Until recently, Anne Rice was the definitive contemporary vampire author. Her immortal creation Lestat was a blood-sucking archetype rivaled only by the original prince of darkness, Dracula. That was especially true after Tom Cruise's charismatic performance in the 1994 film adaptation of Rice's 1976 debut novel, Interview with the Vampire.
In 2004, after 12 novels, the best-selling author put a stake in her long-running "Vampire Chronicles." Since then, the pop-culture vision of vampires has morphed from her sensual gothic denizens of the night into the sparkling emo teenager of Twilight.
But vampires don't stay long in the ground. After 10 years in the wilderness, during which she wrote two novels based of the life of Jesus (2005's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and 2008's Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana) and dabbled in angel and werewolf lore, Rice returned to the brooding vampire in 2014 with Prince Lestat. An instant bestseller, the novel heralded new life for the undead Lestat — and a new chapter in Rice's literary life. On Tuesday, December 13, she visits Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe to sign copies of the second in her revived vampire chronicles, Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis, which hit stores on Tuesday, December 6.
In a recent interview with New Times, the 75-year-old Rice explains why she's resurrected her immortal antihero.
"Lestat had come back to me. The character had returned. I could hear his voice again, and I missed him, and missed the way I see the world when I write through his perspective and use his voice," she says. "Also I had many new questions myself for my vampires. I wanted to tell new stories with them reflecting all that I'd experienced in the last 10 years. Prince Lestat evolved out of all that."
The new novels are a literary reboot of sorts, with Rice re-examining the origins of her literary creations.
"This is where my passion for the legend of Atlantis comes to be fully integrated into the mythology of my vampires," she says. "Since the beginning of the series, I have been delving into the roots of the vampire in my cosmology. As readers know from recent books, it was a spirit, named Amel, that actually created the first vampire by fusing with a mortal Egyptian queen named Akasha. From Akasha came all other vampires. Well, this book goes deep into who Amel really is, into a life he might have had before he ever became a spirit. It was a great thrill for me to be able to pull all this together, and to offer my vision of the lost kingdom of Atlantis."
And maybe there is a bit of bringing the traditional gothic vampire back from the dead, as it were.
"The best I can say is I wanted to return to my tribe of the Undead," she says. "And vampires for me always have been heroes. I marvel at the ingenuity of other American writers of the supernatural and delight in their work, but I still feel most at home with my gang, with their velvet and lace, their gold jewelry and hemmed rings, and their European accents, and deep roots in ancient Egyptian history."
While Rice may not cast aspersions at a certain Valley author's undead creations, she was indirectly inspired by Twilight in a kinkier way. In 2015, she revived her pen name A.N. Roquelaure for Beauty's Kingdom, the fourth novel in her "Sleeping Beauty" series of S&M erotica.
"Yes, it was Fifty Shades of Grey that prompted my return, because there was a demand. I was pleased to see that S&M fantasies had indeed become more mainstream, more acceptable," says Rice.
After the criticisms that 50 Shades received from members of the BDSM community about its unrealistic portrayal of their lifestyle, Rice wanted to make sure that the novel was respectful to their beliefs and practices.
"For me, writing an absolutely authentic S&M erotica was paramount. Too much erotica is written by those who don't' share the fantasy. I wanted to offer something relatively pure for those who share the fantasy," she says. "I enjoyed very much revisiting the whole psychology of the S&M fantasy."
Rice also continues to lend her voice to causes like gay and women's rights through social media. She bristles at the idea that artists and celebrities should keep quiet about controversial issues.
"I've always been a political activist and very open about my causes and concerns. There's a long tradition in America for artists and writers and actors and actresses supporting human rights, civil rights, participating in the political arena. I see nothing at all wrong with this. It's intensely American. Now and then, people are offended, and they do in fact actually say, 'shut up and write.' I thank them for offering their opinion, but I see no reason at all to honor it"
And while she did swear off online politics during the heat of the recent presidential race ("the discussions became too heated"), she has some words for those looking towards the artistic landscape of the next four years.
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"I do think we may be in store for a very exciting time in the arts. In the past, when we have had conservative presidents, artists, poets, movie makers, novelists have flourished in rebellion against those presidents. During the Eisenhower era for instance we got the Beat Generation and the marvelous works of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg and other Beat writers. Then, during the years of the Vietnam War, we also saw the arts flourish. It will be that way now," she says.
"We will see poets, writers, movie makers doing remarkable things to express their strong opposition to the values of the new conservative administration. It will be good."
Anne Rice visits Changing Hands Tempe at 6 p.m. Tuesday, December 13, with her son, Christopher Rice. Tickets are required for the signing line and are free with purchase of Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis for $28.95.