Anne Rice on Prince Lestat, vampires and the new film

Anne Rice talks the history of The Vampire Chronicles and why it’s high time for Lestat’s return

Anne_RiceAfter more than 10 years, the queen of vampire fiction has returned. With Prince Lestat, Anne Rice has delivered a new tale of one of literature’s greatest bloodsuckers. It’s an ambitious, far-reaching novel that brings The Vampire Chronicles bang up to date, bringing together a vast array of beloved characters from her groundbreaking series.

SciFiNow spoke to Rice about why it was time for Lestat De Lioncourt to return, her influence on the vampire genre, and why she’s thrilled that it looks like the world’s most elegant vampire will be making his return to the big screen.

How did this new novel come about? Why did you decide it was time for Lestat’s comeback?

Well, after a 10-year absence I had a lot of new ideas.  A lot of new thoughts, you could say he came back to me. I started to think about him, what was he doing, because he’s a character that’s always extremely real to me, I think of him without any effort as being out there in the world. As existing, as carrying on and so I started to think of all kinds of new things, new possibilities and I think that taking the 10 year rest was actually a very good thing. I couldn’t have written Prince Lestat back in 2003. It just didn’t exist in my head. So that’s probably the best answer. Also, I was looking forward to his being on the big screen and from 2005 on I had been in talks and negotiations about that and when that wasn’t happening, when that just year after year passed without him having a new incarnation in television or film I began to think more and more about my relationship with him. And my capacity to bring him back if I wanted to bring him back. And I started to read all the old books in the chronicles and he began to talk to me again.

So it very much felt like the right time for a new novel?

Yes, and back in 2002 when I finished writing about him I really didn’t have any new ideas at that time. It does take time sometimes for writers to do things, there’s just no rules one way or the other.

What can you tell us about Prince Lestat?

Well, Prince Lestat is set at the present time. It’s now, and it’s a big book, not so much in size, I’d say it’s a normal book in terms of size, but it’s a big book in terms of scope. It’s about the whole tribe, it’s about what they’re all doing, not just Lestat and his beloved friends Armand or Louis or Gabrielle or whatever, but it’s about the old ones, the elders, the immortals out there. It’s about the whole tribe and I enjoyed dealing with that scope, picking them all up and trying to really get into what might be going on with them now and what did they want, what challenges were they facing in the world of satellite news and satellite photography and iPhones and email that are better than telepathy for communicating over thousands of miles. How were they reacting to all of this? What was happening given the fact that the eldest of the tribe don’t seem to be exerting any leadership over the tribe? So that’s where the book picks up and that’s its theme, it’s more like Queen Of The Damned than any of the other books but it’s a sequel to all of them, it takes place right now.

Does it feel like a fresh start in a way?

Well it is like a new phase. I could say that the first 12 books [laughs] were of a certain kind, they really weren’t an organized series, they were 12 individual books that all involved the same characters. And they did reference each other’s stories and developments but they were individual books of an individual focus. Now in going back to the tribe with Prince Lestat it is a new start and I want the second book I’m doing, Blood Paradise, I want that to continue to be a focus on the whole tribe and how Lestat is interacting with them. You know what it gets down to; it gets down to what you enjoy doing. And this is what I enjoy doing right now. I feel like I did the other type of thing as much as I wanted to. I wrote memoir books about the individual characters like Pandora or Armand, and that was a lot of fun, it was intense, but now I don’t really want to do memoir books so much as I want to deal with all of them as a group of immortals. As my undead characters.

Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt as Lestat and Louis in Interview With The Vampire
Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt as Lestat and Louis in Interview With The Vampire

Did you know when you were writing Interview With The Vampire that Lestat would go on to be such an important character?

No, I was totally unaware. I identified completely with Louis and I never thought about Lestat. He was my introduction to the fact that a character can develop in the corner of your eye, who can basically take over your imagination. It’s one of the wonderful things about fiction writing, you slip into your own world, you let these characters go and something like Lestat can happen that you didn’t foresee, that you didn’t intend. My focus always was Louis but by the time I had finished the book, I had finished with Louis. And all of my desires to return to the Chronicles focused on Lestat, focused on this person that had emerged that I felt was not fairly dealt with by Louis.  And I wanted to explore that different point of view, you know, the way Lestat saw himself and how he came to be that antagonist and Lestat by the time I had finished the second book, The Vampire Lestat he was without question the hero of my dreams, he was the one I wanted to write about and he was the one with whom I identified.

The books have a devoted audience. Did you ever consider who the target readership would be while writing?

Well when I wrote it in the beginning I had no idea who the audience might be. I really didn’t. I believed in writing the best book that I could write, writing the book I wanted to write, the book I wanted to read, to live in, to be in, I didn’t know who the audience was. But today I certainly am conscious that there is a huge diversified audience for these books and that one segment are actually preteens. I mean I get an enormous amount of mail from 10 year olds, 11 year olds, and from people who say they first read the books when they were 9 and 10 and 11, or 14, 15, 16, so I would be crazy not to be very aware of that audience, and I treasure that, I think that’s great because I think that’s a great compliment to one, that you can hold the interest of somebody of 10 years with a book that’s not going to be that easy to read and so I am very aware of it but I don’t think a writer can consciously think of that when writing.

