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Christopher Rice Interview: Bestselling Author Explores the Supernatural Territory of Famous Mom, Anne Rice, in "The Heavens Rise"

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Image attributed to Christopher Rice

Christopher Rice

By the age of 30, Christopher Rice had published four New York Times bestselling thrillers, received a Lambda Literary Award and been declared one of People magazine’s “Sexiest Men Alive.” His first work of supernatural suspense, The Heavens Rise, will be published October 15, 2013 by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

Rice’s debut novel, A Density of Souls, was published when the author was just 22 years old. A controversial and overnight bestseller, it was greeted with a landslide of media attention, much of it devoted to the fact that Rice is the son of legendary vampire chronicler Anne Rice. His dad, Stan Rice, a poet and artist, passed away in 2002.

“I think that it’s very tempting to argue with your critics, but that sort of defeats the whole purpose. The job of your critic is to be critical. I think what was starting around that time, which is still of some great concern to me, was the rise in anonymous Internet reviewing. I’m not a big fan of Internet anonymity. I think that if I’m going to have an opinion about something, I should be required to put my real name to it if I’m going to put it in a public forum. So that’s distressing, and I think Amazon and other websites have done certainly things to try and combat the trolling that happens, but that was happening right around the time A Density of Souls was released.”

The members of the Insight Out Book Club selected his novel Blind Fall as one of the Best Books of 2008 and mega-bestselling thriller writer (and Jack Reacher creator) Lee Child hailed Rice’s novel Light Before Day as a “book of the year.”

Together with his best friend, New York Times bestselling novelist Eric Shaw Quinn, Rice launched his own Internet radio show. The Dinner Party Show with Christopher Rice & Eric Shaw Quinn is always playing at thedinnerpartyshow.com, and every episode is available for free download from the site’s show archive or on iTunes.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Chris, I noticed one of the book dedications went to Christian LeBlanc. Is that the actor from the daytime drama The Young and the Restless?

Christopher Rice: That’s him, yeah. He’s a good friend of mine, and he’s also a New Orleans boy.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You lived in New Orleans with your parents?

Christopher Rice: I did. I grew up in New Orleans. We moved there in 1988 when I was 10 years old, and I lived there up until I graduated high school. I moved back for a while after I left college and was there for two or three years off and on before I moved out to southern California.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I recently read that Stephen King writes 10 pages a day without fail, Truman Capote had to write lying down (the only way he could think), and Ernest Hemingway wrote 500 words a day. What is your process?

Christopher Rice: I do a lot of different types of writing at this point in my career. I’ll be working on a book, or I’ll be working on sketches for the dinner party show, which is the Internet radio show I launched last year. So depending on the type of writing I’m doing, the routine will change.

I’ve become a laptop writer which I never thought I’d be, but I have a beautiful MacBook Air that I can carry with me wherever I want to write. I’ve tried to move away from the uncomfortable desk chair and get comfortable. My best friend who’s also a novelist and my co-host on the dinner party show, Eric Shaw Quinn, says that we shouldn’t treat our vocation like a drudgery, if that’s the right word.

It’s not a punishment to be a writer, and it’s certainly not a punishment to get paid to be a writer. It’s a great gift. So it’s okay for us to make the process as pleasurable as we can without losing focus. I’ve left the desk, and I’ve left the desktop and tried to move to the big comfy chair. I do try to make a daily word count of about 1,000 to 1,500 words a day when I sit down to write a novel.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): This was your first supernatural novel. Why did you decide to go in that direction, and what was the inspiration for the premise?

Christopher Rice: What I got first were the characters, and the premise came second. My original plan was to write just a basic thriller, what I call a terrestrial thriller (and not supernatural) about the world of riverboat pilots in New Orleans. That would be the pilots who are basically for hire that giant container ships and chemical tankers have to use every time they go past a city on the Mississippi River. I was intrigued by that world.

I was inspired by an accident that happened on the river when I was younger called the Bright Field incident. I believe it was a cargo ship that lost engine power and crashed into the Riverwalk Marketplace in New Orleans. I was at a dinner party out here in Los Angeles, and the topic came up. The only two people who knew that it happened were from New Orleans. It was myself and my friend who was having a birthday dinner.

We were explaining everything to the people present, and I thought, “That makes for an interesting story.” Then I got home a few days later, and TIVO had automatically recorded this special for me on the Bright Field incident. I said, “Okay. I’m listening universe. I get it.” But it was actually a little unnerving, so I began to plot this novel.

I came across this character, Niquette Delongpre, and I couldn’t figure out what was so mysterious about her. I knew that she’d gone missing and that her disappearance had a terrible effect on her close group of friends and her boyfriend. But I couldn’t figure out why she’d gone missing. I couldn’t unriddle this mystery around her that I felt every time I wrote about her or took notes about her.

