The Suspense Author: An Interview with Christopher Rice
Bestselling author Christopher Rice is in town for the Savannah Book Festival, and took a moment to talk with us about his recent projects and the genres he's written in. He and his mother, gothic horror author Anne Rice, will participate in the festival together on Sunday afternoon.
The LA-residing author has never been to Savannah, but has enjoyed himself and says "it reminds me very much of New Orleans."
Rice is in town to discuss his most recent supernatural thriller The Vines, but has a few other projects in the works, like his first foray into the erotic romance genre.
South Magazine: Your most recent projects are both erotic romance. What made you start writing in that genre?
Christopher Rice: I was approached to be part of a project called "1001 Dark Nights" which had been started by a friend of mine and what they were doing was gathering together some of the most successful erotic romance authors in the business and they were each going to put out a novella a month. Each novella was going to include by-links to everyone else's novellas, so it was really a cross-marketing project. They originally approached me and said "do you want to be the scary story", I mean most of these stories are going to be erotic, and I said yeah, sure. I thought it was a fascinating idea and then I started to delve into how many different sub-genres of romance there are right now and I thought wait a minute, this is actually something I might want to try my hand at. So I released a novella in November and then a full length novel just a few weeks ago.
SM: And your supernatural novel The Vines came out in October. Do you often overlap projects?
CR: This is a new thing for me. It's interesting I feel like I'm writing more books than ever and they're coming out faster than ever and they're probably shorter as a result. And it's the first time that I'm writing books that are set in the same universe with each other. I'm hoping that The Vines will lead to a series. The erotic romance books are both part of series but they're really more in the same universe and they can be read individually.
SM: Well this project will certainly keep you busy!
CR: That is the truth!
SM: You got your start with A Density of Souls, would you call that a murder mystery?
CR: I would call it a thriller, but I didn't know that at the time. I just thought I was writing a book that I wanted to read. And then the people who read it gave it that label, and that's the label that I embraced. I've probably only written one book that is a full-on mystery with a detective and a PI and that's Light Before Day. Everything else I've written, even to some extent the erotic stuff, is really a suspense novel.
SM: Did you mean to start off in suspense or did the stories decide that for you?
CR: I think the story really decided it for me, but I think I had a natural attraction to that type of story from when I was very young. Those are the types of books that I read, those are the types of movies I liked, where there was some kind of ticking clock, some clear objective and things were going to go very wrong if the objective wasn't met by the end of the story.
SM: Very cool. So did you know you wanted to be a writer from that young age, given your parents' backgrounds?
CR: No! I thought I was going to be an actor. I had been the theater kid in my high school. I had written the programs and starred in a bunch of the plays my senior year, and I really went off to college thinking I was going to take their theater department by storm. Then their theater department had other ideas [laughs]. I didn't get callbacks for anything in my first year, and so I had always been a voracious reader and a star English student and I thought well, this is something that I can do that nobody can take away from me. They don't have to publish it or do anything with it but I'm going to have this world that I can slip into back in my dorm room.
SM: Well you obviously have a knack for it and you've been very successful. Now, given your mother's reputation in the industry, when you entered the publishing world did you feel you were living in her shadow or did you feel successful in your own right?
CR: In the beginning I really thought that we were doing such different things. I really felt as long as I didn't do supernatural that I was going to be in the clear. But I was also very naive about how publishing worked. I was very young, I was twenty-one when my first novel was published. I think looking back if I had known then what I know now I might have done things a little bit differently. Then again, it was pretty great and I had a great time.
SM: And that's a very young age to be so successful, but that's amazing and it obviously worked out.
CR:Yeah! I mean it obviously did, and there were other children of famous writers who published around the time I did and they didn't quite take off, and I think there was a sense with the first book that I filled a gap for a certain readership. I wrote this very commercial genre novel that had really strong, gay characters in it, and there were a lot of gay readers out there who wanted to read a Stephen King-type book with gay people, not necessarily about a gay guy in New York trying to find love, you know, and that's sort of where we were at that point. Now things are very different. The question of whether or not my books were "gay books" has sort of dogged me my entire career.
SM: Right, and I was going to ask now that you're writing straight erotic romance as an openly gay author, have you gotten flak back for doing that?
CR: I think in the age of social media we all get flak for everything we do. The first one, the novella, was something called a menage which is about a threeway- a woman and her husband who fall in love with her gay friend- and this is a pretty popular sub-genre of romance right now…but then The Surrender Gate, as you pointed out, is fully straight. It's an interesting experiment because on the one hand, I run the risk of alienating gay readers but on the other hand, it says to a very large audience of romance readers that this might be something for them. The early responses to it from a lot of the romance blogs have been very encouraging.
SM: Well and it's not necessarily that a writer has to know everything that he's writing about, and I'm sure it's been encouraging to see such a positive response in a genre you've just started exploring.
CR: It is, it really is encouraging when you take a risk like that…it's like an acting exercise. You don't know if it's any of your business to be writing the book but at the same time, I had a screenwriting teacher named Richard Kreveland who says don't let anybody tell you you have to write what you know, you can write what you feel, and I believe that very much.
SM: What a great philosophy. Since you've now written in a few different genres, do you have a favorite?
CR: You know, I really don't. I really love everything that I've written. I think what I have are favorite landscapes to write about, and I have characters that I love, but it's like deciding which one of your children is your favorite. If you do know the answer you don't want to give it in public [laughs].
SM: Of course- now, I'm sure you get questions about your mom a lot, but has she been supportive of your career?
CR: Oh yeah, she's very supportive.
SM: Do you let her read your work?
CR: When I started writing supernatural, yes. She was always free to read it, but I would be published usually by the time she read it. But with The Heavens Rise which was my first supernatural thriller, I actually gave that to her in manuscript form and asked for her opinion.
SM: Is she a tough editor?
CR: She can be, but not a cruel or dismissive editor. Some editors are tough but it's a matter of tone, they act like you've bothered them by asking them to read your book and she's never like that. She's much more passionate about whatever her response is, genuinely passionate.
SM: That's great. Well, what advice would you give to an aspiring author who wants to enter the publishing industry?
CR: Well, my first question would be do you love this enough to do this and never get what you want out of it? Will writing a book be enough for you? I would say the same thing somebody said to me about being an actor: if you can do anything else and be happy- do it. There is no guarantee of results because it is a crazy, fickle business full of I don't know what. If you're going to this for security, you're out of luck. Do something else. So that would be the first question, but the only real piece of writing advice about the process itself that means anything is be obsessed. Are you writing about what obsesses you? Are you writing about a topic that you want to buy a hundred books about so you can sink into it and research it, or are you writing about a world you want to visit again and again and again? If you have that obsession go for it and see what happens.
Christopher Rice will be at the Trustees Theater at 3 p.m. on Sunday, February 15 along with his mother, Anne Rice. See more from him on his website, and look for his next novel in the "1001 Dark Nights" series, Kiss the Flame, coming in November.