Elaine R. Chissick is the author of the erotic book, Ties That Bind, and its recently released sequel, Ties That Harm. The multi-talented British author first caught my attention with her memoir, Willing and Able: A True Story of Adoption, in which she shares her story of adopting two children, along with all the ups and downs, backwards laws and bureaucratic nonsense tainting the process. Even though I’ve never adopted, as a mother, I was swept up in the story, deeply moved and rooting for Chissick and her husband throughout the ordeal.
But there’s more to Chissick than motherhood. She happens to write fiction as well, and I recently asked her 10 questions to find out more.
Hi Elaine. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I’d like to begin by congratulating you on the release of Ties That Harm. Now I’ve read the first one, Ties That Bind, which is far more than simple erotica. There is a complicated plot about the very independent Italian-American Alexandra, her dangerous break from her family, and her journey afterwards, which includes meeting Gabriel. What’s in store for the reader in the sequel?
Hi, Dana, thank you, and thanks for having me. The story for Ties That Harm came as a huge surprise to me as much as anyone. I had a story to tell and I’d told it in Ties That Bind, or so I’d thought! But deep in my heart, I knew there was something bugging me, something asking “what happened next?”, and then that question quickly changed to “what would Gabriel do if …?” and so that’s where I started. That one question turned into a further fifteen questions and before I knew it, I had half a sequel.
But what’s in store for the reader? As you know, Ties That Bind was written from two points of view, Alexandra and Gabriel’s. Ties That Harm gave me the chance to expand that enough to give other characters a voice too. So although we still have Alexandra and Gabriel as main characters, I’ve given more of a voice to a few others, like Alexandra’s brother, Dante, Gabriel’s business partner, Greg, and Greg’s girlfriend, Lauren. Not only did this give me the ability to pull the reader into these individual lives so that they could piece the story together, but it also gave me the chance to add a few new options to the erotic side of the story. Not that it’s all out whips and chains, no, but with each couple, the sex is different in a way to complement each character and their partner.
Both Ties books take place in America, which means you have to write about places you’ve never visited and figure out American dialog. As a Brit, was it difficult for you to write a book which takes place in the U.S.?
Writing the second book was definitely easier!
I think language is evolving all the time and the ease at which anyone can watch films and TV shows based in any country, means that a lot of dialogue will cross over. Just as ‘pants’ is used to mean trousers in the USA, it’s also used for the same thing here in the Northeast UK where I now live, whereas in the place I was born, ‘pants’ means underwear.
That being said, there will always be phrases which are different, waistcoat/vest, rubbish/trash, mobile/cell, lorry/truck to name but a few, along with words like ‘awesome’ and ‘absolutely’ which, while they are used here in the UK, they are more widely used in the USA. Like any new thing, it was about getting into the general mindset of using American English, sometimes to the point of it flowing over into my private life (like the time I told my son to pick his cell up off the floor. Yeah, I got a funny look for that one!) and remembering to write things like ‘me and Gabriel’ rather than ‘Gabriel and I’.
People have also asked why I chose to go with Americanized spelling of some words. I did it to add authenticity to my books, just like I added an amount of Italian to Alexandra’s dialogue. These characters are from Italy and America. The way they speak and write is part of who they are. To do it all in British English, would deny them who they really are.
I was also lucky to have an editor who knows a lot more about the USA/UK language differences than I do, and I also have friends living in New York, Indiana and Virginia who have all contributed to my research.
What inspired you to write the Ties books?
After the adoption had gone through, I wrote a short memoir of what our adoption journey had been like. No publisher wanted the story, and in 2012 – after receiving a Kindle as a gift – I self-published it. Previous to all this, when I was about 15, I used to write short stories, daydreams, which would all be put away in a folder. I was then told that being an author was not an option, and so I put my stories aside and got on with doing what I was ‘supposed’ to be doing, working/growing up/etc. Because writing wasn’t an option then, I began reading, and I read anything (still do). Lucky by Jackie Collins was one of my favourite books, along with The Adrian Mole Diaries and most things by Sophie Kinsella and Wendy Holden, but no matter what I read, I just couldn’t seem to find that story that for me, made me fall in love with it, made me laugh, cry, sigh, got me right in the feels, you know what I mean? So after reading a book that came pretty close, I secretly dug out my old story folder and started to read a couple of things. One in particular had characters who leaped off the page and instantly began playing around in my mind, telling me what had been happening to them in the intervening years, and that is what formed the book that is, Ties That Bind.
I’ve heard you’re also a chef. What’s your best dish?
