“One night, I was writing a short story, and I wondered what it would be like to interview a vampire,” says Anne Rice, sitting her hotel room at the Four Seasons Downtown in Manhattan. “It got to be about 30 pages. I thought that would be a shocking or interesting story, but then I tried to do an anthology, and it started to become a novel. It took me about five weeks to do the first draft. I had a feeling that I was on to something. I thought, ‘This will be my first published work.’”
It was “Interview With a Vampire,” which was published 40 years ago.
At the time “Interview” was published, she and her late husband, poet Stan Rice, were living, as she explains, “paycheck to paycheck.” After she got a book contract with Knopf for “Interview With a Vampire,” she says, she completely rewrote her book. Surprisingly, she says that at first the book was “a flop,” selling only about 25,000 copies. However, once in came out in paperback, it began to sell well.
Rice and her editor, Victoria Wilson, have been working together since her first book. “It’s one of the longest, most enduring relationships in publishing,” she says.
Her first book to make it to number one on the bestseller list was “Queen of the Damned.” Her latest book features her best-known leading character. Called “Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis,” it’s just out from Alfred A. Knopf.
She had been researching the mythical city of Atlantis for a while, and “I couldn’t quite make it work. I had a vision of the city.” Then she added vampires and “made it all come together.” Her favorite way to work is to spend a lot of time doing research, and then write a book rapidly. “My ideal is about six weeks,” she says. “If it goes any longer than that, I have trouble keeping everything fresh in my memory.
“Everything I’ve been writing — well over 30 books — there’s no character quite like Lestat,” she says. “He’s the ideal hero to me and the ideal rebel. I love him. He’s my alter ego. I wish I had his strength and invulnerability, not to be afraid of anybody. To be able to walk through Central Park at 4 a.m. I love to do stories about him.”
Her fascination with settings and clothing — especially men’s clothing — is evident in her books. She traces this to the fact that her husband, who died in 2002, “was a very snappy dresser,” and so is her son Christopher, who is also a writer. For quite some time, Rice herself used to dress more elaborately, in riding jackets and lace-trimmed white blouses full of details. At 5-foot-2, however, she admits that she never looked “quite like I would like.” At this point of her life, she likes the “softness and simplicity” she finds in pieces from Land’s End and J. Jill.
The novelist’s marriage lasted 41 years, until her husband’s death. They met each other in high school in Richardson, Tex., and later attended college together in Texas, then moved to California. “It was a stormy love affair right up until the end,” she says. “We were living in the Haight Ashbury when the whole movement was happening, and we were in Berkeley during the People’s Park riots. And at some point, there was the great gay revolution. We saw a lot and we experienced a lot.”
Her husband, she said, “was my first reader, and he was always the most supportive reader. He was untouched by the world. He didn’t know what was going on in popular fiction. I loved that.”
During her “high-earning years,” Rice, who was born in New Orleans, moved back and restored several houses there. She returned to California after her husband died because her son was living there. At the time, he was an aspiring screenwriter. She now lives in Palm Desert.
The writer and her son are working on a television pilot that will be about vampires, although they are still planning it and have not yet approached any networks. Not surprisingly, they have received a great deal of encouragement from everyone they’ve mentioned it to. Rice is also working on a book written from the point of view of her cat Mirabel, one of her three felines. “She suddenly comes to consciousness and starts sneaking onto the computer,” she says.