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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

If you or a teenage girl you know have been overrun by the glut of vampires snapping at pop culture's heels, you may be relieved to know that one of the originators of the genre, Anne Rice, is back. And this time, she's turned her attention to a furrier supernatural being, the werewolf. Anne Rice joins us today from KKUU in Palm Springs. Her new book is called, "The Wolf Gift." Welcome to the program, Anne Rice.

ANNE RICE: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: So, we've described this book as a werewolf book, but it isn't the werewolf we know from gothic horror movies. This is a new kind of werewolf. Can you explain who Reuben Golding, the man-wolf, is exactly?

RICE: Well, Reuben is bitten by a werewolf and he does contract werewolfism in the classical way. But when he goes through the transformation, it doesn't have anything to do with the full moon and he enjoys the transformation. He likes the increased strength, the increased power, the sensuality, the heightened hearing, the ability to move through the night, to go up a wall and go over a rooftop - he loves all of that. I mean, I know when I was writing it, I loved it. I loved that idea that he could go climb over the rooftops above North Beach and listen and hear people everywhere talking and whispering. And he had even a heightened ability to see through the cloudy overcast night and see the stars beyond.

This, to me, is one of the things I love exploring in fiction, period. I did it with the vampires. I did it with the witches in the Mayfair witches stories. I did it with Jesus, really, in the two novels I wrote about him. The way a hero sees the world, the way it impinges on him sensuously, the way he responds to the beauty of it - I love to write about that.

MARTIN: You use that word sensuous. There is a quality of that throughout this book. What about that is interesting to write about through the perspective of a werewolf?

RICE: Again, he's a supernatural monster. He's a man who suddenly finds that he's not a man anymore. He's something different. He's something perhaps better, perhaps worse, definitely stronger and maybe even immortal. I mean, one of the things that happens to Reuben is he discovers he's resilient, that a knife wound or a bullet wound isn't going to hurt him, that it heals almost instantly. And that's very beguiling, too.

But, you know, I think the reason all of this works in fiction - when it works - is that it's, these are all metaphors for things that are happening to all of us all the time. I mean, our bodies are mysteries to us. Life itself is a miracle. The fact that we're conscious, that we know we're going to die, that we can be witnesses to the universe. I mean, all of this is sort of, it's what we cope with every day as we think about life, as we take a breath, as we move forward, as we confront the death of a loved one. And the great thing about supernatural fiction is you're talking about those very things in a metaphorical way. You're writing about a vampire, yes, or you're writing about a werewolf but you're really just writing about human beings.

MARTIN: Northern California, the Bay Area, plays a big role in this particular book. Did you set out to make the Bay Area, Northern California, another character in this book?

RICE: You know, I didn't know what I was going to do with it really. I know Northern California really, really well. It's my second home. You know, New Orleans is where I was born but I probably spent more of my life really in California. And I love revisiting the Redwood forests. I mean, they are really haunted forests. I mean, you really can see werewolves creeping around if you take a walk up there.

MARTIN: Well, I was going to ask you that, Anne. Considering what you do for a living, do you avoid walking around through kind of, you know, forests at night...

RICE: Oh, no.

MARTIN: ...kind of creepy places or are you attracted to them?

RICE: I'm attracted to them. I went up there right after I finished "The Wolf Gift" and walked all through Muir Woods.

MARTIN: And are you secretly hoping to see a werewolf?

RICE: I'm secretly afraid I never will. But I'm afraid they're all, I'll never know a vampire or a werewolf or a mummy or a witch. But I don't know, it was pretty to think that they were all there, out there in the shadows.

MARTIN: You have explored through your work really the nature of good and evil in several of your books - the vampire books but also your novels about Jesus Christ. How does this particular book, "The Wolf Gift," reflect your current understanding of that struggle between good and evil?

RICE: You know, I don't know if I have any understanding of the struggle. It's just ongoing. But it pops up in all my work. I mean, all the characters are always talking about good and evil and where they belong in things because it obsesses me. It's one of those questions that I can't get away from. You know, in "The Wolf Gift," Reuben can smell evil. He can actually pick up the scent of somebody, you know, attacking someone else. He can even smell innocence and he's very puzzled about why that is, why he feels such an urge to intervene on the side of good.

And so, you know, there again I'm dealing with a hero that's potentially evil but has a great capacity for good, which is just what I thought I was dealing with with the vampires. And he's tormented about how to use his power. And I think what he shares with the vampire characters and the witches is a sense of being alone, of having to work this out alone. Because I think that's what I feel very strongly right now, that I have to work out questions of good and evil, God or the devil, eternal life or mortality. I have to work that out alone, and I think that's what a lot of people today feel.

MARTIN: We should say that you publicly renounced your dedication to Christianity and organized religion almost two years ago. So, when you say you're working these issues out alone, that's what that means. That...

RICE: Right, right. Yeah. And I think many people today are. I mean, if there's a modern temper, it's that we are alone now, that a lot of the institutions in the past that gave us guidance are now suspect, are moribund, yet we still want very much to be good people.

MARTIN: You write an awful lot of books, Anne.

RICE: I do.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: How does an idea come to you? And do they just come all the time and you have to sit back and say, now, Anne, you cannot possibly do all of these books, so you need to triage, you need to prioritize.

RICE: That happens. That is very much what happens. I'll have a whole bunch of ideas. It's like zombies on the porch trying to get in the door. And finally, one zombie makes it inside and the other zombies have to go away for a while.

MARTIN: So, what's next? Are you going to stay with Reuben the man-wolf or put him away for a while?

RICE: Oh, I want to do a sequel but first I want to do another supernatural novel. And I don't want to say too much about it because it's, you know, all those zombies are really on the porch and they're banging on the door. But one zombie is getting through the door. And I'm going out on tour for "The Wolf Gift," but as soon as I get back, I do want to get to work on this new supernatural novel.

MARTIN: You'll sit down and have tea with that zombie.

RICE: I will.

MARTIN: Anne Rice's new novel is "The Wolf Gift." She joined us from KNWZ in Palm Springs. Anne Rice, thanks so much for talking with us.

RICE: It's been a real pleasure. Thank you.

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