Author’s note: This article was originally posted a year ago. It was lost due to a server change over. This is a re-post of the original in its entirety.
Christopher Rice is so many things.
On Sunday nights at 8pm Eastern/5pm Pacific, if you go to www.TheDinnerPartyShow.com and click on the old fashioned radio in the upper left side of the screen, you can listen to Christopher and his best friend and fellow best-selling author, Eric Shaw Quinn, hosting their hilarious internet radio show. He is an outspoken activist for rights in the LGBTQ community. He has been a steady presence on the New York Times Best Sellers list since his debut novel, A Density of Souls, in 2000. He happens to be the son of Anne Rice, which is both one of the coolest and least necessary things to say about a man who brings so much writing talent to the table on his own. And between you and me, readers, he’s pretty damn easy on the eyes and has been named to “People” magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive list, as well as, “OUT” magazine’s Most Eligible Bachelors list.
Just this week, Christopher’s latest venture into the realm of horror fiction, The Vines, was released. It’s a chilling tale of revenge and transformation. He graciously consented to an interview with me and I had the chance to ask him about the new novel, some of his characters, and what we might have to look forward to from him on the horizon. I’m excited to present it to you here for iHorror.
Waylon for iHorror: Before we get started on horror, I have to say I’ve been a big fan since your first book, A Density of Souls, was released back in 2000. You have an amazing talent for creating rich, fully developed characters. Do they stick with you after you’ve put the final touches on a draft and it goes to print?
Christopher Rice: Thank you. That’s very kind of you. Yes, my characters do stick with me. I’m always telling myself the next book will be a sequel. Now I tell myself I’m going to write a series of e-novellas about my old characters, like Randall Stone from THE SNOW GARDEN or Adam and Jimmy from LIGHT BEFORE DAY. We’ll see. Typically I become caught up in a completely new area of study (or obsession) that takes me off in the direction of a new story that doesn’t fit any of the previous characters I’ve worked with.
Waylon: You published several works before you decided to delve into the supernatural thriller/horror genre. Was it a conscious decision to stay away from the genre your mother has enjoyed so much success in before you wrote your first or did you come to the decision because the story and idea were finally there? Was there any trepidation in taking that step?
Christopher: Not really. I wasn’t on fire with paranormal story ideas when I first started writing. I had a burning desire to deal with sexual identity and to work through some old resentments. For some reason, supernatural thrillers just didn’t seem like the vehicle I could use to reach those destinations. Also, I wasn’t confident enough yet as a writer to keep the rules of a new cosmology straight in my head. It was really four books before I thought myself capable. The hang up wasn’t around Mom so much as it was around this nagging question of “How do I make you buy into something so far fetched?” That said, I’m not sure the hesitation went away gradually over time. It was still very much there when I sat down to plot THE HEAVENS RISE. That book took me two years to write for a reason. In the end, it still felt like a leap of faith, and that was probably a more powerful decision – to take the leap – than simply waiting.
Waylon: One of the things I enjoy about your gay characters is that they are not completely defined by the fact that they are gay. I think the tendency with some writers is to make that their character’s primary conflict in a story. Yours are real people dealing with bigger things. Is it a conscious decision to have those gay characters or do you find that aspect reveals itself as you write?
Christopher: I appreciate that description. That’s exactly what I’m shooting for. I want to embrace the new mater-of-factness around homosexuality that’s spreading through a lot of social circles. A kind of, Who cares? Look, if I’m going to invest my heart and soul in a book, there needs to be something about the central characters I can hook into deeply, and if their sexualities and romantic inclinations are all completely different from my own, I’m not sure I’ll be able to pull the book off. That said, it’s about establishing a balance. But some of that is a function of the time I grew up in. If I were writing thirty years ago, I think my concerns would be very focused on gay liberation or survival within sexual subcultures. But I’m a child of a different era. That said, I absolutely adore the new surge of gay romances, most of them written by women. They’re like this ceaseless tide of the kind of book I wished I could have had to keep me in company in high school. And there’s a lot of inventiveness and daring happening in them, beyond tired storylines focusing on closet cases.
Waylon: Your new book, The Vines, released just a couple of days ago. I’ve read it and it is both fascinating and terrifying. Where and how did the story first begin to take root for you?
