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The Comfort of Anne Rice's Shadow

The initial PR blitz of interviews and TV talk–show appearances, commensurate with the world's most famous vampire writer's only son taking up the pen, has come and gone. At Peet's Coffee in West Hollywood, novelist Christopher Rice is just another cute, blond man sipping his iced tea.

He did not even want to be a novelist at first. "I wanted to be an actor or a big, famous screenplay writer," he says. Big and famous were key. Writing was not: "I assumed everyone else would do the hard work."

But then his mom got sick. Sitting in the hospital waiting for her to emerge from her diabetic coma, Rice wrote the short story that eventually became his first novel, A Density of Souls. Would that book have been published if Anne Rice's child hadn't written it? He doesn't know.

Rice inherited his mother's candor and direct, unwavering stare, if not her Gothic sensibilities. Yes, he says, her name opens doors for him. A decade ago, when he was 21 and just starting as a novelist, his publisher asked him if he wanted to use a pseudonym. Joe Hill, Stephen King's son (real name Joseph Hillstrom King) went that route.

Rice declined. He figured anonymity would hurt his book sales. He also sees what his nonfamous-offspring author friends go through. The writing life is hard enough.

"It would make me feel dirty if I was writing about vampires. People say, 'Why don't you write a supernatural horror novel and cash in?' But I don't want to."

Instead, he writes noir. His influences are "the dead guys": Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald. His villains are people he's afraid he'll become, namely vindictive and jealous. Redemption, grief and class are his chosen themes.

That last one, class, slipped into his work unexpectedly. "Queen of the Damned changed our lives forever," Rice recalls of his mother's third vampire book. "Mom earned back her six-figure advance in 24 hours. We became very rich, very fast. We had a staff all of a sudden. I was 10 years old."

Anne Rice became an uber-celebrity in New Orleans and bought a haunted house for them to live in. They moved from the wrong side of the tracks to the right side. At his 11th birthday party, a girl swam up to him in the pool and asked, "How many servants do you have?" It disturbed Rice, he insists, the idea of having servants.

"The problem of being too rich is you look too much inward. You can go insane. You don't come into contact with people. I'm so preoccupied with not turning into a stereotype."

Which stereotype?

"Paris Hilton."

He was in danger of it as a spoiled 20-year-old. Now at 32, friends provide a reality check. "Oh, your life is so hard," they say when he whines. Everyone should be so lucky to have Rice's problems.

As to whether having a famous parent in the same profession has been a blessing or a curse, he chooses blessing. "I've never forgotten it. I have friends who never let me forget it," Rice says, though certainly it is weird to have your mother jumping out of coffins when you're in high school.

Occasionally, people ask him to teach workshops on how to get published, an idea he finds ludicrous: "What am I gonna do, say 'Be Anne Rice's son'?"

But there was one week, his first week in the college dorms at Brown University, when no one knew he was Anne Rice's son. No one kissed his ass. No one was intimidated. He made his two best friends during that period. "I don't know what that week would be like for an entire lifetime," he says, frowning. He isn't entirely convinced he would like it.

In a bit, he crosses the street to Book Soup to sign copies of his new book, The Moonlit Earth. A handful of Rice's author pals, Gregg Hurwitz and Robert Crais among them, take their seats with some two dozen other fans. A Chris Rice book signing is something an Anne Rice signing could never be: small, intimate, almost no one wearing black velvet.

Rice's favorite part, the Q&A, begins. "Now ask me a bunch of really intrusive questions, 'cause I love that stuff," he instructs, as he takes the podium.

Inevitably, someone asks how Mom is doing. "She's good," he says. "She's watching TV right now. Probably Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."

Rice pauses. He is suddenly reminded of a time shortly after his first novel came out and he was faced with having to crank out the next. "I told my mom, 'I think I'm gonna write a screenplay.' She said, 'Uh, no you're not. You're very lucky. You've got a two-book deal. Shut up and go write it.'"