A Live Chat with Author Manda Collins & Narrator Anne Flosnik

How to Dance with a DukeAs I talked with Anne Flosnik on the phone recently, she highly recommended Manda Collins, suggesting I give her books a try. Anne narrated her Ugly Duckling trilogy in 2012 and has the highest admiration for Manda’s work and appreciates the relationship that has formed between the two as an author/narrator team. When I took a closer look at Manda’s work, I discovered that the first in the series, How to Dance with a Duke, was also Manda’s debut followed by the release of the second and third in the trilogy within a year’s time. In addition, Tantor picked up the audio rights to the Ugly Duckling trilogy and released all three within that first year as well. I not only applauded Manda’s accomplishments but was sure others would want to hear her story. After all, what new author wouldn’t want to experience the vast success in both print and audio that she did in their first year?!

Manda CollinsAnd, of course, this chat wouldn’t be complete without our Gal friend, Anne, joining in. Did I take a listen as she recommended? Yes! How to Dance with a Duke was so completely enjoyable – thanks Anne!

The Chat

Lea: Welcome Manda and Anne to AudioGals!

Anne: Hi Ladies!

Manda: Thank you, Lea! Hi Anne!

Lea: Manda, it looks as though your first books were published in 2012. Have you written for long?

Manda: I’d been writing off and on since high school. I even took a romance writing class while I was in college, but life got in my way big time. Along the way though I kept dreaming of a writing career. I wrote I don’t know how many “first three chapters” of regency historicals but never had the determination to finish them. Then in 2006 I joined a group of online friends in the Avon Fanlit competition, and ended up finaling in around five of the seven rounds. That let me know that my writing was something people enjoyed reading. And the once a week chapter writing was great for teaching me discipline. The next year I finished my first novel. So I guess that’s about six years from when I got serious to now.

Lea: Can you give our listeners a look into your life prior to your writing career?

Manda: I was raised by my maternal grandparents, who always encouraged me to get an education and to read. One thing I loved about living with them was the proximity of the public library, which I could walk to. My grandmother was (and is) a great reader and she introduced me to Agatha Christie and Martha Grimes. I introduced myself to romance when I was around 13. And all through my high school, college and grad school years I read both literary fiction and genre fiction.

I was diagnosed with bone cancer when I was sixteen and lost my leg to it when I was in college. (After one of the most exciting weeks of my life—I was on a study-abroad trip to London at the time and I got to stay “in hospital” where I was cared for by a sexy Scottish male nurse. You’ve got to appreciate the good with the bad!) Through both my illnesses, I turned to books as a place where I could get a mental break from the stresses of being sick. I always keep this in mind when I’m writing.

Anne: Your writing struck me with it’s sincerity. Now I get an inkling as to why.Anne Flosnik21

Lea: Although I have not endured your level of illness, I did start listening to romance audiobooks at a time in my life when I was quite ill. They took me away as nothing else could.

Manda: It’s so true. I feel so lucky to have survived my own illness so that I can pay it forward by helping someone else through their ordeals. Whether that’s a stressful day at work or a major illness.

Lea: And there is that happy ending of the romance novel that makes everything brighter. How wonderful to turn that into the same for others.

Manda: It’s my argument for every romance detractor I’ve ever encountered.

Lea: You bet!! Can you tell us about your books that have been published to date?

Manda: The Ugly Ducklings Trilogy tells the stories of three cousins who are the daughters of three famous ton beauties. Daughters who, unfortunately, are not considered to be as beautiful or glamorous as their mothers.

In How to Dance with a Duke, Miss Cecily Hurston, an Egyptologist, must join forces with the Duke of Winterson to search for her father’s missing assistant (who also happens to be the duke’s brother). Of course they banter, have adventures, fall in love and solve mysteries along the way.

