The Story Behind Twilight
I get a ton of questions about how I came up with the story of Twilight and how I got it published. I may be killing my FAQ page by doing this, but here is the whole story:
(Warning: there are Twilight spoilers contained in the following; if you don’t want to ruin the suspense, stop reading…..now. Warning #2: As you might have guessed from the length of my book, I can’t tell a short story—this is going to take a while. You have been warned.)
The Writing: I know the exact date that I began writing Twilight, because it was also the first day of swim lessons for my kids. So I can say with certainty that it all started on June 2, 2003. Up to this point, I had not written anything besides a few chapters (of other stories) that I never got very far on, and nothing at all since the birth of my first son, six years earlier.
I woke up (on that June 2nd) from a very vivid dream. In my dream, two people were having an intense conversation in a meadow in the woods. One of these people was just your average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire. They were discussing the difficulties inherent in the facts that A) they were falling in love with each other while B) the vampire was particularly attracted to the scent of her blood, and was having a difficult time restraining himself from killing her immediately. For what is essentially a transcript of my dream, please see Chapter 13 (“Confessions”) of the book.
Though I had a million things to do (i.e. making breakfast for hungry children, dressing and changing the diapers of said children, finding the swimsuits that no one ever puts away in the right place, etc.), I stayed in bed, thinking about the dream. I was so intrigued by the nameless couple’s story that I hated the idea of forgetting it; it was the kind of dream that makes you want to call your friend and bore her with a detailed description. (Also, the vampire was just so darned good-looking, that I didn’t want to lose the mental image.) Unwillingly, I eventually got up and did the immediate necessities, and then put everything that I possibly could on the back burner and sat down at the computer to write—something I hadn’t done in so long that I wondered why I was bothering. But I didn’t want to lose the dream, so I typed out as much as I could remember, calling the characters “he” and “she.”
From that point on, not one day passed that I did not write something. On bad days, I would only type out a page or two; on good days, I would finish a chapter and then some. I mostly wrote at night, after the kids were asleep so that I could concentrate for longer than five minutes without being interrupted. I started from the scene in the meadow and wrote through to the end. Then I went back to the beginning and wrote until the pieces matched up. I drove the “golden spike” that connected them in late August, three months later.
It took me a while to find names for my anonymous duo. For my vampire (who I was in love with from day one) I decided to use a name that had once been considered romantic, but had fallen out of popularity for decades. Charlotte Bronte’s Mr. Rochester and Jane Austen’s Mr. Ferrars were the characters that led me to the name Edward. I tried it on for size, and found that it fit well. My female lead was harder. Nothing I named her seemed just right. After spending so much time with her, I loved her like a daughter, and no name was good enough. Finally, inspired by that love, I gave her the name I was saving for my daughter, who had never shown up and was unlikely to put in an appearance at this point: Isabella. Huzzah! Edward and Bella were named. For the rest of the characters, I did a lot of searching in old census records, looking for popular names in the times that they’d been born. Some trivia: Rosalie was originally “Carol” and Jasper was first “Ronald.” I like the new names much better, but every now and then I will slip up and type Carol or Ron by accident. It really confuses the people who read my rough drafts.
For my setting, I knew I needed someplace ridiculously rainy. I turned to Google, as I do for all my research needs, and looked for the place with the most rainfall in the U.S. This turned out to be the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. I pulled up maps of the area and studied them, looking for something small, out of the way, surrounded by forest… And there, right where I wanted it to be, was a tiny town called “Forks.” It couldn’t have been more perfect if I had named it myself. I did a Google image search on the area, and if the name hadn’t sold me, the gorgeous photographs would have done the trick. (Images like these of the Hoh Rainforest (a short drive from Forks). Also see forks-web.com ). In researching Forks, I discovered the La Push Reservation, home to theQuileute Tribe. The Quileute story is fascinating, and a few fictional members of the tribe quickly became intrinsic to my story.
All this time, Bella and Edward were, quite literally, voices in my head. They simply wouldn’t shut up. I’d stay up as late as I could stand trying to get all the stuff in my mind typed out, and then crawl, exhausted, into bed (my baby still wasn’t sleeping through the night, yet) only to have another conversation start in my head. I hated to lose anything by forgetting, so I’d get up and head back down to the computer. Eventually, I got a pen and notebook for beside my bed to jot notes down so I could get some freakin’ sleep. It was always an exciting challenge in the morning to try to decipher the stuff I’d scrawled across the page in the dark.
During the day, I couldn’t stay away from the computer, either. When I was stuck at swim lessons, out in 115 degrees of Phoenix sunshine, I would plot and scheme and come home with so much new stuff that I couldn’t type fast enough. It was your typical Arizona summer, hot, sunny, hot, and hot, but when I think back to those three months, I remember rain and cool green things, like I really spent the summer in the Olympic Rainforest.
When I’d finished the body of the novel, I started writing epilogues…lots of epilogues. This eventually clued me in to the fact that I wasn’t ready to let go of my characters, and I started working on the sequel. Meanwhile, I continued to edit Twilight in a very obsessive-compulsive way.
