Monday, December 9, 2013

An interview with author Elle Chardou, prolific and thoughtful author of erotic romance

I have been dying to interview Elle Chardou since I read her book Killing Time. I had a feeling that she would have a lot to say about erotic romance, wealth and the New Adult category, and I was not disappointed. She also managed to throw in some deep thoughts about violence against women, what we can really expect from romance and writing beyond "what we know".

Sit back folks; this one's really good.

Elle Chardou

You’re a prolific writer! I read the first book of your Ties That Bind series, but you’ve written a bunch of other novels and novellas. Please tell us more.

I love to explore every subject when I write. When I did the Ties That Bind series, those type of trilogies were all the rage. It was modestly successful and I still have readers who tell me that series changed their life. I did a lot of research and I wanted to explore that type of community but at the same time, I also wanted something extra involved and that is how the series morphed into a murder mystery with suspense and the addition of BDSM and the community itself. 

They are a closed off community and don't really talk to outsiders so my whole job was finding out what made them tick, what kind of psychological personality is drawn to this life style and furthermore, what makes the whole bondage/domination and sadist/masochist dynamics in a relationship work. How does it work and can it be sustained long term? That was the question I kept asking myself throughout the series.

With the understanding that choosing a favorite novel is as difficult as choosing a favorite child, which novel did you enjoy writing the most?

Out From Under, which is the first part of The Lovers Duet and written under my Selene Chardou persona. I initially created a second pen name because I wanted her to be my New Adult voice, if you like. She kind of has morphed  into a whole personality of her own and she's proven much more positive than my Elle Chardou persona. 

I can only say that when I wrote Out From Under, it was the combination of romance and suspense, the rock star world clashing with the violent world of Motorcycle Clubs that made it very interesting and it is still one of my favorite novels to this day. The whole duet is a favorite and I love the couple so much, I decided to an epilogue, which will be a full length story and will premiere late summer of 2014. 

In general I think it's easier on a writer to "write what you know". So I've got to ask: do you lead a secret life as a dominatrix who tours with a band when you're not zipping around in a motorcycle club? If you're not, how are you delving into these worlds? And what other communities and subcultures have you explored for your work?  

I would rather stretch myself as a writer to beyond what I know and write about people I would never meet and worlds I will never be a part of. The joy is I get the chance to do it but the challenge is entering these worlds and writing about them without judgment but as the character(s) I am when I approach a project. If I can nail it down and do it right then that is a huge pat on the back. I blame myself for being a Gemini. It's made me have a split personality and I am always curious about how other people live. I guess I was hardwired that way. 

Sociology and psychology were favorite subjects of mine because I enjoy getting into someone else's mindset and I also enjoy exploring parts of society which are completely and unequivocally different than my own.

How did you start writing erotica?

I didn't intentionally plan to start writing erotica and the truth remains outside of The Ties That Bind Trilogy, most of my novels would be considered erotic romance. The plot is definitely the most important thing to me outside of character development and although there are sexy times in all my novels, I try to limit them to maybe three or four occasions (usually no more than five). I don't ever want someone to complain my novels are just sex and I believe less is more. You can make a novel very sexy without the characters going at it every five minutes. (Interviewer's note: since I have had readers tell me that they wanted to hit their heads on desks after one too many plotless books filled with scene after scene of explicit sex, I agree!)

How has erotic romance changed over the last few decades? I feel like it used to be used more as a tool to tell the story; now in many ways it *is* the story.

That is the problem I have with a lot of erotica and erotic romance in general. I don't want sex to be the story. It is a vehicle I use to show how close a couple has become and how they respond to one another, but I also believe there should be a solid plot that the reader can become engrossed and really be reeled in by. Sex is a facet of my novels but it is *never* the center of my novels.

The Flavor of the Month in erotic romance seems to be Bondage, Domination, Sadism and Masochism (BDSM). For me, the interesting question that those themes present is one of consent. How do you straddle the line between writing about inflicting pain and not writing about sexual assault?

It's easy because as a woman, and knowing the statistics of how many women actually report sexual assault versus how many women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime is skewed. I have been the victim of sexual assault and I have no wish to explore that in my work. I understand the need for dark erotica (ie: when dubious consent by the female is given in terms of sex) but I won't write it myself. I think a woman should always have the ability to say "no" to sex, whether it involves an acquaintance or whether she is in a relationship. I will never explore dubious consent in my work because I find no joy in writing about a woman who has been "tricked" into having sex and/or having he body violated as a means of sexual titillation for the reader.

