Anne Rice, Mother of Vampires

 

She is the mistress of the macabre, the weaver of witch tales, a native New Orleanian who may never have made her mark in the world if it weren’t for her near blood thirsty curiosity about what it would be like to interview a vampire.

We are only twenty seven days away from Halloween, and no countdown would be complete without a tribute to Anne Rice, my all-time favorite living author!

Luckily, today happens to be her birthday.  (I’m sure it is no coincidence that this woman came into the world so near to Halloween.)

Anne Rice was born on October 4, 1941 in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was the second of four daughters. Her parents, Howard and Katherine O’Brien, were of Irish Catholic descent. The family lived in the hard-scrabble, impoverished section of town known as the Irish Channel, where they rented a 3-room shotgun house. Most of Anne’s childhood was spent dealing with the hardships of poverty and her mother’s alcoholism.

Curiously, Anne is not her real name – her parents actually named her Howard, after her father.  Regarding her unusual name, Rice has said:

“My birth name is Howard Allen because apparently my mother thought it was a good idea to name me Howard. My father’s name was Howard, she wanted to name me after Howard, and she thought it was a very interesting thing to do. She 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.”

In their defense, it is true that women with androgynous names sometimes do get certain advantages in life. This idea of boy-girl names for little girls became more popular in later decades. Consider Taylor, Beau, Ricki, Sammie, etc.  In the 1940’s, however, it must have been a pretty shocking thing to do.

Little Howard did not like her name at all. When she went to first grade at St. Alphonsus School, the nun asked her name and she replied. “Anne.”  It stuck. Her parents agreed to legally change her name in 1947.

New Orleans is a spooky and beautiful town, known for its ghosts and cemeteries. The dead are famously “buried above ground.” This is not so appalling as it may sound – it simply means that New Orleans adapted the French-Catholic custom of burying the dead in above ground in tombs and mausoleums, rather than underground coffins.

The cemeteries of New Orleans are legendary, hosting tales of folklore sure to fire any imagination. The Louisiana government takes no part in maintaining the tombs, so the upkeep of a deceased loved one is purely a family affair. This leads to a certain beauty – each tomb is personal, a work of art.

Here I am with my niece at St. Louis Cemetery #1 in the French Quarter.  In the tomb behind us lies none other than New Orleans voodoo queen Marie Laveau!

New Orleans Cemetery

The O’Brien family lived right around the corner from Lafayette Cemetery #1. This was Anne’s childhood playground. It was in Lafayette that Anne would later place the tombs of her characters Lestat the vampire and the Mayfair witches.

Anne’s childhood was heavily influenced by her Catholic religion.  Black cloaks, dark confessional booths, rosary beads, candlelight vigils and marble statues that seemed to come to life were all part of her sensibilities. Not to mention symbolic blood drinking as designated by the sacraments.  Mix that with extreme poverty, family dysfunction,  cemeteries, voodoo, hoodoo, Mardi Gras – and we can easily see what fueled Anne’s wicked imagination.

When Anne was just fifteen years old, her mother died due to complications of alcoholism. Her father, unable to cope with four daughters, placed the girls in foster care at Saint Joseph’s Academy.  According to Anne, Saint Joseph’s was: “something out of Jane Eyre … a dilapidated, awful, medieval type of place. I really hated it and wanted to leave. I felt betrayed by my father.” Charles Dickens was Anne’s favorite author, and it seems her own childhood was a bit of a Victorian Bleak House.

Saint Joseph’s Academy

Two years later, in 1958, Howard Rice retrieved his daughters and moved the family to Richardson, Texas. There, Anne met her future husband Stan Rice, while both were students at Richardson High School. Although Anne left Texas after high school and moved to San Francisco, she remained in touch with Stan.  While Anne was in California, Stan sent her a telegram asking her to marry him.  She said yes! The two were wed in Texas in 1961 when Anne was twenty and Stan was just eighteen. They were married for forty one years until Stan’s death in 2002.

