Z.J. CZUPOR’S MYSTERY MINUTE

by | May 10, 2022 | Mystery Minute | 4 comments

She Moved Our Collective Consciousness

by Z.J. Czupor

This best-selling author lived a lifetime of contradiction and experimentation.

She was born with a man’s name. She wrote and experimented across numerous genres. She grew out of poverty to became rich and famous, and her writing explored the contradictions of her faith versus the supernatural. She nearly died twice, and her life held as many twists and turns as a thriller novel.

Anne Rice

Born in New Orleans in 1941, she was the second of four daughters in an Irish Catholic family. Her mother named her “Howard,” after her father, thinking it would help her get ahead in life. Ergo, the author we know as Anne Rice was christened as Howard Allen Frances O’Brien. On her first day of Catholic school, a nun asked for her name. Since she was bashful of “Howard,” she claimed “Anne,” because it sounded pretty. Her mother allowed it and Rice legally changed her name in 1947. 

“My mother believed we could accomplish great things. She told us stories of the Brontës and how they’d written under male names in order to be accepted by the literati; she filled my head with tales of Dickens and all he achieved in terms of social justice through his novels. My mother totally believed in me, and though she died when I was fourteen, I took her confidence and faith in me to heart and have all of my life.” (Billboard Magazine, 2016)

Anne Rice (1941-2021) became best known for her stories about vampires, but also wrote about witches, historical novels, thrillers, Christianity, and eroticism. Her forty books sold over 150 million copies, making her one of the best-selling authors of modern times. 

Anne was a devout Catholic until her mother died in 1956 of complications from alcoholism. She said her mother’s drinking “was a great shadow that slowly and steadily darkened our lives.” Soon after, her father placed Rice and her sisters into a Catholic academy, which she hated. The experience precipitated her break with the Catholic church. When she turned sixteen, her father remarried and moved the family to Richardson, Texas where she finished high school and met her future husband, Stan Rice (1942-2002).

After completing her freshman year at Texas Women’s University (TWU) and part of her sophomore year at North Texas State College, she ran out of money and dropped out. At TWU, she submitted a short story to the college’s literary magazine which the editors rejected “for not sounding like a story.” Anne Rice moved to San Francisco and worked as an insurance claims adjuster while taking night courses at the University of San Francisco. Meanwhile, she and Stan started a torrid romance by correspondence. During an Easter vacation in Texas, the two renewed their relationship. After she had returned to San Francisco, Rice mailed her a special delivery letter proposing marriage. She was twenty when they married, and he was just shy of his nineteenth birthday.

The Rices moved to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district during the height of the “hippie movement.” She began writing and said, “I was typing away while everybody was dropping acid and smoking grass. I was my own square.” 

Rice earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from San Francisco State University and pursued a Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, but quit. “I wanted to be a writer, not a literature student.” She returned to San Francisco State and completed her master’s degree in creative writing in 1972.

Anne Rice and family
(L-R): Stan Rice, Michelle, and Anne Rice

In 1970, while in graduate school, doctors diagnosed her five-year-old daughter, Michelle, as having leukemia. She died two years later. Rice was devastated and turned to drinking, often several six-packs of beer a day. 

In 1973, while still grieving the death of her daughter, Rice retrieved a short story she had previously started. “I was sitting at the typewriter and thought what would it be like to interview a vampire? What would it be like if you could get him to tell what his experience really was?” 

She turned the short story into her first novel, writing it in five weeks. “I was just a drunk, hysterical person with no job, no identity, no nothing. There was a two-year period after Michelle’s death when I just drank a lot and wrote a lot, like crazy—often all night long.” 

At the age of 34, Rice revised her thirty-page short story, which grew into the best-selling novel, Interview with the Vampire, (1976) a fictitious history of vampires. Her novel also included a child who gains eternal life as a vampire. Rice later suggested she might have unconsciously based the character on her child, Michelle. 

“As a child, I saw this beautiful film, Dracula’s Daughter (1936), and it was with Gloria Holden and was a sequel to the original Dracula (1931). It was all about this beautiful daughter of Dracula who was an artist in London, and she felt drinking blood was a curse. It had beautiful, sensitive scenes in it, and that film mesmerized me. It established to me what vampires were—these elegant, tragic, sensitive people. I was really just going with that feeling when writing Interview with the Vampire. I didn’t do a lot of research.” (The Daily Beast, 2017)

Interview with a Vampire, original cover
The original cover from Interview with the Vampire

However, the novel first suffered from numerous rejections. As a result, Rice developed a diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder based on a fear of germs. She obsessively washed her hands and constantly checked locks on windows and doors. After a year of therapy, Rice attended the Squaw Valley Writer’s Conference in August 1974 and met her future agent, Phyllis Seidel. Two months later, Seidel sold the publishing rights to Interview with a Vampire to Alfred A. Knopf for a $12,000 advance, at a time when most new authors were only getting $2,000 advances. Her novel was published in May 1976 and sold about eight million copies. Her twelve book vampire series eventually exceeded $80 million in sales.

