Episode 42 - The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice

Courtney, take it away!

It’s spooky season you mofos! That means a creepy book. This year we leave the world of ghost banging and half assed witches to deep dive into vampires! Buckle Up because we are riding the Vampire Lestat train. The follow up to Anne Rice’s 1976 book, Interview with a Vampire, is all about that vampy rock and roll lifestyle. Published in 1985 this book is a bedazzled and spandex approach to what to do when you are undead. 

CW: Nonconsensual biting, mass murder of blonde guys, witholding mothers, wolf attacks, excessive eyeliner, and skinny jeans. 

(Ed note: and velvet.  LOTS OF VELVET.  The International Male catalog was made for Lestat.)

 There have been a ton of think pieces on vampires and literature.  In fact yours truly did one for the Podcast Textual Tension, you can check it out here.

So rather than adding to that conversation I thought I would talk a little bit about what this book means to me. For a book centered around dudes, my visceral reaction is to talk about two women who are massively important to me. My mother and our Special Guest, Dr. Claire Mischker.

I read Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles at the behest of my mama around the age of 13. This was a series she loved. It ticked all of the Kathi Hybarger boxes. A sexy, sultry, and sophisticated Southern Gothic. Mama was a writer, not the Anne Rice kind, she likened herself more along the lines of Erma Bombeck; she’d rather be funny than anything else. Kathi was legit and knew it. She menaced the high school English teachers who dared to tell her that writing was too difficult and she would never make it. She even had a run in with James Dickey at a college writing workshop. For those not in the know, Dickey was a poet and the author of Deliverance. After telling her, “that her writing lacked substance,” my mama shrugged him off with a “well, you write redneck snuff books.” She held a grudge against Dickey until his death in 1997. Two things my mama taught me were to know your own worth and how to hold a grudge. 

Writing as a career didn’t work out for Kathi, but she never stopped. I have stacks of cards and letters that she filled with her everyday observational humor. She wrote motivational speeches for my high school band, opinion pieces for the paper, epic emails, and ridiculously crafted texts. She was always a writer. Something about Anne Rice spoke to my mom in a way that my barely teen self could not understand. I think she admired Rice’s self assuredness, her prose, and most definitely her New Orleans mansion. For Kathi, Rice’s success was bittersweet. Rice and other successful women in writing were part of a club and my mom desperately wanted to be included. When mama wanted me to read these books so we could talk about them it made me feel very grown. I have fond memories of going to lunch and talking about the series and having an adult listen to my opinions. 

Despite being published in 1985, there is something very 1990s about The Vampire Lestat. This probably has more to do with when I read it than the book itself. The Vampire Chronicles are most definitely the cool older aunt of the Twilight Saga. Where Twilight is a sanitized love story between a high school girl and an undead man pretending to be normal, The Vampire Lestat is a blood filled tale about a bisexual man who fully embraces his new self. He never wants to hide or deny what he is. Despite being 30 years older, Lestat is the more modern book. 

Anyway, back to the 1990s. The reason this book and The Vampire Chronicles as a whole still resonates with Gen X is the movie Interview with the Vampire. A quick history lesson for all you non vampire lovers. Interview with the Vampire was Rice’s first book. Published in 1976 it is the story of Louis, a vampire made by Lestat in New Orleans. Louis was a rich planter who lost his wife and child. After being turned by Lestat, Louis becomes the MOST EMO. Lestat and Louis are the OG Spike and Angel. If you don’t know who they are, well I don’t have time. Interview is basically Louis wanting to die, but not really, while shit talking Lestat. So in 1994, the book was adapted into a movie. Other movies out around that time with the same vibe were Dracula, The Crow, Candyman, and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The 90s were getting it done with sexy and spooky. So this movie gets cast and Tom Cruise is Lestat.  The world (well, pissed off book nerds) collectively shouts,  “This is not our Lestat!” Our Lestat is a long, lean, golden, rockstar; this casting still angers me all these years later.  Brad Pitt is cast as Louis, and Kirsten Dunst is the tragic Claudia. Miscasting aside the movie is huge. We 90s kids love vampires! The Vampire Chronicles becomes another Flowers in the Attic, a series that bridges all of the socials divides you usually find in high schools. Preppy and punk kids alike were devouring this series which speaks to Rice’s skill to create something that resonates with so many different people.

This all brings me to my second badass lady, Dr. Claire Mischker. Claire is a very important person in the Department of English at the  University of Mississippi with numerous accolades. But, I’m not gonna talk about that; I want to talk about her as a witch. Okay, so she is not really a full blown witch, more witch adjacent. Let me explain. Remember the 1990s? I’ve been babbling a lot about that decade, but to be fair it’s probably my most formative one. The 90’s went gangbusters on movies and shows about witches. Practical Magic, The Craft, Charmed, and of course Hocus Pocus were huge.  All of these are still jams and all of them are not about a single witch working in a vacuum, they are about covens. Groups of women coming together to help solve their own problems. True, some of them try to murder each other or eat virgin boys, but each of these pass the Bechdel Test. Gen X girls were taught about the power of a coven. As I have gotten older I can appreciate these lessons learned from my favorite 1990’s witches. Surround yourself with people who both lift you up and hold you accountable. There is power in relying on your coven and making yourself vulnerable.  Also a true 90’s girl, Claire took these lessons to heart. 

I have known Claire since I was ten, we met in Girl Scouts and I remember being impressed with how an 11 year old could speak with so much authority and adult confidence. She didn’t converse so much as she made pronouncements. In high school, Claire was similar to the Vampire Chronicles in that she bridged social divides. She did not fit into one particular class or group of people, rather she had friends everywhere.  Claire would go to The University of Mississippi to gain her Ph.D. and if that wasn’t hard enough she decided to focus on gender theory in the works of William Faulkner. Making her a true intellectual badass. We could talk about how hard it is to read Faulkner all day but we are talking about witches.

If you think about what really makes a witch a witch; the common trait isn’t eating babies or seducing men, as much fun as that can be, witches are women who don’t take shit. Witches, like bitches, get it done. Of course men wanted to burn witches, there is nothing more dangerous than a group of assertive women coming together to support one another. In this respect, Claire Mischker is the biggest witch I know. She is confident, smart, driven, and fiercely loyal. She surrounds herself with other witches, women who are determined and strong. If you are lucky enough to be in her coven she will burn the world down for you. 

Oh and did we make you a Spotify playlist?  YOU BET YOUR ASS WE DID.

This episode is sponsored by viewers like you!  And by Kensington Books, especially and particularly their new Christmas anthology Christmas Kisses with My Cowboy- get it where you get your books!

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