I met Christopher Rice in his family's high-rise
apartment; a cursory glance around the living room offers me a
stunning view of the Manhattan skyline, and at least half a dozen
paintings by his father, Stan Rice, but there's nothing that indicates
that his mom is megastar author Anne Rice. (Hell, I don't even know
what you'd begin to look for, other than copies of her books--long
velvet capes hanging on a coat stand, maybe?) He offers me a glass of
water and takes a seat on the couch, lighting the first of a steady
series of Marlboro Lights. His first novel, A Density of Souls,
has been out for a few weeks now, and he's in the midst of a
whirlwind promotional tour. About those family connections--he
knows who he is, and where he comes from, and though he's proud
of his family, he doesn't make a big deal about the situation. For the
most part, we talk about his parents' influence and support in more
general terms. "You think of other kids, who didn't have writers for
parents," he muses, "and basically dropped out of college twice, then
written a novel... They'd probably have been sent back to school."
Luckily, Rice was able to keep working on the book and now, at the
tender age of 22, he's gold a solid foundation as a writer of
melodramatic family thrillers.
RH: Your parents supported your creativity, but they
didn't steer you towards becoming a writer.
CR: Absolutely. In high school, it was almost completely
theatre. I thought I wanted to be an actor and they were very
supportive of that. I was actually the one, when it came time to pick
a university, that didn't go out for a drama conservatory because I
wanted a liberal arts education. I didn't even really pick a major in
theatre school; Brown University had a good theatre program, but it
wasn't an acting factory. Going to Brown and auditioning for that
first play and not even being called back was really what spurred me
to write. After that experience, I went back to my dorm and began to
write screenplays. I always thought that I wouldn't write novels,
that I wasn't cut out for it. I was too impatient, I thought my talent
was for... not even so much screenwriting but with the way that it
just gives the clues and other people come in and fill in the rest of
RH: But you ended up working on this novel as a reaction
to a very upsetting time in your family life.
CR: I was living in Los Angeles, just working on screenplays,
when I got a phone call that Mom had gone into a diabetic coma. We
didn't even know she was diabetic, and everyone I was talking to on
the phone from New Orleans was still in shock. They weren't making
any sense over the phone and I said, "I have to come home." So I got
on a plane and flew all night, leaving everything I was working on
There I was in New Orleans, and it was clear she was going to make
it, but it was going to be a long recovery. Being back home and
confronting all the very vivid memories that came pouring back, and
having everything around me spinning completely out of control, I
needed an environment I could control. That was the world of this
A year earlier, I had written a short story which was basically about
a football jock and a sensitive gay kid who had been friends during
childhood, then drifted apart in high school. [What happens in that
story is the secret at the core of A Density of Souls, so I'm
editing his description of the story out of the interview. --RH].
I read it at a reading series in LA, and the reception was incredible.
So, when I needed to write again, I went back and I resurrected that
story. And I decided that what happened in [the story's climactic
scene] be a big secret, and I'd see if I could come up with a cast of
characters and move them towards the revelation of the secret.
RH: Steven, the gay theatre boy in your novel, is sort of
an emotionally autobiographical character, but not really
autobiographical in any other sense.
CR: That's the perfect way to put it. I've taken great pains to
stress that this book is not a memoir or autobiography. I did
physically model the major character after myself: I gave him blonde
hair, I made him tall, I gave him blue eyes. And he is gay. But I
wasn't subject to half the brutality he is in the book and I didn't
sleep with nearly as many football players as he has.
I read negative reviews, even though people tell me not to, and I
sometimes take good criticisms away from negative reviews, but
when they start out with, "This is obviously a thinly-veiled memoir,"
it just pisses me off. Who could think that [what happens in the
novel's climactic scenes] is the stuff of a memoir? I mean, give me a
break. It's a thriller.
RH: You had braced yourself for bad reviews anyway,
though. You knew that part of the critical reaction was
going to be, "Oh, Anne Rice's 22-year-old kid has written a
CR: When I first came up to New York, after Lynn Nesbit, my
mother's agent, had read A Density of Souls and agreed to
represent it, I met with two publishers that were interested in it, and
they really stressed, "Are you prepared for what they're going to
say? Are you prepared for what the critics are going to do?" And I
wasn't. The thought hadn't even entered my mind. And they were
really saying, "They're going to be brutal, but if you want to go ahead
with this, you can." And I said, "Fuck it, let's go ahead with it."
