I'm so pleased to host Manda Collins today, on the release day of her newest book, How to Romance a Rake - second in her Ugly Ducklings series. I've had the pleasure of following Miranda's progression from drabbles on the Eloisa James bulletin board to manuscript writer to published author and it's such a thrill to know that the readers of the world (including me!) now have the opportunity to read this talented author's work.
When Manda isn't busy writing richly emotional romances with an intriguing touch of mystery she's busy guiding students in her role as academic librarian at a small liberal arts college or gracefully navigating the cyber waters of social media. I'm sure that somewhere in there she finds time to sleep. I'm just not sure where. :) You can find more information about Manda and her books at her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.
Please join me in giving Manda a warm Romance Dish welcome!
A Heroine Like Me
by Manda Collins
First of all, thank you to the wonderful ladies of The Romance Dish for having me back for the release of my second book in the Ugly Ducklings series. This book release thing never gets old! And this book in particular holds a special place in my heart, because it features, for better or for worse, a heroine who is disabled like me.
Let me say up front that Juliet is not me, or a rough facsimile thereof. One of the fun, fabulous things about writing is that you can create characters who have a bit of you in them, but who aren't you at all. Such is it with Juliet. For one thing, I was not saddled with the kind of mother who makes Mommie Dearest look like Mother of the Year!
First, a little background. Juliet's mother was one of a trio of sisters—the Featherstones—who came to London in their late teens from no one knows where, and took society by storm on the strength of their beauty and charisma alone. Rose Featherstone, now Lady Shelby, has worked hard to earn her position in society as a great beauty and when her only daughter suffers an incurable injury to her lower leg while the family is in Vienna for her husband's diplomatic work, Rose is determined not to let her daughter's lameness overshadow her own social position.
For Juliet, this means that she must do whatever it takes to blend into the background. Though she is a gifted pianist, her mother prefers that she not play in public—though she sometimes does—because that would draw attention to Juliet and her injury. Though she is quite pretty in her own right, her mother's wishes mean that she must downplay her looks, and do whatever she must to keep to the fringes of society. And, most significantly, Juliet must never, never call attention to her injury. Because, as crazy as it might sound to us, Lady Shelby fears that her daughter's bum leg will detract from her own beauty.
But it is only in Juliet's third season that Lady Shelby hatches a plan to remove her daughter from her sight all together. She'll marry her off to middle-aged painter, Lord Turlington. When Juliet protests, of course Lady Shelby is ready with a put down to keep her daughter in line, playing to her deepest fears:
"I do not mean to be unkind, my dear, truly I don't. But husbands require certain…duties of their wives. Duties that require a certain degree of…physicality. I simply do not believe your injury would allow you to participate in such activities. At least not with the regularity that a young man might require….An older husband…would be much more willing to overlook your frailty. Indeed, I believe he might even be willing to let you continue with your study of the pianoforte. After all you will need some way to occupy your time."
Fortunately for Juliet, she has learned that Lady Shelby is not someone she can trust, and Alec Devenish, Lord Deveril, is more than happy to put this fiction Juliet's mother has crafted to rest.
Though Lady Shelby is not the villain of How to Romance a Rake, a great deal of the novel is spent, I think, proving all of her assertions about Juliet's place in society, and her place in the world, wrong.
Obviously I live in an era that is much more tolerant of people with all sorts of disabilities than does Juliet. (This week, a double amputee from South Africa will be the first ever to compete on the track as a runner at the Olympics.) But even so, I felt some trepidation about writing this story. I'm not saying all readers are like this, but I've read threads on romance bulletin boards before where readers proclaimed themselves to be totally squicked out by heroes and heroines with missing limbs. There is still, for better or worse, a tendency on our parts to place anyone who isn't like us into the "other" category. We might not be as overt about it as Lady Shelby, but we are all—even me—guilty of it.
I worry that some readers might see How to Romance a Rake as a step backward for the disabled because I focus on the way that Juliet overcomes the stigma surrounding her disability. The goal, of course, is a world where there are disabled characters in novels who are totally unremarkable and who are accepted for who and what they are. But that hasn't been my own experience of the disabled life. And though Juliet is not me, at least at this point in my writing life, I needed to explore the fears and shames and societal pressures of being a disabled woman. And I'm okay with that.
So, gentle readers, are there certain books that have resonated with you because you saw yourself in them? For me, one book that stands out is Edith Layton's To Wed a Stranger, which captured perfectly what it is to be a woman with a serious illness. What's yours? I'll give away a copy of How to Romance a Rake to one commenter.