How do I begin this?
I have so much of what I want to say all thought up. Things I have mulled over, words I have sought and sentences I tweaked and refined. But the beginning? The start? That eludes me. It is no closer to me than you are now to your own body.
If I begin, then it means you are really dead. It means that you are in fact, gone. There will be no more words. No more stories. There will be no more barriers and definitions of genre broken by you. There will be no more wisdom that can make a spiritualist out of an atheist, at least within the context of your literary cosmology and the great thoughts and ideas that you’ve put forth within the pages of your numerous novels.
I sit here in my office, surrounded by the things I love—all the things that inspire me and fuel my work. I’m wearing a big black sweatshirt with a picture of you on it. It’s my favorite photo of you. My boyfriend made it for me for Christmas so I can wear it at every book signing and event that I do moving forward. It was taken in 1987 or 88, around the release of The Queen of the Damned, you with your iconic black bob, poised on a tiger rug with a Sun-Maid Raisins cardboard sign behind you in front of the hearth. You’re in your home in the Castro District of San Francisco not long before you left, making the return to New Orleans.
I don’t think a cooler, more badass picture of you exists. On the picture I placed the words ‘thank you’ and posted it the night you passed. It was the version of the photograph that my boyfriend used when he made the sweatshirt for me. Anne Rice on a tiger is how I like to think of you. It sums up who you are and your career perfectly. Fierce, perceptive, radical, daring anyone to challenge you or the things you wrote and why.
There is the mahogany-stained bookcase in the Mission style, with glass cabinet doors and ornate handles facing me from across the room. Through the glass I stare at your titles. You take up the first two shelves. I have every first edition of your novels. Many of the hardcovers are signed. Chief amongst them The Witching Hour and my personal beloved, the book that means more to me than all the others on earth. The novel that changed my life—that changed me and opened my eyes to all the possibilities of who I could be and what I could achieve—Interview with the Vampire.
I touch the book now. It is beside me on my desk, piled fittingly atop mountains of notes and research on vampires, including Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla and Bram Stoker’s iconic epistle. There is the penny dreadful, Varney the Vampire; or The Feast of Blood, and John Polidori’s The Vampyre. All of these tales defined and refined the vampire. Completed in its evolution with Dracula, the vampire pretty much remained unchanged for 79 years until you arrived, and in 1976 you didn’t just come out with a new vampire novel; you redefined the entire mythos and introduced new icons—new archetypes and anti-heroes of the night. Lestat, Louis, Pandora, and the Mayfairs—all of them new gods and new monsters for a modern age.
It was my obsessive love for the vampire (and the infamous Count in particular) when I was a young boy in the fourth grade that led me to seek you out. And it was like that: as if I came to you, as if I were a pilgrim seeking something else, something dark and forbidden.
It was my fourth-grade teacher who first said your name to me. She was a fan of your novels, and upon my return to the classroom, a smile from ear-to-ear as I held in my hands the unabridged Dracula purchased from the Scholastic Book Fair, she asked me if I had ever heard of Anne Rice.
ANNE RICE. It sounded powerful when she said it.
ANNE RICE. She had a copy of Lasher on her desk, and I remember thinking how cool your name looked visually.
I shook my head. I knew nothing of you, beyond knowing people in my family owned and had read your books. My teacher told me I should read Interview when I was old enough. I was too young for you, she thought. Not too young for Dracula, strangely enough (which is ridiculous; if you have read Dracula, you know how ridiculous that is). But too young still to read you.
Naturally, I didn’t care about that.
I remember the school bus ride home. I sat in the back of the bus and I tried to read my coveted purchase that I had saved and saved for, but to no avail.
INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE.
These were the only thoughts I had running in my head. The only thing that mattered to me.
Your writing had been described as beautiful to me. Words that would take me someplace else, and all through the eyes of the vampire. It was all I ever wanted. I loved vampire films. I was a vampire every year for Halloween (and would play make-believe that I was even when it wasn’t Halloween), and I was the only kindergartner I knew of in 1989 who could tell you the entire history of Vlad Tepes and Countess Elizabeth Bathory and could gleefully point out Transylvania to you on a map.
In the third grade, I spent every day before school and after school watching Francis Ford Coppola’s groundbreaking film, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Even in that, your influence is clearly seen all over the screen in the way in which Dracula is made to love and to ache and to suffer and to regret, even while embracing all of his evil nature.
