Oh, Anne…

So I’m late in discovering that Anne Rice went postal on her reviewers at Amazon for Blood Canticle. Since you have to scroll down to find her review, I’ll save you some time. Here it is, in its entirety, following a five-star rating for her own book:

Seldom do I really answer those who criticize my work. In fact, the entire development of my career has been fueled by my ability to ignore denigrating and trivializing criticism as I realize my dreams and my goals. However there is something compelling about Amazon’s willingness to publish just about anything, and the sheer outrageous stupidity of many things you’ve said here that actually touches my proletarian and Democratic soul. Also I use and enjoy Amazon and I do read the reviews of other people’s books in many fields. In sum, I believe in what happens here. And so, I speak. First off, let me say that this is addressed only to some of you, who have posted outrageously negative comments here, and not to all. You are interrogating this text from the wrong perspective. Indeed, you aren’t even reading it. You are projecting your own limitations on it. And you are giving a whole new meaning to the words “wide readership.” And you have strained my Dickensean principles to the max. I’m justifiably proud of being read by intellectual giants and waitresses in trailer parks,in fact, I love it, but who in the world are you? Now to the book. Allow me to point out: nowhere in this text are you told that this is the last of the chronicles, nowhere are you promised curtain calls or a finale, nowhere are you told there will be a wrap-up of all the earlier material. The text tells you exactly what to expect. And it warns you specifically that if you did not enjoy Memnoch the Devil, you may not enjoy this book. This book is by and about a hero whom many of you have already rejected. And he tells you that you are likely to reject him again. And this book is most certainly written — every word of it — by me. If and when I can’t write a book on my own, you’ll know about it. And no, I have no intention of allowing any editor ever to distort, cut, or otherwise mutilate sentences that I have edited and re-edited, and organized and polished myself. I fought a great battle to achieve a status where I did not have to put up with editors making demands on me, and I will never relinquish that status. For me, novel writing is a virtuoso performance. It is not a collaborative art. Back to the novel itself: the character who tells the tale is my Lestat. I was with him more closely than I have ever been in this novel; his voice was as powerful for me as I’ve ever heard it. I experienced break through after break through as I walked with him, moved with him, saw through his eyes. What I ask of Lestat, Lestat unfailingly gives. For me, three hunting scenes, two which take place in hotels — the lone woman waiting for the hit man, the slaughter at the pimp’s party — and the late night foray into the slums –stand with any similar scenes in all of the chronicles. They can be read aloud without a single hitch. Every word is in perfect place. The short chapter in which Lestat describes his love for Rowan Mayfair was for me a totally realized poem. There are other such scenes in this book. You don’t get all this? Fine. But I experienced an intimacy with the character in those scenes that shattered all prior restraints, and when one is writing one does have to continuously and courageously fight a destructive tendency to inhibition and restraint. Getting really close to the subject matter is the achievement of only great art. Now, if it doesn’t appeal to you, fine. You don’t enjoy it? Read somebody else. But your stupid arrogant assumptions about me and what I am doing are slander. And you have used this site as if it were a public urinal to publish falsehood and lies. I’ll never challenge your democratic freedom to do so, and yes, I’m answering you, but for what it’s worth, be assured of the utter contempt I feel for you, especially those of you who post anonymously (and perhaps repeatedly?) and how glad I am that this book is the last one in a series that has invited your hateful and ugly responses. Now, to return to the narrative in question: Lestat’s wanting to be a saint is a vision larded through and through with his characteristic vanity. It connects perfectly with his earlier ambitions to be an actor in Paris, a rock star in the modern age. If you can’t see that, you aren’t reading my work. In his conversation with the Pope he makes observations on the times which are in continuity with his observations on the late twentieth century in The Vampire Lestat, and in continuity with Marius’ observations in that book and later in Queen of the Damned. The state of the world has always been an important theme in the chronicles. Lestat’s comments matter. Every word he speaks is part of the achievement of this book. That Lestat renounced this saintly ambition within a matter of pages is plain enough for you to see. That he reverts to his old self is obvious, and that he intends to complete the tale of Blackwood Farm is also quite clear. There are many other themes and patterns in this work that I might mention — the interplay between St.Juan Diago and Lestat, the invisible creature who doesn’t “exist” in the eyes of the world is a case in point. There is also the theme of the snare of Blackwood Farm, the place where a human existence becomes so beguiling that Lestat relinquishes his power as if to a spell. The entire relationship between Lestat and Uncle Julien is carefully worked out. But I leave it to readers to discover how this complex and intricate novel establishes itself within a unique, if not unrivalled series of book. There are things to be said. And there is pleasure to be had. And readers will say wonderful things about Blood Canticle and they already are. There are readers out there and plenty of them who cherish the individuality of each of the chronicles which you so flippantly condemn. They can and do talk circles around you. And I am warmed by their response. Their letters, the papers they write in school, our face to face exchanges on the road — these things sustain me when I read the utter trash that you post. But I feel I have said enough. If this reaches one reader who is curious about my work and shocked by the ugly reviews here, I’ve served my goals. And Yo, you dude, the slang police! Lestat talks like I do. He always has and he always will. You really wouldn’t much like being around either one of us. And you don’t have to be. If any of you want to say anything about all this by all means Email me at Anneobrienrice@mac.com. And if you want your money back for the book, send it to 1239 First Street, New Orleans, La, 70130. I’m not a coward about my real name or where I live. And yes, the Chronicles are no more! Thank God!

