By Amy Lignor
Manda Collins has been truly captivating fans with her romantic suspense for several years—and GOOD EARL GONE BAD, the newest release in her Lord of Anarchy series is no exception.
Lady Hermione Upperton has never backed down from a challenge, so when her spendthrift father offers “her” during a heated game of cards, she must decide to either wed the Earl of Mainwaring, an infamous gamester, or face murder charges. Either way, she’ll need to clear her name.
It’s said there’s no one better than a librarian to talk about books, which makes Collins a great interview. An avid reader, an avid fan, and an avid writer, she continues to create memorable characters and reawaken history before our very eyes. We caught up with her this month to talk about her writing career.
Per your bio, you certainly fall under the category of “book lover.” Could you tell readers a bit about your background? Were you always a fan of historical romance?
Though I enjoy history for its own sake, my love for it has always been intertwined with my love of literature. So for me, a particular era—like the Roaring 20s or the Elizabethan period—is difficult to divorce from the writers of that time period. Within the romance genre, I did start out reading historicals, so that’s naturally been the subgenre I feel most comfortable in. When it comes to the eras, Regency has been my longest passion. But I can go a hundred and fifty years either way—European or American. For some reason I’ve never really been into Ancient history. Probably because I enjoy modern conveniences too much!
When did the thrill for writing hit? Were you always writing since you were young (diaries, journals, etc.) or did it come later?
I knew I loved books from as early as Kindergarten, but the writing part clicked for me in middle school. I wrote what I now know to be “fan fiction” about my little group of friends having adventures with the characters from the T.V. show, Moonlighting. I loved presenting the tales with a flourish each week. From there was born my love of writing for an audience. But even then I didn’t really think of myself as a writer; it was something I did just for fun. Later, during and after college, I thought it was something I wanted to try, but didn’t get the right kind of motivation until 2006, when I participated in the Avon Fanlit competition. This rekindled my love for writing, and the friendships I built there gave me the support and discipline I needed to finish my first book. I sold How to Dance with a Duke four years later.
Historical romance with the suspense/intrigue arc is highly popular and has been for ages (no pun intended there). The research aspect for this genre is one of the most in-depth. Do you love delving in and researching before sitting down to write?
I do love research, though it’s easy for me to get so bogged down in it that I put off writing the book. So I have to be careful and limit my research focus. That said, I’ve uncovered some of my most interesting historical details while following tangents. Because I’ve been reading about the Regency period for twenty some-odd years, I have a fairly good grasp on the generalities of the era, but that just means I can devote more time to investigating small details. For example, with the Lords of Anarchy series, I spent about two months reading about Regency driving clubs and their rules and regulations, which I then used to develop my fictional club. Of course, time spent depends on the book; some require far more research than others.
Is there a specific location you have not yet been to (perhaps even one you have written about) that you would love to see?
Though I’ve been to England a few times, I haven’t made it to the continent yet. I’d really love to visit Belgium and Waterloo to see the battlefield there. And I’d have to stop in Paris on the way. What writer doesn’t yearn to see Paris at least once? Especially a romance writer? They don’t call it the City of Love for nothing!
History is a definite, but have you ever thought of exploring the future?
If you’re asking if I’ve considered writing a time travel book, then the answer is yes. Time travel romance was just getting its start when I first began to read romance, so I have a particular fondness for stories that transport characters back and forth in time. Jude Deveraux’s Knight in Shining Armor is a particular favorite, as well as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. So while I don’t have a time-travel book on the horizon, it’s definitely on my writing bucket list.
Librarians like yourself are highly necessary in this technological world to help all ages read (more than text messages), and to understand how important books are. What made you decide to walk down the librarian path?
I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house when I was a child. They lived within walking distance of the public library, which I’d sneak off to every chance I got and check out whatever I liked. To me, the library meant a certain kind of freedom that I didn’t have in any other aspect of my life. Plus, there were more books there than I could possibly read in a lifetime! When I went off to college, I discovered how much I enjoyed not only doing research, but also helping my friends do their own, using the newly emerging databases and other electronic resources. My advisor was married to an academic librarian and they encouraged me to look into librarianship after graduation. So after first getting my MA in English, I went on to get my Master of Library and Information Sciences.
