Guest Author: Manda Collins & Giveaway!

I’m SO thrilled to have one of my favorite people on the blog today.  She’s Manda Collins, and she writes fabulous and witty historical romance with a dash of mystery to spice things up.  Manda’s debut book, How to Dance with a Duke, will be released by St. Martin’s Press in January, 2012.  It’s a wonderful book, and I predict it will be one of the best Regency-set historical romances of the year.

Without any further ado, I’ll turn the blog over to Manda!

Thank you so much, Vanessa for having me here today!

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Moonlight & Magnolias Writers Conference in Atlanta. I’ve attended the conference, which is one of the best regional romance writers conferences around, before, but this year’s was special. Not only did the fabulous Vanessa Kelly win a Maggie Award for Sex and the Single Earl, but this year’s keynote speech was given by one of my very favorite authors, Eloisa James.  Which, in turn, afforded an opportunity for those of us who were regulars at the now defunct Squawk Radio (a group blog featuring Lisa Kleypas, Christina Dodd, Teresa Medeiros, Eloisa James and Liz Bevarly), and Eloisa’s Bulletin Board with Julia Quinn, to have a mini-reunion.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I get together with old friends there’s a lot of talk about the past, catching up on the present, and prognosticating about the future. And with this particular group of women, we talked again and again about how lucky we all felt to have found each other. What brought us together was our love of romance, but what forged our friendships into lasting ones was, for want of a better term, our “kindred spirits.”

When I got the idea for my Ugly Ducklings trilogy, I wanted to create a world not based on a brotherhood, but instead upon a sisterhood. Not unlike what I have with my friends. Cecily, Juliet and Madeline are cousins who have grown up in the spotlight, but not because of their stunning beauty. Instead, they are compared to their mothers, the Fabulous Featherstone sisters who, a generation earlier, took the ton by storm with their beauty and ensnared three of society’s most eligible bachelors in the parson’s mousetrap, and found wanting. Not only are they not as beautiful as their mothers, they also have bluestocking tendencies. Is it any wonder they find themselves still unmarried? Especially when the season’s toast enjoys nothing better than putting them in their place every chance she gets.

What I love about the friendship between these three women is the way that they support each other. No matter how harebrained the scheme, or how scandalous the scheme, Cecily, Juliet and Madeline can always count on one another.  When an accomplice is needed, they’re there. And when a scold or a stern talking-to is called for, they’re there for that too. They might argue and fuss from time to time, but always, always, they’ve got one another’s backs. Especially when the naysayers of the world try to tell them that they can’t succeed in their chosen fields simply because they had the misfortune to be born women. That really makes us…I mean them angry.

The first book How to Dance with a Duke comes out January 31, 2012.

Here’s a sneak peek at the back cover:

What’s a wallflower to do when she’s suddenly in need of a husband? Use all the pluck and moxie she can muster to get what she wants…


Miss Cecily Hurston would much rather explore the antiquities of Egypt than the uncharted territory of marriage. But the rules of her father’s exclusive academic society forbid her entrance unless she weds one of its members. To clear her ailing father’s name of a scandalous rumor, Cecily needs to gain admission into the Egyptian Club—and is willing to marry any old dullard to do it.


Lucas Dalton, Duke of Winterson, is anything but dull. He’s a dashing and decorated war hero determined to help Cecily—even if that means looking the other way when she claims the dance card of Amelia Snow, this season’s most sought-after beauty. But Lucas has a reason for wanting Cecily to join the Egyptian Club: His brother went missing during one of Lord Hurston’s expeditions to Egypt. An alliance with the explorer’s bluestocking daughter could bring Lucas closer to the truth about what happened…or it could lead him to a more dangerous love than either he or Cecily could have imagined….

So, let’s hear it for the sisterhood! And friendships! What are some of your favorite books about female friendship? Inquiring minds want to know!  Because I’m feeling generous I’m going to give away one of my precious, precious ARCs! So comment for a chance to win!

Wow!!  Vanessa, here.  An Advanced Reader’s Copy of How to Dance with a Duke!  Manda isn’t kidding when she says it’s precious!  I’m also going to throw in a copy of my first book, Mastering The Marquess.  It’s my birthday today, and I want to celebrate that along with Manda’s appearance on the blog.  So, one person who comments will win a copy of Manda’s book AND a copy of  Mastering The Marquess.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Yes, it’s here – the Love Day!  Romance readers and writers are experts in matters of the heart, and boy do we ever take flack for it.  How many of you have had to put up with snarky comments or sneering looks from your fellow commuters, just because you chose to read a romance novel on the bus?  Or how about the elitist bookstore clerk who can’t help making a rude remark about that historical or paranormal romance you intend to buy?

