MaryJanice Davidson burst onto the mainstream publishing scene in 2004 with a multitude of releases (both books and short stories), three of which were single titles. Undead and Unwed, the first of these single title releases, was a fresh, snarky, and incredibly fun amalgam of Chick Lit, Vampire and Romance that introduced most of us to her very unique voice. It also just won as Best Alternate Reality Romance and received honorable mention as a Favorite Funny inAAR’s annual Reader Poll.
It’s only March and we’ve already seen two single title releases and one anthology contribution from Ms. Davidson for 2005. The third in her Betsy series,Undead and Unappreciated, will be released in a couple of months. It’s nearly impossible for this author to remove her tongue from her cheek – even in an interview – so sit back and enjoy a snappy ride, which intersperses the types of questions you’ve come to expect in an AAR interview with parts of the Proust Questionnaire. Every month on the back page of Vanity Fair magazine, a celebrity is asked some of the same questions Marcel Proust answered on two separate occasions in his life – and that suck-up James Lipton uses them as well during his Inside the Actors Studio interviews. Davidson’s answers aren’t quite like Proust’s. <g>
–Laurie Likes Books
You sort of “burst” onto the scene in 2004 w/your Betsy books…
Yes, that’s true. Oh, wait. That’s not a question. Sorry.
…although you’d been published in romance/romantica since 2000 and previously, going back into the late 1990s, with Young Adult fiction. Your route to the “big time” in mainstream publishing is fairly unique. Please describe it throughout all its twists and turns.
Well, first I became a master fellatrix. Then, at various publishing meetings, I would…okay, that’s a total lie, but I always wanted to pretend like I slept my way to the top. Ha! It couldn’t be much more difficult than, you know, breaking through in American publishing these days. Anyway, I’ve been writing since I was 13. Realized people could actually (ha!) make a living at it and started submitting when I was in my early twenties. Enter years of rejection letters. Undaunted (read: stubborn) I kept writing. In fact, I’d rather write than just about anything else; it doesn’t seem like work to me. Then, as now, I’d often write 2-3 books at a time. So many ideas, so many snarky jokes…not enough time.
About then, e-publishing burst into the scene. Or, at least, I noticed it. So I submitted a YA novel, Adventures of the Teen Furies, to Hard Shell Word Factory. They bought it (in fact, it’s still in print over there!). I passed out (luckily, my fall was cushioned by my rejection letters). I ended up selling quite a few books and novellas to small press: Hard Shell, and then later, Red Sage Publishing (the Secrets books). Unbeknownst to me, Cindy Hwang read my story (Love’s Prisoner) in Secrets 6 and made a mental note of my name. When my e-book, Undead and Unwed, came out a year or so later, she bought it like any customer, downloaded it on her computer, read it, then called to ask if she could buy the print rights. A three book contract ( [for the expanded] Undead and Unwed, Undead and Unemployed, and Derik’s Bane) followed.
About a month later, I entered Lori Foster’s writing contest and caught the attention of Kate Duffy, which led to another book contract (Under Cover). Right now I’m still writing for Berkley (Undead and Unappreciated is out this July) and Brava (Hello Gorgeous was just released), and lovin’ it. No matter what I pitch to these guys, they’re always enthusiastic and supportive. Great, great ladies.
How does an author of YA fiction go almost immediately into Romantica?
I don’t like your tone, missy, so I’m not going to explain. So there!
Well, okay. The truth is, I love the YA genre, and I love romance, and I love romantica, and I love mysteries…a YA book just happened to be the one to get published first, is all. In truth, I’d get bored if I only wrote paranormal chick lit, or contemporary romance, or YA. Staying in one genre just isn’t for me. I don’t read in just one, which is probably why I can’t write in just one.
Your Betsy books are a whole lot less sexually explicit than your Romantica, although The Royal Treatment was much closer to the level you’d written previously. And then came Derik’s Bane, where you not only managed to bring a series out of a different publisher and into the “mainstream,” but you: a) Kept the sensuality and b) Infused the book with the snarky humor you are known for. How were you able to accomplish this?
