Famous fantasy novelist Anne Rice writes about characters with supernatural abilities. But despite their gifts, they grapple with the same humbling issues that we ordinary mortals do, like what is the meaning of life? Is there a God? Who is my family?
"I have always thought it was very much a part of fantasy fiction," Rice said during a phone call from Palm Desert, Calif., where she now lives.
"I like to think that they're inducted into an extraordinary existence, but they don't know any more about the meaning of life than the rest of us," she said. "They just have enhanced powers."
Rice will be in Lexington on Monday to sign her latest book, The Wolves of Midwinter, at Joseph-Beth Booksellers. Joining her will be her son, Christopher Rice, left, signing copies of his sixth and latest novel, The Heavens Rise.
Since publishing Interview With a Vampire in 1976, which was adapted into a successful 1994 film starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, Anne Rice has published 30 novels covering everything from vampires to angels to witches to Jesus Christ.
Now, Rice's imagination is focused on werewolves, an area of lore she hadn't written about in previous works and which she began exploring at the request of a friend.
"My friend Jeff Eastin suggested it," Rice said, referring to the television producer of the shows White Collar and Graceland.
"He had just seen a special on werewolves and said, 'I will buy the book,' and for some reason I thought, 'Why not?'" said Rice.
"It was all brand new, and it felt very good."
The Wolves of Midwinter is the second book in The Wolf Gift Chronicles, a series Rice plans to continue for at least one more book.
In the series' first book, The Wolf Gift, the life of a young reporter named Ruben is saved and forever changed by a werewolf who accidentally infects Ruben. In the hospital, Ruben begins to make a miraculous recovery and seems, well, different.
The remainder of the first book details Ruben's transformation into Rice's version of a werewolf — which is not a furry, four-legged creature but a wolflike man, like Lon Chaney in the 1941 film The Wolf Man — and Ruben's discovery of other werewolves, dubbed Morphenkinder, and their ways.
Rice's werewolves also are not affected by the moon in any way.
"I liked it much better if he didn't have to bother with the moon," said Rice, who added that she decides the "rules" for her cosmology as she writes. "I didn't understand why the moon would have anything to do with a mysterious, hormonal transformation."
Her werewolves exist more as genetic mutations whose supercharged immune system heals any injuries or illnesses so efficiently that they are immortal, in effect; the only way to kill her werewolves is to cut off their heads.
"Each author is always making his or her own mythology and cosmology," Rice said.
The Wolves of Midwinter picks up where The Wolf Gift left off. Now living in a giant mansion with his "pack" of Morphenkinder and a human mate who has decided to become a werewolf herself, Ruben is pulled more deeply into the mysteries of the Morphenkinder, including their secret rituals of Yuletide.
Rice spares no detail in her lush imagining of dual holidays. One is the Christmas celebrations in the town where the werewolves live (perceived as regular humans by the townsfolk), and the other is a deep winter forest ritual. It's fair to say that if The Wolf Gift Chronicles were a TV series, The Wolves of Midwinter would be the Christmas episode.
"I had a lot of fun writing about Christmas," said Rice, "but I barely get into many of the characters and I'd like to get into them in a third book even more."
Rice pointed out that while she is at home in the fantasy genre, one thing that is different about The Wolf Gift Chronicles is a focus on continually meeting new characters, and growing and deepening their relevance.
"One of the things I really love doing is opening doors to more stories," she said. "I felt in the old days, in The Vampire Chronicles, I was always closing doors; tragedy was always happening. I think this will be a lot more fun, with interesting new characters all the time."
Many of these "new" characters come with age-old questions about spirituality and meaning. One werewolf character is so old, he was once worshipped as a god himself but is now referred to as "the godless"; Ruben's human brother, Jim, who plays a large role in the second book, is a Catholic priest trying to grapple with the existence of werewolves and what they do (destroy anything that smells like evil).
"It feels very natural when I'm writing about that, and I have to sort of stand outside it to analyze it," Rice said of her characters' differing spiritual lives — or lack thereof.
Throughout her career, Rice has grappled publicly with spirituality, at various times embracing atheism, Catholicism and secular humanism.
"There's something for me in every one of them," she said of her characters. "We all want to fit somewhere."
IF YOU GO
What: Anne Rice signs The Wolves of Midwinter and Christopher Rice signs The Heavens Rise.
When: 7 p.m. Oct. 21.
Where: Joseph-Beth Booksellers, The Mall at Lexington Green, 161 Lexington Green Cir.
Tickets: This is a ticketed event. Free line tickets may be obtained by purchasing a copy of either book at Joseph-Beth.
Learn more: Josephbeth.com.