You have to go into your own voice and your own vision and again you have to do that book that you yourself want to read. And you have to pray that your readers will like it. But you can’t think too much about pleasing them because you’ll go crazy, there’s too much contradictory info coming in. With my books in particular, you can go on Amazon.com and you can find somebody who says, “This particular one’s a masterpiece” and somebody else who says, “This particular one is trash! This is when she lost it!” One of my most popular books is Memnoch The Devil, Lestat’s trip to Heaven and Hell, but the reviews of Memnoch are totally polarized.  There are people saying “She lost her way here, this is when I threw it in the trash, blablabla,” so if you think of all of that you’d lose your mind, you’d never write a word.

I love Memnoch The Devil, but it does seem to one that people are divided on!

Yeah, well now that the movie news is out, that Universal Studios has acquired the properties, there are many people writing to me about Memnoch, they’re posting on my Facebook page “Will Memnoch be a movie?” It’s a name that’s very frequently singled out. So I’m pleased with that, I love it, Memnoch was to me the best of them all and I’m delighted.

Tom Cruise as Lestat in Interview With The Vampire
Tom Cruise as Lestat in Interview With The Vampire

How do you find the experience of interacting with your readers online?

It’s wonderful. I mean, to me the years before the internet were very isolated years. I did get letters, I did get fan mail but basically I worked alone and I didn’t see other writers very often. I loved going on tour and seeing readers at signings but it was brief. The Internet really brought me into a wonderful world of communicating on Facebook with readers and being able to ask them questions, and them being able to ask me questions and frankly I’ve loved it. I don’t know if I could have handled it as a younger person. It might have been too much input, it might have been too confusing at times, but right now at this age I totally love it. I’m very honoured, I’m very grateful. It’s absolutely wonderful to read their comments. Even the negative comments are wonderful; it’s wonderful to know that your characters have become so real for people that they will fight with you over them. It’s kind of thrilling, yeah.

During your break from writing in the vampire genre, did you keep up to date with what was going on? That whole explosion of the vampire craze?

Well, I’ve enjoyed seeing a lot of what people have done with the concept of the vampire, since I saw myself as retired from it I really enjoyed it without worrying about my own writing. So I felt liberated to enjoy True Blood on HBO and to read Charlaine Harris’ books and I was very happy for Stephanie Meyer for her success with Twilight, I’m amused by all of it and interested in all of it. You know, the vampire is such a rich concept; there are so many ways to use that concept. I’m not surprised really but I am amazed. I do think that the whole vampire craze now, the popularity of the vampire, I do think it’s all driven by authors. It’s a matter of creative vision. If we hadn’t had Stephanie Meyer, Poppy Z. Brite, Laurel K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, maybe we would not have had this craze. But as to why so many authors suddenly decided to publish and why the publications were so successful, I don’t honestly know.

It is interesting that we think of it as a craze, but it feels like vampire literature has been around and booming for decades.

Oh absolutely, I think the concept is so rich that it can be unpacked in all kinds of ways. I mean, the vampire is a powerful metaphor for the human being. We’re all vampires in a way and we’re all immortals in a way, we’re immortal in our mind and yet our bodies are mortal, and the vampire faces that dilemma in a huge and glamorous fashion, so he’s a powerful metaphor for each person, the monster inside of us, the predator inside of us, the ruthless person who makes ruthless decisions in order to prosper, I mean that’s what he really is. He makes ruthless decisions in order to prosper, not just to exist, but to prosper and I think we’re enthralled with that and I’ve always been in love with the glamorous side of this that I inherited from Hollywood, from movies like Dracula’s Daughter, that the vampires could be very refined cultured individuals with great sensitivity and great capacity for suffering. And what is it like when somebody like that becomes immortal and has to kill people to prosper, what goes on?

So it’s tremendously rich and I’m not surprised that now it’s understood in mainstream fiction that this is as rich a concept as say the cowboy in the American west or the detective, the lone detective fighting crime, these are two other concepts that have proved incredibly durable in fiction. And you know another thing that I have to say, I think people love vampire fiction today because it has plot, stories, drama, the same reason they love detective and cowboy fiction. Not everyone wants to read the small pedestrian realistic elitist novel that the critics call literature. I mean, I’m not saying that you can’t have magnificent novels like that, you can, we’ve had great writers who’ve written that kind of novel but it isn’t the only kind of novel and people really do long for the storytelling, the thrill that they get in a vampire or paranormal thriller.

prince-lestatDo you think about the fact that your work has been so influential? Is it nice to see so many authors and TV shows and films using your novels as an inspiration?

Well, every vampire writer is going to make up his or her own cosmology and that is part of the fun of doing it, I certainly made up my cosmology and I didn’t feel at all bound or beholden to accept Bram Stoker’s cosmology or Sheridan La Fanu’s cosmology or anybody’s really. I took what interested me and what I thought was useful and added new things and eventually created an entire origin story for my vampires. And so these other people have done the same thing and of course there are going to be readers and fans out there who are going to argue, in a fight would Lestat be able to beat up Edward, whatever, and it’s fun, it’s fun to talk about all of that stuff but it’s all just part of it. I don’t take it terribly seriously.

