By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The past four years have been especially rough. Poet Stan Rice, her husband of 40 years, died in 2002 of brain cancer. She sold the last of their three houses in New Orleans mere weeks before hurricane Katrina hit, and moved to Rancho Mirage to be near her son, Christopher, who lives in L.A. The move was painful, she says, but she needed the change.
When Rice did book signings in the old days, she adds, you couldn’t presume who would show up. You couldn’t tell whether there would be more men or women. Just when she’d think her typical reader was a goth kid in black velvet, up would march a bunch of soldiers just back from the first Gulf War, saying they’d read the books there. Or she’d be approached by a country kid in a cap with a bill, who’d ask, “Where’s Lestat? When’s he comin’ back?”
The infamous vampire Lestat — equal parts Casanova, trickster-god Pan and Justin Timberlake — is never coming back.
God has taken the vampire’s place. Rice came through the turmoil of the past few years by finding faith. She converted to Catholicism. In 2002, she consecrated her writing to Jesus Christ, declaring that she would henceforth write only about salvation, not alienation.
Of the novels that made her famous, Rice says, “To me those stories are about grief, about suffering, about atheism. They were stories I told because I was going through that kind of crisis. People respond to those books strongly, particularly if they’re going through a rebellion of their own, where they feel kind of lost. They can identify with the darkness in them.”
The world is never lacking for lost souls. Many of her fans wanted her to keep going with the dark stuff. To keep driving a hearse and to keep showing up at book signings in a coffin. (Even if Catholic dogma wasn’t her style back then, she surely took cues from its theatrics.) But Rice is done with seductive, demonic adversaries. At least, to the extent she can be. Good, after all, cannot exist without evil, and God and Satan are always at their game of chess. Demonic adversaries are inevitable. Mainly, she wants her work to reflect her faith, just as the earlier work reflected her unhappiness and despair. “Why can’t you redeem the vampires? Why can’t you save Lestat?,” Rice’s fans ask.
Though not in so many words, that is exactly what she’s doing. Angel Time, as its title suggests, is about angels. It too will be part of a trilogy, this one called Songs of the Seraphim. Instead of being visited by a vampire, the doomed hero is visited by an angel. After a decade of conscienceless killing, government assassin Toby O’Dare is visited by the angel Malchiah. It is never too late to repent, Malchiah tells him: “I’m here to tell you that everything can change for you. I’m here to take you to a place where you can begin to be the person you might have been.”
Vampires and angels may seem like opposites, but they aren’t, Rice argues. They are similar, especially in the way vampires are used at this particular cultural moment. In the works of Harris and Meyer, they function as guardian angels. True Blood’s Vampire Bill is perpetually rushing in to save his human girlfriend, Sookie, and Twilight’s Edward Cullen would sooner die than ravage his flesh-and-blood crush, Bella Swan. No, actually, he’d rather take her to prom.
“I’ll be very interested to see who’s lined up downstairs,” Rice says. The only generality she can make after all these years is that she has yet to see an 80-year-old at a book signing. “Though, maybe 80-year-olds don’t go to book signings,” she says, slyly.
She recalls a personal appearance in Toronto some 30 years ago, in the earliest days of Interview With the Vampire. It snowed. No one came. Bored, Rice pulled books off the shelves and started reading. “It was very upsetting to the store people. They were so embarrassed,” she says, laughing.
Today’s signing — and Rice has only ever done signings, never readings, preferring instead to let her characters “speak” for themselves — is taking place downstairs, in the Mission Inn’s overly warm lobby. A toasty fire crackles in the hearth. The halls are decked with gold ribbons, lights and cheery, creepy animatronic elves. The whole florid setup leaves you dazzled and slightly sweaty, much like Rice’s prose. Major scenes in Angel Time are set in the Mission Inn and its environs. “A giant confection and confabulation of a building ... an extravagant and engulfing place sprawling over two city blocks ... unfailingly lively and warm and inviting, and throbbing with cheerful voices and gaiety and laughter,” is how Rice describes the hotel in the novel’s noirish opening pages.