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The characters become more developed, more real, in the second book as the story gets more complicated. Edward and Bella face a series of problems, including one in which Bella's best friend, Jacob Black, a Quileute Indian living on the La Push reservation, turns out to be a werewolf, part of a pack that is supposed to protect the area from vampires.

Part of what makes the story so compelling is that Meyer's vampires and other monsters play by their own rules.

The central vampire characters, the Cullen family (they run around as a clan — three other couples plus Edward), are "vegetarians," meaning they feed on large animals instead of humans. Other vampires in the story feed on humans — there's one particularly gruesome scene in the second novel — but Edward and his family have taken an oath not to.

Meyer's vampires don't turn into bats or sleep in coffins. They don't have fangs, and they can even go out during the day, though they prefer darkness because they are simply too beautiful in the sunlight.

Essentially, she has created an entirely new vampire myth.

"I haven't even seen Interview With the Vampire. I change the channel really fast when horror movies come on," she says. "I know the [traditional vampire] stories because everyone does, so I knew I was breaking the rules, but I didn't really think about it much until I started worrying. But vampire fans have been very open-minded."

Jana Reiss, religion editor at Publishers Weekly and author of What Would Buffy Do? The Slayer as a Spiritual Guide, says Meyer's vamps are a welcome change.

"I have yet to talk to anyone who is upset by it," she says. "I think most people are looking for innovative takes. Meyer really taps into that."

Though adults do relate to Meyer's books, once they give them a chance, it's teen girls who really go crazy for them. Kaitlan Harris runs a Twilight fan page on MySpace. The 18-year-old from Georgia started the page in 2006, two days after she finished the book.

"I loved the way I couldn't stop thinking about what was going to happen to Bella. I never read anything before that has left me wanting more. I always just put it on the shelf and that's it," she says. "But I can't help but look at the book and remember all the emotions I felt [reading]. I felt like I was living the story, and that has never happened to me."

Bree Painter, a teenager from San Diego, agrees that the books and the characters feel real.

"It's the way the story is written," she says. "Stephenie writes in a way that makes the entire thing completely believable, like I could have an Edward Cullen living right next door."

Faith Hochhalter, buyer of young-adult books for Changing Hands in Tempe, agrees that Meyer's fans have a dedication rarely seen among young adult readers, and it has as much to do with Meyer's personality as it does the story.

Changing Hands is the official outlet for signed copies of Meyer's books, and Hochhalter says that even three years after the original release, orders are still pouring in at the rate of 12 a day, from places as far away as Croatia.

"Her fans are so loyal. I feel at this point, Stephenie could rewrite the phone book and her fans would still buy it," she says. "She's so giving and warm and her fans see that and relate to it, even if they don't know that's what they're relating to. Aside from J.K. Rowling, I've never seen anything on this scale."

Meyer's fandom is reminiscent of Harry Potter mania, crazy fan sites and all. The biggest fan site, Twilight Lexicon, is run by fans who seem to do little else but talk about Meyer and her books.

The Web site's features range from detailed timelines to character outlines to fan fiction to a question-and-answer section where readers ask things like "Can vampires have sex?" (they can, but Meyer won't give specifics) to details about the Cullens' personal history.

The Lexicon group seems to know Meyer's books almost better than she does.

"The Lexicon scares me sometimes," she says. She worries that once things are explained on the Lexicon, they become fact in the Twilight universe. For example, she's explained the backstory for each of the vampire characters on the Lexicon, so now she can't change it in her books without dealing with thousands of disgruntled fans.

But she still answers their questions.

The fact that she'll go on a fan site at all speaks volumes about Meyer and is, perhaps, why her fans get so hysterical when they see her. Meyer says it's not unusual for little girls to shake and stutter when they meet her.

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Megan Irwin
Contact: Megan Irwin