The second book, How to Romance a Rake, follows the next of the cousins, Miss Juliet Shelby, who is the most retiring of the cousins. She has a secret that could ruin her if it became known, but when her piano teacher goes missing Juliet must ask for help from the handsomest man in London, Lord Deveril. Again there is banter, adventure, falling in love and mystery solving.

How to Entice an Earl, the third book in the trilogy, follows Lady Madeline Essex, who is the most outspoken of the cousins, as she and the new Earl of Gresham (a friend of her cousins’ husbands) try to clear the name of her brother who has been accused of murder.

I tend to think of these books as what would happen if Nancy Drew books, Jane Austen novels, and Historical Romance were put into a blender and combined.

I also have a self-published novella called Legally Yours, which is not yet available in audio. It’s a friends-to-lovers/secret crush/office romance set in Birmingham, Alabama. That’s all so far!

Lea: I have been wondering about Legally Yours!

Manda: Yeah, I wrote it when I was feeling down about not selling my first book. So I thought, “I’ll show you publishers! I’ll write something completely different!” Then of course I sold a month later and self-pubbing took off. So I did it on my own just for fun.

Lea: I’m looking forward to reading your take on a contemporary setting. Here’s a question I’m sure many of the new authors reading our chat today would like to ask. How did you, as a new author, pull off a simultaneous release of the print and audio versions of your first books? This seems especially well done when one considers that you didn’t self publish but had a major audio publisher, Tantor Audio, pick up the audio version.

Manda: I really wish I could say that I engineered the whole thing, but the truth is, I had nothing to do with it. It was all the doing of the Macmillan Subrights department and Tantor. Though, I do have one correction. The first book was not a simultaneous release. It wasn’t too long after the print publication that the audio followed, but the simultaneous release was only for the latter two in the trilogy.

Anne: It all goes to show never give up.

Why Dukes Say I DoManda: And I just found out an hour before this interview that Tantor has bought the rights to the first book in my new trilogy, Why Dukes Say I Do.

Anne: Hurray!!!!

Manda: Definitely, Anne!

Lea: Fantastic news! What is the timing?

Manda: Not sure yet. The print releases in July of this year so I’m hoping it will be simultaneous too. Fingers crossed! Anne, I hope they are smart and keep you on. I think of you as “my” narrator now!

Anne: Thank you Manda! I am very honored.

Lea: Anne, I first learned of Manda’s fine work through you while we were discussing a number of things on the phone. What was it about Manda’s work that impressed you so favorably?

Anne: I have loved reading Manda’s skilfully crafted Romances. As soon as I started reading and prepping my script, I found that I couldn’t put it down. The writing is superb, and drew me, and made me care about the characters and eager to find out what happens to them.

The premise of the series was very clearly established with three girls whose mothers were the Fabulous Featherstones, Great Beauties of the time, and our three friends were not classic beauties. They also have a snotty rival and her sidekick toady. I loved the cleverly done mystery element too. There are light touches of humor too usually provided mainly by the secondary characters. Real friendship shines through in the writing, and a warm intelligence.

Add all this together and I found myself completely captivated. I was thrilled to have been cast for the series, and eager to read what happened next.

Manda: Thank you so much, Anne:)

Anne: My pleasure Manda. Thank YOU!

Lea: The friendship aspect really appeals to me. Although I love the romance, deep friendships add an element we don’t see all that often. Anne, is there one particular book or character that you enjoyed most of all?

Anne: I enjoyed the first and second books best for different reasons. The third was the end of the series and I was so sorry that that world had come to an end. In the first Book, How To Dance With a Duke, the hero and heroine are very believable, and the hero has a secret. I found myself completely rooting for these two to fall in love. In How To Romance A Rake, the heroine’s story and  secret is very compelling, and a little darker. I think it’s also serendipitous in light of what Manda just shared that I narrated Hazard by Jo Beverley.)

Manda: I LOVE HAZARD!!! One of my all time favorite books!

Anne: It is a lovely book.

