I was fortunate enough to speak on a panel at the LA Times Book Festival this past weekend. My panel was called “Future Tense” and also featured Marie Lu (LEGEND) and Cecil Castellucci (FIRST DAY ON EARTH), moderated by the wonderful Aaron Hartzler (RAPTURE PRACTICE, 2013). We enjoyed a great turnout on an unusually mild day on the USC campus.
I only had time to see one panel and I chose to see Anne Rice being interviewed. She was a natural speaker, talking from the heart, with the ability to make you feel like you were in a living room, just the two of you, as she shares her stories. What I’m relating to you here is my memory of that experience, and would be different if told by any other viewer in the audience.
She spoke about her challenging relationship with Catholicism, her connections to New Orleans, and the effect her mother’s stories had on her. In those days there were no DVDs or videos on demand and so if you missed a movie, you missed it. Her mother would relate movies to Anne, scene by scene. And radio was a big influence on her life, listening to the radio plays and imagining the visuals.
The most interesting part for me was when Anne spoke about the craft of writing. She said she originally tried to write what was in vogue at the time (during the 1970s) – small family stories. She said it just didn’t work for her, she was only doing it because that is what was big at the time. But once she started writing about the unusual, the strange, the monsters – it all opened up for her. And she said other authors have told her the same thing. Once they found their genre, they were able to take their feelings and passions and translate them into these stories. This was a time that is hard for many of us to imagine – when anything that wasn’t “real” couldn’t be good literature.
At the time, she remembered attending what used to be called ABA, but is now called BEA, and going to see the film “Star Wars” across the street. And she felt the strange mismatch, that the mainstream public wanted to see stories like this, about the fantastic, and yet the mainstream books in that book convention were not fulfilling that (of course science fiction was always published, just as a smaller niche then). She felt it was possible to bring the fantastic into the mainstream. And she did.
She had an early method of keeping close contact with her fans by having a special phone line where they could leave and hear messages. Now of course, she’s on facebook with over 600,000 fans. Sometimes, when she wants an opinion, she asks a question and prints out the answers and reads all of them. I just find that so impressive, that she has that kind of relationship with such a large number of fans.
When it came to her wanting to write about werewolves in her newest book, THE WOLF GIFT, people tried to talk her out of it. But she said she’s never listened to trends because she figures she’ll put her own mark on the subject. It’s easy to assume that at this stage in her career, of course she has that luxury. But I got the feeling that this has been her mantra from the time she decided the trend of realistic family stories didn’t fit her. So the lesson I took from this was the deep importance of discovering who you really are as a writer.