Christopher: Originally I envisioned it as a California novel, steeped in the history of the Spanish missions and the atrocities visited upon Native Americans here. I had outlined about three different versions of it. But at its core, it was always meant to be a kind of frenetic re-telling of the Golem legend, but with a completely new set of props and set pieces. When THE HEAVENS RISE was reviewed so well and nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, I thought, “Don’t leave Louisiana just yet.” And it seemed like a natural fit to reposition the story to Louisiana and a plantation. Also, there’s something great about being able to really stretch your legs in a region and atmosphere you’re that familiar with.
Waylon: Virginie Lacroix is a wonderful, powerful character, but that power comes at a great price. As I was reading, I couldn’t help wanting to know more about her back story. For instance, where did this slave woman come to know and understand her power? Had she always been at Spring House? Is there any chance you might visit her again in the future?
Waylon: First with The Heavens Rise and with your newly released The Vines the horror comes from a place deeply buried in the earth. Your horror seems to come from nature and natural places. I’m terrified of snakes and I have several friends who are just as afraid of insects. Both of those fears play out in The Vines. Can you talk a bit about that in context with your books?
Christopher: Listen, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between land and water in South Louisiana. Seriously. We moved there from the West Coast when I was ten and the wildness of the place frightened me very deeply. Our lives in San Francisco had felt very ordered, very concrete, very urban. And then suddenly we were in the swamp where the growing season never seemed to end and there were cockroaches the length of your middle finger and rats and snakes and…I had a hard time, is what I’m saying. I’m not an outdoorsy type. There’s great beauty in nature, but I’m not about to go hiking through it. That said, when you have that kind of fearful remove from something it also endows it with a kind of magic in your mind. It’s not all darkness, there’s also mystery and awe.
Waylon: The theme of that horror coming up from a secret, buried place really resonates for me. As a gay man in a small town in East Texas, coming out and revealing what I had hidden for so long was about the most frightened I’ve ever been in my life. How was your own coming out experience? Your mother’s characters have often had very fluid sexual identities. Was she accepting, right away, of you being gay?
Christopher: Good for you for showing such courage. I had it easy. I mean, truly. No mother is overjoyed to hear their child is going to be a target for bullies and bigots. And back then, AIDS was still a fatal, devastating illness, so when you added that to the matrix of fear and worry, it’s no surprise a lot of parents had a very fearful reaction that came across as hatred. But nothing like that happened with my parents.
Waylon: Ben, from The Heavens Rise, is one of my favorite characters ever. I was terrified when he was attacked by the man he arranged a hook up with early on in the story. Was there a word of warning there to younger men and women in our community about caution when using apps like Grindr?
Christopher: Gosh, this is a tough question. I’m no Puritan, to be sure. But my relationship to gay hook up apps and websites has been very limited over the years. I’ve tried. I’ve written articles about how I’ve tried, but it’s just not my thing. For me, there has to be a little something more than a connection between two torso pictures. That said, the anonymity afforded by the Internet is a very frightening thing and it’s something I speak and write about often. Folks seeking to defend their remarkably shitty behavior often overblow the benefits of that anonymity and act like they should be afforded some kind of whistle-blower protection as they act like hateful trolls. (Conversely, everyone who disagrees with you online is not a troll.) I also fear that at some point in the near future an Internet hoax is going to result in widespread cyber-bulling of an unfairly targeted person who will ultimately take their own life over it. The legal ramifications of this for the service provider involved will be enormous. They’ll be on the hook, perhaps in civil court, at least, for having allowed false information about a crime, either real or imaginary, to disseminate with incredible effectiveness and speed. But back to your question, in terms of gay hook up sites, what’s frightening to me is that there are so many visual and physical cues about a stranger we use to protect ourselves, and in the case of most Grindr hookups, all of those cues are hidden from us until we have the guy in our house. Or vice versa. That’s scary. I’d much rather hook up with people using Facebook.
Waylon: Horror would, on the surface, seem like an accepting genre for the LGBTQ community. It’s easy to find correlations between our own struggles for equality and acceptance with those of the vampire or werewolf trying to find their place in the world. While we are more and more prevalent in the written word, we haven’t made big strides within the genre on film. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on our continued absence? Do you think it’s just a matter of time before we come more to the foreground on film?
