Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men's Mystery, Lambda Literary Foundation, 2003, for The Snow Garden.
A Density of Souls, Talk Miramax (New York, NY), 2000.
The Snow Garden, Talk Miramax (New York, NY), 2002.
Light Before Day, Talk Miramax (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to magazines, including the Advocate and Lambda Book Report.
Christopher Rice has a knack for writing that is, quite literally, in his blood: he is the son of the late poet Stan Rice and well-known novelist Anne Rice, who is famous for her "Vampire Chronicles." However, having famous parents has also presented its drawbacks. In an interview with David Bahr for the Advocate, Rice noted that the public's perception of him as the son of a best-selling author has in some ways hindered acceptance of him as a writer; many critics have assumed that his work was published more because of family connections than because of its own merit. He told Bahr, "The only thing that can dispel people's notions that I'm just a product of nepotism is the book. And if they still think the book is crap, it's out of my hands. I can only write what I want and hope it gets out there, and that public appeal draws me out of [my mother 's] shadow." Rice's famous mother also gave him advice for dealing with negative reviews: "Refuse to accept failure." And Rice agreed, noting that if Anne Rice "had listened to critics, she wouldn't be where she is today."
Rice's fiction has won praise and criticism in its own right. His first novel, A Density of Souls, is a "story of murder, madness, rape and suicide evolving around four friends growing up in New Orleans," according to Beverly Beyette, writing in the Los Angeles Times. Published in 2000, the novel sold upwards of 100,000 copies in hardback. Rice followed his literary debut with the 2002 title The Snow Garden, a "murder mystery centered on an affair between a gay student and his married art history professor," as Beyette explained. Both novels bring homosexuality center stage; Rice himself came out when he was eighteen years of age.
From Acting to Writing
Writing was something Rice came to at an early age. As a six year old growing up in San Francisco, he was fascinated by movies that depicted huge catastrophes, and he set to work on his own story about the Golden Gate Bridge catching fire and burning down. When his mother finally pointed out that the bridge, made of iron and steel, could not burn, "I was crushed," Rice told Beyette. When he was ten, the Rice family left the West Coast and moved to New Orleans. "It was a complete and total culture shock," Rice explained to Tony Buchsbaum in an interview for January Online, "because we were coming from San Francisco where I had been in this very bohemian grammar school where we called all our lesbian teachers by their first names. And then suddenly I'm in uptown New Orleans, where all the boys have the same haircut, Polo shirts and Polo shorts." To Bahr he recalled life at the private elementary school he attended in New Orleans, where "we all had to go to chapel in the morning. I'm sure I suppressed a lot of gay feelings for a long time." Teasing was the order of the day for someone like Rice who did not quite fit into the usual stereotypes.
By the time he reached high school Rice's interests had centered on acting. "In high school, it was almost completely theatre," Rice told online interviewer Ron Hogan for Beatrice.com. "I thought I wanted to be an actor and [my parents] . . . 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." Rice picked prestigious Brown University, which also has a theatre program. In the event, however, acting proved not to be his calling. Trying out for his first play at Brown, Rice did not make the first cut at auditions. "After that experience, I went back to my dorm and began to write screenplays," he told Hogan. He left Brown after his freshman year and attended one semester at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Then "I just left," he told Beyette. "I didn't know what I was going to do." Rice moved to Los Angeles and began writing screenplays in earnest, but in 1998 he rushed back to New Orleans when his mother almost died in a diabetic coma. Then he turned to novels and wrote the first draft of A Destiny of Souls. His poet father encouraged him to revise the fledgling manuscript and keep working on it. Two years later, when it was nearly finished, Rice showed it to his mother. According to Bahr, she said, "Wow. I'm absolutely blown away by this novel. I think it's as courageous as it is brilliant." Anne Rice's agent, Lynn Nesbit, also liked the book well enough to represent it and sold it in a two-book contract to Talk Miramax.
In his debut novel, Rice chronicles the lives of four tormented high school students. Meredith Ducote is a troubled, alcoholic young woman; Greg Darby and Brandon Charbonnet are rowdy jocks; and Stephen Colin is a gay student who quickly becomes the target of Greg and Brandon's harassment. However, both bullies are hiding a painful secret—a secret Meredith knows. Before the secret is revealed to others, a hurricane arrives, one character dies, another has a nervous breakdown, a parent is committed to a mental hospital, a hate group bombs a gay bar, a previously hidden paternity is revealed, and several families break apart. As Rice noted to Linton Weeks in the Washington Post, in A Density of Souls "I took all my worst fears in high school and made them all happen to one character." Rice further commented to Bahr, "Really, what I set out to do was write the book that I as a gay kid in high school wanted to read." Although he was teased and harassed in high school, Rice added that his experiences were not as bad as those he created for his gay protagonist.
Although his publisher had warned Rice to expect some negative reviews simply because he was the son of a famous writer, A Density of Souls did not fare badly at the hands of most critics. A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that, despite the fact that this "earnestly overwritten debut novel flails wildly and suffers from an identity crisis as awkward and vivid as that of his soul-seared characters," Rice's novel nonetheless "offers an intriguing, complex story, a hard-nosed, lyrical teenage take on Peyton Place set in contemporary New Orleans." Booklist reviewer Kristine Huntley commented that while readers might pick up the novel because of Rice's mother's fame as a writer, "its originality and merits stand on their own." Less laudatory was a contributor for the New York Times Book Review who found A Density of Souls "scarily sincere and ultimately preposterous." But Buchsbaum was more positive in his assessment, calling the book "extraordinary," and "a searing portrait of a city on the edge—or perhaps beyond the edge. And it's the emotional story of a young man coming to terms and coming to grips with who he is."
