If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, then you probably know (through frequent updates) that I visited Forks, WA yesterday. Forks, for those in the know, is the small town that Twilight is set in. Before I go any further, I need to clear up something. People seem to think there is some huge rivalry between Vampire Academy and Twilight. Not true. I've never actually read the Twilight series, though I've seen the first movie and of course know the story and characters (because it's impossible not to). I have infinite respect for Stephenie Meyer for carving out the current vampire popularity, something that has definitely helped my career. So, I'm neither a lover nor a hater.
But when my friends offered me the chance to visit a town whose economy has totally been transformed by vampire books? Well. You can see why someone with my job had to come along and see this for myself.
First up, you need to understand the journey. Forks is not close to Seattle. The most efficient way to get there is to take a ferry across Puget Sound and then drive through the Olympic Peninsula--a trip taking almost 4 hours total (one way).
I was accompanied by author Mark Henry, his wife Caroline, Tor editor Heather Osborn (visiting from New York and the catalyst for this trip), and jewelry-marker/bookseller Synde. Although we drove in an SUV, we were packed in pretty cozily.
The drive led us through some pretty remote places, filled with little commerce and houses with collapsed roofs. Some of my companions found this completely astounding, but well...if you drove about 10 miles out of my hometown in Michigan and took away the rainforest, the landscape really isn't so different.
We ate lunch along the way in the most disgusting Taco Bell I have ever seen. Seriously. There were swarms of flies hovering in the air, which--as Caroline pointed out--had to have come from something inside the restaurant since it was so cold out. Why we stayed, I have no clue.
When we finally reached Forks, we were given a warm (if rainy) welcome.
Our first stop was the Forks Visitor Center so that we could figure out what sights to see. Unsurprisingly, the center has long since embraced its town's current claim to fame and tourism.
The people at the visitor's center were super nice and helpful, ready with a packet full of the town's Twilight info. They were also more than willing to let us do some photo ops.
Outside the visitor's center was--wait for it--Bella's truck. And Mark and Caroline didn't hesitate to reenact one ofTwilight's most famous scenes.
Since they were on a roll and because Mark had perfected his Edward expression, they also performed the spider monkey scene.
We set out on the road then and visited the first stop on the driving tour: the designated Swan home, a private residence we were told not to disturb.
That, of course, meant we had to visit the "Cullen House," which actually bears little resemblance to the one inTwilight. It's a bed and breakfast, which has designated itself the Cullen House and undoubtedly benefits from that title.
The B&B, however, leaves "notes from Esme" on its porch in an effort to enhance the authenticity.
After this came Forks High School, again showing reality doesn't always resemble fiction. Much like the country drive, the small and plain appearance of FHS was a little foreign to some in my party, but again...it's not that different from what I grew up with.
One last stop completed our driving tour: the Forks Hospital. As you can see, Carlisle has been given his own parking sport...though he apparently has to share it with delivery trucks. I'd be nervous about damage to my car if I were him.
We then moved on to what's truly taken over the town: commerce and Twilight merchandising. There was a LOT of it. Aside from the exclusive Twilight gift shops, almost every business found some way to utilize the books.
The gift shops had every Twilight item you can imagine. Some were naturally expected:
Some were not what I expected:
You'd think this would be enough for one day, but we were just getting started. After Forks, we had to move onto to Jacob's territory of La Push, located on the Quileute Reservation. Its welcome sign was a little different from the Forks one.
Naturally, werewolves were quite welcome! And what La Push lacked in gift shops, it more than made up for in gorgeous scenery.
Having seen all we could in the Forks/La Push area, we turned around and headed east toward the urban sprawl of Seattle. Well...we did have one more stop to make. An hour or so outside of Forks, we swung through Port Angeles, which famously holds the Italian restaurant where Bella and Edward had their first date.
Just like the Forks businesses, Bella Italia is more than willing to use Twilight where it can, even featuring what Bella ate in the book. While eating, we were visited by author Gwen Hayes, who lives in the area. She was lovely and proved that when you Tweet and Facebook your every location, people can find you.
The restaurant's food was excellent and served a special wine made by a local winery: Twilight sparkling Syrah.
Finally, we were able to make the journey home for real, and by the time we got on the ferry back to Seattle, the signs of a 15-hour adventure were starting to take their toll:
And that concludes my epic Forks adventure.
What did I learn? First, that western Washington is not so different from western Michigan. Second, that you can tie any type of merchandise into a movie/book: shirts, lunch boxes, jars of honey, coffee, bumper stickers, knit hats, shot glasses, pajamas, candles, makeup, and much, much more.
Finally, and most importantly, I learned that I have made a serious mistake in not setting Vampire Academy in a real town