Posted by Diana Belchase
Our very own Manda Collins has her newest Wicked Widows novel out today! Yippee! The characters in Why Earls Fall in Love are so delicious, I’ve been counting the days until its release. Manda and I sat down to discuss what makes her novels so special. (Oh, and how to win a Manda Collins novel today! See below.)
:::Uncorking a bottle of champagne and passing out glasses for Manda and all our readers:::
Diana: Your settings in this series are really wonderful. I feel as if I’m swept away on a vacation every time I read one of your books. How important do you think the places you write about are to your plots?
Manda: It would be difficult to imagine one of Colin Dexter’s wonderful Inspector Morse mysteries set in anyplace other than Oxford England. The same could be said if one were tempted to move the action of one of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries to say, Texas. As with real estate, location in books matters! Especially when it comes to suspense. It can affect where the action takes place, what resources the characters will have at their disposal to solve the mystery, and even what sorts of danger could lurk for our hero and heroine.
Diana: ::: passing a tray of delicate, Regency-style cucumber sandwiches to Manda and our guests::: So, what made you pick the location for Why Earls Fall in Love?Manda: When I chose to set my latest Wicked Widows novel, Why Earls Fall in Love, in Bath, I did so for several reasons. First of all, as companion to an elderly lady, Georgina would’ve be very likely to find herself in the spa town. Bath was, after all, one of the most popular places in England for invalids and the elderly to gather so that they could partake of the medicinal waters, which had been used to such purpose for hundreds of years.
Diana: ::: wrinkling nose::: I heard the waters contained odd minerals and were absolutely awful tasting and smelly. Wasn’t Bath mostly a chic place for people to see and be seen?
Manda: Once a thriving social whirl, by the time Georgie and Lady Russell arrive in Bath it has lost some of the polish that once made it such a popular spot. With the Prince Regent’s removal, along with his entourage, to the seaside town of Brighton, the Bath that Georgie arrives in has become a place where the elderly and those unable to afford a London season can repair to mingle with polite society for less. (Recall that in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, it is to Bath that the spendthrift Sir Walter Elliot is convinced to go when he can no longer afford to remain in his country estate.)
Diana: Oh yes! I forgot about that. So it’s a place for economical socialization? Hmmm so why did you put your Earl there? Such lovely photos by the way. Makes me want to go this very minute.
Manda: Another reason I chose Bath was that unlike London, it would be easier for people of differing classes to mix without too much difficulty. Because Bath society at this time wasn’t nearly as strict as it was earlier in the century, it was possible for the shabby genteel and the middle classes to mix with the wealthy at the Pump Room or in the Assembly Rooms without much fuss. And because I wished for Georgie to be able to see her old friends from her Army days, I needed that to be the case.
Diana: ::: Passing out chocolate covered cherries to get rid of the imaginary taste of Bath waters::: A perfect way for them to meet! Clever and sneaky of you. But, I hope there is more for them to do than sit around and drink smelly water?
Manda: ::: laughing::: Unlike other towns of its size during the era, Bath offered many of the same kinds of entertainments that might be found in larger cities, like London, such as the theatre, gentlemen’s clubs, lending libraries, and even tourist destinations like Bath Abbey and Farleigh Castle. When it came to choosing a destination for Georgie and Con’s romance, then, I simply had to choose Bath! I can’t tell you more about how these special locations within the city of Bath play into the story without revealing some very major spoilers, but know that now the book is finished and nearly published, I cannot imagine WHY EARLS FALL IN LOVE taking place in any other place.
Diana: Well, you’ve convinced me! I cannot wait to dive into this book!
Manda: So, let’s talk locations. What are some of your favorite mysteries, romances, or romantic suspense stories, in which the setting really made a difference? Do you think the book would have been the same if the setting were suddenly swapped out with another locale? What is it about that city or town that makes it the perfect place for the book to take place? Inquiring minds want to know! Leave a comment and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Why Earl’s Fall in Love.
Diana: And don’t forget to get Manda Collins latest Wicked Widow Novel, Why Earl’s Fall in Love, out today!
Posted by Sarah Andre
Winner of WHY DUKES SAY I DO by Manda Collins
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Tomorrow is Part 2 of Diana’s interview with Allison Leotta
Tuesday 8/13 we welcome Entangled author, MISTY EVANS
Posted by Sarah Andre
“Your Grace,” Lady Isabella Wharton coaxed, from the other side of the Ormonde library, “really, you must put the knife down. Whatever will your grandmamma think?”
But the Duke of Ormonde, accustomed to ignoring his family’s dictates, didn’t lower the knife at his wife’s throat.
As Amazon would say: If you like PBS’s Downton Abbey and Sherlock Holmes you’ll love the Wicked Widow Series by Manda Collins.
In the first of the trilogy, Why Dukes Say I Do, Manda artfully mixes murder, blackmail, sabotage and a who-done-it mystery with genteel life on a country estate.
The hero, Trevor is a newly titled Duke who wants nothing to do with the responsibility the title holds, especially since it means leaving his land and tenants for the chaos of London. The heroine, Isabella is blackmailed by her godmother (the hero’s grandmother) into forcing Trevor to do exactly that.Neither can afford to lose, which makes for a lovely clash of wills. As Isabella experiences the drama of ‘laid back life’ on Trevor’s country estate it struck me that this was deliciously similar to my favorite show Downton Abbey.
So I asked Manda about it:
Would you describe your heroine’s personality traits more like a Mary, Edith or Sybil?