The power of Coppola’s film owes much to what you did with the monster in 76. By giving us such rich and deep characters and forcing us to stay with the vampire, to sleep with him and to hunt with him, and to kill with him as he killed and to swoon as he swooned, you created a desire in the zeitgeist to want three-dimensional vampires, even from our Dracula. We suddenly wanted the vampire to be more than the terrifying and sensuous blood sucking fiend from beyond the grave that he was in the novel and had been portrayed as up to that point.
My problem with the films was that we never stayed with the vampire. The vampire was the monster. We were instead with the humans.
Dracula of the novel was a destroyer. A plague. An infernal dark god, an agent of hell set to rein on earth and spread his curse as far as he could. Dracula wants to own the world. Not just to rule, but to own. Coppola’s interpretation is the most complex of the Dracula films thus far, and nothing has yet, in my opinion, held a candle to it in terms of telling the novel as it is. Aside from a fleshed-out back story attached to the historical Dracula and a few tweaks to bring in the past life element, it is the most faithful to the novel.
Stoker, for all his creativity and complicated repulsion and desire for Henry Irving (which bleeds all over the pages of Dracula), only saw the vampire in two dimensions—he only saw the exterior of the house. You saw every room inside and the whole damned forest beyond it.
You were a literary revolution. You don’t really ever get credit for that. But you were. It’s an undisputed fact. You earned the acclaim and the crown placed upon your head. Queen of the Vampires. The Queen of Horror. The Mother of all Vampires. The Queen of the Damned.
Or my personal title for you: Saint Anne, Our Lady of the Talamasca. Patron Saint of Writers, Queers, and Outsiders.
All of these titles are rightfully earned and rightfully given to you. It was the fact that you were a woman, you wrote about vampires, you wrote about queers—usually all at once—that has so often been used to discredit you or trivialize your work throughout the past forty-four years, even if the literary establishment won’t admit it. Bias in one form or another was always a hill you had to climb, but you tore it up every single time and the praise of your fans drowned out the critics and the naysayers.
None of these things I knew on that day in 1994, when, as soon as I arrived home from school, I ditched my book bag and raced out the door to the library near my house. I got there and looked you up in the card catalogue, finding myself in the horror aisle. Almost all of your books were checked out. In the 1990s you were such a phenomenon that your books were often checked out at libraries all over the country, and one would often have to put themselves on waiting lists that could stretch months.
That day I lucked out. A single Ballantine paperback of Interview with the Vampire was sitting there. I quickly snatched it up and took it home, keeping it out of sight in my room.
I read it and reread it. I also told no one. I knew there was something different about your book, and I knew that difference meant that I had to keep you a secret. I knew I could get in trouble for reading you, especially at school; at home though—at least at that time—I don’t think it would have mattered to my mother.
My mother was young. She was alone raising two boys, and while taking care of us, she was also doing her own thing. Many people have thoughts and opinions about that. I don’t care. There was a certain freedom in our lives in those moments that I treasure.
It was the men she often got involved with who would destroy the carefree Three Musketeers dynamic in our home. Many of them felt threatened by her friendship with her sons. Many of them came from more traditionally structured childhoods, and sought to impose that on us, and, sadly, when that happened, it often was imposed through forceful means.
I didn’t read your other novels for a couple more years, not until the sixth grade, but Interview with the Vampire I read again and again, and as I read, I wanted to know more about you. I imagined you and what you sounded like, what you must do in your day-to-day life. I must say, back in those early days I often imagined you gardening with a big straw sunhat. A wild garden with foxglove and cabbage roses, and fence made of thin branches. Rustic in the sun and constantly hosting resting butterflies.
I know many imagined you were some literary Elvira of sorts, but I never saw you that way. You reminded me much more of my great-aunt Alice. An Irish take-no-bullshit-I-don’t-suffer-fools-lightly-come-to-me-with-depth-or-get-out-of-my-way personality that was also balanced with great compassion and understanding.
In November of 1994, amidst the release of the feature film Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (a world-wide box-office success, grossing over 200 million dollars and coming in second behind The Santa Clause—both films dominated the holiday box office), the BBC, in collaboration with Lifetime Television, aired the hour-long documentary, Anne Rice: Birth of the Vampire on Intimate Portrait, the network’s female-focused version of the show Biography.
You were glamourous with your jet-black Irish bob, black skirt-suit, large shoulder pads, white silk blouse with frilly pussy bow, and violet-lensed sunglasses shielding your large, dark eyes.