I’m currently an academic librarian at my college alma mater, where my title is Emerging Technologies Librarian. I deal with up-and-coming social media platforms and electronic resources. My favorite part of the job is helping all patrons find what they’re looking for. Sometimes it’s as simple as troubleshooting a piece of technology, but other times it’s more complicated. I find I like not knowing what each day will bring.
In a world very much ruled by negatives, how do you keep that power of positive thinking you need in order to write the ‘happily ever after’ romantic suspense?
I find that I naturally gravitate toward writing stories that, despite dealing with some very dark issues, always come out right in the end. I’m not sure if this is some sort of inherent optimism in my personality, but since I began with the goal of making readers feel better about the world around them, then I’m happy with the result. There have been times, of course, when real life has intruded, which has made my writing even stronger. Imagination is a wonderful coping mechanism. (So long as you don’t move there permanently.) Similarly, I find that reading stories that end optimistically helps me get past darkness. My reasoning is that no matter how awful things are at any given time, if you’re not being chased through the woods/city/ocean by a serial killer, then things will work out okay.
Tell us about the Lords of Anarchy series.
The series was born out of a “what if” brainstorming session I had when it came time to pitch my next series to my editor. I like to take phenomena that seem particularly grounded in the present-day and see if I can figure out a way to make them work in a different era. In this case, it was the Sons of Anarchy motorcycle club from the T.V. show on FX that inspired me. I knew that driving clubs were popular during the regency, and after a bit of research I was able to imagine my Lords of Anarchy—a much more posh group, but beneath their veneer of sophistication, just as dangerous as the Sons. Initially it was thought that my heroes would all be members, but since I tend to write less…morally ambivalent characters than those seen on T.V., I chose to have my heroes and heroines work to root out the bad.
Please tell readers about GOOD EARL GONE BAD.
This is the second book, and features a most singular heroine. Lady Hermione Upperton is a noted whip and wants desperately to join a driving club so she can show off her skill with the reins. Unfortunately, almost as soon as she’s invited to join the Lords of Anarchy, her father loses her curricle pair to Lord Saintcrow in a card game, which ruins all her plans. When Saintcrow ends up murdered, she’s the first suspect. Enter Jasper Fawley, Earl of Mainwaring, who not only thinks that her pursuit of joining a driving club is totally unladylike, but he’s also a gambler like her father, making a friendship between them highly unlikely. As luck would have it, it’s Jasper who comes upon her just after she’s found the murdered man’s body. For very different reasons the two of them will have to work together to find out who killed Saintcrow, and why. And along the way they’ll…well, you shall see.
It’s interesting to take a peek at the writer’s chosen place to write. Is there a specific spot that helps you drift away in front of the keyboard?
My favorite place is at the large dining table in my living room where I can spread out my research books, and where my animals can gather round while I’m tapping away. If there’s not a dog at my feet and a cat leaning on my keyboard I don’t know what to do with myself. This, of course, comes with lots of interruptions for feeding breaks, or to let Charlie (the dog) out, or to pet the cats. But after ten books like this, I don’t think I could do it any other way.
Readers love this last question: If there was one author (past or present) that you could sit down and have lunch with, who would it be, and why?
It should come as no surprise that I’d choose Jane Austen. Aside from the fact that she is one of the finest writers of all time, there’s also the very sad knowledge that she died in her thirties. So I can’t help but feel that the world missed out on more masterpieces. I’d like to know what she thinks about the films that have been made of her still popular books, and perhaps what she thinks about the whole Regency romance phenomenon. I have a feeling she’d find some of the racier examples rather shocking! But since she was a huge fan of gothic romances, I think she’d enjoy them for the most part. Either way, it would be a fascinating conversation.
And when it comes to the knowledge and creativity this writer owns, it’s obvious that Ms. Austen would be fascinated as well.
Manda Collins grew up on a combination of Nancy Drew books and Jane Austen novels, and her own brand of Regency romantic suspense is the result. An academic librarian by day, she investigates the mysteries of undergraduate research at her alma mater, and holds advanced degrees in English Lit and Librarianship. Her debut novel, How to Dance with a Duke spent five weeks on the Nielsen Bookscan Romance Top 100 list, was nominated for an RT Reviewer’s Choice Award for best debut historical romance, and won the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence for her 2011 novella The Perks of Being a Beauty. She lives on the Alabama Gulf Coast with three cats, a dog and always lots of books.
To learn more about Manda, please visit her website.