Anne Rice is the bestselling author of Interview with the Vampire and the other books in the Vampire Chronicles series, as well as The Witching Hour and the Mayfair Witches series and dozens of other novels. After a period where she focused on writing religious fiction, her latest novel is a return to traditional horror, The Wolf Gift.
This interview first appeared on Wired.com’s The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, which is hosted by John Joseph Adams and David Barr Kirtley. Visit geeksguideshow.com to listen to the entire interview and the rest of the show, in which the hosts discuss various geeky topics.
Your new novel, The Wolf Gift, is about werewolves. What made you want to write a book about these creatures?
Actually, somebody suggested the idea to me, and it was at a very good time. I was working on a novel about Atlantis, and it wasn’t working, and I was very bogged down, and I really wanted something new to do. A friend of mine, an e-mail buddy, Jeff Eastin, who is the producer of the TV show White Collar, he just happened to write me an e-mail and say he had seen a documentary on werewolf legends and fiction, and that if I ever wanted to tackle that subject, he would really be there to buy the book.
And for some reason that struck home with me. I thought, “Why don’t I try that? Why don’t I try that for the first time, really give that a go, and see if I can do it in my own special way?” And I began to think about it, and within a matter of months I had the novel The Wolf Gift. It was just a wonderful turn in the road for me. I’m very grateful to Jeff. I have recently asked him if he had any other bright ideas he’d like me to tackle.
The story opens with your protagonist, Reuben, visiting a mansion called Nideck Point, which is very vividly described. How did you come up with all the details about the house?
That house is really a dream house, and it’s based on all the big houses that I have had the privilege to own and renovate in the last 15 or 20 years. I’ve lived in a series of absolutely wonderful houses, in New Orleans mainly, but also a very big, beautiful old house in Oakland before I ever went south. I don’t live in a house like that now. I live in a small writer’s retreat, and the idea is to keep things simple here. But I started to write about Nideck Point, and I just started to create a house out of all those houses that I’ve known and loved and experienced in intimate ways. And for me that house is really a character in the novel.
Most stories make being a werewolf seem like a curse, but this book really presents it as something pretty attractive. Why did you decide to take that approach?
Well, I’ve done that with vampires, and I’ve done that to some extent with witches, and with the mummy, tried to turn the whole thing around and say, “What if this was really enticing and sensuous and wonderful, and not at all the way it has been presented in the past?” So I really just carried that through with werewolves too. I mean, my vampires Lestat and Louis and Armand, they look more like angels than the feral Dracula. And they’re not repulsive like Dracula, they’re very seductive and beautiful. To me that added to the drama, to the tragic dilemma of the vampire, that immortality in the form of a vampire gave him so much power, and so many gifts, and so much charm and glamour.
I felt I wanted to explore the same idea with The Wolf Gift. You know, there had to be a seductive side to the power, of feeling yourself gain strength, and your muscles get stronger and your limbs get longer and your whole body becomes invulnerable with a soft wonderful coat of hair. And you get fangs and you get claws and you are able to really destroy your enemies without much thought. And I thought, “That’s got to be seductive. That’s got to be great.” These are all decisions authors make. Clearly, for example, the person who made the movie The Howling—or American Werewolf in London, in particular—decided to make the transformation painful. But I just didn’t see that it had to be painful. And I wanted to explore it in another way.
And another thing too that I noticed in all the werewolf films that I watched—clearly the transformation into a werewolf in particular is a metaphor for adolescence and the sexual transformation of a child. You have a basically neuter-gender person who’s on an equal footing with all other neuter-gender people, and then suddenly adolescence comes and one child turns into a woman, another child turns into a man, both experience sexuality, and sexuality really turns their world upside down. I mean, it certainly did for me as a teenager. It destroyed everything and made possible a whole different life.
And I felt that clearly the werewolf myth has been explored like that. You can see it in Ginger Snaps, you can see it in almost any werewolf movie. That really intrigued me. I wanted to explore the seductive side of that, to take a young man who didn’t have a lot of personal confidence, who was very much looked down on by those around him, didn’t take him seriously, really sort of sneered at him, and see what it felt like for that young man to gain this power, this unique ability to be a man-wolf and to live a certain powerful and secretive life that really put him quite far away from those who had denigrated him and had contempt for him.
