Anne Rice was born in New Orleans as Howard Allen O’Brien (the Howard came from her father), but she spontaneously renamed herself Anne when a nun asked her name at school. Her father worked all over the United States for the postal service, and Rice did not meet him until she was four years old. Her mother was an alcoholic who died of complications from the disease when Rice was fifteen. “’It was from alcoholism,” says Rice. “As a matter of fact, I think she swallowed her tongue.”
Rice always felt odd and like she didn’t belong at school and blamed that on the secret life she had to live as a child. “I never felt at home with other kids,” she says. “I felt like at any time I could make mistakes and be exposed as weird. I guess my mother’s drinking marked me out in my own eyes—the fact that it was a huge secret, and I couldn’t tell anyone, and you never knew how she’d be when you got home.”
Rice used writing as a form of therapy after she lost her daughter Michelle to leukemia when she was only five. “It was a nightmare,” says Rice, and she and her husband turned to alcohol to cope with the loss. “I was nothing and nobody. I had no prestige. I wasn’t a mother. I was a bad wife—I never cleaned house. I was no good at anything.”
During that dark time, Rice revisited an old story she had written about a vampire named Louis from the eighteenth century who was now living in New Orleans. Something about the character and setting clicked into place for her. “Suddenly, when I was in the skin of Louis, when I was in this cartoon character—he really was a cartoon vampire with a cape and black clothes and bare white skin—when I slipped into this seemingly unreal thing and looked through his eyes, I could make my whole world real,” says Rice. “He was able to say, ‘Let me tell you about New Orleans, this was our world,’ and I could write about all the beauty. Even the most fictional stuff in there was somehow out of my real world. It fell into place and was coherent.”
This story turned into her best-selling first novel Interview with the Vampire. Rice says about the experience, “I didn’t know it at the time, but it was all about my daughter, the loss of her and the need to go on living when faith is shattered. The lights do come back on, no matter how dark it seems, and I’m sensitive now, more than ever, to the beauty of the world—and more resigned to living with cosmic uncertainty.”
But in order to do that, first Rice had to kill off her darling. Claudia, a child vampire and stand-in for Michelle, had a different ending in Rice’s first draft. But her editor at Knopf pushed for a stronger ending, and Rice realized while revising “that Claudia had really been meant to die at the end of Interview the way Michelle had died.”
When she cheated on Claudia’s death originally, Rice says she started having a nervous breakdown and her mind knew that wasn’t the correct ending. She says, “I almost died myself and went kind of crazy. I saw germs on everything and washed my hands fifty times and really cracked up. If somebody is meant to die and you don’t do it, you’re really risking your well-being at the end of the book.”
Two years after Interview with the Vampire was published, Rice gave birth to her son, Christopher, and she and her husband stopped drinking entirely. Instead, she focused on her writing career.
Rice has no definite writing process. She prefers now to write in the late morning, but when she penned Interview with the Vampire, she wrote at night—sometimes not starting until 1:00 a.m. “I have never had any one hard and fast method. No storyboard, no. But I do think a lot before ‘plunging,’ and do work out a crude road map of sorts, but I revise constantly, moving back and forth in the growing draft as I work, and sometimes throw out great chunks of material and start over when I feel I should,” says Rice. “But I have written whole books with no real plan—just a concept or a character—at the beginning. There’s just no hard and fast rule at all. Whatever works, whatever causes the prose to flow, the characters to begin talking and walking, whatever makes a world slowly form all around the characters.”
Rice does like to work in pink-and-blue flannel nightgowns—what she considers her work clothes—and has a closet full of them because “they shrink and get rough after you wash them a few times.”
“I think what’s important is that you write what’s really, really intense and what gives you the greatest thrill,” says Rice. “All I know is that the supernatural gives me that intensity whether I’m reading it or writing it. I just find it the most powerful means that I have for writing about real life.”
Using vampires, Rice feels she was able to explore more what it means to be human. “Here you have a monster with a soul that’s immortal, yet in a biological body. It’s a metaphor for us, as it’s very difficult to realize that we are going to die, and day to day we have to think and move as though we are immortal,” says Rice. “A vampire like Lestat in Interview…is perfect for that because he transcends time—yet he can be destroyed, go mad and suffer; it’s intensely about the human dilemma.”
Lestat, the bad boy vampire character who defies the rules of the vampire community, may be Rice’s most beloved character, and she does have a soft spot for her creation. “I loved being Lestat more than anything in the world,” she says.