Christopher Rice Interview: Anne Rice's Son on Her Final Book
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Interviews Authors
Image attributed to Cathryn Farnsworth
Christopher Rice published four New York Times bestselling novels before the age of 30. He made his fiction debut in 2000 with A Density of Souls and wrote many more novels including The Snow Garden and The Heavens Rise, as well as the Burning Girl series. Rice’s work spans multiple genres including suspense, crime, supernatural thriller and erotic romance. He has twice been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award, which is a recognition presented annually by the Horror Writers Association for “superior achievement” in dark fantasy and horror writing.
With his mother Anne Rice, he is the co-author of the historical horror novels Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra and its sequel, Ramses the Damned: The Reign of Osiris, which was released February 1, 2022. Sadly, Anne passed away from complications of a stroke at a hospital in Rancho Mirage, California, on December 11, 2021. She was 80 years old.
"She wanted to see the world from not just a 30,000-foot view but a cosmically and spiritually energized point of view, for lack of a better phrase, when she went into the eyes of the vampire."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Hi Chris, how are you doing today?
Christopher Rice: I’m doing okay. Thank you for asking.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I want to say how deeply sorry we are for your loss. Your mom was a special person and a good friend to our publication.
Christopher Rice: Thank you.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: We have interviewed her seven times over the years.
Christopher Rice: Wow.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Yes, and each time, she was so gracious and generous. She will definitely be missed.
Christopher Rice: Indeed.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Some of the story headlines after her death described your mom as Interview with the Vampire author, and she was certainly most famously known for The Vampire Chronicles. But it bothered me because she didn’t just write about vampires. I felt like she used a vampire’s point of view in how the world looked toward outcasts or people that didn’t feel they necessarily belonged in society.
Christopher Rice: You know, the quote that I saw from CNN, I think, brought back an old interview Mom did with Larry King Live. In the course of the interview, she said, “When I began to write from the point of view of the vampire, everything became real to me.” I took that to mean that she saw the world and experienced the world at such a heightened and intense level that it made it challenging for her to write about (I’m going to use the terms lightly and hopefully diplomatically) everyday relatable people, which are buzzwords that writers hear a lot, particularly from editors and studio executives. You know, how can we make your characters relatable so we’ll sell even more of your book. She really was not a fan of and not connected to that idea as a form of storytelling. She wanted to see the world from not just a 30,000-foot view but a cosmically and spiritually energized point of view, for lack of a better phrase, when she went into the eyes of the vampire.
I think if we were going to amend the headline in response to your legitimate complaint, “immortal” would be the word that I would replace “vampire” with. What Anne loved was writing about the scope of human history from the point of view from somebody who had seen hundreds, if not thousands, of years of it, and she felt that was a very serious, worthwhile and artistically legitimate pursuit. But it’s a pursuit that puts you in the realm of genre fiction and makes you a target for a certain group of critics. It makes you dismissed as reaching too high, trying too hard, sounding pretentious, all these criticisms that were routinely labeled against her.
Mom had a disdain for pedestrian realism. I learned what that term meant from her because she really didn’t like it. That was the idea that the greatest novel, the most significant novel, was told in a very up-close intimate style, and it was largely focused on the everyday concerns of … she would often define it as middle class people. She didn’t mean that term as an insult, but she would say that was what a serious literary novel was when she started publishing in the 70s. She needed to be focused on the struggles of people who felt sort of in between the working class and the struggling of the rich unsure of their purpose in life. The idea of writing any of that, I think, sent her over the falls. So she just couldn’t do it.
As you said, the reason she made such an impact on queer people is that she was always writing from the point of view of the outsider. But she had to write from the point of view of the outsider to get the scale and the scope of human history that she was always after. Calling her an amateur historian would be too dismissive. She was an avid historian. People ask me a lot of questions about her research. She was never not researching because she was living nonfiction history.
If she was sitting still, she had some book, and I would come in and ask, “What are you reading about?” She’d say, “The Carolingian Empire.” It would just be a Thursday afternoon, and she would be in between projects. Then one of the major new vampires that’s introduced was made a vampire during the Carolingian Empire, so it was a natural outgrowth. But I don’t even think she had conceived of that character when she was reading that particular book. So that’s really part of the contribution, if not all of the contribution, as I see her having made to popular fiction. Clearly, I could go on all day, but I’m sure you have other questions (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: (laughs) A few more, but don’t worry about the length of your comments. I found that Anne had a dry sense of humor. I loved her sense of humor, and she loved my Southern accent (laughs).
Christopher Rice: Of course (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: One day, Anne and I were talking about her book Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. When we were finished, I said, “Let’s move on to erotica.” (laughs) Anne replied dryly, “Oh, certainly. Let’s move on to erotica.” (laughs) Then we began talking about her Sleeping Beauty novels.
