In the midst of separating a generation of young female readers into Team Edward and Team Jacob, Stephenie Meyer, author of the wildly popular "Twilight" novels, started a new book called "The Host." Published by Little, Brown in 2008, "The Host" is a sci-fi yarn — with plenty of romance, as Meyer's legions of fans had come to expect — about a young woman named Melanie Stryder, one of the few humans left on Earth whose physical form has yet to be taken over by Souls, a race of body-snatching extraterrestrials who have colonized the planet.
Early on, Melanie is captured and a Soul known as Wanderer implanted in her body. But Melanie's own soul lives on inside Wanderer, who begins to see things from Melanie's perspective. Soon, Melanie/Wanderer finds her way to the secret desert hideout of a group of humans resisting the alien takeover. There they encounter Jared, Melanie's dreamy former boyfriend, and Ian, an equally dreamy young man to whom Wanderer — dubbed "Wanda" by Jeb, the leader of the resistance — finds herself attracted. Since Melanie and Wanda are occupying the same body, complications naturally ensue.
This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.
Like the "Twilight" series, "The Host" was a massive best-seller, and also like the other books, it has been turned into a movie. Directed and adapted for the screen by Andrew Niccol and starring the Irish actress Saoirse Ronan ("Atonement," "The Lovely Bones") as Melanie/Wanda along with William Hurt as Jeb and Max Irons and Jake Abel as Jared and Ian, respectively, the film opens nationwide on Friday. Printers Row Journal spoke with Meyer during the Chicago stop of a media tour promoting the film; here's an edited transcript of our chat.
Q: I read that the idea for "Twilight" came to you in a dream. What about "The Host"?
A: When I was kid, my family and I used to do a lot of long car trips, and I used to tell myself stories to keep myself entertained. That was in the day when there weren't headphones or movies or whatever. Years later, in 2006 I think, I was on a car trip with my kids in the back seat — headphones, movies, no interaction — and I was bored out of my mind. And so I started telling myself stories again, like I used to. Now, of course, I have a new outlet when I come up with a story.
So I was driving along and got this idea of two people trapped in the same body, and then the extra problem of them being in love with the same person, and all the complications that would follow. And I thought, "Hey, that's a real idea. I can use that." And I spent the rest of the trip figuring out the kind of world that would be in. And as soon as I could, I just started writing it down.
Q: You were still writing the "Twilight" books then.
A: Yes, I was editing "Eclipse," I think, and hadn't written the fourth book yet. "Twilight" was originally an escape for me from everyday life, but it turned into a more stressful place than I'd planned. And so "The Host" became kind of an escape from my escape.
Q: Were you concerned that your fans might not embrace "The Host" because, maybe, they just wanted more "Twilight" books?
A: Not really. I guess I thought of it as just being for me, and that I wasn't going to publish it. Once you have people read a piece of fiction, it changes, and it's not just yours anymore. I needed a place where I could just write for myself and no one else. And then once it was done, I was excited about doing something in the science fiction world, and decided to go ahead and publish it.
Q: I've heard "The Host" described as "'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' meets 'Love Story.'"
A: The love story is there, of course, but it's really about the relationship, the bond between these two people who are sharing one body. They start out as enemies and become so close that they consider themselves sisters at the end. It's definitely science fiction because of the whole alien aspect, but it's a very human version of that. It's really about being human; it's not about what it's like to be an alien. It's about what it feels like to be in a human body, if you weren't in one every day.
Q: Going back to H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds," aliens who come to Earth don't usually have our best interests at heart. The aliens in "The Host" don't either, but —
A: But they're not scary monsters who are here to eat us and destroy our planet, no. They're peaceable beings who think they can do a better job with our planet than we're doing. They excuse the huge thing of erasing us by saying, "But we're making it a better place." They're nice but just think we don't need to be around. (Laughs.)
Q: "The Host" also features a sort of love triangle, or rectangle, or something.
A: It starts as a love triangle with only two people. Then it becomes a love quadrangle with three people. It's confusing.
