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Devoted ‘Twihards’ get their fix online

While the “Twilight” books form the core of the phenomenon and the films spread the stories throughout Cineplex Nation, the online community buzzes like an electric generator at peak capacity.
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

The Internet is truly an information highway that covers the globe. Al Gore claimed he invented it. Former Sen. Ted Stevens described it as “a series of tubes.” Jon Stewart once said of it, “The Internet is just a world passing around notes in a classroom.”

However you feel about the Internet, it’s clear that fans of “Twilight” have taken it over.

Stephenie Meyer created a series of books about young romance and blood-sucking that have achieved “Harry Potter”-like success. Four books have been released so far, and a partial draft of a fifth was pilfered and placed on the Internet, much to the author’s dismay. One film, “Twilight,” was released last year, and a second, “New Moon,” opens on Friday.

While the books form the core of the “Twilight” phenomenon, and the films are spreading the stories and characters throughout Cineplex Nation, the online community is buzzing like an electric generator at peak capacity. Fans who can’t get enough of Edward and Bella and their cohorts, and can’t possibly wait another minute for the next book (if there is one) or movie, have congregated online to get their “Twilight” fixes and connect with like-minded devotees.

The passion between “Twihards,” as they have come to be known, and Meyer’s creations and offshoots thereof, might just exceed that of the main characters. Such a pronouncement might be considered blaspheme to those who consider the pure and unwavering love between Edward the vampire and Bella the innocent to be supreme, but just try prying a Twihard away from the computer screen and a rousing tweet or a lusty blog. You might come away badly wounded.

There are several ways in which Twihards express their preoccupation for the undying love of their favorite sweethearts, and also for actors Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen), Kristen Stewart (Bella Swan) and others in the cast.

Twitter makes difference
There are many “Twilight” fan sites on the Web that serve as a hub for information. Such net locales offer one-stop obsessing for the ardent pursuer of all things “Twilight.”

One of the more popular ones is twilightlexicon.com. Operated by Lori Joffs and Laura Byrne-Cristiano, it is loaded with information about “Twilight” and its universe, including pages on the books, the movies, the author, vampire and werewolf mythology, and lots more. Meyer herself dubbed it “the brightest star in the Twilight online universe.”

Byrne-Cristiano estimates that the site gets more than 50,000 to 70,000 unique viewers a day.

The hot vampire series jumped from the printed page to the big screen, and its stars' off-screen romance only helps matters.

But its Twitter activity might be what sets twilightlexicon.com apart. Joffs and Byrne-Cristiano estimate that it has more than 21,000 followers on Twitter. “Twitter in the last six months has just taken off,” Byrne-Cristiano said. “The single biggest difference between ‘Twilight’ and ‘New Moon’ media is the presence of Twitter.”

She said the Twitter following certainly helps fans keep track of all “Twilight” goings-on. But it does have its down side. “Whenever the actors are eating dinner and it’s suddenly broadcast to everyone in real time,” Byrne-Cristiano said, “and they end up with people staring at them. But the good side is how much stars have embraced it and used it to directly connect to their fans.”

She pointed out that actor Peter Facinelli, who plays Dr. Carlisle Cullen, the father of Edward, has really maximized Twitter to connect with fans. “He has really taken it to a whole new level,” she said. “He gained 500,000 followers in under a month. Now fans come out to meet and greet him at events that they wouldn’t have known (about) otherwise.

“Essentially — and there are probably some entertainment reporters who are upset about this — they’ve cut out the middleman. Who they are and what they represent is immediately evident to their fans.”

Many of those involved in “Twilight,” including cast members and fan fiction authors, have also used their positions online to raise money for charities, such as Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which helps fight childhood cancer.

Stephenie Meyer wannabes
Four books. Four measly books. Does anyone in their right mind think that four Stephenie Meyer books in the “Twilight” series is enough to satisfy the ravenous appetites of Twihards?

That’s where fan fiction comes in. Believe it or not, there are Stephenie Meyer wannabes out there who have taken her characters and expanded on them, and some of them are quite good.

One of them writes under the pen name AngstGoddess003. She penned a “Twilight” story called “Wide Awake” that some fans feel is better than anything Meyer has churned out. And the most remarkable part is that it represents her first attempt at writing.

“It’s kind of like training wheels,” she explained, “to be given the opportunity to explore writing styles and techniques using a template in which the relationships and logistics have already been decided and proven enjoyable to the fandom.”