Manda: And also has a heroine named Anne:)

Anne: Hah!

Lea: Wow! That brings back memories! I listened to Hazard years ago! Long before I knew you Anne.

Manda: Very cool serendipity!

Anne: I recorded it for Recorded Books either 1998 or 2002. It was one of my very firsts.

Lea: Manda, I know authors more often than not, have nothing to do with the choice of How to Romance a Rakenarrators for their work and, as we know how it works in the world of audio, very well may have no idea their book is even being produced in audio. When did you first know your book was being produced in audio? And were you made aware of the identity of your narrator at the same time?

Manda: I found out Tantor had bought the rights to the first two books about three months after How to Dance with a Duke was published. I was very curious at the time about who would be reading and what all was involved in the process. I think I first found out it was up for pre-order at Tantor from a Google alert not too long after the sale was announced to me. I saw Anne’s name and looked her up. Basically, they tell me nothing. :(  I have to sleuth it out on my own.

Lea: I don’t think listeners understand just how much authors are left out of the process. I assume you spent time researching Anne’s backlist. I imagine you were thrilled to hear such an experienced romance narrator had been chosen for your series.

Manda: I was elated! You’ve got to understand that for someone like me—born and raised in southern Alabama, with about the farthest thing you can imagine from an English accent—to have my books narrated by an experienced, successful English actress was a dream come true. To put it in modern Britspeak, I was chuffed!

Anne: Blushing …

Manda: You’re a star, lady!

Anne: I am nothing without good writing.

Manda: :)

Lea: I know! Talking on the phone to Anne is such an experience! Here’s this gorgeous voice I hear on countless books discussing every day things with me.

Manda: We should give away her recording someone’s answering machine message as a prize:) Like Karl Kassel on NPR.

Anne: What a hoot!

Lea: I love that idea!! Seriously…no pressure Anne. :)

Manda: haha!

Anne: I’m game!

Lea: We can facilitate it! Okay now to find the right occasion! Manda, Anne mentioned to me that she so enjoyed working with you as the author of the series. Can you tell us the nature of your first contact?

Manda: I’m not sure how it happened exactly. I want to say that Anne made the first move on Facebook. Or maybe I “liked” her Facebook page and she followed up with a thank you. Then I invited her to a Twitter Release party I was having for How to Romance a Rake and we just started chatting every now and then. We have emailed but mostly we talk through Facebook messaging.

Anne: Wonderful to be in touch Manda. I was thrilled when you made comments on some of my Facebook posts or Tweets about your books.

Lea: As a listener, I’m always very pleased to discover the author and narrator have a good relationship as it assures me that the author is pleased with the delivery of the audiobook and the narrator’s interpretation of their characters.

Manda: I’m just proud! And I know that not all readers are buying print and ebooks. I don’t want to leave out the audiobook listeners. And I feel like you’re as important to the audiobook as an illustrator would be in an illustrated book.

Anne: Thank you. It is a great responsibility to be true to what you have written.

Manda: I agree, Lea. To me, it’s like knowing that an author approves of the film version of their book. It adds legitimacy to the performed work.

Anne: Lovely to be reading a book set in England with such an authentic “feel.”

Lea: Definitely. Tantor provided you with the cream of the crop!

Manda: That is the highest compliment you could pay me.

Anne: And me! :)

Manda: I just feel very lucky to have gotten Anne on my very first release.

Lea: Yes, especially knowing that Anne has more than a little knowledge about England.

Manda: :) I know! I’ve seen just about every BBC period drama but that doesn’t make up for the real thing!

Anne: Me too!

Manda: See! We’re audiobook sisters!

Lea: Manda – you gave us the good news about Why Dukes Say I Do – both in print and audio. Can you tell us more about what you have in the works?