Finally I realized she had a supernatural ability. She had a gift, it was a dangerous gift, and she’d gone into hiding to protect the people she cared about the most which was her best friend Ben and her lover Anthem. So then, it started to take off. What kept me (and I realized this in retrospect) from writing supernatural before was that I had always gone about it in terms of the concept. What’s the monster going to be? Is it going to be about ghosts or about nature gone wild? Where I really needed to start was with the characters, and once I started there, the story opened up and a new world opened up.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, you had me in the book at the first sign of a squirrel’s head exploding. It was sort of obvious at that moment that something was just not quite right (laughs).

Christopher Rice: (laughs) Right.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you think that the fear of the unknown or unseen is scarier than what we are afraid of right in front of our eyes?

Christopher Rice: Absolutely. I was deterred from doing anything that could be considered horror for the past couple of years because horror movies had become so repulsive. I mean just literally repulsive. The torture porn phenomenon … I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t even watch the commercials for those movies. I know that I have some pretty scary, gross moments in my books, but just the idea of two solid hours of people just torturing each other I just can’t take. I don’t get it.

I do think that for the most part, what is scarier is what you can’t see, what you’re left to imagine. One of the reasons Jaws is such a brilliant film, even to this day, is that the mechanical shark didn’t work. It didn’t work. They put it out in the salt water, and the pneumatic pumps wouldn’t function as well in the salt water as they had thought they would. What they had planned was like a Godzilla movie in the ocean with this gigantic shark popping up in every other scene, and suddenly they had to just suggest it in most of the scenes.

The most terrifying opening of any movie ever made is that young woman swimming out into the ocean. We see her being attacked, but we don’t ever see the shark in that scene. That’s so much scarier. There are moments in The Heavens Rise where I fade to black, and I lead you to imagine the horrors that will follow. I think it’s more Hitchcockian, and it’s more frightening.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Would you say that the city of New Orleans is just as much a character in the book as the human leads are?

Christopher Rice: Yes. I think that locations are always a character in a book. I’ve heard writers get flip about that on panels and have said, “Well, location never had a line of dialogue.” Well, that cheapens the question. I think, particularly when you work in any genre that has to do with dark suspense like thrillers or mysteries or horror, you have to answer the question of how the community you are writing about is going to respond to a violation, whatever it is … a murder, kidnapping, terrible accident, or monster attack.

Different communities will respond to traumas in different ways. Mystery writers will have different attitudes about traumas, about deaths or murders that are unsolved. In New Orleans, in its heavily spiritual Irish Catholic black communities, people will speak very openly about past traumas. There will be sort of a small town mentality about keeping the story alive and remembering who was involved and gossiping about it. But if you go to a place like Highland Park in Dallas, no one is going to want to talk about that ugliness from five years ago which doesn’t mean you can’t set your story there, but it presents a different set of challenges. So I think that’s very important.

I think this is very much a book about New Orleans. This starts out being a book about a girl’s mysterious disappearance and a young man who has a terrible power, but ultimately this is about characters who are very invested in the future of the city coming together to beat back a supernatural threat. In the process, they have to answer this question that New Orleanians have been forced to answer over and over since Katrina which is why is the city worth saving and preserving? I think there are many answers to that question, many positive answers to that question. I hope that some of them are embodied in the book.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Chris, how does a young man of 22 handle the landslide of media attention he attracts from his very first novel?

Christopher Rice: It was an interesting process. I recently brought my first novel out again as an exclusive e-book edition, and I wrote an Afterword for it that described the publication process that changed my life. Looking back, I see it as one of the most wonderful times of my life. When I was in it, it seemed otherworldly.

I took a lot of it for granted, and I was drunk for a lot of it because I was 22 and on the road being invited to parties and various things. But it was an amazing experience. It really was. I think it taught me a lot early on about the odd relationship that authors have to reviews. There were a lot of reviews. It was widely reviewed which is a blessing because that means people are paying attention to it, and they’re reading it. It’s far worse when you don’t get any reviews at all, negative or positive.

I think that it’s very tempting to argue with your critics, but that sort of defeats the whole purpose. The job of your critic is to be critical. I think what was starting around that time, which is still of some great concern to me, was the rise in anonymous internet reviewing. I’m not a big fan of Internet anonymity. I think that if I’m going to have an opinion about something, I should be required to put my real name to it if I’m going to put it in a public forum. So that’s distressing, and I think Amazon and other websites have done certainly things to try and combat the trolling that happens, but that was happening right around the time A Density of Souls was released.

Amazon was getting a very big share of that business, cornering a market share that was bigger than anyone else’s. So I learned not to read the Amazon reviews. I guess that’s the one big lesson (laughs). But I didn’t mind the attention, and I like being in the spotlight. It was one of the reasons I did it the way I did it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve been labeled a “gay author” in the past. Does it worry you that the focus may be on that rather than your talent as an author?