Christopher Rice: (laughs) Yes. Absolutely.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Chris, for those who have not read any books in the Ramses series, can you give us a synopsis of the story and what it was like working with your mom on the last two books?
Christopher Rice: Yes. I think the fascinating thing about the Ramses series is that the first book, which was in 1990, I believe, stood apart from everything else Mom’s done. It’s been totally different. It has a breakneck pacing to it that isn’t just the same as her other books. It was a tribute originally, when she launched it, to the old classic tales of H. Rider Haggard and Arthur Conan Doyle. It was meant to be, I think, more gleefully romantic than the vampires and the witches, both of which are kind of reaped in darkness. Ramses was not so much about darkness. It was an adventure story.
When the first book was published, it was meant to be the beginning of a series, and then The Queen of the Damned was published, which was the third novel in The Vampire Chronicles. It was such a monster hit, it changed our lives. Truly. Our lives were never the same after the publication of that book. It earned back its advance in 24 hours. They were selling it out of the box in the store. It was amazing. So nobody wanted to talk about poor Ramses even though the book went on to sell over a million copies and be a big best seller. So it sat there forever, and there was always this unfinished feeling for Mom. She talked about developing it as a movie and as a TV series, and she tried to engage me in it. I was never really on fire about the idea. I was working on my own books at the time. But then she brought up the idea about writing the sequel as a novel, and I got interested. There were a lot of challenges.
What I saw was the biggest challenge of it was that the first book ends on a cliffhanger. So with the second book, you’re obligated to pick up exactly where you left off. I think if you pick up exactly where you left off and then flash forward 100 years, that feels like a cheat to the people who loved the first book. They really wanted to see all those elements move forward and carry forward in a serious way. So that’s what we did. We sat down together, and we outlined the second book. This was just a few years ago, and so there was this sense of, “Are we doing the right thing here? Is this what people want?” I think the response was really positive. But we agreed to write two sequels, so we signed a deal for two sequels to the original book. The only thing that delayed the third book was some other projects that we were working on. They’re really a great trilogy. We carry it through with some ideas that are started in the first book. I think they really bloom and come to fruition in the third book. But at the same time, it was just a joyful soap opera, in the best sense of the word, to have all these characters to play with and that she had introduced.
I think, between her and me, creatively, we really went back and forth about the extent of which we were going to make Cleopatra, who is brought back to life against her will in the first book and has a monstrous reaction to it initially, a villain or remain a monster. My first instinct when we started on the second book together was that this is a great adversary for Ramses. He’s feeling guilty. He comes across her remains in the museum in the first book, and nobody knows its her, and he uses the elixir of life, which he had used for his own mortality, and sprinkles it across her remains. He’s never done this before, but it reanimates her, and is it really her or is it some zombie clone? All of these questions are roaring along in the first book, and then there’s a cliffhanger. So it really was up to the two of us to decide in subsequent books if we wanted her to remain a monster. I was initially in the monster camp. I said that she’s a great villainess. Then we really got into the process of it, and I realized I was wrong.
The thing that is fascinating about Anne’s work is that there’s not a lot of villains in it. There are antagonists and characters that are in the main point of view. But the genius of what Anne did was that she went into the point of view of the characters we had all considered to be diabolical and monstrous, and she illuminated them and gave them depth, sophistication and nuance. That was really the achievement of Interview with the Vampire, among many. So to have in the future an Anne Rice novel a cardboard villain or to have someone be a villain solely because they were brought back to life against their will, is not really very Anne Rice. It wasn’t really true to her world. The villains that we do introduce are villainous for different reasons, and some think it’s their accesses of being a human. (laughs) It’s their relatability, if you will, that makes them a villain.
The challenge of the third book, for me, which I feel like I overcame because it was a personal one, was that Mom was very insistent that it be set during or at the outbreak of the First World War because with the timeline of the books, that was coming, and we even teased that it was on the horizon at the end of the second book. Everybody’s so caught up during book two in their own supernatural adventures that they aren’t reading the newspapers, and they don’t see that the Germans are getting ready to invade Belgium and France, and all the terrible events leading up to that war are starting to take place. So by the time book three is happening, war is on the way.
I mean, it’s happening, so how that group of immortals react to the conflict, how they will get involved or stay out of it, which is really the conflict at the beginning of the book, all became very exciting to me. When I first thought about the idea, I thought, “How am I going to do Ramses and Julie in the mud of the trenches?” You know, all those images that you associate with World War I. It was just a terrible loss of innocence event for the entire world. There’s not a lot of cheerful stories you can tell about the First World War. None of the Ramses stories are cheerful necessarily. But they are swooningly romantic in various places, and I think we were able to achieve that. I think we achieved it by giving the immortal band that has come together over the previous two books, a noble purpose in the context of the war.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Should people read the first two books to really understand and appreciate the third installment?
