July 7, 2010

Book: Author succeeds with lighter vampires

MaryJanice Davidson releases “Undead and Unfinished”

Nowadays you can’t walk 20 feet in bookstores (and plenty of other locations) without seeing some reference to vampires. So says MaryJanice Davidson, who’s partially to blame for the situation — but she’s fine with that. She’s now on a promotional tour for the ninth book in her Queen Betsy series of — to use the author’s own term — paranormal chick-lit. Her local stop is Friday at Borders.

For years now, even as the “Twilight” series elevated romantic vampire fiction to near-total media saturation, Davidson has written books that stand apart from the pack. She’s a preternaturally capable stylist, but she also leads with her humor. Many of her characters are uncomfortable with their predicaments: Chief among these is her protagonist, Betsy (don’t call me Elizabeth) Taylor, who still can’t get used to the difficulties her undead status places on her attempts to enjoy a day of shoe shopping. And in the new “Undead and Unfinished,” Betsy’s trying to be a proper big sister to a sibling who’s a rather modest young lady — and also just happens to be the Antichrist.

Davidson is an entertaining speaker — alternately pleading the case for how normal she is and how many unusual things have happened in her life. She’s now clearly enjoying the role of one of the most successful authors in a literary subgenre that has become a surprising entertainment-industry phenomenon. As she recently told LEO by phone, “I can’t tell you how many times publishers told me, ‘Our readers don’t want paranormal romance, so we don’t publish it, so they don’t buy it.’” But she wasn’t the only one who kept trying and broke through: “Charlaine Harris (of ‘True Blood’ fame) has stacks of rejection slips. This is a woman who has a soccer mom wardrobe and a seven-figure income. We were told 10, 15 years ago that nobody wanted this stuff.”

Davidson is keeping herself ahead of the trends with some other fiction projects: “If — let’s say in two years — there’s a backlash and no one wants anything vampire, I’m fortunate that I’m establishing another series that’s not paranormal at all.” But she thinks there’ll always be some audience for paranormals, and her bright-and-breezy version might be thriving after the more obviously intense series (think Laurell K. Hamilton) have flamed out.

Whatever happens on the horizon, Queen Betsy fans have been waiting for months to know what sort of supernatural mischief will come calling in the latest book. Davidson used this volume to catch up with some character revelations: “I’ve known for at least two books that I was going to get to Tina and Sinclair’s backstories. And I’ve known for a couple of books that there’d be a more Antichrist-centered ‘Undead’ novel involving time travel.” She also listened to her editor’s request that Betsy’s devoted vampire lover, Sinclair, get a lot more exposure: “My readers think he’s wonderful. And I really think the big reason readers love Sinclair is that he’s so in love with Betsy. Our heroine, she’s a ditz. She’s vain, she’s flighty, she has a short attention span. She’s absolutely disgusted by the fact that she’s got to be the boss of all these vampires when she’s barely 30 herself … And then here’s Sinclair … he falls head over heels with Betsy Taylor almost on their first meeting. And his ambition, which was to become King of the Vampires, took a back seat for the first time to wanting to be with somebody … His soft spot for Betsy is the reason readers have a soft spot for him.”

MaryJanice Davidson
Friday, July 9
Borders Bookstore
4600 Shelbyville Road
www.maryjanicedavidson.net
Free; 7 p.m.