THE CHAT: Christopher Rice and Anne Rice

 

Christopher Rice. Oh, why not. He’s hot. He writes hot novels.

 

Anne Rice was born and raised in New Orleans but has spent most of her life in California where she received her Masters of Arts degree in English and Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and where she now lives in Palm Desert.   She is the author over thirty books, the latest being The Wolves of Midwinter.  Her first novel, Interview with the Vampire, was published in 1976 and is one of the bestselling books of all time.   Her Facebook page, where she regularly engages with her readers,  has over one million followers.

By the age of 30, Christopher Rice had published four New York Times bestselling thrillers, received a Lambda Literary Award and been declared one of People Magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive. His two novels of dark supernatural suspense, The Heavens Rise and The Vines, were both finalists for the Bram Stoker Award. He recently entered the erotic romance genre with three works in all new series called The Desire Exchange. They include The Flame, The Surrender Gate,  and Kiss the Flame. His debut novel, A Density of Souls, was published when the author was just 22 years old.  He lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts The Dinner Party with Eric Shaw Quinn.  It is an internet comedy/variety/talk show and more information about it and its schedule can be found at thedinnerpartyshow.com.

When I was the Editor-in-Chief of FourTwoNine magazine a few years ago, we eavesdropped on a telephone conversation between Christopher and his mom for our Family Issue.  

Christopher Rice and his mother, Anne Rice.

Christopher Rice: Hi Mom

Anne Rice: Well, hi Christopher.

CR: How are you doing today?

AR: Fine, how are you?

CR: I’m sorry to pull you away from Facebook and the People of the Page.

AR: Well, also a new book I’m writing. But that’s fine, I’m always happy to do this.

CR: Okay, good. Well, I’m very excited. As I told you already, I found out this morning that “The Heaven’s Rise” has been long-listed for the Bram Stoker Award for superior achievement in a novel, which is very exciting.

AR: That is very exciting, I’m very happy for you. I think that’s wonderful.

CR: Yes, thank you. So they’ve picked ten finalists which the general membership will now vote on to determine the final finalists. So, it’s actually called a preliminary ballot and then they put it out for a vote, then I think they’re going to narrow it down to five. So, we’ll see. It’s still an honor to be included on the preliminary ballot and it was an honor to have you read the book and support the book the way that you did.

AR: I love the book. I think you’re really writing a wonderful new kind of original horror story set in Louisiana that involves the mystery of Louisiana earth and history and climate in kind of an exciting way. You know, it’s interesting, the choices horror writers make with where they feel comfortable. Like Lovecraft felt comfortable in New England and wanted to bring almost an English gothic sense to New England when he wrote. And you going back to Louisiana and tapping into the swampland—this savage, menacing, yet unknown quality of just the very air in Louisiana, the dampness the earth, the mysterious earth, and all the bloody history—I find that wonderful and I know you’re doing that in your new book.

CR: Yes, I am. Well, thank you. I mean, some of it too—I don’t want to say it’s too conscious—I don’t want to do exactly what you’ve done. It’s more of a hard science thing with me I guess, and I guess there was a sense that you can’t replicate what your mother’s done in Louisiana, so I wasn’t going to go directly in the direction of magic and religion. But also, you guys didn’t really raise me in a highly religious background, so it wasn’t as influential a force on me as it probably was on you growing up there.

AR: That’s what we hoped—that it would not be a dark and suffocating force in your life with which you’d be wrestling forever, as I was. But, no, what you’re doing is wholly different from anything I’ve done. But, I love gothic horror that plays with scientific background information, even if it’s completely implausible on the surface of it. You know, it’s fun to see things… cosmologies have to have consistency and there has to be some scientific explanation that makes sense. Even Dracula really has that kind of feel to it when Van Helsing starts talking about the rules that govern the vampire, and how Dracula is just a baby developing as a monster and he’ll get worse and worse. So I love the fact that you took a scientific approach to the horror there. But you still made it into horror. No, you’re not talking about it coming from infernal regions or anything of that sort, but I don’t do that either in my work. So it’s, it’s… anyway, I’m excited by the fact that you do something so different from what I do that nobody would ever even know that we were related. And I love that.