While living in San Francisco in 1973, Anne wrote her first novel Interview With the Vampire.  She has stated that vampire literature was nearly nonexistent at the time, but she thought it would be “fun to interview one.”  The novel was published in 1976 and quickly became a best seller. Anne then wrote The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned. The Vampire Chronicles had begun!

In 1988 Anne moved back to New Orleans with her husband and son, Christopher. Having become wealthy from her book sales, Anne purchased a mansion in the garden district. She then began writing The Witching Hour, the first of the Mayfair Witch Trilogy. The house that Anne lived in was located at 1239 First Street. It is the coolest house ever! It became as much a character in the books as the Mayfair witches themselves.

Here’s me in front of the magnificent house — a must-see if you are ever in NOLA!

New Orleans Anne Rice House

In 2004, after the death of her husband, Anne moved back to California and has lived there ever since.

Interview With the Vampire was made into a movie in 1994. It starred Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kiirsten Dunst and Antonio Banderas. The movie received critical acclaim. Three more of Anne’s novels were made into movies – Queen of the Damned, Exit To Eden and The Feast of All Saints.

For many years, Anne had given up film rights to her own novels, because movie studios had optioned them.  In 2015, Anne regained the rights and set about trying to turn the entire Vampire Chronicles into a television series. In 2017, Paramount Television and Anonymous Content optioned the rights to 11 books. The series was picked up for broadcast on Hulu, and should be premiering sometime in 2019. I can’t wait!

Fun Facts:

  • To date, Anne has written 41 novels.
  • In addition to Gothic and horror, Anne also writes erotic novels under the pseudonyms A. N. Roquelaure and Anne Rampling.
  • Cosmopolitan magazine called her “the queen of sexy vampire fiction”.
  • Although her vampires are known for their charm and sensuality, none of them actually have sex. Because they are, you know, vampires…

  • Anne tried reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a teenager and was too terrified to finish the book. As an adult she attempted it again and loved it.
  • Anne became a self described “Atheist” after leaving the Catholic Church at age 18.
  • In 1998, Anne returned to the church. After twelve years as a practicing Catholic, she renounced Christianity, stating: “I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity.”
  • Anne almost joined the world of the dead herself, in 1998, when she fell into a diabetic coma. She came close to death once again in 2004 when she suffered a bowel obstruction and surgery.
  • For several years, after her return to New Orleans, Anne held an annual Halloween vampire ball at the mansion on First Street. The ball is still going strong, now operated by the Anne Rice/ Vampire Lestat Fan Club.

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  • The Rice’s first child, a daughter named Michele, died from leukemia when she was just six years old. The loss devastated them.
  • Anne, a self-described ‘alcoholic’, stopped drinking in 1979 after the birth of her son Christopher. She has stated that she did not want him to have the same childhood she did, in dealing with an alcoholic mother. Anne has made public service announcements regarding alcohol and sobriety.
  • Anne has stated that she chose vampires as her means of self expression, because she was facing painful issues which she could not discuss directly.
  • Regarding the movie Interview With the Vampire, Anne claims “Brad Pitt played me, because I am Louis.” Louis, as you may recall, was the most ‘human’ and conflicted of the vamps.

Happy Birthday Ms. Rice! Wishing you Immortality 🙂

 

 

 

 

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Welcome October! Day 29

 

“October had tremendous possibility. The summer’s oppressive heat was a distant memory, and the golden leaves promised a world full of beautiful adventures. They made me believe in miracles.” 
― Sarah Guillory,  from Reclaimed

“October proved a riot to the senses and climaxed those giddy last weeks before Halloween.” 
― Keith Donohue

As we welcome in big, bold October, today we find ourselves with twenty-nine days until Halloween. Are you prepared?

Twenty-nine can be considered a sacred number, because of its reduction to eleven. Its core value is two.  Numerology always reduces numbers to the lowest value. Thus: 2 +9 = 11, and 1 +1 = 2. Eleven is a mystical number, representing the “doorway” or the pillars to enlightenment. Eleven itself even looks like a doorway!

