A Mormon housewife writing about vampires? That alone may be enough to draw interest. But what's more important is that she does it so well.

Ever since Stephenie Meyer published her first book, "Twilight," in 2005, she has been nothing less than a phenomenon.

The book for young adults tells the story of high-school girl Bella Swan who goes to live with her father in the Northwest and falls in love with a fellow student who just happens to be one of a family of vampires. Within one month of its publication, "Twilight" reached No. 5 on the New York Times Best Seller List for Children's Chapter Books.

When the sequel, "New Moon," came out in 2006 it debuted at No. 5 and within two weeks rose to No. 1. The third book, "Eclipse," was released in August 2007 and enjoyed similar success.

In all, the three books have sold more than 5.3 million copies in the United States, have spent a combined 143 weeks on the New York Times best seller list and have been translated into 20 languages.

This week, Meyer has released her first adult novel, "The Host," which also has been garnering critical acclaim. Furthermore, the final book in the vampire series, "Breaking Dawn," is due out in August. A movie version of "Twilight" is scheduled for release in December. Meyer is also working on a companion book to "Twilight," which will be told from the vampire Edward's point of view.

Perhaps it is not surprising that Meyer was named by Time Magazine as one of its "100 most influential people for 2008," putting her on a list with entertainers such as Miley Cyrus, Bruce Springsteen and George Clooney, not to mention political leaders such as the Dalai Lama, President Bush and the presidential hopefuls.

There are some who have even anointed her the successor to J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter books.

Writing for Time magazine, for example, author Lev Grossman notes that "There is no literary term for the quality Twilight and Harry Potter (and the Lord of the Rings) share, but you know it when you see it: Their worlds have a freestanding internal integrity that makes you feel as if you should be able to buy real estate."

Meyer's stories are successful, Grossman says, because "she rewrites stock horror plots as love stories, and in doing so, she makes them new again." But it goes beyond that. "People dress up like her characters. They write their own stories about them and post their tales on the Internet. When she appears at a bookstore, 3,000 people go to meet her. There are 'Twilight'-themed rock bands."

Plus, like Harry Potter, Meyer's books have been as popular with adults as with young readers. For example, there's www.twilightmoms.com, a Web site for fans older than 25 started by a woman who "was immediately obsessed" by the books, "but the only other obsessed people I could talk to about it were the teenage girls in my neighborhood." She quickly found she was not alone.

Meyer herself pays tribute to Rowling in an interview with Associated Press writer Hillel Italie: "J.K. Rowling — we owe her so much," Meyer said. "First of all, she got publishers to believe that millions of people will pick up an 800-page book. She also got adults reading (young adult) literature. What a gift: She got kids reading and she got adults reading."

But the Twilight books have done the same. And have received industry-wide acclaim.

"Twilight" was chosen as a New York Times Editor's Choice book; it was named a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year; it was an Amazon "Best Book of the Decade ... So Far;" and was on American Library Association's "Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults" and "Top Ten Books for Reluctant Readers" lists.

Meyer has not been without critics. Some have complained about plots that needed tightening, of an over-abundance of adjectives and adverbs, and an "overly Bryonic" tortured hero.

But others have praised her writing with words like "gripping," "tantalizing," "enticing" and "a near-genius balance of breathtaking romance and action."

All in all, it's been quite a run for the mother of three, who lives with her husband and family in Phoenix and finds most of her writing time after the kids have gone to bed — and who noted in an interview with Amazon.com after "Twilight" came out that the "Book of Mormon is the book with the most significant impact" on her life.

Meyer's books are not considered Mormon literature; the characters are not Mormon; there is no mention of religion. But, she has noted, they are filled with her values — they talk about the importance of choice and the need for sacrifice. And there is no premarital sex.

That, notes author Orson Scott Card, may be a big part of their appeal. Writing for Time Magazine, Card notes: "In an era when much of the romance genre has been given over to soft porn, and dark fantasy is peopled with one-dimensional characters bent on grim violence, many readers have become hungry for pure romantic fantasy — lots of sexual tension, but as decorous as Jane Austen. ... She writes with luminous clarity, never standing between the reader and the dream they share. She's the real thing. Still, who'd have thought it? Today Mr. Darcy is a vampire."

If you go . . .

What: Stephenie Meyer will read from her new book, The Host, and sign multiple copies of this book and her three previous ones afterward.

Where: Thanksgiving Point Show Barn (Friday, 7 p.m.); Highland High School (Saturday, 1 p.m.)

How much: Both venues sold out, but call The King's English, 484-9100, to get on a wait list for Highland High. No wait list available for Thanksgiving Point, sponsored by Border's Books.

E-mail: [email protected]