Maegan Letras is not into romance — not in novels and movies, at least. "I do not like romances. I never go to see chick flicks. I don't read romance novels."
She's read Bram Stoker's "Dracula" and Anne Rice's "Interview With the Vampire," but usually she isn't sucked in by tales of bloodsuckers.
She's not one for delayed gratification, instead often reading the first two or three chapters of a novel, then skipping to the last chapter to see how the story unfolds. "I hate suspense — it drives me crazy."
Such is the power of the "Twilight" saga to turn people such as Letras into contradictions.
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Letras of Ceres is among a key contingent of fans for the book/movie franchise: women in their 30s and 40s captivated by the fierce romanticism of Stephanie Meyer's tale of a handsome, chivalrous teen vampire, Edward Cullen, and the awkward girl he loves, Bella Swan.
"My sister read the books first and told me I had to read them, that they were just really good," Letras said. "I'm into a really good story."
Letras, 34, a wife and mother of three children, joined dozens of friends Thursday afternoon at Riverbank's Galaxy Theatres. Wearing various "Twilight"-related shirts, the group — teens to 50-somethings — staked out its place in line and played "Twilight" trivia while waiting for a 9 p.m. showing of 2008's "Twilight," followed by the midnight première of the first sequel, "The Twilight Saga: New Moon."
Letras said her group includes a nurse, a microbiologist, a truck driver and "lots of moms." She works as a nail technician and aesthetician.
Fueled by the franchise's explosion in popularity over the past year, opening- weekend box office for "New Moon" is expected to surpass the $70 million "Twilight" pulled in last November. The sequel is the top all-time advance ticket seller on Fandango.com.
According to publisher Little, Brown Book Group, U.S. sales of Meyer's four novels, the first of which was released in 2005, have more than doubled — from 20 million to 45 million — since the first film's release.
'A high standard'
Beyer High School freshman Jessica Weber, 14, stepped into the "Twilight" world before the first movie came out, but just barely.
"During the summertime, I was doing a play at the Gallo Center with Townsend Opera Players," she said, "and girls (also in the show) were all excited that 'Twilight' was coming out, and I didn't know what it was, you know. So they got me interested in that and I read the books like a week before the movie came out. I got through all of them."
While looking forward to seeing "New Moon" this weekend, Weber, like Letras, is a bigger fan of the books than of the first movie.
"After reading the books, you go in with a high standard, but I just sort of pushed that aside and watched the movie, and I thought it was OK," she said. "I mean, the book is way better, but you can't really compare a 300-page book to a two-hour movie."
Weber, who's read the books at least four times, agrees with Letras that the vampire element is just a small part of their appeal.
"It's the romance, but it's not just that," Weber said. "It was nicely written — just the connection between the characters, the way the events kept going and made me wonder what was going to happen next. ... I'm not interested in vampire things, but I liked those books."
Letras thinks Meyer created vibrant, memorable, admirable characters. "The girl, Bella, is just a really good girl. She's sweet, she has integrity," she said. "And then to meet Ed and all his family, they had interesting back stories. ... Being vampires is secondary to who they are — they're a family who love each other."
The "Twilight" phenomenon extends beyond sales of books and DVDs to other vampire- themed novels, films and TV shows that have cropped up in the franchise's wake, along with goth-lite fashion lines aimed at teens, tweens and self-proclaimed "Twilight Moms."
Even more pervasive is the media attention paid to the comings and goings of the "Twilight" cast. Unlike the stars of "Harry Potter" — the book and movie franchise to which "Twilight" most often is compared — the "Twilight" actors came out of the gates as young adults, therefore becoming fodder for gossip sites looking for the guaranteed hits that any mention of "Twilight" brings.
Some of the speculation focuses on Kristen Stewart (Bella) and Robert Pattinson's (Edward) are-they-or-aren't-they real-life relationship. But Pattinson draws most of the attention, embraced by fans as the embodiment of Meyer's vampire hero.
"At the end of the day, it is just an epic 'Romeo and Juliet' love story, and I think that has a lot to do" with the "Twilight" craze, said Ashley Greene, 22, who plays vampire Alice in the films. "Plus, you have Rob Pattinson, and every woman loves him."
It's all about having fun
Certainly, there were "Twilight" shirts bearing Pattinson's likeness among the fans who attended "New Moon" screenings Thursday, but among Letras and company, much of the "Twilight" clothing was more subtle.
"In March, my sister and I and two friends of mine took a road trip to Forks, Wash., where the books are set," she said. "There's a store in town called Forks Outfitters ... and they have sweat shirts that say 'Forks, Washington,' and we bought them. One of the reasons we like the shirts is because they don't say 'Twilight' on them, so you kind of have to be in the know to know that I'm wearing a shirt from 'Twilight.' "
Letras may be a "Twihard," as devoted fans are called, but she said she and her friends haven't really done anything "off the deep end."
"Of course, you could ask some of our husbands and they'd say this is the deep end," she added. "When we went to Forks, my husband and a couple of his friends gave me a bad time and said, 'When you get there, are you going to dress like vampires?' And I said, 'Like the Cullen vampires? Absolutely, because they wear designer clothes straight from Europe and the runways, so if you'd like me to spend $3,000 on a blouse, I'm down.'
"This really is just silly, but it's fun. We have lives, and in our lives we're serious. We're serious about raising our children, we're serious about our commitments — this is just a little area where we can be silly together and have a great time."
Bee Features Editor Deke Farrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2327.