I waited a while after Anne Rice’s passing before putting my thoughts onto paper. Her death hit me as hard as any celebrity death in my lifetime. I suppose some of my reaction had to do with arriving at a time when more and more iconic people from my life will reach an age of retiring and leaving us. But losing Rice was personal to me, even though I only met her once, for about ten seconds, at a book signing she did in Naperville, Illinois.
My friend Kelly Lardie introduced me to her when I was in college in the early 1990s. She had obviously been around for a long time by then! Kelly knew I loved vampires and horror, so he insisted that I read her novels! Other people had mentioned her off and on to me, but I had never been as intrigued as when Kelly described why I would like her. At the time, I was an undergraduate studying history. I seldom had time to read fiction – but he convinced me to read her. I was struck by the idea that she played around with the possibility of same sex love in the relationship between Louis and Lestat.
Needless to say, I read Interview with the Vampire and was hooked. Quickly thereafter, I read everything else she had published at the time and waited impatiently for her next novels to come out over the years. Each new novel came into my hands as if an old, familiar, and trusted friend had come for a visit.
In the early 1990s, not a lot of “gay horror” existed. As a gay man and horror enthusiast, any TV show, movie, or novel that even hinted at LGBTQIA+ characters had me hooked. Anne Rice was charting her own way through the publishing industry and world – she defied convention and gave me a relatable universe for my interests. Mainstream media was only beginning to dabble in LGBTQIA+ material, but Rice was willing to think about it.
Because she wrote about vampires, ghosts, and witches, a lot of people, many of whom never even read one of her novels, labeled her a horror writer or speculative fiction writer, and therefore missed the depth of what she wrote. Because more captivated my attention than her mere hinting at same sex attraction. In every single novel, she captured human emotion and experience in a profound way. She wrote as if she tapped into your soul to see things even you had failed to realize in yourself. Her characters’ triumphs, sorrows, longings, and loves were yours, too. And she somehow managed to accomplish the feat with multiple characters in one book, often at odds with one another, and yet you as the reader could relate to almost all of them.
In my own writing, I never intentionally set out to mimic another author. I wanted to write my own stories and use my own sensibilities. Like Rice, I’m not a huge lover of fan fiction. But I’m not naive to the fact that my favorite author influenced my approach. Rice freed vampires from convention, and I followed her lead. One reviewer once described me as the Anne Rice for gay vampires. I’ve never been more flattered and completely uncomfortable with a compliment in my life. His uplifting of my story with such flattery was remarkable and left me breathless. But I instantly shook my head, because I am not Anne Rice. No one else writes like Anne Rice.
I also appreciated how Anne Rice took readers over the years on a spiritual journey. In my nonfiction/history world, I write about religious history. And in that profession, as well as with my novels, I contemplate religion, faith, and spirituality. Rice changed and altered her beliefs over her life, and she allowed readers to glimpse into that intimate world of hers. I didn’t always agree with her perceptions, but she mesmerized me and had me thinking about what she wrote.
I have one more book to read of hers. I find it fitting and lovely her last book is one she co-authored with her son, Christopher. I always read her stuff the minute they released it. But I can’t bring myself to read The Reign of Osiris yet, because as long as it sits on my shelf I have one more story of hers to enjoy. I will find a special time and moment to dive into it, to sit with her one more time.
Goodbye, dear friend. You connected profoundly to your readers, and none more so than me. Thank you for sharing your journey so profoundly with all of us. Your unique voice will never be matched.