EXCLUSIVE: Anne Rice on returning to vampires, her new book, and what's next

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Oct 24, 2014, 4:13 PM EDT

After more than a decade, Anne Rice has returned to rule as the queen of vampire fiction once more.

In 2003, Rice published Blood Canticle, the 10th book in her best-selling Vampire Chronicles series. At the time, it was intended to be her final book exploring the adventures of the vampire Lestat de Lioncourt. In the years that followed, Rice began the Christ the Lord series, a first-person chronicle of the life of Jesus Christ, and wrote a memoir about her own spiritual journey: Called Out of Darkness. She also created two other supernatural series -- Songs of the Seraphim (about angels) and The Wolf Gift Chronicles (about werewolves) -- and maintained enthusiastic, daily interaction with her fans online. All the while, many of those fans kept asking: Will Lestat ever come back?

The question was finally answered last spring, when Rice announced her 11th Vampire Chronicle: Prince Lestat, an ambitious, world-spanning novel that returns not just to the titular hero, but to all of Rice's vampires. With Prince Lestat's Oct. 28 release looming, we spoke with Rice about the new book, what drove her to return to vampire fiction, and what's next for Lestat and company. 

Blastr: For the benefit of our readers who may not have revisited The Vampire Chronicles in a while, where does this book pick up, and what's happening as it starts?

Anne Rice: It's set now, in the present, 2013-14, or, you know, the eternal present. So it's a sequel to everything that went before in The Vampire Chronicles, and it's the first big book in terms of scope since Queen of the Damned, because it's the first book that takes up the whole Tribe. But it really is a sequel to everything. It's set in the present time. The vampire world is facing a crisis. It's facing two crises, really. And as these crises intensify, calls go up everywhere for leadership and guidance, and that's really what it's about, how the Tribe has developed this kind of worldwide consciousness, and how they need a leader -- or think that they do -- and the book addresses all that. And of course, the title -- Prince Lestat -- of course indicates that Lestat is the person they're all calling for. 

Blastr: I've heard in other interviews that Lestat's voice was kind of being persistent with you, and before you started this book you actually went back and re-read The Vampire Chronicles and found a story. When and how did this story start for you?

AR: How shall I put it? I was surprised at how much I discovered when I went back and started to read, how much I had to say. I was surprised at how much more I wanted to elaborate on all of these different topics. It seems like I had the benefit of a long vacation or a nap, and I returned, refreshed, to the material, and I discovered it to be a gold mine for me personally. I was inspired to approach all kinds of questions like science and vampires, that type of question, communication and vampires. I was inspired to just come up with a whole bunch of new ideas, a whole bunch of new ideas developed, a whole bunch of new situations developed. And I found that my imagination did its usual thing of coming up with new characters, as well as going back to reinvent and rediscover and redevelop old characters. And you can want this to happen when you're a writer, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's going to happen, and fortunately for me it did happen. The more I read the old books, the more it all came to life for me, and I was very happy to pursue it and to sort of give in to it, and the problem was really one of having almost too much to say, and not knowing how to begin and organize because the vision I had was so huge, of everybody all over the world responding to the modern age, to satellite technology, to the Internet, to iPhones, to a whole different world than the world in 2002 when I stopped writing the books. And I finally just thought "OK, just write it. Just pour it out." And I started, and it just poured out. I know that might be a disappointing answer, but that's really how it happened.

Blastr: When did you actually begin writing, and how long did it take you to write this book?

