Meyer e-mailed Rasmussen a couple of chapters. As the story took shape, Meyer's sister read, and loved, every word.
"I would call and hound her, and I was always there bugging her," she says. "I've read Twilight I don't know how many times."
Within three months, the book was done. That's a quick turnaround for a book almost 500 pages long, but Meyer couldn't stop herself.
"Obsession covers it pretty well," she says, describing her writing methodology.
By the time Meyer finished the first book, her sister persuaded her to try to publish it.
She sent out queries to agents, not expecting much.
A month later, she got a call from New York agent Jodi Reamer, who had fallen in love with the story and wanted to represent Meyer. Reamer sent the book to nine editors, expecting a long wait.
But one week later, Meyer got another call. Megan Tingley, a top editor at Little, Brown and Company, read the book on an airplane and wanted to sign Meyer in a preemptive $300,000 three-book deal. Reamer turned it down and asked for a million.
"I almost threw up," says Meyer.
The publisher's counteroffer was $750,000, the largest amount of money it had ever offered a first-time author.
"That was the most surreal day. Eli was with me, so he was thinking Mommy lost her mind for a little while," she says of her youngest child, then 1. "I was on the phone with Jodi trying to be all professional, 'Yes, I'd love that. That's great,' and then I called my sister and I could hardly talk. Eli was following me around on his play phone going, 'Hahahahaha,' imitating me."
Tingley was behind Meyer 100 percent from the start.
"It was the combination of desire and danger that drew me in. I could not put it down and I could not wait for the plane to land, so I could sign up the book," she says. "On a gut level, I knew I had a bestseller on my hands when I was halfway through the manuscript."
While Meyer worked on the sequel, Little, Brown was gearing up for a publicity blitz. The unusual circumstances surrounding her deal unknown writer gets three quarters of a million dollars were enough to generate a significant buzz among publishing insiders, and Little, Brown was anticipating a huge reader response as well.
"Stephenie's fans are rabid," says Tingley. "Stephenie has tapped into something very deep in her readers, and they respond on an emotional level. She really understands the hopes and fears of teenage girls."
Tingley was on to something, and today, a million teenagers around the world have devoured Meyer's story.
On the surface, the books may sound cheesy her word and as she says, vampire romance is a bit overdone. But the characters she's created resonate, especially with teenagers. The story centers on a 17-year-old girl, Bella Swan, who is uprooted from her home in Phoenix to live with her dad in the small town of Forks, Washington.
Though Bella is clumsy and shy, she quickly grabs the attention of Edward Cullen, a mysterious boy at her high school. The two fall for each other in that head-over-heels way that's believable only when you're a teenager.
Of course, the fact that Edward has a strong urge to kill his girlfriend and suck her blood complicates things. His conflicted nature and constant struggle are part of what pushes the series forward.
"There's something about overcoming the natural man," Meyer says. "Having free agency to decide what you're going to do with yourself is a gift. I think kids pick up on that it doesn't matter if you're a vampire. You can choose what to do with your life. Conflicted heroes are the best kind. Edward really has to fight."
It's Meyer's characters, and their struggles, that fans have gone crazy over. Collette Morgan, owner of Wild Rumpus, a children's bookstore in Minneapolis that's hosted Meyer on previous tours, says teenagers related instantly to the characters in the story.
When Twilight came out, Morgan's book club, "We Know What You're Publishing and Here's What We Think of it," (they read only advance copies of books) was one of the first groups of teenagers to read the book.
"I was blown away by the reaction of these kids," she says. "They were so taken with that story. She makes the characters so believable you want to meet them. You want Edward to be at your school."