Tell us about yourself. How long have you been writing? I’ve been writing since high school. I wrote tons of non-fiction, mostly books on archaeology and project reports, before I turned my hand to fiction. I’ve been writing fiction for nine years and have four and a half finished manuscripts. I took about five years to complete my first book, mostly because I kept going back and rewriting it every time I learned something new, or refined my craft. That first book served as a very long apprenticeship.
How did you get from archaeology to writing romance? It seemed a very natural progression to me. I’m sure I got into archaeology in the first place because I have a very romantic imagination. I did nautical archaeology, which is the study of shipwrecks, and I was always imagining what it must have been like when the ship went down. There were never any happy endings in my work – I always knew they had already ended up on the bottom of the sea! So I wanted to write stories about the sea – all my heroes are Royal Navy of the Napoleonic era – with happier endings.
My jump to fiction came after I did some research on a particular ship for the author Clive Cussler. I wrote a scholarly article about the research and he called to compliment me. He said I had a flair for historic narrative, and asked if I had ever thought of writing fiction. I was a stay-at-home-mom at the time, and it was just the push I needed to sit down at the computer and get started.
Who is your favorite author(s) and why? I read almost exclusively historical romance authors at the moment. With my writing schedule, I have sadly little time for reading that isn’t research. After Jane Austen, my all-time favorite romance author is Laura Kinsale. I love the emotional immediacy of her books and her wonderfully drawn characters. Others on my must-read list include Lorraine Heath, Anna Campbell, Joanna Bourne, Sherry Thomas and Julie Ann Long. Also some authors who may not be on everyone’s radar, but who’s writing I adore, include Meredith Duran, Tessa Dare and Courtney Milan.
Tell us about your new book. THE PURSUIT OF PLEASURE is a Georgian historical, set in Dartmouth England in 1794. It will arrive on shelves this December 2010, from Kensington Brava.
Captain Jameson Marlowe has come home to Dartmouth on a special assignment from the Admiralty, to solve the murder of his lieutenant and to stop the illicit trade of arms and information between the Devon coast and Revolutionary France. When he overhears hears his childhood friend and nemesis declare, “I do say I’ll never marry, but I have always wanted to be a widow,” he jumps at the opportunity to revenge old wrongs.
Lizzie Paxton is bored, too bright for her own good and very, very used to getting her own way, but she can’t resist Jamie’s counter offer of “a marriage without the man.” But instead of happily lazing away her days at her lovely, empty estate she finds herself thrown into prison and embarking upon a crazy foray into a world filled with gun runners, idealist politicians, murderers and husbands who only pretend to be dead'
Short Excerpt: The Pursuit of Pleasure by Elizabeth Essex
“I do say I’ll never marry, but I have always wanted to be a widow.”
The young woman’s voice, with its droll, self-aware tone, wafted down the length of the assembly room’s dimly lit balcony, floated into the darkness beyond, and entwined with the smoke dancing off the hot end of Jameson Marlowe’s cigar.
Marlowe clamped down on the cheroot to keep from laughing out loud into the warm night. He didn’t need to look around the other side of the column to know who was speaking. He’d spent years away, and still, he knew. She came to his mind as swift and unbidden as a gunshot.
Lizzie. No one else could manage to be so ridiculously charming.
“A widow? You must be joking.” Another girl, her voice as young but much less world weary, sounded scandalized. Her breathy little voice rose higher with each word.
“I’m not. If I were a widow I’d have everything I need. Independence. Social standing. Financial stability.” Lizzie blew out a long sigh full of wistfulness. “It would be perfect. A marriage without the man.”
“You can’t mean it!”
The owner of the breathy little voice didn’t know her friend very well, it seemed. Lizzie always meant it. Always. He could easily picture her impudent, challenging smile as she tossed her opinions off like hand grenades.
Marlowe grinned, leaned his head back against the column and took another deep drag from the cigar, his mind whirling like a steel clockwork, ticking away, crystallizing his plans. He had waited a long time for this moment. He would make this work.
Defiant little Lizzie Paxton.
Yes, she would do very well. In fact, she was perfect.
He ground out the cigar with the toe of his boot and stepped out from behind the column. “She always means it, don’t you, Lizzie?”
At the sound of his voice, two young women, dressed in fashionable white muslin chemise dresses, turned their heads towards him. But only one of them smiled. Ever so slightly. Lizzie.
