Thursday, September 03, 2009

Forks Exposed

This caught my attention this morning. Apparently, Forks, Washington, has earned itself a direct-to-DVD documentary for the extraordinary achievement of being the place where Stephenie Meyer set the Twilight series.

As I remarked in the EW comments section, I find this unbelievably ridiculous for many reasons.

First, it is such a blatant effort to make even more money off the Twilight phenomenon that the distributors would be less obvious if they walked up and down the aisles of movie theaters during showings of Twilight and New Moon and hawked crap like giant foam fangs, sparkly glitter vampire body paint and Edward Cullen wigs. Have they no shame? Nevermind, I already know the answer to that.

The other reason I find this so silly is that Forks offered absolutely nothing more than being located in the rainiest region of the U.S. on record to qualify it for the Twilight epicenter. Stephenie Meyer has admitted she did some kind of Google search for "rainy places" and Bam! Forks is the new Mecca for vampire groupies. She didn't manage to actually visit Forks until after she'd finished the first book and it was off being published. Things could have turned out to be a disaster.

What if Forks had been like one of the gazillion Midwestern towns dotting the state backroads, nothing more than a speed limit reduction sign and a closed-on-Sunday gas station indicating there is even a town there? Or Forks could have consisted of a one-block downtown with a hole-in-the-wall bar, an ancient appliance/furniture store and a tiny florist shop and craft emporium combo run by a lady named Mabel, the main bulk of the area actually a row of strip malls and big box retailers lining Highway 101. Realistic but not exactly picturesque. Somehow reading about how Edward and Bella headed to TGI Friday's after a quick stop at Best Buy to check out their subwoofers for Edward's Audi just doesn't create the feeling of a soul-mate love of all time in the making.

I'll give Meyer the credit of some research to make sure Forks did have a large enough population (3,275 in 2008) to have a high school or a hospital or even warrant a McDonald's. Additionally, she studied pictures of the area and was satisfied that the deep green forests surrounding Forks would meet her brooding vampire's needs.

Still, being dark and gloomy isn't usually enough to earn a real-life town a starring role in what has become arguably one of the most successful YA series ever much less a DVD of its very own.

Maybe I'm just feeling bitter because, as exemplifies Meyer's entire writing career, once again she lucked out in a major way. She has a dream, writes it down, it becomes a international best seller and a blockbuster movie franchise. She describes a handsome vampire and launches the career of the next teen heartthrob. She throws a dart at a map of the Olympic Peninsula and a random town becomes the hottest place to spend your summer vacation. With all due respect to Meyer's talent, I want to know where she stashes the bottle with the genie in it.

Oddly, my last vacation was spent in pursuit of confirming a setting for one of my own projects. With the particular premise of my story, I was limited to a very specific region of the country, yet I wanted my world to be contained in a particular type of town. I did loads of research, spent hours staring at Google Earth images, and hunted down ancient town records that could confirm that the history I needed to build upon was strong enough to support my entire premise before I chose a couple of towns I thought would work. I had every intention of using fictional names, but still I'm the type of writer who needs a real-world example to crib from.

So I packed up the hubby and we took a trip to this particular area. I bought the most detailed map I could find, we rented a car and headed into the countryside. Thankfully my better half loves nothing more than to explore, to drive aimlessly with absolutely no destination in mind, so he had no problem with our lack of vacation structure. He generously offered to drive so I could gawk at the countryside while I led him through all of my possible towns, trying to match my imaginings and story needs to the reality of what we found.

Some places were far too large and developed. Since I don't want my characters eating at Ruby Tuesdays or shopping at Aero Postale unless they hop on the highway for a ways, I crossed those towns off the list.

Other places weren't more than a single stop light that left me wondering how long the kids had to sit on the bus in the morning to get to the nearest high school. I want small and intimate, but remote and a pain-in-the-ass to run to the store for a gallon of milk is just a little too underdeveloped.

Some places didn't have the geographic features I needed - some woods with a winding road or two cutting between the trees, a middle-class neighborhood, a proximity to the ocean that allowed my characters to use it frequently. Nothing pulls me out of a story quicker than when a writer unfamiliar with a real-world location has his/her character perform some action that is logistically impossible given the region. Example: Bueller, Ferris, driving to the far northern suburbs from downtown Chicago in less than an hour during rush hour traffic. But I digress.

One town came fairly close to meeting most of my setting requirements, and it might have to do for my stand in. But I've come to see that I need to let go of reality completely. My story town might just have to be entirely fictional. Unlike Meyer, I didn't luck out and find my Forks.

Granted, I've never been to Forks. It may be the case that only tiny portions of it fit Meyer's needs and she simply ignored any parts of it that messed up her story. Too, while Forks created a very specific atmosphere in the Twilight series, it was never described in detail. Readers must fill in a lot of blanks with their own guesswork, and a visit to the real town might create a huge disconnect.

Perhaps this whole DVD thing isn't such a great idea after all. Kind of like pulling the curtain away from the man behind Oz. Better Forks remain that perfect rainy place where Edward and Bella frolic in the woods than face the fact that some businesses there use those tacky portable change-a-letter signs on a regular basis. Talk about killing the mystique.


lunarocket said...

When my youngest BIL was a teenager his bus trip to and from the only high school in our county in MI took anywhere from 20 to 90 minutes. Apparently it depended on where the bus was parked at night, as in who was the bus driver that day since the bus stayed overnight with the driver. I'm glad I finished school in the "Big City" before I moved up here! Ninety minutes on a school bus would have driven me insane.

Lynn M said...

Holy cow! 90 minutes on a bus in the morning? That's insane. And what's really sad is that he didn't really have any other choice. I'm now very grateful I always lived in a decent sized town with an easy morning commute to school.