menu Language Is A Virus

Donna Tartt and Anne Rice - Halloween

Ray Suarez, Talk of the Nation, NPR, October 1997, Listen to the interview

Ray Suarez, Host: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Ray Suarez.
Children around the country spent this week worrying about their school parties, Many are getting ready to step out to ring doorbells in costumes that try to straddle fun, and the fun kind of scared.

When I stroll through the streets of Washington a few paces behind my costumed children tomorrow night, I'll see streets filled with children taking far more delight in simply being something they're not for the evening than worrying about scaring the people they meet or creeping them out.

It is America's teens and adults who are indulging a taste for the rally uncomfortable. Taking disturbing night walks through the poorly lit attics of their own heads. Teenagers flock to movies like "Scream, " "Friday the 13th," "Halloween." Adults take delight in books that make them squirm, either with graphic images that play against the screen behind their own eyes, or that work merely by suggestion, evoking a world beyond what they're able to see with their own eyes.

It's a delicious discomfort, one readers pay to inflict again and again, and it seems they want a big jolt, and a bigger jolt this time, than they got the last. We'll talk about the Gothic novel, the literary horror genre with two leading practitioners, Anne Rice, author of "Violin," "Interview with the Vampire," "The Vampire Lestat," and others. Welcome back to the program.

Anne Rice, author, Violin, Interview With the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, and The Witching Hour:Hi. How are you doing...

Ray Suarez: I'm OK.

Anne Rice: ... it's wonderful to be back.

Ray Suarez: Good to talk to you again. And Donna Tartt is with us, author of "The Secret History." Good to have you with us.

Donna Tartt, author, The Secret History: Thank you. Hello.

Ray Suarez: Our number in Washington, 800-989-8255. That's 800-989- TALK.

Well, you've both got books out that are likely going to find their way into a lot of readers' hands. Anne Rice, Violin is just coming out, Donna Tartt, I'm told that The Secret History is one that readers of that genre are searching out avidly and has done very well already. Why don't you tell us what it's about.

Donna Tartt: Umm it's -- actually it's funny, it's not really -- it's not a Gothic in the -- in the traditional sense of the word. I think a lot of books get called Gothic now because -- that aren't really, there's a whole -- a whole school of sort of American Gothic and this, and what that basically means is that there's a deformed character in it or there's, you know, there's something unusual in it.

Gothic has come to mean "unusual" and -- instead of what it really, I mean a novel of the supernatural, I mean because my novel is not really a novel of the supernatural.

It has some of the -- it deals with some of the questions that Gothics deal with which is, you know, the sort of Byronic sort of struggle, you know, between good and evil in a particular character.

Ray Suarez: I think you're right that people use Gothic when they're not sure what else to call a book, they know they can sort of fall back on that and...

Donna Tartt: Right.

Ray Suarez: ... maybe nobody will call 'em on it.

Donna Tartt: And particularly with Southerners, I think. I mean, it -- to be southern is to have Gothic tacked on to the end of your name...
Ray Suarez: So, this -- this is set at a school, right?

Donna Tartt: Right. Yeah, not in any sort of rotting castle or anything like that. No, it's not -- it's not a traditional Gothic, but it is Gothic in the sense that it is about -- the main character struggles, as do Anne's characters, with, you know, sort of big hard questions, I mean, evil and good and -- yeah. Serious philosophical dilemmas of -- it's not blam, blam, you know fall down splat or...

Ray Suarez: It's also not...

Donna Tartt: ... it's not that kind of violence.

Ray Suarez: ... it's also not "Bye Bye Birdie" or "Grease"...
Donna Tartt: No, no, no.

Ray Suarez: Let's get a little bit more detailed this is not...

Anne Rice: You're making me want to...

Ray Suarez: ... this is not a novel about pep rallies and homecoming queens...
Ray Suarez: ... it just happens to be set at a school where the smart kids are the ones who have some 'splaining to do.

Donna Tartt: Well, it's -- I think it's that way in just about every school actually.
Anne Rice: I'm dying to chime in guys. You going to let me chime in?

Ray Suarez: Yes, absolutely. Anne Rice, Anne Rice, hello.
Anne Rice: Hi. Let me chime in and say I think that what is so Gothic about Donna Tartt's wonderful novel The Secret History, is the fact that it deals with the Dionysian souls of her characters.

It's set on an American college campus and in -- in that milieu, but it deals with their darker impulses; they're timeless attempts to let go to a kind of Dionysian spontaneity, instinctiveness, and sometimes even orgiastic pleasure, that's what makes it Gothic.

That's what, I think, Gothic means to most people we deal with "the dark side" to use the George Lucas cliché -- we deal with those things that are not always brought out into the light of day.

Donna Tartt: Yes, that's true...

Anne Rice: It's the spirit -- it's the spirit that's real for us; it's the mind; it's the soul; it's the yearning and so forth. It's not whether you went today to school and ate lunch and sat in the corner, it's what you felt when you did it, and what you longed for and what you shared with other people. It's dealing with your more destructive but potentially transcended emotions. How does that sound, Donna?

Donna Tartt: That sounds good. That's...
Ray Suarez: Well, Anne Rice, let's talk about Violin.

Anne Rice: Sure.

Ray Suarez: A ghost...

Anne Rice: Well, Violin...

Ray Suarez: ... a ghost story, I guess, would be the shorthand, but certainly there's more to say than that.

Anne Rice: Well, I was born in New Orleans as you know and I grew up here. And Violin is set in a house on St. Charles Avenue in which I grew up, and I would say that almost anybody would call this house Southern Gothic. It has Greek -- Greek columns on the front; it is Greek revival; it's antebellum -- it was built before the Civil War; it is haunted in it's own right, though I have never seen the ghost.

But in the novel my heroine, Triana (ph), is in this house and she' s in mourning for somebody who just died. And she -- this is a women who loves music, and she hears coming from St. Charles Avenue outside an absolutely exquisite violin, and the violin seems to be playing -- especially for her -- wonderful wordless songs about the very grief that she's feeling.

