Anne Rice: Interview with the Believer
- 2008 24 Oct
Editor's Note: The following interview first appeared in the September/October 2008 edition of Homecoming Magazine.
Best-selling author Anne Rice, who gained fame for her dark, gothic novels—including 1976's Interview With the Vampire—discusses her return to faith with a new spiritual memoir Called Out of Darkness.
Gloria: Your story is incredibly intriguing so I’d love to dig around in your brain about all that is happening. You were famous and successful from any outsider’s view, and you had a whole entourage of publishers, assistants and all kinds of advantages. What happened in your personal story to precipitate such a major change in your life and in your work?
Anne: Well, it was personal conversion. In 1998, Christian faith came back to me and I went back to my church. And that was really what prompted me to change. I went on for a short time still writing the older books, but they had more and more Christian content. And finally in 2002, I decided I would write only books that reflected my Christian outlook and they would all be dedicated to the Lord. It was really, just a very personal, wonderful conversion for which I was very thankful.
Gloria: Was there anything before that moment that drove you back?
Anne: No, there really wasn’t. You know, one of the things that I need to stress about my return is that it wasn’t hooked to any particular loss or any particular event. It was nothing like that. I left the church when I was 18, and it was really an intellectual break and a loss of faith. I was a young college student and I wanted to know all about the world and so forth. And I went back as the result of a great deal of reading, searching, questioning—and also just realizing that I wasn’t an atheist—that I really did believe in God and I wanted to go back to church. I felt an overwhelming love for God and an overwhelming desire to return to the community of my childhood church which was a Catholic church. Really the main thing I remember was just finally no longer being able to fool myself that I was an atheist. I had been convinced that being an atheist was facing reality, dealing with the truth no matter how harsh it was, and I really didn’t believe…I guess I can say my faith in atheism broke down. I realized that this world was made by a loving God and that there was evidence in history and in the physical world, and my return was just one afternoon. I called my assistant and said, “Do you know a priest that I could talk to?” And she said, “Yes, I do.” And she called back in a few minutes and said, “He’s there now.” I went to the church and talked to him for about two hours and went to confession, and I was back in the fold. It was really a wonderful, wonderful turning point. But the really big moment for me was in 2002 when I was sitting in church and I decided that I was going to write only for the Lord. That really was the moment when my whole life shifted.
Gloria: In your new book, Called Out of Darkness, there’s a paragraph that I think is so universal with people who are starting a new or a return journey to faith. You talk about negotiating with God and you write, “One Saturday afternoon everything changed. I was seated in the pew and going through the great negotiation—what I would give and what I didn’t want to give and what God wanted me to give...” You’re trading out the fear of what He was going to ask you to do. In this whole section of your memoir it sounds as if you are coming to a new realization that you don’t have to buy God’s approval by doing something incredibly good.
Anne: I think it was the opposite. What I realized was that I wasn’t giving Him everything—that I was holding back. And I felt that I had to be able to give Him everything. If He really was the Maker of the universe—the Creator, the Lord, the Savior—how could I hold back? How could I say, “Well, I’m writing these books now. Really it’s not clear that I’m a Christian in these books, but it’s OK.” I realized that that didn’t work anymore. I had to say to Him, “Look, I’m going to put all my gifts—whatever I have—in Your service.” I was thinking more of the passage in Scripture where He says, “Go sell all you have, give it to the poor and come follow me if you would be perfect.” That’s what I was thinking about, and I was realizing how far short I fell from that by not giving Him my writing. And I resolved that from then on I would write only for Him. I would not write anything that did not reflect my world view as a Christian. And really my world view had always been central to my work. When I was writing about vampires I was writing about my own despair and the feeling of being lost and my own darkness. That’s why I called the book Called Out of Darkness. As a Christian I thought, “I have to start reflecting my beliefs. I have to start standing up for my beliefs in my books. I have to start letting these books which have always been about me be about the Christian me. They can’t be the old books anymore.” And so that’s what I was telling God—“I’m going to stop negotiating with what You demand, and I’m going to start admitting it.”
Gloria: I think the negotiation that you describe in this book is very typical of us. Whatever the thing is that God puts His finger on in our lives—this is exactly where you were at this point. Was this after you had finished the last vampire book?
Anne: No, I was finishing—and that did happen after my “admission.” So I really wasn’t able to make good on my resolve to write only for Him until December. After my husband died that December and I had gotten my last vampire novel finished, then everything was for Him. But really from the day I went out of the church I knew that I was going to write for Him and Him alone. I began research right then—reading the Bible, studying the Bible, studying commentaries on Scripture— just trying to get with the New Testament in a way that I had never done in my life, reading Matthew, Mark, Luke and John over and over again. You know, I think we get so deadened to the language of the New Testament because we hear it in quotes all the time. We get to where we can’t feel those Gospels as magnificent revelation. I had to overcome that jumping ahead to the end of the line because I knew it and actually read it word for word, again and again. And it became the great adventure of my life to try to internalize Scripture. I fell in love with it with a new spirit and a new desire to be influenced by it completely.
