It’s a common trope that to create true art in this world, you have to go through true tragedy first.
And in the case of Anne Rice, unfortunately, it seemed to be more true than ever.
Born in 1941 to a Bohemian mother and a quirky postman father, Anne had a strange childhood, to say the least.
She was born Howard Allen Frances O’Brien into a conservative catholic family in a neighborhood of New Orleans.
Growing up with a name like Howard couldn’t have been easy, but that may have been the exact reason her mother chose the name.
“[Her mother] was a bit of a Bohemian, a bit of mad woman, a bit of a genius, and a great deal of a great teacher. And she had the idea that naming a woman Howard was going to give that woman an unusual advantage in the world.”
On her first day in Catholic school, young Howard was asked by a nun what her name was. She immediately responded “Anne,” as she always thought the name was pretty.
And in this instance, her mother, who accompanied her that day, let it slide.
Anne wanted to be different from the very beginning.
Troubles in Youth
The next years were troublesome. When she was just 15 years old, Anne’s mother succumbed to alcoholism.
Distraught with his grief, and perhaps not caring enough for his struggling daughter, Anne’s father sent her off to a boarding school.
“[It was] a dilapidated, awful, medieval type of place. I really hated it and wanted to leave. I felt betrayed by my father.”
Over the next five years, Anne hopped around from school to school and city to city, all the while scribbling thoughts, short stories, and notes in her pads.
During one class at a university, she happened upon an interesting young burgeoning poet by the name of Stan Rice — and immediately hit it off.
Unfortunately, after running out of money and unable to find a job, Anne moved into a family friend’s home in San Francisco, where she took a job in the insurance industry.
While they may have been apart physically at this point, Anne and Stan had an inseparable bond. They both loved prose, writing, and learning the craft — and had since as long as they could remember.
One day, a fancy letter arrived in the mail at Anne’s house in San Francisco. Inside, it was a surprising marriage proposal from faraway Stan.
And the young Howard-then-Anne then became Anne Rice — and moved to Texas to start their new marriage in 1961.
Back and Forth
Never content with truly settling down in one place, the Rices moved back to San Francisco from Texas.
There they witnessed the birth of acid, the hippie movement, and all of the wonderfully creative nonsensical activities of the moment.
But Anne merely played witness to it.
“In the middle of Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s, I was typing away while everybody was dropping acid and smoking grass. I was known as my own square.”
A few years later in 1965, the Rice’s had their first child.
A beautiful young girl named Michele, who had a head full of disentangled blonde locks. Her wafty hairstyle sometimes reminded Anne of the famous actress, Claudia Cardinale, and it became an occasional nickname for the girl.
Five short years later, little Michele was diagnosed with leukemia.
She passed away less than two years after.
Write It Out
Fraught with grief, Anne was listless. She had somehow managed to finish her graduate degree in creative writing just before the devastating event.
So, she threw herself into the only thing that ever brought her a form of escape. Writing.
Anne took out one of her older short stories, a bit of an homage to Gloria Holden’s book, Dracula’s Daughter, and developed it into a full-fledged novel — her very first.
The original short story was only about 30 pages long. After 5 weeks of burying herself into the story, she came out with what many people might recognize as the origins of one of the best vampire movies ever made — Interview with the Vampire.
A movie involving heavy themes of immortality, a blood disease, lost faith, and a young girl ripped away from her caretakers.
A young girl with frizzy hair and the name of Claudia.
Fame, Fortune, and Grief
While it took a while for the novel to get published, Anne fortuitously met her soon-to-be literary agent a year later.
She sold the book’s publishing rights for $12,000, almost $10,000 more than the average back then. Anne figured she was on a straight track to instant fame.
And yet, Interview with the Vampire was received harshly at first. So harshly that it contributed to her developing OCD for some time. But Anne didn’t let that stop her.
She went on to publish 11 more books in the same series. The Vampire Chronicles have since sold over 80,000,000 copies worldwide.
Her original novel sold over 8,000,000 prints itself.
Her spin-off series, Lives of the Mayfair Witches, has also heavily contributed to her success.
If you look at all of her sales combined, the numbers start going well over 150,000,000 around the world, landing her somewhere in the top 60 writers of all time.
Grief is a powerful force.
But Anne used that grief to bring out her unique perspective on the world of religion, war, loss, and pain.
And even though it was about the fictional world of vampires, her feelings and prose were so strong that it connected with tens of millions of people.
While grief may not be a requirement to author works that can practically physically move people, it does show the power of what one person can do when they truly care about something.
To blot out everything from existence and only focus on the now. With prose, I suppose authors call that ‘writing in the flow’ these days.
To me, it’s the hallmarks of obsession. And this story is a reminder of the good side of obsessive behavior. An example of when escapist obsession can lead to amazing things.
But imagine if she hadn’t met that literary agent at that fortuitous event. Imagine she wasn’t able to overcome the OCD. Imagine her success didn’t lead her out of the obsession.
What then, would I be writing about today instead?
Careful to let your obsessions consume you. Swords have edges on both sides for a reason. I’m just glad Anne swung it in the right direction.
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