She looks out the window thinking she's imagining this, and she sees standing clearly in the street -- in the light of the street lamp, this young man. We later find out he's Stephan Stavanavich (ph) and he's a ghost, and he's a very powerful ghost.

He's tall, he's gaunt, he has long shinning hair. He is playing the violin for her, and he looks at her, and they begin a sort of love affair in dialogue that lasts for the rest of the novel.

He's come to haunt her because he's attracted to her pain and her grief, but she outsmarts him at one point and snatches this spectral violin right out of his hands. And instead of disintegrating, this violin holds fast for her, and enables her -- or at least she thinks it does -- it enables her to play. She doesn't play like he does; she doesn't play Tchaikovsky, or Beethoven, or Mozart, she plays a mad kind of bluegrass Gothic...
.. music. She plays a wild extravagant kind of improvised song of her own that really has a lot of Shostakovich in it, a lot of chaos, a lot of order, a lot of -- a lot of rebellion.

But, anyway they go on fighting. He -- Stephan wants the violin back, Triana won't give it back, they go back and forth between the spectral world, in which he shows her his pain, and in which she remembers her own tragedies -- all of her life, the losses, things she suffered, and eventually the battle comes to a climax. And we would ruin the book if we said what it was, except that it -- I hope it's cathartic.

Ray Suarez: One thing that occurs to me. You -- here he is, Stephan Stavanavich, you're writing this about modern-day America; these are contemporary characters. The man who dies in the opening chapters to plunge Triana into a new round of grief, dies of AIDS a very...

Anne Rice: Right.

Ray Suarez: ... modern illness. You didn't name the violinist, Steve Stevenson, which is after all what Stephan Stavanavich is...

Anne Rice: Well, he -- he would have called himself Stephan Stavanavich. I mean, that's the name he goes by because he died in the 19th century in Vienna, and he was a Russian immigrant. His father was a Russian prince...

Ray Suarez: Right, but my point is that you make him that, and you choose for him to be one kind of spectral violinist instead of another, and this must be part of the whole craft of evoking mood, of evoking period, and all these other things that you want to do.

Anne Rice: Right. It's a natural response, however, to loving the music of Beethoven and Mozart, because they did come from Vienna in that period. They are everywhere for sale in the modern world, you can find them in any record store, any CD store, anywhere. And this ghost is as -- is true to their era. He knew them; he actually knew them in his real life.

And so, you might say he personifies a spirit that's very much with us all the time. There are children, people, all over the United States and all over the world listening to the music of Beethoven and Mozart.

It's for this reason that a lot of the things we do that are called Gothic are no more than realism to us.

Donna Tartt: Yes, exactly. I mean, your house on St. Charles Avenue, I mean I'm sure, I mean, I've seen many houses like that in New Orleans, and to somebody who's never been to New Orleans they sound Gothic, they sound made up. Nobody really lives in a big haunted mansion with columns, but some people do.

Anne Rice: Yes indeed...
... and it is really there, and I can drive over to it at any minute, and walk through those enormous rooms under 15-foot ceilings.

And it was built in the 1850s, and it's -- it's definitely there.

I mean, it -- the prejudices of realism in American fiction are just that: they're prejudices. Those of us who are accused to writing the Gothic, the bizarre, the macabre, the grotesque, we're really writing about the reality we see; we're writing about the world we see.

Donna Tartt: Yes, there -- there's a -- yes, there is. There's a real embarrassment about speaking of certain -- certain realities, I mean, there's a very sort of Cartesian reality that's available in, both sort of popular film, I mean there we see death very airbrushed, like in a James Bond movie, I mean, sort of the corpses fall, you know -- those are movies that are products of people who have never experienced death at close hand for people who have never experience death at close hand.

Then on the other hand, there's what -- that's the Hollywood view, and then in, you know, "quality fiction" the only way that we really -- basically that's all about sort of the tasteful epiphany of the soul. I mean, the -- you know, sort of the real estate agent has a cup of coffee with his dying...
... mother or something and -- and a kid comes by trick-or- treating and he has this little epiphany about death. Now you can experience death in that way, but our culture is just very, very, very uncomfortable with it.

We shove dead bodies -- nobody sees them anymore. I mean, in hospitals they're whisked away before they're cold. I mean, in the 19th century and all -- all of before, I mean we -- we were around it.

I mean, even in, you know, sort of butcher shops and things we saw blood more often and -- I think this is, you know, why there is such a macabre streak in Ameri -- in the American psyche, because there' s a tremendous need that's not being fulfilled.

This is why, you know, these kind of -- all these splatter and gore movies. And, I think that people long for something that will deal with -- with the reality of death in kind of a moral and ethical way, a philosophical way. And this is -- this is obviously why Anne's books are so -- have -- you know, touch such a nerve and, you know, there's such an audience for them 'cause there's a real need. People don't hear death talked about in this -- in these ways, and they need to psychically..

Ray Suarez: But Donna, when you felt called to write, and began to write, were you drawn to this end of the story-telling corridor immediately? Or did you...

Donna Tartt: Well, it...

Ray Suarez: ... did you do other things first?

Donna Tartt: Well, you know it was funny, because when I first began to write -- I can remember when I was a little girl and looking at my mother's bookcase and seeing like, you know, all these books from the book of the month club that were about school teachers and people having affairs and sort of movie stars, and thinking I can't -- I mean, this is horrible. I feel really sorry for grown ups. They have to read all this boring stuff, and I was very happy when, actually, "Interview With a Vampire" out. I remember saying it made a big impression on me, because here's a book for adults which is not about boring things.

Now, I knew this was true in -- do you know -- do you know I was reading -- it doesn't -- it doesn't even have to do with the supernatural, I mean, you know, "Huckleberry Finn" was very interesting to me. It dealt with sort of realities that I was interested in and in a deep way.

Anne Rice: But, look at the grotesque things, the macabre and the bizarre things that happened in Huckleberry Fin...

Donna Tartt: Exactly, the killing...

Anne Rice: ... you know remember...

Donna Tartt: ... of that pig that's a very, very grotesque book...

Anne Rice: Yes, yeah. I mean I mix it up with "Tom Sawyer" I have to confess, but I mean remember the house floating down the river that's been washed away...

Donna Tartt: Absolutely, all those corpses and things it is -- it's a very...

Anne Rice: Yes, yes.

Donna Tartt: ... very scary book.

Anne Rice: Jim says the famous line "don't go in there, Huck, it's too gashly..."

Donna Tartt: It's too gashly...
Anne Rice: ... I never forgot that...
Anne Rice: ... and we use that as an expression at home, to mean something that's really ghastly.

Ray Suarez: It...

Donna Tartt: Well, I mean and -- do you know, if you look at Dickens.

I mean Dickens talks about ghosts all the time, I mean it was not -- you weren't sort of -- it was fine to talk about those realities in the 19th century in a way that here it's not always, you know, to be -- it's not mainstream if one talks about realities like that.

I mean, Dickens -- you know there are lots of ghosts in Dickens' novels, but yet one doesn't think of Dickens as a Gothic novelist, is what I'm trying to say, or Twain as a Gothic novelist.

I think it's very good of Anne to have moved us away from, you know -- I mean, there's nothing wrong with sort of this tasteful epiphany fiction, I think it's wonderful, but I think it was very bad for me as a young writer to feel that I had to write that and that...

Anne Rice: Oh, yeah.

Donna Tartt: ... that nothing was good. And it certain wasn't, you know, all I wanted to read.

Ray Suarez: If you're just joining us...

Anne Rice: Well, I...

Ray Suarez: ... on the eve of Halloween we're talking about modern -- well for want of a better term we'll use a shorthand until we figure out something better to call it, "modern Gothic novel," and Donna Tartt is with me from the New York bureau and Anne Rice from WEZB in New Orleans.

Anne Rice's latest book is called Violin, Donna Tartt's the author of The Secret History.

Our number in Washington, 800-989-8255. Sean joins us from San Diego. Hi ya, Sean.

Caller: Hi, how you doing good mor -- good afternoon Anne and Donna. How are we -- how are both of you?

Donna Tartt: Hi.

Anne Rice: Fine. How are you doing, Sean?

Caller: I'm doing real good out here in California...

Anne Rice: Oh, great...

LAUGHTER ... clear weather, sunny skies and all that jazz...

Caller: Oh, yeah -- just perfect. My question was -- before I go on, I just have to say to both Anne and Donna -- Anne, I have been reading your novels for the last 10 years or so, I am highly influenced by you, and Donna, The Secret History was by far -- next to The Witching Hour, one of the...
... best novels that I have ever read. My question was...

Donna Tartt: Thank you.

Caller: ... I know that in both of your novels, if not blatantly or subtly, there is a homosexual aspect. And being gay that really -- I really enjoy that, I liked reading about that, it's nice to see in contemporary fiction.

What I want to know is what kind of influences did you have by homosexuals to give you a positive -- at least from what I've gathered from your novels, a positive attitude toward the homosexual persuasion?

Anne Rice: Well, I -- I can leap in and answer that first, Donna, if that' s OK?

Donna Tartt: OK.

Anne Rice: The homosexual esthetic is really our esthetic, and one of the things we're finding out at the end of the 20th century is that everything that homosexuals have contributed to art is mainstream.

The mainstream is now boldly broadening and containing everything that has come down to us.

I'm speaking of things like Tchaikovsky was gay, for example, and Michelangelo was gay, and the more we explore art and the more we look into the lives of artists and musicians and writers, the more we realize how much homosexuals have influenced us completely. And there is no real separate gay esthetic, there really isn't. There is a emphasis, I think, in works by gay people on certain things, but we all have our emphases, that's what makes us special as writers.

I never had anything but a positive view of gay writers and gay artists. I never had anything but a complete love and admiration for the bisexual ideal, the person who can love without the impediment of gender, who can love anybody from the heart based on what he or she receives from the other heart.

Donna Tartt: I would agree with everything that Anne said. And I would also say that in order to write and in order to create characters, I mean, -- I believe it was Virginia Woolfe who said this, I mean, you know, one has to be both sexes in a funny way. One has to understand the mind of each two -- if you're a male writer, if you're a female writer, you have to understand the minds of both men and women, you know, in order to do what you do, and I would also say...

Anne Rice: Right. I think that's -- go ahead Donna, I'm sorry I'm...

Donna Tartt: Oh, no, no that's OK.

Anne Rice: ... just leaping jumping up and down here...
Donna Tartt: Oh no -- no I was just going to say too that in - - I was very -- in The Secret History, I was very annoyed with kind of the -- I think it's a very Hollywood tendency where the gay man is always the murderer, the gay man is always the...
... criminal. And I wanted -- in a funny way, I mean Francis who is the gay character in The Secret History is far and away the most sane, I think, in many ways of all of them. He's not the -- he's not the scapegoat and, you know, because that portrayal of gay -- of gay men was very different from my personal experience, very different from what I knew and it's...

Ray Suarez: But, if you talk to people about generational differences in the regarding of gay life, you'll find that young people are said to have a totally different attitude from people in previous generations.

By setting the book amongst young adults, did you have to sort of absorb that ethic and have it live out in the fiction in a way that if you're were writing about 45-year-olds you might not have had to do?

Donna Tartt: Um, well, I mean I was a young adult...
... when I wrote that book.

Ray Suarez: No, I understand that.
But I mean it has to be there without saying, I'm -- here in this chapter I'm showing you my -- my different young person's take on gender relations and sexual identities...

