MaryJanice Davidson turned the chick-lit world upside-down in 2004 with the release of Undead and Unwed, which follows the story of a fashionista-secretary-turned-queen-of-the-vampires; since then, she's been exploring the boundaries of paranormal literature combined with the world of shoes, shopping and romance. Her latest offering is Me, Myself and Why?, and she'll be discussing and signing it at Barnes & Noble, 8374 South Willow Street in Littleton, at 7 p.m. tomorrow, Friday, October 1. We caught up with Davidson to ask her about her writing process, the latest book and how she gleans amusement from topics most people would consider upsetting.
Westword: Tell us what the inspiration was for this latest series. MaryJanice Davidson: A couple different reasons. One, to keep my own interest in my own work. I often write two books at the same time, just because if I'm trapped in the Bestyverse (Undead and Unwed series) or mired in the Me, Myself and Why? universe, it's a great help to switch universes. "I have to switch universes. I'll be right with you." And I always thought it'd be nice too for readers of mine who didn't necessarily want to read paranormal stuff, they'll have another option as well. I accidentally invented paranormal chick-lit, and the new thing is gonna be crazy heroines. So if next year you see a whole bunch of stuff coming out where the heroine was in a madhouse or arrested or on extreme psychotropic medicines, yell at me.
WW: Why an FBI agent with dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder)? MJD:I thought that just an FBI agent would just be so boring to write about, which is not a thought normally shared by colleagues in the genre. Why a secretary who's the queen of the vampires, why a grumpy marine biologist for a beautiful mermaid, why a sullen teenager for weredragon? Why not a crazy agent? I like the idea of federal employees licensed to carry weapons who are also heavily medicated, it just works for me on all sorts of levels. And my editor refers to the way the characters in the Me, Myself and Why? universe solve crime -- they solve crime with their superpowers. She doesn't even see their illness as a psychosis, and I agree. They're not solving crime in spite of their psychoses, it's absolutely because of them. It takes a thief to catch a thief, and a crazy arsonist to catch a crazy arsonist. I just loved the idea. And the only way to get an idea of my head, I have to yank it out and write it down.
WW: What sort of research into mental illness did you do for this series? MJD: I could actually start with quite a few of my friends. I grew up with people who were manic-depressive or just Bipolar II, and so just in terms of the kind of people they're hanging out with, in terms of therapy and medication, I was starting to get some ideas. I talked to a few different psychiatrists. I'm a total layman. They really had to break it down into, like, hand puppets for me. One psychiatrist said multiple personality disorder is like a CD player. When you put one CD in, they're perfect on that CD, but if you hit pause or put another CD in, the Nirvana CD has no idea what's going on with the Marilyn Manson CD, and when you hit stop on a CD and then go back to the first, it'll pick up the very second when you come back. They're just being temporarily stopped and started up again by the body. And I thought, if he could break that down for a layman, that was so helpful for me.
I also got to shoot off a grenade launcher. They get so pissy when you shoot them straight up. They have no sense of humor with this thing. My dad had a 25-year relationship with the Air Force base, and I destroyed it in five minutes, but it was valuable research-wise, and they're suprisingly quiet. It's just kind of a "foonk." I was really expecting the Arnold Shwartzennerger big sound. The movies lie to you.
WW: The sociopath in the novel, George, is triggered by bigots and racists -- why did you decide to make that group his trigger? MJD: It was actually kind of cold-blooded. Sociopaths are charismatic, but not very likable on a deep level. They just can't ever be, they only love themselves. But I knew he was going to be a major character. So how do you make a sociopath likable? You make his trigger something that a lot of people can relate to.
I just know a couple of people who are just so unpleasant and so violently anti-bigoted and anti-prejudiced, and you're like, if only you were this cool in other aspects of your life. I needed something to make him likable. And you know, I've always been a sucker for a big tough guy who does have a little bit of a soft side, so I did also like the fact that George will hang you out to dry on almost every issue, he'll leave you in a ditch almost every single time -- unless he's rescuing you from skinheads.
WW: What's next for Cadence? MJD: I'm halfway through the second book now. We're going to learn more about the traumatic event in Cadence's childhood that caused the split, and learn a little more about Patrick's back-story, because there's more to it than "I'm a baker and my sister is chronically depressed." There's more to him as to why he'd be so enchanted with Cadence and her personalities. And the Big Bad is a multi-generational serial killer. This family got started in the 1920s for a very specific reason, and each generation has a very specific task to discharge before they retire. Except it's with dead bodies instead of gold watches.
The research I've been able to do is enthralling. It's so stupid that I'm paid to do what I love. A lot of people are like, would you ever write for free? I wrote for free for like fifteen years, I could redo my parlor in rejection slips. It would be surprisingly tasteful -- they use nice paper. The Big Bad, I've never run across it in a book. This is the awesome thing I'm also going to do -- one of the things -- they've got a new agent, and because of the government facility, the FBI is run just like everybody else, they have to get their tokens in, so she's not only an African-American, she has this syndrome, and this is a real thing, mirrored self-misidentification.
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This is a syndrome, a neurological syndrome, in which they think their reflection is a person who looks just like them and is following them around and trying to kill them. In every other aspect of their lives, everything's fine. But they always think, "when I was little, it looked like I was four, and when I got older they switched it out to look like me now." There's the mirrored self-misidentification where they're looking in a mirror, and there's the misidentification where your husband can walk into the door and you instantly decide it's not him, and you'll never be convinced you're wrong. They'll all of a sudden say, "You're not my brother, you just look exactly like him." People have killed themselves because they were trying to get the person in their mirror.
I'm falling all over myself because I find it so fascinating. Sad, but completely enthralling and frightening. I can't imagine thinking, every time you look in the mirror, "Oh, my bangs are messy, and there's that person again who's trying to kill me." And of course, George is going to be her Secret Santa and give her twenty different compact mirrors.
WW: Do you find it difficult at all to translate these awful conditions into humorous prose? MJD: You'd think, but I'm just so chronically immature that I really don't have any trouble making very serious, horrible things hilarious to me. And that's not a breakdown of any of these things, it's a feeling in me as a human being. I just can't not be irreverent and immature and just jokey about mirrored self-misidentifaction for example. I'd love to be able to say, yes, it's very difficult, I weep for my fellow man. But no, I don't have any trouble at all making it work, because I'm a jerk.
WW: Anything else you'd like to add? MJD: Just a craven, craven plug. My website, maryjanicedavidson.net, has not only upcoming chapters and sneak-peeks, but my whole back-list for people who want to start at the beginning for different series.