The Jaunty Quills are excited to welcome 2012 Rita nominee Elizabeth Essex. Her newest release is Almost a Scandal, out August 1st from St. Martin’s Press.
Shana: Welcome, Elizabeth! Tell us about Almost a Scandal and The Reckless Brides series.
Elizabeth Essex: Thank you so very much for having me, Shana! I’m thrilled to chat with the Jaunty Quill’s readers about my latest release. ALMOST A SCANDAL is the story of my first Reckless Bride, Sally Kent, an intrepid young woman who comes from a navy family—all her brothers and her father are Royal Navy—who decides to take the place of her youngest brother as a midshipman aboard His Majesty’s Ship Audacious. There, she encounters both friends and enemies, as well as one particularly keen-eyed, handsome Lieutenant, David Colyer, whom she cannot hope to fool with her impersonation. ALMOST A SCANDAL is the girl-disguised-as-a-boy story of the sea voyage these two very similar characters take together, and how they learn to balance each other out. Adventure, destruction in the form of the battle of Traflagar, and near death come between them, but I’ll let you read to find out how Sally and Col find their happily ever after. (But lest you think it’s all ships and sailing, take a peek.)
“Well, Mr. Colyear.” She looked wary and careful, keeping the breadth of the table between them, yet all her chariness couldn’t obliterate the lovely, warm flush of her skin. The days in the sun and wind and weather had put roses into her cheeks beneath the freckles, despite the purpling of the bruise high on her cheekbone.
“Are you going to tell me how you got that?” If it had been Gamage he was going to seize the bastard up on a grating and thrash the life out of him with his own hands, and bedamned to the consequences.
She tipped her head to the side and brewed up a small bit of the mischievous Kent smile. “Juggling. Wine bottles. Most ill-advised.”
He had expected so different an answer that the truth left him bemused. And ill-advisedly intrigued. “I didn’t know you juggled.”
“Judging from the tenderness of my face, I don’t.”
He chuckled at her joke, and she smiled back. But only for a moment, before she looked over at the only two cabin doors that remained open, and faltered, the laughter in her gray eyes fading back into solemnness.
She retreated behind the safety of formality. “Are you not going to retire, sir? You’ve been on deck today longer than anyone, even the captain. You look tired.”
He was tired. But the walls that separated the cuddies were nothing but canvas spread over battens. If the fellow next door had a lantern, so he might see to wash, or keep a journal, or read, it shone through the light-colored cloth and cast a shadow of their movements.
To see her shadow, to know that nothing but canvas would separate them, to imagine that if he listened very closely, he might hear the cadence of her breathing in sleep, would be nothing less than torture.
He already had an unreasonable fascination for her—there was no need to feed it. He would sleep in the bloody chair if need be.
“I was about to say the same of you, Kent.” His voice sounded hoarse to his own ears. Making oneself heard over the guns did that to a man, not the strain of talking to intriguing young women disguised as acting lieutenants. “You look like you’ve been holystoned.”
Her hand rose to touch her cheekbone. “Do I look very bad?”
Her question was devoid of vanity. It held only self-deprecation and astonishment, as if she hadn’t thought about it before. “No. You look fine. Like a sailor. Though perhaps more like a prize fighter, fresh from a good milling.”
“That’s the stuff.” The laughing mischief danced back into her eyes. “Perhaps I should keep up the juggling so I’ll continue to look the part. It will make a nice change from not bathing.”
Damn his eyes. Damn him. Because even if he closed his eyes to the sight of her, he could still vividly imagine the dark shape of her body silhouetted against the backlit canvas wall of his cabin, an erotic shadow, like a mural of an odalisque brought to life. A flesh-and-blood woman, instead of the grime-coated boy she was trying so hard to be.
His mouth ran so dry, all the brandy on board wouldn’t be enough to wet it. He opened his eyes and tried to speak normally. “Kent, I should warn you, the screen walls are thin, and light comes through. So when you….”—he had to swallow around the word—“wash yourself, you’ll want to take care with your lamps. Do you understand?”
“Oh.” Her brow pleated up in puzzlement. “Does that mean I oughtn’t? Pinky left a ewer of warm water, and I was hoping to finally-”
“No.” Damn him for a dog. Clearly her brain didn’t function like his. “You just need to be careful. Unless you want Mr. Horner to discover”—he glanced around the empty cabin, but still lowered his voice—“certain things, and to be eaten up with lust and longing, and as hard as a belaying pin, then you had best either make sure he is not in his cabin, or extinguish the lantern before you wash yourself.”
“Oh.” She drew back, belated understanding steeling her spine. “I understand. But does that mean y-” She stopped, and said no more, but she couldn’t stop her eyes from shying down his frame, or keep her face from flaming with a heat that swept downward over her neck like a trail of fire.