Donna Tartt: I mean obviously, you don't -- you -- obviously you don't want to put it in there like sort of a moral lesson. I mean, for me it was of a chess problem to see if, you know, that, do you know, if it was -- if it was possible to do this without, you know -- I wanted to have a gay character in my book that wasn't offensive, do you know, as many -- do you know, it seems it -- and not a scapegoat.

And -- you know that's not necessarily -- you know, it wasn't necessarily programmatic, I don't think it's obvious that -- that was -- it wasn't even really an agenda or anything, just an idea of a different kind of characterization.

Ray Suarez: Anne, you were going to say?

Anne Rice: Well, I was -- I was going to say that -- that I think we've had gay people throughout all walks of life always. But now in the age of mass media, we are seeing for the first time just how many gay people there are of all different kinds.

It's -- our stereotypes are falling away. In the past, we only saw the more desperate individuals who were willing or driven to be visible. Now we know that all through the culture, invisibly, there are gay people' there are movie stars like...

Donna Tartt: Exactly.

Anne Rice: ... Rock Hudson, there are ballet dancers, there are artists, there are teachers. We know very well that our schools are filled with teachers who are gay, and they do not molest children anymore than the heterosexual...

Donna Tartt: Right.

Anne Rice: ... teachers do, perhaps less, I -- I don't really know.

But that's what really changed is the acknowledgment in the last half of the 20th century that -- that homosexuals exist everywhere and that...

Donna Tartt: Yeah, you're absolutely right about that.

Anne Rice: ... they're not that separate from us. It's the same with women, women have come out of the closet in the 20th century, along with gays, and we really -- you know, the person who transcends gender is the ideal, because he will also not -- or he or she will not judge other people on the basis of gender. It's not just a question of who you love, it's how you look at other people.

Ray Suarez: This hour on TALK OF THE NATION we're sort of anticipating Halloween by a day, talking to writers who may get the flesh to crawl on the back of your neck, just a little bit...
Ray Suarez: Anne Rice...

Anne Rice: Rrrh.
Ray Suarez: ... is with us in New Orleans, Donna Tartt is at the New York bureau and this is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

Sean in San Diego, thanks a lot for your call. We'll go next to Seattle. Hi Andrea.

Caller: Hi there.

Anne Rice: Hi Andrea, this is Anne...

Donna Tartt: Hello, it's Donna.

Caller: Hi, Anne, Donna. I'm interesting in finding out when Donna' s coming out with a new book?

Donna Tartt: Ah, my daemon...

Anne Rice: Come on Donna...
Donna Tartt: ... signs me to seven-year contracts. He's not like Anne's, Anne's let her come out with one every year, but...
Anne Rice: Yeah. Come on Donna, what's really happening? Where is that manuscript...
... come on, I'm gonna to come up to your house in Mississippi and drag it out of you...
Donna Tartt: Pretty soon, pretty soon. Next year. But I'm not kidding, it -- you know, I do -- I do work in sort of seven-year increments, that's about -- that's about how long it took me to write The Secret History, and it looks like this one is going to come in at seven years too.

Anne Rice: I think that's great.

Donna Tartt: If I could -- if I could work faster I would, I mean I've tried to...

Ray Suarez: Well, how old are you, Donna?

Donna Tartt: I'm 33.

Ray Suarez: OK, well that means that you have about...
... give a -- in actuarial terms, you have about seven books left...
Anne Rice: Oh, wow, Donna.

Donna Tartt: It's nice to think of it in those terms...
.. actually that sounds like a lot, that sounds like an endless life...

Ray Suarez: Well, really that's a lot of books.
... I'll probably live forever, if I have to write seven books.

Ray Suarez: But, Andrea, I guess you're going to be standing in the bookstore door whenever that happens?

Caller: I'll be standing in line. And I wanted to say something to Anne too. I grew up in New Orleans, and my mother still sends me all the reviews from the Times Pickayune every time you come out with a book or have a -- something going on in New Orleans, it seems like you're very active down there.

Anne Rice: Yeah.

Caller: I wondered how you split your time between dealing with all of the things going on locally in your writing?

Anne Rice: Well, it's a new adventure for me, I'm all involved in the life of New Orleans, I'm persevering buildings, restoring buildings, developing a cafe Lestat named after my main character "The Vampire Lestat." I'm writing lyrics for a rock band, Cowboy Mouth, that had its start...

Donna Tartt: Whoa.

Anne Rice: ... in New Orleans, I'm doing all kinds of different things. So I don't know yet how it's all going to work out. I work by obsession and by passion with a sort of overflow of energy. And I storm at the computer and then just storm at the keyboard when I'm writing a book like "Armand," or "Pandora," or Violin, and then -- then I take off at other periods and do these other things.

It's all -- I'm not -- I haven't got it all modulated, as my relatives will be the first to tell you, you know, I'll be there for three days and then vanish for six months.

But, I'm having a lot of fun doing it, and I don't seem able to really control it or contain it. I have to have all these diversions.

They're not even diversions, I have to have all these passions.

Ray Suarez: How do you, in city like New Orleans, stop yourself from being a 900-pound gorilla or in effect...
Anne Rice: I am a 900-pound gorilla, baby...
Ray Suarez: ... or do you stop yourself...
... that's the thing...

Anne Rice: Well...

Ray Suarez: ... I mean when you weigh in on things like development arguments, or the design of a prominent restaurant, or things like this...

Anne Rice: Oh, is that -- oh, I thought you meant the cuisine...

Ray Suarez: Well, no...

Donna Tartt: I thought -- Gall Etoilles (ph) to...
Anne Rice: That's what I thought you meant too...
Ray Suarez: Oh, no, no not at all, not at all.
Ray Suarez: Just being cutting -- cutting more of a figure than maybe all your neighbors are happy with, let's say?

Anne Rice: Well, I think my neighbors are actually extremely happy with the figure I cut. I mean, I could be wrong they -- you know, they can call in and say if they're not, but there are many people who feel strongly about things, and they don't have the opportunity to speak out. And they're very glad when someone does throw care to the winds and say, look I'm gonna stick my neck out and say your restaurant is hideous, to somebody who build a pink restaurant on St. Charles Avenue that looks completely out of place.

But, I don't think that -- I don't think the public person is a 900-pound gorilla. The public person's fundamentally very different say from the conservative and private person who does not want to speak out. But we always need the public person.

We need President Clinton, we need Madonna, we need Bill Maher (ph), we need -- we need Jim Carey, we need lots of personalities out there, whirling and talking in space, and they speak for many more people than themselves when they do that...

Donna Tartt: Well, you do a lot of...

Ray Suarez: Well, hold that thought Donna...

Anne Rice: I wouldn't stop...

Donna Tartt: OK...
Ray Suarez: ... hold that thought. Anne Rice and Donna Tartt are with me this hour.

We're going to take a short break, when we return we'll take more of your calls at 800-989-8255.

You can e-mail us at [email protected], or reach us by the U.S. mail.

Our address here: TALK OF THE NATION Letters 635 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20001 At 33 minutes past the hour, it's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


Welcome back to TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Ray Suarez.

It's the day before Halloween -- the Eve of All Souls. We're talking to writers who are, well, making new maps for the soul. Anne Rice -- her new book is called Violin. She's the author of the Vampire Chronicles, and joins us this hour from New Orleans.

Donna Tartt -- her debut novel is The Secret History. She's at the New York bureau. And our number: 800-989-8255.

Donna, you want to jump back to what you were going to say before the break?

Donna Tartt: Well, I was just going to say, I mean, Anne is kind of a saint in New Orleans. She does all kinds of, you know, as far as I understand, a lot of historic preservation and things that would be good if people did in New York, actually, or any city.

Ray Suarez: But it's...

Anne Rice: Thank you, Donna. That's very kind.

Ray Suarez: ... but often creative people can be anonymous in a place that's so vast -- a place like New York, where you find local resentment, sometimes -- and this is not to say that this, you know, extends to Anne -- is when someone who is very well-known, very wealthy or both, moves into a town. In one case -- one memorable case, buys the whole town, or decides to build a casino in a little place. You know...

Donna Tartt: But Anne's always -- didn't move there. She's always lived there.

Ray Suarez: No, no -- I understand. I'm...

Anne Rice: Ray, what are you driving at, my man? What are you driving at? What is the point of all this? I was born in New Orleans. I don't own the whole town. I mean, in the recent dispute with the restaurant owner, the restaurant owner sued me. I didn't sue him.

The judge threw the case out at summary judgment, but I never sued the man. All I said was that his restaurant was hideous. He said a lot of things back to me, and he sued. He sued. The lawsuit cost $17,000...

Ray Suarez: Oh, no, I...

Anne Rice: ... and I never sued him. So exactly -- I don't exactly understand what you're driving at. I think...

Donna Tartt: And also, yeah, it's not like some place she'd never been before, that she charged in. I mean, she -- it's her town...

Anne Rice: My -- I'm only one of -- I'm only one of many people in New Orleans. I think there are quite a few people who wield tremendous influence. I piped up, so to speak, about that restaurant, if that' s what you're speaking of. But there's no way that I could ever buy all of New Orleans. I'm -- I would like to believe I'm one little person with boxing gloves who's got a little bit of a chance to perhaps save an oak tree.

Donna Tartt: Well yeah, New Orleans has changed a lot since I was a little girl. And it's -- you just -- I mean, in very, very, very bad ways. And you know, you just hate to see what's special about a town go. And since I'm not down there, I'm glad you're down there saving those old buildings. It's good to...

Anne Rice: Thank you.

Ray Suarez: And the oak trees, too, Anne.

Donna Tartt: Yes.

Anne Rice: Thank you, Ray. Thank you, I appreciate that.

Ray Suarez: Indianapolis is next. Neal, welcome to the program.

Caller: Hi, Ray. Hello, Anne. Hello, Donna.

Anne Rice: Hi.

Donna Tartt: Hi, Neal.

Caller: I've -- I thoroughly enjoyed The Secret History, and I've really enjoyed reading The Vampire Chronicles by you, Anne. And you were talking earlier about how your characters, or the characters in these novels, seem to feed into a darker nature. And I was curious if you felt that these characters transcended regular morality and immorality, and just were sort of amoral.

Anne Rice: No. I think -- I think my characters are very, very much bound by morals. There is no question, I mean, they're almost obsessed with morality. But morality and convention are two very, very different things, and when you're dealing with an immortal character like the vampire Lestat, you're much more concerned with real morality. What does God want us to do? What is good and evil?

How do we -- how do we manage in a world where we feed on others to live?

That is a critical moral question. I will never get away from that in my work because I'm a morality-obsessed person myself. What about you Donna? How do you feel about that?

Donna Tartt: Well, I don't know...

Anne Rice: I felt your people were pretty obsessed with morality also and that they suffered...

Donna Tartt: They were...

Anne Rice: ... a real crisis when they did anything that violated their own codes.

Donna Tartt: ... they were obsessed with morality, but I mean actually one of the characters in "Queen of the Damned" says, you know: "beware of the pure idea" and that's kind of where the characters in Secret History go wrong, really, is that you can do a lot of things in the name of an abstraction -- a lot of evil is committed in the name of an abstract idea that would not be committed in the face of something concrete, something more concrete. I mean, people kill for ideas much more often than they do for personal slights, really.

Anne Rice: I think that's really true, and it's -- we do have to beware of the idea.

Donna Tartt: Yeah.

Caller: OK. Well thank you very much.

Ray Suarez: Neal, thanks a lot for your call.

Caller: Thank you.

Ray Suarez: I mean, we should be clear, Donna, that your characters aren't jaywalking or speeding.

Donna Tartt: No, they're...
Ray Suarez: The infraction -- the infraction that they commit, that they have this crisis over, is they kill somebody.

Donna Tartt: Absolutely. Absolutely. But they are led to do this -- I mean, they -- what is evil most often doesn't start out looking like evil. It starts out looking like a lot of fun. Or you know, Hitler didn't think that what he was doing was bad when he did it. I mean, it was horrible. He was a terrible criminal. He was -- but he - - he himself thought he was doing a great thing.

Anne Rice: Mm-hmm.

Donna Tartt: People don't willingly do evil, I don't think. I think they do what they think is good. They think it's right, but...

Ray Suarez: But then when the chips were down, to cover up for the first killing, they killed somebody else.

Donna Tartt: But they thought it was right. They thought it was right to do that instead of -- Henry says, you know -- what, you know, what good is it going to do myself or the general public to spend like 20 years in a Vermont jail?

You know, he actually sort of -- sort of thinks about that. He doesn't think that the greater good will be served, really, by his going to jail. He thinks he's doing the right thing by this second act. I mean, it doesn't pan out that way, but that is what he believes.

Ray Suarez: Well, that's often the retreat that terribly flawed, smarty-pants characters take, if you look at Leopold and Loeb...

Donna Tartt: Well, not just char...

Ray Suarez: ... they thought that they were above being, you know, being punished for the killing of Bobby Franks. There are a lot of people who say -- who then can rationalize about the good of the general public and so on, and that seems to be the fatal flaw that's specifically set aside for a certain kind of person, who thinks that they are...

Donna Tartt: Most specifically politicians, I think, much more than private citizens. I think that's where we see it most.

Anne Rice: And I think the fascinating thing about dealing with these ideas in a novel as Donna did is that the dilemma of these characters, Henry and the others, it really reflects dilemmas that everybody experiences every day. We all ask ourself -- have to ask ourselves: how ruthless will we be to get what we want?

And that -- that's true -- that's something that plagues us in our love life. It plagues us in our jobs. It plagues us in our jobs.

It plagues us on every level. How ruthless are we willing to be?

For example, if I really believed in what God has told me through tradition, through history, through revelation, I would go over and try to do something about the starving people in India. I would spend my whole life like Mother Teresa. But obviously, I've chosen to do a very ruthless thing, and that is stay right here where it's comfortable and write books.

Ray Suarez: Nick is with us...

Anne Rice: It's not easy.
Ray Suarez: Nick is with us now from St. Louis. Hi ya, Nick.

Caller: Hi, Ray, always enjoy your shows. It's a pleasure to talk with Anne and Donna.

Getting back to the Gothic literature question that started this show off.

Donna Tartt: Mm-hmm.

Caller: I had a question sort of regarding the roots of Gothic literature, beginning with the original romantic writers, and how Anne has -- I've always been fascinated by her ability to bring some of these classic Gothic myths, the characters, into contemporary times and contemporary terms.

And I was wondering if they could talk a little bit about what they see as the Gothic tradition in contemporary terms, and whether or not that applies to, say, the visitors that Whitley Streiber (ph) describes.

Now, I know in his book, those are true characters, rather than fictional, but it was the only thing I could really think of that's sort of -- sort of a contemporary mythical figure -- those aliens.

Anne Rice: Hmm. That's interesting.

Donna Tartt: It is interesting.

Caller: Typically, just how the Gothic tradition has translated in today's society?

Anne Rice: Mm-hmm. First thing I'd have to point out is that you can't find anything more Gothic, really, than "Macbeth" or "Hamlet." And they, of course, come way before Gothic literature. I mean...

Donna Tartt: Right. And before that, Dante...

Anne Rice: ... think about Macbeth...

Donna Tartt: ... "The Divine Comedy"...

Anne Rice: Yes.

Donna Tartt: ... before that, in like 13-something. Yeah, it's old, the Gothic is old. And before that, we have the Old Testament.

There's plenty of Gothic stuff in the Old Testament.

Anne Rice: Exactly. And so I think our -- the tradition that we're in, it really goes all the way back, and broken, to the Old Testament, to mythology, comes up through Shakespeare, Dante, the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, Hawthorne, Poe -- right down to the present time.

And that is an interesting thing you said about Whitley Streiber and "The Visitors," because certainly all of the body of information surrounding UFO abductions and UFO visitations is part of our new modern, not mythology, but our -- what would you call it? -- our folklore at this point. We don't know if it's true or not. I'm begin -- the more I read of UFO abductions, the more I'm hoping it's not true.

I was really frightened by Streiber's book "Communion" and frightened by the...

Donna Tartt: That was frightening.

Anne Rice: ... research of Dr. Mack. But if you think -- if you look at this, say, just as something that's happening in the imagination, it is the dark side of the imagination trying to deal with something cropping up that is bothering the rational overlayer of culture. You know, something that's really saying: "it's not all what you think.

There's a really a whole other dimension here to things. There is impending doom."

Donna Tartt: Yeah, it pops up one way or another. I mean, Dr. Jung wrote a very interesting book on flying saucers before he died. He talks about the phenomenon of flying sau -- he -- because -- you know, people weren't being abducted then. He doesn't talk about that. But he talks about foo-fighters and he talks about how these things have started to appear all over.

And he basically relates them to certain needs in sort of post- war culture. And it's interesting to read it on that level. And it's also -- but you know, Jung being Jung, he doesn't really discount the idea that they're -- they could have reality beyond a psychological reality, too.

Anne Rice: Mm-hmm. I'm scared of them. I don't want them to land in my yard.

Donna Tartt: Yeah, yeah.

Anne Rice: I shouldn't even say that. Please don't land in my yard.
Donna Tartt: I hope they're not listening.

Ray Suarez: Oh, they definitely listen to this program.
Anne Rice: They listen to this program. But, you know, there' s several books out that are really bizarre, like "The Gods of Eden" is one book and "The Dark Gods" is another. These are books I picked up over the years that basically say these UFO people -- these little grays and these tall mystical UFO visitants -- are the same as the fairies and the angels of the past.

Donna Tartt: Exactly -- the little people...