CR: Right, absolutely. Well, you know, but, I always get asked which of your books was the most influential on me and I say it was probably the “Lives of the Mayfair Witches,” just because I was around for the part of your life that inspired those novels—the return to New Orleans and the house at 1239 First street, where we lived. I mean, that was our house that was the Mayfair house. And you did go sort of a scientific route there. You talked about the sort of molecular origins, I should say, of the spirit Lasher who was haunting all of the witches. So, you know, I shouldn’t say that you only do that as well, but I think it’s the great fun of working in this genre, is that you can look to what the sort of leading edge of scientific theory is on a topic and then you can make up the rest, right?

AR: Well, definitely, but I also go more in those books to what would be called new-age or spiritualism theories of the astral body, the soul hovering, re-entering, possession, things of that kind. And that, in a way, is meta-science, when I do it. And I don’t think you do that in your work. You stick more with absolute science. What happens in “Heaven’s Rise,” not to give anything away, is almost what you would call a mutation. A chemical, mutating.

CR: Right.

AR: And I love that too. I love to deal with the ideas of mutations, but again, I get into astral projection, and things that were developed by 19th century spiritualists to some extent. And I love mixing it all up, and trying to maintain scrupulous logic and consistency to it at the same time. I think people who love horror and speculative fiction and sci-fi have always had a great respect for coherence and the rules. And sometimes readers outside the genre don’t realize that. They say, “Well I don’t like your genre because anything can happen.” That’s not true. It’s not a genre in which anything can happen. We have very strict rules. You know, Star Trek fans would write in years ago and say, “Chekov hit the wrong button on the control panel. That wasn’t the warp speed button.” And, you know, they would make Roddenberry and the trekkies obey the rules, because they value consistency.

CR: Right, absolutely. Well, you know, I wanted…we had talked a little bit ago about how you made an effort to ensure religion was not a dominating force in my life. But art was. Art absolutely was and film was and books were, obviously. So, I wanted to ask you, what do you think were some of the most important movies that you exposed me to, deliberately? What were the movies that you wanted me to see when I was growing up?

AR: Oh my gosh, I… I thought more about the movies that I didn’t want to provide for you. But we would go up to the Castro Theater when you were still growing up in San Francisco and you got to see many great classic movies on the big screen. Like, you saw, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” I think on the big screen and you saw “Captain Courageous” with Spencer Tracy. You saw “Ivanhoe.” You saw movies that weren’t necessarily horror movies that were going to influence your writing directly. But they indirectly, I think, influenced everything. You saw those powerful movies. And, I remember, you were very little, and you were quite taken with “Ivanhoe,” with the high diction spoken in that film and with Liz Taylor’s beauty and so forth. And then I remember when you saw “The Wolf Man” on the big screen and it came to the end and you said, “ Short and boring.” You were only about five years old, you know, and I thought, “Woah.” I think the Old Woman Maleva was reciting, “May your past be thorny” and all that stuff at the last, and I was just totally hooked. And you said, “Short and boring.”

CR: Yeah. You know, some friends and I got together and watched the other night, which I remember going to see with you and Dad at the Castro, was “Rebecca.”

AR: Oh, yeah, “Rebecca.”


CR: Yeah and I remember the scene where she’s new to the house, the character who was never named, who was there to replace Rebecca…

AR: The second Mrs. de Winter.

CR: Yeah, the second Mrs. de Winter, she’s there, and the dog scuttles off as she enters the room and I leaned over to you and Dad and said, “Even the dog hates her.” And you guys cracked up.

AR: Yeah, you did, you did. And you know, “Rebecca” is a wonderful movie for influencing people. At least, I think so. I was very influenced by it as a writer. I’ve always been in love with the big house, the gothic secret in the big house, the way the house is a character. So, I think it’s wonderful that you were influenced, introduced to “Rebecca,” because it’s probably Hitchcock’s masterpiece when it comes to suspense and beautiful cinematography and perfect pacing and everything. It’s just wonderful. And it’s an archetypal theme, “Rebecca.” The innocent goes into the dark mystery and discovers that things are not what she assumes that they were. And yet, it works out, but does it work out well? No. And it had wonderful characters, of course, like Mrs. Danvers and the horrible house keeper, you know. Such an incredible antagonist. It was just great.

CR: Yeah, absolutely. Well, you know, we were talking about Dad. We were talking about his paintings in particular, which I think the magazine is going to try to use some of. And I don’t think he ever painted a portrait of all of us.

AR: Uh, well, he didn’t that I know of. He did do a big portrait of his brothers and sisters and his parents that we had, right, after his dad’s death? And he painted his dad in black and white and everyone else is in color. But you’re right; I don’t think he did the three of us. If he did, I’m blanking out on it.

