Anne Rice's "Servant of the Bones" Diary

A child's garden of verses, a grown-up's history of S&M: Anne Rice answers her readers' questions

By Anne Rice

Published October 21, 1996 9:59AM (EDT)

I have an 18-month-old daughter. Someday I want her to be enriched by books that challenge and intrigue her mind. I want her to be able to choose her own path in life enriched by the legacy literature has to offer. Any ideas on books to start buying now so that she has access to a library that will offer her choices and challenge her imagination?

— Joan Spreitzer

Thank you for asking about books for your daughter. I think that the books we read early in life leave an indelible impression. When my son Christopher was little, I chose very beautifully illustrated books with what seemed to me meaningful stories. He moved rapidly into novels on his own at an early age.

One thing that had tremendous influence on me as a small child was poetry. My mother read poems to me from the same book over and over again. My sisters and I had our favorites. We know them by memory now. We have sought out old copies of the very books. My mother told me once that she read us the poetry to give us a sense of "rhythm." It worked, but the poems were also narratives. I loved the plots of the poems.

Your 18-month-old daughter will probably respond very strongly to poetry—to alliteration and to rhyme. Reciting, singing—all of this has immense value. As for the first books a person should read in life, I don't know. I was 14 when I discovered "Jane Eyre" and "Great Expectations," and they changed the course of my life forever.

Have you considered mixing the characters from your various series into one book? Say, Azriel with Lestat or Mona. Or Ramses with Marius. I think it would be lots of fun to see the interaction.

— Joseph Francis Morris

No, I will never mix Ramses, the Vampires or the Witches. The reason is simple. I have too many ideas about each series which need independent development. I feel no need to mix the characters. The Witching Trilogy is in a different musical key from the Vampire Chronicles. I see no mixture at all in the future, only a continuation of the Witching Trilogy and a continuation of the Vampire Mythology in short-form novels, which I hope will be rich, lyrical, dark and somewhat spare.

All your writing seems to celebrate the blessing of interconnectedness, your characters evolving within a rich tapestry of family and friends. Could you elaborate on this? Your friend, the late John Preston, is also a writer whose work I've read in my quest for understanding the thinness of skin between soul and body, the erotic as expressing our love, passionate creativity, and the gift of life. How has this friendship enriched your life?

— Karin Khan

P.S. Due to you, we saw "Restoration" and "Immortal Beloved" and were moved to joy and tears by these exquisite testaments to the beauty of the human soul.

John Preston was the best friend I ever had. We wrote to each other via fax three to four times a week and sometimes every day. We were in constant contact. He taught me a great deal about tolerance and patience. He was something of a heroic figure, especially when confronted with AIDS among his friends, and then with AIDS in himself. He died with a courage that is almost beyond my imagination. He is a role model for me. He is an inspiration. I have pictures of him in my room. I talk to him. But I feel strongly that he is some place so far beyond this world, that he should not be bothered by my words down here.

He was of course a true believer in the goodness of sex, just as I am. He never wavered in his convictions. As a member of the gay community, he was almost a saint—sitting at bedsides, holding the hands of the dying and then even in his own last days thinking always of those around him.

I suffer the loss of John Preston every day. It gets a little worse, knowing he's not there. But I believe firmly that he went straight into the light. He deserved that. He demanded work on his serious virtue from himself—kindness to others, continuous work on his serious essays, and on his erotica. I will hold to my heart forever our last and "final" conversation, in which he told me goodbye. I hope for that kind of courage when my time comes, for that kind of compassion for others. God, he was really something! I loved him and I love him.

Your work has been an inspiration to me ever since I read Lestat over 10 years ago. Since then, I have made my way through the rest of your books. My question is one which may seem critical, but is really meant as a thoughtful inquiry. One of the most moving aspects of your writing has been the quality of your prose. Its rich imagery and beautifully crafted structure are what I consider to be the most important elements. However, I have noticed that as you have become more prolific, your metaphors and imagery have become less a function of the quality of the prose than one of straightforward description. I don't know whether this is a misperception on my part, or something with which you are intentionally working. Is it the pressure of your contract? A flood of new ideas pressing to be explored? I wonder. I guess my question is: Are you concerned that the eloquence of message is being distilled by the more literal aspect of story?