AR: The writing of this actual, coherent first, or ultimate, draft, that never takes me too long. I usually try to get that done in about two to three months. What takes long is all the preparation, all the false starts, all the chapters that don't take off, all the beginnings that don't flow, and all of the discoveries every time something doesn't work. But then when I finally commit that "I'm going to make this happen," and if it does flow, the writing ... it takes place in about three months. I would say it took three months to write the draft that was finished and handed in to Knopf. And then, of course, they didn't want me to tell anybody about it. They didn't want to publish it until fall 2014. It was an agony to wait so long, but that also gave me some time to go over it in copyediting and in galleys, to expand a little here and expand a little there. Time can be a good thing in that regard. You'll think of something. It also could be deadly. You'll ruin your book if you keep picking at it over time, but it worked out really well in this case. It wasn't easy keeping the secret, you know, going down to the Vampire Ball in New Orleans in 2013 and not being able to tell them about this book, but I had to go along with what the publisher wanted.

Blastr: You talked about discoveries and false starts as you were writing. I'm curious: Did you always know that this was going to encompass not only all of your previous characters, for the most part, but a lot of new characters? Did you always know it was going to be this big?

AR: I did once it started to really form in my mind. When I decided to do it, I didn't have a clear idea of how it was going to go, and that's when I picked up the books, when I thought, "OK, just read. Read what you wrote yourself. Start reading all of this." Then, yes, I almost immediately thought of different possibilities for different characters, and a lot of it that I developed in my mind never got to the book. There are characters in this book that we won't get their full story or their early story until the next book or the book after, when there are flashbacks. There just wasn't room enough to put everybody's total story. There are a couple of ancient immortals in this book who come from the earliest times of the vampires, but we have very, very brief summaries of who they were, and what they did, and how they came to know each other in ancient times and come together again in Prince Lestat. it's a great feeling, really, because you are reporting from a world that is really real to you, and it's vast, and it's like you are talking to your reader and saying, "I can't tell you the whole story here, but I can tell you he came from here and this is how he met this person and that person, and now he's standing in Central Park and he's watching Armand and Louis, and he's got a lot of thoughts about this." I like to write that way. I really do. I enjoy writing that way, reporting from a world that's totally real to me, and very well developed.

Blastr: As the main draft of the story took off, was there anything that surprised you more than anything else? 

AR: I was really surprised that I enjoyed so much writing about a vampire who roamed out to the West Coast in the 19th century, and when I described him in the Barbary Coast, and playing the piano in bordellos in San Francisco. I was surprised how much I enjoyed that. I'd like to go back to that in future books, that period in history, and what the vampires might have been like who prowled San Francisco in the gaslight era. I was surprised at how vivid all that became for me. And of course, I'm only talking about, what, three paragraphs in the book? But I really loved it. There were a number of passages that I loved more than other passages. They just sprang to life for me, but I do try when I'm writing a book to yield to that instinct, to make room for what is really vital. It's one of my working methods. Enjoy. Go for the intensity. Go for the pain. Go for the pleasure. If it's not interesting to you, don't assume it's going to be interesting to anyone else. 

Blastr: When you first announced the book on your son's radio show, you said that for a long time you believed that you really couldn't return to this world, you really believed that you were done. What made you feel so strongly about that, and what broke that for you? What made you realize there was something there?

AR: A couple of things. First, Lestat just wasn't talking to me. In 2002, when I ended Blood Canticle, it was not a finale, it was just the final novel. He danced off into the moonlight. It was not like a wrap-up. He was out there, and the other characters were out there in my imagination, but they weren't talking to me. A lot of what I write has to do with what keeps popping up in my mind. It's almost like the characters are on the front step and they keep coming to the door, and finally I open the door for one. But they weren't coming to the door. They didn't come to me night and day. I wasn't finding myself walking down the street thinking, "Oh my God, I've got to write about Lestat now and what he's doing." It wasn't happening. It just wasn't there, and I attribute this to a number of factors. 2002 was the year my husband died. I'd been married for 41 years, and that was a huge, huge thing. The grief of the loss of a spouse like that is almost too big to grasp rationally. If you've spent just about every single night of your life for 41 years with the same person in the same bed, and suddenly that person's gone ... gone ... that's a big thing. You may think you've got it all covered. "I understand grief. I'm looking the void in the face. I'm totally cool with it." But you're not. That's going to take its toll, and it's going to take years. It's going to affect you for years. That's one factor.

