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Shooting Sean Penn on Sight: Anne Rice answers Salon readers' questions.

Published September 16, 1996 6:31PM (EDT)

Anne, you mentioned that Sister Helen Prejean of "Dead Man Walking" fame was present at your first signing for "Servant of the Bones" and I was curious what you talked about with her. I'm also curious about your stand on the death penalty.

--Philip Ho

Regarding Sister Helen Prejean, I had the pleasure of meeting her for only a few moments. I greatly admire her dedication and that she is working in old St. Alphonsus Parish, in which I have a great interest. But we really did not have a chance to talk very much together. And regarding the death penalty, each case must have its day in court. In general, I approve of the death penalty. However, Sister Helen's compassion in "Dead Man Walking" was an inspiration. I, myself, would have shot Sean Penn as soon as I met him. I have great admiration for Sister Helen Prejean. In light of what she has done, I must reexamine my values. By the way, she also signed books on August 1, the day that I had my first signing for "Servant of the Bones." She was a complete sellout. She is greatly admired and respected and has many, many fans of her own.

It was very surprising to me when I first read "The Tale of the Body Thief" to see one of your characters dealing with candombli, a religion that even here in Brazil is treated like black magic, something bad and unknown for most of the people. How did you get in touch with candombli? And why did you choose Rio to be the place where David Talbot spent great days of his life and learned about this religion?

--Nara Murta Franco

Regarding "The Tale of the Body Thief" and candombli religion, I did a great deal of research on candombli through books. I am fascinated, and always have been, with Brazil and its mixture of Catholic and Portuguese influences and Indian and African ingredients. The city of Rio has always obsessed me. Rio has always seemed a city of indescribable beauty and remarkable influences and contrasts. This year in January, I had an opportunity to finally go to Rio. I spent a long time there and in Manaus. In the Atlantic rain forests in Rio, I did come upon a Mogambo or candombli priest who allowed us to watch as he prepared a purification ceremony. It was an enchanting spectacle to see the circle of candles in the moist grass flicker at the twilight around the young woman who was to be purified. All over the downtown streets of Rio, I saw offerings to Mogambo or candombli gods or goddesses. I write more about Rio in my novel "Violin," and I will undoubtedly return to Rio. Rio has a grip on my soul. Its Portuguese Catholic churches are as fascinating to me as candombli. Leaving Rio was very difficult for me. It was painful. I looked out at the sea on Copacabana Beach and promised that I would return. The light in Rio, the beauty of the sea, the incredible beauty of the people -- all this was a great inspiration to me in writing "Violin." In earlier novels, Rio was often a destination for my characters at the end. Finally, Rio really has full-blown colors and shapes in my imagination.

Many observers have commented on the homoerotic content of your novels. Would you be willing to discuss the reasons for including such material, if the observations are accurate?

--David Kincheloe

On the homoerotic content of my novels: I can only say what I have said many times -- that no form of love between consenting individuals appears wrong to me. I see bisexuality as power. When I write I have no gender. It is difficult for me to see the characters in terms of gender. I have written individuals who can fall in love with men and women. All this feels extremely natural to me. Undoubtedly, there is a deep protest in me against the Roman Catholic attitude toward sexuality. Some of the best writing about my work has been done by homosexual writers. Also, in life I have found that homosexuals sometimes are a little bit better than other people. Having been forced to confront moral questions very early, they have a stronger ethical direction than many heterosexuals. I find androgyny extremely compelling. It's very hard for me to remember that I am a woman and that the word "woman" means very special things to people. I move through the world with the attitude and speed of an androgynous person. Obviously, my attitudes toward androgyny and erotic love of all kinds influence all of my novels. I see Christ as an androgynous figure.

Is Louis done with? Have I missed something in my reading that would signal such a thing? Understandably, Lestat is the more, well, "attainable" perhaps. But my memories of Louis are of wonderful philosophies, introspective thoughts, and his gentleness/genteel-ness always fascinated me. If I've missed his "ending" in your fiction, please alert me. But otherwise, is there hope for more from Louis?

--Jason Fichtel

Thank you for your question regarding Louis. At the end of "Memnoch the Devil," Louis has attained a certain acceptance of his state. He is a comfort to Lestat and appears to be waiting for Lestat to recover his senses. For me, Louis is a difficult character. In "Interview with the Vampire," I was Louis. To work with Louis is to work with the despair in myself. However, I do plan a short novel with Louis, already written in my head, which is called "The House that Louis Built," and the story is told from the point of view of one of Louis' victims.

I fear my question is neither provocative nor erotic, it is purely a search for information. I am but 14 years of age, and one of the most unresourceful brats you will ever have the misfortune to meet (and whom you did on your tour). I would like to obtain a recording of Alessandro Moreschi, the only castrato ever to be recorded. Is it possible for me to obtain such an exquisite tape? And if so, how do I go about it? "Cry to Heaven" completely intrigued me and truly captured my heart, as have all your books. But I suppose I am not writing to pay you the thousand admirations which I hadn't the courage to voice to you at your book signing. Oh, one last question: Why was it that you chose for Armand to commit himself to the light?

--Anne Maxwell Butler

Thank you for your interest in "Cry to Heaven." The best place to look for records of Alessandro Moreschi is a topnotch classical record store. Tower often maintains very good opera and classical musical sections. Moreschi's music has been put onto a new CD, but I don't know the label. Regarding your next question, why Armand committed himself to the light, I feel that this was what Armand would do, given his entire history as described in "The Vampire Lestat." However, please note there were no witnesses to Armand's "death" and Armand is very old. The matter of Armand's demise is not resolved.

By Anne Rice


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