But he knew exactly what she had not asked. The hectic heat in his own face was burning away all traces of his pride. Why should he not tell her? She needed to know. To understand. If not for her own sanity, then for his. “Yes, Kent,” he informed her quietly. “That is exactly what I mean.”
Her answer was the barest shred of a whisper. “Eaten up with lust and longing?”
Within her voice, he found a cobweb of hope. “Yes.” He kept his eyes on hers, steady and even as his voice. “Consumed.”
When she finally spoke, her voice was as small and tight as if she had forgotten how to breathe. “I’m sorry.”
Shana: Ooh! Fabulous excerpt. Thanks for sharing!
Liz, I read in your bio, you received your MA in Nautical Archaeology from Texas A&M. My husband went to A&M, and even though I went to UT, I have an affinity for A&M. What drew you to nautical archaeology and how do you integrate your interest in that subject into your novels?
Elizabeth Essex: There’s just something about A&M, isn’t there? I left Chicago and moved to Texas A&M University sight unseen to pursue a degree in Nautical Archaeology, because there was no place else in the world to study the archaeology of shipwrecks like A&M. I had majored in Classics, Art History and Classical Archaeology in college, but I had always been drawn to nautical archaeology by a deep love and appreciation of sailing ships—I grew up sailing on the Connecticut shore—and by a childhood enchantment with all things Jacques Cousteau. During my academic studies I was very much interested in the navies of the 19th century, and after I finished my degree, and decided to have kids, I thought that I would stay home and give writing a try. I took seriously the advice that I should write what I knew, and that was the British and American navies of the early 19th century. At that time, people were saying that historicals set in America were, if you’ll forgive the pun, dead in the water, so I decided to concentrate on the British Royal Navy. And thus my stories with Royal Navy officers as heroes were born. I’ve had four books published to date, and all of them have featured heroes of the Royal Navy.
Shana: What is your writing process like? Do you have a daily page or word goal? Do you write early in the morning or late at night? Do you plot or fly by the seat of your pants?
Elizabeth Essex: My writing process is all over the board. I don’t have a strict page count or word goal, but I make myself work until the words just won’t come anymore. Typically, I start in the early morning—the indispensable Mr. Essex is a notoriously early riser—and try to write free-hand, without editing myself, or figuring out how on earth it’s going to fit into the story, just to get the words flowing. Then I get the kids off to school, answer emails, and go over what I’ve written and work to incorporate that into the story. I usually have a vague idea of where the story is going, but I don’t plot, or outline, I just go until it stops making sense, and then I go back to the beginning to reread and see where I can refocus the story. Very often I can’t see what I need to do, or where I need to focus the plot, until after I’ve written a complete first draft. I have, upon at least one occasion, re-written the whole book with an entirely different focus after than first draft is done. Not a terribly efficient process, but it’s how my brain works. (Sigh.) But no matter the process, my aim is always to create evocative, emotional stories that readers can fall into, and characters, especially heroes, that readers will fall in love with.
Shana: Did you do any special research for Almost a Scandal? Tell us one interesting fact you’ve learned from your research for Almost a Scandal or another of your books.
Elizabeth Essex: I did an enormous amount of research for this book. I felt a great burden to get the details of shipboard life correct, and I had to read and re-read books about the navy of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s era to get the timing of the watches, the forenoon starboard watch and larboard dog watches, correct and impressed upon my brain so that I knew them as well as Sally would have. One of my favorite research tasks was an imaginary jaunt I took over the French countryside via Google maps to create the route Sally and Col would have taken while they were on their special assignment behind enemy lines in Brittany.
Shana: Sigh. This is my kind of book. I’ve always loved Nelson, Trafalgar, and books set on the high seas.
Liz, tell us what you have coming next.
Elizabeth Essex: The second book in the Reckless Bride trilogy, A BREATH OF SCANDAL, comes out at Christmas, and features another unconventional heroine, Antigone Preston, and the reckless things she does, and most importantly the handsome, reckless man she enlists to help her break off an unwanted engagement. While A BREATH OF SCANDAL isn’t set on the high seas, it features one of my favorite characters—a charming rogue of a navy officer—as the man our heroine chances upon to help her out of a fate much, much worse than death. It’s a grand romp!
Readers, now it’s your turn. Scandals—whether modern-day or historical—are endlessly intriguing. Why do you think we love to read about a good scandal? One reader who comments will be randomly chosen to win a copies of ALMOST A SCANDAL and DANGER OF DESIRE. U.S. and Canadian residents only, please. The winner will be contacted by me and announced on the blog Sunday.
And learn more about Elizabeth on her website.
Buy Almost a Scandal at Amazon or your favorite bookstore!