ANNE RICE needs little introduction. The New Orleans born author is best known for her
Gothic fiction, Christian literature, and erotica. Her series, THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES, detailing the adventures of the Vampire Lestat, redefined vampires and their role in genre fiction. Her book, INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, came out in 1973 and was adapted into a movie starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in 1994. Her latest novel sends the infamous Lestat to Atlantis. We caught up with her to find out more…
STARBURST: How would you describe Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis to new
Anne Rice: It is a full-fledged Vampire Chronicle featuring my hero, Lestat, in his new role as prince of the vampire tribe. Only a short time has passed since Lestat assumed this role, and set up a court in his ancestral chateau in the mountains of France. Much to his surprise, Lestat finds himself confronting a new species of immortal. And the species is connected to the spirit that gave birth to the vampires of the world thousands of years ago. As Lestat has revealed, this spirit, named Amel, fused with a mortal queen of Egypt to create the first preternatural blood drinker or vampire, and all vampires made since are connected by this spirit. Now, as this new species makes itself known, Lestat realises that they may be the worst the threat the tribe has ever faced.
I have always loved Plato’s story of the lost empire of Atlantis, and longed to do my own Atlantis mythology, and this book gave me a golden opportunity. I found I was able to connect an Atlantian origin story to Amel, and subsequently to the vampires, while at the same time offering a very complete story of the mysterious kingdom of Atlantis itself. I found it immensely satisfying to walk the streets of Atlantis in my imagination, and to speculate on how an advanced technical civilisation might have developed without going through the industrial and military evolutions that we have seen in our world. The people of Atlantis go from being a hunter gatherer people to inhabitants of a marvellous techno-paradise, and Amel’s genius and personality emerge at the centre of Atlantis. As for the new immortal species, they do offer a threat to the vampires, yes, but they also offer friendship, knowledge and huge advantages, and Lestat must decide how to navigate the danger to the other vampires and to himself. Amel is something of a hero in this story, and I long to work with him again.
Is there anything left for you to explore in fiction? What’s next?
I feel I’ve only begun! My son and I have just finished a collaboration on new book, and I have more books in my imagination than I can find time to write. I have a mind that races spontaneously to create cosmologies and characters and stories. I want to write much more about Ancient Egypt, much more about ghosts and spirits, much more about werewolves, and much more about my beloved vampires.
Will you write another Mummy story? Are we done with Mummies now?
Great question. As I mentioned my son, Christopher and I have just collaborated on a novel and it is a sequel to my earlier The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned. The title is Ramses the Damned: the Passion of Cleopatra. It picks up right where the first Ramses novel left off, with the immortal Ramses and his immortal love, Julie exploring the world of 1914 right before the beginning of the Great War. Cleopatra, Ramses’ lost love, figures prominently in the novel, and other mythic characters emerge. We had a wonderful time writing it, and are already have a third Ramses novel planned.
Why do you keep returning to Lestat? What is it about that particular monster?
Lestat is like no other character I’ve ever discovered or created in my writing. I love him with my whole heart, and he is so real to me that I can easily envision him, or hear the sound of his voice whenever I want. He’s inescapably alive for me, and I want to go writing about his adventures as he faces the complexities of the modern world. I can’t answer what is it about Lestat in particular, except that he sprang to life out of the corner of my eye when I was writing my first novel, Interview with the Vampire, and when I did devote full attention to Lestat some eight years later, he became some sort of fusion of myself and my husband, Stan, some deep fictional embodiment of our ongoing love affair which went on to last for 41 years. Lestat is the male in me. He’s the hero I long to be, and the monster that I so often am in real life - impetuous, reckless, loving, and desperately needing love.
Why are some monsters so romantic?
I’m not sure I can answer this question. I can say that for me monsters have always been intensely romantic, and I have personally identified with them as outcasts, and have wanted to explore their suffering, and the elements that make others afraid of them. A movie I saw in the 1940s, Dracula’s Daughter, presented the heroine as very romantic, a tortured artist doomed to drink blood to survive. The character stole my heart. Vampire movies fascinated me, never giving me enough about the vampire himself or herself. I longed to hear the monster’s personal story. I longed to know the monster intimately. Why this is, I don’t know. I was always attracted to the power and isolation of the monster, identifying with the monster’s alienation, and feeling strangely at home with the monster in my soul.
Interview with a Vampire came from a very dark place. How does writing
that book compare to this one?
Yes, it did come from a dark place, a place of loss and grief for a lost child and grief for a lost Catholic faith. But with each subsequent vampire novel, I have re-entered that realm to find Lestat anew and hear his voice. I am and always will be an outcast in my own mind, a person who belongs nowhere, unsure of gender identity, unsure of any belief system, suspicious of any and all authority, seeking for the meaning of life, no matter what happens to me along the way. The Vampire is the perfect metaphor for the outsider, the outcast. He is really the perfect metaphor for human beings. Writing about vampires enables me to talk about my ‘reality’ - my world.
How does it feel to be founder of modern vampire fiction?