A sharp pang lanced through him at the sight of her, like the ache of a long healed bruise. Despite the years he’d spent away, despite the fact she’d grown up, Marlowe still recognized the girl he’d known inside the beautiful young woman leaning negligently against the balcony railing. The same ginger-tinted hair. The same boneless, feline physicality. The same slightly feral smile. The smile that always led to mischief.
She slowly straightened from where she lounged against the railing. The pale dress, belted with a sash of bright green satin that matched her eyes, accentuated the liquid grace of her body. On anyone else, it would have looked demure. On Lizzie, it looked like a challenge.
One he was definitely going to accept.
What is the appeal of writing romantic historicals? I love the clash of ideals and the huge changes that were happening in western society during the second half of the 18th century. The period has everything a romance novel could want for excitement and conflict: Revolutions, exploration, scientific break-throughs, ideological challenges and deeply fabulous clothes.
What kind of writings turns you off? What stops you from writing? This is hard. I think, I stop reading the moment I can’t identify or understand the characters. I’ll believe in all sorts of contrived circumstances, but I can’t continue to read a fictional character who is badly, or inconsistently motivated. And I have absolutely no tolerance for heroines who suffer from the dreaded “Too Stupid To Live” syndrome. I’m as susceptible as any author to it myself. The heroine of my second book, A SENSE OF SIN, suffered from this malady for quite some time before I was able, with the help of my wonderful Australian critique partner, Joanne Lockyer, to slap some backbone into her. I’ve learned I don’t write nice girls very well, so I just stay away from them.
What stops me WRITING? Goodness, everyday life! Children’s school activities, broken air conditioners, sick dogs, volunteer work. That said, to make sure I do write, no matter what, I keep a spiral bound notebook with me all the time (this explains my collection of large handbags). So whenever anything strikes me, or whenever I have an hour to myself in the parking lot at my son’s football practice, I have no excuse not to write. I’ve been know to resort to using crayons when I haven’t been able to find a pen, because I know that if I don’t write the words down the moment I think of them, I will lose them forever.
How have you shocked your readers? I don’t know. I know, I’ve shocked myself a bit with the level of sensuality I’m writing for Brava.
How do you get your ideas? What is your writing day like? I get my ideas everywhere: at the grocery store, listening to the radio, or folding the laundry. The original seed of THE PURSUIT OF PLEASURE came from an old New Yorker Magazine cartoon of my grandmother’s era and the character of the heroine, Lizzie Paxton, was inspired by the sassy humor in an old Irene Dunne movie.
The premise for my second book, A SENSE OF SIN, came from playing with the modern concept of ‘phone sex’ twisted into a historical setting. And then, of course, there is the BBC America, and all their fun historical dramas, and incredibly handsome, sexy heroes. I could spend a day discoursing on the glory that is Richard Armitage.
My writing day varies, depending on what other fires I need to put out in my life, but an ideal day involves waking up really early and getting in an hour of writing before my kids get up. Then a break for carpool and walking the dog, before I sit back at my computer until I’m out of words, or my kids come home from school. While they are doing homework, I will either work on new ideas longhand in my notebook, or do Facebook and answer emails. My rule is that I can only play on Facebook, and check out the blogs, AFTER I’ve done my page count for the day. Depending on where I am on my deadline, I usually aim for ten pages a day of new material – at a minimum of five pages – or a full scene of rewrite/editing a day.
Can you share three writing tips?
Write every day. I find my brain is like a muscle that gets better, and stays in shape with regular exercise.
Read your work out loud – especially dialog. Since I write with ‘accented’ characters in mind, the cadence of their speech is very important. I also find I catch most of my typos and clichéd word choices when I do this.
My super secret weapon is the Wine Spectator! Coming up with new ways to describe the emotions and, quite frankly, romantic choreography of love scenes can get very hard. By chance, I read a wine review that described the wine as having an ‘opulent silkiness,’ and I thought that was a perfect description of a kiss. So for sensory laden descriptions, when I’m stuck, I check out wine reviews!
Fill in this blank: Your ideal fictional hero would think you gorgeous if …. My fictional heroes always fall in love with my heroines when they make them laugh.
How much do you love cake? We could spend all day on cake! I don’t cook, but boy, can I bake. And although I do a mean zucchini bread, which I like to call ‘breakfast cake,’ I love nothing more than sweet, sugar and butter-laden, rich chocolate cake. God has smiled upon me now, because my daughter has taken after me, and likes nothing more than to relax on Saturday mornings by baking a cake. I love it when the house is full of that cake baking smell. And now I get to lick the bowls! Life is good.
Thank you, Ms. Essex. And now for comments from friends and readers!!!