On October 28th, author Anne Rice makes her highly-anticipated return to vampire fiction with the novel Prince Lestat. For the first time since 2003’s Blood Canticle, Rice is inviting fans back into the world of the elegant undead, offering an opportunity to catch up with old favorites Louis, Armand, and of course, Lestat. Rice and Lestat have been together since the beginning, starting with Interview with a Vampire in 1976 – her debut novel and the first entry in her beloved Vampire Chronicles, so it’s only fitting that she would resurrect the fan-favorite series in the namesake of the “Brat Prince”.
While at Comic-Con I spoke with Rice at length about Prince Lestat and coming back to the world of The Vampire Chronicles. We talked about what compelled her return to vampire literature, which fan-favorite characters made it into the book, how her vampires survive in the modern world, writing characters that feel like friends, and her research process. We also discussed why the vampire genre is evergreen, the popularization of supernatural fiction, the domestication of vampires in pop culture, and a lot more. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
ANNE RICE: Well you know, I thought for along time I didn’t have any more to write about Lestat, but ten years passed and ten years is a long time. He came back, and he back with a whole lot to say. So I think it has proved, in retrospect, to have been good to have stepped back for a while from the book, let some time pass and some thinking happen. I feel like Prince Lestat is almost like a whole new reboot of everything. It’s all about the vampires in the present day and how they’re responding to everything going on 2014 – or 2013 is when it was written.
Thematically what are you touching on with this new book? So many things have changed in the last ten years.
RICE: Well true, but the themes of The Vampire Chronicles always have to do with how are they going to survive as predators? Are they going to live in secret? Is it OK to be open because nobody believes in them? At this point in their history they think they need a leader, because there’s a lot of chaos going on as they multiply and fight each other in the big cities for territory. So they’re all looking to Lestat to become the leader and he’s quite reluctant to do that. But that’s what the novel is about.
Trying to keep a secret in this time is very difficult. Does the book address how vampires are coping with the “age of information”?
RICE: It is. It’s the age of information, but at the same time I think they’re finding out that everybody thinks they’re fictional so it really doesn’t matter. Anybody who has any scientific evidence about the existence of the vampire is marginalized. They’re considered a loony just like somebody claiming ancient astronauts came to the earth [laughs]. That’s what they’re finding out. They always feared scientific discovery, but they’re finding out its just not happening. A scientist can get ahold of a vampire, and can take the biopsies, and can take photos, but generally he’s considered a complete lunatic and he ends up speaking at conventions about bigfoot and aliens… fringe – fringe science.
RICE: Both, it’s both. There are a lot of old characters and a lot of new. Not all the old characters, I just couldn’t possibly bring them all [laughs], but there are quite a few and all the main ones are there – Louis, Armand, Lestat, Marius. Those, to me, are the main ones – Gabrielle, Pandora, to lesser and greater degrees. And then there’s some new ones that I found very exciting to create. Some older immortals come on the scene who’ve been around for a long time. Two characters from The Vampire Armand come back – Benji and Sybelle, especially Benji. He plays a major role. He was a twelve year old Bedouin boy. He was made into a vampire at twelve and he’s a Bedouin, he’s a very ingenious, energetic, kind of New York Bedouin type. He comes from Israel actually to New York and he becomes a vampire, and he’ very enterprising. Very early in the novel he shows his tremendous desire to communicate and to think of all the vampires as one tribe.
How do you connect to these characters after all these years? Do they feel like friends to you now?
RICE: They do. They do, but I had to get into it. I have to leave my world behind. The first thing I did was re-read the books. I started to re-read all of them, big chunks of them. I think I read practically all of every one – Interview with the Vampire, Vampire Lestat, Queen of the Damned, Tale of the Body Thief - Vampire Armand I had read twice before. I went back and I just read and read. I read an enormous amount of Blood and Gold – Marius’s story when he goes back into to ancient times. Immediately ideas were coming to me, things I wanted to do. I thought, “This is what I want to do. I want to do this. I want to do that. I see that Lestat would naturally talk about this.” And these were things that I couldn’t see when I quit back in 2003. I had to take a break. I had to take a rest. I had done everything I could think of with the characters up to that point. That was principally it. Reading and hearing my own voice talk to me and being reminded of so many details that I had forgotten.
