I had the great pleasure yesterday of talking with author Anne Rice via telephone about her new novel The Wolf Gift. While our conversation was brief, I was struck by how open the author was about her work and her personal experiences. Anyone who has read her supernatural fiction knows that the big questions really matter to her characters: the existence of God, the nature of good and evil, life and death. These same concerns are shared by their creator. Rice, like her werewolf protagonist Reuben, or his literary kin the vampire Lestat, is a seeker of revelatory truths.
Why did you choose to write about werewolves? What brought you back to supernatural fiction?
I was already planning to return to supernatural fiction, but was yearning to do something really new. I was going through all of my old books and looking at the different series and so forth, and about this time I got a wonderful email from Jeff Eastin, the creator of White Collar. Jeff is sort of an email buddy of mine; a friend. We’ve never met, but I know him by email. He said that he had happened to see a documentary on werewolves in literature and legend, and that if I ever tackled that he would buy the books. Lots of books – buckets of hardcovers! It was just a casual suggestion, but for some reason it hit me at the right time. I thought, “What if I were to do that? What if I were to tackle the werewolf mythology?” I’ve never done it before, and about thirty minutes later the novel was done. It was just one of those fortuitous things where he said something that proved to be very inspiring to me.
Then this was initially a treatment for a television show expanded into a novel?
Yes, it was. I hammered out a treatment of about forty pages and sent it off to my agent. He was quite positive about it, so then I thought “Why not take this further?”It was very alive for me, but once I started to write the novel everything changed. The treatment was obsolete in about three pages. Writing a novel is so different from writing a television treatment. I had to really get deep into the character of Reuben. I put him on the California coast, and then one thing after another happened. I do write very spontaneously and very instinctively: I trust a lot to the way things go, and the characters do really come to life on the page – the old cliche is true – and if it doesn’t happen then I stop writing the book. It did happen with this, and I was off and running pretty quick.
Much like your vampire fiction, there’s a werewolf origin story here that is rooted in the past, right?
Yes. I don’t want to spoil it for people by giving it too much away, but I do have an origin story and a mythology there, and yes, it does harken back to ancient times. Very ancient times!
You tackle a lot of existential issues in your fiction. What is the appeal for you in using supernatural entities to explore these?
For me, they just prove to be extremely intense ways of talking about who we are. I don’t think that authors really choose what they’re comfortable with. It’s a mystery why one person writes westerns, another writes detective novels, another writes science fiction and another writes pedestrian realism. I mean, we don’t know. You find a doorway. You find the doorway to your experience and you go through that doorway. That’s really what it’s like. I stumbled onto the idea of writing about a vampire. It was just a whim. I had no idea that a door was going to open and I was going to be able to touch, for the first time in my life, my experiences, my feelings and my greatest concerns, but that was exactly what happened.
As far as your own spirituality goes, do you feel that knowledge of the divine has to come through personal experience, or do you feel that it can be approached through formal religion? I ask because it seems like a lot of your characters have this kind of supernatural experience from which they slowly draw their own conclusions.
I don’t know that I believe in any rules about it anymore. My faith in God is very strong; my fear that there is no God is strong. I’m very suspicious of any kind of of organized religion, and that’s about all that I can say. In my own life, talking to God and praying to God is very important. It’s an intense and sometimes frightening experience. I think that life for me from the very beginning has been a quest and that I’ve gone through different phases of that quest. I’ve had very rich, very wonderful experiences as a Catholic growing up and then returning to the Catholic Church – all of that was quite wonderful – but I’m now at a position where I’m very suspicious of all religions and all attempts to flatter or control the deity with language, whether it’s ornate ritual or the formula of taking Jesus as your savior. I guess that where I stand right now is that I want to open myself completely to knowing what God wants me to know about what I do and who I am.
While I was doing a little bit of my own research in werewolf mythology, I ran across an account of a man named Thiess who was tried as a werewolf in 1692. He testified that werewolves were the “Hounds of God”, warriors who protected Christians from the devil and his minions. Something about that reminded me of your character Reuben and his story. I don’t want to give away too much here, but there’s something about his experience with the supernatural that is different from that of Lestat or Louis. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Well, I’d like to look that up because that’s very interesting. I don’t know why I didn’t find that when I did my research! What interests me always with the supernatural hero – the vampire, the mummy, the witch or whatever I’m writing about – is the capacity of that person for goodness and to be a true hero or heroine. My whole effort has always been to look into the heart of that person who is perceived to be evil by others and see if I can find where that person is really being quite extraordinarily wonderful. That’s a metaphor to me about what all of us have within us: the capacity for goodness and to be heroes or heroines. That’s certainly what interested me about Reuben. I wanted him to be a werewolf with a conscience. He stays completely conscious when he goes through the transformation to a beast. He becomes a man-wolf, and not only does he retain his personality and his sense of right and wrong, but he also can talk in that state. He’s completely rational. He’s capable of photographing himself as a werewolf and pondering himself in that state the next day when the transformation is over. That’s where I had to go with it to make it interesting for me.
Would the Anne Rice of thirty or forty years ago understood where you are now with this particular supernatural character?
Oh, yes! For sure. I think I can go back in my mind thirty five years and say that if I had found a book like The Wolf Gift I would have loved it! There wasn’t anything around then like it.
Is there any talk now about turning The Wolf Gift into a television show of some sort?
Yes, there’s a lot of interest. My agents at CAA handle that, and they’re getting quite a bit of interest, and that’s wonderfully encouraging. And who knows? I’m dreaming, but maybe it would be Matt Bomer from White Collar. He was the actor who inspired me in describing Reuben physically, and that was the actor I heard when I was writing Reuben’s words and hearing them in my head.
If I could jump back to the Vampire Chronicles for just a moment, what do you think about all the “fledglings” your series created? It seems like you have vampire children everywhere.
I don’t know if they are my children, but I do think it’s wonderful that vampire fiction has now really entered the mainstream and it’s not something marginal that people have to hunt down and find. I love seeing this popularity for imaginative fantasy. I really love it! I particular love Charlene Harris and her books about Sookie Stackhouse, and all of the humor in the True Blood series on HBO. I think that there’s tremendous creativity there, tremendous energy, and tremendous satire, wit and humor. I really, really love it. I’m not surprised that kids are going crazy over The Vampire Diaries and Twilight because the vampire is a tremendously fascinating mythical character.