My biggest secret is, of course, rampant immaturity. I swear, they’re going to put my picture next to “snarky” in the dictionary. The fact is, I can’t not write funny. I just can’t. (Reading Catherine Coulter historicals as a teen was a revelation to me: “Ohmigod! This is funny! Romances can be funny!”) Also, I’ve been married for twelve years and believe me, sex is funny. I mean, you know, also passionate and loving, blah-blah, but also funny and tender and cool.
Really, it all depends on what I’m in the mood for: is this going to be a sexy, over-the-top, uber passionate book? Or is it more emotional, maybe only one or two sex scenes? The last Betsy book I just finished, Undead and Unappreciated, has maybe three sex scenes in it. But the book I just finished for Brava, A Royal Pain (a sequel to The Royal Treatment), is the sexiest book I’ve ever written. Ever. I mean, whew! What’s nice is the sensuality level is left in my hands; my editors would never say, “This book blows because there’s not enough sex in it.” Although I’m wondering if A Royal Pain will raise a few eyebrows. I guess we’ll find out.
As for a different publisher being involved, I think today’s NY publishers are much, much more open to “out there” ideas than they were ten years ago, or even five. I’ve been submitting paranormal books for years and years, with nothing to show for it but vaguely personalized rejection letters. Now it’s the hot new thing. But, of course, there’s nothing new about it.
|What is your idea of perfect happiness?
||A Coke with lots of ice, poolside, with a good book in hand.
|What is your greatest fear?
||Zombies. No, really. I check for them when I’m letting the dog out.
|What is your favorite way of spending time?
||Writing or reading.
|Which living person do you most admire?
||My mother. She was raised by alcoholic spouse-beaters, but didn’t pick one to marry, and has maybe two drinks a year. Also, she’s very nice, and by rights, she should be a sociopath.
|Who are your favorite fictional characters?
||Most of them are comic book characters, I’m afraid: Batman, the X-men, Wonder Woman. I really liked Jamie Somers (the Bionic Woman), too. Oh, and most of Catherine Coulter’s heroines. And Peter, the High King of Narnia. And Madonna, the singer. Oh, wait. She’s real.
|Who are your heroes in real life?
||The FDNY (my dad and granddad used to work for them), paramedics, ER docs, compassionate judges, and my friend Cathie, who is utterly fearless when she tells stories. On my best day, I’m not as funny as she is.
|Who are your favorite writers?
||C.S. Lewis, Catherine Coulter, Ann Rule, Carl Hiaason, Andrew Vacchs, John Sanford, and Margaret Mitchell.
|What is your most treasured possession?
||My working brain. I actually have some brain damage from a high fever as a child and, let’s just say, every doctor who has ever seen my CAT scan is surprised I’m not a drooling idiot. Just being able to think and reason is a blessing, never mind thinking shit up and getting on best-seller lists.
I think you have one of the freshest voices around today, but I’ve heard a couple of criticisms I’d like you to respond to: a) Your “darker” voice was “better” and b) Your plots are beginning to get lost amidst the snark and dialogue.
All I can do is write the best book I can, every time. I love it when the readers love it, but I’m old enough now (35) so that I understand a) it’s not a personal attack if every reader doesn’t gush over ever book, and b) I love dialogue, and that’s what I’ll focus on. I mean, I love it. Much, much more than plot. If it’s showing, that’s fine. If it works for you as a reader, even better. I think of it like this: do you remember the plot from yesterday, from your life? Or do your remember the funny thing your boss said to you, the one that made you run for the ladies room before you wet your pants?
As for my darker voice, I actually consider those earlier books to be inferior to, say, the Undead series. In fact, I strongly dislike them. The heroines seem shrill and whiney to me, and the heros kind of thuggish. I wrote those in my early twenties, before kids, before marriage, but after my home had burned to the foundation and various other annoying things. I used to live dark, and now I don’t. So don’t look for dark anytime soon in new books.
Which of your stories do you consider inferior? Love’s Prisoner, Jared’s Wolf, By Any Other Name?