In many ways this story resembles a classic superhero story, with Reuben fighting crime and keeping his identity secret. Do you see The Wolf Gift as an example of a superhero story?
Oh yeah, very much so. I like that idea. I wanted to explore that idea. I love graphic novels, I love superhero stories, I love all of it. I was in the front row of the first Superman movie, to see what they were going to do with that, you know, humanizing Clark Kent and Superman. And I wanted very much to do that, and it felt authentic to me. If I changed into a werewolf in San Francisco in 2011, I might go out and kill bad people too, especially if I was conscious, and my hero is conscious. He’s still Reuben when he becomes a wolf. He doesn’t just black out and go tear people to pieces at random, like Lon Chaney Jr., for example, or Benecio Del Toro in the remake of The Wolfman. He’s conscious, so he goes after the bad guys, yeah.
A number of your works have been adapted into comics, and it looks like there’s a few new ones coming out—adaptations of Interview with the Vampire and Servant of the Bones. Can you tell us about those?
Well, IDW did Servant of the Bones, and I think they did a great job. They were very faithful to the book. I liked their art. They got the darkness of it, and I really liked that adaptation. I really do. And I would love to work with IDW on other books.
I haven’t seen the Yen Interview With the Vampire yet. They’ve done it from Claudia’s point of view. They negotiated with us to get the right to do that, to make a real adaptation, another dramatic adaptation by doing Claudia’s view of the story of Interview With the Vampire, and I’m curious as to how that will work.
I think that’s quite a legitimate thing to do, and I was happy giving them the license to do that, and what I’ve seen of their art is gorgeous. It tends to be more representational and less abstract than some graphic novel art, and that’s really what I like in graphic novel art. I like representational, fully proportioned human beings and intricate detail and so forth, so I have high hopes for that Yen adaptation.
I’d love to see a lot more of my work go into graphic novels. I hope The Wolf Gift will go into a graphic novel. I’ve always loved the form. I loved it when I was a kid.
It’s interesting in The Wolf Gift how you have Reuben acquiring fiction and movies about werewolves as he’s trying to puzzle out his condition. How did you decide which werewolf books and movies you’d have him come across?
I mentioned the movies I liked and stories I liked, but there wasn’t a whole lot of material there. There is a finite end to werewolf movies. And of course he likes Beauty and the Beast by Cocteau, just as I do, but he finds it disturbing to see the beast walking around as a beast in beautiful velvet clothes and speaking, because that most resembles what Reuben is in the book. He doesn’t wear clothes, no, but he speaks, and he can make love, and can think and reason, and even sing and dance, as a man-wolf, and drive a car and use his iPod.
In particular Reuben finds that some of the names associated with Nideck Point are drawn from French short stories about werewolves. Are those real stories?
Yeah, those stories I reference are real. “The Man Wolf” is a real story by two French authors, and they do speak of a “Nideck” in there. That’s in the public domain, it’s an old story. And I thought it would be interesting that—you know, we don’t want to give spoilers in this interview—but I was playing with the idea that immortals in time would have to have some way before the internet to signal each other, and that one way they might use is by taking names that would cue to other werewolves that they were werewolves. If they wanted to meet others, and get together with others, they could take a name that was like a code name, and so some of the people in this novel do that, they take names from classic werewolf stories in order to signal each other. I didn’t really get into their motives so much in the novel. I could do that in a sequel.
The book takes a very scientific approach to werewolves, and Reuben tries to puzzle everything out in terms of the science involved. Did you do any sort of scientific research into wolves or biology in order to write those parts of the book?
