As I swim in the shark-infested waters of my subconscious, what demons do I meet?- Michael Friday, quoted from The Venus Complex by Barbie Wilde.
Welcome to the world of Michael Friday, an art historian turned serial killer who lays out the dark recesses of his soul for all to see in Barbie Wilde’s deliciously dark erotic crime novel The Venus Complex. Those are some pretty major demons Michael is harbouring as we join him in his downward spiral via the musings of his private journal. Michael is not your every day killer though which gives The Venus Complex a delightful and refreshing edge. The culture of Hannibal Lecter, the forward planning of Dexter, and the wry wit of Holden Caulfield, Michael is all of this and more.
One thing that struck me about this book was the depth put into the central character, it is Barbie’s skill as a writer that she is able to stick us right inside the mind of Michael Friday and show us what really makes him tick. As we follow him on his journey wondering whether, and how and when he will cross that line, you cannot help being dragged into his world full of frustration, fear and anger, Michael wants to be somebody and everyone can identify with that, right? While there have been comparisons between The Venus Complex and Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho I feel that despite there being an obvious similarity in the graphic openness of writing, that is really where the likeness ends. Michael Friday could not be any further removed from egotistic and materialistic Patrick Bateman if he tried. The frail qualities of Michael bear no resemblance to the narcissistic ramblings of Patrick. This is the genius of The Venus Complex, because this is an entirely new and refreshing take on a well trodden theme. Now don’t get me wrong I am not slating the aforementioned American Psycho, I am a massive fan of that book and it remains a firm favourite amongst my collection, but what I wanted to highlight was that these two main protagonists are very different animals. This is what made The Venus Complex such a compelling read because it really is like nothing I have read in this subgenre so far, you have no idea where it is going to go, and I have to admit at times I actually felt some empathy toward Michael Friday (which made me question where my head was going?!). But I personally could not help feeling some solidarity toward him as he shares his rants on the state of the world, the media and life in general, and as this is shared in such a raw and open way you cannot help but get sucked in.
Another striking quality about The Venus Complex is the sexual element and here comes the graphic nature which at times reads out like a necrophiliac’s version of Fifty Shades of Grey. My other half picked up my kindle when I was mid read through one of Michael’s dreamscapes and wanted to know exactly quite what I was reading and for a man who is an avid obsessive of gratuitous Italian horror those raised eyebrows said it all! Michael does not hold back sharing those nightmares either, which haunt him in the night, or the sexual fantasies which later become a reality. Uncomfortable reading, maybe, fascinating, most definitely. While Michael kills for sexual kicks he does so in a way that really lacks the misogynistic violence of many of his peers, he wants to take these women and make them into art, into goddesses, and however misguided he wants to worship them. Like I said Michael Friday is a very different animal.
As Barbie Wilde’s debut novel this really is a delicious taste of what is to come, I have also sampled some of her short stories (equally as engaging and dark) and it makes me excited as to where she is going to go next. It also makes me ponder where does she find this stuff? (But with Clive Barker and the Cenobite crew as peers do I really need to ask?) Because in reality she really is one of the nicest people you could ever meet, always willing to engage her fans on social media, always thankful for praise she receives, so of course I had to ask her, and of course Barbie being as throughly nice as she is, agreed.
A massive thanks to Barbie for taking the time out to come and talk to us at the Gore Splattered Corner, it really has been an honour.
How did the concept for The Venus Complex develop? Was it something that was fairly solid from start to finish, or did it evolve throughout the process?
Barbie- ” I’ve always been fascinated by serial killers, but it was a friend of mine, a rather notorious dominatrix from New York City, who kick-started the idea for me when she mentioned that her greatest sexual fantasy was to sleep with a serial killer. I was appalled but it started a train of thought that ended up as The Venus Complex.
The book took a long time to write, as I started out in the third person, writing a fairly conventional police procedural, but I soon realized that this wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to get into the head of my serial killer and find out what made him tick. So I had to start all over again. So, yes, it was a constantly evolving process.”
Michael Friday is a very complex and dark character. Where did you draw your inspiration for him from? How much of yourself did you give to your main protagonist?
Barbie- “I suppose that my inspiration came from many different sources, but I guess that Hitchcock’s Psycho and the writings of Colin Wilson (The Order of the Assassin, The Criminal History of Mankind, etc.) were key influences.
I wanted to create a serial killer who was different from the rest. One who was as believable as I could make him. Many fictional serial killers seem to be almost supernatural (like Hannibal Lecter) and I wanted to ground Michael in as much reality as I could.
I also felt that so many fictional serial killers are all about the power trip, or the violence, or how grotesque the author can make their crimes, but the sexual mindscape of serial killers never seems to be explored, to my satisfaction anyway. That’s why I decided to write The Venus Complex.
There are some things that a writer inevitably bequeaths to a character. Although I consider myself to be a very empathic, caring person, there is a part of me that gets angry when I see the gross stupidity on TV, for instance.”
Some elements of the book are very detailed, what was the research process like?
Barbie- “I read a lot of serial killer biographies, homicide detection manuals, forensic psychology texts, books about art history and alchemy — even the writings of serial killers. I interviewed a homicide detective from the Manhattan North police precinct and attended a convention of forensic psychologists (with my dominatrix friend, who had a Masters Degree in Human Sexuality and who was a member of the American Association of Sex Counselors, Educators and Therapists.) Every time I suffered from writer’s block, I’d go back and read more research material.”
Any plans to bring it to the big screen?