And then the second thing was I had a lot of other things I wanted to write. I had done this in the past. When I finished Interview with the Vampire, I went off and wrote a book called The Feast of All Saints, and another one called Cry to Heaven, and then two books under the pseudonym of Rampling, and three books under the name of Roquelaure that were erotica. All that before I went back to The Vampire Lestat. I took eight years before I went back to The Vampire Chronicles, so it wasn't that unusual for me to take 10 years to try a bunch of other things. I'd done it before. I have a lot of different types of things in me that I want to write, and readers don't respond to them equally, but they can often obsess me completely. 

Blastr: So, how did Lestat begin talking to you again?

AR: Well, first off, I decided I wanted to go back to him even before he started talking. I was frustrated. I had been working for years to try to set up deals in Hollywood so that Lestat would have life on the screen, and we weren't getting anywhere, and I was getting angry and frustrated and I thought "Damn it, I'm going to go back and reclaim him and give him life again in the books, and forget these people. This is too anguishing." And so it really occurred to me one day to do that, but again he didn't necessarily start speaking. I had to start reading the books. Then he started speaking, and then it didn't really matter what they did in Hollywood. He was talking to me and I wanted to do it. And I've always had that refuge. When things have gone wrong in the entertainment industry, I can turn around and say "Well, the real life of my work is between hard covers. I don't care." I was asked that years ago by someone. He said "How do you see the life of your work? Do you see it on the screen or do you see it in books?" I said "Definitely in books." Books are what matter to me. So that was the inspiration. It was a moment of rage and anger against Hollywood. 

Blastr: You went off and wrote these other books, but you wanted him to keep going. You wanted him to endure, and when he wasn't enduring on film you decided that you would just make him endure?

AR: Absolutely. I really thought we would have a bunch of movies in the early 2000s. I thought that was going to happen. I thought we had a lot of material there, that we would be able to set it up somewhere. The Twilight stuff was booming, True Blood was booming. I thought "This is a great time. Surely we'll see him." Well, it didn't happen for various reasons. We ran into problems in Hollywood and he didn't come back, and neither did my Witching Hour series, and this is very frustrating to me. I love film and television, and it did cause me to go back and feel "Well, I've got to detach from this. I've got to remember who I am here. I'm a writer, and I'm going to make it happen with him on the page." And a lot of times those kinds of decisions can be very fruitful and very productive. You get mad. You say "OK, you're not interested in him enough to work on this, well guess what? I'm gonna make you sorry." And of course I didn't make anybody sorry. What happened was the Hollywood deal is now worked out. They aren't sorry, they're just very glad to have him. So we have a deal now. It looks like it, anyway.

Blastr: I know you said back in that first book announcement that you hadn't ever really felt comfortable with the, you called them the "hybrid novels," the crossovers [Rice's Mayfair Witches met her vampires in three books: MerrickBlackwood Farm, and Blood Canticle]. So you've kind of sidestepped all of the Mayfair crossover stuff with this book. Do you think you'll ever go back to them?

AR: I wouldn't say never. I don't know. After going back as I have to Lestat, I wouldn't say never. I just...the hybrids in retrospect don't feel right to me. It's like the two series have different textures, and the textures don't mix, and they didn't mix for me in my memory. They worked when I was writing them. It was very exciting to mix them, to imagine the same universe, and I felt quite inspired. But in retrospect, it just didn't work, and I also felt that a lot of the critical response was because the two series have very different readerships, and the Witching Hour people just don't necessarily like the vampires, and the vampire people just don't like The Witching Hour. There are many readers who like both, thank goodness, but there are a lot who don't, and I've always had that kind of polarized or even divided readership. So, I left the whole thing with mixed feelings, and those feelings grew more troubled over the years. Now, if I was to sit down and read the hybrid books, maybe I could get all excited about it again and bring the characters back, but the characters I'm really interested in now are the ones who appear in Prince Lestat, and I have other characters that I haven't gotten to yet.

