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UCR Palm Desert hosted best-selling authors Anne and Christopher Rice on April 3 in a conversation moderated by fellow author Tod Goldberg.
I recently spoke with both Anne and Christopher, in separate interviews, about their most recent novels and their unique mother-son relationship. Since I was interviewing them separately, I thought it might be fun to ask each of them essentially the same questions, allowing readers to examine their familial similarities and differences.
Since I interviewed Christopher first and Anne second, I am presenting their responses to my questions in the same order.
Tell me a little about your new novel? [The Moonlit Earth for Christopher, Angel Time for Anne]
CHRISTOPHER RICE: The Moonlit Earth is my first thriller with a female protagonist since The Snow Garden. The basic summary is that a young woman’s flight attendant brother is accused of being involved in a terrorist act. He appears on security camera footage from a Hong Kong hotel leaving the lobby with an unidentified middle-Eastern man about 30 seconds before a bomb goes off and kills 60 people.
He’s not among the dead, and nobody knows where he is, so he immediately is a suspect. Back in America the man’s sister finds herself surrounded by people saying her brother is a terrorist. She knows this is ridiculous, that her brother is a gay flight attendant who reads Vanity Fair and goes shopping in West Hollywood. The man is not a terrorist. So she sets out to make contact with him.
ANNE RICE: Basically the idea is that the hero of Angel Time has had his life turned around. He’s an assassin who has repented and he goes to work for the angels, taking assignments all through history. The angels, according to the novel, can see all of history happening at the same time, so they can send Toby O’Dare, the hero, back to the middle ages to answer prayers or to work out a really thorny problem, to save a community or a person. What the series gives me is a great opportunity to write about an action hero moving through time. I’m excited about it.
I’ve already done book two. In that one Toby goes back to renaissance Italy. And I’m working on book three.
What was it like having Anne Rice as a mom/Christopher Rice as a son?
CHRISTOPHER: It’s one of those things where the out of this world, amazing aspects of it only became clear to me the older I got and the more I realized that everyone else didn’t grow up with Anne Rice as their mother. Once I got out into the world and started interacting with other writers who had struggled so hard to get their parents to believe that they were pursuing a valid dream, I really understood what a gift it is to grow up in an atmosphere of creativity and warmth. I mean, I had the kind of parents who were upset when I didn’t audition for Juilliard, as opposed to parents who were like, “What is Juilliard?”
I think the bad aspects to it were mostly about my bad attitude. There were times when I wanted a mom who was a little less weird. I think every teenager wants that. When your mom is really high-profile and jumping out of coffins, it’s a little weird. Sometimes I felt like an outsider from a lot of the people I was in school with, but ultimately that was a good thing. I came to realize that I didn’t love the things that they loved.
ANNE: It was rejuvenating and miraculous. Chris was an astonishment from the get-go. He was the most imaginative, articulate and surprising child. He was always coming home with new cultural influences and new ideas. He constantly astonished us, invigorated us and drew us into great things. A lot of material in my books simply wouldn’t have appeared if I hadn’t been in the company of him and his friends. Material that shows up in the Mayfair novels more than anything else, about New Orleans and kids in New Orleans, I don’t think I could have attempted any of that if I had not been constantly astonished by Christopher and his precocious friends.
What have you learned from your mom/your son about writing?
CHRISTOPHER: You just have to do it. I think that’s what I really learned from her, that you cannot wait for someone else to believe in you or what you’re doing. You just can’t. I had an experience recently where I tried to pitch some ideas to people in publishing and I went back complaining to mom and saying, “You know, I tried to pitch these ideas and they didn’t receive them very well.” And she said, “Don’t pitch anything.
This isn’t Hollywood. If I had pitched Interview with a Vampire to publishers I would have been laughed out of the room.” I think the other piece of advice she’s given me that I repeat all the time is to write the book you want to read. I think way too many people are writing the book they think is going to win the Pulitzer, they’re writing the book they think is going to impress their elite cadre of book critic friends, and it’s resulting in some really turgid stuff.
ANNE: I like the way that he goes into the minds of the characters. He does it in a very different way than I do. There is a certain way that he is meticulous about the psychology of the characters as he moves his narrative along. I find that very inspiring. I also find his storytelling inspiring. I mean, you can’t put those books down.
What do you think she/he has learned from you?
CHRISTOPHER: Gosh, you’ll have to ask her. The thing she remarks on all the time is that we’re so different in our writing. She admires my sense of being able to write about the contemporary and to translate places I have been recently into fictional frameworks. She feels she can’t do that. She can’t write about her high school. She has to write about, I don’t know, ancient Israel. She always wants to travel very far from where she’s been, whether it’s by way of the supernatural or by way of actual history.
ANNE: Probably to write night and day. He grew up seeing me doing that. My office was right across from his bedroom, right across the hall. He grew up coming in and out of that office and hearing me typing away at all hours.
What do you like most about her/his writing?
CHRISTOPHER: I like the momentum and the passion and the voice. The third rail of being a writer-you can know structure and you can know prose-but the third rail is voice. She has a great voice. I don’t think having a good voice is a guarantee of success, but I think the writers who rise to the top have a voice.
ANNE: I love the way he writes about the gay community. The way that gay people are presented in his fiction is multi-dimensional and positive. I love that. I think he reveals the bonds of affection in the gay community and the loyalty among gays. This is something that I don’t think the straight world knows a whole lot about, the wonderful sense of community that exists in a place like Palm Springs or West Hollywood.
One final question. If between now and the end of time you could only say one thing to your mom/son, what would it be?
CHRISTOPHER: Thank you.
ANNE: Be honorable.