I don’t even know how to start this post. I woke up this morning to news that left me absolutely speechless: Anne Rice, a literary icon, had passed during the night:
Anne Rice’s career in storytelling spanned more years than I’ve even been alive. She showed us the devastating beauty that can be found in monsters. One of my favorite things about her writing was the awe that you as the reader would experience seeing the world through a new supernatural creature’s eyes. Louis de Pointe du Lac being reborn as a vampire. Rueben Golding’s first glimpse of the nighttime forest as a werewolf. She made it all sound so rich and lush and romantic. She had a way with words that was all her own.
Back in 2013, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do an early review of The Wolf Gift. And if that wasn’t cool enough, I also got to interview Anne. It was a bucket list item I never expected to be able to mark off that early in my career. I’m forever grateful for the memory. I’m reposting it here for anyone who wants to read it.
My deepest condolences to all of Anne’s family and closest friends. Her son Christopher wrote a beautiful post to announce her passing. And to my fellow People of the Page, I’m sorry for our shared loss as well. Anne was a truly unique voice and she will be greatly missed.
To Anne, wherever you may be now: Thank you so much for a lifetime of beautiful stories.
Originally posted May 3, 2013
Wow. I am still in an utter state of awe to even be posting this right now….
For years, as long as I can remember really, I have been completely enamored with a series of books. This series is solely responsible for my deep affection for vampire fiction. It’s also probably most responsible for my harsh view on what is and what isn’t “good” vampire fiction. From the very first moment I met Lestat and Louis in Interview With a Vampire, I was in love. Since that day, they are the vampires that all other vampires strive to live up to in my eyes. The author spun a tale like nothing anyone had ever seen before. One of romance and monstrosity. One of extreme love and loss. Now she’s shifting her gaze from one creature of the night to another, bringing us the dreamy-eyed Rueben and The Wolf Gift. As a reader, I couldn’t possibly be a bigger fangirl. As a writer, she is IT – my hero. Ladies and gentlemen, Anne Rice.
Jena From Pure Textuality [Jena]: Good afternoon Anne! I just want to start out by saying thank you for the interview opportunity. I am a big fan of your writing and getting the chance to interview you was on my long term goals list. I mean, far off in the future long term. I am excited for the chance. And I couldn’t imagine a better time than as a follow up to reading The Wolf Gift. Before we get to that though, let’s talk about you (for the two people out there who have been living under a rock and don’t know who you are).
When did you decide that you wanted to be an author? Or was it something you’ve always wanted to do?
Anne Rice [Anne]: As a little child, I wanted to be an author. I remember deciding to write a story at the age of five. I had to ask my mother or grandmother how to spell nearly every word. I got out one sentence: “LeeLee was sitting in her chambers.” Now, I have to wonder what inspired this. I remember it pretty vividly; but why at five, did I love words like ‘chambers’ for a bedroom or a parlor? Anyway, my style after all these years reflects the same preferences. —– In the Fifth grade, I wrote a science fiction novel from the point of view of two people from Mars. It was probably no more than a short story. I wrote it by hand with a ball point pen in a notebook, and passed it around amongst classmates. And there again, I see, my approach hasn’t changed. I wanted to give the point of view of the aliens, not the point of view of those who encountered them. I’m still doing this. ——- In the Seventh grade I wrote a novel inspired by the film King Solomon’s Mines. The big surprise at the end when the safari had found the coveted “jewel,” was that there was an elixir of life inside the jewel; the jewel was actually a little casket. Again, after all these years I’m still writing about elixirs of life (the Chrism in The Wolf Gift). Anyway, yes, I always wanted to be a writer.
Jena: Was writing something that came naturally to you or did you have to “cultivate” it (such as schooling, workshops, etc)?
Anne: I had a natural tendency to make up stories, and something of an ear for style. So I would say it was all very spontaneous and instinctive. But there is no doubt that you can learn a lot about writing in a writing class. You can learn from every book you read. You can pick up really good suggestions from others. —– But I think most writers learn simply from reading other writers. When I feel I’m moving too fast in a book, I’ll go to Tolstoy to see the way that he takes his time, going as deep as he wants into a character, while all else waits. If I feel I’m mired in detail and exploration, I’ll pick up Mario Puzo’s The Godfather to see how boldly he makes breaks between sections of his book, and how briskly he tells his stories. I think I learn from all kinds of writers, the greats, the popular, the crime writers, etc. I’ll take instruction from anybody. And I don’t care if some one sees Jackie Suzanne on my coffee table. I often study popular fiction of the more notorious sort to see how these writers move a story, break up their chapters, handle transitions, etc.