Because there was a long period of time between the signing of the
contract and the actual publication, I had time to think about how I
was going to deal with those allegations and I kept coming back to
my belief that the material I had addressed, what I had written
about, was distinctly different in focus than everything my mother
has done. It was not supernatural; it had a cast of younger
characters in a very real, contemporary world, as opposed to an
historical or haunted environment. It was the same landscape [New
Orleans] that my mother had worked in for years, but it was a
different window onto that landscape. So I thought that would make
it distinct--and its has; even the major bad reviews have been on the
basis of the story itself. You know, They say things like it's
excessive, it's over the top, it's got too many points of view. They
don't just dismiss it as a product of nepotism. Saying, "Oh, this was
only published because this is Anne Rice's son," is a lot easier than
actually reviewing the book. That's a cop-out. I'm willing to read
negative criticism, but [saying] that disqualifies someone as a critic
who has actually done their homework; they don't even matter.
RH: Who are some of your favorite writers?
CR: John Irving is really one of my favorites. The Cider
House Rules was the first book of his that I had ever read, and I
hadn't yet encountered a contemporary author who took the number
of characters that he did, and moved them across a large span of
time, and yet you never felt as if you were losing touch with them.
That was very influential in writing A Density of Souls, which
has five equally major characters for the reader to follow and keep
The other one is Stephen King, who gives incredibly clearly-etched
and vivid characterizations. He has a gift for brining you into the
mind of, say, the waitress in the diner who you would only, sort of,
glance at when you're eating, and he brings you into her world. And
that's something I picked up on from him very young. I think that's
what made his books very readable to me as a teenager.
RH: When you came out, how supportive were your
CR: My mother had trouble believing it,but she didn't react
with anger or hatred. She just thought it was something I was going
to pass through, because she had seen me have relationships with
girls in high school. But it's finally sunk in with her that I am gay. It
sunk in with my father right away, and he had absolutely no
problem with it.
RH: You're obviously comfortable enough with your
homosexuality to come out and say, "Okay, I'm a young, gay
author. This is my book and it's got lots of gay sex in it,"
and not be bashful about that.
CR: It was never an issue for me. I have never assumed it
was going to be something I could even conceal. And Talk Miramax
[Rice's publisher] has not marketed this as a gay book, so it startles
me when people draw attention to it and say, "What does it feel like
to be a gay author?"
But the other thing people keep saying is, "Do you realize the impact
this book has had?" Young, gay men come up to me and tell me that
it speaks to their feelings of alienation the way no other book has.
But I know there are other books out the that speak to their
alienation; their authors just didn't get a 21-city tour, their books
haven't been as aggressively promoted as this book is. The reason
this book is making such an impact is because its previously
subversive subject matter has been put out in the mainstream. It's
not marketed as a "gay book." You've got to pick it up and really
read the jacket flap to learn that Steven becomes a target and an
outcast because of homophobia. Otherwise, you would just walk
right past it if you were looking for a gay title.
When I was 16 and I kept going to the library to look for gay titles, I
didn't want to read about a bunch of guys fucking each other in
Chelsea anymore. I was just sick of it. I didn't want to read any
more sexual memoirs from gay men. There was a time for those, and
some of them are very well written, but for me, at age 16, not living
in Manhattan or LA., it didn't really press any buttons. So for young
gay men to be able to read a story about homosexuality in a larger
context, of family members and straight society in a city where not
all the characters are living in flats in, you know, the gay part of
town... Even the thriller aspects of the novel comes from a young gay
man's fear, and the more fantastical elements come from a young gay
man's desire and wish fulfillment.
RH: That actually brings something up a question I had
about the fantastical plot twists. Did you ever say to
yourself, "Oh my God, am I too far over the top here? I
have to bring this down a notch. . ."
CR: I thought [one particular revelation I won't spoil for
readers --ed] I was going too far. It was in the back of my
head, and then one day I just decided to write it. The moments
when I thought, "Oh, this is really insane," were in editing. When I
was writing, it just all sort of came out in a rush.