Posted by Sharon Wray
Not sure why a blog devoted to suspense readers is gushing over Regency romances? Just check out this amazing review from Romantic Times for Manda’s next release Why Dukes Say I Do (release date July 30, 2013).
“Witty and smart, Collins’ prose flows smoothly as she merges a charming, compassionate love story with gothic suspense. Collins again brings modern-day issues into the Regency period, compelling readers to identify with her three-dimensional characters. Add strong pacing and depth of emotion, and there’s no doubt this is a winner. Four and a half stars, Top Pick!”
Not to be outdone, The Perks of Being a Beauty is a lovely story of an unusual heroine seeking both forgiveness and redemption. It’s a story I just adored.
The beautiful Miss Amelia Snow is not accustomed to being snubbed by the gentlemen of the ton. But when her mother dies unexpectedly, forcing Amelia to take employment as companion to a wealthy cit’s daughter, she quickly learns to play down her looks or risk losing her position. When her employers, the Smithsons, decide to throw a country house party, she is determined to fade into the background. But how can she when the Smithson’s guest of honor is Lord Quentin Fortescue, the childhood friend who stole her heart?
Younger son, Lord Quentin Fortescue, is far more interested in his host’s cotton mills in the north than he is in courting the man’s dim-witted daughter. But it’s the girl’s companion who makes him look twice. Years ago, Miss Amelia Snowe rejected his proposal without a backward glance. Quentin has molded himself into just the sort of man she’d have wanted back then, but is Amelia still the smug beauty who broke his heart? And can either of them risk their newfound positions to indulge the fiery attraction that burns between them?
And because we love Manda and her books so much, we’ve intertwined her interview with a virtual blue bouquet in honor of her “blue” book. (Okay, maybe there’s a touch of purple and yellow!)
SW: Manda, I am so thrilled about the acclaim your books have been getting. How much harder was it to write a novella versus a single-title book?
MC: I find novellas a great deal easier to write. Yes, you have to choose your words carefully because of word count limitations, but it’s much easier to hold all the details of a novella in my head than it is to do with a novel. I really like the compactness of a novella, the way you can look at issues much more closely than you can in a novel, when you have to keep up the pace and not dwell on any one thing. I’d love to write three or four novellas a year. They recharge my batteries before I dive into a longer project.
SW: It’s never easy redeeming a difficult character from other stories, yet you do a splendid job with Amelia. Were you worried about what your readers would think about her redemption? Especially considering her awful behavior in the Ugly Duckling books?
MC: Thank you! But, I’m STILL worried! For whatever reason, readers seem to be more forgiving of heroes with flaws than of heroines. And even though I feel like Amelia has grown and changed (as heroines do in their own novels) I know that all readers aren’t going to take her redemption seriously. Which is okay. They aren’t required to. But I am relieved that a number of readers are going along with Amelia on her journey toward becoming a better person.
SW: Your redemption of Amelia was witty and believable. What, specifically, did you do in this story to make her more sympathetic?
MC: I looked at the things she was doing that were so awful in the earlier books and tried to imagine what might have brought her to that point. What made her into the kind of person who would sneer and scoff and generally make life miserable for her peers? And I discovered that she’d been influenced by her mother and as many of us do when we “grow up” she realized that her mother’s way of doing things was perhaps not the right way. And so, she began to unthaw and make amends for her past wrongs. Seeing her make amends is important to helping readers believe she can become a better person.
SW: I love the fact Amelia wears glasses (and that Quentin makes her wear them). How common was it for women of the Ton to wear them in public?
MC: You know, I’m not all that sure. I confess to using my own feelings about being a “girl who wears glasses” and Marilyn Monroe’s character from How to Marry a Millionaire for those bits. And I think Amelia without her spectacles was sort of a disguise in reverse. When she’s wearing her glasses, she’s acknowledging her true self. But when she’s not, she’s denying it. So by making her wear them, Quentin is at once accepting her for who she is, and making her do so as well.
