Convert Rice devotes work to 'Christ'

You can imagine the pitch: I want to write a series of books. The first one will cover exactly a year in the life of a pre-teen kid with supernatural powers and then follow him as he grows up. He’s a sweet boy born into a hostile world where there’s a nasty villain obsessed with murdering him. You see, it’s really about good and evil, angels and devils, that kind of stuff. And, get this, the kid will be Jesus.

After selling more than 85 million books, Anne Rice is switching heroes to write a new fictional, but heavily researched, series about the early years of Jesus. Book one, “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt,” covers age 7, drawing inspiration from the Apocrypha and other noncanonical sources (in one such scene, Jesus inadvertently kills, then revives, a bully).

Converted Rice, 65, has given up her long-held atheism and her knack for knocking out steamy novels about cursed creatures, often vampires, to write books that will, in her own words, “draw people to the Lord. It’s that simple. If the book doesn’t do that, the book has failed.”

Rice explains: “It was a long journey for me. I had lost my faith at 18. I think that all the books I wrote reflect a kind of mourning for a lost faith. I think all that was a metaphor for me, outside of religion, kind of grieving for the moral compass. What the novels had in common is that they involved people who were condemned — witches and vampires, people who were perceived outside the fold. And that’s how I felt. My faith was gone. That was the period of questioning, searching. I’ve passed through that. That’s over.

“I feel that I had bought into the idea that there was no God — that no intelligent person thought there was. Why faith comes to people is a mystery. The ground was laid by writing about God, the devil and the universe. … What really happened was I really wrote myself back to faith. At some point in 1998, I realized that I believed in God. … I just got up from the desk and asked my assistant Amy, ‘Do you know a priest who could hear my confession?’ I didn’t even know if they’d take me back. I didn’t know whether I was excommunicated.”

In 2002, Rice reached another level. “I was sitting in church, and I was talking to the Lord about my work, and I thought: ‘I have to do it for You.’ I said, ‘I’m not going to write any more books except those that reflect my commitment to You.’ I had no idea when I walked out of the church that afternoon that everything in my life would be different from then on.

“I think I’ve gone from Kafkaesque to Capraesque,” Rice laughs. “Capra did great Christian entertainment. And Dickens too. I love ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ I’ve seen it maybe 30 times. I would very much like to do a Christmas book that is completely for Him. Something analogous to ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ or ‘A Christmas Carol.’

“Whether it’s a stained-glass window or a hymn or a play, the idea is to draw people to the Lord. Look at Michelangelo and the Pieta. It draws people to Christ. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t work.

“I was swept away by ‘The Passion of Christ.’ I thought that Mel Gibson took those 12 hours that changed the world and made a magnificent film that brought everybody together. That’s what I want to do.”

Shooting of “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” is scheduled to begin in Israel in October for a Christmas 2008 release. Producer David Kirkpatrick of Good News Holdings says the toughest challenge will be finding the actor to play the child Jesus. “We have casting going on in Israel. We will probably also look in the U.K. and Italy — probably not an American child.”

And behold, a franchise is born.

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