In the midst of separating a generation of young female readers into Team Edward and Team Jacob, Stephenie Meyer, author of the wildly popular "Twilight" novels, started a new book called "The Host." Published by Little, Brown in 2008, "The Host" is a sci-fi yarn — with plenty of romance, as Meyer's legions of fans had come to expect — about a young woman named Melanie Stryder, one of the few humans left on Earth whose physical form has yet to be taken over by Souls, a race of body-snatching extraterrestrials who have colonized the planet.
Early on, Melanie is captured and a Soul known as Wanderer implanted in her body. But Melanie's own soul lives on inside Wanderer, who begins to see things from Melanie's perspective. Soon, Melanie/Wanderer finds her way to the secret desert hideout of a group of humans resisting the alien takeover. There they encounter Jared, Melanie's dreamy former boyfriend, and Ian, an equally dreamy young man to whom Wanderer — dubbed "Wanda" by Jeb, the leader of the resistance — finds herself attracted. Since Melanie and Wanda are occupying the same body, complications naturally ensue.
Like the "Twilight" series, "The Host" was a massive best-seller, and also like the other books, it has been turned into a movie. Directed and adapted for the screen by Andrew Niccol and starring the Irish actress Saoirse Ronan ("Atonement," "The Lovely Bones") as Melanie/Wanda along with William Hurt as Jeb and Max Irons and Jake Abel as Jared and Ian, respectively, the film opens nationwide on Friday. Printers Row Journal spoke with Meyer during the Chicago stop of a media tour promoting the film; here's an edited transcript of our chat.
Q: I read that the idea for "Twilight" came to you in a dream. What about "The Host"?
A: When I was kid, my family and I used to do a lot of long car trips, and I used to tell myself stories to keep myself entertained. That was in the day when there weren't headphones or movies or whatever. Years later, in 2006 I think, I was on a car trip with my kids in the back seat — headphones, movies, no interaction — and I was bored out of my mind. And so I started telling myself stories again, like I used to. Now, of course, I have a new outlet when I come up with a story.
So I was driving along and got this idea of two people trapped in the same body, and then the extra problem of them being in love with the same person, and all the complications that would follow. And I thought, "Hey, that's a real idea. I can use that." And I spent the rest of the trip figuring out the kind of world that would be in. And as soon as I could, I just started writing it down.
Q: You were still writing the "Twilight" books then.
A: Yes, I was editing "Eclipse," I think, and hadn't written the fourth book yet. "Twilight" was originally an escape for me from everyday life, but it turned into a more stressful place than I'd planned. And so "The Host" became kind of an escape from my escape.
Q: Were you concerned that your fans might not embrace "The Host" because, maybe, they just wanted more "Twilight" books?
A: Not really. I guess I thought of it as just being for me, and that I wasn't going to publish it. Once you have people read a piece of fiction, it changes, and it's not just yours anymore. I needed a place where I could just write for myself and no one else. And then once it was done, I was excited about doing something in the science fiction world, and decided to go ahead and publish it.
Q: I've heard "The Host" described as "'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' meets 'Love Story.'"
A: The love story is there, of course, but it's really about the relationship, the bond between these two people who are sharing one body. They start out as enemies and become so close that they consider themselves sisters at the end. It's definitely science fiction because of the whole alien aspect, but it's a very human version of that. It's really about being human; it's not about what it's like to be an alien. It's about what it feels like to be in a human body, if you weren't in one every day.
Q: Going back to H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds," aliens who come to Earth don't usually have our best interests at heart. The aliens in "The Host" don't either, but —
A: But they're not scary monsters who are here to eat us and destroy our planet, no. They're peaceable beings who think they can do a better job with our planet than we're doing. They excuse the huge thing of erasing us by saying, "But we're making it a better place." They're nice but just think we don't need to be around. (Laughs.)
Q: "The Host" also features a sort of love triangle, or rectangle, or something.
A: It starts as a love triangle with only two people. Then it becomes a love quadrangle with three people. It's confusing.
Q: Guys often have trouble with your stories and movies, with their emphasis on young women and their romantic lives, the kissing and so forth. Do you feel like there's a sexist element of that?
A: Well, there are a lot of layers to it. With "Twilight," it's a first-person story seen through the eyes of a girl falling in love with a boy. So I can see how that might be an unusual place for a male reader or moviegoer to find himself in, or identify with. But as a female reader or moviegoer, you're always reading or watching from a male perspective. It's normal for us, so we don't stop and think, "This is about a boy and they're blowing things up! It's a guy thing and I don't want to see it!" We enjoy movies across the board.