Best known for The Vampire Chronicles, a series of dark, hypnotic novels steeped in Gothic horror, Anne Rice now applies her vivid storytelling skills to Christian fiction, most notably an acclaimed series based on the life of Christ.
In 1976, nearly 80 years after Bram Stoker published Dracula, Anne Rice's bestselling first novel, Interview with the Vampire, reinvented the vampire myth. Rice recast the undead as a secret society of decadent aesthetes, alternately entranced by the world's beauty and haunted by spiritual despair. Set largely in the author's home city of New Orleans, the book created a fantasy underworld rich and compelling enough to sustain its writer and readers through nine sequels, known collectively as The Vampire Chronicles.
Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire, she said later, "without ever realizing I was writing about loss. I was writing about my daughter's loss [Rice's daughter died in 1972]. And I was writing about my loss of Catholic faith long before that, because I had lost my faith in the year 1960, when I first went to college."
After her first book, Rice continued to write about loss -- and about vampires, witches and demons -- for more than 25 years. She also wrote, under the pen name A.N. Roquelaure, the Beauty series, an erotic retelling of the story of Sleeping Beauty; writing as Anne Rampling, she published two other novels, Exit to Eden and Belinda.
But it is as the queen of gothic fiction that Anne Rice's fans know her best. Her fans are passionate about her, and she returns the sentiment, e-mailing tirelessly with them and occasionally posting on their blogs. She also adores communing with them in person on book tours: "They give me personal, priceless and unforgettable feedback and verification of what I have achieved for them in my books," she once explained in a Salon interview.
After Blood Canticle was released in 1993, her readers, accustomed to an output of one book a year, kept asking her what was coming next. "And I've told them, 'You may not want what I'm doing next'," she said in a Newsweek interview.
They were in for a surprise. In 1998, Rice had returned to the Roman Catholic Church, and in 2005 she published Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, a novel about the childhood of Jesus, narrated by himself.
"It's the most startling public turnaround since Bob Dylan's Slow Train Coming announced that he'd been born again," wrote David Gates in Newsweek.
But as Rice sees it, Christ the Lord represents the fulfillment of a longing that has been in her books, and in her soul, all along.
"This subject is in no way a departure from that of my previous works; no one who knows my work could possibly think so," she said in a Q&A on her publisher's Web site. "The whole theme of Interview with the Vampire was Louis's quest for meaning in a godless world. He searched to find the oldest existing ‘immortal' simply to ask ‘What is the meaning of what we are?' I was always compelled to seek the ‘big answers.'"
Christ the Lord received mixed reviews, but many critics were as impressed with the book's style as its ambitious subject matter. "Rice's book is a triumph of tone -- her prose lean, lyrical, vivid -- and character," noted Kirkus Reviews. Janet Maslin wrote in The New York Times Book Review: "Even in biblical times and in the Holy Land, Rice retains her obsessions with ritual and purification, with lavish detail and gaudy decor. But she writes this book in a simpler, leaner style, giving it the slow but inexorable rhythm of an incantation. The restraint and prayerful beauty of Christ the Lord is apt to surprise her usual readers and attract new ones."
Some of those usual readers, of course, are now wondering whether she will write any more vampire novels. Will the vampire Lestat ever return?
Anne's response, from her publisher's Web site: "I can't see myself doing that. My vampires were metaphors for the outsiders, the lost, the wanderers in the darkness who remembered the warmth of God's light but couldn't find it. My wish to explore that is gone now. I want to meet a much bigger challenge."
Good To Know
In our exlusive interview, Rice shared some fascinating stories with us:
"My first job was as a cafeteria waitress at a Walgreen's cafeteria over the drugstore on Canal and Baronne Street in New Orleans when I was sixteen years old. What a plunge into reality. Canal Street was then the only downtown in town. And I was in fact a boarding school student and unbeknownst to the principal, Sr. Felix, took this job on weekends. When she found out, she did not approve of a St. Joseph's Academy girl being a waitress. I was undeterred. I had discovered that I could turn time into money. I never forgot that lesson. The crashing boredom of childhood was over!"
