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MaryJanice Davidson writes from the other side of normal

Her books are best for people who like to laugh, and Davidson is skilled at writing crack-up dialogue and absurdist plots.

davidson portrait
MaryJanice Davidson

The first time I was supposed to interview MaryJanice Davidson, she called me from the side of the road.

“My car is overheating and I am just going to sit here with my daughter until hopefully it cools down again and then we’ll drive another mile and then stop again and limp all the way home. And then we can talk!” she said cheerfully.

And I thought, hmm. She sounds an awful lot like Candice, the FBI agent in her latest book,  “You and I, Me and You” (St. Martin’s Press). Like her bestselling author, Candace is outgoing, hilarious, and seems to end up in a lot of loony situations. Unlike her author (er, hopefully), Candice suffers from a touch of multiple personality disorder. Which makes her fit in just fine at BOFFO, a special crime-fighting division that employs agents with unique talents, namely: “claustrophobes, agoraphobes, paranoids, sociopaths, kleptomaniacs, DIDs, depressives, manics, manic-depressives, schizophrenics, obsessive-compulsives, somniphobes, psychotics, neurotics, and Republicans.”

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Turns tropes on their heads

So, this not your standard murder mystery. And that’s a very good thing. Davidson, who lives in St. Paul with her children and husband Anthony Alongi, a frequent co-author, has made a successful career by turning tropes on their heads, so to speak. Her other series — so far, she has seven different series, which makes sense when you learn that this former office manager types 110 words a minute, and talks at least that fast — center on paranormal subjects, although not in the normal way. For instance, before there was “Twilight,” there was Davidson’s “Undead” series, starring Betsy. There are 11 in this series, so far.

“All the standard vampire books were dark and gloomy, and the hero was always a guy, and he was ridiculously gorgeous and super old, and never seemed to have a real job, and I remember thinking, ‘Where are the plumber vampires? The accountants?’” said Davidson. “So I wrote a funny novel about a vampire who could not take it seriously. I just liked that she was real person, with real problems. She could run into any of the problems you or I have run into this week, because being undead does not mean you don’t have car trouble.”

The unpleasant mermaid, Fred

And then there’s Fred the mermaid. (Three books, so far.) “She is unpleasant, she is dour, she can’t swim, she is allergic to shellfish, and doesn’t sing, and she doesn’t wish her legs away for a man, and you would never invite her to a Pampered Chef party, and she’s very clumsy and dangerous on boats,” says Davidson, who clearly adores her bizarre creations. “In the trope, they are always versions of Ariel. Disney has bought the film rights to the Fred stories every year and never makes a movie and I think that’s because they want to make sure no one else ever makes them into a movie.”

Maybe that’s a smart move on Disney’s part, but maybe not. “The crazier you are, the better you sell,” Davidson’s editor once told her, and it seems true. In addition to the movie rights, her books are constantly on the best-seller lists, and in print in 15 countries — although Davidson still can’t believe it.

“I have always written, but I never in a million years thought I’d be this successful,” she says. “I was an Air Force brat, and my parents taught me to hunt and fish so I could put food on the table. We never had any money. We moved all the time. Our house burned to the foundation when I was 18 and both my father and grandfather were volunteer firefighters. I was a medical test subject and a model in my 20s. We lived paycheck to paycheck until just a few years ago.”

Skilled at writing crack-up dialogue

After a decade of rejection slips, she found a home for her books and they found their way into readers via word of mouth. Her romances appeal to people who don’t usually like romance novels, her mysteries are great for people who are tired of mysteries, and her paranormal stories are designed for people who laugh at the idea or paranormal anything. Actually, her books are best for people who like to laugh, and Davidson is skilled at writing crack-up dialogue and absurdist plots. Her sense of humor comes through not just in every book, but in every line — a rarity in any genre.

“I love that my books make people laugh. I’ve had rape victims tell me they laughed for the first time in years when they read my books. People in dialysis and chemo will bring my books and laugh all through their treatments. It makes me so happy. I am telling you this and choking up, by the way — I’m not entirely dead inside. Despite the weather.”