Gloria: There’s a quote in your memoir about some words that you put in the mouth of the vampire as he’s changing—which sounds as if it’s a little bit of your own personal cry where he says, “I want to be a saint. I want to save souls by the millions.”
Anne: That’s right.
Gloria: Yet he has this conflict in there, and you are in the process of killing him off!
Anne: That’s exactly right. That was his last book. I started off by having him say what I really wanted to feel: “I want to serve God—I don’t want to be anybody else but someone who serves God.” And that’s why I had him put it in his own way. That character had a very distinct personality to me. You know, I’d written many, many books with him and loved him as a character because he reflected my soul. And he had to reflect my soul at that point also.
Gloria: This quote from the book is haunting: “Be gone from me o mortals who are pure of heart. Be gone from my thoughts o souls that dream great dreams. Be gone from me all hymns of glory. I am the magnet for the damned at least for a little while. And then my heart cries out. My heart will not be still. My heart will not give up. My heart will not give in!”
Anne: So that’s how he ends the book. And I was saying farewell to him, and he was resigning as the hero. It was because I wasn’t going to write about him anymore; he was no longer my alter ego.
Gloria: When you wrote the first Christ the Lord book—what made you decide to put Christ at 7 years old—and as the narrator of the story—in Egypt? I think that is an intriguing choice for such a big book.
Anne: You know, I don’t know how to answer that except that that’s how it worked out. A lot of what I do in shaping a book is instinctive. Of course, I knew the story of the flight to Egypt, and I knew the story of the return. I had read one very impressive scholar who placed the birth of Jesus at 11 B.C. And it worked out very beautifully to have Him come back at that time and see the riots in the temple that we know took place with the death of Herod the Great. All I can say is that it worked. Now what I didn’t know was that the novel was going to end with Him only being 8 years old. I really thought I was going to write one book, and it was going to be the life of our Lord. But by the time I
finished I realized it was going to have to be a series of books—that there was just too much that I wanted to get across, too much that I wanted to explore. But a lot of it was instinct. And after many different starts I went back to that first start—in Egypt. Also, in the Catholic church, we have lots of legends that we honor about Jesus as a child. We get the names of the parents of Mary—Joachim and Anna—from those legends. And we get the characterization of Joseph as a very good foster father. All of that influenced me as well as the Bible.
Gloria: I saw that you also took the belief that's fairly widely held that Joseph was probably married before and that Jesus' siblings were half brothers and sisters.
Anne: Yes, I definitely did that, but I used both traditions. We had two—one from St. Jerome who insisted that they were cousins, and then we have another tradition in the Eastern Orthodox church that they were half-brothers and sisters. So I really used both. I had James, the older brother of Jesus, be the older child of Joseph by the earlier marriage. But then the other siblings were really his cousins. So I was trying to honor both of the most ancient and venerable traditions we have—the Eastern and the Roman Orthodox traditions.
Gloria: It seems there’s a parallel going on here: you’re researching this book, and yet your own personal spiritual journey is changing. Were those two related in any way?
Anne: Oh they were totally intertwined because the book was my attempt to do the best job I could possibly do for the Lord—to capture the Lord and Savior in whom I believe and whom I love. It’s all an extended meditation on the Lord. Now, all the books I write for Jesus won’t necessarily be about Him. I want to do a variety of different types of Christian fiction. This particular series brings me the closest to Him because I reflect on His life and the things that happened to Him in the Bible. So it’s been a wonderful meditation on the life of Christ for me. This is one reason I say in the book, and I really mean it—if these books don’t bring you closer to the Lord they’re not worth anything! Throw them away.
Gloria: In the depth of your writing as these books have progressed, there’s joy that I sense is coming from what is going on in you as a writer and as a person.
Anne: I think so because I feel a great gratitude. The people I meet in this world who have had faith come back to them late in life—they all seem infected with this joy and gratitude and a great sense of happiness that this marvelous gift of faith has been given to them. This is not to mean that young people don’t have it. They have a different kind of joy and love of the Lord. But I think those of us who lived without the Lord for a long period of time—we know how dark and empty that was. And I think immediately when we meet, we share a kind of contagious joy.
Gloria: That brings an obvious next question—in The Road to Cana you have the newly baptized Christ coming out then and facing the devil. Did that parallel your facing the dark side that you carried so long and wrote about for so long?
