Bats in the belfry, vampires in the auditorium

Jeanine Flaton-Buckley/Oak Leaf
Authors Anne Rice and Christopher Rice speaking about their latest books “Prince Lestat” and “The Vines,” respectively.

Devin Marshall, A&E Editor

Full audio recording, courtesy of Jeanine-Flaton Buckley:

Anne Rice does not believe in vampires. Despite this, she’s become a best-selling author of the Vampire Chronicles series.

Anne came to the Santa Rosa High School auditorium with her son Christopher Nov. 11. The event was set up through Copperfield’s for both authors to speak about their latest works, and then they continued on their separate book tours.

Anne debuted the next entry in her Vampire Chronicles series, “Prince Lestat,” while Christopher signed his newest supernatural thriller release “The Vines.” The two talked back and forth on stage, with Christopher offering up witty banter while Anne revealed some of the details of her early writing life.

The first topic was relevant to Sonoma County. Christopher recalled living somewhere in the area as a child, but details were foggy for him. “Mark West Creek, right?” Christopher said. “It felt like a gorge, but I was four, so everything felt like a gorge.”

Anne remembered some of these details and explained that the ancient vampire Maharet’s compound in the novel “Queen of the Damned” is based off of this house, which was small and surrounded by redwood trees. “I had a wonderful time there,” Anne said. “Sitting on a picnic table outside by that creek, listening to the water and trying to describe how many different voices of water there were in the creek. There were at least three.”

Christopher shared a story about that property that led him to start writing about the paranormal. The family drove home one night and saw an owl fly into a power line. “Because we were the family that we were, [Anne] suggested that it was possibly a screen memory of an alien abduction, which triggered a nervous breakdown in [her] early son.”

This was followed by Christopher’s segue toward his mother, “So I hear you write!” With the geographical topic was out of the way, it was time to get down to business and ask Anne the important questions. “Given that completely impromptu inspirited conversation we just had, I think it’s fun to talk about what you believe,” he said. “Do you believe in vampires?”

Her reply was almost immediate. “No! Did you think that I did believe in vampires?” She asked. “No, I do not believe in vampires and in 40 years of writing about vampires I have never met anybody who said he or she was a vampire. Now, I’ve gotten some emails from vampires. Like ‘You don’t know anything about us!’ et cetera, no argument there!”

The two delved straight into literary analysis from there. “What is significant, and I think what is lasting about your vampires is that it’s not like a religious institution where you have to have faith that they exist to appreciate the novels and the stories that you create; it’s what they represent,” Christopher said. “It’s what they stand for, the beauty of the outsider.”

Anne nodded. “They’re great metaphors, for the outcast, but I don’t think about that when I’m writing,” she said. “Any really good vampire story has to be a good story about human beings.”

Anne explained her roots as a beginning author, experimenting with realism and different prose. While attending college, she also had a young daughter to take care of and tried to reserve her evenings for writing, when she could just drink a couple of beers and start typing away. She added that while she doesn’t think people can write well drunk, her drinking did not end for a while. “That’s another story,” she said, – the “Interview with the Drunk” – and the audience erupted with laughter.

“What interested me was interviewing the vampire,” she said. “Putting him in a room with a reporter and having him really answer all these important questions.”

When she began writing, she found her answers. “Suddenly I was touching it. It was the most bizarre thing, because I was really dealing with almost a comic book character,” she said. Despite this, the gates opened for her. She later found out that many fantasy and sci-fi writers find their own reality by breaking into writing fantastical things.

Christopher explained how Anne’s novels helped to open up doors by using comical characters to ask serious and philosophical questions. “But you have to steel yourself that some people will say, ‘This is just a vampire novel. Who does she think she is?’” he said.

Anne agreed, but said “We need this prejudice today.” From the early days of her Vampire Chronicles series she was ridiculed by friends and told that she’d write something worthwhile someday.

“And what struck me is the same thing that strikes me now – the period in our literary history, when people have considered realism to be high art, is a very brief period,” she said. Anne cited gods, demons and other imaginary creatures populating literature for centuries. “It’s only around the mid-part of the 20th century that people began to think realism was the only legitimate way to write about life,” she said.

Though “Interview with the Vampire” is definitely a hit now, it did not do so well at first. She could not sell any copies in hardcover, due to genre fiction being ostracized. However, a publisher worked hard to sell it in paperback and then a motion picture was made, so she began to make headlines. It wasn’t until two years later that she became a hardcover success with “The Vampire Lestat.” That’s where the Vampire Chronicles started as a series in her mind.

About halfway in, they opened the talk up to questions from the audience. The first, which is surely a spoiler for those who haven’t read “Prince Lestat,” was “Did you bring Lestat back because the people of the [Facebook] page would not stop asking you to?” The audience laughed and cheered.

“Well you know, I don’t think that you can bring a character back because people ask you to; there has to be some other reason,” she said. “But it certainly helped that they kept asking me.” She also mentioned the possibility of bringing back her Mayfair Witches book series.

She said she associated Lestat and her Vampire Chronicles series with grief and depression for a time. “They were explorations of pain, and I wanted to go in a different direction,” she said. “I also ran out of things to say with Lestat for a while. But now, after this long break, bringing him back is a joy.”

A curious audience member asked about her typical writing day. She said that she writes in the morning or afternoon, and then ends in the early evening. “I usually follow Hemingway’s advice of knocking off while you still have a lot to say,” she said. For some titles however, like “Interview with the Vampire,” she made it a point to only write at night.

The mother-son pair now also has a movie deal with Universal, including handing over rights to each of the Vampire Chronicle books. Anne had Christopher write the script to pitch to them, but they would not accept until she stamped her name on it as well. She hopes it will not end as poorly as the last time she worked with a studio. “I’m going to tell them what the readers want, what the readers expect,” she said. “It’s very frightening to work with Hollywood. You don’t know what will happen.”

A sentimental moment was shared when Anne described how she’d share her drafts first with her late husband, but now entrusts Christopher with some of her manuscripts. He asked in turn if she’d be willing to read some of his works, except for his current project. “Today I released my first erotic novel, which you are never allowed to read!”

After leaving for San Francisco, Anne’s next stop was Canada.

For those who were not able to attend and get their book signed, Copperfield’s locations have extra copies of her latest signed book “Prince Lestat.”