Christopher Rice Interview: Bestselling Author Collaborates with Famed Mom, Anne Rice, on "Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra"
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Interviews Authors
Image attributed to Cathryn Farnsworth
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’s “Sexiest Men Alive.” His two novels of dark supernatural suspense, The Heavens Rise and The Vines, were both finalists for the Bram Stoker Award. Rice has written in the romance genre, and his debut novel, A Density of Souls, was published when he was just 22 years old. He is the son of famed vampire chronicler Anne Rice and the late poet Stan Rice.
On February 28, 2017, Rice and his mom, Anne Rice, announced that their first book written together would be a sequel to her 1989 novel The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned, titled Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra, to be released November 21, 2017.
"Mom and I figured out a way that works for us, and it really involved us sitting down together for several days and hammering out the beats of the story."
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Christopher, why did you want to collaborate with your mom on this sequel, and did either of you have some fears that perhaps it wouldn’t work?
Christopher Rice: I think it depends on how you define “not work.” I mean, either the book doesn’t succeed, or it doesn’t find a readership. I think in this particular case, the biggest danger is that fans of the original would be disappointed, which is always a risk with a sequel. So there was that. What was most important to me is that we find a way to work together so that we could create something that existed convincingly in a world mom had already built.
The original book ends with a cliffhanger, and it was a given that we needed to pick up this book right where things left off last time, so the idea of completely rebooting everything so that it could be something that she and I created wasn’t really on the table. Nobody was ever really considering that. So there was less to argue about collaboratively because everything we did needed to fit tonally and structurally and character-wise with everything she had introduced in the first book.
In that sense, it made it an easier collaboration, and I think it lowered the risk. It’s always harder to create something from the ground up with a collaborator, particularly if you’re in the habit of creating stories on your own as we both are. But every collaboration is different. I published a bunch of titles in the romance genre and had a wonderful time sort of being introduced to the world and finding out how communal it was. I witnessed collaborations, and that’s when I learned every one of them was literally different.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What about the actual writing process on this book?
Christopher Rice: Mom and I figured out a way that works for us, and it really involved us sitting down together for several days and hammering out the beats of the story. Then I went off and wrote the first draft, and that took several months, then I brought that back to her. She did a really intensive read, pulled it apart, and then we sat down for another few days and talked about what the next step was going to be. I wrote another draft based on those notes. Really it was a draft from beginning to end. I didn’t throw everything out, but everything was so addressed and reshaped that it was really a complete draft, as I call it.
Mom did the last draft, so if anything at that point she felt hadn’t crossed the lines of communication from her to me in the writing process, she was able to add it in and layer in a lot of those things that are the hallmarks of an Anne Rice book. It will be an interesting experiment to see if someday she and I can create a completely original story, but this was sort of a perfect way to do that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You mentioned “tone,” something that Anne’s fans are accustomed to in her books. Did you have to blend in that tone?
Christopher Rice: Yeah. Absolutely. You can look at it as originating as to how the characters speak. How Ramses and Julie speak in the first book is how they have to speak in the second book. I am known for more contemporary, gritty crime novels for the most part, and this book is set in Edwardian England and has an almost Victorian storytelling style in that it’s a very generous, expansive style, which is kind of her brand and her trademark. So nobody was considering departing from those things.
I think what I probably brought to the book most were some sequence of events of action and maybe even spectacle that I’m more known for. It was definitely a fulfilling collaboration. I never felt I was being muzzled or silenced, but it was a departure from what I’ve done in the past.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Were there any differences of opinions on characters or plots?
Christopher Rice: Yeah. There really was, and it was me realizing that she had been right. When we started outlining the book together, I was insistent that Cleopatra was the villainess and little else. Cleopatra is reanimated in the first book by the elixir of life, and when she comes back, she’s sort of confused and monstrous and has this super strength to her that she kills many times. By the end of the first book, which is giving away a little bit of a spoiler for people that haven’t read the first novel, it’s not clear whether this is the real Cleopatra that’s been brought back to life as some sort of zombie clone that is the real spirit of the long-dead queen in this body that’s been reanimated, and I felt very decisively the answer was, “No, it isn’t.”
While it’s clear that she’s alive at the beginning of the sequel, I felt we should really go the path of making her a full on monster. Mom was resistant and said, “Look. There are layers to this character. She’s really popular with the readers.” I said, “Let me try it. I think the book needs a real dark villainess oppositional force.” I realized in the writing of it that mom was right, that this character was too interesting to give up on, that there was more complexity to her with what she had been through, that she had been reanimated against her will. We learned that in the past in her long history with Ramses. He had offered her the elixir when she was queen, and she had refused it, so he essentially forced it on her in death. All those things would’ve been lost if we had just turned her into some stalking monster. You know, the book is subtitled The Passion of Cleopatra, and it’s the result of that initial difference of opinion, but then coming back to realize that mom was right.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Even though you’ve been publishing for 17 years, are you still learning from your mom?
Christopher Rice: I think you’re always learning. I really believe that. I think more recently being in publishing is learning how the business of publishing has dramatically changed, which is a separate conversation. But in terms of learning from mom, I think that there is a sort of contemporary tendency to withhold or to be cool and unemotional particularly on the crime fiction side, and her brand and her popularity comes from the fact that she’s the opposite of that. So there was a kind of loosening up, I think, that happened for me, sort of not being too mindful of what the critical consensus is on that type of tone when it comes to your storytelling, which sometimes is not positive, you know.
