How editorial feedback changed Interview with the Vampire
Interview with the Vampire is one of the most famous vampire novels in history, easily ranking with Dracula and Carmilla as a milestone in the genre. It was a novel that not only changed the life of its author Anne Rice, but also the genre itself. This post looks at the background to the book, its writing, submission process, and how editorial feedback changed Interview with the Vampire, leading to Anne Rice switching to the ending readers know today.
WARNING for spoilers relating to the current ending of the novel versus the original ending. Anyone who has not read the book, seen the film, or heard the story should stop reading now.
Also, this blog follows on from the previous post where I looked at Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and how it changed after editorial feedback from his editor, Max Perkins.
The first draft of Interview
It’s part of literary folklore (though also true) that Interview started as a short story. Anne reworked this story a few times and you can read a version of it in The Vampire Companion, listed in the reading material at the end of this post.
In late 1973, she returned to it, developing it further so that it became a novel she famously wrote in five weeks. She wrote long into the night, her husband learning to sleep with the light on. Sometimes he slept on the couch.
Rice wrote at night, researched at the library during the day, and also drank. She was still in the throes of grief after the death of her young daughter Michelle from leukaemia.
For most of her writing life, Anne would identify more with the villain of her first published novel – Lestat. But at this point in her life, she was more wedded to the dark pessimism, guilt and grief of Louis, who suffers the loss of his brother early on, the loss of his mortal life, and the loss of his daughter-companion later.
The novel’s frame narrative introduces the interview and the location – San Francisco. In fact, Anne had previously accompanied her poet husband Stan to a small radio station on Divisadero Street. Now the vampire would occupy such a space, telling the story of his life to an interviewer.
Though Anne lived in San Francisco at the time, through the novel she returned to the city of her childhood – New Orleans – richly describing climate, flora, streets, quarters, and the interiors of houses.
The novel tapped into her own history and recent bereavement, though she didn’t analyse it at the time.
Another influence on the novel was Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan, particularly in relation to Louis learning to become a vampire.
She read Carmilla but could not finish Dracula which showed vampires as more alien and animalistic. The 1936 film Dracula’s Daughter was more in line with her vision of vampires as tragic, with a conscience and the ability to suffer.
She broke with many of the usual genre tropes so that her vampires could see their own reflections, touch crucifixes, enter churches.
It was important that while they represented something magical in their immortality, the vampires themselves could see no evidence of something greater than themselves – namely, God or the Devil. This strengthens the existential angst for a character like Louis.
Finishing and submitting the first draft
After five weeks of furious writing, Anne finally finished the first draft of more than three hundred pages. In her diary she wrote:
It is just before four a.m. Monday morning, January 14 (1974), and I have just finished my vampire novel – 338 pages. Even as I write this the flaws occur to me. Perhaps I’ll go in and add something terribly essential. But right now I want to enjoy the moment of being finished… I am too excited about it to say anything humble or modest. I feel that even the writing of this entry is important. I dream, hope, imagine that this will be my first published work. I feel ashamed of nothing in it – not even what I know to be flaws. I feel solidly behind it as though Louis’ voice were my voice and I do not run the risk of being misunderstood.
Before she showed the manuscript to anyone, she sorted out the flaws in the ending. But that ending was very different from the present one.
In the meantime, she showed the novel to her husband. His first thought after finishing it was, “Our lives have changed.”
On the other hand, a writing group failed to appreciate the opening thirty pages, their comments unproductive.
When she sent the novel to someone who worked in film, he suggested she change the title. She didn’t take his advice.
She then sent the novel off to publishers and received many months of rejections.
Finally she ended up with two interested agents at the same time. She chose Phyllis Seidel and in October 1974 she received the news that Knopf would pay $12,000 for the hardback rights. This was six times the average for a first novel.
Anne’s new editor Victoria Wilson did want some changes – minor changes. She brought up something that is not uncommon in manuscripts.
The editorial feedback
In her editorial letter, Vicky Wilson wrote, “I think you were tired at the end. The end sort of peters out.” While other people who read the novel didn’t feel the same way, Anne felt that Vicky was right. The story calls for a tragic ending, and her energy had given out before she could properly conclude it.
