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November 22, 2011

PLOTTING PRINCESSES: Elizabeth Essex on Danger of Desire

It’s all about Character. 


Today, I am thrilled to introduce you to my next release, THE DANGER OF DESIRE, coming on Nov. 29th from Kensington Brava.  This is the last of my Georgian period Dartmouth stories, although THE DANGER OF DESIRE takes place almost exclusively in London, England in the year 1799.  It’s the story of Captain High McAlden, whom we got to know as a secondary character in both THE PURSUIT OF PLEASURE and A SENSE OF SIN.

This book also introduces a new character to my readers, the heroine of the story, Meggs the pickpocket.  Meggs was both an easy and a difficult character to write.  Easy because I could all but hear her voice as I was writing, and difficult because she very well could have appeared to be an unsympathetic character—a conscienceless thief (at least according to the hero). 

So how could I make a character who was in direct opposition to a well-known, and well-liked, hero appear sympathetic to readers? How could I get them on her side?

By making her as transparent as possible—by sharing her every thought and every emotion with the reader. By choosing words that reflect her unique personality and life experience.  By clearly illustrating with her words her place at the bottom of the ladder in the world of Georgian London, and therefore her vulnerability within that world.  By making her essentially powerless.

But making her powerless could upset the delicate romantic balance between the hero and heroine.  No one likes, nor really believes in a romance in which one partner has all the power. For me, romantic chemistry must be predicated by mutual respect.

So how does Meggs get respect?  By being as smart as the day is long, and very, very good at what she does. 

And by showing the reader her stealing, rather than telling.  By putting the reader in her worn-out shoes.

Here’s an excerpt:

            The toff limping out of Spring Gardens onto Cockspur Street was just the sort she liked, if she couldn’t have a drunk.  Big man, but tired, he was, weariness stewing from his bones like the cold steam of his breath in the frigid, snowy air.  And he was a gimp—heavily favoring his left leg—but without a cane or walking stick.  So far so good.  It paid to stay well clear of walking sticks.  But he was a gentleman, all right, with a well enough set of togs, though he looked none too comfortable in them.  Too new.  Country man recently come up to town, was her guess. 
            Meggs took a deep breath, hitched the basket of sewing higher onto her hip, tipped Timmy the wink and headed along the pavement in the man’s direction.
            She kept her eyes on the mark.  On his hands and his face.  Definitely a country man, though he was younger than she had first thought.  Pain and injury did that to a man—aged him.  His face, as he looked up and down Cockspur Street for his direction, was weathered and rugged like the granite hills of Derbyshire.  A walking tor, that’s what he was.
            There it was again, that same strange pang of dread, that feeling that was half memory and half longing for something just out of reach.  She tried to mentally push the nebulous sensation away, but it was like swatting at a cobweb—invisible, tenuous bits of feeling clung stubbornly to her brain.
            But there was no room for mooning about.  She needed to keep her wits about her head and concentrate on the flat ahead.  On the gleaming watch he’d just pulled from his pocket to consult the time.
            And then, he looked up and Meggs saw his eyes.  So pale a blue, they were shocking in a face so tan.  Chips of ice held greater warmth, and yet there was a fire, a force that sparked so strongly, so powerfully within the frozen wasteland of his gaze, she had to turn away for fear of being singed.
            She knew that look.  A zealot.  Moon-eyed.  Dicked in the nob.  Whatever it was, every instinct she possessed screamed danger.  And clever girl that she was, she minded quick-like, keeping her head down and scurrying across the street to stay well clear of his path, away from all that steely awareness.  She had no desire to receive another blast from the furnace that was his eyes, thank you very much. 
            But that was a mistake, too.
            For while she was minding the dangerous, sharp-eyed cove, she smashed headlong into another body and down they went, for real. 
            It was generally not the sagest of ideas to frisk a toff without having ever clapped peepers on him to see if he were a likely chum, but her clever fingers were already making professional-like, cataloging his portable chattels before she could have a look-see and come to a prudent decision. 
            Merino wool, good quality.  Waistcoat, brocade silk.  Belly of considerable girth.  Scent of expensive cigars and brandy.  Toff.  Watch, fob and purse, quick and easy as you please as she fell down, and the top button of her loosely pinned bodice obligingly popped open to fill his eyes with the sight and feel of her padded, upthrust breasts as they brushed against him.  And to finish the business, a spill of white petticoat and a breathless, helpless display of calf.
            It was all as familiar as a Drury Lane play, and twice as well-rehearsed.
            “Lawks,” she cawed on top of him, “me basket!” 
             Then she snatched at the fallen bits of fabric and sewing, an embroidered bodice piece having fallen, quite by design, in the gentleman’s considerable lap.  Her fingers brushed mercifully fleetingly across his cods, so his blood would keep well away from his brain. 
            It was just as old Nan always said—a man couldn’t think and fill his rod at the same time.  Keep him doing the one, and he’d never be able to do the other.
            And it was done.  She was up and fussing with her basket and moving away muttering, “Don’t care who they knock over.  Missus’ll have my head, if-  Ere, gimme that!” she called as Timmy darted by, pretending to grab at the lacy underthings she carried in her basket.
            “Here now!  Leave off there!” 
            Meggs turned back, thinking for some un-Godly reason of the pale-eyed man.  But no, it was worse—a constable.  How had she missed seeing him?  Cripes, that was all they needed—the Law barging his way towards her, waving his cosh at Timmy.   
            But Timmy scarpered right quick, the heavy purse she passed him already surreptitiously down his shirt.  “I saw her bottom, I saw her bottom!” he yelled gleefully as he went running through the foot traffic.         
            Meggs stepped into the Trap’s line of sight to divert his attention.  “Oh, Constable!”
            “You all right, Miss?” the constable asked.
            The constable was young, and thankfully, someone she had never crossed before.  Meggs let her real fear and apprehension color her voice.  “Brazen it out,” old Nan would have said, “but make it real, dearie.”
            “Thank you.  Knocked me off my feet, he did.”  She cut her eyes towards the fat toff still righting himself and fanned her hand demurely across her half-revealed décolleté.  Lovely word that, one of Nan’s favorites.  “Have to be rich to have décolleté,” she used to say, “the poor just have titties.”  Rich or poor, the young constable’s gaze had dropped six inches to what one hand revealed, while under the basket, her other hand concealed the liberated watch deep within the folds of her skirts.
            It was a risk to draw such attention to herself, but she needed to make sure Timmy was clean away, and with the constable’s eyes glued to her bumped up titties, she’d earned herself some running room.  Speaking of which.
            “Lawks, the time!  My Missus’ll have my head.  Much obliged, Constable.”  And she was off, muttering and fussing, turning from the pavement and heading into the sea of people moving through Charing Cross.
            And then she felt it—the icy blast from the Devil’s own furnace.  Meggs turned to find the eyes of the pale-eyed country man slicing into her like cold, sharp steel.  That was when she abandoned all play acting and ran like hell was opening up behind her.
            This time, she kept her eyes wide open.