Her son, Christopher, was born in 1978. After their son’s birth, Anne and Stan quit drinking so Christopher would not have the life she had experienced as a child. He became a best-selling author when he published his first novel at the age of twenty-two. 

Anne Rice wrote a series of vampire novels including The Vampire Lestat (1985), The Queen of the Damned (1988), The Tale of the Body Thief (1992), Memnoch the Devil (1995), The Vampire Armand (1998), Merrick (2000), Blood and Gold (2001), Blackwood Farm (2002), Blood Canticle (2003), Prince Lestat (2014), Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis (2016), and Blood Communion (2018). 

Her vampire stories turned the genre upside down. In previous novels and films writers depicted vampires as monsters. But Rice made them into sensitive beings who debated the meaning of life, endured love and loneliness, and struggled with moral conflicts. Some of her characters abhorred killing, even though they craved human blood as a life force. Interview with the Vampire was adapted into film in 1994 and the film Queen of the Damned (2002) was based on her series of novels.

Rice explained that her vampire chronicles were about “…outsiders in a world where everybody else understands something that we don’t. It’s about our horror of death. It’s about how most of us would probably take that blood and be immortal, even if we had to kill. It’s about being trapped in the flesh when you have a mind that can soar. It’s the human dilemma.” 

She said, “I think all my writing has been part of a battle with my fears. When I write I explore my worst fears, and then take my protagonist right into awful situations that I myself am terrified by. And I think that the act of putting all that fear and terror and confusion into an orderly, plotted story has been very therapeutic for me. It definitely helps me to continue through life.” (Rolling Stone, 1995)

Rice also wrote two historical novels and four erotic stories in her Sleeping Beauty series using the pen names A. N. Roquelaure and Anne Rampling.

In 1997, she returned to the pain of her daughter’s death in the novel, Violin, in which the lead character loses a six-year-old daughter to leukemia and finds solace in the spiritual gift of a Stradivarius violin. 

A year later, Rice woke one morning with a pounding headache and had trouble breathing. By the time the ambulance arrived at her home, Rice fell unconscious. She slipped into a coma at the hospital as doctors feverishly tried to save her life. They diagnosed her problem as type 1 diabetes. Eventually, Rice recovered but became dependent on insulin. After that experience, she reclaimed her faith in God. 

She and Stan moved back to New Orleans and lived in a Victorian mansion which became the setting for three novels about the Mayfair witches, a trio of occult practitioners. She also wrote a second vampire series describing one novel as “her vampire answer to Romeo and Juliet.”

Rice pivoted again and wrote a series of novels depicting the life of Jesus Christ: Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt (2005) and Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana (2008). 

In her memoir, Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession (2008), Rice describes writing to wrestle with the abandonment of her Catholic faith, the loss from the death of her mother to alcoholism, the death of her daughter and later, her husband, and how she re-embraced her faith. 

Then she turned to thrillers about angels: Angel Time (2009) and Of Love and Evil: The Songs of the Seraphim (2010). The two angel novels follow an assassin, Toby O’Dare, who’s recruited by an angel for a special mission in 13th century England. The adventure sends him through a crisis of faith and conversion.

She said, “Angels are incredibly mysterious, probably as mysterious as vampires, if not more so. I’ve been fascinated with movies about angels and stories in which angels interacted with humans. So, this is something I wanted to do for a long time, write a novel in which an angel is a real character.”

Rice took a great professional risk when she veered from writing about vampires and wounded souls who were damned for eternity to writing about angels and humans who had lost their souls and sought redemption. The former captivated her readers for more than thirty years and the shift shocked her legions of fans. 

“I wanted to prove that the good guys can be as interesting as bad guys…I’m tired of the idea that the devil is the interesting one. That’s not true. The devil is boring and he’s lost. And I want to be on the side of the angels this time.”

In addition, Rice authored stand-alone novels about a genie and a ghost story; and two novels about werewolves who serve vigilante justice in modern California. 