CR: Yeah, I think he did individual portraits. I think he did one of me, and then one of you. But they weren’t portraits in that we sat for them. I think he used a lot of photographs in his work.

AR: He did.

CR: Yeah, and so, how many canvases did he leave us with? It’s something like 300 or…


AR: It’s well over 300. I think it’s maybe 350, something like that.

CR: Yeah, 350.

AR: But we have them all catalogued and we have them all stored and you have some in your apartment and I have some in my house. And his sisters all received gifts of his canvases and I think my editor bought one of his canvases. And she has that. But the bulk of them we have in storage.

CR: Right, the bulk of them. We’ve been debating for years what’s the appropriate, I don’t know, course of action with them. He wasn’t very active in the gallery world when he was alive, and it wasn’t necessary… He owned his own gallery in New Orleans for a while, but he didn’t sort of play the gallery game in New York and San Francisco and cities like that. So we have this treasure trove of material that’s all in storage now, with you, out in the desert. We’ve talked to museums in the past but nothings every really materialized or come together. But it’s an amazing body of work and it is, I’m not sure if people realize it, but when he retired from San Francisco State University, and we moved to New Orleans, he began painting every day, right? I think that’s a fair assessment.

AR: He did. I think he experienced almost an explosion of creativity. I walked into his studio there, which was in a back service quarter, and I couldn’t believe the canvases I saw that he had painted within a matter of days. And he was painting the banana trees in the backyard, the vines, the blue sky. He was painting the studio itself. These were huge canvases filled with detail and he just went crazy. It was wonderful to watch, and he really painted as much in the years before his death as many people do in a lifetime. He left a body of work that was really enormous and of course he produced one book of paintings with Knopf, publishing, co-publishing, with him, that contained his work. And we have many copies of that book. And he was, whenever the paintings were reproduced in any way, he would go down to the printer and observe the colors and make sure that everything was accurate. And it was really quite impressive, what he had achieved. I was the one who encouraged him not to sell his paintings. And he was told in the last few years that that might be  a mistake, that he would not be taken seriously in the gallery world until he actually sold. And he was pondering that. But he only sold to museums, and the New Orleans Museum of Art owns two of his paintings, and also one was purchased by the Ogden Museum of Louisiana Art. So, three of those paintings, or even more maybe, are in Louisiana in those permanent collections. And one painting is also at the Whitney in New York in their permanent collection. But I don’t know that it’s ever been exhibited. It’s a very wonderful painting called “Santa Visits the Manger,” and it shows Santa Claus with his sack and red suit standing at the birth of Christ.

CR: Yeah, you once called Dad a bible-belt atheist.

AR: Mmmhmm.

CR: He was devoted to atheism.

AR: He was as certain of it as bible-belt people can be of their Christian salvation.

CR: Yeah. And he once said to me, I asked him why he was an atheist, and he said, “Christopher I don’t want to have to convince anyone of atheism.  If you have anything within your head that’s open to the idea of a higher power, I’m going to let you have it, because I don’t want you to believe what I believe about the universe.”

AR: No. He would say that, but if you tried to talk to him about belief he would have come back at you with his ideas pretty quickly.

CR: Yeah, and I don’t think I ever did talk to him about belief.

AR: No, no I don’t think you ever did. I mean, you didn’t go through a twelve-year-old religious phase where you wanted to be a monk or a priest.

CR: Right.

AR: You were going to an episcopal prep school, but you somehow resisted the blandishments of high church Episcopalianism, and you didn’t go through that phase that some kids go through.

CR: No, I really didn’t. And the Episcopalianism was very light that I was exposed to. It was mostly about recycling and playing the guitar in church and things like that. It was never the sort of fire and brimstone…

AR: Oh, no no. Episcopalianism never is. It has deep Catholic roots and does believe in beautiful architecture, stained glass windows, very fine music, lessons in carol and ceremony, things like that—but it’s nothing like Calvinist Protestantism. No, nothing at all.

CR: And, you know, I’m thankful for that. Because I think I did enter adulthood without that baggage that a lot of people, particularly gay people who are subjected to a heavy religious background, have, for the rest of their lives, really.

AR: Yes.

CR: You know, I think that telling somebody else that they’re actually going to Hell, even if the belief is sincere, is a form of assault. It’s a form of verbal abuse.  And the fact that it is still used on children boggles my mind. And you never, never exposed me to that world or environment.

