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Remembering 'Vampire Chronicles' author Anne Rice


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

Anne Rice, best known for her novels about the supernatural, including the bestseller "Interview With The Vampire," died Saturday at the age of 80. Growing up in New Orleans, she was influenced early on by the 19th century mansions and the rituals of the Catholic Church she was raised in. Rice was a little-known writer when "Interview With The Vampire," her first novel, became a hit in 1976. She began writing it four years earlier as a way to process the grief she felt at the death of her 5-year-old daughter from leukemia. She followed with more than a dozen novels that became known as "The Vampire Chronicles."

Here's a scene from the movie "Interview With The Vampire," released in 1994. Brad Pitt plays a man in despair because he's lost his wife and daughter. He's visited in the night by the vampire Lestat, played by Tom Cruise.


BRAD PITT: (As Louis de Pointe du Lac) Who are you? What are you doing in my house?

TOM CRUISE: (As Lestat de Lioncourt) I've come to answer your prayers. Life has no meaning anymore; does it? The wine has no taste. The food sickens you. There seems no reason for any of it; does there? What if I could give it back to you, pluck out the pain and give you another life, one you could never imagine? And it would be for all time, and sickness and death could never touch you again. Don't be afraid. I'm going to give you the choice I never had.

DAVIES: Besides her books about the supernatural, Anne Rice wrote a novel about the careers of two castrati, male singers who were castrated before puberty to preserve their voices. And she wrote erotic and pornographic novels under two different pen names. Terry spoke to Anne Rice in 1990.


TERRY GROSS: Did you ever have an experience that you could only attribute to the supernatural that was either, like, mystical or psychic?

ANNE RICE: No, I've actually had none. But I'll tell you I'm very afraid of the dark. I'm very afraid of being alone. I felt all my life that there's something there, and I think I shut it out. I think I consciously shut it out because the evidence, the written scholarly evidence for apparitions, for ghosts, for something out there that we can't explain is really rather overwhelming. And I think it scares me.

GROSS: So you believe that that's a possibility.

RICE: Oh, definitely. I really do. I'm not close-minded on any of that. The more I read in the occult, the more I'm fascinated by what ordinary people have experienced with mediums, communicating with the dead and their near-death experiences - we have a lot of books on that today - and past life regression and things like this. I'm fascinated. I'm open-minded.

GROSS: Now, early in your life, I think you were part of the Catholic Church, and I think your mother used to be fairly religious. Is there any connection to the imagery of the church and the imagery of vampire and witches as you use them in your books?

RICE: Oh, I think so. I really do. The spiritual realm is an absolute reality to anyone who's a Catholic. You grow up believing that what's invisible and spiritual is infinitely more important than what's material and real around you. And though I lost my faith in God very early and my faith in the church very early, there remained a sort of spiritual urgency, a kind of religious approach, as it were, to writing and to seeking answers about life.

And it was only when I started to write "Interview With The Vampire," you know, a book about a vampire from his point of view, that I was able to talk about all that, about good and evil, about grief over the loss of faith, that kind of thing. I use that supernatural character to speak in those spiritual terms. And it's not surprising to me that an ex-Catholic would do that. You know, I mean, when you grow up believing in saints and you grow up talking to those saints as though they're your friends and, you know, saying your prayers to the blessed Virgin Mary and to God, you know, you were used to faith. You were used to caring about these sort of cosmic questions. And it all fits together in some way.

GROSS: Would you want to live the eternal life of the vampire? Everybody wants a long life, but the - you know, the story of the vampire is one of, like, eternal life, but there's a terrible trade-off for it. It's a kind of miserable life, and you need to live off the blood of others to keep up that life. Of course, the life is less miserable for your vampires than for a lot of the classic vampires.

RICE: Well, you know, I've thought a lot about that. And I think if a vampire were to come to me and say, I can make you immortal; we do exist, I think I might find the offer irresistible. What about you? I mean, do you think you would turn it down? See; I don't think many people really would have the strength to turn it down.

