Saturday, February 20, 2010

Q & A with Anne Rice

From The Desert Sun --

Author Anne Rice switches from vampires to angels --

By: Bruce Fessier --
February 7, 2010 --

Unlike her vampire protagonists, Anne Rice is a sun lover.

The best-selling author, 68, has lived in Rancho Mirage since 2006, when she moved from New Orleans after the death of her husband, painter and poet Stan Rice, four years earlier.

Her Thunderbird Heights home is adorned with hundreds of ornate dolls from New Orleans and Stan Rice's art graces her walls.

But the author says, “I need those 360 sunny days per year.”

Rice wrote her last vampire novel, “Blood Canticle,” in 2002 after revitalizing the genre in the 1970s with “Interview With the Vampire,” the first in her “Vampire Chronicles” series.

She announced in 2004 that she would no longer write about vampires after re-embracing her Catholic faith. She's now an active parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi in La Quinta.

The petite, bob hair-styled San Francisco State University graduate recently released her first novel in a new “Songs of the Seraphim” series about an assassin who is literally reborn into different centuries as an agent of angels.

“Angel Time: The Songs of the Seraphim” was partly inspired by the Mission Inn in Riverside, she said, but it also was kindled by the welcoming desert environment.

Rice discussed her new book, her vampire novels, her faith and her love of the desert in a wide-ranging interview at her spacious hillside home.

The Desert Sun: Do you have a favorite time in history?

Rice: Ancient Egypt fascinated me as a little girl. There was a mummy that came to the New Orleans museum when I was a child. I remember seeing a little mummy in a box and being enthralled. I was very frightened by the mummy movies in the 1940s. They are terrible movies, but I can't watch them to this day.

Mythology is a bridge to metaphysics. Were you attracted to metaphysics?

Quite a bit. In “The Vampire Chronicles,” the earliest vampires were an ancient Egyptian queen and king, Enkil and Akasha. I tied it in with all the theories about cannibalism that E. A. Wallis Budge has written about in his books on ancient Egypt. I have devoured material on Egypt. I went up the Nile as far as Aswan. I wanted to take my son, Christopher, to Egypt to start his travels, but it was never safe enough to do that.

Did ancient Egypt start your interest in vampires?

I don't think so. Vampires for me started as a whim. I was thinking one day, what would it be like if you could get an interview with a vampire? I got carried away with it and I really was going on the memory of a black-and-white film I saw as a child, called “Dracula's Daughter,” which was a sequel to the Bela Lugosi “Dracula.” In it, Dracula's daughter is a tormented aristocrat and also a painter. One of her victims is a model and I just thought that was the most glamorous, wonderful character. This tragic, tormented aristocrat who was in fact sensitive enough to paint portraits.

Years later, I developed my own mythology. I discovered when I was writing those novels about vampires I could access feelings in a way I couldn't in any realistic novel.

Vampire writers today are taking the story in new directions. What do you think of the vampire fad?

I think it's just what you said. We have new authors taking it in new directions. People ask about it as if it's something independent of the authors causing it to be a good time for vampire fiction. I don't think it's that.

The concept of the vampire is a great concept, so it's not surprising that many different authors could go to that concept and write fascinating stories. Stephanie Meyer with the “Twilight” stuff really is repeating the basic theme of the Bronte sisters: a young girl fascinated by a mysterious older figure. She's made it a vampire that goes to high school, but it's basically an older man that's both protective and something of a menace. That's straight out of “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights” - the infatuation with Heathcliff, the infatuation with Mr. Rochester.

I don't know if she consciously did that, but she satisfied a huge demand and I think it's not surprising that young women have that fantasy because they live in a rather strange world in high school. ... They're in many instances ready for marriage, but they can't go out with an older man who can marry them and offer them a home. They're condemned to sort of sex playing. We're the only culture on Earth that's ever thought fertile young women should play at sex with unmarriageable young boys.

That wasn't your angle.

