Grown women make all kinds of confessions when you ask them about Twilight, the outrageously successful book series (now a movie) about a teenage girl who falls in love with an impossibly handsome vampire.
"I put everything on hold while I was reading it. I told my kids, 'It's fend-for-yourselves dinner. You can make toast, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, whatever.'"
"I'm reading it for the fourth time. My husband thinks I'm crazy."
"We bought it for our book club because we wanted to talk about whether it was appropriate or not for our middle-school daughters. And in the end, we decided we really didn't care. We liked the book."
But the juiciest disclosure comes from a 30-something friend who simply lifts her long black hair to reveal two small fang marks (complete with drops of blood) tattooed at the nape of her neck.
This all may sound a bit extreme, but it only hints at the level of devotion displayed by the legions of obsessed tweens and teens who started the Twilight craze. Many of them recruited family, friends and even a few guys to read the addictive young adult books written by Stephenie Meyer.
At a pre-movie party at Borders bookstore in the Chapel Hills Mall, a group of girls and their moms, dressed in Twilight gear, discuss getting hooked.
"It's actually her fault," says Anne MacFarlane of her neighbor, Jenna Shattuck. "She's our babysitter, and she came over and said, 'Oh my God, you've got to read this book.' And I thought, 'Whatever, Jenna,' because she reads every book. And then two days later, Sharon, her mom, came down the block and she had circles under her eyes from staying up all night, and she said, 'You should really read this book.' And so I thought, 'If she's gonna do that, I'll read it.'"
"Now our whole neighborhood is 'Twilighters,'" says Jenna with a satisfied smile.
Even the Obamas
Fans Brandi Megrew, 16, and her sister Tashauna, 18, say kids secretly read the books in class. For their part, they convinced their busy mom, Jodi, to read all four.
"Other than stuff for work, it had probably been 10 years since I'd read a book," says Jodi, who now attends all the local Twilight events with her daughters.
One of the few males at the party, Kevin Van Ness, 18, says he hasn't read the books but is excited about the upcoming film. He's a fan of vampire pop culture, like TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the video game BloodRayne. So as his mom's watched all the Twilight trailers, he's become intrigued.
"It's not like Harry Potter, where it crossed all generational and gender lines," says Shannon Bailey, the Borders employee leading the night's party. "But it has definitely captured female interest."
Bailey herself is a fan, and this past year she vacationed in Forks, Wash., the tiny town that serves as the books' setting, with her family.
"It was worth the drive," she says, "but my husband and son rolled their eyes."
With such rabid female fans, it's no surprise that the books have dominated bestseller lists month after month; that the movie trailer logged a record number of hits in its first 48 hours online; that the soundtrack debuted at No. 1 even in advance of the film's release; and that the movie is poised to set new records when it opens just after midnight Thursday.
Twilight mania is so big that even President-Elect Barack Obama has reportedly admitted to reading the books with his 10-year-old daughter, Malia.
So what makes people ravenous for all things vampire?
"On the face of it, it's sort of hard to identify why the books are so popular, because there are literally thousands of vampire books out there," says Boulder psychologist Lynda Hilburn, who has written a couple such books herself. "Here's this young woman, Bella the heroine and she's really not exceptional. She's just kind of every teenager. She's not particularly attractive. She's smart, but a lot of young women are smart.
"And yet she has the most unusual, handsome and incredibly perfect young man, Edward, fall in love with her. In fact, two very desirable young men fight for her. That is a primal fantasy for most young women."
Ah, fantasy. Dozens of females at the pre-movie party confirm its role in the equation. They "oooohh" and "ahhhhh" their way through a discussion about the book, their feelings about the cast, and how the film could possibly meet their monstrous expectations. The hottest debate concerns whether or not the actors will be attractive enough. It's a debate sure to continue at a Borders post-movie party this coming weekend.
"In a lot of vampire mythology, mine included, extreme good looks is sort of just another biological trait that has evolved to help them survive," says Hilburn. "Vampires have acquired incredible good looks as an enticement ... So it's like a flower that draws in the bee."
Hilburn is something of a bee herself, having gravitated to vampires since she was a teen. ("I think maybe because it's forbidden and it's unknown and it's mysterious and it's scary ... and probably because my mother was so dismayed by it," she says, laughing.) Her two books, The Vampire Shrink and her newest, Dark Harvest which she'll be signing in Colorado Springs in December feature a touch of vampire romance. She says it's a natural draw for teens.
"When we're young, we think we will never get old, that we will live forever. So Bella gets it into her head that she's going to become a vampire because that's the only way to stay with Edward. I'm sure that female readers can really relate to that. They think, 'I would do that. I would die for you.' Because we're kind of dramatic at that age."
But in the end, there's a simple reason why Hilburn herself plans to join in the movie mayhem.
"There's just something about catching the normality of Bella getting the greatest guy in school, and then being able to step out of her routine life and claim eternal love and immortality," she explains. "It just doesn't get any better than that."