Of all the people who have been surprised by the success of the Twilight series of books, about a romance between a young heroine named Isabella "Bella" Swan, and a young vampire named Edward Cullen, no one is more surprised than the author.

In a statement on her website, Twilight creator Stephanie Meyer says she can pinpoint the exact moment of inspiration for creating the hugely popular series that has legions of fans among young adults (including my three nieces) and adults as well. The day in question was June 2, 2003. The point of inspiration: her children's swim lessons.

"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," Meyer said. "One of these people was just your average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire." The characters discussed the inherent problems in a romance between a mortal girl and a vampire guy who, as a being sexual aroused by blood, has a tough time resisting the temptation to kill his girlfriend.

And the rest, as they say, is history. The four-book Twilight series became a worldwide publishing phenomenon, selling 53 million copies and occupying the top four spots on USA Today's Top 100 Titles of 2008 list, evoking comparisons to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Readers in France snapped up copies of Emily Brontë's classic Wuthering Heights because Twilight heroine Bella discusses the 19th-century classic in Eclipse, the third Twilight book. Last year, the movie version of Twilight took in $70.8 million in its opening weekend: the biggest gross ever for a movie directed by a woman, Catherine Hardwicke.

What's the fuss all about? "I actually didn't get hooked on Twilight until after the movie came out," says Michelle Devine, 38, of Villas, New Jersey. "I'm a person who usually doesn't follow the masses in my reading selections, so when people started talking about the series, I was like, 'Whatever.' But we went, and I thought the movie was pretty good -- but I knew that the book had to be better. So I started to read it Thanksgiving night last year. By the end of the following week, I had read all four books in the series."

Cherre Brewster, 31, of Houston, appreciates Meyer's writing style. "If there were more books like this when I was in high school, I would definitely have been reading a lot more," she says. My own niece, Emily, 15, likes the books, though she found "Bella very complaining." She likes the other characters, though, and thought the movie was horrible. Fair enough. Her sister Danielle, 13, says boys like the Twilight books, too.

Twilight fans can look forward to new movies, but, alas, Meyer says the book series is finished. She has not announced her next project yet, but her publicists say it will not be "Twilight-related."

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