Inferior is a hard word, I think…I just don’t like the old stuff as well as the new stuff…I always want to go back and edit it, for one thing. Definitely By Any Other Name would fall into the category of old books of mine I don’t like anymore. It just seems so dark and depressing to me, compared to, say, Hello Gorgeous or my murderous book club (that’s an upcoming project). I actually love Love’s Prisoner…I’m so fond of the story, writing it was a joy, and of course I love the doors that little story eventually opened for me. Not to mention, they’ll probably carve “she’s the one who did the elevator scene” into my tombstone!
You’ve had published a whole bunch of short stories in the past year or so. Just exactly how many books/stories were sitting in your drawer before you got picked up by the mainstream?
Lots! Also, as above, I am more comfortable writing two books at a time. If I get stuck on one, I can switch to the other. Honestly, I don’t know how writers who only do a book a year (or in Thomas Harris’s case, a book a decade) can stand it. I’d get pretty bored. But everyone’s different, so that’s great. Also, my day job for over ten years was a secretary. So I type 120 words a minute. It’s no problem at all to do 20-30 pages a day.
Will you continue to write for e-publication or small press publication?
Sure. I still write novellas for Loose-ID Publications; in fact, I’ve got an anthology out this week called Charming the Snake. It’s instant gratification for my readers; they don’t have to wait ten months for a book.
How do you think e-pubishing is going to affect print publishing over the next five years?
As it already has: positively. Remember, five years ago I couldn’t get arrested with this stuff. Now I’ve got publishers knocking on my door asking me to be in anthos, asking for quotes, all that good stuff. New York is keeping an eye on the work e-pubs are doing. Believe it.
|When and where were you the happiest?
||Now. Right now. I’m a big believer in enjoying the moment. I’m well aware I’m a lucky bitch.
|What are the traits you most deplore in yourself?
|What are the traits you must dislike in others?
||Refusing to admit your own screw-ups…I hate when people blame other people for their problems.
|What are your greatest extravangances?
||I just bought myself a Coach purse, after coveting one for over a decade. And, of course, I’m scared of spilling on it or a pen exploding in it, so it sits in the house most of the time.
|What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
|On what occasion do you lie?
||On the occasion of renewing my driver’s license. One day I’ll be that weight.
|What is your greatest regret?
||I’m very very lucky…I have none.
|Who or what is the greatest love of your life?
||My husband and writing partner of thirteen years, Anthony.
When you say your husband is your writing partner, does that mean he has co-written the books we know you for or something else?
He’s co-written a couple of books with me, but nothing that has been published yet. He’s actually the better writer, but someone had to keep their day job, and he lost the coin toss. We did just get a writing contract for two books this summer, for our YA paranormal series about a teenage girl who can change into a dragon twice a month. Berkley’s putting those out, the first, August 2005, is Jennifer Scales and the Ancient Hearth.
Help me through this…your Romantica happens to be funny as well as sexy, but a lot of Romantica doesn’t have much going for it other than the hot sex. Is that “okay” and what should women expect from Romantica?
Sure. Sometimes that’s the only reason I pick up an Emma Holly book. And that’s not a slam on Emma Holly, either. But I didn’t pick up Menage for the deathless prose; I picked it up because I’d knew it’d be a sinfully delicious book. And it was! Oofta. That’s still the best erotic novel out there, period.
I’m not much interested in telling you what women should expect, whether it be from Romantica or Republicans, but I can tell you what I expect. From Romantica: just give me a great story and great sex. Mysterica (because apparently we’re giving cute labels to all the genres, right? not just women’s genres?): a great story and a great whodunnit. Literaturica: a great story and a dead heroine at the end. Suspensica: a great story and a dead villain at the end.
How do you feel about straight Erotica and how do our screwed up ideas about sex affect our reading of really sexy books?
If it’s well written (to wit: a great story) I feel great about it. I just want to be entertained. That’s really the long and short of it. Heh. I said long.
