The Vampire That Wouldn’t Let Anne Rice Go

When Anne Rice, the queen of vampire stories, created her bad-boy star Lestat, she never dreamed he’d become her constant companion.

Anne Rice illo
Patrick Giardino/Corbis, Andrew Zbihlyj for Reader’s Digest

For almost 40 years now, Anne Rice has been bringing a splendidly bloodthirsty vampire into our homes. The natty Lestat is the star of much of her oeuvre (Tom Cruise played him in the 1994 movie Interview with the Vampire), and Lestat’s fan club throws an annual ball in New Orleans, drawing thousands of people. Although Rice has written many non-Lestat volumes—all told, her books have sold 100 million copies—the beloved villain is closest to her heart. In Rice’s words…

Vampire Lestat never leaves me alone. I travel, I walk into hotels in Geneva or Paris, and I think, Oh, Lestat would love this hotel. I’ll be driving in New Orleans, and I’ll see him smiling at me from beyond the fence in Jackson Square. Of course, I’m not really hallucinating; it’s just that he’s always there in my mind.

Lestat was an almost accidental character. When I was writing my first book, Interview with the Vampire, in 1973, it was really about the narrator, Louis. Lestat was just a bad guy, the bad vampire. But he quickly became the more vivid, magnetic character. As a friend told me at the time, “You drew Louis in pen and ink, but you painted Lestat in brilliantly colored oils.”

When I write, the characters are so real. For me, Louis was real, Lestat was real, the child vampire, Claudia, was real. If I had to think about the fact that Claudia was based on my deceased daughter, Michele [who died in 1972], I couldn’t have written a book. You can’t sit there and think, Well, I’ve lost my beautiful little daughter before her sixth birthday; I think I’ll write a vampire novel about it. That’s ridiculous! No one would do that. It’s only after it’s out there that you think, Oh, my God, yes, that’s what that’s about: a little six-year-old vampire who never grows up physically. Of course it’s about my daughter who will never know what it means to be an adult.

Lestat was based in part on my husband, Stan Rice, who was a very forceful, dynamic man, with a strong will and a great deal of self-confidence. [Stan Rice passed away in 2002.]

I wasn’t that kind of person. And that’s what Interview with the Vampire was really about: a more passive personality dealing with a colorful, dynamic free spirit.

Over time, I became more like Lestat. I mean, I became a published author, and I grew a little surer of myself in every way. I stopped being the diffident, melancholy person. I think by the time I wrote the next book in the series, The Vampire Lestat, the character was the synthesis of Stan and me.

Lestat is the “me” I’d like to be. He does exactly what I want to do, and he doesn’t apologize for it. He says, “I’m so good at being bad,” you know? He says, “I didn’t ask to be a vampire; why should I take the definition of being damned from other people?” He rebels, and that’s me—the rebel who would like to say those things too. Look, we’re human beings. We do bad things. Lestat is the voice I use to talk about the things that disturb me—because each of us is a monster in our own way, a predator and an outcast, and that’s what he’s a symbol of.

For me, there’s always a moral compass in the work too. There’s definitely a sense of right and wrong. I can’t make Lestat do something bad unless I’m thinking about the ramifications. And the readers give me tremendous feedback. Sometimes I’ll post on my Facebook page, “What do you love about Lestat?” I’ll get 4,000 answers like “He’s always arrogant, but he’s really good at heart”; “He’s capable of great strength, and he has a wild sense of humor—but the truth is he really feeds on the evildoer and not on good people.”

Everyone feels that Lestat would never hurt them. You can see the same thing with the Twilight craze. All the little girls reading about Bella and Edward are convinced that Edward would never feed on them; he would only protect them the way he does Bella. That’s the whole appeal of vampire literature, I think, that you will somehow be able to communicate with this person, and he’ll become your angel and not your predator.

Anne Rice’s latest book, The Wolves of Midwinter, will be out in October. Lestat is currently in hiding.

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