Q: Guys often have trouble with your stories and movies, with their emphasis on young women and their romantic lives, the kissing and so forth. Do you feel like there's a sexist element of that?
A: Well, there are a lot of layers to it. With "Twilight," it's a first-person story seen through the eyes of a girl falling in love with a boy. So I can see how that might be an unusual place for a male reader or moviegoer to find himself in, or identify with. But as a female reader or moviegoer, you're always reading or watching from a male perspective. It's normal for us, so we don't stop and think, "This is about a boy and they're blowing things up! It's a guy thing and I don't want to see it!" We enjoy movies across the board.
So it's a little hard — not with my books in particular — that men don't often pick up a book with a female author, even a classic book, when it's told from a female perspective. And I think it's a little sad, you know, because we read your perspective all the time. Men go around saying they don't understand women at all, but it's because you don't read our books!
Q: I imagine that readers of, say, the Jane Austen novels or "Jane Eyre" — which I know you're a fan of — are 95 percent women.
A: Yeah. Men are either just not interested in our lives, as told from a female perspective, or they're conditioned that they're not supposed to be. I have good friend, also a novelist, who has a lot of issues with the fact that boys don't read girl books, and how sad that is, because girls read boy books all day long. It's too bad that there's such a stigma attached to that.
Of course, romantic novels like "Twilight" are very female-centric. But "The Host," while it comes from a female perspective, is told from an alien's perspective. And it's about so many different kinds of relationships that change us. If you're Wanda, for example, you become part of a community, and your love for a child, and for your companion, drags you away from the people you're supposed to be with and makes you betray them on some level. There's a lot of human nature in that, that I don't think is specific to females.
Q: There are future "Host" books coming, I gather?
A: I'm working on the sequel right now, but it's a slow-going thing. I need a lot of alone time to write, and that has not been an easy thing to find lately. So I'm hoping when we're done with this tour to really focus on the sequel. The title for the sequel is "The Seeker." The third one I'm planning to call "The Soul," but that one feels very far off right now.
Q: Are you done with the "Twilight" series?
A: I don't know. I had other novels planned for the series, other outlines and stories, but with the movies, it got really big and crazy, much more than I expected. And I really got burned out on vampires. I'm not sure how much of that was because of the fervor over the series; maybe I would have gotten there if I were just sitting in my room writing by myself the whole time. But it feels like it was a combination of things, including all the stuff around the movies.
And of course the movies change the story and the characters, and I wouldn't want to write them if they weren't in their original form. Maybe sometime it'll feel like my story again, but right now it doesn't feel like I could write them anymore.
Q: You'd begun another novel in the "Twilight" series, "Midnight Sun," but the rough draft was leaked and you ended up not finishing it. How did that happen?
A: I'm not totally sure. I was in a writer's group, and when you're in one, you read people's manuscripts and they read yours. It looks like someone made a copy of my manuscript and shared it. I don't think there was any ill intent. It was just something that had been handed around for a while, and then somebody posted it online. That person probably had some ill intent, but I have no idea who it was.
Q: Did that episode contribute to your decision not to go forward with the "Twilight" story?
A: I think a little bit, because there's that sense that you're being watched. At first I didn't know where the leak came from. I thought my computer had been hacked, and I went into a little bit of a panic mode and got a little paranoid. It was amazing to me that people cared about my silly rough draft that had been written years before it got onto the Internet; it felt weird that that mattered to anybody, and that people were combing through the pages looking for my mistakes, which of course were all over the place.
For me, anyway, it's nicer to write when people don't care about what you're writing. I like to pretend to myself that I'm the only person who's ever going to read it. It helps me not have that weird stage fright that I get when I know someone's going to look at it.
Q: You're out of luck on that score.
A: I lie to myself a lot.
Kevin Nance is a Chicago-based freelance writer whose work appears in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Poets & Writers Magazine and elsewhere.
By Stephenie Meyer, Back Bay Books, 619 pages, $16.99 (paperback)Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun