October 11, 2004
The People Have Spoken, and Rice Takes Offense
estat, the vampire narrator of Anne Rice's most recent book, "Blood Canticle,'' begins the novel with a harangue against its readers. "What the hell happened when I gave you 'Memnoch the Devil?' " he asks crossly, referring to an earlier novel by Ms. Rice that some readers, to put it mildly, did not like. "You complained!"
Many people did not care much for "Blood Canticle" (Knopf) either, as Ms. Rice found to her mounting horror when she began scrolling through dozens of virulently negative reviews of the book on Amazon.com.
"I cannot stress to you how bad this book is, and I have been waiting for it for so long!'' wrote a reviewer from California.
Wrote another reviewer, "I have read almost every one of Anne Rice's novels, and I have to say this is the worst one.''
A third was more specific. " 'Blood Canticle's' biggest problem,'' that reviewer said, "is that it is seriously lacking in creative writing, sense of continuity and character development.''
Ms. Rice, the best-selling author of 25 books, including the lush and original "Interview With the Vampire,'' has a passionate following and an unusually intimate relationship with her audience. She reacted to the criticism with shock and horror, although when the positive and negative reviews were averaged, Amazon gave "Blood Canticle" three stars out of five.
Many authors are upset by the snide tone of some Amazon reviews; Ms. Rice decided to do something about it. She posted a blistering 1,200-word defense of her book on the site, laying in to those critics who, she said, were "interrogating this text from the wrong perspective."
"Your stupid, arrogant assumptions about me and what I am doing are slander,'' she wrote. "You have used the site as if it were a public urinal to publish falsehood and lies.''
Ms. Rice seemed particularly incensed by reviewers who implied that she had not worked hard on the book, the 10th in her "Vampire Chronicles'' series, or that she had written it merely to fulfill a "contractual obligation,'' as one reviewer said.
Nor was she thrilled by the suggestion - often made by people who adored earlier books in the series but said they felt that the quality had deteriorated - that "Blood Canticle" might have benefited from some tough love. "Anne, you really should have an editor, or at least someone that would read your book before you send it off to print,'' one reviewer wrote.
No way, Ms. Rice replied.
"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,'' she wrote. "I fought a great battle to achieve a status where I did not have to put up with editors making demands on me.''
In a telephone interview, Ms. Rice elaborated on the point.
"People who find fault and problems with my books tend to say, 'She needs an editor,' '' Ms. Rice said. "When a person writes with such care and goes over and over a manuscript and wants every word to be perfect, it's very frustrating.''
She added: "When you take home a CD of Pavarotti or Marilyn Horne, you don't want to hear another voice blended in. I feel the same way about Hemingway. If I read it, I don't want to read a new edited version.''
Writers like Ms. Rice, who produce many books and consistently bring in a great deal of money for their publishers, are often given far wider editorial latitude than other authors. Ms. Rice has been a best seller for Knopf since 1976, when it published "Interview With the Vampire.''
Later Rice books have not done as well as "Interview,'' but they still sell about a half-million copies apiece in hardcover, said Paul Bogaards, a Knopf spokesman. He said that "Blood Canticle'' had sold about 375,000 hardcover copies and that Ms. Rice always "has a built-in audience waiting for her next novel."
An executive at a rival publishing house, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said publishers often took a hands-off editorial approach with stars like Ms. Rice and Stephen King, another prolific, best-selling author, particularly as their careers matured. "Ultimately it's the author's book,'' the executive said. "With an author of a certain stature, they're the artist; we're the amanuensis.''
Ms. Rice said that she had been moved to respond to the Amazon postings because many of them included personal attacks on her health; on her state of mind since the death in 2002 of her husband, Stan; and on her writing ability. She said that she received hundreds of e-mail messages of support, many from writers with their own stories of being "savaged and trashed'' on Amazon.
Although reviews of "Blood Canticle'' were not universally glowing, Ms. Rice said she was pleased with the book, and a number of readers gave it lavish praise on Amazon.
"She has such a built-in fan base; that's why controversy ensued,'' said Sessalee Hensley, the fiction buyer at Barnes & Noble, where, Ms. Hensley said, "Blood Canticle" had sold 20 percent more copies than Ms. Rice's previous vampire book, "Blackwood Farm."
"Everyone is so passionately involved that if, for instance, it's not the way they thought Lestat would act, they are going to say 'It's the worst book I ever read,' '' Ms. Hensley said.
Ms. Rice said that her work was headed in a new direction and that "Blood Canticle'' was definitely the end of the vampire series. "Yes, the 'Chronicles' are no more!'' she wrote in her Amazon posting. "Thank God!''