I did, but one of the things I had to deal with, first off, was that DNA would be a real problem for a werewolf, unless there was some reason why his DNA couldn’t be obtained. And so without a spoiler here, I want to say that was something I had to work on. What would the DNA of Reuben in man-wolf form be like? Would it be partially animal and partially human, and what were the differences? And I do mention some of the differences, like the saliva that they first detect indicates animal saliva, because animals do have different enzymes in their saliva from what we have. Dogs do, wolves do. And I feel like the story’s better if you’re dealing with those constraints, if you’re theorizing that the change, for example, is probably hormonal, because hormones do actually regulate our growth—how tall we get, when we get pubic hair, when we get hair under our arms, when a man gets a beard, when his voice drops. All this is hormonal, and the schedule is influenced by hormones, so I really loved playing with that idea that Rueben’s transformation was hormonal, but nevertheless there’s a lot about it that he can’t figure out, and neither can the other people in the story.
I don’t have a scientific mind and I can’t retain the knowledge very easily, but I love studying the science of ghosts, the science behind near-death experiences, all of this. And I love trying to include some science in here. Because people today are naturally going to deal with this. I think any supernatural hero today, whether he’s a vampire, werewolf, a resuscitated mummy, whatever he is, is going to have to deal with the fact that scientists are going to want to catch him and study him. His big enemy is not going to be Dr. Van Helsing today, it’s going to be the doctor who wants to put him in a lab and get his blood for what it can do to cure disease or grant immortality.
What resources do you find most helpful for the science behind ghosts and near-death experiences and things like that?
Well, there are some wonderful books, and there have been for years, on near-death experiences. I read those all the time. I wish I had the authors’ names at my fingertips, but I don’t. But people have done a number of scientific studies to try to verify that when people go out of body in a near-death experience, they really are going out of body. There is no natural explanation for what they’re able to see and hear. They’re comatose, or clinically dead on an operating table, or in a morgue, and yet they’re traveling out of body and they see things that they can report later.
I just read an interesting case by a doctor in Arizona about a woman who was not only dead but her body was entirely drained of blood. She was in a phenobarbital coma, I believe, and she was being operated on, and yet she managed to hear and see and retain knowledge about people in the operating room. Many doctors went to that hospital where she had been, in Arizona, and studied the records. And they said there just is no physical explanation of how this woman could have known the faces and names of people in that operating room, and have heard them talking about things.
There are many cases like that, actually, that are very, very well-documented, and yet you have these critics out in the public arena saying the near-death experience is just imagined, or it’s really caused by pheromones, or the brain is filled with endorphins and chemicals. Those explanations don’t cover it. There are too many mysterious cases. And with regard to ghosts, with me it’s a lot of conjecture.
I’m trying to figure out what it is people see when they see a ghost. We’ve got piles of testimony from the world over that people see ghosts, that they see spirits. And it would be foolish, I think, to dismiss all that testimony. They see something. So I’m asking myself, what is it that they see? Are they seeing a subtle body that’s made up of cells that are not like the cells we’re made up of? And does that mean those cells maybe evolved before our cells evolved? I mean, I love studying it. I love trying to understand it, and I love reading books on the origin of life, and how we’ve discovered forms of life we never dreamed of in thermal vents in the ocean. All of this fascinates me, and inspires me a lot.
Do you think you might ever just write a flat-out science fiction novel with aliens and spaceships and things like that?
Oh yeah, I’m working up to it. I want to do that. I love all speculative fiction. I really do. I love the classic gothic monsters the most—the vampire, the ghost, the witch, the mummy, the werewolf. I love those the most. I grew up on those black-and-white movies at the neighborhood show with Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff. Dracula’s Daughter was the vampire movie that I saw. I didn’t see Bela Lugosi, he was a little bit too early for me. I saw him later, on the TV late show when I was a young adult. I love that the most.
But I also love really great science fiction, and I grew up reading really great science fiction. It had just come into its own as a genre in the ’40s and the ’50s. I remember my sister was an avid reader—Alice Borchardt. She was also a novelist, and wrote a number of werewolf novels, actually. Alice used to check out the science fiction books all the time from the library, and though I couldn’t keep up with her reading, I heard her talking about Robert Heinlein and Richard Matheson and all the different authors, and I read a lot of those anthologies of short stories in the fifties. And as the years passed, many of those stories turned up as Twilight Zone episodes, and they turned up on other TV shows—The Outer Limits, shows like that. And I recognized those stories and remembered them.