"I was employed from then on a shocking variety of low level jobs, including grill cook at a huge downtown cafeteria in San Francisco. I had to be there at 5:00 a.m., and once while I was en route on a bus, a drunken man fell asleep against me. The conductor had to wake him up for me to get off, poor guy. I think he'd staggered out of an after hours club. I was a crack waitress, a receptionist, a claims examiner, a theatre usherette in a big Cinerama house, and must have seen It's Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World over one hundred times while standing there with a flashlight. My last job in the straight world -- after motherhood -- was that of proofreader for a law book company. I hated it. Then my devoted husband Stan, who was already teaching and had been for some time, said, 'Stay home and write, I believe in you.' And I wrote Interview with the Vampire."
"I was a painfully slow reader. Never really read a novel for pure pleasure until I was 35. It was Ordinary People by Judith Guest. Thought it very good."
"How do I unwind? There are different levels to unwind. The primo way for me is to read history or some form of involving scholarship. A good book on an obscure subject. The recent bestseller Krakatoa by Simon Winchester was a wonderful example! That's a delicious unwind book. And there are others out there like that. The British writers seem especially good at it. But I can't get enough on how or why the Roman Empire fell. That's my idea of a good evening. To be in Florida with the deck door open to the roar of the waves, and a good book open to pages on the decline of paganism."
"But! There is another kind of unwind. The gripping fiction bestseller that takes two days. The Da Vinci Code is a good example. Every now and then I have time for that. I was smiling all the way through it. At one time in my life, I had read everything I could find on the Knights Templar (see First Way to Unwind, above), and on Opus Dei, and Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and so I was just tickled by what the author did with the material. And of course, I couldn't stop reading. Such cleverness, such a puzzle and right up to the last page."
"Interest and hobbies: well, my interests are pretty much literary, except for maintaining two pre-Civil War houses in New Orleans (both family homes, one used for Mardi Gras season entertaining), and then I do devote some attention to my doll collection, which includes a small assortment of French antique dolls -- but this part of my life is drawing to a close. I am divesting myself of possessions rather than acquiring them. I am decorating, yes, and redecorating, but cutting down on the area, and the amount of things I have to maintain. I've let go of my huge property, St. Elizabeth's Orphanage -- a monster building which used to house my doll collection and so many other things. It was the fulfillment of dreams for about 10 years for me and so many other people. Weddings, book signings, book parties, benefits, fundraisers -- all kinds of events were held there. We even hosted President Clinton there. But that chapter of my life is over. For those ten years I asked 'what if?' many times. And I found out and as the result I am a satisfied person and a happy one. But it's over."
"I guess you could call my cats a hobby. I have five of them, all Siberians and very lovable and demanding and sweet. They are keepers certainly. Other than that, I don't know that I have hobbies so much as passions, and my passions center around my writing."
"My only other diversion of late is seeing that The Witching Hour will soon be made into a television limited series -- that is, a mini-series that will extend over 10 hours. The scripts that have been written by writer-producer John Wilder are very simply wonderful -- profoundly faithful to the material and the characters. Our producer, Mark Wolper, is extraordinarily dedicated and we have the network behind us. It looks very good."
"Other news looming is that Elton John and Rob Roth are making a musical based on the Vampire Chronicles for Broadway. I've talked to Elton John several times. He's absolutely charming. I've heard the first five songs, performed by him, and they were great. Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics, and will write the lyrics for all. The other people involved have top credits. The treatment I read was a wonder -- very true to the books, quite terrific. My conversation with Rob Roth was very exciting."
"What I've learned from both these experiences so far -- the television series and the Broadway production -- is that the passion of people makes all the difference in the world. And sometimes it is the passion of a few key people that moves a project forward. Sometimes one person alone goes to the hard work of getting everybody else together, and making the studio that owns the underlying rights respond. People who love the work, who want to make something of it, can be brought together by that one key person. That one key person has to believe that past disappointments or failed connections don't mean anything. When you have that sort of person, something can happen."
"I've also learned that the author of the books usually can't do it. Not unless she wants to stop being an author altogether and move to L.A. or N.Y. and become a producer."