It was a portrait of a writer like I had never seen on film before. There were moments that were psychedelic with visually arresting vignettes, and the story of your life—and in some ways, the story of New Orleans—was told in a way that I had never seen a documentary do at the time: with haunting exterior shots, priestesses of New Orleans Voodoo (as to differentiate from Haitian Vodou, which, while related, are unique unto themselves) cleanse a home, and quick, erratic camera effects which seek to convey in some sense to the viewer, the sense of Louis becoming a vampire as read by the narrator. I was spellbound, and from that moment, everything went topsy-turvy, and I suddenly knew exactly who I was going to be and what I was meant to do.
I loved to write and tell stories, but I never thought “author” was something I could be. I actually resigned myself to my first plan of being a chef, but as fourth grade turned into sixth, and as I kept reading and rereading Interview, the more and more I wrote. Because what you could do, how you could make me hear the clicking of Claudia’s shoes on the cobblestone and the creaking of a floorboard on its hinge in a decaying New Orleans uptown home, or how you could make me smell the jasmine—I wanted to be able to affect others the same way.
Like a lot of queers, I discovered and fell in love with horror in all its forms at a very young age. I grew up in a family that loves horror, deeply believes in ghosts and spirits, and we came from a city that was strange, old, and spooky. I spent a huge chunk of my life often at my great-aunt’s big Victorian in Bellingham, Washington, dreaming of spirits in the afternoon light.
As a boy, the only time I would freely allow myself to be turned on by men and not try to stop it was when I read you. The scene in Interview when Armand’s kept boy popped a tent in his trousers against Louis’s thigh while he drank from him… I read that scene over and over again. In your books I could allow my thoughts and desires to go there. I could let my budding cravings explore themselves through the security of your words.
For an adolescent boy not yet ready to directly confront the reality of what all of that meant, being able to let those desires blossom without needing to examine them allowed for a healthy self-acceptance of my homosexuality. So much so that in the spring of 1998 at the age of thirteen, I came out. First, to myself and friends (as is so often the way for us), and the following year to my family and the rest of the world.
Coming out would be the thing that made you ENEMY NUMBER ONE in my house. It would be the thing that disrupted my life and did lasting damage to me, that irrevocably fucked up the trajectory of my life in ways that could never be amended. You were blamed for everything. You were the reason I was the way I was. You were demonic. That’s all I ever heard. The right to read you was considered a battle between good and evil—Christ and the Devil—and I was going to die before I ever gave you up.
By the age of fourteen I was out and Matthew Shepard had been cruelly left for dead, bound to a deer-fence on the Wyoming plains. My best friend and I formed and then fought tooth and nail to maintain Washington’s first Gay Straight Alliance. By then, my mother had quickly remarried a twenty-something soldier in the military who wanted nothing to do with me from the moment we met, and who often and immaturely tossed around gay epithets towards me and back-and-forth with my older brother.
I was a wispy, effeminate kid. I couldn’t be butch if I tried and I still can’t. I don’t want to. Even then I didn’t want to. The rest of the world had a problem with my effeminacy. I didn’t, and my friends didn’t, and I knew you didn’t have a problem with it, either.
By the spring of 1999, things converged. Columbine, my grandfather’s Evangelism, my step-father’s heterosexism and homophobia, my mother’s own fears and insecurities, my gothic interests, my faggotry—it all culminated in my being taken out of school, lied to about why I was no longer in school, and being kept prisoner in my own home, along with the removal of all of your books, all of your books on tape, all of my journals and notepads, stereo, CDs, cassettes, posters on the wall, and whatever else I held close to my heart, were boxed up and taken from me.
(At the end of the saga, I would get these things back…. All but your books, my notepads and journals, and the posters I had on my walls—all of these things would be destroyed.)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was bad. I had to stealthily watch that. All of these things made me corrupt and committed me to sin and to the Devil, apparently. Above all, you, my best friend, and Tori Amos were the reasons I was not “normal.” I was allowed to watch 7th Heaven though, because you know, there was nothing wrong with me watching hottie Barry Watson run his fingers through his fabulous head of hair.
In my book bag I had my worn copy of Interview (the raised twentieth anniversary cover that was so beautifully painted), and a very tattered, barely-hanging-on-to-the-spine mass market paperback of The Witching Hour. The bag hadn’t been searched, and suddenly you were contraband. You were a treasure, you were my cyanide pill I had to smuggle in case shit got too heavy. So I kept you in my book bag for as long as possible.
