When Anne Rice gets on the phone she is so soft-spoken, you wonder if she really is the author who has sold more than 100 million books, including her first novel, 1976's Interview With the Vampire, which was turned into a hit feature film starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.
Since the New Orleans native began her career, gay audiences have gravitated toward her and her work. Perhaps its because they identify with the themes of alienation and love beyond gender that she depicts through her vampire characters. It could also be the adversity shes experienced in her life: A mother who died of alcoholism when Rice was 14, a daughter who died of leukemia in 1972 at the age of 5, and her own struggle with alcohol until 1978 when her son, Christopher, now a gay writer, was born.
In 1998, after living as an atheist since she was a teenager, Rice announced she was returning to the Catholic church. She says it was her faith that helped her survive the death of her childhood sweetheart and husband of 41 years in 2002, the poet and painter Stan Rice. However, on July 28 of this year, Rice posted on her Facebook page: For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being "Christian" or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to "belong" to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.
Recently, Rice spoke with Out from her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She discussed her reasons for walking away from Christianity again, how she felt when her son came out to her, and what she really thinks of the Twilight series.
Out: You announced you are leaving Christianity, but will still continue to believe in Christ. So you obviously don't consider them mutually inclusive.
Anne Rice: No, I certainly dont think they are. Christianity applies to everything that groups and churches and cults and believers have done since the resurrection of Christ in the first century. To be a believer in Christ, one does not have to be part of that.
How do you respond to people who say it's impossible to love Jesus without loving his church?
Jesus doesnt belong to any one church. Hes not the property of any one church or group. They cant agree amongst themselves as to what they believe about him, so they certainly dont own him. Hes not a property. They cant contain him. They cant stand between him and all of us who want to come to him. We dont have to go through their doors. You can clearly see just from the number of churches and denominations arguing amongst themselves that no one speaks for Christ.
When did you start to consider moving away from Christianity?
There are two ways of answering that. I could say from the beginning there was tension and conflict. For 12 years I really studied intensely and worked intensely on the whole questions on belief and being a member of the Roman Catholic Church. I think the real trouble started with the last presidential election when I became acutely aware of how involved churches were in politics in America and how the whole issue of biblical truth had gotten completely involved with social activities that seemed to me to be the antithesis of any kind of biblical truth.
You were a supporter of Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election. How did that affect your relationship with Christians since she is pro-choice?
There are many Catholic democrats, in spite of the abortion issue. There are certainly people in the church who say this is entirely corrupt. What happened when I came out for Hillary publicly was that I got the worst hate mail I have ever received from people who basically said,"You cant do this. Youre a baby killer." They called me a murderer. The hate mail I got from Christians was unbelievable -- from people who claimed to be believers. It was quite astonishing -- the ugliness and the nastiness. I think that was one of the first big shocks to me. I began to think, What have I done here? I still had hope that I would be able to resolve the difficulties, but more and more things really happened publicly.
Like Proposition 8 in California.
When same-sex marriage became a serious issue -- which it wasnt in 1998 when I went back to the Church -- and I saw the degree in which churches were targeting gays for persecution and their relentless hate speech, I was pretty horrified. When I discovered that the Catholic church had spent millions of dollars to support Prop. 8 in California and to interfere with the civil rights of gays in the secular arena, I was angry. I had contributed thousands of dollars to the Roman Catholic Church. I simply did not foresee that degree of hatred and persecution. If you read any part of the New Testament, there is no authority there for Christians to go out of their group and attack a minority in the secular culture. I was really against the things I saw people saying and doing. So, that added considerable pressure.
Since you were a Clinton supporter, how do you feel the Obama administration is doing with LGBT issues?
Im really not an expert on it. I havent followed everything that has happened. I would say that they are dragging their feet. I think things are going well. I think dont ask, dont tell is dead. We will have gays completely accepted in the military very soon. But could they have done something about this sooner? Yes, definitely.
Would you say religion is the root of all the problems in the world?