So how do you think I did?  Leave a comment and let me know, and to celebrate both my inaugural blog here at the Plotting Princesses and the release of THE DANGER OF DESIRE, I’m giving away three copies to random lucky commenters.  Good luck and thanks for stopping by!


Eli Yanti said...

i'm hope the giveaway is including international reader

i never read your book before, but i love the excerpt elizabeth, good job ;)

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

Good morning my loverly friend, Ms. Essex. I'm so happy you are here to talk about Danger of Desire which is a fabulous book! I love Hunky Hugh.

Can you talk about him?

Elizabeth Essex said...

Good morning Eli, and YES, I am happy to include international readers in the giveaway! Thank you for stopping by and reading the excerpt. You can also find excerpts from my other books at my website:

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Love the excerpt. Enjoyed what you had to say about character development and garnering reader sympathy. Very helpful.

Elizabeth Essex said...

Good morning, Vicki! And thanks for your kind words about the book. :)

Can I talk about Hugh? Oh goodness, yes. I think at this point, after three books, it is safe to say that he is my favorite hero. Mostly, because after three books, I had an almost exact idea of what he looked like, what he sounded like and how he would act. I originally wrote him as a secondary character in THE PURSUIT OF PLEASURE, where he was young and gruff. By A SENSE OF SIN, he had grown and matured, especially in his principles and sense of morality, so when he find him again in THE DANGER OF DESIRE, he is a fully formed, experienced man. But he also has some deep vulnerabilities that I hope will surprise readers. :)

Elizabeth Essex said...

Thanks MaggieBlackBird!

I think in garnering reader sympathy, what I was really trying to do was make sure my heroine was completely understood by the reader. And that's my job, to make all her actions, even the bad ones like picking pockets, so well motivated that the reader thinks, "I would have done the exact same thing." A reader may not like a character's actions, but if they can completely understand the reasons and motivations behind it, then they will take the character into their sympathies.
Thanks so much for stopping by this morning to comment, and good luck!

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

And I would like to add I'm adding a surprise drawing from Plotting Princesses to those who friend us today!

Elizabeth Essex said...

HUZZAH! Let me check my own FB page to make sure I'm 'friended." :)

Kathy Ivan said...

Welcome Ms. Essex and what a terrific excerpt (as well as a wonderful book, I absolutely loved, loved it).

I enjoy stories where you feel as if you know everything about the characters, that they are so real you can see and hear them as you read. It makes the story that much richer in feel and I can become more enmeshed within the narrative from there.

As always, lovely to see you here at the Plotting Princesses. :-)

Addison said...


As someone lucky enough to get an advance read on this book, you not only delivered an incredibly sympathetic heroine (and a hot, hunky hero!!), but she was truly someone I was rooting for.

Great job!!!

Elizabeth Essex said...

Thank you, Kathy! Thank you for your kind words!

(And I should explain that both Kathy and Vicki read an ARC of The DANGER OF DESIRE before it's release date next week.)