I just ordered all Richard Matheson‘s short stories because I wanted to revisit a lot of that material. I mean, his story “The Dress of White Silk” is about a little vampire talking in the first person, a child vampire. I heard that story when I was maybe a 10-year-old or 11-year-old child, and I’m sure a seminal seed was planted there that later resulted in me writing Interview With the Vampire, with the child vampire Claudia, so I owe Richard Matheson a lot.
The Wolf Gift is very much set in the present day and there are frequent references to iPhones and iPads. Are you the sort of person who keeps up on all the latest technology?
I keep up on some of it. I’m kind of slow. I come from the pre-internet generation, and it’s hard for me, but I use an iPhone and an iPad, and I use a computer, and I have a Facebook page with 595,000 people on it, and I post on that page every day—a lot, as a matter of fact. And I certainly do tons of research on the internet. But I’m not up on every single thing that comes down the pike. I’m a writer, and I principally use what a writer can use, and I’m really happy writing on my G5 Macintosh computer with a 30-inch monitor. I’m not one of those people who can carry a little laptop around and write a whole novel on a tiny keyboard in a cafe. I’m not that flexible. Not yet, anyway.
Speaking of Facebook, how would you say social media has affected your life and your career?
Well, I think it’s wonderful. I went on Facebook a few years ago, at the suggestion actually of the publicist at Knopf. She said, “You might want to get a Facebook page.” And I did, and then I got what’s called a “fan page,” where you can have an unlimited number of people participating on your page. And for me it’s been absolutely wonderful, because I have always loved my readership, and I’ve always loved hearing from them, and hearing what they think about the books, and Facebook gives me the ideal way to do this. I can go on the page and ask a question like: “Which of my books do you like the most and why? Which didn’t you like and why?” And I get 1,000 posts, and I get wonderful, inspiring answers. I feel very close to the people that I interact with, and I like answering their questions too. I answer maybe 10, 20, 30, 40 questions a day on Facebook.
In addition to your writing, you also post about current events. What sort of response do you get from people to that?
Well, there’s a lot of controversy on my page. I have very strong views on things. I’m an admitted Democrat, I’m an admitted liberal, I’m an admitted progressive. I support the Democratic Party because I believe in the two-party system, and we only have two, and I post a lot on those things, and there’s a lot of argument and a lot of dissension. I think the most controversial posts that I put up there have to do with organized religion and why I left it, and why I believe in separation of church and state, and how concerned I am about the attacks on the separation of church and state. And we do have religious people coming on the page and blazing away, calling me everything from “demonic” to “dark” to “full of hate and poison” for criticizing their religion.
But we have great discussions. On Easter Sunday, I congratulated the gays of the world on having come so far in their civil rights revolution, and I said, “You have really risen from centuries of oppression, and Happy Easter.” Well, boy, did that ever cause a storm. I mean, we had people flying on the page like banshees, or furies, saying, “How dare you use a Christian holiday to express good wishes to gays.” Well, we had quite an argument, and it’s still going on. People are still coming on the page and volunteering comments on this, even though the threads have now sort of gone down the page and been buried.
But the majority of what we talk about really is fiction, television, and poetry. Our critics may not believe that, but it really is what we talk about. They say, “All you ever do is post against religion.” Well, that’s really not true. I talk a lot about this being the Golden Age for fantasy fiction and fantasy film. I’ve never seen anything like it in my lifetime.
Television right now is so rich with not only fantasy drama but costume drama, historical drama—which is very similar in a lot of ways. I mean, Game of Thrones is just fabulous. I’m a great fan of that. I’ve got the books. I’m going to read them. I’m totally into the HBO series, and I’ve never seen speculative fantasies, supernatural fantasy, all of this, I’ve never seen it done with such high production values, such great actors, and such great scriptwriters and directors. You know, we always had some good fantasy films, but this is really a great time in our history.
