Kiel Phegley spoke with best-selling author Anne Rice about “The Wolf Gift,” the writer’s upcoming novel which explores her take on the legend of werewolves. The author describes the creative process she goes through when approaching a new subject, where her influences come from and the importance of setting in her stories.
Rice also delves into her religious background which has changed dramatically over the last several years as she’s explored her status as a Christian in public. She explains how she is extremely proud of the books she’s written on Jesus Christ as they “embody all the love” and faith she herself feels for Jesus, and she discusses briefly the upcoming adaptation of “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” which will be directed by Chris Columbus.
Check out the full interview and complete transcript below!
CBR TV: I wanted to start talking with you today about “The Wolf Gift” which is your upcoming book, which seems to catch onto the zeitgeist that has been — there’s been a lot of werewolf fiction over the past two years in particular. Was there something that clicked with that genre or that trope that made you after doing so many years of different kinds of fantasy and horror stuff come to that?
Anne Rice: It was really more wanting to return to the classic monsters. You know, I’m aware there are werewolves in “True Blood” and “Twilight” and all over the place — in “Underworld” — but it was really more me wanting to go back to those monsters and try to do something in my style with the werewolf. Make a hero who was experiencing the metamorphosis who could tell us about it, who was conscious the whole time, who didn’t lose his personality in the transformation and who wasn’t really a shapeshifter so much as he was a physical entity that becomes a man-wolf and then changes back.
It’s interesting because so many of the other classic monsters have a real literary legacy behind them and there have definitely been stories about things like werewolves, but what we consider the classic werewolf really comes from movies more than anything else. Does that change how you approach or what you draw on when you write a book?
Well, not really. I mean, when I wrote “Interview with the Vampire,” I was drawing on the movies. I hadn’t read “Dracula” and I was drawing on a movie I saw when I was a kid called “Dracula’s Daughter,” a black-and-white film in which the Countess Dracula was this very sensitive artist who was fighting with the terrible, dreadful vampiric affliction and I saw that when I was a little kid and that gave me the idea that vampires could be tortured, doomed, sensitive people and I took that writing to “Interview with the Vampire” and wrote a book, really, that I couldn’t find in the library. So, really going back to Lon Cheney, Jr, tearing through the mist-shrouded forests of England was kind of what I was doing here and tried to take what I liked out of the movie monster mythology and make something new.
The book takes place in San Francisco and I know that setting has been so important to so many of your books. What was it about that city that matched this character and this genre?
You know, I can’t really answer that. When I started writing it, I could have set it a number of different places. It just struck me that that was the perfect place. I had lived in the Bay Area for 30 years and I knew Mirror Woods and the Wine Country and the northern forests and Mendocino County. I knew all that territory really, really well and it just seemed to me it would be a perfect place to explore the idea. My man-wolf would have time to go off into the forest and to just be an animal in places like Mirror Woods and Mendocino. It kind of developed, I didn’t really consciously — I wasn’t consciously aware when I started of how much material there was going to be built into that landscape. I sort of discovered it as I went along. I went back to the places I knew from early adulthood like Mirror Woods and thought, “Yeah, that’s the perfect place for him to go” and I know that place, it just lives in my mind. We went there so often when we were in college, so often. All of these things sort of developed together. That happens to me when I write a book. I don’t really sit down and map it out and think the setting would be good. I kind of explore, I go into the book and find what works. Sometimes, I find the settings just as I’m going along and I’ll stop and I’ll go research that setting and I’ll revise what I’m doing, but it’s all a piece — it’s a journey, for me anyway.
Switching topics a little bit, I wanted to talk about your journey you’ve been going through over the past several years with your faith and with Catholicism and that — it’s been very — I’m trying to find the words to say — heartening for me to have watched you in the press discuss all these things because sometimes I feel like there’s not even a continuum for discussion about religion. It’s always there’s one side that says whoever’s on the pulpit says is 100% right and the other side says whoever believes something is 100% crazy. What have you gotten out of — obviously, this has been a really personal thing for you in discussing your own faith, but what have you gotten out of the discussion that’s been born out of you taking this public and discussing it with so many people?
Well, I’m learning things every day. I think anybody’s life is going to be a spiritual journey if they want it to be and certainly my life is. I learn new things every day. I learned during 12 years as a Christian that I didn’t belong with Christians, that I just didn’t belong with them. It was my attempt to be a member of something. I mean, it can be looked at in that way, and it certainly was a sincere attempt and it was based on faith and it was based on love of God, but I didn’t belong. I’ve gone back to writing about the outcasts and the outsiders and I think I can talk more about God and the devil or good and evil or the search for meaning — I can do that better in fiction that’s about vampires and mummies and werewolves than I could really in religious fiction. At the same time, I’m very proud of the two books I did on Jesus Christ and they really embody all the love I felt and all the faith I felt in the character of Christ, but Christ himself was an outsider. In those books, he’s very much an outsider.