AR: I don’t think that a single night passes that I don’t think of Hell, as I close my eyes, and pray to a higher power that it does not exist, and that there are not people suffering for eternity in unspeakable agony in Hell. Because it was so inoculated into me as a child—as a Catholic child. I mean, I remember that at age eleven, as we prepared for confirmation, the Jesuit priest walked up and down the aisle between the pews, you know, telling us what it meant to be salted with fire. And I wish I had never been taught those things. You grow up distrusting the universe. You grow up in terror. You grow up believing that unspeakable things will happen to you after death if you do not walk a tight rope. And it can be absolutely crippling.

CR: And, you know, I don’t have it. You never exposed it to me.

AR: No, we never…

CR: It’s certainly a testament to your parenting. But also your ability to just transcend it in general. Some people can’t help but pass it on to their child if they’ve been, you know, warped in that way.

AR: Right, right.

CR: You weren’t warped by it, I think, is what I’m trying to say. Even though the thought enters your head before bed, you know, you weren’t going around telling everybody else that they’re going to hell too, which is how that idea spreads.

AR: No, I revolted against it early and late, but it does influence all my work.

CR: Right.

AR: Almost everybody in my novels lives with this cosmic terror and uncertainty. It almost always is there. Even rebellious characters, like Lestat, they live with it. You know, so…

CR: Yeah. Well, you know, one of the things that was the most difficult for me was recently, when you went back to the Church, people reflexively assumed that it meant you were becoming anti-gay. And they began expressing their condolences to me, in complete ignorance of what our acknowledged relationship actually was, and without any real address of your public statements on the issue, even when you did go back to the church. So, I have to say, as much as I think some of the more fundamentalists aspects of religion are dangerous and abusive, there is a sort of knee-jerk prejudice against it amongst secular people—that if your Mom believes that Jesus, if she believes in the miracle of resurrection, she’s clearly in line with every other hateful Christian who has a microphone in front of them.

AR: But I understand why they thought that way. And when I went back, I had no real grasp of how virulent the feelings of many Christians were against gay people. Catholics tend to be… we live in a world of beautiful ceremony and elegant theology and sometimes we don’t quite know what’s out there and the way it’s hate. Not that the Catholic Church itself can’t be hateful, it can. But it takes a different form. I mean, there we were in New Orleans where Mardi Gras is part of society there and it’s really a religious day, in many respects, and everybody gets up after reveling and costuming and dancing and drinking and parading in the French Quarter and wild costumes and goes to Church on Ash Wednesday to get ashes put on their forehead. And, you know, we don’t, we can be very clueless about the lack of tolerance in the rest of the country. And I went back to the Church while living in New Orleans. And the world is not New Orleans.

CR: No, it really isn’t. But certainly there’s that attitude that I grew up with among practicing Catholics that it didn’t feel like they lived under the thumb of the Vatican and they didn’t take everything the Vatican said incredibly seriously, and they did seem very free-spirited when I knew them. So I was shocked to see what you encountered when you went back to the Church and the dialogues you had with people just on the internet and the emails that you would receive.

AR: Oh, yeah. It was quite astonishing. But I better understand it now, I have to say. I have more of an understanding of what people suffered at the hands of organized religion. And when I did leave, finally, in 2010, when I just said “I am not a Christian, I am walking out of here, I quit, I quit being a Christian,” it was really in response to an enormous amount of sociological evil that I’d seen of Christians persecuting gay people, women…just unbelievable bias. And it was of course a deep theological break, but it was also, the pressure was on me to publically, politically and socially, break. I could not be called a Christian anymore.

CR: Right.


AR: And, by that time, I had really understood what people had endured and why they were so angry, so angry, when I had gone back to the Church. And some of them still are.

CR: Yeah, they are. Some of them still are. But, you know, I think the thing that’s happened since then is your Facebook community that you’ve built, which is where, I mean, you’re routinely making public condemnations of homophobia all over the world and, you know, I encounter more people now who say that their news source is your Facebook page than people who still claim to be angry about your religious experience.

AR: Yes, yes.

CR: So, I think that’s definitely, you know, a good thing. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s hard to have everybody reading your mother on Facebook. But, you know, it’s a good thing for the most part. I think that it’s part of what’s changing for writers, to maybe change gears a little bit. Like, we’re being asked to be more direct and engaged with our readers, in ways that…I don’t know. You were always doing this though. You always had a newsletter and you had a voicemail line where people who loved the books could call and leave you messages and you would talk back to them. You were always doing some version of social media before there was social media. But I remember when you just got a whole bunch of emails through your website that you didn’t necessarily have to respond to when some of them were lovely and some of them were hostile and mean. And I would just let them pile up. And now you go on Facebook and you have this direct response and your friends are in among your readers and it’s like the flattening of the audience and the world.

AR: Well, I’m enjoying it. I mean, you know, there’s something like 947,000 people on the page as of now. And of course, the regulars are a much lower number. But, we have wonderful discussions and wonderful things come out of those discussions and I very much like it. But, I don’t think I could have done it when I was younger. I couldn’t have taken the strife and the problems that come up. Now, I can, and I feel very secure and happy on the Page, and I learn a lot from them—the People of the Page. I really do. And I greatly appreciate their candor and don’t really try to edit, politically, what they say, or religiously, or anything. I do, every now and then, ban and block people, but only every really very violent, transgressive behavior. It’s been a great learning experience for me. And I also learn a lot from Amazon reviews of my work. I am one of the few authors that actually reads the reviews, at least once.

CR: Oh my god, I don’t know how you could do that. I can’t do that anymore.

AR: Well, actually, I don’t recommend it. I wouldn’t recommend any author go near Amazon.com. Don’t go near it. The Amazon forums are dominated by the worst anti-Author gangster bullies that you can imagine. You know, just, trolling for authors to persecute and denigrate and lecture and, so, don’t go near Amazon if you’re a writer. And the review system is so random that you can read things that will hurt you and block you for months. I mean, just, don’t go near it. But, I do go there, and I do read my reviews, and I read many wonderful, generous reviews everyday that teach me things. But again, I’m older now. You know, I can look at the hateful, contemptible review and see if for what it is, and I can appreciate the well-written negative review and value it and distinguish between the two. But it takes years to reach that point and again, my advice to any young author out there would be don’t go near it.

CR: Right, right. Absolutely. Yeah, you know, I have a weird relationship with reviews. I always say with every book that I’m not going to read them and then I usually do end up reading some of them and the bad ones will stay with me for several days. And sometimes they’ll come back and they’ll haunt me. But, you know, you do occasionally learn something. I learn something even from a bad review here and there—if the review is written from a point of view of reviewing the book and not reviewing me as a projection of who they think I am as a human being.

AR: Well, I think that’s true. I think, many times, they can point to things that you perhaps didn’t notice when you were writing. It depends. You have to learn how to read them and sift through them. They’re really written for other readers. They’re not written for us. And that has to be kept in mind. And it’s my experience that I learn the most from the very positive reviews simply because those are the people that got the book. And they will often include their criticisms, and their questions, in their review. Too many of the one-star and two-star reviews are simply reviews of people that didn’t get it or that it was never intended to be understood by. They don’t like the genre. They don’t like a werewolf because he eats endangered species, or something. Truly!

CR: I said recently that romance novelists don’t lose sleep when someone faults them for having a happy ending. Because they’re romance novelists, you know?

AR: Exactly.

CR: And I think it’s possible for writers to sort of commit to what it is they are really attempting to do and to dismiss criticism that faults them for attempting to do it. You see what I’m saying?

AR: Yeah.

CR: We’re very easy with that. We understand that around certain genres, you know? Somebody criticizes the genre that we write in…but I think we can be more specific than that when we commit to our stories and we can say, well, this person really just didn’t like me treating this character heroically, and that was my deliberate intention, so I’m going to live up to that and embrace it and dismiss people who fault me for doing it on the surface.

AR: Yes. I’ve written reviews for newspapers. I’ve written reviews for the “New York Times,” the “San Francisco Chronicle,” the “Washington Post,” and the “Bay Guardian.” And I have read the remarks of great reviewers, and they say, “Don’t review a book for what it never intended to be. Don’t review a book for what you wish it had been.” You review a book for what it’s attempting and what it’s accomplishing in light of that attempt.

CR: Right.

AR: And that’s very important. But, anyway, we were talking about relationship with readers and, whatever the case, I would much rather an Amazon review and a Facebook post to the old fashion review world, where you only had the opinion often of very alienated newspaper reviewers. And so, I think we’re living in a great age for writers being aware of who their audience is and how the audience feels and what the audience values about their work. And I frankly love it. I’m very grateful for it.

