The Rices on Research

In these bonus outtakes from our exclusive dual interview in the November/December 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest, Anne Rice and Christopher Rice share the inside scoop on their research processes.

Is research something you specifically set aside time to do, or does it just organically happen in the process of following your natural interests, reading, etc.?

ANNE: I do it on all levels. There’s some I have to do before I start. If it’s going to be a continuation, I have to go back and check my own books to make sure that I’m remembering what happened.

Often [research is] fun—it’s a lot of fun. I want to know something about another century or another country. And I get ideas when I’m doing the research. So it’s not just accumulating information and facts. … It’s spurring me, it’s exciting me, it’s really turning me on.

And also, I have to stop myself finally. I have to stop and say, “OK, I’ve read enough about this section of France.” [Laughs.] I’ve read enough about Paris in the Middle Ages; I have to go now and get back to the book. And you know, sometimes all of this research will just turn up maybe one or two sentences in a book, but I will be there mentally in a way that [I wouldn’t have otherwise].

Christopher, as it pertains to your characters and their professions, there’s such a rich level of detail—especially, for example, when you wrote about the military. Do you do a lot of firsthand research in terms of interviewing, and so on?

CHRISTOPHER: That book [involving the military], Blind Fall, was when I reached a point where I realized the only way that book was going to work, the story line of the marine finding out that the guy who saved his life was gay, was if I told it entirely from the point of view of the straight marine. And I knew I couldn’t get that from reading a book. And that was a dark day when I realized that because it meant it was going to be a lot of work. [Laughter.] But I went out into the world and I began socializing with gay marines. It was pre the repeal, so it was a different world and I couldn’t mention them by name on the Acknowledgements page.

That was interesting because that’s when going to a party and just being polite but primarily observing everyone there becomes your research. And that’s also really rich because you have no idea what’s going to come up. It’s not like you know what’s in the book from the table of contents.

If I can talk to an expert on the phone, I’m usually very nervous before I do it because I’m afraid that they’re going to say something that will torpedo the idea—you know, they’ll just say, “Oh, that won’t work”—but they’re never that way. And what I’ve found that’s been particularly encouraging is that law enforcement people all want to talk. And they want to talk for a long time. And they’re not possessive of their experiences; they usually have no interest in writing a book themselves, and they will tell you stuff that will just feed 100 novels. So all of that’s been good, but I still love what [Anne’s] describing—the deliciousness of diving into research, books and materials, and just entering the world of your story through that portal.

As for detail, when it comes to supernatural writing, how much time up front do you spend creating the “rules” of your worlds—how something can be killed, what can effect a character in terms of age, and things of that nature?

ANNE: I discover it as I go along. I have to go back—I mean, one of the great things about computers is that you can go back and you can correct and bring up to date the rules. But I really do discover them as I go along. I didn’t know quite what I was going to do with the DNA of the manwolves [in The Wolf Gift series] until I realized that it disintegrated and disappeared, and that’s why nobody could get their hands on it. [Laughs.]

CHRISTOPHER: And I think no matter what, your obligation is still to tell a story.  And if you’ve built a world in advance with a set of rules that don’t allow for a good story, you’re kind of sunk.

ANNE: You’ve got to change it.

CHRISTOPHER: So you have to change it and evolve it, and I had that experience a few times with The Heavens Rise—this rule doesn’t work, it eliminates too many story possibilities. Gotta go.

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