Queen of the Damned: Anne Rice on Her New Book, Trump, and Being a Gay Icon

Over four decades after the publication of "Interview with a Vampire," Anne Rice has returned to the character that first made her famous. We spoke with her about her early critics, America's future, and whether it's OK for children to read her books...

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Dec 20 2016, 4:30pm

Photo by Phillip Faraone, courtesy of Getty Images

Over 40 years after the publication of her first supernatural novel, Anne Rice has returned to the monsters that made her famous. This month, she is promoting Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis, her second Vampire Chronicles novel since she returned to the series in 2014, as social media buzzes about the new Vampire Chronicles TV show written by her son, the acclaimed gay novelist Christopher Rice.

Rice's cultural resurgence follows a dramatic life and career filled with both setbacks and comebacks. After her daughter, Michelle, died at age five, Rice wrote a novel about a child vampire living with two older bisexual male vampires, whom Rice presented as complicated instead of as monsters. She called her novel Interview with the Vampire. Although today critics accept novelists' and TV writers' portrayals of vampires as complicated characters, critics at the time ravaged the book for its humane treatment of vampires and frank description of sexuality: "To pretend that it has any purpose beyond suckling eroticism is rank hypocrisy," wrote Edith Milton in the New Republic. But readers loved it, and it launched the franchise that Rice continues to write.

Since then, Rice has lived through Richard Nixon, written a Sleeping Beauty–inspired erotic series, watched her erotica books get banned, lost her husband, returned to Catholicism, left the church a second time, watched the Supreme Court legalize gay marriage, written another Sleeping Beauty–inspired erotica book, and finally earned respect for her forward-thinking writing about vampires and sexuality. In between signings of her 35th book, Rice spoke to us about her newest work, her early critics' homophobia, and why she's not afraid of Donald Trump.

BROADLY: Why have you returned to many characters from your past work in the last five years?
Anne Rice: I had written about Lestat for decades. I tried to get away from Lestat for a while, because I thought I was finished. I associated him with darkness and despair and things that didn't work out. Basically, that all changed. I missed him. I could hear his voice again. I wanted to know how he was responding to the internet age—all kinds of new questions came to me. I went back to him and tried to challenge him again. Prince Lestat was the result. I'm very happy writing about him again. I'm going right into a new novel that flows right out of this novel about Atlantis.

Now with the Sleeping Beauty [series], I think what happened was 50 Shades gave a boost to all erotica. I became aware of how popular my Sleeping Beauty books had become over the years. I'd never sat down with a pencil and added up the royalties. I felt that I had some more fantasies that I could put into words. so I wrote that fourth book.

Watch now: The Mom and Daughter Running an Erotica Publishing Empire

My mom gave me one of your erotica books when I was nine, because she mistook it for a fairy tale. Is it OK for kids to read erotica?
It doesn't seem to do them any harm. I've been on a tour now for about three weeks, and over and over again, people come up in the line and say they were introduced to my books when they were nine and ten and eleven. Now, would I give the Sleeping Beauty [series] to a child? No, I would not do that, because I feel they are strong erotica, and I'm not sure what effect they would have on the fantasy life of a child.

Image courtesy of Knopf Doubleday

Why do you think Claudia, the beloved little girl from Interview with a Vampire, has endured?
Claudia is in a way the heart of the Vampire Chronicles because it was the death of my daughter that prompted me to write Interview with a Vampire. I didn't know it at the time. I saw that later on, and she has a very profound affect on people because Claudia's dilemma, an adult being trapped in a child's body, that's a dilemma many people identify with for other reasons. Gay people identify with that, women identify with that. I myself feel like I have a soul that has no gender, and I'm trapped in the body of a woman and constantly misunderstood because of that.

You have always presented monsters as complicated instead of as evil. In real life, do you believe in pure evil, or do you believe people are complicated?
Certainly there is evil, and it's mainly perceived by those who are victims of it, but when it comes to actually discussing the motives and the complexity of those who do terrible things, evil is a very limited concept. Evil comes from the human heart and the human soul in conflict with other human hearts and souls. I certainly believe certain things are profoundly evil, but I think when it comes to the origins of it, we're faced with complexity, and we have to view that with responsibility.

Considering your worldview and the life, and history, you've lived through, do you not fear America's future?
I think it goes up and down. I've lived through some amazing periods of history. I saw the rise of the Beat Generation and the wonderful Beat poets and novelists of the Eisenhower era, and then I lived through the Vietnam years, where there were protests on the college campuses all around me, but it was a wonderfully creative period for poet and writers. Now, under Trump, we'll go through another incredibly fertile period in the arts. A lot of the cultural dissatisfaction with Trump will be expressed in poetry, film, rock music, novels, [and] television. It'll be exciting.

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Your books have appeared on the list of most banned books. Why are you so provocative?
Well, I write about transgressive relationships and transgressive behavior as though it were entirely acceptable. My Interview with the Vampire was attacked [because] of this in 1976. [A prominent New York] reviewer attacked it. He said, "Anne Rice seems to think homosexuality is just fine." Well, I do.

Why do you love Amazon reviews?
I had great hope when Amazon first came. I thought it was going to be wonderful, because it would be reviews of the book from the audience for whom the book was intended. I thought that would be a great thing for literature. It didn't pan out that way. Amazon reviews are a mixed bag. There are wonderful aspects to them when they are genuine, authentic reviews from customers really giving you how they responded to the book, but then there's a lot of abuse in the system. It has not worked out to be the great cleansing force I thought it was going to be in American literature, but I still think it's pretty terrific.

Is television the proper medium for a Vampire Chronicles adaptation?
Absolutely. We do not belong in the world of film today. TV right now is in a new golden age for fantasy novelists. The series that are coming out right now are better and finer than many movies. Also, TV is wide open now in attracting talent from the movie world. It's not like it was 20 years ago when legitimate movie people wouldn't work in TV. Now they want to work in TV. Movies are in a different place right now. They are dominated by DC comics and Marvel heroes and tentpole franchises, and that's very exciting and interesting, but it's not a good place for us to try to do something like 14 books.

What is the biggest misunderstanding about you?
That I'm rich. I'm not. I had high-earning years, and I did real well and had a wonderful time and spread it around, but I'm not rich. When I read things in the press about how rich I am, I laugh. I wish I had five percent of what they're describing.