The scholar John Rodden calls the literary interview a “fully-fledged genre.” I used to be skeptical, but after assigning my students at The College of Saint Rose to speak with an author, I’m more inclined to think the literary interview qualifies as a distinct form of performance.
I put out a call on Facebook and Twitter: Would you speak to a college student about your book? I asked. Sure, they said. Review copies were sent, students selected authors, read and researched their work, and asked questions.- Daniel Nester, Contributing Word Editor
AUTHOR TANYA ERZEN ON HER BOOK, FANPIRE: THE TWILIGHT SAGA AND THE WOMEN WHO LOVE IT
As a Twilight fan, I was excited, and a bit nervous, to interview Tanya Erzen, author of Fanpire: The Twilight Saga and the Women Who Love It. Erzen, after all, is a scholar who teaches at the University of Puget Sound and has had fellowships from such places as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation, focusing on the ethnography of American religion with particular interests in gender and sexuality studies. Even for a prestigious academic, to immerse oneself in the life of the Twilight fan is no easy task. Some her activities included a Summer School Symposium on the Twilight saga, Bella-themed self-defense classes, Cardio with the Cullens, and watching the movies at midnight. Just ending her blog tour, Erzen took time out to speak by phone from her residence in Seattle, Washington (that’s right by Forks!) We talked about identifying with Bella, how Twilight has brought families closer together, and, of course those passionate female Twilight fans.
DEVOE: Why did you choose to immerse yourself in the life of the Twilight fan ?
ERZEN: I felt a lot of the criticism of Twilight from scholars or feminist critics was fair, but they sort of missed out on the point of it. If it is so bad for women, or propounding all of these negative messages about sex and relationships for girls, then why do millions of women and girls all over the world love these books? And I felt like also the media coverage of the Twilight fans was very misogynistic. Women and girls who enjoy these films were also labeled as hysterical, or the moms that liked it were called addicts. You think about male fandoms or men who do fantasy football; they’re not treated with the same kind of disdain or dismissal. I’m interested in the books, but I’m more interested in the people who like these books and what they make of them. I think the fandom is really, really diverse, not monolithic.
DEVOE: Can you go into more detail about the online survey you did? You mention that 98% of the Twilight fans are women and 80% identify as non-denominational Christians or Catholics.
ERZEN: I made up a survey and then had a couple of the fan sites—BellaandEdward and Twilight Moms—post it. I asked things from, “ What else do you read besides Twilight,” to “How often do you go on websites,” and, ‘How often do you go to the conventions?” Other things were more open-ended, like “How has Twilight affected your relationship with your family, your spouse or your boyfriend or significant other?”
I followed up with some of the people who were willing to do more detailed interviews. Surveys can be useful, but I think [only surveying] who’s reading BellaandEdward and Twilight Moms already limits you, so it can’t encompass all fans everywhere. And then what people say online always reflects what they do think in their daily life.
DEVOE: Fans you met gave you their opinion about Bella’s character. One said she’s weak while another said she can be a hero when need be. You open a paragraph with the question, “Heroine or victim?” Then you go to the workshop of Bella’s Self-Defense class. What is your opinion of Bella’s character?
ERZEN: You know, I feel like it’s unfortunate, because Bella is this blank slate upon which everybody projects what they want. Is she a damsel in distress, or is she this kick-ass vampire who saves everybody? I think there is so much adulation for Team Edward and Team Jacob, but there’s never a t-shirt that says Team Bella. So, personally, I think in the books I found Bella’s character to be—I wouldn’t say a blank slate— but a lot of it entails how her whole life revolves around this one person and I think I said this in the book that one thing that really irks me was the references to her cooking and the details of her doing the laundry and cooking, and like her father is totally incapable of this. And then this mooning, “W hen is Edward coming over?”
On the one hand, I think many people experience that, especially when you fall in love, or you have a crush and feel about somebody in that way. I get that I don’t think Stephenie Meyer didn’t make her a complicated character. She certainly got better—I mean, when she’s a vampire.
I said this in the book that the representation of Bella in the films is better than the books. I felt like they took out a lot of the mooning and pining for Edward. I think she had a lot more gumption, a lot more spirit. I thought she was a little more complicated.
DEVOE: I agree. Edward can be seen as controlling, which leads to his relationship with Bella. Some look at their relationship and say it’s perfect, while others might say it’s unhealthy. Bella gives up her life (literally) for Edward. She gets married and has a child at 18. What do you think their relationship is telling young girls? Is it positive or negative? Is it an ideal relationship to aspire for?