Christopher Rice: I think so. I probably made my publisher nervous that I said that. But my personal reading habits are that I can’t read a series out of order. I always start at the beginning. But these really do flow one right into the other, and I think they can be read in that way and in sort of a delightfully serialized way.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: In Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra, there’s an American novelist named Sybil Parker, and Anne said that she was your idea.
Christopher Rice: Oh, I think Sybil was actually Anne’s idea (laughs). We’re giving each other credit, yeah (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is Sybil a prominent character in the third book?
Christopher Rice: Somewhat. She’s not as central to this book as she was in the previous book because this book is not really focused on the riddle of what the resurrected Cleopatra is. The centerpiece of book two is that Ramses has brought Cleopatra back to life. He poured the elixir over her remains. What is she? Does she have a soul? Is she actually Cleopatra or is she a clone? Is she fueled by some sort of bone memory that’s coming out of the remains itself? Those questions get more of an answer in book two. Book three is really about how the immortals are going to react to the fact that the world around them is breaking out into a war. So they’re presented with a different quest, if you will. While Cleopatra and Sybil both play a role in that quest, it’s not as central as it was in the previous book.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: When I first asked Anne about you, it was in 2009. She said you were 22 when you began writing and that you showed the manuscript to your father who was “knocked off his feet by it.” Then he told your mom that everything was going to change for you. How has this life of writing changed your life over the years?
Christopher Rice: Well, you know, it’s forced me to get to work. I’ll have to say, when I first wrote that, I was in a very strange, somewhat wayward period in my early life. I had dropped out of two colleges in a row. I had moved back home. I was living a very privileged life as the son of a highly successful person, and there was a question hanging over my head of, what are you going to do? I had left high school with fierce acting ambitions. When I arrived at the first college, Brown University, I saw that nobody was really impressed with my ambitions in the theater department. I didn’t get cast in anything. I was crushed. My ego was just smashed because in high school, I had been a star of the theater department.
So I had gone back to my dorm room and begun writing these plays that were very much attempts to have some sort of an outlet, right? Nobody had to cast me in anything, but you couldn’t tell me not to write. You didn’t have to do anything with it when I was done, but you couldn’t tell me not to do it. So I had some vague ambitions. I had moved out to Los Angeles with a friend, and we were going to develop film projects, but I was just sort of like … drifting maybe isn’t the right word. But I was not centered. I was not focused.
I got the call one day when I was living in LA that Anne had slipped into a diabetic coma, which nobody knew she was diabetic at the time. She had been rushed to the hospital with a condition they call DKA (Diabetic Ketoacidosis), which is often fatal. I dropped everything, and I flew home to be with her. I decided to stay because I didn’t really have anything strong calling me back to LA, and Mardi Gras was on the horizon. So I just sort of settled in, and I started nosing around with the short stories I had written and read in a reading series in LA that I really hadn’t done much else with. I started playing with them.
Just the act of eventually, after about three months getting to a manuscript-length work, cresting that hill, that changed something in me fundamentally. I think what that experience was ultimately about is what I discovered when I had gone out into the world, college and then LA, is that I didn’t really have the wherewithal or the commitment to do the heavy lifting when it came time to try and build an acting career. I wasn’t willing to deal with the initial rejection, and I didn’t really put in the time.
When it came to writing, I was willing to put in the time. The publication of that book was sort of, “Okay. This is your path now. This is where you should be putting all your focus.” I think the success of it did that as well. If it had been a total flop, I might’ve retreated into myself again. But I was blessed that it did well and that it found an audience. I haven’t really looked back. Ever since then, I’ve been writing something. So it was a self-discovery process. In the story about my father reading the manuscript, he said the exact same thing when he read Interview with the Vampire. He said to Mom, “Your life is going to change.” It’s always interesting that he was the bringer of that message because he didn’t actually read a lot of fiction. He wasn’t a novel reader. He would read James Lee Burke. In his college days, he read classics and great works of literature.
But my father was not somebody who would walk into a Barnes & Noble and walk out with a novel or seven as I was wont to do, and as Mom used to do. So I loved that he was the one who had that reaction to both of those books. But I think what I really hear in that story is how supportive they were. I dread what would’ve happened to the child who had no artistic ambitions who ended up in that house. It would’ve been like Alex Keaton on Family Ties, right? Like, “What am I doing with this family? I want to be a banker, and all they’re talking about is poetry and art.” (laughs) So I lucked out.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You did indeed. Anne had a fluctuating spiritual journey, and at times appeared disappointed or frustrated with the anti-gay, anti-feminist stance of the Catholic Church. I believe in 2010, she wrote that she remained committed to Christ but not to being Christian. What are your thoughts about that, and how do you feel about religion?