It’s different types of stuff, different cosmologies and different characters are loved by different people and obviously some people are going to have their very best favourites and I understand all that. Writers are never really in competition with each other, there’s room for all of it, there really is, the success of Stephanie Meyer doesn’t take anything away from Charlaine Harris. And the success of both of them takes nothing from Laurel K Hamilton. We all have, there’s enough room up there for everybody to get their vampires out there, their books, their movies and so forth. There’s never been an either/or situation with writers.

The elegance of your vampires is a big part of The Vampire Chronicles. Was that something you were always drawn to?

Oh yeah, I always was hooked on the elegance and the glamour. I had found the early black and white horror movies like Dracula’s Daughter to be very glamorous and mysterious. Not just those movies but other early horror movies, like the Frankenstein movies. I love their refined and rarified world in which Doctor Frankenstein lived; there was a great glamour to me to characters like Van Helsing or the people who knew Dr Frankenstein. I loved that world, those early movies, American movies, were very much influenced by European art directors and directors and so forth as I understand it. And by German film and I responded to that without ever knowing the history of it. I just thought, gosh, what a fun world.

I’m intensely romantic, I love all kinds of the Gothic motifs, like the great big haunted but elegant house, the hero that dresses magnificently but suffers in silence [laughs] this type of thing! So to me vampire fiction was the perfect place to explore all of that. And also I wanted to play with the idea of what if this curse brought you beauty as well as immortality. I didn’t like the idea of the vampire being repulsive or gross or scary. I thought what if he was really an essentially beautiful person, what if the dark gift as I called it, actually enhanced him physically, improved his skin, his eyes, his hair, made him all the more seductive to victims? That made sense in terms of evolution. If you have a predator here that developed, maybe he survived because he’s seductive. So I loved exploring all of that. And I think the Goth movement is largely a movement of romantics, you know, people who are very dissatisfied with the sterility of modern culture and who want something more.

Do you think that there’s a gap in the marketplace now for that elegant, glamorous vampire?

Yeah, I do think there’s a gap. I do think that other vampire writers have so domesticated the vampire that they have moved away from the glamour. Much as I loved True Blood and Sookie Stackhouse, the vampires there are not glamorous per se. It’s a domestication of them; they become the guy down the street at the local bar. And the same in Twilight, that he’s the boy next door. Whereas in my world there is always the emphasis on the glamour, the mystic hero, the larger than life, the James Bond of the vampires. That’s how I see Lestat. I mean, he’s the gorgeous guy in the velvet coat who can talk slang one minute and dance with you Mozart the next. He’s James Bond, truly, the glamorous powerful deadly hero.

I do think kids want that glamour, I know they come for me for it. Whether they want it enough to go to a lot of other people I don’t know but they certainly come to me for that. And I think that recently when this news came out that Universal had acquired the books, from all over the world we saw articles that put up pictures of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt from Neil Jordan’s brilliant movie and they’re wearing gorgeous velvet clothes and they have gorgeous hair and they have gorgeous eyes and skin and the pictures are glamorous. So clearly this is something hat people associate with my work and that Neil Jordan’s movie, wonderfully wonderfully spread the word and amplified and so forth, and yeah, kids want this. They long for that glamour.

Kirsten Dunst, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise as Claudia, Louis and Lestat in Interview With The Vampire
Kirsten Dunst, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise as Claudia, Louis and Lestat in Interview With The Vampire

Are you excited about the recent movie announcement?

Yes, I’m very much confident. I think that Erica Huggins and Brian Grazer are great producers and that’s what it takes really to make a film in America, it takes great producers with singularity of vision and I think they are wonderful. They’re really dedicated to this and I’m very happy that my son Christopher has written the screenplay and will be working on that screenplay with them. I mean, there are still a lot of unanswered questions and I want to respect Christopher’s autonomy completely. This is a collaborative art form and I want to sit back and answer questions when asked really, but I’m very very optimistic about it all.

I’m always surprised that there’s been such a long gap without anyone adapting your work for film or TV.

Well, Queen Of The Dammed was a failure. And Hollywood responds in a negative way. If you look at these articles that have appeared all over the world, most of them emphasise that Queen Of The Damned killed the franchise so to speak, it was not well received and for me it’s best forgotten. It was a very disappointing movie and it was not faithful to the books and I think it was disappointing. So in a sense it reversed the wonderful success of Interview With The Vampire.

Finally, do you ever think about your status in the genre community, that you’ve created one of the great vampires in Lestat?

Well, when I write about him I have to be with him and just get into his world and my world and I have to put all conscious analysis out of the way. One of the great things about being a writer I think is that you are really paid by people to do what you love as well as you possibly can. And you have to live up to what they expect by being true to yourself. And there are not that many professions where that’s the case but it is the case in ours.

Prince Lestat is available now for £12.91 at Amazon.co.uk. Read our feature on Anne Rice in the latest issue of SciFiNow.