No, I wouldnt. I would say the root of the problems are in the people themselves. Religious people certainly have as many problems as people without it. I know what youre driving at, but I couldnt make that statement.
What is your opinion on the latest controversy surrounding Obama and the right to build a mosque at Ground Zero?
I think we have to protect the rights of Muslims to build their mosques where they want to build them. I come from a long line of Roman Catholics and there were times in this country when Protestants didnt want us to build our churches either. We were very much a persecuted minority. The tolerance we have in America is for everyone and that includes Muslims. Our rights are important for everyone, even those whom we suspect or despise. We simply cant suspend the rights of Muslims because we dont understand their religion.
Your son, Christopher, 32, who is also a writer, is gay. When did he come out to you?
He came out when he was 18.
What was your reaction?
We were shocked. We didnt have any clue, and we considered ourselves very savvy parents. I guess my first thought was fear for him. I didnt want anyone to hurt him. I didnt want things to be difficult for him. I had this overwhelming protective feeling. It was another reason to worry about him, but I was totally accepting and supportive of him and so was his father.
You recently commented on an article in Newsweek about a genderless future, regarding those who had sex-change operations and dont feel they can be classified as either a male or female. You said, It makes me ponder what gender has meant to me all my life. What does gender mean to you?
As I wrote in Called Out of Darkness, I have a hard time remembering what gender I am. I also have a hard time remembering what gender other people are. Its something Ive never had a fix on. Its as easy for me if a man drops a pencil to reach down and pick it up for him or to open a door for a man. I have no consciousness of being a particular gender. It gets me into trouble all the time. Im constantly reminded that Im a specific gender. When I rejoined Christianity and discovered the tremendous amount of emphasis they put on gender, it was just jarring. Then when I went to the Bible and studied Jesus himself, I saw that he didnt apparently care much about anyones gender either. All of this is basically stuff the churches developed in order to control people.
You said about writing, Critics are a dime a dozen. Anybody can be a critic. Can anyone be a writer?
No, I dont think so, but I dont believe anyone can tell you that you cant be a writer. Its something you find in yourself, and you become a writer by doing it. One of the most important things is never to listen to anyone who tells you that you cant do it.
Although critics appreciate your writing, youve never been fully embraced as a serious writer. Does that affect you?
Of course, but judging from this big discussion thats happening nationwide over stepping away from revealed religion in the name of Christ, what Ive noticed in many of these articles is apparently I am respected as a serious writer; more than I had thought. I was given a pretty good shake by the news articles and blogs. I was surprised because I was used to being ridiculed. I thought I would have to live with that all my life, but apparently its changing.
Is it a good feeling?
Well, Im just watching it. I think I have a strong sense of who my readers are, and they really sustain me.
Youve cited Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times and Charles Dickens as your heroes. Who else do you admire?
Christiane Amanpour. She comes to mind immediately.
Are you watching her new show?
I havent caught up with it yet, but Im going to. I love her. Shes a real heroine to me. There are many people I admire and look to for guidance. There are many writers that I respect. Andrew Sullivan and Peggy Noonan, for example.
You suffered from depression for 10 years before turning back to religion in 1998. What did your depression stem from, if anything?
I dont know. It was actually a fertile and rich period in my life. I traveled a lot and published a lot. I fulfilled a lot of fantasies and dreams, so I dont know why there was so much anxiety. Maybe it was the necessary part of having that much stimulation.
Could you explain what you meant by your comment Writing the novels had been a cause of a great deal of unhappiness.
Thats true. With each novel I would go deeper and deeper into my subconscious and explore whatever it was I had to explore and follow it wherever the novel took me. I would frequently come out completely emotionally exhausted, but with a good feeling of having done something that had some meaning to it.
Today you have regrets using the word vampire. What would you have used instead?
Id probably use the word immortal. I would describe the very same characters, but I wouldve used another word, not a comic-book word.
What do you think of the Twilight series becoming such a phenomenon?
Ive seen two of the Twilight movies. I thought they were kind of nave, entertaining movies. Theyre definitely for young kids. They are a bit absurd -- the idea of vampires going to high school for 100 years. I mean, how horrible. In a way its a stroke of nave genius. It made Stephenie Meyer.
