It occurs to me that at this late stage I haven't lent my voice to the already cacophonous choruses debating the literary merits of Ms. Meyer's work. I realize that by making any sort of statement, I risk alienating good friends with strong opinions, but weighing that hazard against that of letting my friend continue in strong opinions unchecked, I have decided to go forth as originally planned.
I don't think Stephanie Meyer is a bad writer.
Now this isn't to say that I think her prose merits inclusion in the next Norton's anthology or that a world of Twilight would usher in the literary revolution we've been waiting for, but I've had enough of people calling her a talentless hack. Sure, maybe some lines of teenage angst strike the reader as perhaps overly melodramatic, or crudely hewn, but that doesn't make her talentless. In fact, if she's talentless, then may God bless me with the talentlessness to make the New York Times Bestseller Lists for seemingly marathon numbers of weeks. May God bless me with the talentlessness to create a public mania with more fan-allegiance, more marketing power, and more imitators than (dare I say it?) even Harry Potter. May God bless me with the talentlessness to inspire hundreds of thousands, and I might suggest millions, of "non-readers" to pick up a book, read it straight through, get to the end and then start it again. That seems like a nice kind of talentless.
Some people will claim that a novel can be "popular" without being "good." Usually what people mean by "good" is that some sentence-level eloquence or clever plot construction is present. I have in my mind some of the rules that "good" writing employs: varying your sentence length, creating meaningful characters, be consistent in your details, avoid the cliche or obvious, etc. These rules do, more often than not, create a pleasurable reading experience for someone who expects reading already to be a pleasure, but it seems like there are another set of rules at hand for mad, feverish popular success. It may have something to do with reading the zeitgeist. It may have something to do with fulfilling a psychological or socialogical need. But while "good" fiction adheres to some academic standard floating around among people who have read Moby Dick all the way through and a sufficient amount of the Latin American prose poems, popular fiction is good because people enjoy reading it. In fact, I'd venture that it's easier to teaching someone (or yourself) to write "good" fiction, than it is to teach them to write something that will be popular.
I don't think there's a magic formula to Twilight, or The DaVinci Code (and I admit that I'm not fond of the DaVinci Code, but I will say that"The Truth about DaVinci's Codes" lecture series filled our humble art museum to fire-marshal capacity, when actual DaVinci's had not had the same effect), or any other other imensely popular book that causes literary types to scrunch up their eyebrows and frown. If there was a formula, I'm certain publishers and editors and agents would put it on the back of their business cards. Still, though you may wince your way through Bella and Edward's dialogue, something about it causes a sudden bout of irresponsibility to other tasks and you inexplicably find yourself in the bathtub at 3:00 am wondering if Bella's going to become a vampire this time. This doesn't happen to everyone, but I'll admit that it happened to me.
And, finally (and this is the last refuge of the literary apologist) if you think Stephanie Meyer's written a bad novel, then I heartily welcome you to write a better one yourself. Having just finished my first novel(la), I can testify that it's a mighty hard thing to string together a beginning, middle, and an end, especially over the course of 300, 400 pages. Everyone who completes the task in the most primitive way deserves a gold star. If you write a better novel than Twilight, you may enjoy the same successes. It broke my heart to hear of Stephen King's denunciation of Stephanie Meyer; it broke my heart enough for me to cry out in spite, "yeah, well, Stephen King, the 1980s called--they miss you."
And if your novel doesn't break to the same wild acclaim, it won't be because the hegemony of Twilight has ensnared all your adolescent readers in zombie-like rituals of re-reading; there was once a book that was written precisely as the world of young adult fiction was caught up in adoration of a fantasy world that extended into bookstore release parties, clothing, movies, action figures, music, bedspreads, posters, themed birthdays, and seemed to hold the literary world in its iron, serial grip. It was the year 2005. The hegemony was Harry Potter and the underdog was a first novel by a housewife--you know it as Twilight.