A pop culture trend with bite

Sex that could kill you: how a Mormon housewife makes $70 million a year on vampire stories

I love stories about ordinary people who are showered with crazy good fortune, especially when they take a hand in creating it for themselves. Even more so when they do it by spending thousands of hours alone in front of a computer screen, sending their thoughts out into the ether in the hope that someone else actually cares to read what they write. So I am pre-disposed to like Stephenie Meyer, author of the teeny-vampy saga Twilight.

The stay-at-home mother of three had a dream in 2003 and, despite never having written before, decided to record it. Once she started writing she found she enjoyed the process and was driven to finish, in three months, a thick manuscript about human teen Bella, caught in a freaky love triangle with a debonair vampire named Edward and a jealous werewolf named Jake. She wrote with her one-year-old in her lap watching Blues Clues on TV.

Now she is arguably as popular as JK Rowling, the beneficiary-turned-billionaire who created boy wizard Harry Potter. Meyer made it onto Forbes' 2009 Celebrity 100 (she is  number 26), published two novels last year, attended the premiere of the blockbuster movie based on Twilight, and earned $70 million. She put the town of Forks, Washington, setting of the Twilight books, on the map. Residents like to dress up as Bella and Edward and send pictures to Meyer. You can't help but be impressed.

What annoys me about all the vampire hoopla is the perception perpetuated by fans and media alike that Stephenie Meyer has somehow tapped into a hitherto unheralded zeitgeist. That sitting at home in Scottsdale, Arizona she unwittingly figured out the formula for making teen girls swoon. While her Mormon upbringing, with its traditional, clean-living values no doubt informed her gentlemanly vampire—Edward won't drain Bella of her blood until they are married, natch—Meyer is a part of this world, and therefore could not have missed the tele-phenom Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or the literary vampire obsession of the 80s and 90s, the Interview with the Vampire series by Anne Rice.

As for the late-noughties, Meyer is far from alone in exploiting the feminine soft spot for men who could kill you as soon as look at you: TV series True Blood, starring Anna Paquin as a telepathic waitress who falls in love with a vampire, has won awards and legions of fans, and there are endless schmaltzy romance novels with names like Let the Night Begin and In His Immortal Embrace that sell like ice cubes during a heat wave.

What is the appeal of all this blood lust? A friend admitted to me with giggling embarrassment that she has read all four Twilight books. "I hate myself for it," she says. "They're so badly written." She has also seen the first movie (number two is out in November) and encourages me to see it too, so I can "understand". I don't judge her for liking teen fiction, or fantasising about vampires, or wishing that her day-to-day was infused with the same drama as Bella's. But I can't summon the energy for vampires, especially when they are as grungy as Robert Pattinson, the guy who plays Edward on film. He reminds me of Ethan Hawke, back in the glory days of Reality Bites and Before Sunrise. Both men kinda look like they would smell.