What I have to say about all that was perfectly encapsulated by Sean Murphy, a member of Comicon.com Panels:

And no, I have no intention of allowing any editor ever to distort, cut, or otherwise mutilate sentences that I have edited and re-edited, and organized and polished myself. I fought a great battle to achieve a status where I did not have to put up with editors making demands on me, and I will never relinquish that status. For me, novel writing is a virtuoso performance. It is not a collaborative art.

I think this is both the most telling and most unfortunate part of her little diatribe. If there was ever a writer who needs the attention of an editor, she’s it. Almost every writer I’ve really liked has admitted to being helped by a good editor. I think it’s hurt the work of Rice and other authors who’ve gotten mega-big, such as Stephen King, that the publishers know that anything they write will sell, so there’s no need to have an editor spend time with their manuscripts. And the fatter the page count, the more they can charge for the book anyway, regardless of whether or not the book would be better with some judicious trimming. I think that’s why Rice, King, and writers of similar status all seem to be much better at the beginning of their careers: they still have people working with them at that stage.

Obviously, Ann Rice has an incredibly swelled head and is of the belief that no improvement on her work is possible. If she got over that, she might be worth reading again.

I very much enjoyed Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat. After that, my appreciation of her writing has been spotty at best. Frankly, Sean Murphy nailed it. “If there was ever a writer who needs the attention of an editor, she’s it.” As a writer, I resent the idea she presents that editing is in some way a distortion of one’s work. That’s patently ridiculous. Her work is suffering badly in want of an editor. She often gets lost in her political agenda. Her descriptions, while lavish and breathtaking in her early works, have degenerated into this wordy, mucked-up mire that seems endless. Her characters have unnatural dialogue. And I’m sorry, when Lestat drank blood from Christ in Memnoch the Devil, I pitched the sorry book across the room. Besides the fact that it offended my religious sensibilities, it was just so damned… cheesy. I wish I could think of a better word. Maybe I need an editor.

There is nothing wrong with a good editor. A good editor can help a writer polish, perfect, and present a work. What a writer needs to do, and fairly early on in his/her career, is adopt a tough skin. You’d think Anne Rice would have a hide of leather by now, based on her recent reviews. One must be able to accept constructive criticism. That’s what editing is all about. It is not a distortion of one’s art. If she’s done much polishing of what she’s written, I’ll be a painted baboon, and you can quote me on that. To be fair, she might have a different dictionary, and her definition of polishing might be much different from mine (/sarcasm). I think she should have let well enough alone and resisted the urge to “fight back” against criticism. What does she really care? She has legions of rabid fans who will buy whatever crap she issues. She’s rich. She’s famous.

I think Neil Gaiman said it well in his own blog:

I think that unless a reviewer gets their facts completely wrong, the author should shut up (and even then, the author should probably let it go)…

I suspect that most authors don’t really want criticism, not even constructive criticism. They want straight-out, unabashed, unashamed, fulsome, informed, naked praise, arriving by the shipload every fifteen minutes or so. Unfortunately an Amazon.com reviews page for one of the author’s books is the wrong place to go looking for this. Probably best just not to look…

When you publish a book — when you make art — people are free to say what they want about it. You can’t tell people they liked a book they didn’t like, and there is, in the end, no arguing with personal taste. Different people like different things. Best to move on and make good art as best you can, instead of arguing.

I think Anne Rice going on Amazon and lambasting her critics was undoubtedly a very brave and satisfying thing for her to do, was every bit as sensible as kicking a tar baby, and, if ever I do something like that, please shoot me.

Indeed.

Should you care to read Anne’s personal response to the controversy, you can do so here. Despite what she says, you can still find her review of Blood Canticle, all five stars of it, at Amazon. You just have to hunt for a while. That is exactly where I found the quoted passage above.

The Toronto Star also covered the story.

And finally, Anne, if you ever happen across this little section of the WWW — it’s not “break through,” it’s “breakthrough.” One word. You meant to use it as a noun, and it’s only two words when used as a verb, meaning “to make a breakthrough.” About that editor…

Update, 10/13/04, 7:41 P.M.: Read more about the controversy in this New York Times article (registration required).

One thought on “Oh, Anne…

  1. *snicker* I like Anne Rice. Really, I do. I like the stories, at least, when I can get down to them and get away from the "preternatural"s. If anything, a good editor could tell her how predictable she is in her overuse of that word in Every. Single. Book. I hate seeing that word so much now that it colors my feelings on a non-Rice book that uses it. Strike the word from the dictionary, please! She undoubtably has an ego too large to fit in her beloved Garden District. Maybe if we're lucky some future editor can strike all the really bad poetry she puts in from her husband. Oh, excuse me, from The Poet Stan Rice.

    Eep, my soapbox has gotten a bit high. Might someone help me down? 😉

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