Sunday Brunch: A Chat with Authors MaryJanice Davidson and Rose Szabo

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[Note from Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora got the opportunity to chat with authors MaryJanice Davidson and Rose Szabo and ask them a few questions each. Up first, MaryJanice Davidson!]

Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel? 

MaryJanice Davidson: My editor and I actually came up with it together. We both love romance tropes–I believe any fan of romance loves the tropes–and we thought a book that gently poked fun at them would be great fun. Like how Shaun of the Dead poked fun at zombie movies, and Hot Fuzz poked fun at cop movies. Their love for the genre showed and we wanted to do the same for romance novels.  

What character do you most relate to and why? 

Definitely Ava Capp.  She’s been running away from her problems for a decade.  I come from a long and distinguished line of substance abusers, so I’ve seen that sort of denial up close.  Nobody wants to face the un-faceable, but running just makes everything take longer.  

Why do you feel books with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now? 

I have to say, I think books with powerful and unique characters are always popular. That’s…not new.  I don’t think anyone in the history of the written word ever said, “You know what we don’t want?  Books with powerful and unique characters.” 

Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from the read. 

Snark, murder, random violence…that’s what they can expect! A damaged but defiant heroine, an adorably clueless hero, a retired accountant who is not a retired accountant, and a great way to do some traveling from your own living room. Or bathroom. Or bunker. Or treehouse. Wherever you like to read. Truth, Lies and Second Dates takes readers all over the country solving murders.  A bargain at any price!  

What’s next for you in the book world? 

Right now I’m working on Big Bad Bear Boyfriend, the third in my Fosterwere trilogy about shifter social workers who protect and defend the juvenile shifters in their care.  Because if you’ve got a suddenly-orphaned teenage werewolf in your case files, you can’t just dump him or her into any foster family.  He’d have the other kids for lunch.  Literally! 

I’ve also got several original short stories published on Amazon (you can see them here: https://amzn.to/3lCsjCu ), including new Betsy and Fred the Mermaid stories. And I’m mulling over writing a paranormal anthology titled Undead A.F.  And I’d love to write a sequel to A Contemporary Asshat at the Court of Henry VIII.

Who is your favorite writer right now and why? 

I’m going to side-step the vapidly vain urge to name myself and instead go with my top 3 (because who can pick just one?):  Philippa Gregory (because her historical fiction makes me root so hard for her heroines), Stephen King (because I love scary stuff and he’s the reigning king), and Tina Brown, because her biographies are ferociously researched and beautifully written.  Her The Diana Chronicles is the definitive biography for Princess Diana, full stop.  Unlike some Diana bios, Brown doesn’t paint the late Princess of Wales as a saint, nor the Prince of Wales as an utter villain.  She shows the mistakes made on both sides, and writes with compassion and understanding.  Seriously, I cannot recommend this book enough for anyone interested in the modern British Royal Family. 

What inspired you to write this novel? 

Pure love for the romance genre and all the wonderful tropes therein. This book—all three of them (Danger Sweetheart; The Love Scam, and now Truth, Lies, and Second Dates) are my love letters to the romance genre.  Not only do I personally adore the genre, writing romance brought me from the trailer court to the New York Times best-seller list.  It changed my life in all the best ways, and I’m forever grateful.  

Which character was the hardest or most interesting to write in your latest read?

I struggle with my villains.  They have to be heinous (duh, villain), but because I’m a comedy writer, they have to be funny.  But not so funny they’re a cartoon.  And this particular villain is a remorseless, murderous asshat who is ridiculously self-absorbed.  So they’re mock-able, but also dangerous.  And that was a tough line for me to walk.  It’ll be up to the readers to decide if I pulled it off. 

What’s your favorite romantic author and why? 

Ohhhhh, boy…there’s no way I can narrow this down to one person.  Philippa Gregory (technically it’s historical fiction, except most of her heroines find love and a happy ending), Julie Garwood (one of the first romance writers I ever read; her books blew me away), and Susan Elizabeth Phillips, for the pure hilarity. 

Any advice to aspiring writers? 

Don’t quit. The world is full of people with half-finished manuscripts tucked away in a folder they never open. Getting your butt in the chair isn’t the hard part. Keeping your butt in the chair when you’re sick to death of what you’re writing is. 

You can’t be a writer if you don’t write. And you can’t get published if you don’t finish projects.  That’s it.  Full stop. 

Up next, Rose Szabo!
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind What Big Teeth?

Rose Szabo: I had ideas about writing a story about a monstrous family for a long time, but the actual plot came together, weirdly enough, when I saw a video of a leopard seal trying to teach a nature photographer how to catch and eat a penguin. The seal thought that the photographer was another seal who just couldn’t figure it out, and so she kept bringing him penguins, or killing them in front of him and trying to push them into the camera, which she thought was his face. It was horrifying, but also maternal. And so I thought: how do you teach a young monster how to be a predator? What would that look like? And that’s how I came up with the antagonist for What Big Teeth: this massively destructive force who’s really, truly, just trying to help.

What character in this novel do you most relate to and why? 

When I wrote it, I think I related most to Eleanor, the protagonist. She tries so hard to “be good”, but has these monstrous episodes that erupt from inside of her where she lashes out at people in terrifying ways. I felt like that a lot when I started work on this book. I think that she and I grew up a lot over the course of writing it.

Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now? 

You know, I’m not sure! I’ve honestly been surprised at the great reception this book has gotten. I feel a lot of the time like I’m in a basement, making a horrible little collage out of bits of life and art I’ve experienced, and then I come out and show it to someone and they’re like “oh, it’s cool!” and I’m surprised every time. I wanted to write powerful and unique characters because that’s how I see the world. Nobody is a paper cutout in someone else’s story; everyone has their own complex internal world, and even if I can’t dive into every character’s thoughts, I want them all to act from complex places. I think when we start to reduce our own and others’ complexity, we dehumanize them.

Please describe the content of What Big Teeth and what can readers expect from it.

So there’s a young woman named Eleanor, and she returns home to her family’s ancestral manor in  Maine after an incident at school that she’s trying hard not to think too much about. She’s hoping to find safe harbor back home. But she’s been away for so long that she’s forgotten a lot about what her family is actually like–for instance, that a lot of them are werewolves. But she’s also forgotten something about herself, something that everyone seems to know except for her. Readers can expect lots of delicious Gothic fiction tropes–ornately creepy people and places, forbidden romance, and family secrets going back generations. Ultimately, though, it’s a coming of age story about returning to your family as a young adult, wanting to be loved and accepted while becoming your own person.

What’s next for you in the bookish world?

I’m working on my second novel right now, which is going to be the first in a duology about a city of monsters and magic. It’s more ambitious, with four different point-of-view characters–I’m kind of regretting my hubris a little!

Who is your current favorite writer? Why?

I love Carmen Maria Machado. The way she layers little vignettes one after the other until you can see something terrifying in the whole picture. I read In The Dream House and had to keep stopping to read certain lines over again, to savor them.

Any writing advice for aspiring writers? 

Follow your excitement. Trust your gut feelings, and keep going even when they scare you. Don’t think about what you’re going to edit out later–other people can tell you that better than you can. Just write, and keep writing.

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