Therefore, today (also a 2, October 2nd) is the perfect time to welcome in our new month.

The intrinsic meaning of the number 29 is a combination of 2 and 9.  The number 2 represents duality, opposites, teamwork, collaboration and cooperation. The number 9 — which is the last before 10, or 1 —  represents the “end of things”. It is care in the final stages that lead to completion and perfection. It also represents health, humanitarian interests and care for our fellow beings.  Both numbers deal with esoteric knowledge — in two, as exploring the nature of duality, and in nine as the striving for completed perfection.

Twenty nine is a combination of these two.

The essence of the number 29 is relationships, and working together as we strive to create a better world for all involved. Imagine all magick channeled into a beautiful coexistence, with its source used as the primary requirement to maintain its own existence. That, in a nutshell, is 29.

It might look something like this.

Or this:

Happy October, and Blessed be!

Circle Dancing

 

 

 

As Equinox Approaches…

 

“Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires.”                              — William Shakespeare

It occurs to me that we, as human beings, are all some combination of light and darkness. The task is to balance the two, without letting either one have the greater power. Too much darkness will engulf us into the depths of fear and depression. Too much light will make us blind.

The light is active, warm, affirming and life-giving, but excessive sun will give us sunstroke. The night is silent, contemplative and restorative, but too much darkness will cause inertia.

At no time of year are these truths more evident than at Equinox, when light and darkness occupy an equal number of hours in one day.

The light and darkness can also be compared to personalities. Somewhere along the line, darkness got a bad rap. This of course, is vastly unfair. It is true that no one likes “morbid Morticia”. She is rude, harsh, abrupt, maybe revealing a bit too much of the cold, hard truth.

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However, the sugar coated “positive Pollyanna” can grate on our nerves as well. She is too happy. We are jealous. Who lives in a 24 hour sunshine? We want revenge!  Can she be for real?

(You know the types 🙂 )

Think whatever you want about morbid Morticia, but she has some wicked, hidden secrets to reveal. Are you interested? Of course you are! She is the night, the wisdom, the no-holds-barred exposure of the soul. Positive Pollyanna can keep these harsh truths in perspective. She is the illumination, the goodness and the gentleness, forever reminding us of our light within. We need both of them.

“To light a candle is to cast a shadow.” — Ursula Le Guin

There is an ancient Taoist belief that all of nature is a reflection of humanity, and vice-versa. We humans are more like the elements of nature than we might suspect.  Our life cycles stand parallel to those of plants and flowers, going through the same phases of Maiden, Mother and Crone. Therefore, if we seek to heal anything within ourselves, we need only look to nature for the solution.

In the northern hemisphere, we now greet Autumn. We gather our harvest, embrace the last glimpse of summer and prepare for the darkness to come. In the southern hemisphere, we greet Spring. We begin planting, kiss the night goodbye and prepare for the long, fair days to come.

Both are important for our well being. Both are important for the well being of our planet.

At this Equinox, take some time to reflect on and embrace both the darkness and the light within yourself.  Blessed be!

light and dark

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rusalka and the Titanic

 

I boarded the ship at Southampton, on England’s southern coast, a city they called Gateway to the World.  It was appropriately named. New worlds would indeed open to those that dared sail on the Titanic’s maiden voyage.

Southampton was seafaring town of busy docks, commerce and fishermen who, given half the chance may have recognized me for what I was. Yet I went ably and quietly about my business, our custom being to operate in stealth. My disguise was well put together, a simple blue dress, lace up boots and one bag of luggage that contained only my combs, mirrors, candles and an ancient grimoire. For all the crew and passengers knew, I could have been any normal woman, a widow perhaps, traveling alone with a full purse and a certain destination.