There are authors who do this kind of work quite well and I will leave it up to them to explore the dark side of sexuality. It's just not for me. 

Your romantic interest in Killing Time, in addition to being a BDSM “leader”, is also fabulously wealthy. What is about super-wealthy heroes these days? And I don’t just mean in BDSM.

I think it is a fantasy for most women to be swept off their feet by an alpha male who happens to have money. Even books that aren't about BDSM but a man and a woman, you notice how most of the men tend to be wealthy and have money. I flipped the tables on this whole notion with my One More Night Trilogy. The heroine is a Norwegian heiress who will inherit billions from the empire her grandfather and mother created. She falls for a rock star and although he has lots of money, the amount she has dwarfs what he is worth.

With so many women working and many of them earning more than their husbands, I thought this would be an interesting theme to explore. It is true, these women aren't heiresses but how does a man handle the situation when his wife has a net worth more than his? It causes problems but you don't get to see it until after their happily ever after and when I write about each character in the band in Scarlet Fever Series. Rock My Heart continues the journey of Kasper "Kaz" Gillian and Sydney "Syd" Landvik and that is when they start to run into issues. I think the story is realistic because during the trilogy, they weren't given any real trials and tribulations but they were in Rock My Heart

Killing Time has a couple of interesting family dynamics: Aurelie is trying to find her sister Tresor’s killer, but to do that she has to get to know Tresor’s lover Rory and his twin brother Severin. Meanwhile, she’s already connected to the twins through her fiance Grey and his brother Jason. With all of the sibling pairs, it’s hard to tell at times whether they’re working for or against each other. Was that a conscious choice on your part?

Yes, it was because I wanted the reader to see how she becomes so involved in this whole world of deviant behavior, or what she considers deviant, she almost loses sight as to what brought her in this whole world in the first place and that was to find out who murdered her sister. The whole Trilogy is my Clockwork Orange if you like. It is meant to be a mind screw and play with the reader. 

I wanted the reader to leave the series thinking how far they would go to find out who murdered a family member and if they could be as bold and fearless as this woman who thought she had everything under control only to lose that dynamic and be under the control of someone else. Throughout the whole series, I wanted the reader to see how much of a backbone Aurelie has and how she continues to be a strong woman, even when she think she has surrendered all her power. Killing Me Softly was my favorite novel to write in the series because I love how she takes back her power and decides if she is going to live this life style, it will be under her terms and no one else's, not even the man who becomes her husband.

A number of your titles are marketed as New Adult, which I think is starting to mean different things to different people. What does it mean to you?

To me, it only has to do with the age of the characters. The Ties That Bind Trilogy deals with characters in their 30s. The next two novels I am writing (Deadly Seduction, which comes out on Dec. 23rd and Love TKO, which premieres in early February of 2014 are both contemporary romances with romantic suspense elements) and neither are marketed as New Adult because all the characters are older than 25. 

I do like New Adult and think it is a great genre but at the same time, I would like to explore characters who are a little older and have lived life. I will be putting out some NA titles in 2014 but at the same time, I want to remain the same dynamic writer who can write about characters of all ages and I don't just want to be known as an NA writer because at this point, I'm not sure if it's a fad or will be a long lasting category.

All the stories are so similar right now, it just seems the characters' names change but it always seems to be about a broken woman and a broken man and how they "heal" one another. I come from the school of thought that we cannot change people. True change can only happen from within and so I avoid this whole line of thinking at all costs. My characters aren't about changing one another but how a relationship can make it possible for a person to self-analyze what is wrong with them and want to become a better person for their partner.

I don't like the theme of someone fixing someone else because it isn't realistic. Yes, it's fiction but the only way we, as human beings, change is if we want to be better. Not for someone else but because we truly want to be a better person for our own health. That radiates to the people around us but no one can heal us. We have the ability to heal and change ourselves but not anyone else. 

Thank you so much for chatting with me!

When I called Elle prolific, I wasn't exaggerating. Here's just a sampling of what she's written- so far!

The Lovers Duet
Out From Under
In Too Deep 

The One More Night Trilogy

The Scarlet Fever Series
Rock My Heart 

The Ties That Bind Trilogy