GROSS: I'd want to know what the life was going to be like. No, seriously. Like (laughter), what are the rules going to be? What would I be allowed to do? What I have to sleep in a coffin during the day? And would I - you know, would the things that I enjoy now still be enjoyable? Would there be anything to make life worth living?

RICE: Well, I still think even if all the answers to that were pretty bad, I don't know. The fear of death is pretty profound.

GROSS: Do you worry about that a lot?

RICE: No, no, not really.

GROSS: You know, I think people worry more - well, some people worry more about the death of the people they love than they do about their own death.

RICE: Well, I think that's definitely true. You know, we don't experience our own death, probably. I don't know. Who knows?

GROSS: You've broken some of the vampire rules in your vampire books by allowing them to enjoy life more, to be out in non-vampire hours and...

RICE: Well, I took the conventions that were of interest to me. I mean, the Sun can destroy my vampires or hurt them very badly. They don't shy away from garlic or crucifixes. They don't have any clear indication of the existence of God or absolute good and evil. They exist in a sort of existential world the way we do. They have our doubts. But that's what interested me about the myth. And I think everybody who's written about vampires has done pretty much the same thing.

Bram Stoker took what he thought was of interest, Sheridan Le Fanu before him. It's - we've all done that. We've all, I think, seen the power of that metaphorical character, that mythic character and how wonderful it is to work with that fictionally. And then we - you know, we adjust the rest according to some sort of inner logic for the book.

GROSS: You know, when I read Bram Stoker's "Dracula," I really started thinking that the story had a lot to do with fear of syphilis (laughter).

RICE: Could have.

GROSS: Yeah, and...

RICE: Yeah.

GROSS: I'm wondering how AIDS is affecting your vampires. And I ask that because I know you're continuing the vampire series.

RICE: Well, there's no logical or direct connection. You know, there's - I think there is a darkening of my work, and that's inevitable because I have lost some of my friends to AIDS. And so as you grow older and you suffer those losses and you see that kind of tragedy, your work changes. It has to change. The music becomes a little sadder. There is perhaps a greater sense of tragedy. I think "The Witching Hour" is the darkest book I've ever written, really, and the least optimistic. And I'm sure that that is directly related to AIDS.

GROSS: What were the vampire books and movies or related occult books and movies, horror movies, et cetera, that got you very interested in that sensibility?

RICE: Well, to tell you the truth, I wasn't all that interested, really. You know, before I wrote "Interview With The Vampire," I can't say that I went out of my way to watch a lot, you know, of horror movies. I loved them, and they were - I loved them as much as many people did, but they weren't a full-time obsession.

But the movie I saw as a child that I never forgot was "Dracula's Daughter." It was a wonderful 1930s black-and-white film, very subtle, very elegant, very, very seductive film about Dracula's daughter and how she deplored being a vampire and tried to escape the curse. "The Bride Of Frankenstein" is a movie that I think is an absolute classic, one of the greatest horror movies ever made, a wonderful movie. You could watch it 15 times, and it would always give you something new. And yet it's a B movie, probably. "Angel Heart" is an absolutely fabulous, modern horror movie that I respect deeply. But I'll tell you, I recently remembered that the first movie I ever saw as a child was Olivier's "Hamlet." And the only scene I remember from it is the ghost scene.

GROSS: (Laughter).

RICE: So maybe that imprinted itself on my little girl mind. I don't know. But then, of course, millions of other people saw that movie, and they didn't grow up to write "Interview With The Vampire." I don't know.

DAVIES: Writer Anne Rice, speaking with Terry Gross, recorded in 1990. Rice died Saturday at the age of 80. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're listening to Terry's 1990 interview with writer Anne Rice, best known for her novels about the supernatural, including the bestseller "Interview With The Vampire." Rice died Saturday at the age of 80.