It’s not uncommon for authors to be exhausted by the end of a draft. This can mean the ending is weaker or ends in the wrong place. The beginning can often be stronger because the author has more energy and motivation at that point. They are only at the beginning of the long marathon of writing a novel.
But what was the original ending?
The original ending
The novel up to Louis and Claudia going to Paris is pretty much the same as the published draft. But there is no Theatre of the Vampires. There is no climactic fire. There is no Madeleine. Lestat never appears, suggesting he likely died in the fire in New Orleans.
Instead, the Paris vampires live in an old mansion in the Faubourg St. Germain where they throw balls, recite Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, and drink animal blood in crystal glasses, served from a cauldron. Elderly human servants attend to them, humans who hope to become vampires one day.
Louis assumes the vampires are Satanic, leading him to hope they might have some answers to his existential questions. But Armand, the oldest of him, has no knowledge of either God or the Devil. This discussion still essentially exists in the published novel.
There are other scenes that don’t appear in the final draft, or which have been adapted. A girl is feasted on at the house in the early draft, while this takes place in the Theatre of the Vampires in the final version.
There’s a scene where Armand and Louis look out from a tower room to the Paris skyline beyond. Louis still suffers despair. He cannot stay with the Paris coven. They are too conformist and rigid in their rules. In Armand, he finds “the vampire of my dreams” and they go off together to wander the world. They’re still together by the time of the interview.
Meanwhile Claudia has embraced the Paris coven, fitting in where Louis does not. While the truth comes out about her attacking and likely killing Lestat, the other vampires decide he deserved it. The punishment in the final version leads to a dramatic climax. In this earlier version, Claudia is welcomed and joins with other vampire children to terrorize the priests and population of Paris.
There is more to this older draft, and you can find an outline of it in Katherine Ramsland’s The Vampire Companion, which is listed in the reading material at the end.
The attraction of the first draft’s ending might be evident to anyone who understands that in the child vampire Claudia, Anne Rice had immortalised her own daughter. “Claudia” was Michelle’s nickname. In granting Claudia a happier ending, she might have left her alive at the end of the book, but the overall happy ending wasn’t what the book needed.
According to Anne, “The ending wasn’t right. It just didn’t reach it’s cathartic pitch. In fact it didn’t really have an ending, so I went back and rewrote it, and then it had a horrendously different ending.”
Anne admits she didn’t really re-read the first half, only skimming it. Instead, she threw out the last hundred pages and spent ten weeks writing the new scenes and researching new material. She worked twelve hours a day. The novel’s world was growing and expanding and she was swept up in it once more.
This brought the manuscript up to 530 pages. It was far more than what her editor had asked for.
With the novel now having new scenes, plot twists, and a different tone and ending, the risk was that the publisher might not like it.
It was no longer the manuscript they’d bought.
But Vicky Wilson was delighted.
Later, Vicky and the editor-in-chief at Knopf told Anne that when authors are asked to revise, they don’t usually address most of the feedback. Some things are revised, but “they get very little back. There isn’t much more an author can do, and they know that.” (This was the mid-70s.)
Lessons from Interview with the Vampire
It is absolutely true that authors can run out of steam before they reach the end of their book. I have seen numerous manuscripts where the ending petered out.
But this is fixable.
It’s worth remembering that Anne Rice sent off an early draft. Some writers take longer and write a few before they submit it anywhere.
It’s certainly better to polish a manuscript over time, taking break periods where necessary.
It’s important to recuperate and return to the manuscript with more energy and objectivity.
Feedback from others also helps. For some, this will be writing groups.
Anne Rice didn’t find her contact with writers in this scenario as helpful. She had a poet husband who was supportive, but ultimately her own instincts told her to hold to her vision where necessary.
That same instinctual understanding of her characters and story told her how to fix the ending.
Her novel went on to become a classic of the genre. One that would change the vampire novel forever.
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
Prism of the Night: A Biography of Anne Rice by Katherine Ramsland
Conversations with Anne Rice by Michael Riley
The Anne Rice Reader edited by Katherine Ramsland
The Vampire Companion: The Official Guide to Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles by Katherine Ramsland
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