Eventually I was sent away to the one place I feared the most: my grandfather’s. He was one of those fire-and-brimstone-tent-revivalist-Evangelicals in the southern tradition. He was an abusive man in so many ways, and yet he had the Lord to rely on and the Good Book to justify his actions. I was sent there to be fixed. To get “straightened out,” as I was repeatedly told.
There I was a prisoner who thought everyday of death. I never thought I would see my friends again. I never thought I would see my great-aunt again, and I would never get to meet you. I would never get to thank you and ask you a million questions, and I would never get to talk to you and laugh with you. The situation at my grandfather’s had gotten worse and I really saw no hope.
I was taken to the church three times a week; once for youth night while my step-grandmother was at choir practice, and later in the week for “therapy” with the trying-too-hard-to-be-cool-sporting-frosted-tips-and-bribing-with-lattes-while-acting-like-a-jackass youth pastor, who would always proceed to tell me that I was sick, that the Devil influenced me and my friends, and that if anyone in my family did accept me it was because they were evil and they were willingly engaging with Satan.
The third trip to church was, of course, for Sunday service, where I would feel like my skin was on fire and my stomach would twist, as all I could feel around me was the hate and bigotry and warped sense of love and compassion.
To fill all the days in between, I was kept like a prisoner within my grandfather’s home, getting told constantly that I was poisoned and twisted and misguided, that I was serving Satan, that I had the demon of homosexuality inside of me (whatever that is; there is no scriptural or occult reference to this—it’s just shit they make up), and that I and all of my evil homo friends were going to be cursed with AIDS.
This language was constant, but that was tame compared to the rest of what went on. I thought the experience would kill me, and in some ways it very nearly did. I came close to jumping from a bridge over the interstate.
But a voice that I can only say was The Divine Mother of all Gods and Life, said to me deep within my heart that my revenge would be my writing. That my accomplishments would be my clap-back.
I realized that I couldn’t die because I hadn’t met you. I had never talked with you. I hadn’t yet thanked you.
When I had left for my grandfathers, I had smuggled those two novels (Interview and The Witching Hour) in the legs of my pants in my suitcase, and I read them over and over again. My heart constantly thundering in my ears, the tan curtains always drawn so that piss-yellow light shone in the barren guest room that had a stale saliva smell to it, I listened constantly for my grandfather or step-grandmother’s footfalls. You were the root of it all. You would be destroyed on the spot.
In the darkest time of my life, you were my only friend.
Those smuggled copies of Interview and The Witching Hour that I took with me and read and reread in the suffocatingly dark and overly zealous world that was my conversion therapy experience got me from one moment to the next. Your words and language, your unapologetically queer characters all existing in this Gothic horror world that I loved, allowed me to hold on and stay strong and true to myself. They were like shields that kept all of that bigotry and manipulated love from me, no matter how hopeless it was.
You gave me so much strength and taught me more about being a writer and an author than anyone else. I own every book about you, every biography, and your memoir, Called Out of Darkness, amongst others. I often go to sleep listening to the audio book Interview with Anne Rice, the companion to the paperback, Conversations with Anne Rice, which you did with your friend Michael Riley back in 1993 and again in 1996. Another book about you I have read hundreds of times.
Every interview with Charlie Rose, every recorded live event, news spot, and every documentary (which there’s only two forty-five-minute ones, though you deserve a feature-length documentary) I have watched thousands of times throughout my life, rediscovering things every single time.
You taught me how to dare. How to dream and to be ruthless, and that there was a certain ruthlessness needed inside in order to become a published author. To go from the writer on the desk to the author on the shelf, you had to be willing to put writing above everything, to let the passion for writing and the drive to reach publication drown out all of the naysayers in your life, and to rise above all of those words and opinions that would seek to hold you down.
You said, “Write the book that you want to write. Write the book you want to read. You have to go where the pain is. You have to go where the pleasure is. You have to go to the deepest, darkest parts of your dreams and dare yourself to go further than you ever thought possible. Light and dark, good and evil. All of these things that made the writing tangible.”
You called this the Savage Garden. It would be a word the vampire Lestat came to use in the novel that would launch him to stardom and make him a lasting figure in popular culture. The singer/songwriter Darren Hayes even used this term as the name of his chart-topping band in the nineties, known primarily for the hits “I Want You” (the “cherry cola” song) and “Truly, Madly, Deeply.”