Christopher Rice: As for me, I’m not an atheist, and I’m not a Christian. I believe there is a loving higher power in the universe. I don’t have a very clear definition of it, and I think that’s sort of part of how it functions. In terms of Mom’s journey, it’s been interesting to watch the coverage of that part. She absolutely left the Catholic Church. The thing that does not get enough ink when it’s talked about is that everybody goes to the narrative that it was because of me and because I was gay. That might’ve been part of it. I never pressured her to leave the Church, and I was openly gay before she went back. So she knew all that.
I really believe the issue that affected her more than any other was abortion. She had a moment during the first presidential campaign for Hillary Clinton where she came out and endorsed Hillary Clinton as a Catholic. She said the responses to that … it was the first time she was afraid for her life. At the time, she lived in a gated community, so we felt that would offer some security, but she said the level of hatred and vitriol that came pouring into her inbox over that endorsement, which was picked up by Matt Drudge at the time, really,really shook her.
I don’t have a definitive verdict on whether or not it was a decisive event that led her to leave the Church, but I think on balance, people underplay that issue in terms of her legacy. She had complicated feelings about abortion. She wasn’t pro-abortion, but she supported strongly a woman’s right to choose. She felt like she could not be a public Catholic and take that position with any kind of safety or security. But I don’t believe she ever stopped believing in the miracle of the resurrection. She said that to me. We did an interview together around the time that she was writing the Christ the Lord book. I said point blank, “I don’t believe in the miracle of the resurrection.” She said, “I do.” (laughs) She said it in a tone that suggested there would be further discussion if I chose to disagree.
But she absolutely left the Catholic Church. She just saw profound inabilities on the part of the Church to deal with certain historical truths, and she couldn’t ultimately reconcile those in her mind. Some of my beliefs, she just couldn’t give a damn about. I tried to get her to watch Cloud Atlas, which I think is a dazzling movie. I haven’t read the book, but it touches on some of my suspicions around reincarnation, past lives and all that sort of stuff. She was like, “I don’t get this. I don’t know what this is talking about.” It was multiple storylines, and I think you eventually get the idea that the same actors are playing the same people. So you’re seeing somebody who’s being reborn across time, and she really did have a more Christian view of the universe than that, the universal soul going on in the heroes journey to the realm. She never really divorced from that idea.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You have a new book coming out, and it’s the first time you’re writing under the pen name C. Travis Rice.
Christopher Rice: Yeah. I’m calling it an acknowledged pen name, and everybody’s saying, “Why are you using a pen name?” I’m saying, “Because it’s a book with no serial killer or mummy or evil monster.” It’s supposed to be a largely fun and delightful rompy, sexy gay romance. It’s called Sapphire Sunset, and it’s the first in a series. I thought it was important to brand them as being different from my other stuff because they are. But I didn’t want to keep it a secret that I was doing it because I didn’t want to send this message that I was ashamed to be writing a gay romance. I’ve been so open about my sexuality, people would assume it’s a shame about the romance genre and label, and I have none of that.
So that’s in March. In May, I have another thriller coming out called Decimate, which is more traditional Christopher Rice fare. But it’s going to be a special book for me because it’s essentially a thriller about near-death experiences. When I told Mom that I was writing it, she was obsessed with near-death experiences, and she sent me all of this literature and all these books that she loved about it. That was some of the last exchanges that we had about her belief about people who had NDEs, as they’re called.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Was your mom working on another book?
Christopher Rice: I think that this is it. Ramses is the last book.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So no unfinished manuscripts. It’s very hard to believe.
Christopher Rice: I know. It seems mind-bending to say that. But, yeah.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Some of your favorite memories with your mom must be personal and private, but is there one that you can share?
Christopher Rice: You know, they are probably trips that we took when I was younger, and they’re bittersweet memories because they liked to travel around the holidays. My parents didn’t want to do a big family Christmas around the tree. When Mom had the money to do it, she wanted to take us off to Parish or we went on a cruise. Now, I just think, “God, how wonderful!” But at the time, I was like, “Why aren’t we home with Grandma Dotty and Aunt Karen drinking eggnog under the tree?” I had this traditional image of Christmas in my head, and they’re like, “Kids, we’re heading to Paris first class. Why are you whining?” Now, I think of those experiences with great love. We took a trip to Paris around Christmastime. I think I posted a picture online of her at Pere Lachaise Cemetery. She had really long hair. We kept encountering dogs, these great big dogs throughout the visit, and sometimes it would scare us when a giant dog would come running around the corner at us. We were in a park, and there was this dog fight. Dad thought it meant something that we were seeing these dogs, and he later did a painting of the dogs of Paris.
It was a moment when Mom was at the peak of her career. They were healthy and younger, and we were walking all over. Things like that. It was just an incredible life that I was given, you know. An incredible life. I have to pause every now and then to remind myself of that.
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Anne Rice Author Interview Ramses The Damned: The Reign Of Osiris