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How I escaped the comfortable coffin of failure: Anne Rice answers her readers' questions

By Anne Rice

Published October 14, 1996 9:29AM (EDT)

You mention you were like Louis when you wrote "Interview With the Vampire." But now, you are like Lestat. I, too feel I have changed from a despondent person to one in control of life. How can we help others like Louis find the way to some measure of control and happiness? Do you think Louis could ever change?

—Barbara Beck

I don't know how I made the transition from being Louis in "Interview with the Vampire" to becoming Lestat in "The Vampire Lestat." I don't think we can teach others to love themselves, have confidence in themselves, or necessarily stand up for themselves. I wish we could. I only know that it happened to me, and publishing my books was no small part of it. Seeing my work in print, knowing I had accomplished three novels -- that experience alone brought me a sense of power.

One very significant aspect of the change of those years was this. When I was a struggling, unpublished writer in Berkeley, I had a knack for making alliances with fellow "victims." Once I began to work with people in New York publishing, I encountered, perhaps for the first time in my life, people who reward success rather than failure.

Whatever one says about the New York publishing establishment, one has to admit: they want the authors to succeed. They have no stake in seeing you fail.

In my life before that, I had suffered some terrible defeats, and I had become too comfortable in the role of victim, too comfortable being mournful Louis, le Vampyre.

You could say art changed my life, that art imitates life, and then with me life came to imitate art.

I have read with some puzzlement your proclaimed enthusiasm for the film "Braveheart." I cannot see the attraction that it holds for you. As far as I am concerned the film is simply a variation on the standard revenge movie, having much in common with "Mad Max II" (where Mel pursues a troupe of diabolical bikies who have murdered his wife), the Charles Bronson "Death Wish" movies, or, for that matter, the "Lethal Weapon" series (damaged loner scarred by death of his wife -- mercifully not depicted in the film). The "freedom" theme which uneasily converges with Wallace's revenge motive does not really ring true, particularly in a historical setting where the sort of freedom which this version of Wallace was pursuing would have been unheard of.

Furthermore, I dislike films which seek to engage the emotions of the viewer by the crude depiction of violent/sexual aggression which, as far as I was concerned, was the driving force behind the film. Certainly such emotional engagement was unlikely to come from any other source, given the comic-book depth of the characters portrayed.

—Clive Scott

Well, Clive, my friend, I couldn't disagree with you more about the film "Braveheart," and I urge you to reconsider.

William Wallace was a real historic figure, and the death of his wife, his subsequent rebel successes and ultimate betrayal are all part of actual history. Gibson may have been attracted to it because of roles he played in the past, but he didn't invent William Wallace.

My research into the history of Scotland- - a total immersion when I was working on "Lasher" and "Taltos," both of which involve Scottish history -- left me with a deep sorrow for the tragedy of Scotland's slow disintegration under the English. I have Scotch blood in me. The Scots did fight repeatedly and bravely to get free of the English. The Highlanders held out for the longest time. The Scots still claim a kind of cultural independence and take matters of kilts and bagpipes (once outlawed) very seriously!

The treatment of the Scots by the English is a litany of horrors, right up through the 19th century when thousands of Highlanders were "cleared out" and forced to immigrate to America.

I felt Gibson accurately portrayed the character of the Scots -- fiercely Celtic and anti-English -- and also illuminated one of their many very dramatic and true stories.

I myself didn't see violent/sexual aggression as the "driving force behind the film" as you saw it. Not at all. I saw a much more profound concern on the part of Mel Gibson to portray true courage and heroism -- to dramatize skillfully the belligerent, brave, and always doomed attitude of the Scots towards their conquerors.

To me, the characters were hardly comic book. They were profoundly developed in a chain of scenes so well written in terms of dialogue and acting that a child could follow the story. Yet it was complex and compelling. I thought the evil of King Longshanks was beautifully delineated in a few powerful scenes; we saw in his behavior all the reasons for his endurance and his success.

The French queen's response to Wallace was deliciously romantic, but I found it not just probable, but inevitable, given the way the ground had been laid for it -- the Queen's obvious education and isolation.

The Scots and the French continued to be allies in the war against England for centuries to come, as you know, bringing on the downfall of Mary Queen of Scots and the fall of others who championed "Bonnie Prince Charlie," the last true Stuart contender for the Scottish throne.

Again, the movie seemed, like "Rob Roy," to capture the Celtic independence truthfully and beautifully. Both films also reflected the inevitable melancholy and gloom of the Celts -- the mournful suffering we hear in their music, whether Irish or Scottish -- which derives perhaps from centuries of maintaining their identity against a truly alien Anglo-Saxon culture. We see in Northern Ireland today the last fierce and terrible glare of that Celtic-Anglo battle.

