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Monday, November 10, 2008

Anne Rice Speaks Out on Being a Total Nutcase

In a way, I'm a lot luckier than most fans of Anne Rice. I have never quite gotten around to finishing her complete series of vampire novels, and so I have a lot more to enjoy despite the fact that Rice has abandoned writing about the undead to focus on writing about Jesus Christ. As for the rest of her fan base, they've been about as pissed off as Queen Akasha at that Vampire Lestat concert ever since the author re-embraced her Catholicism and became a Christian writer.

Rice has been no stranger to eccentric behavior over the years. She bad-mouthed the film version of her first vampire novel, only to take out a full-page New York Times ad praising it and apologizing. She lashed out furiously on Amazon.com against readers who had maligned her final vampire chronicle, The Blood Canticle. And most recently, she contemplated writing another vamp book in which her hero Lestat himself becomes a practicing Christian. Her once loyal fans heaved a collective sigh when she abandoned that ill-advised idea.

Yesterday, Rice gave a rare interview to ScotlandonSunday in an effort to promote her new memoir Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession--the book the New York Times described as "a crashing, mind-numbing bore... the literary equivalent of waterboarding."

"Not all my fans like my new work," Rice explains. "But I had a wonderful letter from one recently who said, 'Now I understand, your characters were searching, they were lost and looking for a way back to God.'"

This opinion is not shared by the many former readers who now consider her to be a total fruit loop. Some have even gone so far as to say that her complete 180 reversal has tainted her previous series, The Chronicles of the Vampires and The Mayfair Witches. While that would be taking it a bit far, it's also fair to say that Ms. Rice has always been a few pints low--this recent transformation is just the latest manifestation of her creepy cat-ladyness.

"It was a delayed adolescent rebellion," Rice says of the youthful rejection of the Catholic Church that led her to become a writer of erotica and horror. "I wanted to be bohemian, smoke Camel cigarettes, wear black gloves and know what the modern world was. I felt that if I couldn't be a good Catholic, there couldn't be a God. It was a tragic mistake."

It's ironic that Rice discovered her "tragic mistake" only after making a king's ransom from the hundreds of millions of copies of novels sold to the kind of adoring readership 99% of writers only dream of attracting.

"I'm writing a variety of Christian books, some of which might be appealing to fans of my early work," she says. "In the future, I want to write books about Christmas; Christmas books in the sense of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol; books about early Christianity when people were struggling in the Roman Empire in the early church. I grew up with Ben Hur. I'd love to write a big book like that. I'd love to write a book and have Hollywood make a movie of it, like Gladiator but about Christianity."

If all this is giving you the douche chills, you're not the only one. Look, I don't begrudge Rice her epiphany. But let's call a spade a spade here. Clearly, the woman has been through a lot of pain in recent years, with the loss of her husband and the ravaging effects of Hurricane Katrina, among other things. So she's sought solace in safety, in the world that once represented all that was stable in her young life. But let's at least recognize it for that. And in doing so, I can't help but mourn the loss of a great creative mind to the frailty of the human psyche.

I can't be angry with her the way many other fans are. I interpret this as a sign of weakness, no doubt about it--but I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't point that we're all weak to one extent or another. We haven't walked in her shoes, and we can't know what truly motivated her to this point. I guess I just expected better from someone who once produced such a rich, evocative and subversive fictional world. True, her vampire series was erratic, particularly towards the end, but I always enjoyed losing myself in that world, nonetheless. Maybe it's for the best, as there seemed no escaping their continuing downturn in quality.

But don't let that put you off enjoying the books she already has out there. Then you'd be just as irrational and flaky as she is.

10 comments:

Absinthe said...

Rice was never one of my favorites - Lestat was pure genius and I loved violin but the Mayfair witches just sucked. And don't even start me on her Beauty series - that is some of the worst erotic out there.

But as for her finding herself and wanting to do something different, hey more power to her. Every day I am constantly learning something new and having to change my outlook on life slightly. And you are quite right that no one should judge her. It is hard to understand a person and what they do unless you have actually been in their shoes.

Johnny 666 said...

I have to confess, I never have read any of her novels. Mainly because, funnily enough; I don't read a huge amount of horror. Where would you recommend starting with her books?

Anonymous said...

I used to be a fan of Rice's, but she lost me a long time ago, starting with the two sequels she wrote for The Witching Hour (which was an absolutely perfect novel that needed no continuation; in my mind the latter two books don't exist). I found her writing becoming so, so overwrought it was like eating a box of chocolate in one sitting. Then I noticed I stopped coming back to finish the books I started. To this day I haven't finished any of the Vampire Chronicles books since Memnoch the Devil.

It's important to point out, however, that she has definitely NOT disavowed her earlier work. There is a statement about this on her website somewhere. Had she disavowed the work, I would have completely lost my respect for her.

I am glad she has found some peace in her life through her faith, but I have a deep-seated mistrust of the fervently religious and organized religion. This is even more so after the recent events in California with Proposition 8 and the Mormon Church.

B-Sol said...

I've been more forgiving of Rice over the years than most. The first two vampire novels are unassailable masterworks. From there it gets dicey. Queen of the Damned is a letdown, but Tale of the Body Thief is excellent. Memnoch is a bit of a bore. Yet I loved Pandora, a later novel in the series that's often overlooked. I have a bunch of them that I've yet to read, but any newbie can't go wrong with Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat--they literally breathed new life into the subgenre, and so much that we have today--True Blood--for example, is informed by her.

Pax Romano said...

It would seem that this rebirth into xianity is something Rice had been dealing with for a long time. I seem to recall the vampires in her novels always looking for proof of god ... and in one of the novels, Lestat goes back in time and drinks the blood of the crucified Christ. And if memory serves, one of the other vampire novels concerns itself with the Shroud of Turin.

I think she's been heading in this direction for a long time.

AndyDecker said...

I read "Interview" some time before it got the later success and loved it, but after "Queen" I avoided her work.

Without a doubt she did a lot for the genre; but I never got why she was so interesting for a mainstream audience most of which would never read a normal horror novel.

B-Sol said...

Anne Rice deserves credit for reinventing the vampire genre for a whole new generation. Her books appealed to a mainstream readership because they weren't so much concerned with inspiring fear specifically as with inspiring raw emotion in general. In comic book terms, Interview with the Vampire was to the vampire genre what Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns was to superheroes. It deconstructed them in a way that made them more accessible to modern horror fans. It's a testament to her influence that even today, many works of vampire fiction still use her "template"--ironically, to the point that it's become a cliche.

Tom G said...

Much like Andy above me, I gave up after the third book. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two, but Queen of the Damned was such a mess that I lost interest in her work.

Interview came from her grief over the death of a child. Her religious fervor came from the death of her husband. I'm curious as to if she'll change yet again if she has another death in the family.

Anthony Hogg said...

I think the view of Rice's reconversion, as it were, was put in a bit of a harsh light.

So the woman found religion. Nothing wrong with that.

Works are products of artists in their current mindsets, influences, etc. This isn't always a good thing, of course. But it's not always a bad thing, either. If she wants to go from writing about vampires to Christianity, then that also reflects "where she's at" at the moment.

Regarding B-Sol's comment: "It's a testament to her influence that even today, many works of vampire fiction still use her "template"--ironically, to the point that it's become a cliche." It's not really that ironic at all. It's sort of human nature. After the publication of Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), how often was that "template" adapted?

When something successful/highly influential/earth-shattering comes along, then it inevitably triggers off other artists/writers to follow suit. The same principle that trends run on.

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