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INTERVIEW: MaryJanice Davidson, Author of “Undead and Underwater”

The author of the hit Undead series featuring fan-favorite Queen Betsy, MaryJanice Davidson is a regular on the New York Times Bestseller list. Her riotous, quirky wit shines through again in UNDEAD AND UNDERWATER, an anthology of three original paranormal novellas, including a Betsy Taylor/Fred the Mermaid crossover, a brand new character with unusual superpowers, and an original Wyndham Werewolves novella. Fans of the Sookie Stackhouse and Anita Blake novels will rave about this sexy, laugh-out-loud compilation and its all-star cast of heroines.

MaryJanice has written in a variety of different genres, including contemporary romance, paranormal romance, erotica and non-fiction. She lives in Minnesota with her family. Visit her at and on Facebook.

Kristin Centorcelli: MaryJanice, thanks so much for joining us! You already have 11 titles under your belt that feature Betsy Taylor, and your newest book, Undead and Underwater, a collection of three novellas, not only has a story about Betsy, but also stories with superheroes and werewolves! Will you tell us a little bit about these three stories?

MaryJanice Davidson: I won’t, frankly, and you can’t make me. I’m sick of you coming around here with your veiled threats and your constant attempts to force-feed me grilled cheese sandwiches—oh. Wait. Um…yeah, sorry. I had you mixed up with my late grandma…

Undead and Underwater features three very different, very annoying heroines. (I’m up front about calling them annoying, but they’re annoying like an old friend: you care about them and yet want to shake them while also sticking around hoping they can fix the hot mess their lives have become.) Betsy the vampire queen, Fred the asocial mermaid (she can’t swim and you’d never invite her to a Pampered Chef party), and Hailey, overburdened HR rep by day, superhero also by day. The anthology was a chance to make several dreams come true (for me, anyway). I got to pair up two popular characters, vent my long-repressed issues with Human Resources, set stories in Minneapolis and Boston, and do a superhero story. I can’t even tell you how much fun it was to write this!

KC: Did you always want to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about your background, and what led you to write your first novel?

MJD: I’ve wanted to write since I was thirteen. I was an Air Force kid and we moved a lot, so I was the new kid several years running. Before FaceBook, if you were a kid and you moved away, your options to stay in touch were long-distance phone calls from a landline your parents didn’t want to pay for (your younger readers will have no idea what I’m talking about), or writing letters until you lost interest (about 96 hours after you unpacked in the new town, and the young ‘uns won’t know what this is about, either). So rather than go through that again, I started keeping to myself and writing stories. Eventually I was at the same school for four years (in a row! in a row!) and made friends—they always wanted to know what I was writing while huddled in the corner. They’d stake out my locker to see what I’d written the night before, which freaked me out: “I don’t know who you’re waiting for, but you’re blocking my locker. I’ll only be a second, and then you can get back to waiting for whatever dumbass you’re waiting for.” But guess what? I was the dumbass! Woo-hoo!

KC: When you started your Betsy Taylor series, did you have any idea of how many books you’d like to write, or did you just decide to see where she took you?

MJD: No idea. None. At all. No idea the Undead series was going to be a series. No idea it would change my life, no idea I’d end up on best-seller lists with books published in fifteen countries. No, I just got this image one day of a dead woman in a morgue in awful make-up and tacky shoes, a woman who didn’t know she was a vampire. That’s what struck me as odd (even more than the terrible orange blush and ice-blue eyeliner straight from 1976): she didn’t know she was a vampire, and I wondered why. In the movies and books, the monster always knows she’s the monster. Why didn’t this woman? And in answering that, a series was born and with that, a sub-genre: Paranormal Chick-Lit.

Even now, eleven books in, I’m still just seeing where Betsy takes me. The silly sweetie hasn’t steered me wrong yet!

KC: Who, or what, are some of the biggest influences on your writing?

MJD: As someone who lived in trailer parks for years, I love rags to riches stories. Stephen King was living in a crap apartment when the paperback rights to Carrie sold for $200,000. He was so excited he ran to the drugstore and bought his wife the most extravagant gift he could think of with the few bucks in his wallet: a hair dryer! Soooo romantic. (I’m not being sarcastic. I loved that his first instinct was to buy something for his wife, who had supported him for so long.) And J.K. Rowling lived in such a craphole while writing Harry Potter, she’d go to coffee shops and write there instead.

King’s and Rowling’s characters have something I try to put in my work; no matter what fantastic incredible thing is happening to them, they always seem like real people. They’re always relatable. Some of my other favorites—Andrew Vachss, Carl Hiaason, Margaret Mitchell—have that in common, too.

KC: Your books are known for their humor, so what’s something that makes you laugh out loud?

MJD: The undead? And also grouchy mermaids. What I love is taking a paranormal trope—the dark tortured vampire, the perkily-boobed chirpy mermaid, the savage werewolf—and turning them upside down. Betsy is the queen of the vampires, and saddled with the least intimidating first name ever. Fred the mermaid is a grump who’s allergic to seafood. And more than one of my Wyndham werewolves likes to spend her Change snoozing in her living room in front of a crackling fireplace. (I would, if I was a werewolf. But I don’t like being cold, and I do like napping in toasty living rooms, preferably with a sandwich at my elbow.) making readers laugh by putting relatable characters into absurd situations is just the best job ever. I love doing it, and I love that people like reading about it.

KC: I read that you frequently speak to writer’s groups and book clubs. What do you enjoy most about those visits?

MJD: Meeting readers, for sure, but I also like winning a new reader. Lots of times spouses or friends will tag along when a reader comes to one of my signings, and it’s great fun to have them come up to me after and say, “I have no idea who you are, but after hearing that sex story about your mom I’m going to try one of your books”. I once did a speech for 75 WWII veterans, none of whom had any idea who I was. That didn’t bother me; I’ll give a motivational speech to anybody and also, I wanted to thank them for driving Hitler to suicide. So at the end, all these elderly gentlemen came up to me, shining from all the awesome medals they were wearing, and basically all told me the same thing: if that writing thing doesn’t work out, you should take your show on the road. Which was good advice, and is now my Plan B.

I also like telling aspiring authors that it’s possible to break in, it’s possible to go from a trailer park to the NYT best-seller list. I never went to college and I’m telling you: if I can do this, anyone can do this.

KC: When you manage to find some free time, what’s one of your favorite ways to spend it?

MJD: I’m embarrassed to admit how sedentary I am; I love reading and cooking. Sometimes I wish I had a sexy hobby to talk about, like hang gliding. But then I just bake some brownies until the feeling goes away.

KC: What’s next for you this year, and beyond?

MJD: I just signed a new contract for two books set in a new world, a place where not only does everyone believe in reincarnation, they can re-visit past lives to figure out what’s going wrong in their current life. So I’ll be following the same couple through all their travails, going back centuries. The possibilities for fun with this? Just…endless. I can’t wait!

And I love giving speeches, so I just joined Minnesota Speakers and Nationally Speaking. They were a little surprised (usually speakers join and then write books) but gamely let me join. So I’m hoping to get the chance to meet more readers…or to convert some!

About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).

4 Comments on INTERVIEW: MaryJanice Davidson, Author of “Undead and Underwater”

  1. I’ve seen her in person and she could easily be successful in stand-up; see her if you can.
    I am amazed that the spring of her imagination never runs dry…fortunately for us!

  2. I really enjoyed this interview! She’s very, very funny!

  3. Yes, Paul, we’re everywhere! Tonette, you’re too sweet. And Kristin, thanks for the kind words! 🙂

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