Anne Rice: And that they want worship.

Donna Tartt: ... that are in every country.

Anne Rice: Yeah.

Donna Tartt: Yes.

Anne Rice: Exactly.

Donna Tartt: The little people.

Anne Rice: And that they come from somewhere, but it isn't outer space. It's a part of the Earth or a part of our minds or another dimension. And they want to frighten us and upset us. And if anything, they want to give birth to religious ideas among us.

I don't know. It's a fascinating thing to read about, and I...

Donna Tartt: Yeah, exactly...

Anne Rice: ... have nothing...

Donna Tartt: ... the fairies were always abducting human children. The fairies were great abductors, and you know...

Anne Rice: Yeah.

Donna Tartt: ... very, very mischievous. I mean, they did many of the same things that, you know, UFO visitors seem to be doing now.

Anne Rice: Mm-hmm.

Ray Suarez: Well, they even look the same, which shows you that there might be some ...

Donna Tartt: They're about the same size.

Ray Suarez: ... archetypical root. The head-shape is often the same. The slight body and those sorts of things.

Anne Rice: That's true. That body shape reappears again and again; that elfin features -- the little, little bitty ears...

Donna Tartt: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Anne Rice: ... tricky eyes. Well, it scares the heck out of me.
laughter/shivering sound
I'd rather deal with vampires I know. I know they're fictional and metaphoric.

Ray Suarez: Nick in St. Louis, thanks a lot for your call.

Donna Tartt: Thanks.

Ray Suarez: Maura's next in San Diego. Hi ya, Maura.

Caller: Hi. How are you?

Ray Suarez: OK.

Caller: Good. Hi, Anne; hi, Donna.

Donna Tartt: Hi.

Anne Rice: Hi, baby, how are you?

Caller: I'm wonderful and I'm thrilled that I get a chance to talk with both of you. Donna, I thoroughly enjoyed The Secret History...

Donna Tartt: Oh, thank you.

Caller: ... and I am waiting and waiting for the next one.

Donna Tartt: Oh, well good.

Caller: ... and I hope next year is it.

Donna Tartt: I think so. I hope so.

Caller: I hope so, too. Anne, I'm an avid, avid fan and I have a couple of questions. I'm very fortunate and I get to travel to New Orleans four times a year.

Anne Rice: Great.

Caller: And I have taken the Mayfair witches tour, which I had such a great time. And I was in your home not long ago. And...

Anne Rice: Super.

Caller: ... I love your saints. I was brought up Catholic and I love the saints throughout your house.

Anne Rice: Mm-hmm.

Caller: I have a question, though. I was standing outside and I was taking pictures of your balcony.

Anne Rice: Mm-hmm.

Caller: And I took three consecutive pictures. And of the three, one of them had what appeared to be a ghost in the window.

Anne Rice: You're kidding. Wait a minute -- which house was this?

St. Elizabeth's on Napoleon? Or...

Caller: The one on First.

Anne Rice: Oh, the one on First and Chet -- the one in which I lived; the one whence I just came. Yes.

Caller: Yes.

Anne Rice: And there was a ghost?

Caller: Yes, and I've been wanting to send them to you because I belong to the fan club and I have your address.

Anne Rice: 1239 First Street.

Caller: Right.

Anne Rice: 70130.

Caller: And I -- I just -- I was astonished when I got home and had them developed, that two of them were very clear. The window was clear. You have the lace curtains.

Anne Rice: Mm-hmm.

Caller: And in one of them, you can see a vision.

Anne Rice: Are you sure, Maura, that it wasn't Anne in her nightgown going to the window to look out?

Caller: No.

Anne Rice: Because I do sleep right behind those windows...

Caller: No.

Anne Rice: ... and I go to them all the time.

Caller: You were actually on tour with "The Servant of the Bones."

Anne Rice: Oh, all right.

Caller: Stan was there, but this does not look like Stan.

Anne Rice: Mmm-hm. What does it look like, Maura?

Caller: It's -- it's kind of a foggy -- it almost looks like a child.

Anne Rice: Oh my goodness.

Caller: Like the apparition of a child.

Anne Rice: Oh my goodness.

Caller: And...

Anne Rice: OK, you have to send me the picture.

Caller: I have it and I want to send it, and that's why I called. I was too -- I needed to ask you...

Anne Rice: OK.

Caller: ... would it be OK to send this to you?

Anne Rice: Oh, please do.

Caller: I was just -- I was floored. And I just -- I walked away with chills. I just thought: oh, I have got to contact Anne, and in fact I had tickets for Saturday night, and I'm unable to go.

Anne Rice: Oh, you mean, this Halloween...

Caller: This Saturday.

Anne Rice: ... Halloween weekend.

Caller: Yeah, I'm very disappointed that I can't make it, but I will next year. And I just -- I loved your books and I just finished Violin. I bought it the day it came out and I always visit the Garden District bookstore and get your books.

Anne Rice: Maura, you've got to send me that picture, and please...

Caller: Do you feel...

Anne Rice: ... mark on it "Attention: Suzy Q." Suzy's sitting right here with me. She's my assistant and she'll get that letter and...

Caller: OK.

Anne Rice: ... bring it right to me.

Caller: OK. Attention Suzy Q.

Anne Rice: Yeah, Suzy Q. But that -- I want to see this. I mean, I believe in ghosts actually. I've never seen one, but I believe in them. I think it's very possible...

Caller: Well that was my question...

Anne Rice: ... that they're there.

Caller: ... whether your house was haunted or not? I -- because...

Anne Rice: Well.

Caller: ... I showed it -- I've shown it to many people and they' re just astound that -- yeah, it's such a clear apparition in the window.

Anne Rice: The house is supposed to be haunted, but it's supposed to be haunted by an elderly woman who lived there for something like, well almost 70 years. And I've never heard of a child ghost in my house, but it's entirely possible. I really don't know. If I ever see a ghost, that will be quite a psychic event for me -- quite a psychological event.