CR: Yeah, absolutely. Well, you know, getting back to Dad for a minute, and maybe we’re pretty close to wrapping up here, we’ve been talking for a good half hour—although I know you and I could go on all day. As a poet, his relationship to audience was completely different than ours. I mean, I guess it was more intimate because when he was really celebrated in the Bay Area, he was doing readings and he had literal, in-person engagement with his readers in a way that was, I don’t know, I don’t want to say smaller, but definitely more intimate and immediate. How did he deal with it? Because my success as a writer, I hate to say it, it really happened after he died. I mean, he was around and healthy for the publication of my first book, and I think my second, but he got very sick soon after my second book came out. So, some of these things that we’re talking about I never got the chance to talk to him about. I never got the chance to hear him look at them through the frame of his own experience. But…

AR: I think he was very…he was very levelheaded about reviews. He knew when he was being unfairly attacked and he would mention it, but he wouldn’t brood over it.

CR: Right.

AR: He moved on. As a young poet, and even after you were born, he did do readings in the Bay Area, and he got a terrific response from people. He was one of the most popular reading poets of his generation, really. I mean, he would bring audiences to applause, you know? Spontaneously, in the middle of the reading. And he was very good at it, and we had some YouTube films of him doing this. And he was just…absolutely great at that. And he loved the act of reading out loud. And I notice you like this. You’ve gone and read your short stories and chapters and your novels to live audiences. I hate it, but you love it, and I think you get that from him. But, I remember a couple of times him mentioning to me attack reviews that were just completely unfair. You know, like, some reviewers speculating as to whether he was jealous of his wife. And he knew that was something that should never appear in a review. And it was simply off the wall and that was the point. But I don’t recall him brooding over it. He would just note it and move on. And he knew when he was being targeted unfairly and he just had an open mind on all criticism and he… he was so inner-directed, and so strong, and had such a clear vision of what he wanted to write in his poetry, that I don’t think he was easily shaken by anything.

CR: Right. And there wasn’t really the expectation. Like, poetry has never been met with mass mainstream ecstatic approval. So it’s different when you’re setting out to put together a collection of poems as opposed to writing, let’s say, a high-genre novel. That, what you’re aiming for is going to be maybe a more intimate experience, but it’s going to be specific and it’s going to be a smaller audience. So, when you find yourself summarily dismissed by a critic, I guess maybe it’s less painful than if you’ve tried to write a story that could appeal to a huge swath of the reading public and people say something really mean and dismissive about it. I’m not saying that his reviews hurt any less when they did hurt. But, there’s something about just committing to being a poet in a universe of novelists and movie-makers that I think maybe steels you against some of that criticism?

AR: Well, I think you’re right, but I also think…this is what I think. I think anytime someone criticizes what you write, it can be extremely painful. It’s my experience that people don’t know what that pain is like until they’ve been through it themselves.

CR: Right, absolutely.

AR: Again, and again, they can give you real cavalier advice and just say, “well, you should grow a thick skin” or “why do you get upset about a review?” Then, they get criticized. On the interview they did with you. Or the article they wrote about you, and they’re up in arms. “Oh my God, did someone say that about ME?” And then they know what that pain is like—to hear another person state as fact that you are not what you want to be.

CR: Right.

AR: And, I think it hurts everybody. But, I think you’re right. Poetry critics happen to speak to a much smaller milieu of people and it never…well, he didn’t get bad reviews in the New York Times. He didn’t know what that was like.

CR: Well, I will say, one of the most painful experiences that I experienced with him was when he walked into Coliseum Books in New York City off of Columbus Circle. It’s not there anymore but it was one of the last independent bookstores in New York.

AR: I remember it, vividly.

CR: And he said to them—he didn’t identify himself—but he said to them, you know, “You have a poetry section. Are you ever going to carry the poetry of Stan Rice?” No, he said, “Do you have the poetry of Stan Rice?” And the answer from the guy was, “No, and we never will.”

AR: Yes, I remember.

CR: And, you can take it in a bunch of different ways, which is, you know, a grumbling poetry fan complaining about the failure of management to stock the poetry section.

AR: No, it was…

CR: But I think he took it in a more personal way. And he felt that, because… maybe it was because he was your husband?

AR: Well, that’s exactly what it was about.

CR: Yeah.