SW: When you’re writing, do you connect more intensely with the hero or the heroine?
MC: It depends on the book. One of the things I like about writing romance is that I get to focus on two protagonists instead of one. So I can explore life from two different perspectives and life experiences. Of course, in every book there’s going to more of a focus on one or the other, and with me, which one depends on which character has the most to overcome. Or alternately, which character needs to change the most. I tend to write the first draft with the heroine in mind and the second draft with the hero.
SW: You write description and dialogue beautifully, but which do you prefer to write?
MC: Oh, dialogue without a doubt. There’s just something intoxicating about carrying on dialogue with imaginary characters. Especially when YOU are playing both parts. Maybe it assuages my inner actress? Whatever the reason, I love writing banter. Always have. 🙂
SW: How long did it take you to get published? How did you find your agent?
MC: From the time I finished my first novel to actual publication it took four years. I finished my first book, a Victorian historical called Portrait of a Nightingale, in 2008 and started querying in late 2008/early 2009. I got my agent, Holly Root, from a cold email query I sent to her in October of ’08. I sent her my partial, she asked for the full, and I heard back from her in March of the next year asking me to make some revisions before she could offer representation. I was recovering from open heart surgery at the time, so I had to ask for a little time.
She was understanding and told me to take my time. (Which was HARD, let me tell you.) And when I sent her the revisions, she got back to me in a month and I signed with her in October. So the process took around a year. Though Portrait got a lot of editorial interest, it was a little too outside the box and didn’t sell. So the next year, I decided to go back to my roots and write a Regency. How to Dance with a Duke sold after four months on submission.
SW: Do you think being a librarian had an effect (good or bad) on your decision to become an author?
MC: Not really. I love books of course—always have—but to me librarianship is only minimally about the contents of the items we collect and organize. It’s more about being able to boil them down to their essence and describe them for others to find. Let’s be honest: there’s no possible way that librarians can read and understand every book they catalog or recommend! And I wanted to be a writer long before I decided to become a librarian. It does give me extra opportunities to squee, though. Seeing my books in Worldcat for the first time was a real high that I don’t think anyone who isn’t a librarian would appreciate.
SW: What is the one thing you wish you’d known before you got “The Call”?
MC: I wish I’d known that “The Call” doesn’t spell an end to your days of fretting over what people think of your book. Yes, it does mean that you’ve finally moved onto the next rung of the ladder. But there’s just more chances to be judged waiting for you on every rung of the ladder. First it’s whether you get into WalMart or Target, then it’s what the big review journals think of it, then it’s what reviewers think of it, then it’s what readers think of it. Then the process starts all over again with your next book. It’s literally never ending. And what’s really crazy-making is that it even continues for authors who are New York Times bestsellers. Because as soon as one book hits it, then it becomes about hitting higher than your last book. And if you don’t there’s teeth-gnashing about why and what you can do next time.
Not to say that I don’t LOVE this business. I do. But you’ve got to come into it with the knowledge that people are always judging you. And to keep your sanity, you’ve got to be able to step away from all that and focus on the writing. If you can’t, then you’ll be miserable. And worse, you’ll find it impossible to concentrate and your work will suffer.
My advice? Just let go of what you can’t control and concentrate on what you can. Be zen about it.
SW: Thank you, Manda, for sharing your release day with us. And because Manda is as sweet as she is talented, she is giving away three e-copies of The Perks of Being A Beauty to three lucky commenters. Now, we’d love to know . . . how do you feel about the redemption of difficult heroines? (we will not use the “b” word, but you get what we mean :))
Manda Collins is the author of the Ugly Ducklings Trilogy, a series of historical romance novels. Manda spent her teen years wishing she’d been born a couple of centuries earlier, preferably in the English countryside. An affinity for books led to a graduate degree in English, followed by another in librarianship. By day, she works as an academic librarian at a small liberal arts college, where she teaches college students how to navigate the tangled world of academic research. A native of coastal Alabama, Manda lives in the house her mother grew up in.