Anne Rice Interview: On Moving Past the 'Vampire Chronicles' and Her Latest 'Angel Time'
Image attributed to Anne Rice
Anne Rice, one of America’s most read and celebrated authors, began life on October 4, 1941 in New Orleans, Louisiana, and The Big Easy later became a backdrop for several of her stories.
Rice is known for weaving the visible and supernatural worlds together in epic stories that both entertain and challenge readers. She is probably best known for The Vampire Chronicles, a series of novels that revolves around the fictional character Lestat de Lioncourt, an 18th century French nobleman who was turned into a vampire.
"You don’t have to be a doomed vampire to be interesting. You can be a good guy and be interesting."
Most of the books are in first-person perspective with only a few being in third-person. Interview With the Vampire was made into a 1994 film starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Christian Slater, and Kirsten Dunst. To date, The Vampire Chronicles have sold 80 million copies worldwide.
Since 2004, Rice has been writing only Christian fiction. Her new series of books is entitled Songs of the Seraphim, and the first of the metaphysical thrillers, Angel Time, was released in October of 2009.
In her new book, Toby O’Dare is the protagonist. He once thought of becoming a priest, but chose another path as a hired assassin, working for someone he only knows as The Right Man. O’Dare faces a crossroads in his life when an angel named Malchiah offers him a chance at redemption, which involves time travel to 13th century England.
Rice wrote portions of the book at The Mission Inn Hotel and Spa located in Riverside, California.
The author’s son, Christopher, born in 1978, is currently a novelist and a columnist who currently resides in Los Angeles, California.
Rice’s books have sold nearly 100 million copies, making her one of the most widely read authors in modern history.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Anne, you were born in New Orleans. What did your parents do for a living?
Anne Rice: Well, my dad worked for the Post Office, Department of the Government. He was an executive who dealt with postal things … I don’t know exactly what. My mother was a stay-at-home mom.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did your mother have the largest influence on your writing?
Anne Rice: Well, they both had a profound influence, they really did. She was a wonderful teacher and she was a very early influence during the war when my dad wasn’t there. But, he was also quite terrific. He was the first real writer I ever knew. He read us chapters from novels when we were kids. It was very inspiring. He also brought classical music into the home.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You attended an all women’s college in Texas. Was that because of your Catholic rearing?
Anne Rice: No, it was just a really good school and it was close by. It was Texas Women’s University in Denton, Texas and it was just a wonderful deal to go there.
I really couldn’t afford to go to a Catholic college … couldn’t afford the tuition. Texas Women’s University was a state school that was small and like a private college. But, it was a state school and a great bargain for education.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did you end up in San Francisco from 1962 until 1988?
Anne Rice: The money I had saved to take care of college ran out and I had friends in San Francisco. It was a city where you could put yourself through school and that was good.
I needed a regular job and you really couldn’t find that in Texas. The jobs in Denton went to college kids and so when my savings ran out I went on to San Francisco and started going to night school there … really loved it, and wound up staying.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That must have been interesting to live there during the Hippie Revolution.
Anne Rice: It was and I was right in the middle of it. I lived right off of Haight Street. It was just incredible and engulfing … and fascinating.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You went through a period where you described yourself as an atheist. Did you have a total disillusionment with the church or were there other factors that affected your faith?
Anne Rice: You know, I was 18 years old and I think it was a typical, spiritual crisis for a kid in college. You get to college and you’re exposed to a whole lot of new books and influences and authors and you’re thinking, “Well, maybe my childhood church was wrong.” That’s what really happened to me.
Then I wanted to know the modern world. I wanted to be an existentialist … I wanted to be with the modern world. I came to the idea that atheism was truth, that it had to be faced, and I lost my faith. It was really tragic. I think the biggest mistake I made was that I’d stopped talking to God about my problems.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Where do some of your ideas for books come from?
Anne Rice: I don’t know. I’ve always had an irreplaceable need to make up stories and to write. I’ve always done it and the urge just got stronger and stronger as I got more and more education and read more books and experienced more of life.
Finally, by the time I was a graduate student, I really just wanted to write. I wrote a novel that didn’t go anywhere but it was my master thesis novel. Then I wrote Interview With the Vampire after my daughter died. When it was accepted I just new I wanted to be a writer.