HAHA! Well, not quite a chef, but I do work in a school kitchen and I love to play with food! My best dish? Well, my daughter will tell you that it’s my sausage plait, which is stuffing, bacon and sausage meat all wrapped up in puff pastry. My son will tell you it’s the cheesy meatball wrap and chocolate chip muffins, while my husband will argue for the mozzarella and bacon stuffed chicken breast baked in homemade tomato sauce and cheese with chili flakes, and crusty bread. As for me, it has to be either Italian apple cake with toasted pine nuts or New York Italian baked cheesecake with blueberry compote. Yum!
Any cookbooks in the future?
Absolutely! One of the projects I’m working on at the moment is a recipe book. Alexandra does a fair amount of cooking in both Ties books, and many of my home cooked Italian inspired dishes came from researching her and her life.
Not long ago, I printed off a number of homemade recipe cards for a friend of mine, and an off-the-cuff remark from her about Alexandra writing a cookery book, was all that was needed for the seed to be set.
I have no idea if the book will ever make it to publication, or even completion, but I hope it does.
Who are some authors you find inspiring?
Sue Townsend, Victoria Wood, and Caroline Aherne, because they all wrote laugh out loud comedies which is something I could never do. The comedy born from Wood and Aherne’s ‘real life sitcoms’ (Dinnerladies and The Royle Family) was genius. It showed just how funny (and sad, and poignant, and uplifting) real life can be. There really is a golden moment in almost every situation, if only we could embrace our differences, laugh a little more and stop trying to drag everyone else down.
Dan Brown writes stories that make me think about things a little deeper, with mysteries and conspiracies steeped in real history.
And I love E.L. James, because she wrote at a level that brought reading back into fashion. Say what you will about her stories (which I really enjoyed), she managed to get millions of people reading – some for the first time – and that can never be a bad thing.
What prompted you to self-publish, and are you glad you did?
Partly the time factor. Out of 25 agents/publishers who I approached with my true life book, Willing and Able, only 13 came back to me, all with words of encouragement, but also a resounding ‘no!’. I don’t think I could go through that with my fiction books. So self-publishing gave me the chance to write my book knowing it was not going to be rejected. It also meant that I could do it within my own time frame, and tell the story I wanted to tell, the way I wanted to tell it, and have it looking the way I wanted it to look. But of course, self-publishing also means that mistakes, covers, formatting, websites, social media site upkeep and advertising, are all my sole responsibility. It’s like being the CEO, Marketing Manager, Accountant and Coffee Maker of the whole company. And as a lot of authors are rather quiet, often shy people, we find it increasingly difficult to find ways of shouting from the rooftops about out work.
Was it worth it? Yes.
Would I do it again? Yes.
Would I accept a publishing contract from a major publisher/agent if one came along? Maybe.
If you had the means to visit any place in the world, where would you go?
New York City, New York State, New Jersey, and Naples (Italy) – all the places in my books. The internet, Google Earth and street maps are fantastic research tools but I’m guessing nothing beats actually being there in person to experience the sights and sounds of the places where my characters can be found. Besides, my friend took a trip to New York City a couple of years ago and just happened to have her picture taken outside Gabriel’s Lexington Avenue apartment. How jealous am I about that? (quite a lot, actually! 😀 )
I’m not a good traveler, I like to stay home, so the only other place I would go to, is New Zealand as I have family there.
Any celebrity crushes? 😉
I’m guessing you know the answer to that one already! Yes, my celebrity crush is Keanu Reeves and has been for thirty years. But it’s not just because of his looks. He’s a gentleman with a heart of gold who puts 100% into whatever he takes on. He is my Gabriel Harland!
Oh, Can I add him to my ‘places to visit’ list? Please? 😀
Are there more Chissick books in the works?
Yes. Whether they will eventually be published remains to be seen, but yes. As I mentioned before, there is a recipe book currently at the writing stage, which I hope to call ‘Alexandra’s Kitchen’. I’d also like to put together another book about adoption, this time exploring the thoughts and feelings of adoptive fathers, but finding adoptive fathers willing to participate is proving rather difficult. (All it entails is answering a series of questions. I already have two participants so if you know of anyone else happy to be part of this, please pass on my details to them.)
I also have a few notes (and about 4000 words) of a new fiction novel centering around the death of a nightclub owner’s girlfriend … but that is in the very early stages and is totally different to anything I’ve written thus far, so we shall see where it goes.
But for now, I’m concentrating on sorting out new covers for the Ties twins and organising myself for an Indie Author Fest that I will be attending in August of this year. It will be the first time I’ve done anything like that, so I’m very excited and very nervous too!