It’s interesting because — I hear this a lot, I’m 30 now and a lot of people in my age group are saying, “You get to the point when you’re supposed to be an adult and now I will know this is what I’m supposed to do, this is what it’s like” and it’s not like that at all. It’s strange how rare we see discussions of those kinds of ideas in fiction. Everybody thinks you become an adult and years later, there’s a midlife crisis or something like that and that’s all there is. What have you been hearing from readers that discovered your books discovering this? Do you find it’s a wide range of ages as well coming to your material?
Yeah, I do. I do have readers of all ages, I really do. There’s no question. In fact, every day, I learn more about young readers — people who started reading my stuff when they were — somebody came up to me yesterday and said, “I started reading you when I was seven years old.” That may be the record holder. A lot of kids a 9, 10, 11 are reading my books and that’s an amazing discovery. Now, because I’ve been publishing for so long, I have really older people coming to my signings, too. In the beginning, that was not so. There was a cutoff of about 50, 55. But now there are very old people often coming. I love that. I absolutely, absolutely love it. My readers have never been an organized group of people. There’s no consensus amongst my readers as to what I do best or what are the best books I’ve done. They argue about this all the time.
I can go on — if I want to, I can go onto Amazon.com and read nothing but bad reviews of “Interview with the Vampire” or “Vampire Lestat” or “The Witching Hour” — there are people saying, “This is the worst book ever published!” “This woman should be stopped,” “She doesn’t know how to write” — that can be a very sobering thing to be reminded that all through your career, people have called you names and said bad things about you, but it’s also a bit unsettling when you don’t see any consensus there at all. One reader will say, “Memnoch The Devil” is her greatest book another one will say, “She’ll never top ‘Interview with the Vampire'” and someone will say “Well, ‘The Wolf Gift’ is the best one she’s ever done.” It just goes on and on.
In general, I think they’re very sensitive to the spiritual question of writing. I think frankly, speculative fiction readers, sci-fi readers, horror readers have always cared about that in fiction. They’ve never wanted a fiction that’s just action-packed and devoid of that. They love those moments when the comic book hero stops and meditates on the meaning of everything. That’s what it’s all about. I remember the first time I did a science fiction book signing years and years ago, I thought, “Boy, these people really care about the content of this book!” They’re talking about the philosophy of “Interview with the Vampire,” they’re throwing names around like Nietzche — I had never read Nietzche, but they were asking me all these questions and I thought, “This is great.” Anyway, I see that a lot amongst my readers. They care about it. The one thing I really find discouraging is to be dismissed as a Christian reader. “The Wolf Gift” is not a Christian book. It’s not an attempt to write a Christian book. Sometimes, people dismiss it out of hand and say it is because the hero talks about good and evil — but the hero’s not a Christian. He’s talking about the same questions of good and evil that obsess all people in this world. You don’t have to be Christian to care about that. You can be Buddhist, Hindu, Native American, Indian — I mean, you can be from any background and care about good and evil. If the hero doesn’t care about the moral ramifications of tearing people to pieces when he’s a man-wolf, he’s not going to be very interesting to me.
Last question I wanted to ask to wrap all this up — recently, we learned that Chris Columbus and his team are working on an adaptation of “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.” That is — obviously when a book comes out like that and obviously discussions around a book, even when it is very respectful of the Christ story, there’s one level of discussion and it seems like when a movie gets made, there’s going to be another crazy huge level. Do you feel prepared for that after all the other books you’ve written and everything else that’s happened and whatever happens with that?
Well, “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” is really, really well-researched. It’s a solid biblical novel. It’s Jesus according to the Bible. It’s, of course, my radical attempt to present him as a child and to get into his head and talk about his thoughts as he realizes he’s God and man and also puts the knowledge away from himself so he can grow in wisdom and stature as scripture tells us he did. I think that as we go forward with that movie — their script, by the way, is completely faithful to the book and is completely biblically correct. I think with that, we can put aside a lot of the doubts of many Christians maybe who want to come to see the movie, mainly with the Christian audience wants to know is that you aren’t playing fast and loose with Jesus, that it’s going to be the Jesus they believe in and recognize. They can certainly know that with that book and I think with this movie.
I read the script and I thought it was just amazing. Cyrus and Betsy Nowrasteh wrote it and it’s completely solid. There’s nothing in there that’s going to offend anybody, really. I think that’s — now, certain members of the audience may be outraged by me. I’m the outrageous, controversial Anne Rice that left organized religion — but nevertheless, that book is a solid embodiment of my love for and my faith in Jesus. There’s no question about that. If there is some kind of controversy, I think we’ll come out on the winning side of that controversy.
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