But, where the ideas came from … where the idea for Interview With the Vampire came from was total whimsy. I just thought, “What a neat idea if you could get a vampire to tell you what is really going on in his world.” I started to write in that simple framework. I was able to write about everything that mattered and I felt a great intensity. It was like I had to choose a fantasy character to write about my reality.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Does it take a long time for you to complete a book?
Anne Rice: No it doesn’t. I’ve always worked kind of fast. I like to work long hours, but different books have different paces. The Vampire Lestat took a year to write. Interview With the Vampire took a matter of months. So, different ones come in different ways. The best-case scenario for me is to do a lot of preparation and then write very rapidly because the entire book is fresh in my mind.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I thoroughly enjoyed Angel Time. Did the idea for that book just “come to you” also?
Anne Rice: Well, I thought, “What if the angels could pick up somebody from one time and take them to another to do their bidding? What if from the vantage point of heaven all time is continuing?”
I really wanted to work with that idea and gradually I thought, “Well, who would be the perfect person, who would need comfort?” The idea of Toby O’Dare came to my mind … this young assassin who was really burned out spiritually but was still very young, very vital. He had a deep-rooted faith in God he was suppressing and so the novel developed really in that way. I think it was the idea first and the characters second.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did the idea of “angel time” (as opposed to “real time”) come about?
Anne Rice: It was sort of something that I was inspired to see that was based on a lot of theology I’ve read that probably from the vantage point of heaven everything can be seen as going on at the same time.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside, California, one of your favorite places to go?
Anne Rice: Absolutely, I love the Mission Inn! I just went there and pretended to be Toby, walked around and sat at Toby’s table, described Toby’s suite, and ate in Toby’s restaurant. Then I went over to San Juan Capistrano and walked around being Toby in the mission.
I love to do that when I’m writing. I did it a lot in my vampire novels and in the witching hour novels I described things I knew. The same thing happened here … the Mission Inn was just perfect.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I thought it would be interesting to write the Mission Inn and ask how they felt to have Anne Rice writing a novel at his hotel. Jim McCullough, manager of the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, had this to say about you: “We are honored by her and her writing! Anne is a most gracious and endearing person.”
Anne Rice: Oh, that’s wonderful! I’m glad they took it that way because I had a murder committed in the Amistad Suite and had a killer walking around. I’m glad they took it as good clean fun.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Apparently they didn’t think they would lose any guests (laughs).
Anne Rice: No other assassins would start staying there regularly (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It was hinted in the book that “The Right Man” worked for a government assassination bureau. Was that left for the reader to decide whether it may have been the CIA?
Anne Rice: Well, in my mind, The Right Man is still a mystery. There may be consequences that will come up in the series. But, they won’t come up until the second or third book … especially the third book. You know, Toby’s bound to face the consequences for having been an assassin. You just don’t walk away from stuff like that.
I’m playing with all of that. I love planning this as a series. My other series really weren’t planned that way – they were stand alone books and each were developed with the same characters but there was no plan for a development in terms of a series. I really want to deal with that here.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What you’re saying is that we may get to know exactly who “The Right Man” is in the second or third book in the series?
Anne Rice: Right … or whether he was a government assassin and there may be consequences. I’m not saying anything yet. It’s something I want very much to work with.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I found it interesting that Toby’s instrument of choice was the lute.
Anne Rice: Yes, I bought a lute and I have it here, although I’m not very good at it. I really couldn’t have another violinist. I’ve had two of them so I had to spread out and diversify a little bit.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I thought the lute was just one more thing to show how Toby was conflicted. On the one hand, you have Toby wanting to be a priest, he’s well read, and he plays the lute … then on the other hand you have Toby as a cold-blooded calculating hitman.
Anne Rice: Oh sure, it was to show that he could have been a wonderful person if all of that hadn’t happened. Lutes make beautiful music. I have quite a few lute albums.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why was it important for Malchiah to have Toby complete his assignment in 13th century England?
Anne Rice: Well, we don’t really know that in the book. It’s where Malchiah sends him. You know, Toby is a reader of history and is something of a medievalist and his lute playing is sort of connected with that. He loves the historical dimension of the lute and so Malchiah uses that. Malchiah is there to use all of the gifts that Toby has and so he uses him for these historical missions.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It might also show what people did to each other in the name of religion.
