The Romance Reader Interviews

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New Faces 222
Manda Collins
by Cathy Sova

Welcome to our New Faces column, where you can meet debut romance authors and discover their books. This time we are visiting with Manda Collins, whose first book is HOW TO DANCE WITH A DUKE from St. Martin's Press. Letís meet her.

Manda, welcome to TRR! Tell us about yourself.

Well, I was born and raised in Coastal Alabama, where I'm part of a large Catholic extended family. I lost both parents while I was still pretty young, but was brought up by my maternal grandparents. Though I remember reading my first Nancy Drew with my mother, it was my grandmother who introduced me to Agatha Christie. I was an English major in college and went on to earn and MA in English and later a Masters of Library and Information Studies.

Are you coming to romance writing from another job? Do you still have a day job?

I've been a customer service rep, a paralegal and a law librarian. I am currently working as an emerging technologies librarian at the school where I got my undergrad degree. Boy is it different from the other side!

What led you to write romance?

I got my start writing in middle school when I wrote what I now know to be fan fiction about my little group of friends and the characters from the television show Moonlighting. Around that same time I picked up my first romance--I have trouble pinpointing exactly what book it was. I think probably I started with the Sunfire romances that Scholastic put out in the late eighties. Then I moved on to adult Regency trads. I never really thought of myself as a writer until I took a class called "How to Write a Romance Novel" during college and something clicked. I started writing a Regency trad. But the next year I had some serious health problems that made it impossible to write and along the way I kind of stopped writing. Though I never stopped reading. In 2006 I got back into romance writing through the Avon Fanlit competition.

Tell us about your road to publication.

In the spring of 2007 I started writing my first novel, PORTRAIT OF A NIGHTINGALE which I finished the next spring. I finaled in some contests, including the Daphne and the Sheila. I sent out about forty five agent queries, and in fall 2008 I accepted representation from Holly Root at the Waxman Agency. We went out on submission and about a month later, publishing went to hell in a handbasket. I had some really great nibbles, but with the market contracting sharply, there was just nobody willing to take a risk on a Victorian with a Nightingale Nurse heroine. So, after lots of rejections--and I mean we were rejected by every major house AND it's brother--I decided to write the kind of book that had drawn me to romance in the first place. I brainstormed some trilogy ideas with Lindsey Faber, a great friend, and I wrote HOW TO DANCE WITH A DUKE, a Regency historical with a mystery plot. Along the way I got feedback from my friends from Fanlit, like Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan, Elyssa Papa. I tweaked. And in October 2010, Holly Blanck at St. Martin's Press made an offer.

What kind of research was involved for your first book?

I did a lot of research on Egyptology during the Regency period. Since Cecily is a linguist, and is conversant with Egyptian heiroglyphs, I did a lot of research on the Rosetta Stone, and its translations. The actual "cracking" of the Rosetta Stone didn't happen until a few years after my book is set, so I took some liberties with the historical detail for the sake of the plot.

Tell us about your debut book.

HOW TO DANCE WITH A DUKE is the story of Miss Cecily Hurston, the daughter of England's most celebrated Egyptian explorer, and Lucas Dalton, the Duke of Winterson. Lucas is trying to find out what happened to his brother, Will, Lord Hurston's personal secretary, who went missing on Lord Hurston's most recent expedition. Unfortunately, he can't ask the man himself because he suffered an apoplectic fit (stroke) on the voyage back to England. Cecily is determined to make sure that the blame for Will's disappearance does not fall on her father. So she and Winterson join forces to find out exactly what happened on that expedition, and in the process fall in love.

Who are some of your influences as a writer?

My biggest influences have been Jane Austen and strangely enough, Nancy Drew. My favorite bits of Nancy Drew books were always the parts where Nancy and her friends joined forces with their boyfriends and solved the mystery. And I loved what Austen did to the Gothic romance in NORTHANGER ABBEY. I also really admire the prose of Loretta Chase, Eloisa James, Julie Anne Long, Jo Goodman--I could go on forever. I also adore the old school mystery romances of Amanda Quick.

What does your family think of having a published romance author in their midst?

My family is proud. Though with the exception of my sister, an aunt, and a cousin, they aren't huge romance readers, so I think they're a little bashful about the sexy parts. Even so they've been very supportive and talk me up all over the place, which is pretty sweet.

Tell us about plans for future books.

My next book in the Ugly Ducklings trilogy is HOW TO ROMANCE A RAKE, which comes out July 31, followed by HOW TO ENTICE AN EARL, which will be released in February 2013. After those, I'm contracted for three more books with St. Martin's, which will be another trilogy, this time following the exploits of three Wicked Widows and their attempts to elude a blackmailer.

In completely different news, I self-published a contemporary romance novella this summer, called LEGALLY YOURS, which is a secret-crush story set in a fast-paced, southern law firm.

How can readers get in touch with you?

I'm on Twitter @MandaCollins
Facebook at
or they can email me at:

Manda, thanks for joining us, and best of luck with HOW TO ROMANCE A RAKE!

July 17, 2012

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