read them Tolkien in infancy, and so I'm pretty easygoing on the question of what they read, as long as they DO read and seem to be working their way toward the good stuff.

    Welcome to the blog! If you're not already a fan of MASKS on MySpace and/or Facebook, please do consider adding us. Half the reason I run these pages is to show publishers that real live people want to read this book, and every fan is precious. (The other half of the reason I do this is that it's fun!)

  3. already on both ;-) (in fact, i was a co-winner of a contest last year on myspace to come up with quotes...i may have won with "an army of ants is still an army" but i'm not sure