Your son Christopher is a novelist, and he’s also gay and writes for The Advocate. Were you always this supportive toward gay rights, or did having Christopher as your son affect your attitudes at all?
He had no effect whatsoever, because I was always completely supportive of gays. I mean, from the time I got common sense in my early twenties. I was always very attracted to gay people and the gay aesthetic, if there is really a separate gay aesthetic. I found that I had a lot in common with them, and that I responded the same way to movies and musicals and singers and novels as they did. I had more in common with them than I had often with straight people.
I admired their sensual dimension, and their frankness about it. And when I wrote Interview With the Vampire, I didn’t really intend for it to be a gay allegory, but it was considered a gay allegory, and some of the best reviews of it that were ever written were by gay people who saw it as a gay allegory, and that was before Christopher was ever born, and I was very honored by all that. In fact, I would say the gays probably kept Interview With the Vampire alive, on the backlist, when it might have died otherwise. I think a lot of it was their enthusiasm for the book. It had kind of an underground life there for a while, and then when I wrote The Vampire Lestat, gay readers were among the first to embrace that book.
You mentioned that you’ve had some frustration in recent years toward organized religion and moved away from it. Could you talk about how that happened?
Well, it’s such a vast subject. The bottom line of it was I returned to the Catholic Church in 1998 in the midst of a conversion, and I thought everything would be fine, everything would work out. I was happy to be believing in God again. I was happy to be feeling that, to know that experience, and I still believe in God at this moment. But during the 12 years that I was a Catholic and a Christian, and a Christian writer, I really studied the belief system. I studied its foundational documents, the evolution of its doctrines, why it taught different things that troubled me, and things that didn’t trouble me, and I studied its history and its influence and activities in the present time. And I had to leave it.
I left it because I felt ultimately it was a very dishonest and dishonorable belief system, that it was founded on contradictions and absurdities and out-and-out lies, and that the vast majority of Christians, as far as I could see, really didn’t know their own religion, didn’t know its history, didn’t really know its foundational documents, and did not want to talk about it critically in any way, and yet these same people would come into the public arena in America and spend millions of dollars to try to prevent gay people from getting same-sex marriage in the state of California. And I was pretty disgusted by the whole thing.
I came away believing that I didn’t know at all whether religion was a good thing. I’m not sure I can say it is a good thing or that it’s done more good than evil. I think maybe it’s done more evil than good. And I think the search for God, the honest search for God, led me completely away from religion.
There’s a scene in The Wolf Gift where Reuben is staring up at the stars and musing about the nature of God, and his ruminations there almost seem to be a cosmic pantheism or something. Did any of that reflect your own feelings?
Oh yeah, very much so, and you can imagine my shock when people said that it was “Christian” and that they didn’t like it. I thought, “What? Are you kidding me?” The hero never utters a Christian word in the entire book. He has no Christian beliefs at all. And yet they’re saying this, apparently, because I was once a Christian.
One of the characters in The Wolf Gift, Reuben’s brother, is a Catholic priest. Why did you decide to include him in the story?
Reuben goes to see Jim and tells him what’s happening because he can bind Jim with the seal of the confessional. Jim is the one friend he can turn to who cannot tell anybody what Reuben has to say. He can’t tell anyone Reuben is the man-wolf. Anybody else would become an accessory after the fact to the murders that Reuben has committed, but Reuben can tell Jim and bind him with that seal, and Jim can’t tell anyone and could never be held accountable for not telling anyone. So that’s what was driving that part of the plot for me.
Reuben had a need to talk to somebody about this, and I also thought a Catholic priest was going to be an interesting person to talk about it morally. And frankly a supernatural hero that doesn’t have a moral concern about ripping people to shreds isn’t very interesting to me. If anything there’s much, much more religious talk in my vampire novels than there is in The Wolf Gift, because these questions of right and wrong have always galvanized me in my work. You know, as the novel goes on, The Wolf Gift separates Reuben from the rest of his family. He remains in contact with them in the novel, and they are a problem. He loves them and needs them, but they are also a problem. He can’t tell them what’s going down. There’s no way he can put that responsibility on any member of his family other than Jim.