Hmm. I’d say she’s a Mary from probably the second or third season. Once she’s softened up a bit and acknowledged that human frailty exists and is okay. Not the First Season “hellish beyotch” Mary.
If you had to cast your Dowager Duchess of Ormonde for a Hollywood movie, who would you choose?
I think Judi Dench could pull it off quite well. Or maybe Gemma Jones (the mother in Sense & Sensibility). But definitely the Dowager Duchess of Ormonde shares some traits with the DD of Grantham!
Robert Crawley is a laid-back Earl, who rarely capitalizes on his title. I would even call him a reluctant Earl, more interested in country-life at Downton Abbey and keeping his tenants happy than dealing with the politics and social mayhem of London society. As an audience, we generally gravitate towards mayhem for entertainment, yet both you and Julian Fellowes make this trait seem heroic and keep us enthralled. How did you do this and why do you think we are fascinated by the slower pace of life on a country estate?
I think there is something enthralling and noble about a high-ranking person choosing to devote themselves to actually tending to their responsibilities. We’ve seen time and time again the hellraising Rake or politically active peer spending all their time in London carousing or trying to get some legislation to pass the Lords. Not to say that politics don’t have their place. But that gentleman who really cares about his tenants satisfies–at least for me–a need to see someone doing the right thing.
As to how I did this? I have no idea! I’m totally an organic writer. I might tinker with the prose or make changes my editor suggests, but I don’t consciously think–oh, he needs to look more sympathetic here…I wish it were that easy!
In both the TV series and your novel there is a ‘confidant’ relationship between the main characters and their servants. In your research do you believe this was so in the Regency period/early 20th Century? (Like we have with our hairdressers/bartenders today?)
I do. As much as we’d like to think that all people in the upper echelons of society saw their servants as furniture, I just can’t believe all of them were so callous to the people around them that they didn’t share some part of themselves with their closest servants like maids and valets and the like. Do I think that it was all jolly and Mary Poppins and happiness all the time between them? Of course not! But I do think, in some cases there were confidant relationships between them. And the servant would then use that reputation for discretion if they needed to get another position. It was as great a commodity as a letter of reference!
The murder, sabotage and blackmail is right out of a Sherlock Holmes plot and not usually seen in historical romances. What made you blend genres (tricky at best) and are you finding a captive audience?
Well, thank you for the compliment, but I certainly do not see myself as the second coming of Conan Doyle (though wouldn’t that be awesome?) Like most writers I write what I like to read. And what I like to read most are Regency Historicals and Mysteries. So what I’m trying to do is blend together some combination of the two.
Sometimes I think it works better than others. I do know that my mystery plots aren’t always as complex or difficult to figure out as a true mystery–I think that’s because I sacrifice a bit of the mystery to the romance. After all, it’s not much of a romance if your hero and heroine never talk about anything but the mystery they’re trying to solve. And also there MUST be some sexy times! I insist upon it! So you get what I like to think of as Nancy Drew meets Jane Austen–or maybe Georgette Heyer if you want to be more precise.
As far as captive audiences, I don’t know! The number of positive reviews outnumber the negatives. But of course it’s the negatives I remember. And let me tell you, there is at least one person who DOES NOT like to have mystery mixed in with her romance! But that just means my books aren’t for her. Which is absolutely okay! There are enough books out there for everyone to find something they enjoy!
Can you give us a hint about the next novel in the series?
The next novel in the Wicked Widows Series is called WHY EARLS FALL IN LOVE and it is the story of Isabella’s friend Georgie, who also suffered a not so great marriage. The hero is the Earl of Coniston. He’s mentioned briefly in WDSID but is never onstage. The action of this one takes place in Bath and let us just say that our blackmailer is back in full force! Lots of adventures all over the spa-town! It will be released the last week of January 2014.
OOOO! Scanty cover…Looking forward to another great read, Manda!
One lucky commenter will win a digital or paperback copy of Why Dukes Say I Do. Question: Who is your favorite Downton Abbey character and why? Check back on Thursday to see if we picked your name. (Paperback only available to mail in the continental states.)
Posted by Krista Hall
Even in London society–where everyone knows what you did last season–you never know who’s next in line to walk down the aisle…
TRUE LOVE IS OFTEN FOUND
With her whirlwind social life in London, Lady Isabella Wharton has little interest in the customs of the country. But when her godmother asks her to pay a visit to her bachelor grandson in Yorkshire, Isabella can’t refuse. It behooves her to please the old dowager, since she harbors one of Isabella’s most scandalous secrets. So off she goes to see the newly-titled–and notoriously rustic–Duke of Ormond…
WHERE YOU LEAST EXPECT IT
Trevor Carey doesn’t care about what goes on behind ballroom doors. He is content with the simple life–and isn’t ashamed to admit it to a society flirt like Lady Isabella. But the country air brings out a different side of Isabella–one full of longing and passion. Can her sophistication be hiding a desire for love? When a blackmailer from the city arrives to threaten Isabella, Trevor will shield her from harm–even travel to London. Can the duke tackle the ton on Isabella’s behalf …and manage to keep her all to himself?
WHY DUKES SAY I DO is coming to a bookstore near you on July 30th!!
AND THE K&T THURSDAY WINNER IS: JANE!!!
Next Tuesday, Montlake author Juliette Sobanet visits to tell us about MIDNIGHT TRAIN TO PARIS, her newest mystery set in 1930’s France.
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.