Barbie- ” I’d love to see the movie version! We’ll just have to see… But who to cast as Michael Friday?”
From Burlesque, Pop music, Actor, Cenobite to Author, how have your experiences helped you in your writing?
Barbie- “I don’t really draw on my own personal experiences that much. The main characters in the stories that I’ve written so far have been: an art history professor who becomes a serial killer (The Venus Complex); a sex-starved nun who metamorphoses into a demon from hell (‘Sister Cilice’); a woman who is terrified of the Greek god Uranus (‘Uranophobia’); an evangelist’s son with “hands of good and evil” (‘American Mutant: Hands of Dominion’); a gigantic intestinal polyp who rampages through a hospital (‘Polyp’); a dream demon who causes sleep paralysis (‘A is for Alpdruck’); angry Zulu zombies from Rourke’s Drift (‘Z is for Zulu Zombies’); and a woman terrified of basements who gets more than she bargains for (‘Botophobia’). Other than the basement phobia, I can’t really say that I used my personal experiences to create the characters. It’s more my own emotional landscape that I can draw from. And the occasional childhood trauma, I suppose…”
You recently had problems with the library service in Canada, could you explain a little about that?
Barbie- “A Canadian journalist wanted to interview me and she requested The Venus Complex from her local public library as part of her research. They refused to list my novel (in other words, they refused to get it for her) because they said there was an availability problem (which is weird, because The Venus Complex is readily available from Amazon.com) and that there weren’t any meaningful reviews.
Now, I’ve had reviews from Fangoria (American’s biggest selling horror magazine), Fangoria Online, Scream (the UK’s biggest selling horror magazine), Brutal As Hell, Horror News Network, The Horror Society, Zombie Hamster (fabulous name, isn’t it?), Drunk Monkeys, Starburst Magazine, The British Fantasy Society, Sci-Fi Bulletin, HorrorTalk, The Imperial Youth Review, Snakebite Horror, Fear Magazine and The Ginger Nuts of Horror, with more to come. I have 16 reviews on Amazon.com, 14 reviews on Amazon.co.uk and 10 reviews on Goodreads, but that didn’t seem to count with them.
I’ve discovered that the only reviews that public libraries take into account are from either Booklist, the Library Journal or similar publications. It seems that you have to submit your book for review to these publications three months before the book’s publication, which just isn’t possible if the book is published by an independent publisher, so the odds are stacked against independently published books getting shelf space in public libraries. Also, when I challenged the Edmonton Public Library for not being adventurous enough in their choices, they came back with a list of what they called adventurous authors that they do stock, like John Skipp (who gave me a great review for Fangoria online), Bret Easton Ellis, Jack Ketchum and more. Now, I love all these guys, but there wasn’t one female author mentioned! So, what gives, Edmonton Public Library?”
What are your feelings about this?
Barbie- Well I’m, just a bit taken aback, but I’m also gratified by the support I’ve received from everyone. I offered to donate a copy to the library, but they haven’t got back to me. Basically, like any institution, they have to be fairly careful with the public funds that they disperse, but even so, I would have thought that if a library patron requests a book, the library’s job is to get that book for them. Apparently not, it seems.”
But yet the reviews have been positive, especially from the horror community, do you think the attitude of the library reflects an attitude in society about horror in general?
Barbie- “I don’t think so, but perhaps there is a perception of a female author going into the traditionally male preserves of horror that might be a problem for them? I think that it’s probably just down to cash and, frankly, just not being that bothered. The reviews I’ve received have been brilliant, but they aren’t from the “right” kind of publications, as far as this particular public library is concerned.”
Where do you plan to go from here, any plans in the pipeline?
Barbie- ” I’ve got a few short horror stories out this year:
‘A is for Alpdruck’ in the Demonologia Biblica anthology (out now)
‘Z is for Zulu Zombies’ for the Bestarium Vocabulum anthology and for Fangoria’s Gorezone #29 (out in November)
‘Botophobia’ for the Phobophobias anthology (out in December)
And my first short crime story, ‘Beauty and the Skell’, should be out in the Screaming Book of Crime in 2014.
I’m working with designer and artist Eric Gross to create the Cilicium Pandoric, dedicated to the female cenobite character from my story ‘Sister Cilice’ (featured in the Hellbound Hearts anthology, which was based on Clive Barker’s novella, The Hellbound Heart, the basis for the Hellraiser films.)
You can see the designs here:
And I’ve written an additional story about the further adventures of Sister Cilice to accompany the Pandoric, which you can read here:
I’m also involved in Melanie Light’s Women in Horror UK Calendar 2014 project. The photos by Tina Korhonen are of women in all aspects of the horror world: music, literature, film, theatre, special effects, production, etc. All the profits go to charity: Rape Crisis and the Sophie Lancaster Foundation
Here’s are the links:
WiH Calendar 2014 Facebook Page:
Finally what tips would you give to aspiring writers?
Barbie- “The best advice I can give is a favorite quote from the film GalaxyQuest: “Never give up. Never surrender.” Sometimes it takes a long time to find a publisher who understands you, so tenaciousness is a very handy attribute to have as a writer. Also, I would say: write from the heart and write about your passions. Believe in yourself. Believe in your creativity and your unique voice.
By the way, one of the best books I’ve ever read about the process of writing is Stephen King’s “On Writing”. It’s not just for horror writers, it’s for writers of any genre. I can’t recommend it highly enough.”
For more news, reviews and interviews, go to: http://www.barbiewilde.com
Barbie on Facebook:
Barbie on Twitter: @barbiewilde