AR: It was them saying, “We won’t stock somebody like that, because it’s Stan Rice.” But that’s what I think it was about. But it was a gratuitously mean remark, and he was right to be hurt. And there’s just no excuse for that kind of thing. There’s just no excuse. I don’t know if you remember once, a network executive came to New Orleans, a network interviewer, and he was interviewing me for a show. And he started off the interview by saying, “How do you react when bookstores won’t carry your work? I went into a bookstore and I asked if they carried Anne Rice and they said no, they certainly did not.” And, I should have stopped the interview right there and I should have said, “Let’s call that bookstore.” Because, number one, I didn’t believe it…

CR: Oh, it’s just horseshit, yeah.

AR: My books were everywhere in the country. But it’s that perception that can hurt you. That clerk acted like he [Stan Rice] wasn’t fit to be in that bookstore, and that interviewer assumed there were bookstores that wouldn’t carry my work either. And that can be very painful. Very painful to hear that. And, you know, I don’t blame him for being hurt. He suffered a lot because his wife became an international best-selling author. And that wasn’t fair.

CR: Yeah, it was tough. I think a lot of that was so funny because people forgot that, you know, in the sixties and seventies in the Bay Area, he had been a very big deal. He had been one of the most…

AR: Yeah, he was respected right up to the end. I mean, Knopf published his work—and nobody can put a gun to the head of Alfred A. Knopf and say publish a book. It just doesn’t work. They don’t do it.

CR: Right.

AR: They, of their own free will, chose to publish it. And he had a very fine, very respected poetry editor. And his books came out from Knopf, and they were very well treated. And, you know, he was respected right to the very end of his career. And it was a very important point for him. He did not deserve to be treated like that, at all. And I search my soul for when I see myself reacting that way. You know, like, years ago somebody at a bookstore tried to get me to read a novel by Tabatha King. And they said, she’s really a wonderful writer. And I thought, Stephen King’s wife? How can that be? But, I mean, what a silly prejudice.

CR: Right.

AR: And the truth is, Tabatha is a marvelous writer. And Joe Hill is a marvelous writer. But our minds don’t want to think in those terms, you know? It was suspicious. You think, oh, well, Stephen is so big, my god, is Tabatha really a real writer?

CR: Well, the thing that I’ve always said about my own experience of getting published and not choosing to publish under a pseudonym, which is actually what Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son, did in the beginning—was that you become a target for a general frustration about nepotism that runs rampant in the publishing industry. And, I think that’s fair. Those feelings are valid that people have. But the form of nepotism that is the most insidious in publishing is far more common and has much more to do with old boys networks and Ivy League institutions and masters programs and people who are personally acquainted with people who end up working in publishing. And it’s all over the place. So, every now and then, there’s a high profile acquisition of a book from somebody related to somebody famous and that gets everybody sort of… amped in anger because the other forms of nepotism and collegiality make it so difficult to break in for so many writers. And I understand that, and I think it’s fair. But I think, ultimately, all we have is our writing. Right? I mean, Knopf chose to publish Dad’s poetry because of the quality of the poetry, in the end.

AR: That’s absolutely what happened there. They simply… and look, I can’t get my father’s novel published. “The Impulsive Imp.” And it’s a beautifully written book. It’s on Amazon…

CR: It is. It’s a children’s book, right? It is available on Amazon. Your sister put it together.

AR: Yeah, beautifully done. On Amazon, “The Impulsive Imp,” by Howard O’Brien. I can’t get a New York publisher to do it. If anything, I think it’s harder sometimes. I started sending out “The Impulsive Imp” blind, you know, thinking I might find a publisher for it. But as Anne Rice’s father, I can’t get my foot in the door. I can’t get anybody to read it.

CR: Interesting.

AR: So, that’s typical. So there is a reverse nepotism too. But, I think you’re right, that people have been frustrated for years with New York publishing, for many, many obvious reasons that have nothing to do with author’s and their children and husbands and wives and so forth. And that’s why they react the way they do, when they see a famous author’s wife or son or, you know, being published. And it’s fair. But, now we’re living in the great age of indie publishing, and everything is changing.

CR: Yeah, it really is. It is changing. Well, Mom, I know we can talk all day and you’re busy and I’m busy, but this has been fun.

AR: It was great, thank you guys very much.

CR: Absolutely.

  • Kevin Sessums is the author of two New York Times bestselling memoirs, Mississippi Sissy and I Left It on the Mountain.

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