Wow, I find that pretty fascinating – the idea of such a prolific author reading their own back catalogue.
RICE: Oh yeah, it was very important. I buy these little Avery note tabs, these little stiff note things that you can stick on the page so you can turn it there, and you should see my Vampire Chronicles. It’s all filled with these notes and labels. They say, “See page 80″. That was a lot of fun. But again, Lestat came alive to me right away, sort of leaning over my shoulder saying, “See look at that, we have to talk about that.”
What is it like for you writing characters without having to create a backstory for them, you already did it. Of course you can always learn more about a character, but how much does that change the process for you?
RICE: Oh, but you have to bring it into the present for the new reader. It think if you write a good book, you can’t really expect somebody to read twelve books to prepare for reading it. I wrote Prince Lestat, I hope, to stand on it’s own. So if somebody picked it up and wanted to start there, they could. I tried to put everything in context so you could see where it came from. If I introduce somebody, I explain that he hasn’t been around for 200 years, nobody knew where he was. I don’t give the whole backstory at all, that would be tedious, but I try to put all references to the other books in some kind of context so the readers can get it.
Your novels tend to make a lot of setting and atmosphere. Where does the novel take place?
RICE: It takes place all over the world. It starts with Lestat talking and he visits New York, spies on Louis and Armand [laughs]. There are different characters who come together. New York figures very big in it, but people come from all different locales. A lot of it is set in France, because I recently went to Paris and traveled around France and then went to the country where Lestat was born, that part of the country, and stayed in a little chateau there that I imagined could be his chateau rebuilt. We drove all around France, little streets, and all through the countryside, and if we saw a castle on the hill we went and found a way to get up to that castle. We had a great time. So a lot of that went into the book. A lot of it’s set in France. It’s set all over. Part of it’s set in Turkey. Parts of it – there’s one scene that takes place Tokyo, there’s one scene that takes place in Alexandria, Egypt. So it’s everywhere and then some of the scenes are, of course in ancient times, some in the jungles, in the tropics, things like that.
What are you most excited for your fans when they experience this new book?
RICE: I’m hoping they’ll love it of course. I’m hoping they’ll embrace it. I’m eager to see what they think. I’m hoping I’m going to surprise them with things they haven’t thought of. They come on my Facebook page every day and tell me what they would like to see [laughs]. And I appreciate that very much, I love their enthusiasm and love the stuff that they say, but I hope I’ve thought of some things that never crossed their minds.
I mean, you’re kind of the expert. You literally wrote the book.
RICE: Well I try to really think what would it be like for the vampires now. What would it really be like for my characters in this world today? You know, the world of Twilight and True Blood. What is it like for them?
It’s funny, you would think people might be desperate to believe in vampires because they love them so much.
RICE: I think everybody’s convinced they’re fiction and that’s what protects my vampires.
Sure, I would certainly be reluctant to believe.
RICE: The more fiction that came out, the more it protected them. When they were the only books around, well maybe somebody would have picked up on the fact that they’re real, but once you have Twilight, True Blood, and Sookie Stackhouse, Vampire Academy, and Vampire Diaries - that was good, they got lost. They got lost and everybody thought it was all fiction.
Do you reference those properties within the novel?
RICE: I don’t remember – I don’t think I do. I don’t because I actually like those other novels and I don’t want to say anything pejorative about them. I don’t reference the other books too much, because I don’t want anyone to say it was a pejorative. If I have Lestat say, “Well, Twilight is just fiction.” [Laughs] I don’t want the Twilight fans to be coming at me.
And they would.
RICE: Oh, yeah. They’re very sensitive. And I do admire what Stephanie Meyer did. And I admire the readers of those books and they come on and read other books. I don’t want to say anything that hurts anybody.
What do you think it is about vampires that has proven to be so evergreen for audiences?
RICE: I think the concept was always a terrific concept, because it’s the human monster who can be seductive and articulate. So that was always a goldmine, and I’m not surprised that authors found all different kinds of ways to use it. I think it’s an author driven craze. If you didn’t have the authors going in there and creating things like Vampire Diaries, Vampires Academy, True Blood and so forth it wouldn’t be happening. But the authors did naturally start doing this and there’s been a flood of vampire fiction in the last twenty years. And I think it will continue. I think it’s an enduring genre. It will be like the Western or the detective novel or the spy thriller. It will be a genre that will stay with us.
