Catching Up with Christopher Rice
By Ray Rogers
With publishing facing hard times, Christopher Rice's original decision to make his fifth book a supernatural horror story instead of the suspense thriller he's known for was a marketing department's wet dream. It's what readers had been clamoring for too. 'Somebody even came up to me at a reading and told me I should write about werewolves because my mom [Anne] writes about vampires,' Rice says, eyebrow arched. 'It doesn't work like that -- it has to come from a place of inspiration.'
In the end, The Moonlit Earth delivers exactly what his fans have come to expect: another fun and flighty page-turner, with gay characters and storylines front and center, in a chase against time. 'What intrigues me is writing about self-assured, openly gay characters in settings in which we're not used to seeing them in popular culture,' says Rice, 32.
The new novel examines class, race, and homophobia amid the tony enclaves of Southern California and the highest echelons of Middle Eastern society. It follows a lefty social worker's search for her gay flight attendant brother as he journeys from cozy West Hollywood to the red-hot center of an international terrorist attack in Bangkok.
Raised an only child (his sister died from leukemia before he was born), Rice informed The Moonlit Earth with a 'longing for or idealization of that type of [sibling] relationship.' But it's not the only key relationship. Along the way, we meet 18-year-old Aabid, the spoiled, closeted son of Saudi billionaires, who befriends and tries to coerce the West Hollywood hottie with an envelope stuffed with cash on an international flight. It's through Aabid that Rice explores the book's central theme: the corrosive power of family wealth.
Rice was 22 when he finally broke free from New Orleans and his mother's long shadow to try his luck in Los Angeles. 'In L.A., you either have a lot of trashy new money or you don't,' he says. 'Coming from a place like New Orleans, which was so stratified along class lines, with its old-line Mardi Gras organizations and debutante balls -- that was really refreshing and exciting. L.A. felt like a frontier town.'
He has found his voice as a writer and a sense of self as a gay man there. Sober for a decade now, Rice leads a 'suburban life' in West Hollywood, characterized by regular TV nights with a group of close gay friends. 'I love my 30s. I hated my 20s. That's a hideously ungrateful thing to say, because look at all the great things that happened then, but I was really introverted and spoiled, and had a lot to learn. In my 30s, I feel alive and adult.'
Maintaining his identity in light of his famous mom wasn't easy, particularly because they share a calling, but Rice is uncompromisingly true to himself. Nevertheless, he still feels Mom's pervasive reach in unexpected ways. Her return to the Catholic church prompted random gay men to offer him their condolences, 'which was befuddling and a bit offensive,' he says. 'We need more Catholics like my mother. She believes gays should be married in the Catholic church. And you don't have to look hard to see how she feels about gay people. I mean, she went on Good Morning America and said, 'God is not sending my gay son to hell -- that's a ridiculous idea.' '
The Moonlit Earth will be in stores on April 6, 2010. For more information about Rice, visit his official website.