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The Writer’s Almanac for October 4, 2017: Defiance

October 4, 2017: birthday: Anne Rice

It’s the birthday of American horror novelist Anne Rice (books by this author), born in New Orleans (1941), and best known for creating the novel Interview with the Vampire (1976), in which a young man interviews a 200-year-old vampire named Louis about his life. The book introduces the character of Lestat the Vampire, and was later made into a film. There are 14 books in the Vampire Chronicles saga, most of which have been international best-sellers.

Rice was inspired to write Interview with the Vampire after the death of her six-year old daughter from leukemia. She said: “I was a sad, broken atheist. I pitched myself into writing and made up a story about vampires. I didn’t know it at the time but it was all about my daughter, the loss of her and the need to go on living when faith is shattered. But the lights do come back on, no matter how dark it seems, and I’m sensitive now, more than ever, to the beauty of the world — and more resigned to living with cosmic uncertainty.” Rice based the character of the girl vampire, Claudia, on her daughter.

It took Rice five weeks to write 358 pages about the relationship between two vampires for Interview with a Vampire. She researched vampires during the day and wrote at night, once even attending a concert by the heavy metal band Iron Maiden for inspiration.

When asked why she chose to write about vampires, Rice answered: “Vampires are the best metaphor for the human condition. Here you have a monster with a soul that’s immortal, yet in a biological body. It’s a metaphor for us, as it’s very difficult to realize that we are going to die, and day to day we have to think and move as though we are immortal. A vampire like Lestat in Interview … is perfect for that because he transcends time — yet he can be destroyed, go mad and suffer; it’s intensely about the human dilemma.”

Rice grew up in New Orleans, whose lush history she’s used as a setting for many of her novels. Her early life was hard, with alcoholic parents, and she lived in the rented home of her maternal grandmother. At 12 years old, Rice was confirmed in the Catholic Church and took the full name of Howard Allen Frances Alphonsus Liguori O’Brien, adding the names of a saint and of an aunt, who was a nun. “I was honored to have my aunt’s name, but it was my burden and joy as a child to have strange names.” Later, a nun called her “Anne,” and that’s the name she used for the rest of her life.

Rice’s readings and public events have become popular spectacles. When she moved back to New Orleans as an adult, she owned a coffin in which she was carried to her book signings. She’d pop out of it when she got to the reading venue. Once, she even arrived at a book signing in a glass hearse, attended by several French Quarter musicians.

When asked who makes a better literary subject, vampires or zombies, Rice answered: “The vampire is an articulate character in our literature. In the last 30 years or so, the vampire has been an articulate, charming, beguiling complex person so he’s miles away from a zombie. The vampire is the poet and the writer of the monster world. The zombies are the exact opposite. They’re not sexy, they don’t listen to good music and they don’t wear good clothes.”

On writing, Anne Rice once said: “There are no rules. It’s amazing how willing people are to tell you that you aren’t a real writer unless you conform to their clichés and their rules. My advice? Reject rules and critics out of hand. Define yourself. Do it your way. Make yourself the writer of your dreams.”

Anne Rice’s books include The Vampire Lestat (1985), The Wolves of Midwinter (2013), and Prince Lestat (2014).