Guest Author: Manda Collins On Writing What You Know

Hi friends! First of all, I have to say this is a really powerful post. It’s definitely one of my favorites this year. I really hope you’ll discuss with us and share your thoughts at the end. As you see, we’ve got Manda Collins visiting with us today. Really there’s nothing better I can say other than – read on!

How to Romance a RakeFirst of all, thanks so much to Limecello for inviting me to visit ALBTALBS today! I love what she’s been doing to spotlight diversity in Romancelandia and it’s a pleasure to be here.

Because April is Limb Loss Awareness month, I thought I’d talk a bit about my book, How to Romance a Rake, which is to date my only book to feature an amputee protagonist.

First, a little bit about me. I was diagnosed with bone cancer in my left femur over Christmas break from my Junior year of high school in December of 1990. They were able to save my leg temporarily, but four years later a series of bad breaks (pun intended) healthwise meant that amputation of my leg above the knee was the most sensible option. And in the fall of 1995, I returned to my senior year of undergrad without my leg.

At that point, I’d been a romance reader for about eight years, and I’d learned to use romance almost like an infusion of positivity when I felt myself in danger of becoming overwhelmed by life’s darkness. But one thing that bothered me despite my love of the genre was the fact that there were no heroines like me. Though there were plenty of heroines who had “damaged” legs or limps, none were actually amputees. And even the “damaged” heroines were often miraculously cured by the end of the book.

I can remember vividly reading a book by a well-loved author (one of my all-time favorites) who had a heroine who had a mysterious problem with one of her legs. The heroine was deeply ashamed of her problem, how ugly it made her and how she could never imagine a man finding her attractive because of it. And I turned the pages with bated breath, eager to learn what had happened to her, until finally it was revealed that she had…a burn scar.

You all know those “throw the book against the wall” moments? That was mine. I can still remember my disappointment in the fact that what to the heroine was such a horrific thing to suffer through was, to me, no big deal. It’s not that I don’t think that burns aren’t horrible or that people who have scars can’t feel shame about them. I have always been one who appreciates that suffering is relative. But when a heroine thinks that a scarred leg—in an age in which a lady’s legs weren’t even shown in public—is the worst thing that could possibly happen to her, it makes those of us without legs feel like chopped liver.

So, I knWhy Lords Lose Their Heartsew when I got my first publishing contract that I had to write a book with a heroine that I could relate to. And so Juliet, the heroine of How to Romance a Rake was born. I know now from reviews that the big reveal of the reason for her disability was just as disappointing for some readers as my beloved-author’s heroine with the burned leg was for me. But, within the context of the story, and what I was trying to explore—what it would be like for a heroine to “pass” as able-bodied in a world where the disabled were often treated as defective and hidden away—I thought she worked.

I’m positive that Juliet wasn’t the perfect disabled heroine for every reader—one of my first reviews was by someone who said “This? This is her big secret?” Talk about irony! But I wrote her with my own experience as an amputee in mind. Especially the disbelief I often encountered from total strangers who refused to believe me when I told them I lost my leg to bone cancer. (Remind me one day to tell you about the total stranger who reached down and grabbed my prosthesis with her hand to make sure I was telling the truth!) And she was authentic to my own experience at least.

Then why, you might ask, haven’t I written all amputee heroines? Because for me, at least, that’s not what the world looks like. And from what I’ve read and studied about the Regency era, that’s not what their society looked like either. Certainly not the ballrooms of the ton at any rate.

Though I’ve been pleased to note that more and more disabled heroes and heroines have begun to appear in romances, I will continue to add my own into the mix. Because according to the Amputee Coalition of America, around 180,000 amputations occur in the United States alone each year—and if I can give even one reader an example of a heroine who looks like her in the pages of a sexy historical romance I’m going to do it.

Will my version of historical romance heroine amputee work for everybody? Of course not. But, the same could be said for my non-amputee characters. It’s the nature of writing fiction to be read by other people.

And I am perfectly okay with that.