Jena: What was the toughest hurdle you had to overcome with publishing your first book?
Anne: Well, there are two ways of answering that. In terms of acceptance by New York, it was the peculiarity of the book, that all the characters were vampires. But in truth acceptance came fairly quickly, within nine months of my starting to submit the book. Victoria Wilson of Knopf loved the book and accepted it for Alfred A. Knopf. —– Now in terms of the process, the hardest thing for me was to accept editing. I suffered terribly feeling the work wasn’t mine if I yielded to the suggested changes offered by the editor. But in truth, I was inspired by much of what Vicky had to say and wrote a whole new ending for the book, inspired by her criticisms. What was hardest however was to change a word or a phrase. In those days I had a terrible time with self confidence. I was afraid. Victoria is and was then an excellent editor, and only wanted the best for the book. I think how one responds to editing is highly personal. And Vicky has always respected my problems with this. Almost all novels accepted for publication are accepted on some conditions — that this or that be re-written, that this or that be re-thought etc. And some writers are much more at ease with all this than I ever was.
Jena: Pure Textuality has a good many followers that are fledgling authors (including myself). If you had one piece of advice to give fledgling writers everywhere, what would it be?
Anne: Write. Don’t think too much about publishing until you’ve written your book. Write. You become the writer of your dreams by writing; you make yourself into a writer by writing. And have complete confidence in yourself, in your voice, your characters, your story as you write. Shut out all negative voices, all voices that tempt you to hedge your bets or water down what you’re doing. Go for it. Write the book you want to be known for; the book you’ve never found in any bookstore; the book in which you want to live in your mind. Go where the pain is; go where the pleasure is; be fearless. —- Remember: in the early stages people will criticize you and knock you for the very thing that will later make your career: your originality. So don’t hesitate ever to be original, to be yourself; and again, shut out all negative voices. —- If you read your work to a spouse or relative or friend and they don’t get it, move on. Find some one else. If you love your work, some one else will love it. —- Get the writing done. If you’re blocked for a while, start again, and don’t beat up on yourself for having stopped: just write. Write. Write. —– Remember, too, that all of us become discouraged, all of us face moments in which our writing seems lifeless, dull, derivative and in which we hear the voices of discouraging parents or teachers or friends echoing in our heads. Just ignore all that. Do your best. Fight it; ignore it. Reach for the fire from heaven boldly and without apology.
Jena: A good many authors out there are known as being reclusive and very unapproachable. Maybe unapproachable is the wrong word. They seem very out of touch with their fans. You have taken a completely new approach between Facebook and your website by using these outlets as a way to actually interact with your fans on a daily basis. Even going so far as to “nickname” them the ‘People of the Page’. Every day, fans can go to your Facebook page and find questions posed to them where you are actually seeking their input on subjects such as theology, politics, etc. As one of your People of the Page, I can tell you that connection and interaction really means the world to a lot of your fans. What made you decide that you wanted to have that kind of dynamic with your fans? What has it done for you and/or your writing?
Anne: I discovered I loved Facebook. I discovered I loved the page by doing the page. It was suggested to me in the beginning by others. And when I saw the page, and understood how it worked, I was thrilled. I discovered I could ask my readers all kinds of questions; and the page began to grow in scope. Soon we were discussing politics, entertainment, literature, women’s rights, gay rights, religion, history, television, movies. And I loved it. I simply loved it. But it’s the People of the Page who make the page. Their long substantive and interesting posts are really the vitality of the page. —– This is a collaboration between me and them and I’m profoundly grateful for it. —— Sometimes it can get rough; we have disagreements; people leave and slam the door; insults fly. To be frank, I’m not sure I could have done this sort of thing thirty years ago or even fifteen years ago. But right now, I love it. I really do. —— But understand, I’ve always loved to talk to my readers. For years, I went on tours all over the country, and had the opportunity to talk to readers everywhere about my books. At little signings we could talk a lot. At big signings, we had very brief encounters. But it was always wonderful. I can remember so many voices, faces, moments. I carry all that with me, that sense of who my readers are in all their diversity. I’ve been blessed. I guess I see Facebook as like that…. Frankly, I think writers who don’t explore this are really missing something golden.