High-School Gothic to Collegiate Murder Mystery
Rice followed A Density of Souls with The Snow Garden, a novel in which homosexual characters again
play central roles. Following a group of gay freshmen at a fictional college, the novel navigates a labyrinth of plots and subplots. Kathryn Parker is running from a secret past; her best friend, Randall, is having an affair with college newspaper reporter Tim in order to find out more about the art history professor with whom he had an affair but who Randall also suspects killed his wife in what seemed to be a car accident. Meanwhile, Randall is also attracted to the mysterious Jesse, who might actually be a sexual predator, while Mitchell, the professor's teaching assistant, tries to uncover the secrets of Kathryn's past.
Comparing his first two novels, Rice told C. Z. Lee in GayWired that "the new book is a murder mystery from almost page one. The first book was kind of an odd hybrid of many different books. It began as a coming of age story that blossomed into a murder mystery halfway through because what you thought was an accidental death ended up being revealed as a murder once these characters that had been together in the beginning were brought back together years later. But The Snow Garden really involves a character that has a suspect for a murder and is trying to prove that this guy did the murder." He also added that writing "The Snow Garden was a much different experience but in a way I was more proud of what came out. Maybe that indicates I did walk away from the bad reviews of the first one with something that I could apply and I felt as if I was writing with more direction. Writing this book, I actually felt like a writer."
Reviews of Rice's second novel covered a wide range of opinions. A contributor for Publishers weekly thought that "readers may not want to relive freshman year for 400 pages in order to learn whodunit." Similarly, Rebecca House Stankowski, writing in Library Journal, noted that "Rice tries to imbue this pretty much plotless novel with an aura of foreboding, but it just ends up being tiresome." Stankowski recommended readers to "stick with mom." A much different evaluation of the same novel came from Advocate contributor Joe E. Jeffreys, who felt The Snow Garden was "an engrossing tale" that "offers finely nuanced character studies." Booklist's Huntley was again impressed with Rice's writing, concluding that this was "an enthralling narrative that is certain to be as popular as [Rice's] first book."
Rice's third novel, Light Before Day, appeared in spring of 2005. The novel follows Adam Murphy, a writer for a gay magazine in Los Angeles, as he investigates a serial killer preying on young gay men. He teams with James Wilton, a straight detective novelist also looking into the case, and together they uncover a dangerous underworld of blackmailers and pedophiles. The story is told a bit differently than were Rice's previous two novels. Rice explained in an interview with the A Novel View Web site: "I am writing this novel in the first person. It is unbelievably exhilarating. I found that writing in the third person I couldn't crack into the characters skull like I really want to. With writing in the first person I have complete access to one character, then to all."
Speaking with Clive Barker in an Advocate interview, Rice described part of the root of his inspiration to write. "Creation comes out of a kind of endless anger and a discontentment with the way the world works and a desire to change it," Rice commented. "Not to fix it or to influence it. So if that anger ever goes away, I'm not sure where my ambition and drive would come from. I feel happy living in L.A. I feel like I've started a new life, one that has promise, But I'll always feel a bit of distance between me and the rest of the world."
If you enjoy the works of Christopher Rice
If you enjoy the works of Christopher Rice, you may also want to check out the following books:
Armistead Maupin, The Night Listener, 2000.
Will Self, Dorian, 2002.
Nick McDonell, Twelve, 2002.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Advocate, August 29, 2000, David Bahr, "A Chip off the Old Block Buster," p. 38, February 19, 2002, Clive Barker, "Dark Lords: Are Gay Readers More Attracted to Gothic Stories?" (interview with Rice), p. 61; February 19, 2002, Joe E. Jeffreys, review of The Snow Garden, p. 63.
Booklist, July, 2000, Kristine Huntley, review of A Density of Souls, p. 1975, November 15, 2001, Kristine Huntley, review of The Snow Garden, p. 524.
Entertainment Weekly, June 30, 2000, Clarissa Cruz, "Family Fare: Does Having a Famous Last Name Lead to Literary Fame? It Sure Doesn't Hurt," p. 124.
Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, May, 2002, Greg Herren, review of The Snow Garden, p. 45.
Kirkus Reviews,January 1, 2005, review of Light Before Day, p. 17.
Lambda Book Report, May, 2002, Eugene M. McAvoy, review of The Snow Garden, p. 18.
Library Journal, December, 2001, Rebecca House Stankowski, review of The Snow Garden, p. 175.
Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2002, Beverly Beyette, "The Urge to Write Is in His Blood," p. E1.
New York Times Book Review, September 10, 2000, review of A Density of Souls.
People, October 23, 2000, "In the Blood: Horror Author Anne Rice's Son Christopher Takes Up the Family Business, Minus the Bats," p. 123.
Publishers Weekly, August 7, 2000, review of A Density of Souls, p. 77; November 5, 2001, review of The Snow Garden, p. 38; May 27, 2002, John F. Baker, "Christopher Rice's Two Steamy Thrillers Have Already Shown That He Need Not Be Sold Just as the Son of Anne but Is an Author in His Own Right," p. 14.
Washington Post, October 20, 2000, Linton Weeks, "The Writers Related by Blood," p. C1.
Beatrice.com,http://www.beatrice.com/ (September 17, 2004), Ron Hogan, "Christopher Rice."
GayWired.com,http://www.gaywired.com/ (February 18, 2002), C. Z. Lee, "Rites of Passage: Christopher Rice."
Identity Theory, (September 17, 2004), Robert Birnbaum, Christopher Rice.
January Online,http://www.janmag.com/ (October, 2000), Tony Buchsbaum, interview with Rice.
A Novel View,http://www.anovelview.com/ (September, 2003), interview with Rice.*