I am open now to seeing them. For year, I was closed. But I've now removed the protective light and I've opened my arms to the spirits.

Ray Suarez: Well, maybe...

Anne Rice: So perhaps this is the beginning.

Ray Suarez: ... maybe that spirit that's already there just had a friend over the day Maura was there.

Maura, get the picture to Anne. You know, cut the suspense already. I'm Ray Suarez. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Charlie's with us now from Washington, DC. Hi, Charlie.

Oh, Charlie?

Caller: Yes.

Ray Suarez: Hi.

Caller: Hi.

Donna Tartt: Hi, Charlie.

Anne Rice: Hi, Charlie.

Caller: Hello.

Anne Rice: Hello, Charlie, how are you doing?

Caller: Good. I just -- I read some time ago that film rights have been sold to a secret -- have been sold for A Secret History and I was wondering where that project is in development and thought that maybe Anne may have some pearls of wisdom for you on...

Anne Rice: Ha-ha.

Donna Tartt: It's been up and down and around and through. I mean, right now, it is with Scott Hicks (ph), who recently did the movie "Shine."

Anne Rice: Oooh, wonderful, wonderful movie, Shine.

Donna Tartt: Yeah, I'm very happy about that. So I think it's a good match. You know...

Anne Rice: Fabulous.

Donna Tartt: ... I think it's going to be really good.

Caller: So is it in production?

Donna Tartt: Not that I know of. I think they're still -- still working on a script. But I don't know. I -- I don't have anything to do with the moviemaking end of it, and I sort of -- really just try to stay out of that. I don't know about it, because it's just gone through so many hands. I never know where it is. I went through, you know, years of not knowing that. And after about five years, I finally lost interest.

Ray Saurez: Well, does it take on a life of its own truly? Or do you have some at least input on scriptwriters and how the...

Donna Tartt: Not really, no.

Ray Suarez: ... property's handled?

Donna Tartt: I mean, they'll -- I mean, not really -- not any actual power. I mean, possibly some sort of courtesy listen, but nothing really.

Ray Suarez: In your books, Anne, that have been optioned either for television, for miniseries, or for the movies, do you write the screenplays yourself? Or, have you done some and not others? How does that work?

Anne Rice: I've done some and not others. I did do the script for "Interview with the Vampire" and it did wind up in the film. The film actually, I'd say well over three-fourths of the film was based on the script that I wrote. And that was a very gratifying experience.

But the more you work with people in Hollywood, I think the more you realize that you can talk and talk and talk and consult and consult and consult, and still when they get together -- when they collaborate -- anything can happen. Your heart can be broken. They can use half of what you had. They can use nothing.

I mean, it's a -- it's -- I think Donna is very wise to just let them go their own way. You can't really have -- the only way you can really influence a film is to be the complete producer of that film, like David Geffen was with Interview With the Vampire.

Donna Tartt: Yeah.

Anne Rice: And I was very blessed in that David really wanted to make a movie that was true to the book. It doesn't always happen.

Donna Tartt: It's also difficult. I mean, Nabokov said this, and he was quite right, that you know, writing a screenplay after you've written a novel is like making a sketch after you've just painted the Sistine Chapel. Do you see what I'm saying?

Anne Rice: Mm-hmm.

Donna Tartt: You have to -- it's working in a completely different way. And I -- I know that I wouldn't have been able to write a screenplay to -- I mean, once you've written something that's so long and complex, it would be -- it would be very hard. It would have been hard -- maybe I could do it now -- but I know I couldn't have done it seven years ago when I finished it -- just sort of boil it down to the bare bones. Now I could, but I couldn't have then.

Anne Rice: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. I think it's very hard to write a script. I don't do it now. What I do like to do is consult and do treatments -- sit down and talk about how things should look, what should go on.

Donna Tartt: Yeah.

Anne Rice: I think, really more than ever, I believe this, that the best way to adapt a movie to the screen is to just do the book -- I mean, the book to the screen. Do the book. I mean, that's what happened with "Rebecca." That's what happens with -- that happened with "Gone With The Wind." It's what happened with "Lolita," to a very large extent.

Donna Tartt: Right.

Anne Rice: Just do the book. Otherwise -- if you want to do something original on your own, do your own original thing. You know, don't take a book and twist it and change it. I -- Jim Cameron right now is working on "The Mummy" -- one of my more light-rollicking sort of books. And I'm trusting that Jim will do a really great job, but I don't know. You never know what's going to happen. You talk and you hope and you pray.

Donna Tartt: I have to tell you, Anne, that I was in Luxor last Halloween. I was in Thebes...

Anne Rice: Ooh, wow.

Donna Tartt: ... walking among the lowest of the dead. It's Halloween every day there. But it's very funny -- I went into the old Egyptology bookshop there. I think it's called Leonard and Lanrock (ph) -- but it's very old. Been there since the '20s. Had a huge Egyptology section. It's in German and French and every language.

And the only fiction they had in there was The Mummy -- right in...
Anne Rice: Donna, thank you.

Donna Tartt: I should have taken a picture.

Anne Rice: Donna, that is almost scary, you know, that is positively scary. But I love hearing that. I've been to Luxor myself, and I absolutely love that part of Egypt. Oh, dear me.
Ray Suarez: Well, our time is up for this hour. I want to thank everyone who called to join us, and especially thank my guests. Anne Rice, good to talk to you again.

Anne Rice: Oh, thank you very much, Ray. And please come down and visit me on Mardi Gras.

Ray Suarez: Will do. Anne Rice, her new book is called Violin.

She's also the author of The Vampire Chronicles and joined us from member station WEZB in New Orleans.

Donna Tartt, thanks for being with us this hour?

Donna Tartt: Thank you.

Ray Suarez: Donna Tartt's debut novel is The Secret History. Set your watch, she'll have another one every seven years. She joined us from NPR's New York bureau.

+ + + Comments + + +