Messages From the Beach 2003
"August 20th, 2003
As I am still in Florida, this message will not be on my phone in New Orleans. My stay here is the longest ever, and I am learning what it means to wake up to the spectacle of the blue waters of the gulf and to go to sleep at night beside the same sea. My days here are all study and writing, and in the early evenings, when I am alone, with only my books, and the deck door is wide open to the soft roar of the waves, I often slip into a trance state in which my mind seems to grasp things with uncommon quickness. I feel my thoughts acutely. Theological concepts, religious concepts which have seemed dry to me for years are suddenly palpable and meaningful. I become excited like a small child by the simplest things. To put it more succinctly: things I thought I knew suddenly become revelations.
I've been writing in long drawn out periods, and when I sleep I sleep deeply remembering no dreams when I awaken. Of course the reason for my retreat here from the green trees of New Orleans -- and it is indeed totally treeless here -- is my writing and the writing is difficult though the reading is easy. I want to talk for a moment about the nature of my writing. But first let me ask a question.
Do you think that the Internet has created another dimension of what we loosely call The Public Record? Do you feel the multiple sites on the Internet -- the book sales sites which offer reviews of books, the chat rooms, the reviewing magazines which post their reviews, etc. -- do you feel they are creating and shaping a new stream into the Public Record, and do you feel they have given the Public Record new muscularity or vigor?
Of course this question assumes that we already have a Public Record being fed by newspapers and periodicals, and when it comes to books and how they are received, I'm not so sure we have a very accurate public record at all, really.
But let's suppose that we do, and let's suppose that the Internet does feed it, and let's suppose that even this site: AnneRice. com actually feeds it. If that is the case -- for you and for me, and for that Public Record, I want to make some remarks about my methods of writing. If they clarify things for those who are curious, and if they should help anyone who is writing, very good.
On My Method of Writing:
I have been writing most of my adult life, of course, but very steadily since about 1970. It was around that time that short stories, and novellas began to pour out of me, pretty much without cease. And it was in 1973 that Interview with the Vampire poured out, and thereafter I never stopped creating novels, the novel being the natural form for me.
My method of writing is to develop the novel sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph and page by page with heavy rewriting and reshaping and editing as I go along, a method thoroughly developed from the beginning, so that even in the earliest times, while working on an electric typewriter, my office was littered with rejected quarter pages and half pages, and three-quarter length pages until I had the perfected page in order to proceed to the next page.
You might say I was word processing before word processors. But the point is, I never worked in drafts. I never sat down and wrote a "first draft" of anything. I wrote only through slow and polished and highly edited evolution, discarding as I went along until --- by the very end -- I had a completed and polished and deeply thought out and, above all, deeply felt and executed manuscript. One version of that manuscript existed, and nothing more. There was never a sloppy first draft or second draft or third draft.
Now once I was accepted by a publishing house, and I began to make a living from my writing, I did fall into the situation where I would hand in partial manuscripts in order to receive part of an advance payment, but these were not first drafts -- they were versions -- which usually lacked the ending. My editor at that time would give me her comments -- what characters she responded to most, what puzzled her, what she thought was unclear and so forth -- and I would respond to those comments, very often with changes. But what was handed in was never a raw draft. I don't create such drafts. It's unthinkable for me. I can't proceed that way.
And though I am devoted to my editor, I always had mixed feelings about this process of receiving her comments and responding to them.
After the publication of the The Queen of the Damned, I requested of my editor that she not give me anymore comments. I resolved to hand in the manuscripts when they were finished. And asked that she accept them as they were. She was very reluctant, feeling that her input had value, but she agreed to my wishes. I asked this due to my highly critical relationship with my work and my intense evolutionary work on every sentence in the work, my feeling for the rhythm of the phrase and the unfolding of the plot and the character development. I felt that I could not bring to perfection what I saw unless I did it alone. In othe words, what I had to offer had to be offered in isolation. So all novels published after The Queen of the Damned were written by me in this pure fashion, my editor thereafter functioning as my mentor and guardian.