Christopher Rice: I would say so, and that probably worries me more than the allegations that I’m just where I am because I’m Anne Rice’s son. I think the gay author label implies that you’re not writing anything that will be acceptable to anyone who isn’t gay. Would we call Terry McMillan a black author? How would she feel about that term? I honestly don’t know. I haven’t seen what she has to say on the subject, but she’s probably the most prominent and successful black female author in America currently in terms of sales and movie adaptations. Would she want to be called a black author? I just don’t know.

This book is not preoccupied with questions about sexuality. This is a book with a different set of themes. The first books were about sex. Period. They were about all kinds of sexual activities. They were about young people struggling with their sexual identities in general, particularly The Snow Garden which was my second book. But this is a different book. The Moonlit Earth was a different book as well. So any label that doesn’t allow a writer to evolve and grow in terms of their content is going to be problematic.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you ever modeled characters after your parents?

Christopher Rice: You know, I think my characters are so heavily influenced by everyone in my life that it would be very hard to pin them down. I can say with assurances that there has never been a mother or father character modeled directly after either one of them. I think their personality traits have influenced other characters I’ve written positively, but the parents in my books are usually sources of drama and conflicts that my parents weren’t in my life.

In The Moonlit Earth, the father is kind of a jerk. He’s a compulsive, addictive gambler and not similar to my father at all who was sort of a creative eccentric, very passionate and very supportive of me in my endeavors. Mom said, “You just don’t ever put me in your books, do you?” She always reads them with this fear that she’s going to be in them in the mother’s shoes. Then the mother is like some nightmare who couldn’t be more different than she is in terms of background, mannerisms and interests.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): We interviewed your mom a few years ago when Angel Time came out, and she is a delight to speak with. I just read that CBS has shown an interest in Angel Time to adapt the novel into a possible series.

Christopher Rice: Yes! Fingers crossed. TV is a strange business, but there’s some really great people associated with that project, and I think it has great potential.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you had film or television offers?

Christopher Rice: There is stronger film interest in The Heavens Rise than there has ever been in any of my previous books, so my fingers are crossed. I think the market is right for it. It has romance and also dark fantasy, which is popular right now. There are some very serious heavy hitters interested. But Hollywood is a strange game, and the development process is a long one.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is it a dream come true sharing some tour time with your mom who also has a new book out (The Wolves of Midwinter)?

Christopher Rice: It’s going to be a hoot! I can’t wait. I’ve always wanted to do it, but I’ve never had the right book to do it with until now. It should be a lot of fun.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you a fan of the vampire genre as a whole?

Christopher Rice: I’m a fan of her vampires. I’m not really a fan of vampires in general. I’m a fan of her vampires because they’re soulful and emotional, complex and interesting. I’m not crazy about the other vampire stories. I am much more intrigued with the idea of the sort of classic horror structure of a group of humans beating back something that’s kind of supernatural and dark and overwhelming. I don’t want to say “good and evil” because those terms get too cut and dried, but the classic battle story is what I’m talking about.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tell me more about your Internet radio show you touched on earlier.

Christopher Rice: It is a comedy-variety show that we Livecast, as we say, every Sunday night at 8:00 PM eastern (5:00 PM pacific), and the goal is to create a dinner party atmosphere where we have celebrity guests come in for interviews, and then around those interviews we have pre-recorded sketches which features various characters and special correspondents that Eric and I play. We pre-record those sketches in advance, and they get edited all week long.

While the book tour is happening, we’re doing special broadcasts from the road thanks to the miracle of Skype. We will be debuting a new show every Sunday evening where I call in and give a report from wherever we are on the tour and talk about what crazy things somebody said in the signing line that day.

The inception of the show came from a conversation I had with a publisher when I was asking him about the marketing plan for the book that was coming out. He said, “One of my other clients, a big right wing political guy, has a radio show.” I thought, “Well, this guy’s not going to have me on his radio show. Why is my editor bringing this up?”

I realized what he was saying was that the writers that were having success in this changing, digitized marketplace were the ones with a digital storefront. They had a media platform to promote themselves and to organize their readers and their fans, and that was part of what we wanted to create with the dinner party show. Also I have wanted to be on radio from as young as I can remember. When I met Eric who is so articulate and has such forceful, intelligent opinions and this voice that can just darken the skies if you let it, I knew we had to be on the radio. So it was a confluence of elements.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you working on a new book now?

Christopher Rice: I am. I’m about a third of the way through another supernatural thriller set in the Deep South.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Deep South?

Christopher Rice: Where are you located?

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Birmingham, Alabama.

Christopher Rice: You’re in the home of Robert McCammon who’s one of my favorite writers ever! He has lived in Birmingham for years.

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