My nature necessitated a room in first class, where I could have daily baths in the salt water swimming pool. The engineers had designed it to provide diversion for wealthy passengers with plenty of leisure time. Little did they know it was my mainstay of survival. Without it I could never have attempted my feat.

I socialized moderately, took dinner with new acquaintances, but left my comments to such mundane topics as the weather and other non-committal matters.  This was my strategy, to avoid drawing attention to myself. Until of course, the very last.

The captain, one Edward John Smith of the Royal Naval Reserve, was a stately man, well-seasoned and of good capabilities.

When I inquired of the ship’s dimensions, her tonnage and resistance, Captain Smith looked at me funny. He must have thought it strange, a woman interested in such things. Still it was important I establish this knowledge. Else all my plans could go afoul.

We traveled for four days, stopping at Cherbourg Harbor in France and Queenstown in Ireland where more passengers boarded. They were a grand sight; well-heeled women in dresses of silk and gabardine, with enormous steamer trunks that held entire wardrobes. Scruffy emigrants in fisher caps and babuskas, with only hobo sacks of clothes. Excitedly they took their bunks in steerage. No matter that the class was third, for this was an ocean voyage. Poor innocents, all of them! They had no idea of their fate. Yet they sought new lands and opportunity. Those were things I could well provide.

On the night it happened the ship rounded the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. The moon was new, providing no extra light to the blackened sky. I had planned it as such, the first new moon after the spring equinox, when my powers of sorcery were at their ripest.

Just before midnight I slid from my bed. I combed my hair carefully, leaving it loose over my shoulders, but untangled. I took one large hand-held mirror with trimmed decorations of pearl and abalone. I also took three candles and my book of spells.  Naked and in bare feet I tiptoed across the deserted deck. Facing starboard, I lit the candles, then dangled my mirror toward the rushing ocean below me. I recited these words:

“Raise me an iceberg, unbreakable and dense, 

Black as this night, an invisible fence!

Raise me an iceberg, impenetrable and true

Black as this night, unseen by the crew.

Raise me an iceberg, grown from the sea

Black as this night, to set them all free!”

I then shattered the mirror and flung it overboard, crystalline shards drifting in the wind and falling like glittering stars to the churning water.

It was done.

Black icebergs are a rare phenomenon that neither the captain nor crew were familiar with. When my mountain arose from the water none could see it at first.

By the time the watchful lookout man spotted the iceberg, it was too late. The great Titanic hit the dense rock, damaging her hull. The sea began to seep in. Soon all five of the ship’s watertight compartments were flooded. This meant certain disaster.

Or did it?

I was elated. As the water rose I could contain myself no longer. Rushing below deck, I shifted to my mermaid’s body. I swam through the hallways, through the ever-rising tide of the elegant and soon to be flooded rooms.

The passengers, already in a state of shock, saw me and turned a whiter shade of pale. They were helpless.  I tried to talk to them, to reassure them that all would be well. But they were so frenzied, in such throes of panic, they could not hear my words. One shipmate grabbed a pistol and attempted to shoot me, bludgeoning a bloody hole through my tail. However, the sea’s salt water, now slowly immersing every floor, quickly healed me. As a Rusalka, I was immortal.

I finally perched myself upon the rail of the deck, curling my tail beneath me. In amusement I watched. Crew and passengers scurried about, securing lifeboats. There would never be enough. The captain, in his foolishness of believing the Titanic was unsinkable, had only equipped her with half of what was necessary. This was all the better!

“Women and children first,” called the first mate. I smiled. Yes, they would save the women and children first, as was human protocol.

From flooding corridors and slippery decks the men ran. Handsome, swarthy sailors, savvy men of business, emigrants in rags. All unsuspecting. All clueless.

Finally the ship cracked in two, her bow submerged, her back end rising upright like a serpent in the water. The remaining passengers slid to their death.

I balanced on my tail, stretched my arms before me and called out in my voice, loud as any canon: “Undines! Rusalki! Sirenas! Come forth!” I then dove off the rails.

