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Maybe it's because she's a mother to three boys. Maybe it's just because she's a compassionate person. But Stephenie Meyer loves to see the good in people - even the "bad guys."

"My books really aren't horror novels," Meyer says from her home near Phoenix, Ariz.

"The vampires are a source of light in my novels. I tend to look at the bad-guy side of things - giving them their side, letting them talk."

The vampires in question populate "Twilight," "New Moon" and "Eclipse," the first three books in Meyer's outrageously successful Twilight Saga series. The fourth, "Breaking Dawn," will be released next Saturday.

Young-adult readers and older ones have embraced the vampire series with the kind of passion J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter elicited: millions of copies sold (4 million in the last 12 months alone), ardent devotion (about 150 weeks combined on the New York Times bestseller list) and the inevitable film adaptations - the first, "Twilight," hits theaters on Dec. 12.

As for why the books enthrall teen readers: The characters are teens.

In "Twilight," Bella Swan is a "new kid" who leaves Phoenix for a small town in Washington State, where she feels out of place.

She falls for Edward Cullen, a handsome boy vampire.

As Booklist opined: "This is a book of the senses: Edward is first attracted by Bella's scent; ironically, Bella is repelled when she sees blood. Their love is palpable, heightened by their touches, and teens will respond viscerally."

Viscerally but also safely, or at least somewhat innocently, given the fantasy setting. At the very least, the Twilight books are once-removed from the realities of teen sexuality explored in such young-adult books as Meg Cabot's "Ready or Not."

In "The Host," Meyer took her fans in a different direction: It's a non-"Twilight" novel that is ostensibly science fiction, though on her Web site (www.stepheniemeyer.com) the author calls it "science fiction for people who don't like science fiction."

"The Host" is the story of Wanderer, a member of an alien species that takes possession of human minds and bodies. Nearly all of humanity has yielded to these alien beings, but Wanderer's host, Melanie Stryder, is an especially strong human. Her will is not entirely broken; she pushes back at Wanderer, and the two minds must find a way to deal with each other.

"It's science fiction because it's about aliens," the author says, "so there's no other way to categorize it. And I like science fiction. But this doesn't feel to me like science fiction; once you get past the basic premise, it's just about being human."

As with her vampires, Meyer's aliens come off as sympathetic in part, she thinks, because of her role as mother to Gabe, Seth and Eli.

Meyer earned a bachelor's in English from Brigham Young University. But motherhood might yet have been her only job were it not for a dream she had in 2003 - a dream about a girl and a vampire sitting in a meadow.

That was rather odd, given her background. Yes, she's a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but she also describes herself as "a total chicken," not a lover of scary yarns.

"I've never read a Stephen King book in my life. The most I can handle as far as scary movies is Hitchcock. Anything beyond that, count me out. Suspense is OK. I really don't like gore; I hate the slasher type of thing.

"I have never seen a vampire movie. I don't read vampire books. The 'Twilight' series got started because of (that dream) I had, and I still have no idea why I was dreaming about a vampire."

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She started writing with no other intent, she says, than to entertain herself.

"I wasn't planning on publishing it. It was for an audience of one."

That audience has multiplied quite dramatically. Meyer confesses to being a bit shy in front of crowds, but now that experience is part of her life.

"I wrote these stories because I wanted to tell them to myself. And that was … kind of enough, to get that much joy out of something. You don't ask for more.

"To have other people respond to it as emotionally as they have, that they care as much as I do about these characters, was unexpected and overwhelming."

She laughs.

"Fanaticism is the reason the word fan exists. It makes me feel great."

But the work is what motivates her. And she's already working on "Midnight Sun," which will be the fifth "Twilight" book.

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