— Paul Hamann

Your question about the development of my prose fascinates me. What I see and feel is constant improvement. In "Servant of the Bones" I could achieve something in Azriel's worldview that would have been impossible for me years ago.

In gaining skill, I have lost some lushness which came simply from a kind of gushing clumsiness. My contracts put no pressure. I write faster than my publisher can handle it, really. The pressure to get the books out comes from my soul, my feeling that I may die at any minute, that this is my vocation, to write. I do feel that different books have different emphases. In "Servant," I focused tightly on the character of Azriel, the old Brooklyn Rebbe and of Gregory Belkin. Perhaps this overshadowed the prose. I'm not sure. As early as "Cry To Heaven," my third novel, I was criticized for losing my lushness. On each book, I hear this from some readers ... "You aren't lush anymore." Yet new readers find a book like "Servant of the Bones" very lush. I don't know. I know in "The Witching Hour" I went into the style with a trancelike abandon. I breathed the colors of New Orleans, I breathed the fear of Rowan Mayfair. The book abounds in what seem to me to be very lush descriptions, yet others have said, No, that plot is dominant. I'm not a judge of it all, I suppose.

I suspect that stylish development will work in cycles. Now that I am again obsessed with Beethoven, Keats and Shakespeare, I suspect my new work will be stylistically more eccentric and dense. I have regained from Shakespeare my respect for purely irrational and illogical language. Perhaps it was time for that. But who knows?

Whatever the case, I treasure your sophisticated observations. Writing is so visceral for me, it is so spontaneous, it is so excessive and so painful and joyful simultaneously, that I don't think about style! I just go. All I can say is—whatever you're reading in my books is what I want you to read. How and why it is what it is, I don't know. Certainly, career and contracts have nothing to do with it. I have been rewarded for every twist and turn I've taken, for every departure, for every experiment, for every transgressive word I've written. It feels pretty damned good.

There is a question that has always intrigued me, and you, probably better than anyone, are in a position to respond, Anne. While S&M rituals have been with us as long as "normal" sexuality, from what history shows us, what would you say is the reason for their growing emergence and acceptance now? I find it interesting that the nations/cultures with the most overt display of S&M imagery in their popular culture (i.e. Germany, Japan, the U.S. and the U.K.) are the most industrialized nations on the planet. Do you think there's a connection?

— Iain Triffitt

I am baffled by S&M and always have been. We don't really know what it meant to the ancients because they didn't tell us. I am not aware of any new acceptance of it now. Fashion has played with S&M for 30 years, perhaps even longer. Films seldom deal with it in a way that displays any genius. They mix up literal violence or humor with sex that makes the whole idea of S&M interplay impossible. Once I scoured the history books for early mentions of pure S&M literature. It was frustrating.

Certainly, our changing attitudes towards procreation, our sexual freedom, our relaxed marriage and divorce laws—all these make it easier for us to delve more deeply into the great variety of sexual experience. Perhaps that it is what we are seeing—a flowering of sorts. But it's hard to know. Perhaps people in ancient times were just as kinky and never thought much about it.

One thing is obvious: S&M activity can be carried out with great satisfaction between consenting adults without the risk of AIDS or pregnancy. The rituals can replace the basic procreative coupling. Maybe it holds an attraction for us now simply because we are so afraid of AIDS and because we are no longer under intense pressure to continuously have children. I don't know.

Again, when I write, I don't question myself on it too deeply. I observe the S&M imagery that is rampant in rock videos and it fascinates me. But I'll tell you where I have seen the most blatant S&Mit is in classical ballet. Watching the New York City Ballet, you see real S&Mdances endlessly expressing a romance between the restrain and abandon, torture and pleasure, glorification of the body and denial of its needs.

That's all for now. I drift away, back to the Gospel of Mary or perhaps the Infancy Gospels—all those books thrown out by the early church. They are so full of the brilliantly fantastic.

My thanks and love.

Anne Rice

Anne Rice


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