In 'Midnight Sun', Stephenie Meyer tells Edward Cullen's story

Concepción de León, The New York Times

Posted at Aug 04 2020 11:55 AM

When Stephenie Meyer decided this year to release “Midnight Sun,” a retelling of her bestselling “Twilight” novel from the vampire’s point of view, she thought: “No one can possibly care about it anymore.”

She put the book on hold after several chapters leaked online in 2008. Now, more than a decade later, her legions of fans will finally be able to read it. She had hoped for a low-key release, but when she announced the publication date in May, so many of them flocked to her website that it quickly crashed.

"That’s really flattering but also nerve-wracking," Meyer said in an interview last month. "I’m pretty sure people aren’t going to get exactly what they think they’re getting. Because of all the time that’s passed, they’ve built up in their minds what they thought it was going to be, and so no one can live up to those kinds of expectations."

The Twilight saga, which follows teenage Bella Swan’s romance with Edward Cullen, a century-old vampire, turned into a multimillion-dollar brand following the first book’s release in 2005, producing five movies and millions of devotees around the world, many of whom have been clamoring for “Midnight Sun.”

Maren Abercrombie and Emily Mensing, who host the podcast “Remember Twilight?” are two such fans. “I feel like we kind of manifested its release, honestly,” Mensing said.

After reading the version of the novel that leaked in 2008, Abercrombie said she was eager for Meyer to release the finished one. “Bella is fine, everybody else is just fine, but to me, the most interesting character in ‘Twilight’ is Edward,” she said. “All I ever wanted was the entire ‘Midnight Sun.’”

Before its publication, Meyer talked about the stress of releasing a book during a pandemic, what readers can expect and why they shouldn’t be waiting for another one in Edward’s voice. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Q: Why did you decide to publish the book now?

A: Because I finished it. The reason it wasn’t published earlier was because it was not done, and when I did see the light at the end of the tunnel — when I saw that I was actually going to be able to finish it — I started the publication process right away, because I knew there were people who had been waiting really kindly and patiently, but also anxiously, for quite a while.

And then COVID-19 happens. And so do we put it out still? It became quickly obvious that there wasn’t a real end in sight with COVID. I am really excited when I have a book to read right now, because there’s not much else that’s exciting. I hoped people would feel the same way.

Q: What happened back then? Why did you decide to postpone the book indefinitely?

A: I don’t know exactly what happened, which is one of the reasons it shook me. I don’t think there was any bad intent. I think people made copies instead of returning it to me when they had been asked to read it. But that wasn’t as scary. It was when I thought that maybe someone was reading things on my computer that I was more frightened by it.

And at the time it was hard, because no one wants to have a rough draft be out there for criticism. You know you can make it better. You’re literally just throwing things out of your brain onto the page at that point. It was so long ago — it was a hiccup, I would say.

The real reason the book took so long to write is because this was just a huge, pain-in-the-butt book to write. With some of my books, it was like they were writing themselves, and I was just working to keep up with dictation. That kind of writing is fun and exciting. This was like, every single word was a struggle.

Q: What do readers have to look forward to in this new installment?

A: The things that I enjoy most about it are — I liked not being the human being. I like that experience, stripping away your humanity and getting to be something other.

I think the part that people won’t expect is: Edward is a very anxious character. Writing him made me more anxious, and that’s one of the reasons it was hard to be in that story. His anxiety combined with mine was potent. He starts off fairly confident, but boy does he get broken down by the end. Bella really breaks him into pieces. I think he comes across in “Twilight” being very strong and so super sure of himself, when that never was really actually the case.

Q: Without giving away any spoilers, is there anything you can say about what readers will learn about Edward or what new perspectives they’ll gain on moments in the “Twilight” book?

A: I mean, it’s difficult to spoil this book, because spoiler: Edward falls in love with Bella. That’s all known, so it’s difficult to spoil it.

The stuff they’re going to get that’s new is, like I said, the inhuman point of view and then the time away. The best parts to write, hands down, were the times that Bella was not present, and I wasn’t locked into a certain set of dialogues and actions. That was when I felt he could be more himself.

Some people are going to like some characters more, and they're going to like some characters less, because not only is he spending time with them that way, but he is reading their minds all the time. It’s a reflex reaction for him, he can’t control it, so you get, not just a picture of people, you get the full story all the time, which is kind of overwhelming. I think you get a sense of how overwhelming it would be to constantly have people’s voices in your head.

Q: Do you plan to write the whole series through Edward’s eyes?

A: No. Not at all. This is it for Edward. Writing from his point of view makes me extra anxious. And the experience of writing this book was not a super pleasant one. So no, I wouldn’t want to do that — especially given that “New Moon” would just be a nightmare of depression and emptiness. I think this gives you enough of a sense of what it’s like to be Edward that you could go and look at the other books and you would know what’s going on in his head.

Q: A lot has changed in the world since the first book was published in 2005, including the #MeToo movement, which has cast a new light on a lot of our most beloved cultural institutions. Have you thought about how Bella and Edward’s relationship might be perceived differently today, almost two decades later?

A: I’ve had feedback from the very beginning with people who reacted to some things and didn't like them at all, which I absolutely can see. I don’t know if “Midnight Sun” will make that better or worse for them.

I feel like you get the sense of him from the perspective of him not being someone who follows human rules. And the worst of it isn’t that, you could say, he spies on her. Really he’s just like a very curious animal who doesn’t think of it that way. But really the real problem is that he’s murdered a ton of people — that’s the worst thing, right, that you’re a murderer many times over.

And again, that comes from the fact that this is a fiction book that’s not even set in a realistic world. It’s fantasy, and so you have this character who’s not human and who isn’t part of the social things that we do. He’s different. That doesn’t change the fact that for somebody who experienced something terrible that this might feel horrible for them, and that I feel bad about, because for me it’s just a fantasy that doesn’t exist. It hasn’t been my experience, and so it just feels like this totally other world.

Q: What has the book launch process been like?

A: Pretty insane and stressful. I like to have everything planned out and know in advance, this is what I’m going to have to do, this is where I’m going to go, and I can plan it for, seriously, six months ahead, and then I’m happy. Now we don’t know what we’re doing. We’ve had plans and we get excited, and then the plans fall apart. I guess we’re going to be doing a lot of virtual stuff. That’s probably fun, but to me it just doesn’t feel like enough. The fans are so excited to do something, to do anything, and we can’t really give them that. That’s a little frustrating.

Q: You wrote on your blog that books are your main source of escape right now. What have you been reading?

A: The last one that I really loved — they’re pretty short, you’ll tear through them — her name is Martha Wells, and it’s a sci-fi series called the Murderbot Diaries. “All Systems Red” is the first one. It’s great. It’s about this cyborg who is neither male nor female, who is supposed to be under control but they have free agency, but they just use it to watch TV basically, and the poor murderbot has huge social anxiety, can’t look anybody in the face, just wants to be left alone to watch their shows. I really identified with the character [laughs].

Q: What do you plan on writing next?

A: I have, like, three candidates right now. I work on them occasionally. When “Midnight Sun” is out and that’s passed, then I’ll see which one is pulling me in. I’d like to do something in fantasy fantasy, where you have to have a map in the beginning of the book, but we’ll see if that’s the one that gets picked.

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