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Anne Rice will never write about vampires again. Not even with these tragically hip, newfangled bloodsuckers lurking about, dating high school girls and coming out of the closet, demanding equal rights. She has told enough vampire stories — in 12 novels — to last her an eternity.
On a rainy December afternoon, Rice is resting in her suite at the Mission Inn, the historic Riverside hotel where she will be signing copies of her new book, Angel Time. She leans back in her chair, arms folded primly across her chest. Having emerged from the proverbial darkness, she looks thin and frail, her once-inky bobbed hair now grown snowy gray, but her voice is precise, matter-of-fact and forceful still.
“I am curious as to whether anyone will show up,” she says. “You never know. Maybe no one will come.”
It is her first signing in four years. Worry sounds quaint coming from someone who’s written 29 novels and sold 100 million books, but there is something to it. Her new novel is about angels. Clearly, in this society, you can bank on vampires. But angels?
Three decades ago, Anne Rice did for the vampire what Martha Stewart did for housekeeping: She made it sexy, modern and marketable. Everybody who comes after her with a variation on that theme owes her an enormous debt of gratitude.
So Rice is not surprised when she sees the fresh generation of vampire fans, who lately seem to be everywhere, with their own conventions, TV shows, musicals, video games and even vineyards (vampire merlot, anyone?). Blood is certainly the new black. They remind her anew of the richness of the original vampire concept. “I remember how it excited me in 1976, when not a whole lot had been done with it,” she says. “Just Dracula and some old Hollywood films.”
That was the year she published the seminal Interview With the Vampire. The setting was her childhood home, New Orleans. She was 35 years old when that first novel came out, and a devout atheist. With the addition of The Vampire Lestat and The Queen of the Damned, her Vampire Chronicles trilogy became required reading for the black-lipstick-and-sunscreen set.
One consequence of not having to crank out vampire stories is a freedom to finally enjoy them. She finds HBO’s True Blood, based on Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels, to be great satirical fun. Harris’ novels are the clever, postmodern response to Rice’s decadent Southern Gothic vampires, who creep around in decaying, antebellum mansions.
While she hasn’t read the Twilight novels, Rice has seen the movies. “They’re romances for very young kids. They’re about a young woman wanting and needing an older, mysterious figure who’s protective and yet something of a menace,” she says. It’s the Brontë sisters and Jane Eyre. “It was almost genius on Stephenie Meyer’s part to set it in high school. It works perfectly.”
Rice isn’t jealous of Meyer’s success. If anything, she is sympathetic. “You know, when you’re very, very popular the way she is now, a lot of people want to tear you down,” Rice says. “But she deserves credit for making a lot of readers happy.”
Meyer’s genius may be in getting teenage girls to fall in love with vampires. But Rice’s was in establishing the persona to be fallen in love with. Her books, written from the vampire’s point of view, are about the monster’s suffering and agony — the ultimate outsider: himself. What would it be like to interview a vampire? To get him to tell you his whole story?
“You wanted to know, what does he do when he’s alone?” she explains. “What does he do for kicks besides drink blood and turn into a bat? What books does he like to read? I took it in the direction of having that vampire open up to you and tell you all those secrets.”
There were inklings of things to come. When the film version of Interview With the Vampire came out in 1994, producer David Geffen told Rice that he’d noticed an awful lot of teenage girls attending the preliminary screenings. This was unexpected. “They didn’t make that movie for young teenage girls,” Rice says. “Producers saw it more as a gay allegory. They chose those handsome men, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, with that in mind.”
She stayed away from the public, not for lack of love for her audience but for personal reasons. When the popularity of her Vampire Chronicles books reached its pinnacle, she did marathon signings. “We did an eight-hour [signing] once at a Walmart in Denver,” she says, with a grin and a shiver. National book tours are glamorous but hard. Rice, who is a Type 1 diabetic, would be sick for months afterward.
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