A Good Rake is Hard to FindA DANGEROUS GAME
Heartbroken by the loss of her brother, Miss Leonora Craven vows to uncover the truth about his “accident,” which seems to have been anything but. Jonathan Craven was involved with the Lords of Anarchy, a notorious driving club, and Leonora can’t help but suspect foul play. But the only way she can infiltrate their reckless inner circle is to enlist the help of Jonny’s closest ally, Lord Frederick Lisle. If only he didn’t also happen to be the man who broke Leonora’s heart…

Frederick isn’t surprised to find gorgeous, headstrong Leonora playing detective, but he knows that the Lords of Anarchy mean business-and he has no choice but to protect her. A sham engagement to Leonora will allow Frederick to bring her into the club and along for the ride. But it isn’t long before pretending to be lovers leads to very real passion. With everything to lose, is their tempestuous affair worth the risk?

Gentle readers, have you ever encountered a book where the author just “got” some aspect of you—be it a personality trait, or a disability, or some other special aspect of “people like you”? Tell us about it! Or tell us of an example of a romance that you think represents disability really well. I’ll give one commenter a copy of my latest book A Good Rake is Hard to Find and Juliet’s story, How to Romance a Rake.

22 thoughts on “Guest Author: Manda Collins On Writing What You Know

  1. Lori

    Great post, Manda.
    First off, I recognize that “throw the book against the wall” book 🙂 I remember having the “That’s *it*?!” moment, but I loved the book so much otherwise…

    As for an author “getting” some aspect of me, I had an intensely personal response to Love at First Flight by Marie Force and wrote about it at the time (

    As for a romance that represents disability well, I can think of a couple that immediately hit me. First, an old Super by Fay Robinson called A Man Like Mac, where the hero is a paraplegic. It explores male paraplegic sexuality in a remarkably open way (especially for 15 years ago!) and I highly recommend it! Also, a recent read by Sarina Bowen from the Gravity series – Falling From the Sky. While I had issues with the heroine in that one, the injured hero was really, really well done.

    1. Manda Collins

      Uh oh, Lori! Maybe I should have disguised it better! (I love that author otherwise, and I know it’s some people’s favorite book, so I feel bad about even mentioning it. But that was my honest response.)

      I’ll have to check out Love at First Flight, A Man Like Mac and Falling from the Sky.

      It’s funny how one of the things authors try their hardest to do is make the reader identify with their characters, but sometimes when it works too well–or just misses–it provokes a stronger reaction than we were hoping for.

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. sheryl

    My son has Aspergers Syndrome, a form of high functioning Autism. Jennifer Ashley said the character Ian in The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie had Aspergers. It was a great book and it was a surprise to see a character written with many of the same traits that my son has. My son was also born without his left hand so I enjoy reading stories where the characters has a disability like that.

    1. Manda Collins

      I remember how blown away I was by The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie, Sheryl. What a powerful story. And one that was long overdue. I feel sure a lot of folks were touched by it.

  3. gsograndma

    Mary Balogh’s series called The Survivors is about soldiers and one lady who were suffering in one way or the other. One was blind and did not see in the end. Another was so crippled he could only walk with crutches. In the end he adapted to a wheelchair. I am going to be very interested in the one female Survivor’s disability to be overcome. Mary also wrote about a lord whose arm was crippled in an accident and learned to fight with his feet. Another author, Grace Burrowes, also appreciates loss, be it a lingering illness and death (consumption) or the ability to play a piano magnificantly. His saving grace was reinterpreting his life’s purpose to writing music.

    1. mandacollinsauthor

      I’ve been a Balogh fan for years, Gsograndma, and I’ve particularly enjoyed her Survivors series. Thanks for the rec of Grace Burrows. Haven’t tried her yet but I can see I need to remedy that!

  4. Ki Pha

    Oh my goodness Manda! I can’t believe I didn’t know this about you. But I give you stars for writing Juliet. I loved the dancing scene and it was just perfect.

    Sadly I haven’t found a character that is “me” but I have found many lovable characters. And characters with a disability are the ones I tend to love even more than tortured characters.

    Miranda Neville’s Confessions from an Arranged Marriage had a hero with Dyslexia. I was shocked and amazed at the same time. It made so much sense after this realization about him after three books! It is truly one of my favorites.

