If you haven’t read Prince Lestat, Anne Rice’s most recent Vampire Chronicles book, a lot has changed for the tribe of the Undead. The vampires actually came together, entered the modern world, and formed a community with Lestat at its head. But with Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis, Rice is going to change everything people think they know about her world of vampires.
I’m honestly not trying to be hyperbolic here. Until Realms of Atlantis (available on 11/29), I hadn’t read a Vampire Chronicles book since 1988’s Queen of the Damned. I had snarkily assumed Realms of Atlantis would involve Lestat going in a submarine and meeting mermaids. Instead, it’s about Rice dropping a bomb on her most beloved, enduring creation, and taking it in a bold and, frankly, shocking new direction.
In fact, the events of Realms of Atlantis were so shocking I had to ask Rice herself about it. But since the book isn’t out yet, I’ve put the first, spoiler-free part of that interview here; I’ll post the second half, which delves into the specifics of what happens in the book, next Tuesday.
io9: Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis is going to change everything that people think they know about your world of vampires. Are you at all concerned about how fans might react?
Anne Rice: There’s concern. How should I put it? I proceeded slowly. I did not want to throw out this massive explanation for the origins of the vampires and have it just be off the cuff. I really wanted it to be deeply felt.
I will write something that seems very exciting to me, and then I’m stuck with it. You know? The next book has to deal with it. It has to deal with what I said in the book before. And I’m keenly aware of that at this point. And I like that process of giving each story its full space and its full vigor, and in the next book having what was revealed by that in the story.
You had said you were done with the Vampire Chronicles, then returned to it in 2014 with Prince Lestat. What happened?
Rice: I felt I’d reached the end of what I could do with Lestat and his friends. They were so associated in my mind with despair, alienation, persecution... that type of thing. They were such powerful metaphors for the outsider. And the outcast in all of us, that they were really associated in my mind with pain, more than anything else. Pain and despair. And I had run out of what to say any more with them.
But what didn’t die for me—and never does die—is this sense of Lestat as real. And this enormous desire to get back to his world, and to be with him, and to approach the world through him. Finally after eight years, I was missing him badly and the stories were coming to mind, new ideas, new things. I wanted to get back to him. And I saw him in present time, right now, and the realities of the vampires coping in the world in present time and I saw all their questions again—but this time I saw answers and solutions and a positive way forward.
So I created a case for him becoming a prince. You know? He stops being the rebel, the loner. He stops being angry. And he steps forward and says, “Okay, I’ll help. The tribe of the Undead needs a leader right now, and that’s been framed in such a way I can respond. Okay. I’ll help. I’ll do it. I’ll be the leader.”
And the whole novel worked for me—in fact, it started a whole new kind of Vampire Chronicle for me. It was a major change. The other books are all distinct, they’re individual, they do different things… I’ll say they tackle different problems. But they have a lot in common. The tribe comes together, people love, people fight, people discover things, so maybe there’s a challenge, like the resurrection of the Queen of Kasha, who wants to destroy the world. They come together, they meet that challenge, but then they break apart and go away.
This changed with Prince Lestat. The tribe came together, all because this one person—this one vampire—said, “We are a tribe. We need parents. Help us.” And I was able to set up the court, which I loved. It made for a new kind of Vampire Chronicle.
When you started Prince Lestat, did you have the revelations of Realms of Atlantis in mind? Is this the second part of a grand plan?
Rice: I’d been struggling with the idea of a novel about Atlantis for a long time, and it wasn’t a vampire novel. I had decided it was a separate novel called Born for Atlantis, and it was about the same characters [in Realms] and how they’re related to Atlantis and their mission. I had hundreds of pages of that material. And I had a whole theory of how the lost kingdom [of Atlantis] came into being.
But it didn’t work. And I had almost given up on it, but at the same time it felt very alive to me, and the characters were really real characters to me. And suddenly, it occurred to me: “What if I saw a way to connect this with Lestat and the vampires?” I saw a way to bring them together.
And it really caught fire for me. All the problems just melted away. How to describe Atlantis from modern eyes, that solved itself. How to find a vocabulary to describe what Atlantis looked like to ancient people... well, I didn’t have to. Everything fell into place. And I was able to just go with my utter love of Atlantis mythology and my own new ideas as to what an Atlantis might have been like, what it offered the world... and also I got to bring up the question of why it was destroyed.
What makes you so interested in Atlantis?
A lot of Atlantis mythology has to do with the idea that Atlantis committed sin—some sort of original sin for which it was abandoned and lost. And I thought, “Why do we keep always coming up with that idea? Is it possible we’re ascending and not descending?” I really wanted to take that idea and suggest maybe Atlantis did not commit any original sin. Maybe it was simply destroyed for reasons beyond its control. And it instilled a great story.
This longing I had to give birth to that Atlantis story was totally fulfilled in this, and at the same time, Lestat’s deeply involved with all of this. He’s not simply on the periphery.
As always, every single one of my novels is some sort of metaphysical thriller—it’s all about the meaning of life, good and evil—and I was able to do that here. I was able to talk about the force of love and what love means and if there’s not a deep lesson in love that we’re just going to be unpacking forever.
So you didn’t have these major changes to the Vampire Chronicles mythos in mind when you returned to the series?
Rice: No, I didn’t have a grand plan. Not when I wrote Prince Lestat. The plan was simply to bring him back and have him become the leader of the tribe and I really didn’t know what would happen next for him. That’s why it’s been a couple of years since [that book].
