The first time LaDonna Monk’s friend recommended she read a book about vampires running loose in the small town of Forks, she thought the idea sounded “kind of stupid.”
Then she dove into “Twilight,” Stephenie Meyer’s tale of teenage love with a Gothic twist that’s set in the rainy Olympic Peninsula town.
The “Twilight” juggernaut – four books, one movie and a second film, “New Moon,” set to debut in November – has swept millions of fans worldwide into its wake.
Count Monk, an otherwise rational music education major at Pacific Lutheran University, as one of them.
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She and her friends call themselves Twihards – diehard fans of “Twilight.” Monk has read all of the books, seen the first movie, and is anxiously awaiting the second.
Expectations surrounding “New Moon” have created such a fan frenzy that even the May 31 release of a trailer plugging the movie was the talk of the blogs that track all things “Twilight.” The trailer has received millions of hits online.
Devotion to the cause prompted Monk and her friend, Stephanie Campbell, to travel to Vancouver, B.C., earlier this year in pursuit of the stars filming “New Moon.”
Campbell and Monk, friends since their elementary school days in Tacoma, make a great “Twilight” team. Campbell, a contractor for Microsoft, is the research queen, scouring the blogs and Web sites for intelligence on when and where the “Twilight” movie stars will appear next. And when the stars come out, Monk is the one with the chutzpah to approach them for photos and autographs.
“I’m kind of shy,” explains Campbell.
Monk says the highlight of an April weekend in Vancouver was meeting actress Ashley Greene, who plays Alice Cullen, the sister of vampire hero Edward Cullen.
“She was the sweetest girl ever,” gushes Monk. “She completely embodied her character.”
The two fans caught up with Greene and other “Twilight” stars during a Vancouver performance of the band 100 Monkeys, which includes “Twilight” actor Jackson Rathbone.
They found others by staking out the hotels where the actors stayed.
During a later trip without Monk, Campbell scored a sighting of “Twilight” heartthrob Robert Pattinson, who plays Edward.
She found him by sleuthing out another concert, featuring a musician friend of Pattinson’s. Then she waited for him to exit.
“We were waiting in the alley an hour in the cold,” Campbell says.
Was it worth it?
FANS OF ALL AGES
If you think all “Twilight” fans are wide-eyed teeny boppers, think again.
Both Monk and Campbell are in their mid-20s.
There’s an online community of Twilightmoms.com, devoted to middle-age women fans.
Even Monk’s mom, Joyce Monk, has been gently bitten by the “Twilight” bug.
Joyce Monk says she’s a fan, but “not quite like LaDonna.”
She saw the movie. And this spring, she and another mom, along with two of their daughters, drove to Forks on a whim to see what all of the excitement is about.
Author Meyer, an Arizonan, explains on her Web site that she chose Forks for her vampire town after a Google search for the rainiest spot in the United States pointed to the Olympic Peninsula. She wanted a dark location – a shady spot where a family of sun-shunning undead would feel at home.
Joyce Monk says Forks is a long drive from Tacoma (more than three hours) for about 20 minutes of sightseeing.
“We were more curious than anything,” says LaDonna’s mom. “We saw the movie and thought it would be fun. We had a good giggle.”
She and her party decided to skip a $39.99 “Twilight” tour, and drove themselves around town.
Stores stock “Twilight” shirts, pens, post cards, candy and, of course, Stephenie Meyer’s books. A diner sells a Bella Burger, named for the girl Edward loves.
At least one bed-and-breakfast features “Twilight” themed rooms. And you can even see Forks High School, alma mater of Edward and Bella.
The school will be the scene next week of Summer School in Forks, a symposium largely aimed at adult fans. (Teens are welcome, but they must be accompanied by an adult chaperone age 21 or older.) Registration closes Saturday.
Highlights include discussions of the books, lectures on the vampire in folklore, themes of feminism (or lack of it) in the books and more.
Parents are warned that some of the workshops might contain mature language.
There also will be a chance for fans to watch the movie and take a field trip to La Push, a location that figures prominently in the “Twilight” stories.
But the big event for the weekend is a “prom” to be held in the high school gym, complete with a crowning of a prom king and queen.
Attending the four-day event costs $250. (See www.litfanevents.org/summerinforks for details.)
Despite the high school nostalgia, organizers say Summer School in Forks won’t be a scream-fest for crazy kids.
Ann-Laurel Nickel, president of Literature-Inspired Fandom Events of Lancaster, Calif., which is organizing the Forks fest, describes it as “a literary symposium aimed at adult fans of the series, or teens old enough to participate in the discussions.”
Says Nickel: “ ‘Twilight’ spans generations. I think it’s just the appeal of the story. The romance.”
BEYOND THE FANGS
“I was never much into reading love stories,” says LaDonna Monk. “I prefer action novels.”
But she says the “Twilight” books manage to combine both.
Even though the love story doesn’t really kick in until well into the first book, it’s the romance – not the vampire gimmick – that holds readers, say fans.
“If you sit down and read it, what draws you in is the relationship between the two main characters,” says Monk. “She’s supposed to be a plain girl, and he’s a phenomenal creature every girl is in love with.”
Edward is chivalrous and protective – if somewhat flawed and controlling.
Bella is described as ordinary looking, with a tendency toward clumsiness. Yet Edward is drawn to her.
“It’s the nature of females,” says Campbell. “We all want our knight in shining armor. Edward represents the perfect guy. Even though I wouldn’t want a vampire in real life, in literature, the best characters are the ones with extreme personalities.”
Bella is also forbidden fruit for Edward, who admits he is first drawn to her by the smell of her blood. He must fight against his vampire instincts to kill her.
And who can resist a story of forbidden love?
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635