Blastr: Technology and science are two major parts of this story. There's a vampire radio show, the vampires are using iPhones, and you also have vampires wondering biologically what they are. You've already told the origin story [in Queen of the Damned]. What made you want to go and visit what makes up these vampires and their own biological curiosity about themselves?

AR: I felt it was an inevitable question. I didn't want to avoid it anymore. To me, this world is real. I live in it. These vampires are real. I felt some of them are bound to care about science, and they're bound not to be afraid of it, and they're bound to be more curious and more constructive than afraid. I let my imagination run free on that. I love scope. If you're trying to describe an entire Tribe worldwide, then you really have an obligation to describe all different types of people who become vampires. You can't just people it with one type of person because that's what you are. It won't be a great, enduring cosmology if you do that. You need variety. You need all kinds of different people coming in contact with the Dark Gift. For example, look at a show like Under the Dome. Very enjoyable show, very exciting, lot of fun. But where are the violinists? Where are the opera singers? Where are the schoolteachers in Chester's Mill? Where is the poet? Where is the philosopher? They're not there, because the author of that particular series has a certain kind of person he's interested in, so pretty much that's what you get in Chester's Mill is a certain kind of person. Well, I want to push those limits with myself. I want a bigger scope there. If I'm going to write about a whole world, I want radically different kinds of vampires. I don't think that only poets and rebels and romantics are going to be drinking the Dark Gift. I think there are going to be some others out there, and that's going to include a scientist. 

Blastr: In the novel, Lestat is being called to duty by all of these vampires. People say "You told our story. You're the Brat Prince, you're the one out there letting everyone know that we exist, so we need a leader and you should be the leader." And I've watched this fan following of yours in the decade or so since you stopped writing vampire novels keep asking you to come back, and you're known to a lot of people as the queen of vampire fiction. Did you see any deliberate connection there between Lestat's call and your call as you were writing?

AR: Yeah, I did. It was easier for me to write about his being aware of those requests because I was aware of that kind of request. I was getting it every day: "Where is he? When is he going to come back?" So, it was easy for me to develop the idea that the vampires of the world would be asking the same question. I didn't consciously think about it, but it certainly was easy for me to do that. 

Blastr: Did you feel at all, as you were working on the Christ the Lord series or the Songs of the Seraphim series or The Wolf Gift series, did you ever feel a pull from fans to go back to vampires while you were doing those? 

AR: I didn't feel the pull, but they were certainly asking. The Christ the Lord books, to me, were a really, really great obsession, and a huge challenge. Again, it's me loving to do different kinds of prose and different kinds of literary experiments, and my readers don't always feel as intensely about them as I do. But those books, the challenge of writing about Jesus in the first person, and walking that fine line of being Biblically and theologically correct while making him a living, breathing character, that was so thrilling. That was like mountain climbing must be for mountain climbers. It was just wonderful. A lot of readers didn't share that obsession, and what did happen with those two books is I had a whole readership that didn't know about the vampires. They didn't read those books. They weren't interested in me until I wrote the Christ the Lord books, and I still have that readership, a huge Christian readership, many of whom are not conventional Christians necessarily, or church-goers, but who are believers. And they love those books, and they want more of them, and they are always emailing me and asking me where the third Christ the Lord book is. So, I live with that as part of the joy of being a writer, that I do have these different readerships, and of course it makes me happiest when someone reads everything, but many a time I haven't done that with my favorite writers.

Blastr: You obviously have a strong connection with your fans. You talk to them on Facebook every day. Do you feel any weight of fan expectation about what will happen in this book?