In 2002, after forty years of marriage, her husband died of a brain tumor. Shortly thereafter, Rice underwent gastric bypass surgery and shed 103 pounds. She nearly died again, two years later, from an intestinal blockage, a complication from her previous surgery. 

Critics and fans hailed Rice as a genius of the Gothic novel with a profound ethical imagination. Anne Rice introduced us to dark supernatural characters who, like most humans, struggle with morality. Nevertheless, her ever-present and often unconscious spirituality drove her passion and her writing challenged our collective consciousness. 

In her memoir, she said after publication of her first novel, “I became the author Anne Rice, and generally when people spoke to me, they had something to say to me and it was about my work. And that meant it was about my mind—this genderless and oversensuous mind…But in truth, my life had changed. I was that person now in the eyes of the world that I had always been in my own eyes. Personhood had come at last.”  

Anne Rice died from a stroke at the age of 80 in December 2021 at a hospital in Rancho Mirage, California. The Catholic girl who grew up poor in New Orleans used her writing talent to amass a net worth estimated to be around $60 million. 

Author’s Notes:

Stan Rice was a poet and artist. He served as professor of English and Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. In 1977, he received the Academy of American Poets’ Edgar Allan Poe Award for his poetry collection, Whiteboy (1976). He retired after 22 years as chair of the creative writing program as assistant director of the Poetry Center in 1989.

Stan Rice based his first book of poems, Some Lamb (1975), on his daughter’s illness and death. He encouraged his wife, Anne, to quit her work as a waitress, cook, and theater usher to devote herself full-time to writing. They both eventually encouraged their son, novelist Christopher Rice, to become a published author as well.

Anne Rice’s father, Howard O’Brien, inspired her to be a writer. After he returned from the U.S. Navy in WWII, she said he realized he barely knew his infant daughters. So, he wrote a fantasy novel, The Impulsive Imp, for them, and read it to them chapter by chapter as he developed it. BookSurge published his novel posthumously in 2007. 

Anne Rice’s sister, Alice Borchardt (1939-2007), was a nurse by profession but wrote and published seven novels of historical fiction, fantasy, horror, and romance. Anne encouraged her to write, helped her find an agent, and wrote introductions to several of her novels.

Interview with a Vampire was adapted into film and released in 1994 starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. Rice wrote the screenplay for the film which became a critical and commercial success grossing $223.7 million worldwide (nearly $400 million today). The novel also was adapted as a comic book, along with a short-lived 2005 Broadway musical, Lestat, with a score by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, and book by Linda Woolverton, who also wrote the script for Disney’s animated film Beauty and the Beast (1991) and co-wrote the screenplay for The Lion King (1994). 

When Rice used the pen name Anne Rampling for her 1985 novel Exit to Eden, and the 1986 Belinda, she called it a tribute to British actor Charlotte Rampling, whose performance she loved in the 1974 erotic film The Night Porter. The Belinda novel explores the relationship between a grown man and an underage girl—her version of Lolita, (novel by Vladimir Nabokov, 1955). Critics considered Belinda to be Anne Rice’s best written and least appreciated book. 

Rice admitted to being a poor reader. Anne Rice didn’t read a novel for pleasure until the sixth grade and didn’t major in English in college because she couldn’t read all the works of Chaucer and Shakespeare that were required in class. And yet, she believed reading is the best way we learn.

March 2010, Rice sold 7,000 books from her personal library to Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. Her collection spanned titles in philosophy, film history, biblical archaeology, metaphysics, poetry, theology, and multiple copies of Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë, 1847). She also either signed or annotated many of her books, including dates, her address, weather conditions, and where she bought them, along with notes from her research.

ZJ Czupor is president of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and past Vice President of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America (RMMWA). In addition to writing monthly columns for Rogue Women Writers and RMMWA, he is the author of THE BIG WEIRD: Haikus in Times of Pandemic and Chaos, available at Amazon.

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4 Comments

  1. Lisa Black

    I loved a number of her books, and, for no apparent reason, can still recite the opening paragraph of The Vampire Lestat from memory.

  2. Karna Small Bodman

    Anne Rice was indeed an incredibly talented writer. But I had no clue about her background (shedding 103 pounds? Jeez!) Thanks for this terrific summary.

  3. Lisa Black

    I saw Christopher Rice at a conference once. But I had no idea she’d lost a daughter to leukemia or that she’d married so young. Usually I don’t think marrying young is a good idea but apparently it was truly love with these two.

  4. Tracy Clark

    Interesting. Some of this I knew, most of it was a revelation.