Jena: Let’s chat about The Wolf Gift. I had the pleasure of being able to read The Wolf Gift prior to the release date and I instantly fell in love with Reuben. More than anything, I fell in love with the way he sees the world. A great example of this is the awe he felt upon seeing Nideck Point for the first time. It’s a characteristic I feel everyone should try to adopt. Is Reuben inspired by someone in your life or was he pulled from thin air?
Anne: All my characters are inspired by all the people I know. I think I pour everything into each character. I seldom if ever choose one person to be a model for a character. And I like the process of creating a character to be instinctive and spontaneous. Sometimes I never know where a character came from. Reuben is dear to my heart in so many ways. I think he is so wronged by those around him, who judge him only by his looks and his trust fund. Maybe I was writing about what women suffer here, being judged so much by whether or not they’re pretty or attractive or seductive, or thin, or fat, having always to cope with the fact that their “looks” precede them in any social situation. I don’t know. But I feel for Reuben, and I feel for his pain when his family dismisses him and treats him lightly. A lot of that was my pain years ago when people didn’t take me seriously. I know where all that is coming from. And I also feel for the kind of romantic personality that Reuben is: how he falls in love with Marchent; how he longs for someone who doesn’t punish him every waking minute like his girlfriend Celeste. And yes, Reuben falls under the spell of Nideck Point the way I fell under the spell of great houses in my childhood when I would walk the streets of New Orleans dreaming of someday owning a great house. That is all my pain, my longing. Reuben is a romantic and a writer. And what drove The Wolf Gift for me was seeing how he coped with the liberation of the Chrism, with suddenly having immense strength, for suddenly being able to affect things around him in dramatic and secret ways as a Man Wolf. I reveled in all that. (I think you can imagine my shock when some critics dismissed Reuben precisely because he was good looking and rich; they rejected the book on this account; and here I thought I’d explained so well how this man suffered from dismissal and rejection because of these things…. But one could say I failed to make my points clear here. Or I failed with some readers. )
Jena: I am going to try to keep this question a little bit vague as I don’t want to spoil the book for the fans who haven’t read it yet. There is a lot of lore and literary references in The Wolf Gift to other werewolf works. Was there a lot of research involved with writing The Wolf Gift? How long did it take you to write from beginning to end?
Anne: I did do research, just like Reuben does in the novel. I checked out the great werewolf movies, I looked at some of the old classic stories, I studied the legends. But in truth, it doesn’t take very long to do that. There isn’t all that much material. And it was fun. And as always, I’m striving to do my original thing with the concept, create an original origin story, create an original history for Man Wolves, etc. And my Man Wolves aren’t like anyone else’s as far as I know. Reuben really is a Man Wolf, walking on two legs, yet he can climb trees as if he were a powerful simian, and he has retractable claws like some cats. And of course he can reason and talk while in full wolf coat. And he can make love to a woman while in full wolf skin. And that for me is the core of the book: that he’s conscious in the wolfen state and he can communicate. He becomes a powerful beast creature while remaining himself.
Jena: You have written a well-rounded and eclectic cast in The Wolf Gift. Is there a particular character that you favor? If so, why?
Anne: I’m just getting started with all of them, really. I want very much to develop Stuart, the teen boy wolf, and of course I want to tell more and more about the mysterious characters who enter the story at the end of the book. Even in the sequel, “The Wolves of Midwinter,” I see myself as still just getting started. I haven’t had a chance to really develop Laura yet. It’s still, right now, in two books, all about Reuben…but I am having a wonderful time opening doors, suggesting different possibilities. I’m loving it. I guess Reuben is the character I totally favor. It’s all about Reuben’s adventures really.
Jena: Is there a character that we would all be surprised to find out that you hate? If so, why?
Anne: Good question. I wouldn’t say there is anyone I hate yet, not the way I hated Lestat’s mother, Gabrielle, in The Vampire Chronicles. Or Lestat’s friend, Nicholas. —- Right now, I pretty much love everybody in The Wolf Gift books. There are villains but that’s plain enough. When I really hate characters, they don’t last too long. They wander off, or they get killed. My writing has never been fueled by hatred; it’s almost always fueled by love. If I can’t love a character, I can’t work with that character very much. I guess the most fully developed negative character I ever created was Patsy, Quinn’s mother in Blackwood Farm. And I’m still asking myself where in the Hell did Patsy come from? I so knew Patsy, so knew her, and so hated her.