It’s a passionate, lustful way of telling a story, which influenced the way I wrote my next novel, Bone Music, out in March. Even though that is a contemporary Sci-Fi crossover crime thriller, I did deeper dives on some of the emotional states of the characters than I did in my previous novel, and I think that was a positive effect working on Ramses.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How have you changed since that first novel (A Density of Souls) came out in 2000?
Christopher Rice: Well, I was 22 when it was published, and I was 21 when I wrote it. I defy anybody to look at who they were when they were 21 and say that they’re the same person at 39. It is an interesting experience to have been so successful for something that contains a lot of beliefs that you might not hold anymore simply because you’ve grown beyond them. I don’t mean to dismiss the book because it is probably my most popular novel even today. There is a sense of freedom to it, a sense of it having been written before I read a single good or bad review of my writing, so it’s really the book I wanted to read, which I think is always a great guiding philosophy for any book.
You should be writing the book that you want to read. So I look to A Density of Souls for that as a sort of pure, unfiltered thing, but there’s always an “If I knew then what I know now, would I have told that story differently?” I think there’s a progression in some of my later works. I wrote a novel called The Heavens Rise, which was my first supernatural thriller. That’s how it was sold and packaged. But it was also something else. After having really trashed a lot of things about New Orleans, which was my hometown and particularly my high school community in my first book, I had a desire to go back and be a little more forgiving and a little more adult about things, and I built a story that was less about people victimized by their communities than about a group of people who, even while facing the dark supernatural force, were really trying to come together and survive in post-Katrina New Orleans. It’s the book of which I’m probably the proudest. The most work went into it, and it was written under ideal circumstances. I had a lot of time I could give to the drafting of it before I involved a publisher.
So I think that if I am lucky enough to have someone read all of my books, they will see that progression because they’ll see a change in how I address the same topics as I get older and as the books go on. I think the thing you learn is that there’s no formula for success, nobody has the magic words, there’s no algorithm that’s going to rocket you to the top of the bestseller list. The outcomes of books can be so uncertain that you really have to make a commitment to be writing the book you care about the most. I’ve written things that everybody said would be guaranteed to be sure things, and they had promotional backing, but if they don’t connect with readers, they don’t connect with readers. At the very least, at the end of it, you need to have a book that connected with you.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your mom is outspoken politically and about human rights issues that she believes in. Are you also an activist?
Christopher Rice: You know, I went through an interesting period. I was a pretty strident activist online right up until gay marriage was legalized by the Supreme Court. I took this attitude of, “Well, I pretty much got what I cared the most about, my number one banner issue, so I’m going to tone it down a little bit on social media, and I’m going to focus more on book promotion and also interaction with people who follow me on a more personal level rather than yell at them about whatever I’m angry about.”
My best friend, Eric Shaw Quinn, and I started a podcast and a live Internet radio show called The Dinner Party Show which we did for several years. It has only been put on pause now for all of the activity that’s happening around The Vampire Chronicles TV series. That’s pulled us away from our other show. But that’s where I put my politics. The show was also a sketch comedy-variety show, but it had a lot of politics in it.
I have to say that being a liberal, maybe I got a little complacent. I was shocked by the outcome of the election as everybody else, but my dislike of him as an individual and as a president transcends party affiliation. It’s about my sense of humanity, and I think what’s really shocking and what liberals on my side of the fence lose sight of, is that what we’ve been given is a front row seat to a complete insurrection, even meltdown, inside of the Republican Party. The Republican Party of my earlier years no longer exists in any sort of organized way. The party of Bush, even the party of Reagan, doesn’t seem to be a functional entity. So there’s that.
I try to use humor and snark when it comes to expressing my political beliefs, but I think there are some things around him where I feel like my typical rules have been suspended. My biggest concern, and what I try to remember in tempering my activist efforts on social media, is that there’s what he says, and then there’s what he can actually do and what he actually accomplishes. I think it’s important to focus on what he can actually do because that’s where the real danger to the causes I care about lies. He says crazy things all the time to get attention, and I sometimes worry that the resistance is caught in a hamster wheel of responding to his every lunatic tweet. But everybody is seeing what he can actually get away with and what he can accomplish without working within the system, and it appears to be not very much.
Every author has to decide what issues matter to them so much that they’re willing to be very vocal about them at the public level even if it means losing readers who might connect with their work. It’s one thing to worry about losing readers that are never going to read you because they don’t read your genre. There are books I’ve written I think transcend politics and would have widespread appeal, and I always ask, “If I speak out about this publicly, is someone going to see this tweet and never look at my book?”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What kind of advice would you offer others interested in collaborating with a close family member?
Christopher Rice: Well, you know, you’ve got to remember that the process isn’t personal, as my best friend, Eric Shaw Quinn, likes to say. The process isn’t personal, and if you’re entering into a professional relationship with someone, it doesn’t matter if you’re married or related to them, there has to be a surrender to the process of the business you’re going into. I think people have to have the room and the right to disagree, and I think old devices you may have used to manipulate the person in your home environment are best left at the door, and it definitely is easier said than done.
Writers go back and forth about whether we want to take the attitude that our writing is a job. I think some of us want it to be considered a highly spiritual, psychological, artistic endeavor, but the fact of the matter is that when you’re writing, and you have a contract, it’s a job, and there are certain considerations that are strictly professional that you should apply. I think those apply doubly so when you’re working with a family member.
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