Thank you for your description. I don’t know that everyone would agree with your generous description there. If my work did encourage others to write about vampires, to mine the pure gold of the metaphoric power of the vampire, I’m pleased. But I think cultures show interest in different concepts at different times for reasons that are difficult to chart. And for some reason our culture near the end of the last century showed a tremendous fascination with the vampire and other mythic monsters as well. And this has continued right through the present time. Television and film today are obsessed with the supernatural in trying to fathom the depths of the human condition. After 2,000 years, as belief systems crumble and technology overwhelms us with seeming magic, we feel more than ever disconnected as thinking humans from the rest of the biological or mammalian world. In literature and film about monsters, we search for ourselves. Everywhere I turn, I see novels, motion pictures, and TV series reflecting our search for a new morality, for new rules, for new types of families, for new ways to make life not only bearable but beautiful and worthwhile. Supernatural characters, vampires, witches, mummies, werewolves, super heroes, angels inhabit these novels, films and TV series. Surely this is because we are grappling with the unique mental and moral abilities that separate us from all other creatures on the planet. Our profound emotional and spiritual gifts offer us immense vision and knowledge in a vast universe in which we feel minuscule, insignificant, lost. Again, the vampire is a metaphor for us as we confront our gifts, our ability to know just how tiny and fragile we are. We kill to live every day just as the vampire does every night. We are predators; loners in our souls. We are damned by one another and by cultures alien to us, we compete for the very air we breathe. We seek for redemption, safety, goodness, and happiness but are ever aware of how nearly impossible it is to maintain such states. We are monsters all right. The vampire is the icon of our age. Alluring yet condemned as evil; fearsome yet seductive; beautiful yet dark.
What is it about horror and murder stories that fascinate us so?
They allow us to ponder the violence that is part and parcel of our daily lives. As I mentioned above, we are all predators, killing to live every single day. Horror, murder, violence, death... all this is rooted in the competition that is part of biological life on our planet. To survive, one must devour. And for over eight thousand years or more, we’ve been pondering that, trying to make rules about what is good, what is bad, what is permissible, what is unforgivable. And we struggle constantly with it. Well, horror and murder stories let us think about it comfortably, play with it - work it out so to speak - in an entertaining and cathartic way. This eases the tension for a little while. I’m convinced after reading and watching murder mysteries, even the most playful English ‘cosy’ mysteries, that all murder mysteries are about our personal horror of death and our refusal to accept it. We look for the ‘murderer’ because we ourselves will soon be murdered by life, and we feel it is really unfair. After all, we feel immortal, don’t we? And we can imagine being immortal, yet we will die and we know it. So it’s comforting to watch Miss Marple or Miss Fisher or Inspector Barnaby or Lewis find ‘the murderer’ in a story and bring this awful bad person to justice, because no one will ever bring the ‘murderer’ to justice that will kill each and every one of us.
Will you ever be kind to your characters?
I love them! I am very kind to them! I love Lestat and see to it that he always triumphs no matter how the odds are stacked against him. I heard a saying a long time ago, that Tolstoy said the measure of a writer was the love he showed to his created characters. I liked that saying, though I don’t know whether Tolstoy really said it. And I feel that I only write about those I love. If I do introduce a character that I don’t love, well, he or she disappears from the story very soon. My prose has been faulted for too much love, hasn’t it?
If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?
I would live in a community where I could walk to everything, grocery stores, theaters, restaurants, bookstores, the doctor’s office, the post office, every single thing. I grew up in New Orleans and it was like that for me in the 1940s and ‘50s, though you could ride the streetcar everywhere for seven cents. And later for many years I lived in the Castro District of San Francisco and it was like that, and you could take the metro to ‘downtown’ in ten minutes. But sadly, I’ve spent most of my life in places where I could not walk to everything. And that is certainly something I ponder a lot.
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
I would take away all violence and cruelty. We would all love one another. Violence would be so abhorrent as to be a shocking exception. Actually loving everyone is more respectable today than it ever was in the past, and people today do imagine ‘world peace’ in a way they never dreamed of before. So maybe we will somehow get to that stage. Our sense of injustice is being refined and expanded all the time. The fact that Western Europe has not known a war since the end of WWII is an amazing fact. Western Civilisation today has achieved an amazing level of harmony and peace with democracies flourishing everywhere. That’s a wonderful thing... so we will get there, won’t we? We are shocked, saddened, and horrified by the acts of terrorists, and we can measure our worldwide improvement by how much we are shocked by these things, and how we all pull together to condemn them. Every life lost is an unforgivable tragedy, but we must never lose sight of how united we are now in condemning those who shatter the peace of this world. As for those countries which are war torn and filled with suffering, it is too soon to be thankful that they do not make up much of the world; we must do all we can to help them, ease their pain, take their refugees, and not feed the fires of violence that rage in them. But over all? When you look at the entire world? This is a time of uncommon concord, of peace. It isn’t popular to say so, but it is true. Western Civilisation will always be a work in progress and therefore it is not good to praise what we have achieved while there is still so much work to be done. But really for most people on this planet, this is a very good time to be alive. I am profoundly thankful for the world I’ve experienced. I wish everyone were living in safety, and comfort, with all their needs met.
What inspires you, beyond writing?
What inspires more than anything in this world is the kindness of people; the tender mercies people show to one another all around us every day. I just marvel at it, the kindness of people who stop to help one another, who take the time to offer assistance when you’re lost or confused or don’t know the language, the gentleness and concern people show one another. Everywhere I’ve travelled I’ve seen this, and encountered kind people. I am amazed sometimes as I walk through a city or a park or a town at the many happy kind people I see. I think we take it too much for granted. We forget about it. But people everywhere on this earth do love one another, and seek to be kind to one another. It is really a dominant theme in this world. This inspires me to believe that maybe there is an afterlife.
PRINCE LESTAT AND THE REALMS OF ATLANTIS, published by Penguin Random House, is out now in paperback.