Will you go back to writing stories about immortal characters?
Yes. I have not changed in my writing at all. Im still the optimistic believer that I became in 1998. I want to write another book about immortals who have been on the planet since the fall of Atlantis. All of this is in keeping with my work to God.
Tell us about your next book to be released in November, Of Love and Evil.
Its the second one in the Songs of the Seraphim series with Toby ODare, my hero. Hes been visited by the angels. Hes a repentant hit man, and hes being given the opportunity to help people in a very real way. The angels move him back in time to the Renaissance to answer the prayers of a particular family who are in dire straits.
Whenever I read about you, I constantly come across you stating how conservative you are. How does a conservative woman get the idea to start writing about vampires?
Well, you know, vampires are a very lovely, old-world concept. They are really almost postmodern. I mean if you think about somebody in 1976 deciding to write a book called Interview With the Vampire, its sort of turning away from modern literature and modern concerns and irony and saying, Im going to write about this graceful, elegant, old-world concept and explore what it has to do with our souls and our lives. You can certainly see that as a very conservative thing to do.
Then what about the erotica you wrote in the early '80s under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure?
What about it? [Laughs]
How is that conservative?
Well, I dont know if they are conservative, but I know when I wrote them I certainly believed that sex was good, fantasies were good, and people had a right to honest pornography. I wrote them as an honest pornography for people who shared the fantasy. I dont know if it was conservative or not, but it was certainly something that I believed in.
What do you do for fun?
I watch TV. I love to knock off after a long day of studying and writing and just watch good dramas like The Closer or White Collar or Dark Blue. I watch a lot of high-quality TV. I think we have better quality TV today that weve ever had in my lifetime.
Really? You usually hear the opposite. What about all the reality shows?
Oh, I dont pay any attention to that. I watch these beautiful shows on HBO like Rome and Deadwood. The writing in shows like White Collar and Rome is far and away superior to anything we had in decades past. These shows are so witty and so intelligent. If you go back to old shows like Kojak, there is just no comparison.
What do you cite as the change?
Cable. There was a huge jump into literate TV shows. The old clichs about TV just dont apply anymore.
Do you write every day?
I study and read every day, but I dont actually write every day.
What do you study?
I start with the papers and then I do research on various things. Right now Im researching the history of childhood because I want to write something about the rise of the child in America and how the rise of the child was a terrific shock for Christianity. I also read the Bible practically every day. I do read some theology every day. Ive been reading Tolstoy a lot lately. Im also dipping into other Russian writers that I never knew before.
Is it true you have 200 translations of the Bible?
I dont know if there are 200 translations. Well, there might be. I have every one I can find. I dont have translations in languages that I dont read, but I have as many translations into English as I can find.
Do you have a favorite?
The New American Bible -- the NAB. I love to go to the King James for the beautiful, poetic language, but the NAB is where I go for clarity.
Are there any plans to turn any of your other books into feature films?
There are endless talks going on. Its amazing that these talks can go on for years. Everything is in the works. Just about every property I have is available. I have excellent agents, and we are in talks about a whole bunch of them.
Are any close?
I dont know. I wouldve said so last year or the year before, but this year Im not going to even say so.
What has been the toughest thing for you to overcome?
The lack of self-confidence.
Have you overcome it?
No. I just go back and forth. I have overcome it in the sense that I keep writing and keep producing. There is a victory there. I have a career. If I let it defeat me, I wouldnt have had any career, but its always been a struggle.
Out of all the books youve written, do you have a favorite?
The best book I ever wrote, bar none, was Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana (2008). In that book about Jesus as a man, I was able to accomplish something I dont think Ive touched anywhere else. Im not sure the world will agree with that for a very long time. I think eventually they probably will. To me Memnoch the Devil (1995) is the best of all the Vampire Chronicles.
What are you the most proud of?
Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana, for sure. But, I want to make my next book even better.
To learn more about Anne Rice, visit her official website.