You taught me how to make writing relevant and to pay attention to the patterns of civilizations—the metamorphosis of archetypes throughout history—because you taught me how to pay attention to history. You taught me the importance of research. Research and research—when you think you have researched enough, keep researching. To leave nothing unexamined.
I passed history because of you. Your novels opened the doors to the past and made it come alive, driving me to learn more, when all I wanted to do at the time was write, when all my other classes I completed begrudgingly. You helped show me how writing great fiction and telling compelling stories went hand-in-hand with learning history.
The great thing is, I am not the only one. Legions of your readers throughout the decades have shared similar stories of your impact on their academic and/or cultural learnings—an impact, I think, most authors hope to have.
In your early days of Facebook, back in 2011, long before a fan page, when it was all personal pages, I got the opportunity to talk to you. I friend requested you and you accepted. It was a Saturday afternoon, probably about two. I sent you a message welcoming you to Facebook and thanking you for accepting my friend request, and next thing I knew, I was chatting with you for the next couple of hours before I had to leave for happy hour drinks. I still remember how shook I was. I texted my best friend right away and said, “I just spent two hours chatting on Facebook with Anne Rice!”
Eventually you moved to a fan page, but occasionally throughout the years, and at the most random times—usually when a new book came out—I would send you a congratulatory message, and you would respond back and suddenly we would be chatting again.
There was nothing profound in these chats. Most of the time it was me praising you and asking you writing-related questions or some of the books you had read for research, but once in a blue moon I would get lucky and catch you when you were just hanging out online, and the next thing I knew, I’d be having the best day ever. No matter how awful it was before that moment.
I’m very lucky. I also know I’m not the only one. You were accessible to so many of us. Your legacy isn’t just the books you left behind, or all of the beautiful houses and buildings in New Orleans you preserved and restored; it is also us. The near five decades of writers you inspired. The millions of light bulbs you switched on, and all of the books written and the stories dared to dream because you told us we could do it and that we had to do it.
“Ignore the naysayers and the gatekeepers. Just get it out there.”
You were going to sell Interview out of a plastic bag on Telegraph Avenue if you had to. Luckily, Victoria Wilson at Knopf saw the novel and took it on, but if that hadn’t happened, you would have hustled it yourself. You never lost that spirit, and you never let us—the writers who loved you—lose that either.
The story is what mattered. Getting it down and getting it out there. No matter what.
We are your legacy, and that’s a really amazing thing. Generations of writers dared to write, dared to dream, found their own ruthlessness and got their stories out there. And we did it because something hidden within your words was the secret voice to all writers that opens the doors to the possibility of one’s dreams.
So much more can be said, and should be said.
I will conclude by saying thank you. I’m going to fucking miss you. So many will. And those whom you held close and those who loved you most of all, your son and your sister, will continue to mourn and continue to ache.
You allowed yourself to be so accessible and ready to share your loves, obsessions, and passions with us. For almost five decades we got to know you and you got to know us. You often said to us—your fans—your People of the Page as you lovingly called us—that we gave you more than you could ever give us, but I don’t think that’s entirely true. At least not for me. After all, you saved my life.
You are and always will be my hero, my role model, my mentor.
For those who loved you, and the culture at large, this isn’t goodbye; you live on in every word you ever wrote, and your impact will be felt generations from now. Like your vampires, you are immortal. I hope you discover all of the answers to all of the questions of the Universe you ever dreamed to ask and dared to imagine.
Thank you, Anne, for everything.
Marcus James is the award-winning author of nine novels, including the Pacific Northwest gothic Blackmoore Legacy series, centered on Trevor Blackmoore and the Blackmoore family of witches. His most recent titles include his queer literary slasher, Ghosts of Blood and Bone (2020 International Book Awards finalist), and his latest novel, Where the Vile Things Are: A Study in Sex, Revenge, Deceit, and Affluenza, (a smart, witty, chilling, queer, and politically-savvy adaptation of The Dangerous Liasions/Cruel Intentions), is available now wherever books are sold.
Edward Lee is an artist and writer from Ireland. His paintings and photography have been exhibited widely, while his poetry, short stories, and non-fiction have been published in magazines in Ireland, England and America, including The Stinging Fly, Skylight 47, Acumen and Smiths Knoll. He is currently working on two photography collections: ‘Lying Down With The Dead’ and ‘There Is A Beauty In Broken Things’. He also makes musical noise under the names Ayahuasca Collective, Orson Carroll, Lego Figures Fighting, and Pale Blond Boy.
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