Hello, fellow romance lovers! Today I have the amazing opportunity to introduce you to historical romance writer Amanda McCabe. I had the chance to read Amanda’s The Dollar Duchesses series and instantly fell in love with the Wilkins sisters! You will find my review of each book later in this post. I am super excited to have interviewed Amanda, we spoke about the Dollar Duchesses, her new book A Manhattan Heiress In Paris, and we got to know her better! There is also an excerpt from A Manhattan Heiress In Paris! Be sure to check out Amanda’s follow links as well.
Interview with Amanda McCabe
Hi Amanda! Thank you so much for taking the time for me and my audience to get to know you better!
This is my favorite question to ask authors. Do you have a beat up, read too much, the reason I love to read book? Something that either introduced you to historical romance or reading in general?
–I have several of those on my shelves!!! Probably the most beat-up is an old paperback of “Jane Eyre,” which I got at my grandmother’s house when I was about 10. I knew nothing about it going in, and stayed up all night reading (the first of many, many all night reading sessions in my life). I was shocked—shocked!!—by the middle section. (My grandmother was actually my dealer when it came to reading romance! She would buy boxes and bags full of books at garage sales and used bookstores, all kinds of books—mysteries, romances, classics. She’d store them in her coat closet, and when we visited her in the summer I would crawl in there and start pulling books out of the boxes. There were Heyers and Barbara Cartlands and Gothics like Victoria Holt, old Harlequins, Agatha Christie, my first Austen ((“Emma,” I wish I had that copy!), a few historical romances, even a bit of non-fiction history, which fed my love of the past
When writing a series, do you have each main character planned out, or do the characters “choose” for you?
–I have something about each character in mind when I start! (like with the Dollar Duchesses trilogy, I knew Rose would be shy and sensitive, and Violet would be a bit wild and free-spirited! Even though they are twins, and have each other’s backs at all times, they are very different). Lily was their protector. But there are always things about characters that surprise me when I spend more time with them. They become “real” in my mind, and do some crazy things! I often find that when I hit “writer’s block” and a story isn’t moving forward, I’m usually trying to make the characters do something they don’t want to do, and I have to start listening to them
What is the most challenging part of writing historical romance?
–The challenge is also what I think is the really fun part! It’s imagining what people in a different time and place would think about their lives and what is happening around them, and how they would react to them in ways both true to being human (some things never change, like love and hope and fear) and of their time (while also often being a bit ahead of their times! My heroes always have respect and admiration for the heroine’s independence and intelligence). I tend to write in several time periods—Regency (my first love!), Victorian, Tudor, and now the 1920s (my April release, “A Manhattan Heiress in Paris”). A character would not react the same to events in 1820 as she would in 1520, and it can be tricky to keep that in mind.
What is the best part of writing historical romance?
–Ha!! The same as the last answer! I am a research-aholic, I luvvv diving into dusty books and old letters and imagining life in a different era. The clothes, the food, the scenery, the dances and music, everything. It’s so much fun! It can be hard to stop researching and start writing, though, because I can also be a master procrastinator
I have recently read the Dollar Duchesses series, my introduction to your writing. I had some questions targeting the series.
I had read a couple of historical romance books about American Heiresses going to England to make titled matches. Still, I felt your books made those situations feel organic – what kind of research did you do?
–Oh, lots! I was introduced to these ladies a long time ago, when I found a copy of Consuelo Vanderbilt’s autobiography “The Glitter and the Gold” in my grandmother’s book box. I found the idea of a young woman, used to a certain way of life in America, finding herself in a whole new lifestyle in a whole new country, with a husband she might not even know very well (a couple of the heiress-brides had husbands they loved and a good life, but most floundered—the Wilkins sisters, of course, flourish and find romance!).
Who was the most challenging character to write? Who was the most natural one to write?