Also, a kind of supernatural romance has developed now. When I wrote the vampire novels, there was no such term – supernatural romance – but it’s now pretty well developed, and people accept stories that are thrillers but with a great romantic component of them. I think it’s going to continue.
There’s definitely something about vampires that touches people.
RICE: Yeah. Neil Jordan came back and made a very good vampire movie, Byzantium. It was very dignified, very beautiful. It’s no longer just a junk topic like it was back in the 50’s and 60’s.
It’s also interesting because it’s not just vampires. Audiences have generally become more interested in more supernatural things.
RICE: I think so.
Zombies are huge right now, witches, it goes on. Why do you think modern audiences are so open to this subject matter?
RICE: I don’t know. In some ways, again, I think it’s author driven or movie driven. If somebody makes a big success with a supernatural film – and everything depends on the individual vision. If you go back to The Godfather, before The Godfather all gangster movies were almost B-movies. They were almost all B-movies. They had a formulaic look to them and a formulaic aspect, but somehow Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo made The Godfather this dazzling serious film where the gangsters told their side of it. It changed gangster films forever. It changed the way you approach crime in film forever. Then Superman came along. Dick Donner did the first Superman picture and he did the same thing with this hugely terrific production values, not a B-movie, but just a perfect A-list movie. These different successes caused other people to speculate and expand and break the rules, and not just think that the only A-list film could be a war picture or a romance or a comedy.
Alien was a great example – one of the first sci-fi supernatural movies that was just terrifically done by Ridley Scott. That was another great blockbuster, then Bladerunner. So again, it was individuals breaking the mold until finally people caught on that the label didn’t matter. It’s what you did with the label. I think that’s what happened and I think the public was ready for that. I think the public wanted to get closer to the monsters. They wanted the backstory of the monster. That’s kind of what drove it. I’m not up on the zombie stuff.
What do you think about the direction modern stories have taken with the vampire? They generally seem sweeter these days.
RICE: You know, one of the things I like to do about the vampire is treat him like a powerful, mythic character. Lestat, to me, is larger than life. He can fly, he can read minds – and I’ve really looked at that challenge head on of making him fly and making it realistic that he flies. They’re going the other route, as far as I know, going the opposite direction. They’re domesticating the vampire. They’re saying he could be at the bar down the street in Bon Temps, or he could be in biology class next to you at the same table. They’re doing something different, and I respect that very much, but I’m doing just the opposite. I want to create a character that’s so unique that when he walks into a bar everybody just stops. He has a very hard time sliding into the texture of every day life, so he has to be on the margins.
Also, I want him to be a mythic witness, to be thinking like a 18th century man when he goes into a drug store, sees all the products available and realizes that Louis XVI in his time didn’t have a fraction of this kind of wealth that people can throw into a grocery cart. Things like that. But they’re doing the opposite. They want to see how Bill Compton can fall in love in True Blood and whether Eric or Bill is the best boyfriend for Sookie, Again I respect it, but it’s just completely different.
RICE: I always liked Bill the best. I haven’t caught up on the last season, but I like Bill a lot.
What kind of research process does it require of you to write a “mythic witness” character like Lestat who has been alive for so long?
RICE: Oh, there’s a lot. I’ve gone back and done a lot of research to get the feel for what it’s like for these immortals to come into the modern age. I went back and researched what the world was like before electricity, before gas light, how the invention of gaslight and electricity changed life in city. Things like that, because I wanted to know what it was like for them to be walking around today. For people that have lived for two thousand years, what’s it really like? I have to remind myself that we have light all over our public streets and public buildings that people in ancient times never had. I get a lot of mileage out of that when I’m talking through the voice of some of the characters in my book who find that particularly exciting and particularly dazzling. That kind of research I’m always doing. I’m always reading history. I’m always reading archeology. I’m always traveling and going to different places. In the last few years I’ve been to Switzerland, to England, to Paris, to Brazil- taking notes the whole time, sleeping in hotels, and soaking up the atmosphere so I can write about the vampires of the world enjoying all of that.