Anne Rice: Oh yes, very much so. Every story, every adventure Toby has must count. It’s got to be an important story in itself. Certainly I was fascinated by Norwich, England and the pressure put on the Jews during that time and the danger of persecution that hung over their heads all of the time. I wanted to write about that … I was passionate about that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I had the idea that Toby deeply cared about Fluria or possibly even loved her.
Anne Rice: Well, I wouldn’t say he fell in love, but I think he said he cared about those people more than any people he knew in his own life. That was the great irony … that he had to be sent back in history to realize what the love of a people meant. He comes back realizing that the nature of the mission is going to be hard for him because he’s going to love the people very much and then be torn away from them and separated by centuries.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you finished the second book?
Anne Rice: Yes, the second book is done and it’s at the publisher. I’m working on the third and I think the third is going to be quite big.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Can you give us any hints as to what is next for Toby?
Anne Rice: He goes to the Renaissance … Renaissance Italy. It’s again a mission to help people and a very practical mission. He has to use all of his skills and cleverness … and does it again.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is there a movie deal in the works for the series?
Anne Rice: I wish I could say there was. We’ve had some interest and let’s hope we have some more. I’d love to see Toby on the big screen, I really would.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The vampire phenomenon is very popular right now. What would you say to your fans that might want you to return to writing about vampires?
Anne Rice: I can’t do it. I told all of the stories I had to tell in that work and I just can’t go back. I wrote 12 novels with vampires and that’s really enough for me (laughs). Since my return to church and my return to faith, I have to write about what I feel and see and I want to write about Toby.
I want to write about somebody who wants to do good in the world and I think that can be much more interesting really than my vampire novels. I have to prove that, I realize, but I think that I’m on the way to indicating that at least it can be at least as interesting. You don’t have to be a doomed vampire to be interesting. You can be a good guy and be interesting.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was there one specific thing in your life that helped you to return to your faith?
Anne Rice: There was nothing specific. It was really just a long quest for me. I wanted to go back. But, there was no sociological trigger.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have any advice for someone who is about to embark on their first novel?
Anne Rice: I guess the advice I give is the same all of the time. It is just to write. You have to write. What makes a writer is writing. You have to believe in yourself … in your own voice … in your own story. Don’t try to sound like anybody else.
Get with what you are and who you are and develop that and really ignore people who don’t get it. The world is just filled with people who will discourage you from fulfilling your dreams. If you find your writing interesting, somebody else is going to find it interesting, too.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did your son ever ask you for advice when he was starting out as an author?
Anne Rice: No, he just sat down and wrote that book. He came out of his room with it and showed it to his father and his father was just knocked off his feet by it. He came down to me and said he’d just read Christopher’s manuscript and said that everything is going to change for him. It did … he became a writer and is now on his fifth or sixth book. I’ve actually lost track. He began young … he was 22.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Anne Rice: You know, I don’t do too much. I do a lot of research.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Traveling for research?
Anne Rice: Well, not really. The Mission Inn is not far away and I can go there … takes an hour or two depending on the traffic. That’s about as far as I can go these days. I’m very blessed that the Mission Inn and the California Missions are close by.
I like to go up to Lake Arrowhead and go up to Idyllwild in the mountains here. You know, I’m in the desert, so when you go up to the mountains you get into the San Bernardino Forest and it’s really very beautiful. It snows up there and that is a wonderful experience. It’s a lot of fun.
So, I do what I can but my life really revolves around writing, the church, and seeing friends here in the desert. My son lives in West Hollywood and I see him often and you know, it’s that kind of thing.
I do spend a lot of my time with my agents talking about trying to get movies set up based on The Vampire Chronicles and the different books – I think we’re going to be pretty successful on that very soon and we’ll have some announcements to make, but so far we don’t know.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who are your favorite authors?
Anne Rice: I read a lot of non-fiction. I read books on angels and books on saints. I read a lot of history … books on the Middle Ages. Toby will be going back again to medieval England in the third book and it’s a later age than in the first book. I’m reading on that century, the 14th century, and really just loving it. I love to watch The Tudors and read English History.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I also like non-fiction and history.
Anne Rice: Yes, all of it is fascinating, isn’t it? I’d rather read a good book on Elizabeth I than read a novel. It’s just easier for me.
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