Our puritan society definitely can mess up some perfectly good books, that’s for sure. I try to keep an open mind, but there’s some stuff I just don’t want in my books, be they erotica, literaturica, or sci fi-ica. In fact, our book club instituted a No Dead Baby rule after reading Angela’s Ashes. Great book, but just not my thing. And that’s what it always comes down to. You can write the next Moby Dick (in fact, a few people did last year, I believe) and it doesn’t matter if it’s the greatest book the planet has ever seen: someone isn’t going to like it. Possibly a lot of someones. And that’s okay. As a reader, I read whatever I can get my hands on. As a writer, I just try to write the best book I can. Beyond that, it’s all gravy. Mmm…gravy…
I’ll admit, I feel kind of like a dirty old woman (I’m almost old enough to be Adam Levine’s mother) because I like some very sexy stories that offer pretty much that – sex . When our daughter, now 13, wants to watch R-rated movies I usually say no, and will say no for sure if there are nekkid people or love scenes, particularly if we’ll be watching together.
See, we’re sick, we’re all sick! I do the same darned thing, but worse…I’ll let my 10 year old watch an R movie…if it’s R for violence. Not sex. “Yes, hon, you can watch people shooting each other to bits, but none of that love and tenderness in this house.” I feel so stupid, and I know it’s stupid, but I can’t seem to be able to stop. I let her watch the second Matrix but we skipped Keanu’s ass. I mean, how simple-minded is that? The one tender moment in the whole movie and I wouldn’t let her watch it. Argh.
Tell me, and other women who feel “in the closet” about reading this stuff how to hold our heads high if our first response to reading Romantica is to go jump on the bones of the nearest available male – hopefully he’s a husband or boyfriend.
But why shouldn’t that be your first response? Heck, thanks to Emma Holly, I have two kids, not one! Look, you’ll never ever see a man apologize for what he’s reading. Ever! He could be reading, oh, I dunno, yet another book in the Executioner series, and he’s certainly not going to apologize to the gal sitting next to him in the subway. And why the hell should he? He’s reading a book, he’s not hurting anybody. So why do we feel like we have to explain ourselves if a panting, heaving, naked-to-the-waist Fabio is on the book cover?
And have you seen these? The Executioner series? Let me run a few of the titles past you: Flames of Fury, Predator Paradise, Lockdown, Hard Pursuit. There. Still embarrassed about reading romantica? Then there’s no hope for you.
What else do you have coming out in the next year or so, and beyond that, what’s in the hopper?
Well, at least two more Undead books, and another Wyndham werewolf book, for sure. Another Alaska book, and next year you’ll get to meet my murderous book club. It’s a group of thirty-something women who get together for foamy coffee drinks, gossip, and occasionally they’ll kill someone. Think Sex in the Citymeets CSI.
Beyond that, the sky’s the limit! Sorry about the cliche. But it’s true. I’m bound only by what I can think up and, baby, I’m an immature twit, so I can think up a lot.
Do you feel pressure from anyone as to what you should be writing?
Nope. Well, only the very gentlest sort from fans (e.g. “More Sinclair! More Betsy! More Caitlyn!”) but I assume you mean is there an editor somewhere out there telling me what to write and the answer is, nope.
|Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
||“Blow me”, tied with the ever-popular “Bite me”. Since I use them myself all the time, I’m dismayed to see them creep into my text. Oh, and “shutcher pie hole”, that’s another one. I’ve managed to keep it out of the books so far. I think. King Al might have said it once. Or twice.
|What’s your favorite swear word?
||“F_ck a duck!” Oh, wait…that’s a phrase, right? Well, it’s my favorite.
|What would you regard as the lowest depths of misery?
| What are the qualities you most admire in a man?
||A sense of humor. And big hands.
| What are the qualities you most admire in a woman?
||A sense of humor. And big…brains.
| What is it you most dislike?
||What, in, like, the world? Um..chicken pot pies. Yech.
| What living person do you most despise?
||Bill O’Reilly (or, as Al Franken refers to him, “Lying, splotchy bully”.)
| What do you value most in your friends?
||Loyalty, and the ability to make me laugh. If they have one, I’ll overlook the other.
Thanks, MaryJanice, for graciously sitting through what turned out to be a two-week long interview process. Had time simply not run out, I’m certain I’d still be asking questions!
MaryJanice Davidson on Undead and Unwed in ATBF