–Surprisingly, I found Violet to be the easiest to write! She is very different from me, being outgoing and self-confident, a real free spirit who knows who she is and doesn’t compromise on that. (And her duke, who starts off very straight-laced and somewhat conventional, loves her for that!) But she just sprang to life in my mind right away. I also loved researching early photography for her, which was a subject I didn’t know much about starting off! There were several fascinating real-life Victorian women who were photographers, true artistic pioneers.
Rose was a bit trickier. She was quieter and more sensitive, as I tend to be, but she was also more wounded at the beginning, and had to find strength and healing to save her marriage and realize that Jamie truly loves her. I felt so much for her!
Lily was based on one of my oldest friends, who is one of 3 sisters, so I have a soft spot for her! She is a true nurturer, a big-sister caretaker who loves deeply.
In all three books, much of the story takes place outside of London; what was the inspiration for the locations?
–My own love of travel, I think! I love Venice with a passion, and it seemed like the perfect place for a marriage-in-trouble to find itself again, it’s so beautiful and mysterious and intimate. And I also love weddings and royal history, which played a great backdrop in gilded, lavish, snowy Imperial Russia for Violet and her photographs. (I wrote these two stories during Covid lockdowns, too, so it was a travel outlet when I was stuck at home!). I’ve also written several stories set in London, around the Season, and wanted to branch out a bit. Aidan’s crumbling stately estate, which Lily makes into a true home, was a fun setting to envision, too.
If you had to cast these books, who would play Lily, Violet, and Rose? What about Aidan, William, and Jamie?
–I do love to “cast” stories in my head! (I’m also a Pinterest junkie, and keep mood boards for each story. Another procrastinator’s trick…) I pictured Rose Leslie as Rose, with her gorgeous red hair and fair, slightly freckled skin, and William is a bit like Greg Wise, somewhere in between his “Sense and Sensibility” and “The Crown.” Rose is somewhat like Anya Taylor-Joy, an unusual beauty with a certain delicacy, and Jamie like Rodrigo Santoro in “Love Actually” (my favorite annual holiday watch!). Lily made me think of Lily James, and Aidan something like a young Henry Cavill
Each of the Dollar Duchesses takes us on an emotional roller-coaster; they are beautifully written character-driven plots. What message or feeling was most essential to convey from the novels?
–Thank you so much! They really took me on a roller-coaster, too. Definitely a theme I had in mind that tied them together was the importance of family and sisterhood. I love romance novels that are about many kinds of love—the heady rush of finding a soulmate and making a life together, but also friends and children, parents and siblings, even pets! (I have two dogs I adore myself, and always have jumpy-claps when pets show up in stories!). The Wilkins sisters are very different from each other, but they understand and accept and defend each other all the way. Not being alone in facing the ups and downs of life is a wonderful thing.
A Manhattan Heiress In Paris comes out on March 28.
Can you give us any sneak peeks into the book or characters?
–I LOVED writing this story! But it was definitely one of the most challenging projects I’ve taken on, and I knew I had to get it right. (It also took a long time to persuade my editor, so I appreciate it all the more). It’s set in the 1920s, not a very common era yet for historical romance but one I’ve been enamored with for so long. Paris is my favorite city, and in the 1920s it was astonishing in how much creativity and change was centered there, with people like Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds (who we meet in the book). I’m also a huge fan of jazz, and it came to symbolize so much about the characters’ relationship as well as their time and place to me.
Eliza is the titular Manhattan heiress, heading to Paris to study piano at the Conservatoire and hopefully find independence from her demanding, conventional family. I loved her, she is so sweet and kind and sensitive, but also as strong as steel (though she doesn’t know it yet). Jack is a jazz trumpet player from Harlem, a musical prodigy and genius, also headed to Paris to play his horn in the clubs there. They come from different worlds, but are true soulmates. As I wrote I kept thinking “Oh, they HAVE to be together!”
Could you give us any ideas on what is coming next?
–I’ve just started working on a new trilogy, set around three friends (I often seem to have friends o r sisters in my stories!) who start a matchmaking business in Regency Bath! I love these stories, love the beautiful town of Bath, and their funny (sometimes clueless) clients, as well as their romances.