AR: Sure. I think there will inevitably be people who are disappointed. That's always happened with every book I have ever written, from the first time. There were people who didn't like The Vampire Lestat and they wrote me scathing letters saying they didn't like it, that they loved Interview and I had ruined things. You wouldn't believe some of the things they wrote. I remember a producer in Hollywood whom I deeply admired. He just brushed off The Vampire Lestat and said "Well, Interview was so good that they would've settled for anything." And I was cut to the heart. I thought "Are you serious? Are you really just going to dismiss [this book]?" I couldn't believe that's what he said. He just had no interest in anything after Interview with the Vampire, and I just couldn't believe it. But I've always faced that. So, yeah, there will be some people who are disappointed, and some people will say very bad things. They always do.

Blastr: You already have a sequel to Prince Lestat on the way, correct?

AR: Well, I'm writing it, yes. It's boiling and boiling and boiling like a giant cauldron.

Blastr: So, there's no release date on that at the moment?

AR: No.

Blastr: Is there a title?

AR: There is a title. Blood Paradise. My editor suggested that title and she was right on.

Blastr: I don't want to ask you to give away what's going to happen, but are you thinking about doing more kind of standalone books? Sort of like what The Vampire Armand was?

AR: No.

Blastr: It's going to be about The Tribe?

AR: It's going to be all about The Tribe. It's going to be about all of them and how they cope with the continuation of the story, how they go on, and problems that were resolved in Prince Lestat but not resolved forever, a lot of other problems, and who else is out there in the world. It's going to be about the ongoing trajectory of The Tribe, as well as Lestat.

Blastr: Is there any idea in your mind right now how many books this will continue for, or are you just enjoying writing?

AR: I'm enjoying it, and I see it very open-ended. I can see three or four books easily, but you never know. I don't know how that will go. And one of the things I consciously did in this book is I opened doors, and I made possibilities. One of the things I didn't do in the old Vampire Chronicles was open doors. I closed them more often than not. They were a lot about death. They were a lot about tragedy, a lot about failure, a lot about despair, a lot about plans being wrecked, and that happened over and over again. And this time, I felt differently. I had a different view of the world. I wanted to open the doors. I wanted to experiment. I wanted to think in terms of possibility. I already did that in The Wolf Gift books, wrote them in a way to where the Wolf Gift or the Dark Gift is truly a gift, not a curse. And as the person goes into the supernatural realm, they see all of these different paths that they can take, and all of this immense knowledge out there to be acquired, and all of these new experiences to be discovered. So, I do see a lot of books now, whereas before I would end each Vampire Chronicle kind of exhausted and depressed and down, as everything fell apart once again.

Blastr: So you see this as more of a hopeful era for The Vampire Chronicles?

AR: Very much so.

Blastr: You have said before that after Interview with the Vampire, you did not intend this be a series, and yet this is your 13th vampire novel coming out this month. It's been almost 40 years since Interview came out and you have fans who are still coming to these books, and you have fans who are very much looking forward to this one. You have written other things that fans have loved, but the vampires keep coming back for you. What do you think makes them endure so much, not just in your fans' imaginations, but in your imagination?

AR: It's rooted in the characters, not the stories, and it's rooted in the personalities, and the way that the vampire metaphor functions for me as a metaphor for us. It's the most powerful metaphor I know for talking about myself. I feel like an outcast, a predator, an immortal trapped in a body, because I can't really imagine dying. And I think most people feel that way. To me, Lestat's the perfect metaphor for that. I feel larger than time, because I have such a strong sense of history. I walk around seeing the whole world in terms of "Wow, what would Louis XIV have thought about Bristol Farms or Whole Foods?" I just walk around stoned on the 21st century, just marvelling, and so it's easy for me to write about an 18th century immortal, or even a 2,000-year-old immortal, raving about electric light, for example, and what a miracle it is, and what it means for the first photograph to be taken, and the first audio recording. I'm stoned on all of that. I can't get over it. I'm always trying to talk about it in my books in some way, and the vampires give me the maximum intensity in the way I see the world. 

Prince Lestat will be released on Oct. 28. 

Check back next week for part two of our exclusive interview with Anne Rice, in which we discuss the future of The Vampire Chronicles on film.