Christopher Rice: Fear and writing in New Orleans

Bestselling author Christopher Rice is coming to Philadelphia for a signing of his latest horror thriller, “The Vines,” Nov. 4 at Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room. For his latest tome, the out novelist and son of famed gothic-horror writer Anne Rice, set the action in New Orleans, following a diverse cast of characters who become caught up in the dark secrets of a restored plantation. 

Rice said that places like New Orleans are ideal for the types of stories he writes.

 

“Living there is like living in a museum,” he said. “There’s really no line between the present and the past that is clear. It’s also a place where the rules of the outside world don’t always take effect. And that is a great place to write stories about the fabric of the natural world loosening under the threat of the supernatural. If you want to write about scary stuff, you typically write about where you grew up. Stephen King wrote about Maine. My mother wrote about New Orleans. I write about New Orleans because I’m from New Orleans. I think it’s possible to have a dark suspense gene. It doesn’t have anything to do with where you were raised.”

Speaking of King, Rice’s work is often compared to that popular horror novelist Joe Hill, who is the son of Stephen King.

The reasons are obvious: They are both sons of mega-successful horror writers. But Rice said while he understands the connection, their styles are vastly different.

“Joe Hill and I took very different career paths,” he said. “He used a pseudonym for years. He made every effort to not [publicize the fact that he was Stephen King’s son]. I did absolutely the opposite. I just went right out the door saying, ‘I’m Anne Rice’s son.’ Part of why I felt confident in doing that is there really is no mistaking an Anne Rice book for a Christopher Rice book. Our aesthetics are very different. I am much more thriller and plot-oriented. She is more about romantic characters that wrestle with grand, cosmic spiritual questions and I am much more about the construction of individual stories. And I’m not trashing her work or anybody’s work. Joe Hill is a really great writer but I can understand because he is a straight man that looks like his dad and writes horror novels set in New England, he needed to change his name to distinguish himself. The only thing that matters is, is he a good writer? I think he is a good writer.”

Rice added that he doesn’t really consider himself a horror writer. 

“If you compare my books [to Hill‘s], I’m more of a thriller writer than a horror novelist,” he said. “I’ve had this rule so far that the monster can never get bigger than the human in the story. Ultimately, my stories are about human beings trying to resolve inner conflicts by battling with exterior conflicts. In horror novels like Stephen King and Joe Hill write, the construction of the supernatural framework in which the human characters move takes precedence over everything else. Those are great reads but they are a different kind of book than what I have done so far.”      

Rice has an almost academic view and analysis of how fears are developed and where they come from, as well as how shifting concerns drive what is popular in thriller and horror.

“Some people are afraid of the big city and that’s where zombie stuff comes from,” he said. “Some people are scared of crowds of strangers. Other people, like me, if you want to scare the crap out of me, put me in a house in the country and make it really quiet. That just sends me over the edge. It’s about the tastes that the individual writer or reader had. Our fears are developed early on in life and they may be part of the environment we came from or maybe it’s hormonal and we see the environments that we are in based on that chemical disposition. Right now the trend in horror is city horror. People are afraid of other people. We’re seeing it with Ebola and ‘The Walking Dead.’ Although what I have been told by people who work in publishing is zombie stories are on the decline now. They’ve peaked and they are going back down. But there is a lot of fear of other people.”

Rice said that while he respects and understands the styles and fears that fuel the current state of modern horror, he doesn’t like to perpetuate the conventional stereotypes that the genre often promotes.

“Even with contemporary horror writers, there’s this disturbing trend,” he said. “People who are sexually liberated or free or make themselves sexually vulnerable are always eaten and killed and torn to pieces. You see that with women but you also see that with gay characters in bad horror novels. I’m not really down with that. That’s really not my kind of storytelling.” 

Christopher Rice hosts a reading and signing 5:30 p.m. Nov. 4 at Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room, 345 S. 12th St. For more information, visit www.queerbooks.com or www.christopherricebooks.com