There were some comments online where people were saying that they thought that Reuben felt a little bit harder to identify with because he comes from a privileged background. What did you think about that?
I was totally amazed when I read that. I mean, these are the same people who accept the fact that Louis in Interview With the Vampire is a plantation owner, Lestat is a French aristocrat, Armand has wealth, they all have wealth. I’ve never written about anybody that didn’t have wealth. And the Mayfair Witches, they’re multibillionaires. The vampires have tons of gold. And somehow these people didn’t like Reuben because he had a trust fund. I was amazed.
It would have made it kind of hard if he were working three jobs and had a family. Then if he turns into a werewolf, people are going to notice.
Absolutely. I would have become so bogged down in the economic realities of hiding his condition, I wouldn’t have known where to begin. I mean, it was very natural to me to deal with a person who was gifted and empowered, and clear some obstacles out of his path so he could deal with his transformation. But I’ll tell you, I think it’s this: I think these readers find it hard to take a contemporary character who’s rich. They can take a historical character—somebody riding around in a carriage dressed in velvet. But they’re just finding it very, very hard to deal with it in contemporary times. I mean, we’ve always had a terrible bias in American Literature against rich people. High literature in America for years has been middle class almost to the point of dowdiness. It’s obsessed with the problems of the middle class. And people who write about the rich have never had an easy time of it in American literature, unless there’s a lot of irony and criticism in their work.
Supernatural monsters like vampires, werewolves, and witches are often associated with demonic forces, which doesn’t seem to be the case in this book. Is that something you were going for?
Definitely. Even in the vampire novels, they’re not demonic. They can’t find any Devil to take orders from. They’re on this planet trying to puzzle this out just like the rest of us. And that’s why I think the vampire is such a powerful metaphor for the outcast in all of us. You know, if he’s got all the answers, if he sees the Devil, if he responds magically to garlic and crosses, well, that’s not as interesting to me as a vampire going around asking questions and trying to find answers just like we do . . . and the same with Reuben.
And one thing that was really fun for me in working with Reuben is Reuben isn’t as tortured as my vampires. I think this is one reason why some of my readers are just not liking The Wolf Gift as much as they like The Vampire Chronicles, because they like that torture. But I wanted something else. I wanted a more optimistic, strong, affirmative hero this time, who doesn’t say he’s damned, you know? Who says, “I want to find out what this is about, and what the evolutionary history is behind this—where we came from, why we do this, and what are the risks here?” I was really ready for that, some affirmation. I mean, I’ve done the regretful vampire to death in 12 books.
Do you think you’re going to write any more stories about werewolves?
Oh yeah, I want to go on with Reuben. I want to explore some other mythologies and questions and really get into all kinds of problems. I don’t know if a book is going to be a series until I’m finished with the book. I have to see what happens in my mind afterward. And I have so many things I want to do with Reuben and the other characters that I’m pretty sure this will be a series.
Are there plans to turn any more of your stories or novels into movies?
Well, The Tale of the Body Thief, with Lestat, has been optioned by Imagine, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s company. And they’re working on it, they’re developing a script right now for a new Lestat movie. And I hope they’ll be moving to a studio soon for backing and begin talking about casting in some serious way. The Wolf Gift is prompting a lot of interest and a lot of discussions, and there are meetings scheduled I think this very day in Hollywood, so maybe I’ll hear something good on that later today. I don’t know. You know, these talks can go on for years. I mean, it’s been how long since the last movie based on my Vampire Chronicles? And it’s exhausting. It takes so much time. It’s never been rapid fire for me. My works are, I think, a little too hard to interpret.
Are there any new or upcoming projects that you’d like to mention?
No, just that I’m going to go right on writing. The next novel won’t be about Reuben, but there will be a novel right after that that will be about Reuben and the wolf. But it’s too early for me to talk about my next book. It might fall apart. If I talk too much about these books and then they don’t work out, you know, I’ll wish I hadn’t. But it’s a supernatural novel, and it’s about the classic monsters, and I’m deep into it already.
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