Finally, I thought our readers could get to know you better.
When was the moment you knew you wanted to write historical romance?
–When I was in the fourth grade, I wrote a (very) short story about a tea-set and it’s various owners, and it won a statewide award! I was hooked. I’d done something that was fairly easy, I liked doing it, and people enjoyed it, so I wanted to do more! My love of reading historical romance made it a natural fit when I (much later) started trying to write more seriously. Sadly, that first story is still the easiest ever!
I have seen on Goodreads you have several pets. Could you tell us more about your “fur babies”?
–I could talk about them all day!!! I have two dogs right now, Pippa and Kate, both adopted from Lapdog Rescue but a couple of years apart, and I’ve had cats in the past as well as Pugs and Poodles and dachshunds. These two are my little writing assistants, sleeping in their beds under my desk until it is walkies time and then it is PENS DOWN…
What is the first thing you do when you finish a book?
–Eat some chocolate! And maybe, if it’s been an especially hard book to finish (sometimes they are soooo tough, and sometimes they fly by, and I never know when I start which it will be) I might go out and have a drink. Then it’s clean house time, since it always gets neglected at deadline
Who are your biggest writing influences?
–Probably classics like Austen and the Brontes and Geoge Eliot, who were so great at painting characters and places.
Where is your favorite place to write?
–I usually write on a lapdesk on my bed, or sometimes at my proper desk! But I also love getting out to a coffee shop or my local library’s gorgeous reading room, to get a change of scene. It’s weird, but I find the crowds and buzzing of a coffee shop to help me concentrate when I’m having a hard time at home (though I drink tea and not coffee!!)
Is there anything else you’d like your fans to know about you and your books?
–That I love to hear from them! Visit my website at ammandamccabe.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org at all.
Thank you, Amanda, for your time! Each of the Dollar Duchesses resonated with me on an elemental and emotional level. It was great for your fans and new readers to get to know you better.
Reviews of The Dollar Duchesses Series
(Jack and Eliza’s first “real” meeting)
The chandelier lights slowly dimmed as a spotlight came on the stage, bright as a full moon. The band had appeared there while she was distracted, and their instruments gleamed in the new light. A woman in a gold and white dress on the piano; a clarinet, guitar, drums, a tuba, trombone, trumpet. Like the waiters, they were all black, though clad in tuxedos like the clientele. Mr. Berardinelli stepped forward and threw his arms open.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he announced, “Mel Johnson and his Hot Seven!” Applause burst out, and the first song, a raucous, swinging melody started with a flourish. Eliza found herself swaying in her seat, her toes tapping in her strappy silver shoes, longing to move to that infectious rhythm.
Then the trumpet player stood up and raised his horn to his lips. What came out of that horn was incredible. Faster than she ever would have thought possible from a mere mortal and a small trumpet; rapid-fire repeated notes and delicate echoes; dazzling arpeggios. Complex beyond belief, but with such a light touch no one would ever know the great difficulty of it. The spotlight landed squarely on him, gleaming on his high cheekbones, his dark eyes.
“That’s—no…” Eliza whispered. Could that really be the boy she met in Central Park all those years ago? Grown-up now, and how. Beyond handsome, with those chiseled features and sensual lips, those velvet-brown eyes. And his tuxedo, though a bit shabby at the cuffs and the fabric a little shiny, stretched perfectly over his broad shoulders and narrow waist as he played. He had been skinny when she last him; no longer.
And his playing. Eliza stared, wide-eyed in amazement. He had been good in the park, so good she had never forgotten it. Now he was super-human. An angel of music indeed.
He seemed completely absorbed in his song, lost in a soulful moment as she often was at the piano. A slow, dreamy passage that made her sigh. But then he grinned, and launched into a gleeful-sounding bridge, fast and twirling like a dancer, spinning higher and higher, quicker and quicker. Applause rang out from the tables around her.
