Interview with Helen Hardt
After reading Follow Me Darkly I was fortuitous enough to be granted an interview with author Helen Hardt. Below is the transcript from that conversation where I delve much further into my thoughts on Follow Me Darkly, representation of BDSM, and healthy sex!
Mistress Holly: I was delighted by the normalization of anorgasmia and what was essentially somatic sex therapy. As an author of erotica and romance novels how much reading do you do on the topic of sex and sexual health?
Helen Hardt: I'm thrilled that you enjoyed Follow Me Darkly, Miss Holly! Though I do a lot of research on sex and sexual lifestyles, I actually didn't have to research much about anorgasmia because I unfortunately suffered from it when I was younger. Though I'd been sexually active since age sixteen, I didn't experience an orgasm until I met my husband. Perhaps I was more comfortable with him than with previous partners. Perhaps being more mature helped. Or maybe he's just that good! Probably a bit of all three.
MH: I love that answer, and that there’s more behind the characterization of the sexual relationship in your book beyond “Braden has a magical cock”. Do you feel that research on sex and sexual lifestyles helps you write your stories?
HH: It definitely does, because other than that I have only my own sex life to draw on, which has been varied and fun. I personally am not into the BDSM lifestyle. I have dabbled a bit, but I’m not in it, so I need to research to write it authentically. Obviously, I did a lot of research on BDSM before I wrote Follow Me Darkly and before I wrote other books as well. Yes, research is a big part of it.
MH: Do you feel you have an obligation to represent good sexual health practices to your readers?
HH: Absolutely! Absolutely, all of my guys wear condoms until they’re told otherwise. That’s a big thing in all my books, even in historical romances—they use “The French Letter”. So yes, very, very important. I like to try to get them off the condoms as soon as I can. I’ve written a couple heroes who have never had sex without a condom, and when they finally get to have sex without a condom with the heroine, it’s mind-blowing. So, that’s kinda fun. But yes, condoms always.
MH: The level of understanding about BDSM and how those relationships function is very impressive. I appreciated what was happening psychologically in the exchanges between Skye and Braden throughout the book, and not just during sex scenes. What sort of research into the lifestyle did you do prior to writing Follow Me Darkly?
HH: I’m not in the BDSM lifestyle myself (though I’ve dabbled a bit) so I read several books and articles. I also read fiction depicting the lifestyle.
MH: I’d love to know which books on BDSM you read! Do you remember any specific titles?
HH: 50 Shades of Curious by Bo Blaze PCC
MH: Do you feel it's easier to publish this sort of erotica in a "post 50 Shades" world where kink is more mainstream? And how do you feel about Follow Me Darkly being compared to the 50 Shades series?
HH: Yes, definitely. Fifty Shades really opened up the genre to the mainstream audience. What many readers don't know is that kink romance has been around for a long time, but Fifty Shades somehow made it accessible. Romance writers truly owe E.L. James a debt of gratitude. My work has been compared to Fifty Shades for years, so I'm used to it. There are some similarities, but my voice and style are completely different from James's.
MH: I deeply enjoyed your voice and style, and would agree it’s vastly different from E.L. James based on the excepts I’ve read. Honestly, I haven’t read the 50 Shades series due to the bad press in the kink world, though I almost feel obligated to due to the misinformation it has spread. If you weren’t aware, there was a rash of sex related emergency calls after the release of each book and movie. Do you feel any sort of responsibility for how you may be shaping the sexuality of your readers?
HH: I think that most people who read my books probably are not in the lifestyle, they’re probably just titillated by reading about the lifestyle, and I think that’s why the housewives went kinda crazy over ’50 Shades’. But of course, I do feel a certain amount of responsibility to portray it as accurately as I can and to make sure in my scenes that the Dominant and the submissive are doing all they can for the safety of the other person. I hope that shows in my work, so if I’m getting a reader who isn’t in the lifestyle, I want her to know that her dominant needs to make her feel safe or vice versa.
MH: How would you say Follow Me Darkly differs from your other works?
HH: I've explored BDSM to some extent in my other works (most specifically Melt, Burn, and Surrender in my Steel Brothers Saga) but Follow Me Darkly is the first novel I've written where it's the main theme. It's also the first novel I've written only from the heroine's point of view.
MH: Are Melt, Burn, and Surrender your recommendations for those who want to read more but can’t wait for your next installment, Follow Me Under?
HH: They are, but they’re part of a series that you have to read in order. It’s a 15 book series that’s going to be an 18 book series. The first three books are about two characters, and then the next three books in the Steel Brothers series are Melt, Burn, and Surrender and those are about the oldest brother. He is the one who actually has a dungeon in his basement, has practiced it for quite some time, used to belong to a club and did scenes at the club (he no longer does that), and he introduces his psychiatrist/therapist/girlfriend (she’s only his therapist for one session before they start a relationship). But he is a Dominant, so I go much further into the lifestyle in those three books. Those two characters are the only ones who practice the lifestyle frequently. The other characters kinda dabble here and there, but it’s not a huge part of their sex life. So yes, I would say read that series, but you really have to start at the beginning for it to make sense as there’s a story arc that kinda goes through all of the books.
If they’re craving a little more of my work that will have some BDSM elements, I would say go to Craving, start the book, start the series (most people get addicted to the series), go through the first three books, and then you get to Melt and there’s a lot of BDSM in those three.
MH: Is there anything you cut from Follow Me Darkly that you wish you could have kept?
HH: No. My editor actually had me ramp up a few of the sex scenes!
MH: Did you have to use your safe word with your editor?
HH: *Laughs* No, actually, I’m a very concise writer and so my books are not as long as some other people’s books are because I don’t believe in a lot of descriptive fluff. That’s the reason my pacing is super fast, because I don’t bog it down with a lot of fluff. So some of the sex scenes she thought needed to be ramped up a little bit. I didn’t particularly want Skye to get spanked yet in that scene, but [my editor] was really adamant about it. It turned out to be a really good scene, actually, my editor has a really good eye, really good instinct, so that one got ramped up, and then the one at the end got ramped up a little bit too. To me, the one at the end was more about them falling in love and not so much about the sex. Well, [my editor] wanted a little more “heat” so we ramped that one up as well. I think it came out great, so I have no complaints!
MH: A few times throughout the novel you mention makeup, and everyone loves a bold red lip! What's your favorite shade?
HH: My favorite shade is L'Oreal Infallible Pro-Last Lip Color in Incessant Russet. In fact, I modeled the Susanne Cherry Russet lip stain that Skye loves after it!
MH: I was wondering what your inspiration was for that! You have a very varied background, I believe you’re an attorney and a blackbelt? Have you incorporated any of that from your real life into your books?
HH: I’ve had several characters who are attorneys. None of my characters are blackbelts, but I have used some in my paranormal series, called the Bloodbond Saga (with vampires and werewolves), I have used a lot of the fighting techniques in some of the action scenes. In that way I’ve used it.
MH: What would be your advice for readers wanting to find their own Braden Black or Skye Manning?
HH: Good question! I've been married for a while and haven't been on the dating scene. In the days of Covid, I'm sure it's especially difficult. Personally, I've never been a fan of dating apps, but that's where the future seems to be. Confidence is the first step. Have faith in yourself and know that you deserve the best. Then you have to get out of your comfort zone. Nothing will happen if you sit around waiting for Braden or Skye to fall in your lap. Opportunity occurs when you're looking. Most importantly, be yourself!
MH: Anything you can share about what's next for Braden and Skye? I'm sure you have a lot planned over the next two novels!
HH: I don't want to give too much away, but expect a bumpy road before they get to their ultimate happy ending!