She explained that there are niches among fan fiction: “Canon” is that which is true to the original “Twilight” books; “Alternate Universe” is more creative and loosely based on Meyer’s writings; and “All Human,” the most controversial, which usually consists of original fiction with “Twilight” names attached bearing little resemblance to the original works.

And whereas “Twilight” seemingly is geared toward a young audience, given the ages of the lovers at the center of the tales, the truth is that the online phenomenon has helped spread the word across generations.

“I think the most notable aspect is the variety of ages we see,” she said. “With every generation, you see differing trends in what they enjoy and create with the characters. Niches notwithstanding, this also provides an opportunity for people to find something in common with one another.”

Fan fiction offers more ‘adult’ experienceOne fan of fan fiction, who went down the rabbit hole early on and only occasionally comes up for air, is a reader who goes by the moniker Vivian DeLongpaw. She is a grown-up professional with a master’s degree who can’t get enough of faux Meyer.

“A lot of readers — me included — were bereft at the end of the fourth book,” she said. “Reading fan fiction is a way of still being involved with the characters and not really letting them go. Seeing Edward and Bella in other situations with certain characteristics still in place keeps the fantasy going.

“To me, the fan fiction experience is just as gratifying as reading the original series, with the added bonus of sometimes getting to interact with the authors. In the original ‘Twilight’ series the interaction between the characters is mostly G rated, PG at best. There is just so much UST [shorthand for “Unresolved Sexual Tension”] you can take!

“Frankly, one of the appeals of fan fiction is that it doesn't target a young adult audience, so as a rule, the authors don't hold back on the passion, lust and lemons (sex). This aspect of fan fiction makes it overall a more ‘adult’ experience.”

Studio is ‘receptive to our needs’Summit Entertainment, which produced and released “Twilight” and is doing the same for “New Moon,” has an entire department devoted to the online populace for the series. Although no one from the studio would comment for this story, the site Twilight Examiner, while not an official arm of Summit, received the company’s blessing.

Twilight Examiner, a sub site of examiner.com, describes itself as discussion oriented. “I don’t really like to be antagonistic, but I also don’t prefer to patronize readers and draw conclusions for them,” said Amanda Bell, who operates the site. “If there’s something going on — be it with the books, films or personalities involved in the series — then I’ll just tend to let the readers and commentators bring their opinions to the table.”

Summit doesn’t work with every “Twilight” site out there because if it did, it wouldn’t have time to make any movies. But Twilight Examiner is one of the ones it confers with. “Summit is really receptive to our needs,” Bell explained, “and they’re also really open to communication and dialogue. They appreciate the fan site community, and their support helps everyone to return the favor and promote this franchise.”

‘Fan-girl crazy’There are sites that go from the lighthearted observant to the downright snarky. Letterstotwilight.com and its sub site cousin letterstorob.com are blog-heavy online destinations that probably fit into the former category, but they like to have lots of fun while they pay tribute to the “Twilight” gods.

The sites are run by two 20-something professional women who wish to remain anonymous. One is based in Los Angeles and nicknamed themoonisdown and one is in Philadelphia who goes by the handle Unintended Choice.

“My friend and I realized one day after talking online that we had this really odd obsession with this movie and book series,” said UnintendedChoice. “It was consuming us! We watched the same videos, read the same stuff, stalked the same blogs — and no one knew!

“We confessed to each other and started making fun of ourselves and other people in the fandom because it was just so ridiculous. How did two college-educated professional 20-somethings get to be so obsessed with something that’s for teenagers? So we decided to blog about it. And 11 months later, we still are.”

Their mission statement? “We really wanted a place to laugh at the fan girls we had become.”

“So many of the ‘Twilight’ blogs and communities out there were for kids, all ages, or people who were too afraid to be honest,” she added. “They weren’t saying what needed to be said: ‘Twilight’ isn’t really that great of a movie. The books aren’t always written so well. But that doesn’t mean it’s not great, amazing and captivating. That doesn’t mean we don’t love it and don’t go all fan-girl crazy over it.”

Unintended Choice reports that the site gets upward of 25,000 to 40,000 committed visitors a month, and upwards of 400,000 page views. About 40 percent of the site’s audience is outside the U.S., and more than half fall into the 18-to-34 age bracket. She estimates that 36 percent of the visitors are male, although most of them are loathe to comment.

UnintendedChoice said that one of the visitors was Stephenie Meyer herself. The author posted on her Web site, “Thanks for the laughs, LTT (Letterstotwilight).”

“It really made us respect Stephenie that much more that she can laugh along with us at the sillier aspects of her books, the movie, the fandom and the entire universe she created,” Unintended Choice said.