I completely agree with you. I love stories that immediately pull me into the characters' lives. Once I get emotionally involved with a character, I'll follow the book anywhere it wants to go!

It's a great thing to remember every time I start a new story. :) Thanks for stopping by!

Elizabeth Essex said...

Addison, thank you so much for stopping by!

I am thrilled that readers are liking this hero and heroine—and liking them together—as much as I do! When I first thought of pairing these two characters together I thought they were all wrong for each other, so of course, I had to throw them together and see if the sparks would fly. I think they did! :)


chris keniston said...

can't wait to read this latest story - your writing has always been a wonderous journey back in time !!!

and I find your method of character development totally right on - duh!! LOL.

thanks for popping by

Elizabeth Essex said...

Chris - thanks so much for stopping by. I know not every style of writing works for everyone, but I am glad to know I found a kindred spirit in you! For me, I can't write a book without knowing and understanding the characters first. I always say "I want to write a story about a girl who ..." I never think I want to write a story where they do this or that. But that's just what works for me ... and you!

Sheila Tenold said...

You hooked me! Now I have to add Danger of Desire to my TBR list.
Fascinating character who earned my sympathy.

Sheila Tenold

Sylvia said...

Hi Elizabeth,
Wow, I loved your excerpt! Can't wait to read Danger of Desire. I want to see how this character changes and affects the hero.

Good job and congratulations on your new contract.


Elizabeth Essex said...

Huzzah! Thanks, Sheila.

I have to admit, just as I have for my hero, this heroine is my favorite I've written so far. She just had an engaging voice inside my head and I heard her talking to me, and to the hero everywhere I went. So glad I became a writer instead of a mental patient!

Thanks for stopping by today and good luck! Cheers.

Kathleen Baldwin said...

I'm reading this book now and wow! Elizabeth is a rare talent. Her writing leaves me speechless. In a good way.

PamnTX said...

The excerpt of your new was great! I can't wait to read it. Characters are my hook. If I like the character and want to know what's going to happen to them, I'm hooked. It's hard to pry the book from hands.

Congratulations on your new release and new contract.

Pam P.

Elizabeth Essex said...

Thank you, Sylvia for your kind words. I hope you'll find this heroine knocks this self-assured hero right off his preconceptions. And I'm pretty sure he enjoys the fall. :)

Elizabeth Essex said...

Aww, Kathleen. Thank you.:)

But you of all people should know it's not talent—it's relentless hard work. I am simply relentless in my editing process and I try and try to make every word do heavy lifting, so both the dialog and internalizations are fresh and unique and are specific to the character.

So glad to know you're enjoying the book! Cheers!

Elizabeth Essex said...

Well, Pam P we just need to get a copy of TDOD into your hands and hope no one even tries to pry it loose!

I am so glad to hear there are other writers and readers who love character-driven books! Enjoy the holiday and I hope it is full of extra time to read. :)

Sasha Summers said...

Oh my gosh! What an amzing excerpt - You NAILED it!!! If I don't win the book (fingers crossed :)) I will have to fun out an buy it! Congrats!!

Elizabeth Essex said...

Thank you, Sasha! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I have to say it's always really hard for me to choose an excerpt. I always want to start at the beginning and just keep going... I can't wait for this book to make its way onto the shelves and onto people's E-readers.

Hope you have a wonderful holiday. (I hope to start the pies this afternoon.) Cheers!

Sheila Seabrook said...

Elizabeth, the scene is wonderful. In this short bit, you definitely made me want more of Megg.

Congratulations on your upcoming release. It sounds like it will be a fantastic read!

Elizabeth Essex said...

Sheila, thank you so much for coming by today and for your kind words. I am so glad you liked the excerpt and Meggs. I am sure you're going to love the rest of the book then! :)
Cheers and good luck!

Phyllis said...

Hi Liz,

Great insights on characterization and I so enjoyed your excerpt. Third book already? Wow, best wishes, Liz!


Elizabeth Essex said...

Thanks for your kind words, Phyllis. TIme does seem to fly doesn't it! And I just completed revisions for book #4, which now has a release date in August 2012 and will be called ALMOST A SCANDAL. No rest at all for the wicked. :)
Glad you enjoyed the excerpt and thanks so much for stopping by. Cheers!

Karilyn Bentley said...

Hi Elizabeth,
Great excerpt! I think you nailed it. :) I'm looking forward to getting the book. I love your writing!

Elizabeth Essex said...

Thank you so much, Karilyn. I am so glad y'all are loving this book as much as I am. :) I really had a ball writing this book and living with these characters—so much so that I think I got a little depressed when I finished the book. So then I just had to go ahead and make Hugh and Meggs secondary characters in my next book ALMOST A SCANDAL. Some characters are too much fun to retire.
Thanks so much for stopping by today! Cheers.

Elizabeth Essex said...

We have our winners!

The lucky commenters have each won a copy of THE DANGER OF DESIRE:

Eli Yanti

I'll contact you by email to send out the books. Cheers!