October 23, 2000 12:00 PM

Christopher Rice was a struggling Los Angeles screenwriter when he learned, in December 1998, that his mother, Anne Rice, was in a diabetic coma. He returned to New Orleans to help care for the famed novelist in the Garden District mansion of his childhood. As Anne, 59, recovered, Rice, 22, began working, as if possessed, on a short story that soon stretched to 350 pages. “Mom,” Rice told her three months later, “I think I’ve written a novel.”

He thought right. For the record, there are none of Anne Rice’s trademark 600-year-old vampires in his book, A Density of Souls, a dark, contemporary tale of four privileged New Orleans high school pals. But like her, he has had to weather reviews good and bad. Fort Lauderdale’s Sun-Sentinel called it “a genuine spark of originality.” Yet The New York Times found that “the book takes itself far too seriously to be fun: It’s scarily sincere and ultimately preposterous.” His mother’s review? “Bold and courageous.”

The second child of Anne and her husband, Stan, 57, a poet and painter, Christopher never knew his sister Michelle, who died of leukemia in 1972 at age 5. The family moved from San Francisco to New Orleans when Christopher was 10. After graduating from the elite Isidore Newman School in 1996, Rice found college dull, and in 1998 he moved to L.A.

He plans to return west after finishing a draft of his second novel, due in 2001. After all, he couldn’t ask for a better working environment. “There are times when this house is very quiet,” he says. “All three of us are in our rooms, behind closed doors, working.”

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