Thursday, October 4, 2012

Happy Birthday, Anne Rice

The Queen of the Vampires turns seventy-one today and of course I believe she deserves a blog post here to commemorate it. She did change my life with her words, after all. My first experience with Anne came in the form of Interview with the Vampire...the movie. I was seven the first time I saw it and I was absolutely amazed. No one told me vampires could be like that. I was madly in love with Lestat, I related to Claudia, and I went around the house drinking cherry Juicy Juice out of a wine glass for a month or more because it looked like blood. I watched the movie every chance I got from that point on. And I always wondered about the woman who spoke at the beginning of the original film. I don't know if anyone remembers that introduction but Anne had on her black dress, her hair was black, and she was sitting in this ornate room (I think it was in her house in New Orleans). Who was she? And what was it like to be inside her mind?

      Fast forward five years. My great-grandmother gave me twenty dollars completely out of the blue. It was the first and last time she ever gave me money (we were not close the way I was with my grandmother's mom) and I tried to give it back because I didn't feel right taking it. But she insisted and she said something along the lines of, "Do something special with it." That evening I went to Kroger's with my grandmother and I had that money in my pocket. I planned to blow it on candy bars and Dr. Pepper until I found myself in the book and magazine aisle. There was the book Interview with the Vampire alongside The Vampire Lestat and The Queen of the Damned. I had seen the movie to Interview with the Vampire and it was Lestat that I loved. So I figured I would know enough from the movie to know what was going on if I bought his tale. I spent a week that summer (1999) reading the words of our beloved Brat Prince, completely absorbed in it even though there were parts I didn't understand. 

      I still have that book. It is lovingly held together with a rubber band now just like the copy of Interview with the Vampire that Lestat reads at the beginning of The Vampire Lestat. One day I will have to replace it. It's been through hell. But I will never ever part with it. Because that hot steamy week in my room with the words of Anne Rice gave me direction. I always knew I wanted to be a writer (well, since the third grade) and I knew I wanted to write novels but I had no idea what I would write novels about. From that book I got my inspiration. Vampires. Not Dracula-style vampires. Not cheesy dorks with black and red capes who slept upside down. Hell no. Vampires with souls, vampires with hearts, vampires who had to deal with eternity in the dark...and feeding off the blood of the living. I started writing my first "book" two months later. It's terrible. I mean, really terrible. If I ever decide to have that thing published it will have to have a completely overhaul. Same goes for the second book I started a year later. But they were a start. A good start considering I was only twelve. And without them, without The Vampire Lestat, without Anne...I don't know that I would be here now querying agents for two books while writing what is technically my fifth. My vampire version of Beauty and the Beast. 

      I will never compete with Anne, published or unpublished. I will never reach her greatness. She has the sort of writing style that Stephen King has. They can write ANYTHING and keep readers enthralled. I don't have that. But even if the day came when each vampire novel I wrote went to number one (and that, by the way, is highly unlikely indeed) I wouldn't want to compete with her. There is only ONE Queen of the Vampires. There is only one Anne Rice. And no one will ever replace her and what she gave to vampire fiction with her work. You cannot top a pioneer. Frankly, any good vampire writer that will grace the literary world from here on out (yes, that definitely excludes Stephanie Meyers, my friends) will only be building upon the foundation she laid out almost four decades ago with Interview with the Vampire. 

Anne had an unusual life from the moment she was born. Her birth name is not Anne at all but Howard Allen O'Brien. Yes, she was named after her father. No, she was not born a man. But she was one of four girls and there were no sons. Even though she isn't the youngest, her mother must have had a premonition. At the tender age of six Anne renamed herself (headstrong much?) and I suppose that was the beginning of her journey as the woman we know and love today. Anne started querying agents before she hit high wayyyy before. Her first queries were written in long hand and sent out with short stories. Her mother died when she was quite young after a battle with alcoholism that touched Anne's early years in many ways. Anyone who has read Violin can see the biographical touch that was added to it and you can see the effect that her early years had on her. Eventually she borrowed money from her sister Alice and she left her beloved New Orleans. She married her high school sweetheart, Stan Rice, and they moved to Berkeley, California where he became a teacher at the university there. They had a little girl, Michelle, and the young family was like any other happy little family at the time for a while. And then the unthinkable happened.

At six years old Michelle Rice was diagnosed with Leukemia. Anne and Stan both started drinking heavily to deal with their daughter's illness as she slipped away and when she passed away, Anne did what many parents do in that situation. She lost her mind for a little while. From this Interview with the Vampire was really born. It started out as a short story but when she started working on it a few years after Michelle's death, it turned into her place to get it all out. Lestat was Stan, Louis was Anne, and Claudia was the child they had lost...immortal forever on the page. Writers would understand this, I think. Writing is how we deal. Writing is how we work out life. It's our therapy. In Anne's case, her therapy changed her life completely. At first she couldn't get anyone in the literary world to take Interview so she said that she actually thought about binding it herself and selling it on street corners. But an agent eventually grabbed it up. And the rest, as they say, is history....

Anne has had her share of heartbreak, losing Stan almost ten years ago to a brain tumor shortly after he was diagnosed with it. Her son, Christopher, has followed in his mom's footsteps and he has become a literary force in his own right. Her life, like most, has been a series of ups and downs but through it all Anne always found her way on the page. The way that she has overcome challenges is as inspiring as her work. She remains upbeat, she keeps in touch with fans every day on facebook, and she is always down to earth. She is an inspiration. So here's to many many more birthdays for the amazing woman who has touched so many. We love you!

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