ERZEN: Personally, no (laughs). I thought it was interesting a lot of the fans would say, “ Oh she should’ve picked Jacob because here’s someone she has a friendship with, it’s like there’s more quality in that relationship.” I think it’s all of what you just said— he is controlling. A lot of people have said this, a lot of fans say this, I think it’s really creepy that he’s watching her, but then it’s okay that he’s watching her. I think it just reflects the way a lot of conflicting messages and ideas are out there in the culture. What is romance and what is the relationship? You know, wanting him to sort of be a dangerous and brooding guy, but [one] who is really sexy and has this dark past and at root is really good or is sort of wounded in some way, and it’s made whole by love. I mean that, to me, is not new in Twilight,that’s part of the trope of romance novels. It’s this figure of this man who is really masculine, really strong, but is dangerous and also good in someway, and can be whole and good through the love of one particular person. It’s a fantasy, and it obviously speaks to a lot of people who desire that fantasy.
DEVOE: There’s a section in the book called, “Because I Read Twilight I Have Unrealistic Expectations of Men.” In my opinion, it’s just a matter of knowing reality versus fantasy, and that Edward is just a character in a book. Can Edward exist in real life? Sure, but to base your expectations on a fictional character for real- life men is a little extreme. What do you think of women having these expectations of men?
ERZEN: You know, I think, like you said, some felt like they wanted to hold out for somebody who was like Edward, and I think some realize that this is a fantasy, this isn’t how real life is. But I do think if that’s what it did, and I’ll say now talking about the older women, like the Twilight moms I interviewed. It seemed to be always for them to think about their marriages and what is marriage, and why or what you get out of it. So, Twilight has this fantasy of marriage as it’s eternal, it’s great forever, you have supernatural sex, you never fall out of love, which is not the case with most marriages. But for some it gave them a way to talk about it, and I think less so with the person that they are married to.
DEVOE: Gwen and her mother Susan are both Twilight fans. I can relate because my mom didn’t understand my obsession with the books until she read them, and then my grandma read the books. It made us closer as a family, and we all have different views on the books coming from different generations. Do you think this shows the power of reading? That through reading together, families can grow closer?
ERZEN: Oh definitely. I think that’s one of the best outcomes of Twilight; that it did allow families to read the books and talk about them. And you probably know this because of Twilight—then a lot of the fans started reading other books, like reading Jane Austen, reading Wuthering Heights. I think Wuthering Heights was reissued, and became the best- selling historical novel, and they repackaged it with Twilight-esque covers. A lot of people I talk to said they never really read books until they read Twilight, so now if it gets people into reading stuff, I think that’s great.
One thing that has changed to me, like when I initially went to Forks and they had that literary forum on Twilight, there were all these people there who read the books, wanted to talk about the books, and wanted to talk about other books, and it seems that as time has gone on, so much more of the focus on all of the fan sites has been on the films and the stars and less about the books themselves, and about reading.
DEVOE: When I got to where you discuss fan fiction , I was a little shocked. I wasn’t expecting that to be coming next. It’s a little scary to think (or maybe not) that fans are reading these mature works. The fans are maturing with age. I was 15 when I first read Twilight; I’m now going to be 21. So the fans are not these little kids who don’t know anything. I guess it’s just really a comment about it, but I think that people think we’re still these 15-year-old girls and now we’re reading 50 Shades of Grey or whatever.
ERZEN: I think most of the people who are writing smut— and not all fan fiction is smut; it’s certainly the most popular— but the people who are writing it are mostly older women. They can’t really regulate who goes onto the Twilight fan fiction sites. For a lot of younger female girls reading them, those books, and those kinds of stories aren’t appealing; they’re more appealing to older fans. It is interesting to me that everyone was so shocked about 50 Shades of Grey. Why is this so popular, why are these adult women reading it? Well, like it’s the same story, the Twilight story; it just has tons of sex in it over and over. And then I think Twilight is appealing to younger girls because you don’t have any of that explicit sexuality. They have sex, but it’s alluded to.
Obviously adult fans are looking for something else. Some adult fans don’t want that either, especially some of the Mormon fans [who] thought that even Twilight was too risqué.
DEVOE: You have this amazing ending that I just love. I drew a heart next to the final paragraph, because all I could do was smile: “The giddiness and joy overwhelms and propels the fanpire for a time. It consoles, buoys, and connects us, and then, like the fleeting sparkles on Edward’s skin, it vanishes.” I have no words for how great the ending is.
DEVOE: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
ERZEN: My advice would be to read widely, not just read in your field or what you’re interested in. R ead as much as you can. And just write, just keep writing, write everyday. I think especially this happens a lot to women, someone rejects something you write and you get a negative feedback, it’s so easy to spiral into this self-doubt. It happens to everybody. T he key is just to keep doing it and to get a lot of feedback, and you know everything starts as a messy draft, but it gets better. It’s something you just have to do; it’s not something that is going to flow out in perfect sentences. Don’t let negative feedback keep you from doing it, because I know a lot of women who just say, “Oh I’m never going to do this again.” And a lot of men just keep doing. So just keep doing it.
|Visit Tanya Erzen…|