Emma Holly has no trouble explaining the "Twilight" phenomenon or, more specifically, why Stephenie Meyers' vampire book series is turning adolescent girls across America into hysterical, shrieking balls of putty.

"It's the bad-boy fantasy," says Holly, the Minneapolis-based creator of the "Midnight" vampire trilogy.

Add in "Twilight" bad boy Edward's century of carnal experience, brooding good looks and supernatural strength and, well, it makes little Harry Potter seem rather priggish now, doesn't it?

"She really tapped into that teen girl psyche," Holly says of Meyers. "It's that desire to feel special."

That feeling, by the way, isn't limited to girls.

"She has a lot of mom fans, too," Holly says.

Those mother-daughter duos have likely fueled the sale of 17 million "Twilight" books and more than 350 fan sites, and propelled J.R. Ward's "Black Dagger Brotherhood" and Christine Feehan's "Dark" series onto the New York Times' bestseller list.

But vampires, Holly emphasizes, are not created alike. Ward's are "bad-boy protectors." Feehan's feed into the "rescue fantasy." Politically correct? Not a bit.

"It's a fantasy," Holly reiterates with a laugh. Her vampires nod more to Bram Stoker's classic Dracula, "morally ambiguous good guys -- kind of creepy, too." Plus, her vampires' fangs are retractable.

Michele Hauf of Coon Rapids, author of the "Dark Rapture" vampire series, says the paranormal craze has "just exploded" over the past few years, largely thanks to the popularity of the TV series "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer." Her protagonists, like Holly's, hark back to Stoker-like blokes: dark, brooding, muscled, avoiding sunlight lest they weaken or fizzle. She has a bit of a problem with hunky 17-year-old Edward of the "Twilight" series and some of his family's choices.

"They drink from animals only," Hauf says. "But the whole mythos [of vampires] is the moral dilemma of having to drink from mortals, or they could die. They have to struggle with that."

Eli Coleman, director of the Program in Human Sexuality at the University of Minnesota, agrees and, yes, we really did ask him to comment on vampires.

"In many ways, the story of Dracula is appealing because it symbolically deals with erotic tension," he says. "To conquer and to succumb are basic, animalistic sexual drives. Power, control, threat, subordination, submission, pain -- these are some of the fundamental drives of eroticism. We know when these factors are out of control or unleashed; we see sexual violence. When there is an absence of the elements of eroticism, we see people with lack of sexual desire. The challenge is to integrate love and lust in an honest, respectful and nonmanipulative way."

He predicts that "Twilight," the movie, will be "dramatic and titillating." He hopes it will be more.

"I hope that it also is thought-provoking for us, to try to understand how we deal with the complexity of eroticism in our own lives," Coleman says. "We somehow have to learn to live with eroticism in all of its elements, rather than kill it off."

Edward, are you listening?

Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350