Manda: Well, next up in a novella in which the “mean girl” or “mean gel” of the Ugly Ducklings trilogy, Miss Amelia Snowe, reforms and gets her own happily ever after. I am at this very moment exploring whether Tantor might be interested in producing this one in audio. I know that listeners of the trilogy will not want to miss the last wrap-up on the series. And I want it, if only because as a librarian, not having it available in that format is irksome.

The Perks of Being a BeautyAnne: I LOVE AMELIA!

Manda: :)

Anne: Amelia Snowe, is the nasty girl personified. I had a lot of fun with her, and her minion Felicia. They added a good deal to the stories.

Lea: Do you plan to write more contemporaries at some time?

Manda: I am planning to write a connected story to Legally Yours in the next year or so. It’s just hard to find time while I’m on deadline.

Lea: I’ll be looking for it! And Anne, what can we see from you soon – romance or non-romance?

Anne: I am just about to start recording Clockwork Fairy Tales A Collection Of Steampunk Fables with John Lee, Kaleo Griffith and Robertson Dean for Tantor Audio.

Anne: The Clockwork Fairy Tales is a collection of steampunk fairy tales based on traditional fairy tales. I  will be one of the narrators of You Will Attend Until Beauty Awakens based on the tale of Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault, and The Mechanical Wings by Pip Ballantine, based on The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Andersen. This is a very exciting project, combining classic tales with a new twist. I am very honored to be part of this stellar cast. I also have two Romances, a fiction novel sequel, and a literary fiction novel in the works, but can’t disclose details as yet.

Lea: I know something really big is happening in your professional life as well right now Anne. You are nominated for an Audie Award. Can you share with our listeners all the details?

Anne: Yes, this is a very exciting time, and my fourth nomination. I am thrilled to be nominated for an Audie Award this year in the category of Inspirational Faith Non – Fiction, with the classic Anna And The King Of Siam by Margaret Langdon for eChristian Audio. This is the book that the King And I is based on. It reads as a series of vignettes. It was a lot of fun to do, and I very much enjoyed doing the research, for which I watched three film versions and immersed myself in as much of the history of the time and the language, as I could. I always try to immerse myself in as much of the peripheral research as well, so that my understanding of the book is increased.  I think that’s very helpful to achieving my best performance, and time was on my side, which isn’t always possible. My fellow nominees have done stellar work, and I am very honored to be in their presence. Very excited about going to the Gala Ball, hosted by the Audio Publishers Of America, May 30th.

Manda: Ooh! Red carpet!

Anne: Hah!

Lea: And we get to meet at Audio Publishers Association Conference (APAC) this year!

Anne: I am so excited Lea!!!

Lea: I’ll be flying home during the Gala Ball but I’ll be watching closely. You know we wish you the very best!

Anne: APAC is held at the same time as BEA – Book Expo of America.

Manda: Ahhh. Cool!

Anne: Are you going to that Manda?

Manda: I don’t think so:(

Anne: Maybe next year :)

Manda: Perhaps! It sounds like an exciting week with both BEA and APAC meeting.

Lea: I need to learn more about BEA as I’m attending the day after APAC. I have so enjoyed talking with you all today. Many thanks to you both for joining us today at AudioGals!

Manda: I’ve had a lovely time chatting with you both!

Anne: Thank you so much Lea, The AudioGals and Manda! It’s been a lot of fun.

Lea: Manda, please keep us updated on your next audio release!

Manda: Definitely lots of fun. Thanks for having us, Lea!

Lea: It was a pleasure to have you both.


And a Note…

After the completion of our chat, it was verified that Tantor would indeed be picking up Manda’s novella, The Perks of Being a Beauty. Also, Anne confirmed that she will be narrating The Perks of Being a Beauty, and Why Dukes Say I Do. It also looks as though there will be a simultaneous release of Why Dukes Say I Do in print and audio as both St. Martin’s and Tantor list July 30th as the date of release. The same can be said of The Perks of Being a Beauty as both St. Martin’s and Tantor give June 18th as the release date.

Lea Hensley

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