No. I was writing from the standpoint of the vampire. I wanted to be the mysterious, menacing one. I wasn't ever writing from the standpoint of the victim. If I brought a new twist, that was the twist.

'Angel Time'
It doesn't seem like the author of “The Vampire Chronicles” could have written “Angel Time.” What was your frame of mind as you wrote them?

A lot went into “The Vampire Chronicles.” It had to do with grief and pain and nihilism because that was 1976 when I wrote that first novel. I had lost my daughter to a rare form of leukemia and I think the book reflects a lot of grief - grief for lost faith. As a grieving person, and a guilt-ridden atheist, I could identify with that vampire from the darkness and longing. Then the characters took on life and the story took on a momentum of its own. But I think books always reflect something about you and your life, no matter how fantastic they may seem.

What was your inspiration for “Angel Time?”

I wanted to do the book for a long time - the idea of a person being recruited by the angels and going back in time and working for the angels. I've been thinking of it for years, really. It was just a matter of getting the time and thinking this was the time to do this. When I saw the Mission Inn, I thought, this is where it has to start. I was so taken by that place.

How did it develop?

I knew I wanted Toby (the assassin) to go back to the Middle Ages. Also, I was reading a lot of history. The 12th and 13th centuries are two centuries I didn't know much about and I came across the story of Little Saint William of Norwich and how the Jews were accused of ritually murdering (him). That later became a common accusation against Jews throughout Europe, but the first case was in Norwich. I don't for a moment believe the Jews murdered Little Saint William, but I thought, what is it like for these people to live with this kind of suspicion and tension? I decided to investigate everything about them. I thought, I don't want to take my hero back to the story of Little Saint William, himself. There's not enough room there for me to make a fiction, so I went to a later century and a similar accusation. What I wrote about was very probable.

Renewal of faith
How did you find Christianity after having called yourself an atheist?

I was brought up Catholic. For a long time, I had been believing in God and realizing I was no longer an atheist. But I didn't think it was possible to go back. One day, after a couple years of questioning a lot of things, I finally realized I believed in God. I loved Him and wanted to go back. I called a priest and went to confession and went back to church. It wasn't an easy thing to do.

What happened that day?

I don't remember anything happening except sitting at my desk and realizing I wanted to go back through the Catholic Church. A couple years later, I dedicated all my work to God. In a sense, I would no longer write any books as an atheist. “The Vampire Chronicles” are really books about atheism. The vampires are atheists. They don't have any sign from God that He exists and, in a way, they're about the miseries of that outlook. I couldn't write them any more. I couldn't enter into their universe. I wrote two books about Jesus Christ, both of which are novels. Jesus is a fascinating character to write about. Then I did “Called Out of Darkness (A Spiritual Confession),” a memoir about it all and then “Angel Time” to go back to this idea I had many years before. I was going to do it (in 1998) with the vampire, Lestat. He was going to be recruited by the angels to travel back and I could never make it work. I really didn't want Lestat to do it. I wanted a new mortal character to be traveling with the angels, but I just couldn't put it together.

Are you involved in local Catholic activities?

I go to Mass at St. Francis of Assisi and support the parish. I love Father James (McLaughlin), the pastor. As soon as I walked into that church I felt at home because it looks like Francis' church in a Tuscan valley.

Local influence
Does the Coachella Valley inspire your writing?

Very much. The first thing any writer needs is a place to be comfortable and safe and it gives me that. The weather is especially good for my mind. Also, I like the beauty here - the crystal clear air and the mountains and the contrast - the oasis-like greenery of the valley and the brown of the mountains.

The concept of dualism is visceral here with the desert and the mountains, and that relates to other facets of life, like there's more than good and evil. That's a constant reminder.

I think you're right. It's a dramatic contrast. I really need that. I think I would go crazy if I had to live, say, in the margin of a big city where the squalor spreads out. It's disharmony that gets to me. What I love here is the harmony. I know it's an expensive harmony, but after living in San Francisco for so many years and New Orleans for so many years, I'm ready for the peace and quiet and the safety.

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