Vampires who crave the latest in fashion more than they do blood? Dragons suffering from teen angst? NYT bestselling author Mary Janice Davidson has made a career out of taking the most feared creatures of mythology and the underworld, and putting them smack in the middle of a hilarious yarn that has the reader laughing out loud.
Her fearless writing style has landed her a devoted readership and a slew of imitators, and yet she remains inarguably at the top of the paranormal romance heap she pioneered. We were thrilled when Mary Janice agreed to this interview, and had a tough time keeping our Diet Cokes from exploding through our noses when reading it.
Q: You’re credited with inventing the chick-lit paranormal romance. Is it weird for you to see other books with the same snarky tone and wacky sensibilities that you pioneered?
MJD: Extremely. Extreeeeeeeeeemly. I mean, 5-6 years ago, I couldn’t get arrested with this stuff! Now every time I turn around there’s a new book about a young, snarky, fashion-obsessed vampire who Just Wants To Be Left Alone. And/or I’m being asked to give a cover quote on same. Very weird. Paranormal had been considered dead for so long (or so all the publishers and agents told me) that it seems weird that they’re all over the shelves these days.
Q: The protagonists in your books have been vampires, cyborgs, werewolves, dragons, and now with your new release SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES, mermaids. What draws you to the strange and fantastical?
MJD: My teeny, tiny brain. I can’t write straight, guy-meets-girl romance. Just can’t do it. The one time I tried, the heroine turned out to be bionic, and the hero was a cyborg. DOING IT RIGHT was as close as I came (it’s out the first Tuesday in February) and even then, the heroine was a black belt who could break a forearm with one hand while sipping a milkshake with the other.
Q: Your now-legendary leap from e-publishing to hardcover is a story in itself. Could you share with our readers your road to publication?
MJD: Well, after YEARS of being told there was absolutely no market for paranormal, I gave up on submitting to the big NY houses and started sending my work to electronic publishers. Little did I know, New York was watching me. Cindy Hwang, then senior editor at Berkley, downloaded my e-book, UNWED AND UNDEAD, read it, then called me to ask if she could buy the print rights. I didn’t query her. I didn’t send her a sample chapter. Nothing. She saw my work on the web and tracked me down. Talk about a bass-awkwards way to get The Call!
Q: You write in multiple genres: YA, romantica, mystery, to name a few. How do you manage to juggle each genre’s different slant? Do you worry you’re going to make a YA novel too sexy, etc.?
MJD: No, that’s never a problem. If anything, it’s a relief to work on a YA and know my editor isn’t going to ask for at least three sex scenes. That’s why I often write more than one book at a time, preferably across genres: I don’t get bored, and I don’t get boxed in.
Q: Does writing a series get easier or harder with each successive title?
MJD: Harder! You have to keep track of everybody: what they’re doing and where they live (or lived) and who they’re bonking (or not), and all that’s gone on in the previous 5 or 6 books. It’s very easy to make a mistake, and in those cases, the buck stops with ME. MY name is on the cover of the book if you find a goof, it’s my fault an no on else’s. And the longer a series goes on, the easier it is to screw something up. Believe me.
Q: What’s your favorite writer’s craft book, and why?
MJD: Stephen King’s ON WRITING. I just love his rags to riches story!
Q: What drives the story for you, plot or character?
MJD: Character, character, character.
Q: The UNDEAD series is written in first person. Why did you choose that narrative structure, and what are the advantages and disadvantages? Do you find it difficult to switch from first person to third person for your other books?
MJD: First person is my favorite way to write. I feel I can really know the character if she is literally speaking through my voice. (Hmm. Creepy.) The disadvantage, of course, is that the reader ONLY knows what the character knows. If the character has bad information, it’ll get passed right onto the reader. Actually, that’s not such a disadvantage at all. It leaves maneuvering room to have a lot of fun. But by the time I’m finished with a Betsy book, I’m more than ready to switch back to third person. Writing in multiple genres and voices keeps me from getting fried.
Q: In your UNDEAD series, you poke fun at a number of conventions in vampire fiction like a vampire Queen more interested in a killer pair of shoes than her immortal soul. For that matter, you’ve set the chick-lit novels in Minnesota instead of a big city like NYC. Do you find that the jokes are in playing with the reader’s expectations?
MJD: To be honest? I have no idea what the reader’s expectations are. I write the best book I can, every time. If they like it, great. If they don’t, I can still sleep at night. You know, there was a time when I was browsing book shelves, unable to find anything I wanted to read, so I went home and wrote UNDEAD AND UNWED. I didn’t complain about the boring books on the shelves, I wrote what I wanted to write. If I hadn’t done so, I’d have no one to blame but myself for being dissatisfied with the market.
Q: What do you like best and least about the publishing industry?
MJD: Believe it or not, authors have very little power (like, 5%) with their publishers. That’s only fair, because the publishers pony up the dough. On the up side, you’re not alone trying to sell a book. You’ve got a whole company standing behind you, invested in your book’s success. That’s definitely the best.
Q: Publishers in romance fiction seem to be more open to different things these days. Do you find that that’s true? Where do you see the romance genre heading?
MJD: Oh, they’re definitely open to different things…just compare the romances of the 70′s with today’s marketplace! Romance is here to stay. It’s not going anywhere. Who doesn’t want a good love story? I mean, talk about nightmare. No romance books? Don’t even wake me up.
Q: How have you evolved as a writer?
MJD: Well, I’d like to think I’m better at it than I was 10 years ago, but that could be wishful thinking. One way I’ve evolved is that I’ve stopped living and dying over every mean-spirited review, usually posted by someone who obviously didn’t read my book. I’d get 99 good reviews and be unmoved, then get that one bad review and obsess all month about it. Madness! You can’t be in this business without a thick skin, and you know that for sure. As above, I do the best I can each time, and if a reader doesn’t like it? I’m sorry for her or him, but I sure don’t lose sleep over it. There’s only about a zillion other writers out there people can try.
Q: Tell us about your new release SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES. What was the inspiration behind it?
MJD: I basically wanted to do to the mermaid genre what I did with vampires. Instead of a sweetly pretty, warbling darling fish woman whom everybody loved, I wanted a grouchy, sulky, loner brat. I wanted a mermaid who couldn’t swim and was allergic to shellfish. I wanted a mermaid with a dumb name. And lo! MaryJanice visitith upon you Fred the Mermaid. (Two more books to follow, heh, heh.)
Q: What are you reading now?
MJD: I, Elizabeth. It’s a fiction diary of Queen Elizabeth I (Henry VIII bastard daughter of Anne Boleyn). I have a huge fascination with the Tudor family. What a bunch of lustful, conniving, murderous bums! My thighs are steaming just thinking about that. Sorry about the overshare.