My older sister, Emily, was the only one who really knew what I was up to. In June, I’d started sending her chapters as I finished them, and she soon became my cheerleading section. She was always checking in to see if I had something new for her. It was Emily who first suggested, after I’d finished, that I should try to getTwilightpublished. I was so stunned by the fact that I’d actually finished a whole, entire book, that I decided to look into it.
Getting Published: To put it mildly, I was naive about publishing. I thought it worked like this: you printed a copy of your novel, wrapped it up in brown paper, and sent it off to a publishing house. Ho ho ho, that’s a good one. I started googling (naturally) and began to discover that this was not the way it is done. (Movies lie to us! Why?! A side note: you will not be able to enjoy the new Steve Martin version of Cheaper by the Dozen when you know how insanely impossible the publishing scenario it contains is.) The whole set up with query letters, literary agents, simultaneous submissions vs. exclusive submissions, synopsizes, etc., was extremely intimidating, and I almost quit there. It certainly wasn’t belief in my fabulous talent that made me push forward; I think it was just that I loved my characters so much, and they were so real to me, that I wanted other people to know them, too.
I subscribed to WritersMarket.com and compiled a list of small publishers that accepted unsolicited submissions and a few literary agencies. It was around this time that my little sister, Heidi, mentioned Janet Evanovich’s website to me. In her Q and A for writers section, Janet E. mentioned Writers House, among a few others, as “the real thing” in the world of literary agencies. Writers House went on my wish list as the most desirable and also least likely.
I sent out around fifteen queries (and I still get residual butterflies in my stomach when I drive by the mailbox I sent the letters from—mailing them was terrifying.). I will state, for the record, that my queries truly sucked, and I don’t blame anyone who sent me a rejection (I did get seven or eight of those. I still have them all, too). The only rejection that really hurt was from a small agent who actually read the first chapter before she dropped the axe on me. The meanest rejection I got came after Little, Brown had picked me up for a three-book deal, so it didn’t bother me at all. I’ll admit that I considered sending back a copy of that rejection stapled to the write-up my deal got in Publisher’s Weekly, but I took the higher road.
My big break came in the form of an assistant at Writers House named Genevieve. I didn’t find out until much later just how lucky I was; it turns out that Gen didn’t know that 130,000 words is a whole heck of a lot of words. If she’d known that 130K words would equal 500 pages, she probably wouldn’t have asked to see it. But she didn’t know (picture me wiping the sweat from my brow), and she did ask for the first three chapters. I was thrilled to get a positive response, but a little worried because I felt the beginning of the book wasn’t the strongest part. I mailed off those three chapters and got a letter back a few weeks later (I could barely get it open, my hands were so weak with fear). It was a very nice letter. She’d gone back with a pen and twice underlined the part where she’d typed how much she enjoyed the first three chapters (I still have that letter, of course), and she asked for the whole manuscript. That was the exact moment when I realized that I might actually see Twilight in print, and really one of the happiest points in my whole life. I did a lot of screaming.
About a month after I sent in the manuscript, I got a call from Jodi Reamer, an honest to goodness literary agent, who wanted to represent my book. I tried really hard to sound like a professional and a grownup during that conversation, but I’m not sure if I fooled her. Again, my luck was tremendous (and I don’t usually have good luck—I’ve never won anything in my life, and no one ever catches a fish when I’m in the boat) because Jodi is the uber-agent. I couldn’t have ended up in better hands. She’s part lawyer, part ninja (she’s working on earning her black belt right now, no kidding), a pretty amazing editor in her own right, and a great friend.
Jodi and I worked for two weeks on getting Twilight into shape before sending it to editors. The first thing we worked on was the title, which started out as Forks (and I still have a teeny soft spot for that name). Then we polished up a few rough spots, and Jodi sent it out to nine different publishing houses. This really messed with my ability to sleep, but luckily I wasn’t in suspense for long.
Megan Tingley, of Megan Tingley Books, of Little, Brown and Company, read Twilight on a cross-country flight and came back to Jodi the day after the Thanksgiving weekend with a preemptive deal so huge that I honestly thought Jodi was pulling my leg—especially the part where she turned the offer down and asked for more. The upshot was that, by the end of the day, I was trying to process the information that not only was my book going to be published by one of the biggest young adult publishers in the country, but that they were going topay me for it. For a very long time, I was convinced it was a really cruel practical joke, but I couldn’t imagine who would go to these wild extremes to play a hoax on such an insignificant little hausfrau.
And that’s how, in the course of six months, Twilight was dreamed, written, and accepted for publication.
Things keep getting crazier, what with the movie deal and all the pre-publication attention that Twilight continues to receive. Though I’ve gotten impatient from time to time, I’m glad I’ve had the last two years to try to come to terms with the situation. I’m greatly looking forward to finally having Twilight on the shelves, and more than a little frightened, too. Overall, it’s been a true labor of love, love for Edward and Bella and all the rest of my imaginary friends, and I’m thrilled that other people get to meet them now.