Christopher: To be blunt, I don’t have a really strong connection to contemporary horror movies. The trends that have risen up in the past few decades have left me out in the cold. I loathed torture porn. I had no desire to watch people be torn to pieces hour after hour. In fact, just the idea of it upset me. I’m not very frightened by ghost stories or haunting movies. It’s not meant as a slam, but inevitably all of those films come down to the dissolution of the family, or the fears and anxieties of a parent about their child, and that dynamic doesn’t engage me. (There was one exception, MAMA, which I thought was beautifully directed. Its reluctant mother heroine felt unique.) I like it when there’s a complex engagement between the human characters and the supernatural or monstrous forces they’ve unleashed. I’m just not going to sign on to watch ten teenagers get murdered in the woods. I’m sorry. It’s just not enough for me anymore. Right now, there’s too much smug nihilism in horror films and not enough compelling conflict. If it becomes clear in the first few frames that you’re just setting up your characters to be eaten, then…whatever. What am I doing here? As for your question, very little of what I described really allows room for any discussion or depiction of the outsiders. One of the great things about Stephen King novels is how often he put marginalized children up against powerful dark forces…and they won! People forget that. In most of Stephen King’s best novels, he brings us back to the light at the end. Current horror movies could take a cue from that. Where are the outsiders and the vigilantes? And no, I’m not talking about a grim band of apocalypse survivors eking out a pathetic Stone Age existence. I’m talking about characters who are often changed, sometimes for the better, after the successful battle with something huge and menacing. So to get back to your question, no wonder gay people seem pretty invisible in horror movies. If we’re the third victim to bite it, all of us will probably go apeshit online, shouting about representation and inclusion. And it’s not like a studio’s going to make a movie about a gay couple whose adopted child gets possessed by a devil/alien/killer doll. That said, there’s one horror movie I adored recently, although it didn’t include any gay characters, CABIN IN THE WOODS. God, I loved CABIN IN THE WOODS. It was all about the last thirty minutes to be sure, but there was so much going in that movie about why we enjoy violent horror. Some of the most brilliant and subtle scenes were down in the underground lab, with lab techs just wandering around like it was another day at work while people were slaughtered above. There was real depth there and attempt to do something more than just gross people out. As for the gays, it sounds like more of us need to get out there and write some good horror movies.
Waylon: Speaking of film, I was so excited to read about the Vampire Chronicles being picked up by Universal. I was especially excited about reading that you had penned the script for a film version of The Tale of the Body Thief. How did that come to be? Was it a daunting prospect?
Christopher: My mother literally forced me to do it. Literally. I told her it was a terrible idea, that the studio would never buy on to the idea of me doing it. But the property, a version of THE TALE OF THE BODY THIEF that re-booted the entire franchise, has been in development for a very long time and there was a gap in the process that allowed me to take a shot at it. Our agents insisted that Mom had to pretend like she’d written the script as well or else they’d never buy it. So she did, in the beginning, and then as things progressed, she took her name off of it. She consulted on it, for sure, but to the extent that a producer would. So was it daunting? Absolutely. The vampires are her babies and any attempt to round them down into B-movie vampires, which is the tendency of most Hollywood types who aren’t familiar with the source material, will completely forfeit the inherent appeal of her world and the resulting movie will fail to hook her millions of fans. So the challenges are all over the place, but there are some great people working on this and it’s a very exciting process so far.
Waylon: Aside from the recently released The Vines, you also have The Flame releasing soon as a part of the erotica series 1001 Nights. Are there more big projects you’re working on at the moment? Should we be expecting more horror from you soon?
Christopher: Of course. Expect something scary again soon. The truth is I’ve got about four ideas for my next scary, suspenseful book (and yes, there’s going to be a lot more erotic romance too.)
When all was said and done, I was even more a fan when I finished this interview than when I began. If you’ve never read any of Christopher Rice’s fiction before, I urge you to go out and get his new novel today, and don’t forget to check out “The Dinner Party Show” on Sundays at www.TheDinnerPartyShow.com!