I was dealing with a lot of issues. He has an enemy in this vampire Roshamandes, who clearly is not going to give up wanting to destroy him. Lestat also has discovered the origins of the Talamasca, the secret, psychic scholars organization that I’ve been developing in these novels all these years. Then there was the idea that there are spirits walking amongst us who are so good at disguising themselves biologically that they pass for real people—even to an airport X-ray machine. So Lestat’s got all this to deal with.
But when I put the Atlantis story in there, all of that worked out. Everything came together. I don’t know why this happens with novels, you know... it’s part of the magic. You yield to the material, and the material brings you the solutions to the problems that you can’t maybe solve sitting at your desk, staring out the window.
Given how organically Realms of Atlantis came about, it’s kind of a bombshell, isn’t it?
Rice: Yeah, I do feel that way. And I hope it is. One of the things that happens when I talk about it on my Facebook page is that people react to the title. You get an interesting insight into their assumptions and their preconceptions, and they can say some wonderful things, and very generous things and inspiring things, but every now and then they say something quite negative.
I hope that when the book comes out, when those people read the book, they’ll reevaluate some of those negative assumptions. They’ve asked, “Why go there? Why would you do that? Why do you bring that in? What’s the point?” Kind of a dismissal up front. “I’m sorry to see you’re doing this, it sounds like a Tarzan book.” The truth is I love Tarzan books and I love making a title there that sounded like a Tarzan title. Because I wanted to announce the kind of full-dress, imaginative tale that would be told in this book. I consciously did that. I love that. I embrace that. I own that. Yeah, I hope it’s a bombshell.
I was going to say it sounded like the title of an Indiana Jones movie.
Rice: Well, I wanted that rollicking, storytelling feel to the title. Because I love that. I always have. And I love that almost more than I care to admit.
I hear a lot about the deep meaning of my work, but I don’t worry about the deep meaning anymore. I know it will be there. I know that I can trust my heart to put the deep meaning into the book. It’s not something that has to be injected with a syringe. It’s going to come. So I can focus on the rollicking storytelling and I have from the very first day that I became a published writer.
I believe that you have to give readers something that’s really enjoyable. You can’t expect them to read your deep thoughts on life and death if you’re boring. You know? That’s not fair. You have to give them spectacle as Aristotle called it. You have to give them great characters. You have to give them tale-telling, a plot. Pity catharsis. All that. I really, truly believe that. So, to me this novel is very, very, very much the embodiment of that.
As its title implies, Realms of Atlantis feels a bit more like an adventure than your previous stories. But without spoiling anything, it also incorporates a lot of science—much more anyone would suspect. Could you speak on that?
Rice: Well, there’s always been that science thread. From the beginning, I presented them- as biologically real entities. You know, they don’t vanish. They can’t turn to mist and go through a keyhole. They can’t turn into wolves. They’re biological. They see their reflections in mirrors. And they live in a biological world. And the sun burns them, biologically. So this is a continuation of that, really. It’s a deeper exploration of what they are, really. Where they came from.
And behind all this is this notion of mine that the great, glittering Gods of the horror pantheon tend to be these biological entities, whether they are werewolves or ghosts or spirits or vampires. There’s a biology to them. It’s just a biology they won’t fully understand yet. It’s nanoparticles that we can’t see yet. But the subtle matter, the ectoplasm described by the 19th century psychics in England… that had to do with the idea of a physical, material reality there.
I love to play with that idea, to explore it. I try to find the biological explanation for what a spirit is. Or how a soul gets generated by consciousness and matter and creates a subtle body of nanoparticles that exist in the biological universe and then can, through energy, draw particles to clothe it and flesh itself out.
But you know, I’m really a complete idiot when it comes to science, so obviously, I’m talking about it in a poetic way almost all the time. I can’t really get into the head of my vampire doctor Fareed with his language. I always have to deal with Lestat’s limitations, because they’re my limitations.
Since it’s so hard to ask you specifics about Realms of Atlantis without spoiling something major, can you tell us what’s on next for Lestat?
Rice: Well, sometimes my view changes very dramatically, but right now we’re going right on. There are so many loose ends [at the end of Realms of Atlantis] and some many opportunities. Lestat will have to deal with those. I don’t want to give away everything that happens with his enemies at his court or his enemies in the tribe [of vampires], there’s a great potential for other enemies to rise. To challenge him. And there are all these new possibilities introduced by what they learned about Atlantis.
Let’s just put it that way, to not ruin the book for anybody. They learn a lot about Atlantis and that involves other entities. The vampires are also learning more and more about other entities, spirits, ghosts... whatever. There’s a lot of tension. And they’re in a world that’s negotiating power. I find that thrilling and I’d love to go into the next book involving some of the same characters here, and also get back to Atlantis. Who else might have survived Atlantis—again, there’s a problem with spoilers. You don’t want to give away too many.
Not to harp on it, but what happens in Realms of Atlantis will affect every other Vampire Chronicles book you wrote on a fundamental level. Are you at all worried the genie is out of the bottle?
Anne Rice: Well sure, and to me that’s exciting. I don’t even think of it like that. I think it’s exciting that there’s all this stuff on the table— there’s all this stuff to work with now.
My readers are always asking for specific characters, and they always want their stories. And I can’t satisfy that need. I can’t. I can’t write a book from the point-of-view of Gabrielle and another from this one and that one and so forth. And frankly, I don’t want to do any more strict memoirs that are just the story of a particular vampire.
I want to go forward with the whole tribe and I want to deal with what we got going on right now. I want to go on. So, I’m very excited about the next book flowing right out of this one.
Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis will be available on November 29.