I should probably start by telling you that The Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray is not for the faint of heart! It’s dark, decadent, sexually explicit and at times, violent and sacrilegious. In the short time it’s been out it has been pushing quite a few buttons, sparking both praise and controversy. The novel is actually a sequel to Oscar Wilde’s classic work The Picture of Dorian Gray. In the original, Dorian dies at the end, so I had to incorporate some artistic licence and arrange for his “death” to be staged. A man as obsessed with sensation and debauchery as Dorian Gray isn’t likely to accept death if he can avoid it. In my book he continues his quest for new sensation, journeying around the globe and moving forward through time. The story opens in Jazz-Age Paris, where Dorian mingles with courtesans and famous individuals from the literary and art worlds; (readers are certain to pick up on who these “celebrities” are without my naming them). As the Second World War begins to taint the city and spoil his fun, Dorian departs for exotic Marrakesh. Here he spends a number of years indulging in debauchery until he can no longer remain without his true identify being made public. From here he heads to South America, finding much to amuse himself, most of it quite hair-raising. Eventually he lands in modern-day New Orleans, where he hooks up with a group of free-living and licentious young people with a penchant for vampirism. Despite Dorian’s total absence of morality, his experiences in New Orleans act as a mirror being held up to his face, offering him a chance at redemption and perhaps even love. I’ve made sufficient references to events in Oscar Wilde’s novel so that readers who haven’t read it will still be able to get the gist of what happened previously. A number of readers have commented that since reading my book, they now plan to read Wilde’s novel. To me that’s the biggest compliment I could ask for!
What was the appeal of this character for you?
I’ve been fascinated by Dorian Gray ever since childhood. I first read The Picture of Dorian Gray when I was ten years old and it’s never left me. Even back then I was able to pick up on the homoeroticism in the novel and now, knowing what I do about Oscar Wilde’s life, I cannot help but wonder how much of himself he put into Dorian’s Gray, the character. Obviously Dorian captivated me, just as he did most everyone who encountered him in the novel. A man who’s the epitome of youth, beauty and perfection, and yet thoroughly debauched and without any morals whatsoever—this makes for some interesting reading! The fact that all these years later I ended up writing a sequel to the novel—to be honest, I’m not all that surprised by it.
What made you take the story to several different locations?
I had no preconceived idea as to what I was going to do with my sequel, but I’m glad it went in the direction it did. It makes sense that when you are dealing with very long periods of time, you need to change the scenery to hold a reader’s interest. Having said that, Dorian’s history was continually doomed to repeat itself, in that his social companions inevitably noticed that he was not growing old, meanwhile they were. This was addressed in Oscar Wilde’s novel, which resulted in Dorian murdering the man who’d painted his portrait. In my novel Dorian needs to move around as a matter of self-preservation. At one point he even becomes hounded by people from his past, which is one of the main reasons why he leaves Marrakesh and goes to South America—it seemed to be the farthest place he could go to escape from his past. He continually remakes himself in each location, finding new sensations to experience, each more extreme than those which preceded it. His life becomes an endless descent into a chaos of debauchery where absolutely nothing is sacrosanct.
How did your research these of their time?
I spent lots of time researching on the internet. I had to get my facts right, be they historical or geographical. I was dealing with several countries and several continents, not to mention several historical time periods. I incorporated real events into the novel and, as I mentioned earlier, real individuals. So there was plenty of fact-checking going on.
What made you want to bring this story forward to present day?
It happened of its own accord. However, I confess that I quite liked the idea of bringing Dorian into present-day New Orleans. Because my novel and the original by Oscar Wilde are both technically Gothic fiction with paranormal elements, New Orleans seemed like a good choice as a location for Dorian to end up in. There’s a supernatural mystique surrounding the city, which has been fuelled by authors such as Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite. It felt right that I should take Dorian there as well. I also wanted to provide a bit of insight into to how he would react intellectually to the customs and mores of contemporary society, particularly individuals who consider themselves “alternative”. There is some humour in the book just as there was in Wilde’s novel—it isn’t all just sex, degeneracy and horror!
How difficult is it for write to build on an existing character compared to creating your own?
The important thing is to make the character true to his or her original nature, and I believe I’ve achieved that in The Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray. Remember that in Oscar Wilde’s original novel Dorian was the ultimate bad boy. He was a sexual profligate, a hedonist and a murderer. He corrupted both men and women, destroying their lives. It was inevitable that these things would become even more pronounced as he continued his life. I should mention that Wilde was forced to censor his work in order for it to be deemed suitable for publication, so his original Dorian Gray was actually far more corrupt and evil than most of us ever realised. There is a special challenge in taking a pre-existing character or characters and building upon them. I had a similar challenge when I wrote my sex parody Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts, which featured a number of characters I needed to build upon. As a writer, you need to really focus in on the essence of the character and make sure that anything they do is believable to readers of the original works, no matter how outrageous the act. Obviously I took some flak from Austen purists for having reimagined these classic characters, but their sexual antics weren’t beyond the bounds of literary reality. So too for Dorian Gray. When it comes to creating your own characters from scratch, you have free licence and can take them anywhere you want without being confined by said characters’ original traits. Having said that, you always need to beware of consistency issues regardless of whether a character is of your own creation or someone else’s. Writing is not an easy job!
What is next for you?
I’m currently working with my co-author and celebrity bear Teddy Tedaloo on the next instalment of our quirky crime/cosy mystery series The Thelonious T. Bear Chronicles. The debut novel Normal for Norfolk (The Thelonious T. Bear Chronicles) features ursine photojournalist Thelonious T. Bear, who always seems to end up in a right pickle! The last time we saw him he was the chief suspect in a series of murders of village publicans; in the new book he gets himself into even more hot water. The novel should be out later in 2014. In addition, I have a couple of anthologies scheduled for release, the Gothic-themed Darker Edge of Desire (which is a follow-up to my bestselling Red Velvet and Absinthe) with an autumn 2014 publication date, and the aptly named Love, Lust and Zombies due out, I believe, in 2015.
Mitzi Szereto is a bestselling multi-genre author and anthology editor, has her own blog “Errant Ramblings: Mitzi Szereto’s Weblog”, and is the creator/presenter of the Web channel “Mitzi TV”, which covers “quirky” London. Her books include Thrones of Desire: Erotic Tales of Swords, Mist and Fire; Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts; Normal for Norfolk (The Thelonious T. Bear Chronicles); Red Velvet and Absinthe: Paranormal Erotic Romance; Getting Even: Revenge Stories; and In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed: Erotic Fairy Tales. Mitzi has pioneered erotic writing workshops in the UK and mainland Europe, teaching them from the Cheltenham Festival of Literature to the Greek islands. She’s also lectured in creative writing at several British universities and performed readings of her work in several countries. Her anthology Erotic Travel Tales 2 is the first anthology of erotica to feature a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She divides her time between the UK and USA.