GROSS: Your books have a lot of sexual encounters in them, and in fact, you write pornography as well as writing your novels. How did you start writing pornography? And I think we could call it - I mean, you'd call it pornography, right?

RICE: Oh, sure, absolutely.

GROSS: Yeah. I mean, we don't have to be...


GROSS: ...Pretend that it's not that.

RICE: No, you don't have to call it erotica for me.


RICE: You know, that's a prettier word, maybe, but it's pornography. Actually, I don't write it anymore. I wrote three books of it under...

GROSS: Oh, you stopped.

RICE: ...Under the pen name A.N. Roquelaure, and those books are being very, very well received now. But it's been some time since I wrote them. And I really accomplished there what I wanted to accomplish. I don't think I'll be doing any more. But what I did basically was write the erotica or pornography that I could never find in the bookstore, what I consider a much more playful, enjoyable, fantastical version of a sexual fantasy, a kind of theme park of S&M, so to speak.

Because I think most pornography that's published is just hack work, and it's filled with a lot of gratuitous violence that people really don't want. I mean, as long as people who make pornography, whether it's films or books, as long as they have no respect for the audience and they don't really care what the audience wants, they won't really know and there won't be anything sensitive or fine in it. And I think it's a very worthwhile genre. There's no reason for there not to be very, very fine pornography.

GROSS: Does it bother you when people try to make the distinction between erotica and pornography and say, well, erotica is acceptable, but pornography is filthy and we don't like that?

RICE: I think I'm much more interested in the idea that sex is really good, that we in the 20th century have achieved something wonderful in divorcing sex from superstition and in approaching it from a psychological and ethical point of view. And I'm much more interested in the idea that pornography does not have to have redeeming social merit. That - those kind of things interest me more than distinctions like what is erotica or what is pornography.

I wish more authors would write pornography. I wish the genre wasn't so neglected. And I think people want it. As I said, my pornography today is getting very, very good response, especially from women. They seem to enjoy it very much and to be glad somebody wrote it. So it's been altogether, for me, a very, very positive experience.

GROSS: Some of your books have a combination of straight sex, lesbian sex, gay sex in it. Do you feel kind of qualified (laughter) to write about the different, you know, sex between different sexual preferences and genders and so on?

RICE: Do I feel qualified?

GROSS: Yeah, you know - (laughter) you know what I mean. Some people only want to read - only feel like it's legitimate for a woman to - for a straight woman to write straight heterosexual sex scenes.

RICE: That's absurd. With all due respect, that's absolutely absurd. That's like asking Will Shakespeare if he's qualified to write about the royal family of Denmark.

GROSS: (Laughter).

RICE: I mean, you use your imagination when you write. I mean, one of the greatest books I've ever read is "Anna Karenina." And it is an absolutely magnificent novel, and the women in that novel are treated with all the dignity and all the depth that the men are treated with, and it was written by a man.

I mean, the imagination is what interests me, and when I'm sitting at that computer and writing my books, I go into these characters and I become them. I think the idea that we should limit ourselves to our own experience in our writing is sterile and ludicrous. I mean, what did the Bronte sisters know of the world? But thank God they wrote "Wuthering Heights" and "Jane Eyre." They gave us Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester.

I mean, thank God Mary Shelley gave us the monster in Dr. Frankenstein. I mean, but what did she know about a medical student? I mean, what did she know about Dr. Frankenstein? What did she know about being a manmade monster? But she didn't let that stop her, and she gave us a really magnificent book.

And this happens over and over again with fiction. And it happens over and over again with women, that they somehow go out of the confines of their lives, and they have great adventures in the pages of the books they write. And I hope that keeps happening.

DAVIES: Writer Anne Rice speaking with Terry Gross, recorded in 1990. Rice died Saturday at the age of 80.

Coming up, we remember culture writer and critic Greg Tate. This is FRESH AIR.


Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.