Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Interview with a Penitent - Anne Rice

Christianity Today Magazine: "'I couldn't believe in the principles I was brought up with when thousands of people I met who were not Catholics were very good people," Rice says. "They were reading what they wanted to read, studying what they wanted to study. … I wanted to find out what existentialism was, but that had been forbidden to me as a Catholic. I lost my faith in God."

After her freshman year, Anne moved to San Francisco to work. In 1961, she married former Texas high school classmate Stan Rice, a poet and Methodist turned adamant atheist. Anne went back to school, getting her degree in political science at San Francisco State (she would eventually earn a master's degree in English). In 1966, Anne gave birth to Michele, nicknamed "Mouse." When she was four, Michele began to tire easily. The diagnosis: leukemia. Michele died before her sixth birthday in 1972.

How do you cope with the death of a child? Anne says she and Stan became "heavy, heavy social drinkers," who drowned their grief in alcohol. Anne began writing through her pain, expanding an earlier short story she'd written about vampires.

Her questions about life poured into her novel. How do you go on living when you are in despair, in darkness? What is the meaning of life? Is there a God? Do good and evil exist?

"I had a terrible sense of impotence over not saving my child. I was pouring out the pain of the loss of Michele and also the feelings of despair of a person who does not have faith in God," remembers Rice. "But I didn't know that this was what I was doing."

Her pain and questions became Interview with the Vampire, a dark book about immortal outsiders who can kill or give eternal life through blood. "A vampire is cast out in the darkness, but refuses to give up on meaning," Rice says. "I was groping through the darkness."

When she read Rice's manuscript, Victoria Wilson, then a new editor at Knopf, remembers "feeling my pulse quicken." "Anne was writing about good and evil," she says, "being on the outside and what that experience was like." Wilson bought the book, which enjoyed modest success.

Rice's next book, The Queen of the Damned (1988), brought her blockbuster status. Numerous books followed, many with themes from Rice's past. "Even though you may not know you are writing from your own life, you make certain choices," observes Wilson, now a vice president and senior editor at Knopf. "You can see what the writer is working out."

"I got my fears out in my books," Rice says.

In 1978, Anne and Stan gave birth to a son, Christopher. A year later, the couple quit drinking. In 1988, the family moved to New Orleans. Anne was now the toast of her hometown. She threw huge parties. Fans stood outside the gates of her Greek Revival townhouse waiting for autographs and pictures. Book sales soared. In a publicity stunt, Rice dressed as a bride and posed in a casket.

Now affluent, Anne added to an extensive collection of dolls and began new collections. Statues of the Catholic saints. Vestments. A library of Catholic books. Her former assistant, Amy Troxler, believes that Rice "still held a strong connection to her Catholic faith."

Public attention had its downside, and Rice admits she can be withdrawn. To complete her novels, Rice had to escape into her room, reading, thinking, writing, and meticulously researching.

In 1993, she says, she became interested in the first century and the Jewish people. Rice recounts, "I remember thinking, 'This doesn't make sense—how did the Jews survive? People don't survive these kinds of things! Their cities [were] smashed. What really happened at the beginning of Christianity?' "

She read obsessively: John A. T. Robinson, Augustine, D. A. Carson, Jacob Neusner, Luke Timothy Johnson, Craig L. Blomberg. Slowly, the historicity of the Resurrection became hard to deny. "Christianity achieved what it did," she says, "because Jesus rose from the dead."
Ok, then.

1 comment:

Mark Kodak said...

Very interesting. Curious about her new book, but the mere idea of guessing what Christ was like as a child seriously creeps me out.

Interesting Stuff