Romance writers aren’t immune to that kind of snobbery, either.  I was doing a book signing in a mall a few years ago, and a perfectly normal looking woman made a point of crossing the very wide corridor in front of the store, just to tell me that she didn’t waste her time reading “books like that.”

Well, in the words of New York Times bestselling author Lani Diane Rich, “screw that!”  I saw Lani in a workshop yesterday, and she reminded us that writing romance is a truly awesome thing to do.  We get to write wonderful, heartfelt stories that bring joy to people’s lives, and help them through what might otherwise be a pretty crappy day.  We write about love in all it’s wonderful, mysterious permutations.  We write about a force that is invisible to the naked eye but is as powerful as a category five hurricane, a thing lacking in physical substance but which can remake the world in the most positive, life-affirming ways.

Romance novels seek to capture the essence of that force, and shape it into a story that will have an impact on the reader’s mind and heart.  And make no mistake – romance novels do make a difference in people’s lives.  I recently read a wonderful blog post by the uber-talented Teresa Medeiros, who also happens to be a lovely person.  The name of the post is “SAY IT LOUD AND SAY IT PROUD: I READ AND WRITE ROMANCE!” In it, Teresa talks about why she writes romance:

People often ask me why I write romance. I write romance because the ever expanding boundaries of the genre allow me to express my own heartfelt beliefs in optimism, faith, honor, chivalry and the timeless power of love to provoke a happy ending. In a society gutted by cynicism, we have found the courage to stand up and proclaim that hope isn’t corny, love isn’t an antiquated fantasy, and dreams can come true for women still willing to strive for them.

If you doubt this, you must read about some of Teresa’s friends and fans and the impact of her novels on their lives.  They are truly moving examples of the power of the written word, and of how love and hope can see us through some very dark times.  Trust me.  You owe it to yourself to read Teresa’s post.

To all my readers and friends I send you my gratitude and love, and I wish you a very Happy Valentine’s Day.  May it be an awesome one!

Breaking Out Of The Box

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I read a lot of historical romance novels.  I love the genre, of course, and have ever since my big sister introduced me to the delights of Georgette Heyer when I was just a tween.  And there are so many historical romance writers to love, monster talents like Loretta Chase, Teresa Medeiros, and Eloisa James, not to mention all the newer talent like Anna Campbell and Meredith Duran. Their books are marvelous reads and, as a writer, I always learn from them.

But sometimes, as both a writer and reader, I need to break out of the box.  It’s important to cross-pollinate ideas and themes – to not get stuck in the rut of doing the same thing over and over again.  I do that by reading other romance sub-genres, other types of fiction, and lots of history.  In doing so, I become a better writer and, I think, a more thoughtful person.

Two new-to-me authors that I’ve just discovered are Kelly Hunter and Meljean Brook.  I recently read a book by Hunter called Red-Hot Renegade, put out by Mills and Boon.

Hunter is really, really good.  Her writing is smart, sexy, and well-crafted, with surprising turns of phrase that, as  an author, had me seething with appreciative envy.  Her characters are engaging and sympathetic, and the emotion is intensely and movingly portrayed.  This book is category length, but Hunter packs a big punch into a shorter book.

Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke made it onto many best book lists of 2010, and rightly so.  It’s a phenomenally creative story that took the Steampunk genre by storm.  One of the things that first attracted me to the book was the riff on the Duke of Wellington’s nickname, the Iron Duke.  When Wellington was Prime Minister, he went through a period of extreme unpopularity.  His house was the target of window-smashers, which compelled him to have iron shutters installed to protect the glass.  In the case of Brook’s hero, the Iron Duke actually has iron in his bones.  That’s just one of the many cool details in the hugely imaginative and thought-provoking alternate reality that Brook creates.  If someone were to lock me in a dungeon and force me to name the best book I read last year, it would probably have to be The Iron Duke. It’s that smart, that thoughtful, and that damn enjoyable.

So, anybody else read something outside her usual box, lately?  Discovered any new-to-you authors that you want to share?