Alexander Bagenholm’s brow furrowed over his light-blue eyes. “I’m so nervous right now,” he said.
It was maybe 10 days ago that Bagenholm — a writer, artist and certainly one of very few voodoo practitioners living in Sweden — heard about the Halloween weekend festivities in New Orleans: a sold-out ball Friday at The Republic, starring his favorite writer, Anne Rice, and a signing of her new book, “Prince Lestat,” on Sunday at Garden District Book Shop in The Rink.
Bagenholm, 40, bought an airline ticket. All in black, wearing a giant cross necklace made of tiny skulls, he was among hundreds of fans who waited several hours Sunday for a moment with Rice, a smile, a greeting, an autographed book.
It was so worth it.
“She’s brilliant,” he said breathlessly.
Kelley Goff, a nurse from Chattanooga, Tennessee, with a patch of pink hair, glittery blue eye shadow and a tattoo on her leg of the vampire Lestat, his nemesis Louis and the little girl Claudia — all characters in Rice’s first book, 1976’s “Interview With the Vampire” — started to cry after her encounter with the famous author.
“Oh my God, I’ve been reading her since I was 12,” said Goff, now 36. “She’s my unicorn. You know how everybody has someone mystical and out of reach they want to meet? She’s mine.”
New Orleans native Rice has revived Lestat, resurrecting — if that’s the right word for an undead being — the 18th-century rock star vampire 10 years after she had told fans she saw him vanish into the windows of the onetime Mercedes-Benz showroom on St. Charles Avenue.
Now she has set him in the 21st century, complete with social media.
Vampires and horror fiction are hot these days. Her fans have been waiting for Lestat. “I missed him,” Rice said.
The day before her public autograph session, she signed 800 pre-ordered books in a dim storage room at The Rink. She sat at a long lunchroom table and talked while bookstore owner Britton Trice, her assistant Becket Ghioto and three others formed a human assembly line for more than an hour, moving the books to Rice and then into boxes.
It was part-interview, part-conversation — our first in years, though we’d kept up somewhat since I first interviewed her in the early 1980s when she was on a visit to New Orleans from her home in San Francisco. “Interview” was popular then, but it was before Anne Rice became ANNE RICE.
Now 73, she is more stylishly comfortable, with her gray hair cut in a modified Dutch boy bob and wearing “soft” clothes from Lands’ End and J. Jill.
Her career took off after she and husband Stan and their son Chris, then 10, moved to New Orleans in 1988. They lived grandly, eventually buying multiple houses, including the former St. Elizabeth’s orphanage Uptown and the galleried Italianate Garden District mansion at 1239 First St.
“I loved it, and I thought I would spend my life at 1239,” she said. “But I have many sad memories.”
Stan Rice, a poet and painter, died of brain cancer in 2002. He and their daughter, Michele, who inspired his poetry and Anne’s character of Claudia in “Interview” after the 5-year-old’s 1972 death from leukemia, are buried in a houselike tomb in Metairie Cemetery.
Its $750,000 cost would have appalled Stan, Anne said.
It’s still difficult for her to talk about either one, though she has made YouTube tributes.
She spends a lot of time with social media, especially Facebook, where she has 1,128,000 followers she calls “People of the Page.”
“It feeds me,” she said. “I love that when I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, I’ll ask something like, ‘What do you really think will happen after death?’ They answer.”
She’s still a believer, though she no longer follows Roman Catholicism or any other organized religion. She attended Catholic schools in New Orleans: St. Alphonsus, Holy Name of Jesus, Redemptorist — “I was there when we won the city championship in football.”
And then, after her mother died, a year at St. Joseph Academy: “It was like something out of ‘Jane Eyre.’ ” Not good.
She found it emotionally difficult to stay in New Orleans after Stan’s death, so she moved to California in 2005 to be near Christopher, now 36, who lives in West Hollywood, where he writes thrillers and co-hosts a humorous radio show, “The Dinner Party” (thedinnerpartyshow.com).
Also, the size and expense of old houses had become too much for her. “Someone was always coming through the door at 1239 (First St.), saying they needed another $25,000 to fix something,” she said. “You reach a point in life you don’t want to put every cent and all your energy into something like a house.”
Now she shares a rented 3,000-square-foot house in Palm Desert, California, with her sister Karen and cats Meribelle, Tummy and The Baby. “Two housekeepers come in every day, so we call it assisted living,” she said, laughing.
“Yes. Now the landlord has to fix the roof.” She was practically gleeful.
“Also, I buy six lottery tickets every week, same numbers.”
“We’re gonna win,” she said, laughing.
In August, she and Chris, whose new book is “The Vines,” signed a deal with Universal and others for films of the entire “Vampire Chronicles,” all 11 books, with Chris writing scripts.
Even so, “California isn’t home,” Rice said. “It’s where I live.”
She dreams of a condo in the French Quarter with a view of the Mississippi: “I want to be somewhere in the middle of it all, where it’s easy to walk.”
She’d like to be a part of that number — one mo’ time.