In my opinion, Mel Gibson lived up to the challenge of the historical material magnificently. His portrayal of Wallace hit precisely the right note in creating a man who was reckless, brave, vengeful and idealistic.

The film had had an enormous effect on me and will continue to do so. I rate it as one of the most morally courageous films I've seen of late and I credit Gibson for that moral depth and for the film's scope.

So, Clive, I guess we just disagree.

As for "Death Wish," I recently did see an old VHS tape of it. It seemed terribly outdated, and gratuitously brutal as well as poorly done by today's more sophisticated production standards. But it hit a nerve with me. I understood Bronson. However, the film just isn't in the same league with "Braveheart."

Long ago, Aristotle listed the important ingredients for tragedy -- plot, character, and spectacle being three of them. To me, "Braveheart" fulfilled Aristotle's criteria. It was a great and magnificently realized tragic film with a transcendent ending. It did produce in me the very "pity and catharsis" which Aristotle demanded of a good drama.

When William Wallace saw the ghost or deliberately invoked image of his wife in the crowd around the execution block, when he cried "freedom," I felt that catharsis. I wish I had done that film. I wish Gibson would do my books. So, what can we say?

The singer Sting wrote a song about your Vampire stories and mentioned so on his CD cover. Can't remember the exact words, but it seems that he was affected by your writing. Have you two ever met to discuss your work?

—Eddie Ontiveros

Yes, Sting was very generous in mentioning "Interview with the Vampire" as the inspiration for his song "Moon over Bourbon Street." And he brought me many new readers with his generosity. But I have never met him. For years, he was the "contender" in Hollywood for the role of Lestat. Seems everybody wanted him for it. But as the years passed, things changed. I like Sting's music, I found him a very talented actor in the film in which I've seen him, but it seemed in the final analysis a bit cold for Lestat. Who knows? I don't even know if Sting still reads my work. I still listen to his music. I have spoken to people who have spoken to him about my work, but I'm far too shy to ever approach him and never will do so.

Religious themes have become more and more prevalent in both your characters and your plots. "Memnoch" (which was one of your greatest novels) simply launched that religious side of yours into the rest of your books. "Servant of the Bones" is obviously a very historical novel for you, and at the same time very expressive of what you believe. Is your next step dealing directly with God or some of his angels and saints? Or perhaps the Bible? There are so many more profound stories that could go beyond "Memnoch the Devil." Or better, maybe something to do with Scotland?

—Scott Robson

You hit it right on the head. Of the two books I'm working on, one returns to God and Biblical themes. I am obsessed with the last centuries before Christ and the first centuries after him, with the formation of Christianity and with the endurance of both Christianity and Judaism. I'm not finished by any means. My next book excited me tremendously, and it may bring condemnation from all sides, but I have to write it. Every night of my life, I read something of scripture, either the non-canonical books like "The Gospel of Thomas" or "The Book of Enoch" or the old King James approved version, or something to do Hebrew history. It's in my blood and brain.

As for your question as to whether I will deal with Scotland -- I have dealt with it in considerable detail in the Witching Hour trilogy and will continue to do so.

In "The Witching Hour," a birthdate and time is given for Rowen Mayfair. Being an amateur astrologer I couldn't pass up the opportunity to cast a chart for a fictional character and see if it made sense as a horoscope. Was this birthdate "borrowed" from someone you know, or was any sort of astrological research involved in the choice? Or did you just intuit it out of the humid New Orleans blue?

—Catherine Louise Scavuzzo

P.S. Beethoven was a triple Sagittarius, poor guy. No wonder he was helpless in the thrall of the Salamanders, the fire elementals that supposedly are present at the composer's side when passionate music is being created. (And fights picked with servants, publishers, sisters-in-law...) When you're in a non-Elvis mood, allow me to recommend a beautifully expressive reading of the "Waldstein," "Tempest" and "Les Adieux" sonatas -- Vol. 2 of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas by John O'Connor on Telarc and the old "low-fi" but eternal Rudolf Serkin Columbia recordings of the complete Concertos. Enjoy! (and thanks for living a courageously expressive and creative are an inspiration to me!)

My darling Catherine Louise. I have to confess to you that I don't remember Rowan Mayfair's birthdate, and alas, I do not have a copy of the novel in this cluttered room. Birthdates are, generally, very significant to me. I doubt I chose it without some purpose. But I can't give you a substantive answer to this one.

Thank you for your recommendation regarding Beethoven. I am working my way through everything the man ever composed. I'm obsessed with him, as my new 1997 novel, "Violin," will testify (though the novel is not about Beethoven.) As for astrology, I don't know too much about it, except that I do seem a classic Libra.

Anne Rice


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