Down, down I plunged into the ocean’s depths. There, rising on the crests of waves, my Mer-sisters emerged.

“Make your choices ladies,” I shouted. “This cargo is ripe for the picking!”  It was a welcome gift.  We had heretofore been sadly lacking in male companionship.

I grabbed a young sailor, his skin gone translucent blue, his eyes open in the cold stare of the dead. I pulled him to my breast, kissed him boldly on the mouth. His eyes then flickered in a strange and frightened recognition. He was the one who had attempted to shoot me with a pistol. Blood rushed to his cheeks.

“I should not forgive you,” I chided. Yet he was handsome and able, and in that instant I determined to make him mine.

My Mer-sisters followed suit, awakening the sea’s dead with kisses of life. One by one, the drowned became conscious, still in shock, but alive.

“Take heart, gentleman,” I said.  “Although you will never return to your earthly homes, you will now have refuge in our sea, in the abode of the Rusalki. As time passes you will come to love us and the ocean shall provide you with grand adventure.”

The men were new in their surroundings, but, being sailors, most had immense love of the water. At the very least they were grateful for their renewed life.  I was confident they would be happy. And if not? Well — I had more mirrors and candles and more spells to cast,  didn’t I? Not the least of which might bring love.

My mission was complete.

 

** HISTORICAL NOTE: On this day, April 15, 1912, the real RMS Titanic, headed on her maiden voyage to New York City, sank off the coast of Newfoundland. She had hit a “black” iceberg which caused irreparable damage to her hull.

The massive ship was 882 feet long with a breadth of 92 feet. Her total height, measured from keel to bridge, was 104 feet.  She weighed 46,328 tons. Among her more novel features, available only to first-class passengers, was a 7 ft. deep saltwater swimming pool, a gymnasium, a squash court, and a Turkish bath.

Because of her gargantuan size, the Titanic was considered virtually unsinkable.

Whether out of carelessness or limited storage capacity, the ship only held enough lifeboats to carry about half the passengers. These were quickly depleted.

On the night the Titanic sank, conditions were calm, clear, dark and cold. The black sky held a new moon, the ocean lit only by the stars. The “invisible” iceberg, a rare phenomenon, seemed to appear out of nowhere.

Approximately 1500 passengers lost their lives. Due to the “women and children first” rule, most of the deceased were men.

 

 

 

 

 

Witchy Wednesday: The Owens Sisters

 

The women of the Owens family are under a curse. A terrible, inescapable curse of the worst possible kind. It goes as follows: Any man who falls in love with one of them will, through some unexpected accident or unforeseen circumstance, end up dead.

The curse began some 300 years ago in colonial Massachusetts when ancestor Maria Owens was condemned to death for witchcraft. She was put to the hangman’s noose but escaped through magic. Maria was then banished to a small island off the coast. She was pregnant,  and although her lover had promised to come for her, he never showed up. Maria vowed to never again deal with the messy heartbreak of love. That vow, it its weird twisted way, turned into a curse against all men who dared love an Owens woman.

Now, sisters Sally and Gillian had better watch out!  Of course, as luck would have it, both of them are going to fall in love. More than once.

Practical Magic, adapted from Alice Hoffman’s 1995 novel of the same name, is one of my favorite witch movies!  It stars Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as the two sisters, who are orphaned after their parents die of curses and broken hearts. The girls are sent to live with their Aunts in the sleepy Massachusetts town where prejudice against witches still runs rampant.

Stockard Channing and Diane Weist are their wild and wacky aunts who eat chocolate cake for breakfast, cast love spells for the neighbors and dance naked in the moonlight.

As Sally and Gillian come of age in their Aunts’ glorious seaside mansion, they start to realize the true nature of their powers. Neither girl cares to practice magic.

Subdued, bookish Sally (Sandra Bullock) is the more gifted of the two, though she rarely casts a spell.  Wild child Gillian (Nicole Kidman) cares more for boys than witchery, and even runs away from her Aunts’ home to increase her opportunities with men.