Jena: The Wolf Gift was wrapped up but also left some questions unanswered. Is this the beginning of a new series?
Anne: Well, yes, I think you can see by now that it is. The Wolves of Midwinter, the sequel will be published this coming October 15th, and as I said above, I see myself as just beginning. There is so much I want to do with these characters. So much. And new supernatural characters are introduced in the second book, and I want to work more with them.
Jena: If so, did you start out intending it to be a series or was it originally a stand-alone book?
Anne: I don’t think I have ever written a novel without the possibility of a series lurking in my mind. I always see “the world” of the novel and its people as ongoing. My mind just does that. I feel like I mark off a period of time in that ongoing “world” for my story, but the world remains. That’s one reason I don’t try to wrap up absolutely everything at the end of a novel. I don’t think it’s realistic to resolve every single issue, or answer every single question.
Jena: Do you already have the ending planned?
Anne: Not at all. No, not at all. Writing The Wolf Gift series will be a matter of one discovery after another. And I do want to keep doors open in this series. In The Vampire Chronicles, because the novels dealt so much with darkness and depression, and even despair, I was always closing doors. I want to do the reverse with Reuben and his family and friends.
Jena: And now a few random questions for thought: If you were a character in Reuben’s world and you somehow acquired The Wolf Gift, would you consider it a “gift” or a “curse”?
Anne: I would consider the Chrism a great gift. If it was offered to me, I don’t think I could turn it down. Same with the Dark Gift of vampire blood. I couldn’t refuse it. I love being alive and I love reading history and I want so much to know what is going to happen as the centuries unfold. I am in love with the Gift of Life. I couldn’t turn down immortality. I simply couldn’t. And I couldn’t turn down invulnerability either.
Jena: Now that publishing as an industry has been thrust into the digital age, as an author, what are your feelings on the eBook craze? Good thing or bad thing for the industry?
Anne: I think the digital age, and the ebook craze is great for one very basic reason. It is increasing the audience for books. It is making it possible for people to read more and in more places; it is inviting back to literature older readers who had given up on books for physical reasons; they can now make the font very large on their Nook or Kindle and enjoy reading again. Travelers can carry a library on board a plane in their Nook or Kindle. School kids can carry a library in a backpack with their kindle or Nook. And I’m convinced that people will continue to buy hardcover and paperback copies of book they’ve especially loved. —– Frankly, I don’t think the industry as such is doing enough to help the ebook craze lead to the aquisition of hardcovers and paperbacks. Why isn’t every ebook download provided with a link at the end for you to immediately order a hardcover or paperback copy of the book you’ve just read? Or send a gift of a hardcover or paperback copy to someone else? But in time a lot of the problems will be worked out. —- And I think the industry has been slow to protect authors from piracy. Piracy is a terrible thing. Who wants to live in a world where only the rich can afford to write literature? We want people to be able to make a living in the arts. So why have we not worked out ways for writers to be compensated automatically when someone downloads a book? It can be done. We need more creative thinking about the new industry and the new possibilities, not publishers panicking and refusing to cooperate with Amazon or deliberately withholding ebooks from the market. That’s so counterproductive.
Jena: FanFiction is becoming a widely used pass time for fans all over the place. Some authors are rather offended by fans creating their own stories with the author’s characters. An example of how active fanfics are: there are a little over 43,000 different Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfics on one website alone. What are your feelings on fan-fic? Would you be flattered or offended if someone wrote a Vampire Chronicles fanfic? *Keeping in mind that there is no money made on fanfic as long as it is not Pulled-to-Publish (change the names, publish and make money off of the story). *
Anne: I don’t approve of fanfiction but I am happy to ignore it. I don’t like the idea, no, and I certainly can’t give anyone official or legal permission to write it. But I don’t really care much about the whole thing anymore. I find it very easy to ignore fanfiction based on my books. —— Frankly, I don’t know why writers want to do it. It’s much better I think for a young writer, or aspiring writer to create his or her own world and characters and have full control to see the work become a great success. Again, I try to ignore the fanfic world.
Jena: I want to thank Anne for taking the time to chat with us today. It really has been an honor and an experience I will not soon forget.
Anne: —– Thank you, Jena. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity to discuss so many topics. I appreciate it.