As always, I continued to work with immense focus, critically editing and polishing the words, only proceeding in the work until I felt that the most had been exacted from each element, editing and re-editing the words with enormous scrutiny and exactitude. Naturally, when I had switched from typewriter to computer around 1983 or so, I took to the computer very well, and this aided me in moving back and forth through the chapters, perfecting them, bringing them closer and closer to my ideal of what they could be, and sharpening and honing them into what I wanted.
But never were drafts of anything produced. My methods would never allowed for anything so sloppy to have been done. I'm too compulsive for that method. I understand why it might work for another person, but I must control the manuscript much more tightly. By the time I reach the last paragraph of a book, everything else is in line behind it, and giving birth to that last paragraph. I go back and back over that last paragraph countless times, getting up out of bed in the middle of the night to go in and redo that last paragraph, but all the rest is polished and edited right down to the last. And then the completed version goes off to the publisher.
That is my method.
Along the way, I do save on the hard drive discarded versions and fragments of chapters as I repolish and rework. If I take a stab at chapter 2, and wake up knowing I have to redo all of that before I can go on, I rename that "try2, and redo it totally as 2 and may do that seven times before I'm satisfied. I edit myself relentlessly.
That is essentially my working method. By the time the novel is complete, I have a love hate relationship with every word of it. That's why I can't bear for anyone to come in and touch it.
I wait excitedly for my editor to tell me how she responds to it. But she respects it as my finished work. Her remarks always teach me things about myself, the phases of my writing, the directions I am taking, etc. She has had an enormous influence over me all these years. I can't imagine life without her.
That, for the record, is my method.
Why am I telling you? Perhaps to assure you -- those of you who might want to know -- that the writing you are reading is quite deliberate, that it is informed and it is conscious, as well as being the result of intuition. It is the result of all that I am -- my education, my mystic sensibilities, and the student in me. It is poured out fearlessly, and then edited, and re-edited, and subjected to merciless scrutiny. It represents, and always has, my finest efforts.
Because I am viewed in some circles as a "popular writer," some of my most experimental work is some times dismissed with amazing laziness and derision. To experiment with the novel form has always been important to me. "Breaking the Frame" was one of the main themes in 20th century literature as many of you well know. I greatly respected Thornton Wilder for his revolutionary play Our Town, which did this in theater, and other works which did this are legion. That most of my readers love this -- Lestat's shattering the illusion of the novel -- makes me happy.
In Blood Canticle, you will find some of my most experimental writing -- my consciously breaking and stretching the frame of the novel with Lestat's immediate concerns, and also attempts to approximate his trance vision of the world when he hunts -- a sort of altered state in which the world becomes hallucination. For me these componants make the novel exceptional. They offer dimensions of the character that are essential to his heroic nature. In other words, they have to be there because he is what he is. Be assured, before the criticism slobs descend, that they are deliberate -- that whether they work for you or not, they are consummately intentional and thoughtfully executed.
Before I close, let me add one more note on the evolution of each novel with the publisher. After my editor receives each novel and approves of it, she passes it on to the "copy editor." The job of this person is to proof read the novel for spelling and dropped words and grammar. This person marks any kind of mistake of that sort, also some times catching simple mistakes in agreement -- say a character is six feet tall on one page, and 100 pages later, he is mentioned as shorter -- and sends the manuscript, through my editor, back to me. I then go over the whole manuscript again with a pencil and pen, reviewing all of the "copy editor's corrections." At that time, I not only approve the spelling corrrections, which I often need, and catch cropped words, but I also make corrections of my own. My editing isn't heavy at this point, but it is often very meaningful. I may even add lines or even paragraphs in ink. I read every single solitary word. I re-edit, exhaustively. Then and only then, do I return the manuscript.
After that, when the first print run comes, I don't have very much to do. I do read every word again, but thanks to the very thorough work that has gone on before, the degree of perfecting that has been achieved, I find I don't have very many things to amend.
That's the process. There are no drafts. There is intensive editing. And that's the way it is. You are not presented with a single sentence that has not been read and re-read, and read again and again.
You are not presented with anything that is not the culmation of what ever I may possess in the way of talent and will. There you have it. And I thank you for bearing with me. I think this is enough for now. A novel yet unwritten is calling to me. Keep sending me your messages. I receive transcripts of your phone messages here from New Orleans. I send you my love.
August 20, 2003"