The sisters are separated for a time, but, connected by blood and a psychic bond, they are never far apart.  Gillian gets involved with an abusive man named Jimmy Angelov.

One night, Sally gets a premonition that Gillian is in real trouble and immediately flies across the country to rescue her. She finds Gillian held hostage, but the forceful  Jimmy kidnaps both sisters.  An accidental overdose of belladonna, administered by Sally, sends Jimmy Angelov to sleep with the angels. Or in his case, the demons…   The sisters then find themselves in a tight spot; they are inadvertent murderers.

What to do?

Rather than let Jimmy stay dead, they decide to try their hand at necromancy.  The Aunts warn against it, believing he may come back as something “dark and unnatural”.  Gillian assures them that he always WAS something  “dark and unnatural”.  What have they got to lose?  But will the spell work?

To make matters worse, when Jimmy is reported as a missing person, detective Gary Hallet (played by Aidan Quinn) comes investigating.

The detective may have a hard time arresting Sally when he realizes he is falling in love with her.

Practical Magic, released in 1998, is a fun, sometimes spooky, romantic comedy.  The movie recently made news headlines when co stars Bullock and Kidman showed up as presenters at this year’s Academy Awards. As the women reunited, Practical Magic fans conjured up the notion of them doing a sequel to the movie.

Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock Oscars 2018

Whether or not this will happen remains to be seen, but one thing is certain; there will never be a shortage of fans hoping for it.

Throughout the movie, we find a number of spells and occult references. Here are some fun witchy facts:

It Runs in the Family

Sally and Gillian are descendants of Maria Owens who cast spells, broke hearts, and escaped the noose through magic. In reality, very few modern day witches can claim this kind of bloodline. Most witches are self made, through their own discipline and study of the Craft. There are, however, several families in  the Salem area who claim blood relations to those who were arrested for witchcraft in the 1692 witch hunts.

Bella Donna, the Beautiful Lady

Atropo Belladonna is a poisonous plant. It has been used as a sedative and antispasmotic.  Large doses can be deadly.  In medieval Italy, young women put drops extracted from the plant into their eyes. This dilated their pupils, creating an effect that was considered to be beautiful – hence the name Belladonna, which in Italian means “beautiful woman”.

Yeah. Because nothing says sexy like the pie eyed opiate induced dummy stare 🙂

J.R.R. Tolkien fans might remember the character Belladonna Took Baggins. She was the wife of Bungo Baggins, lady of Bag End, and mother of the original ring bearing hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

Blood Drinking Optional

The character Jimmy Angelov, played by Goran Visnjic, was supposed to be from Transylvania. We are not sure if he was an actual vampire, but his Romanian roots certainly lent an air of darkness and danger to him. In real life, Goran Visnjic is from Croatia. Close enough.

In the 1998 movie, a ten year old Evan Rachel Wood played Sally’s daughter Kylie.  Kylie took after her Aunt Gillian in both looks and temperament. We might wonder how she’d grow up…

Since then, Wood took on a bunch of noteworthy roles, including a vampire in True Blood.

Herbal Medicine

When a frightened Gillian returns home with a bruised face after Jimmy has assaulted her, Aunt Frances, in typical witch fashion, suggests applying mugwort.  In Medieval Europe, mugwort was believed to be a magical herb that would protect against evil spirits, diseases and misfortunes.

Don’t Know Your Past You Won’t Know Your Future

While fans may be clamoring for a sequel after seeing Sandra and Nicole on the red carpet, author Alice Hoffman has actually written a prequel. This book, called The Rules of Magic, tells the story of the Aunts, Frances and Jet, when they lived as teenage witches in 1960’s New York City.  Read more here.

And finally, no review of Practical Magic would be complete without a visit to Midnight Margaritas! Watch as the Aunts stir up a powerful brew.  Grab some limes and enjoy the show 🙂