“That’s what, Liz?” Mamie asked her.
Eliza had forgotten she gasped aloud. “Oh—I just wondered if I’d heard that trumpet player before. He’s marvelous.”
“We’ve been trying to get the Hot Seven to record for us,” one of Mamie’s admirers, some sort of music promoter, said. “Coleman there is going to be big. As big as King Oliver, maybe. So far no luck with them, though.”
Coleman—that was what the boy had said he was called. Eliza nodded, watching as he played on toward the denouement of his song.
“You should get Liz to talk to them,” Mamie said. “She knows all about good music, and if she thinks he’s that talented…”
Another of Mamie’s admirers, a drunk young stockbroker, laughed loudly, harshly. “He’d be so dazzled by a blondie, he wouldn’t be able to talk.”
Eliza felt her face turn hot, her hands shake with anger at such a word. She turned sharply away from him, staring hard at the stage. A waiter, his dark eyes impassive, poured out more champagne for them.
Coleman sat down, and the band swung into a popular dance tune as people swarmed back onto the floor. Their playing as a group was fine, even fun, but it made Eliza realize just how far Coleman’s trumpet could transform the sentiments of a cheap tune into genuine emotion. It was a rare talent.
“Jack ‘Baby Sweets’ Coleman, everyone,” Mel Johnson said, waving his baton. So now she knew his name. Jack Coleman.
Mamie refused to dance with the applejacked stockbroker, and took to the floor with the music promoter. Eliza certainly didn’t want to stay at the table with the boozy fella. She wandered away, listening to the music, watching the dancers. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, but no one seemed to realize what had just happened right in front of them. The music she had just heard had sent her skyrocketing, and she couldn’t quite climb down.
The band changed to a straightforward dance group, playing for a more raucous Charleston, and Eliza noticed Mr. Coleman standing in the stage wings, watching them as he smoked a cigarette and leaned against a stage prop. His eyes were narrowed as if he didn’t quite approve of the tune. She didn’t blame him one bit.
Unable to help herself, she hurried up the side stage steps, in the shadows where no one would notice her. It was most unlike her to ever be so bold, yet she had to do it. Something powerful seemed to push her forward. “Mr. Coleman,” she said. “I just wanted to say—well, that your playing was utterly gorgeous. Those glissandos…! And I would never have imagined a top note like that possible. Though I’m sure you hear that all the time.”
He stared at her in silence for a long moment. Too long. His eyes were wide, and he seemed frozen. She started to feel very, very silly. “You’re on your break. I’m sorry…”
He pointed his cigarette at her before crushing it out in a nearby ashtray stand. “You’re the bird girl.”
Eliza was startled. She glanced down at her borrowed dress; no feathers anywhere. “I’m the what?”
“From the park. The girl up the tree.”
Eliza laughed in shock. “You remember me?”
“Sure. Not every day a girl in white fur throws a stick at you from a tree.” He stood up straight, a slow smile growing on his lips. “You were a musician, too. Still play?”
“Oh, yes. Some.” She wanted so much to tell him all about the Conservatoire, about her discoveries about herself, about people and life and flight, all learned at her piano keys. She really was behaving strangely; she barely even knew herself. But there was something about him, something warm and fascinating, easy to talk to, that drew her closer.
Anyone who could play like that must know so very much about—everything. Not to mention how beautiful those eyes were, even though up-close she could see some trace of hardness around them, of watchful sadness.
“I can’t play like you, though,” she said instead, feeling even sillier. “My cousin’s friend says you’re going to be as big as King Oliver.”
He smiled again, a wide, white slash of a grin, and he looked so young again, those traces of some old sorrow around his eyes vanished. “Is your cousin’s friend a clairvoyant?”
Eliza laughed. “No, a music promoter of some sort.”
“Even better. Well, from his lips to God’s ears, as my ma would say.”
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Again, thank you, Amanda, for taking the time for us to get to know you better! Please watch for my review of A Manhattan Heiress In Paris later this month!