Anne: What I was really focusing on in that chapter was—what would the devil have to do to really tempt the Son of God? You know, I’d watched that scene in many movies, and I’ve never been particularly happy with it because I never thought there was any real pressure put on our Lord. The movies would show a devil that was fairly simplistic and did a bunch of visual tricks. But I thought, “What would the devil really say?” And I tried to make a fictional temptation that fit with Scripture. When he says, “I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world,” I thought, “he’s tempting him to be the Davidic Messiah. He’s tempting him to be the war-like Messiah which the Jews actually were expecting.” I didn’t see that devil representing the dark side so much as the militant, violent side that can be so glamorous to zealous people. But of course, our Lord knew that he was not to be that war-like Messiah, and that glamour meant nothing to him. You know in our world how easy it is for Christians—people who are consumed with zeal—to become war-like. It’s one of the biggest temptations to decide that other people need to be punished or condemned or violently attacked. So that’s what I was focusing on—that the devil was saying, “Look, you know your own people want you to be a great leader. Go up against Rome. I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world if you worship me”—in other words—“If you do it my way.”
Gloria: You’ve mentioned the impact that Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life had on this time in your life.
Anne: Somebody gave me a copy of the book, and I was just blown away by it. I mean, I’m blown away by the figure of Rick Warren period. I think he is one of the most loving ministers that we have today. He says, “I’m here to tell you that God loves you.” I heard him say that in one of his sermons on TV, and that’s what he really does. He tries to get across to us what the love of God really is, and I think he does a magnificent job of being a great evangelist, great Christian leader without attacking other people. In fact he even says at one point, “Let the devil do the accusing.” The devil is the accuser. Let him do the accusing. Don’t criticize other Christians. I thought that was a very wise thing to say. He put a lot of complex theology in very simple terms in that book. It’s a great, great achievement.
Gloria: We just did an interview with Rick Warren in our last issue. He lives what he says, and that’s wonderful to discover. You were talking about giving everything back to God that He had gifted you with, and he really lives that way.
Anne: Yes, I think he really does. He’s a great model and mentor. I email him occasionally, and he takes the time to answer which is just thrilling to me.
Gloria: What do you think influenced you to become a writer? How did you start writing?
Anne: I started writing as a child. Then in college I seriously decided to be a writer. I grew up in a family where people told long stories all the time. My father wrote a novel for children when we were kids, and he read it to us chapter by chapter. So story telling was very natural to me, and I’ve always been able to write faster than I can read. But I do a lot of research. I can read non-fiction much faster than I can read fiction. And to me research is great joy. But I think I became a writer just naturally. I didn’t publish my first novel until I was 34, but I really didn’t have my act together until then. That’s when I published Interview with the Vampire which was, of course, a great poem about grief—and by “great” I mean “large”—a large sustained meditation on grief and gloom and the misery of being an atheist.
Gloria: I think many people who will read this story have grown up in harsh Christian settings—I don’t know how to say it better—where they have been damaged not only by legalism but the meanness of it. You talk about that and now that you have come full circle and have had this big chunk of your life where you walked away for a long time. (That’s many people’s story.) What would you say to newer believers to keep that pendulum from swinging back again?
Anne: You know, you’re not in the pew for the sake of the person next to you. You’re in the pew to talk to God. You’re there to worship Him and to pray to Him and to have an experience with Him in church. Don’t worry if the person in the pew is mean. People aren’t saints. And whenever people leave religion it’s because they’ve been brutally hurt, and I understand. I have only respect for people’s pain, but you’re not in a religion because that religion is perfect. You’re in that religion because it’s bringing you to God. So don’t turn your back on Him because His people have faults. I remember my father telling me when I was very little and wanted to be a nun, “You’re not going to find saints in the convent. You’re going to find people with flaws who are human beings. Go into the convent—if you go you go for God.” So that’s what I would tell them. I think the thing I did was stop talking to Him when I was a young person. I thought, “Well, if I can’t be a good Catholic then He doesn’t exist.” That’s absurd. I should never have given up so easily. People do write and tell me, “I left the church because somebody was very mean to me after my mother got a divorce” or something of this type. But I say, “Don’t let them come between you and your Lord. You are there for God, and don’t let them tell you that you have no right to be there. You pray to Him. You reach out to Him. You talk to Him. You invite Him into your heart and soul. Don’t let other people keep you from Him.”
Gloria: That’s wonderful advice. And I really appreciate your vulnerability in letting me ask these very direct questions today. And I just want to tell you what nobody has to tell you—that you’re a wonderful writer. And these latest two gifts are going to change a lot of lives. I can’t wait for your memoir to come out.
Anne: Well, I appreciate your saying that. You know, I have a lot of dreams of writing books, and a new series about angels is very much on my mind, but I’m also completing the third book on Christ the Lord, his ministry. I appreciate your encouragement very, very much. I appreciate what you’re doing and I appreciate your magazine. I think it’s great.
Gloria: Thank you so much, Anne—especially for giving us this gift of your time.
Homecoming Magazine features the personalities and writing talents of Bill and Gloria Gaither, Mark Lowry, and many of your Homecoming favorites. Subscribe to Homecoming Magazine here. Used with Permission.