    1. mandacollinsauthor

      Thanks, Ki! I’m so glad you appreciated Juliet. And I thought Miranda Neville did a great job with his dyslexia in that book. You’re right that it explained much of his behavior up until that point. She does great things with characterization in general, though. 🙂

  5. gsograndma

    An addition to my Mary Balogh’s characters: Silent Melody is the story of Emily Marlowe, Anna’s deaf mute sister, and Lord Ashley Kendrick, Luke’s brother

    1. mandacollinsauthor

      I loved Silent Melody, though it’s been decades since I read it. Might be time for a reread!

  6. maybe31

    Wonderful post. 🙂

    I don’t think that there is a character that is exactly like me. But I do like Eloisa James’ heroine in A Duke of Her Own. She came into her own and grew throughout the book as a late bloomer. I remembered how I was one too…

  7. Diane Sallans

    Several that came to mind have been mentioned above – Jennifer Ashley’s ‘The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie’ did a wonderful job in describing the challenges of autism and Mary Balogh’s Survivor Club characters have physical and psychological challenges as a result of war. Another that has stuck with me for years is Christina Dodd’s ‘Candle in the Window’ with blind heroine and hero. I know I’ve read about other challenged characters and look forward to reading more that can inspire.

  8. Mary Preston

    I haven’t found ME in a story yet, but I do tend to beat to my own drum.

    I have read a number of books over the years with, mostly the hero, with some kind of disability. For the most part they were well written. My pet peeve came when I read about a deaf hero. My son has a profound hearing loss & let me tell you that the author got so much wrong. It was a DNF for me.

  9. Carey Baldwin

    Manda, first thanks for a wonderful post, and thanks for writing Juliet’s story. I loved it. But thanks even more for sharing your own story.

    When I think of your question about characters with disabilities, I realize they are so few and far between I’m not sure that besides, Juliet, I’ve read many memorable ones- unless Courtney Milan’s FanLit entry The Goddess of Small Things – where the hero was an amputee – counts. I do remember LOVING that little story and that hero. And I also remember the uproar in the forums that a hero can’t be an amputee. So thank you again for Juliet. We NEED her.

    As for that book you threw against the wall….girlfriend! I LOVE that book. Have you lost your mind? 🙂 Also, I have to add that having tended patients in a major burn unit, that burns are often terribly painful, and disfiguring, and can create major psychological issues that not all patients are able to overcome. So when I read that “reveal” I was very moved. It’s so interesting how each reader brings his/her own experiences into the world of every book, and how those experiences make the book different for each reader.

    I’m so grateful to you for bringing us not only diverse heros and heroines, but for your honesty, your courage, and your beautiful love stories.

    1. mandacollinsauthor

      I loved that story of Courtney’s too, Carey! I didn’t realize there was a question about whether an amputee could be a hero though. Probably a good thing I missed that. People, sigh.

      Probably if I read the wall-thrown book now I’d have a completely different response to it. But I was reading it just a few years after the amputation, so it was close to the surface I think. And I did finish it and for the most part enjoyed it. It just wasn’t what I needed at the time.

      It is funny how much baggage we bring to some books and how little to others. I guess sometimes our baggage gets lost;)

  10. Kim

    I read that book about the burn victim and enjoyed it. I think it became personal for you because of what you were going through and that’s understandable. I can’t believe the insensitivity of that stranger invading your personal space. That’s beyond thoughtless.

    Have you read When the Duke Was Wicked by Lorraine Heath or To Charm a Naughty Countess by Theresa Romain? The former is about a cancer survivor who believes she’s unlovable, while the latter book deals with anxiety. Both authors did a good job with the subject matter.

    1. Manda Collins

      It’s sort of like being pregnant, Kim. You know how people will just go up to pregnant women and touch their bellies? It was kind of like that. Interestingly since I had ankle surgery and now use a crutch, it hasn’t happened any more. I think because the disability is obvious now and I’m no longer “passing” for able-bodied.

      I haven’t read either of those books but I’ll definitely check them out.

  11. dholcomb1

    I’ve found way too many who get the facts wrong on my Crohn’s Disease. And, not only have I had it for more than 20 years, I also was the well-trained, volunteer, non-clinical support group facilitator for more than 10 years.


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