Brian Sherwin interviews Janet Evanovich
First published Oct 31, 2010 at briansherwin-artcritic.blogspot.com
Janet Evanovich is a New York Times best-selling author. Evanovich began her career by writing short contemporary romance novels under the pen name Steffie Hall. However, she is best known for authoring a series of contemporary mysteries featuring the character Stephanie Plum - a woman who becomes a bounty hunter after losing her job as a lingerie buyer.
The Stephanie Plum series has been on-going since 1994. The series, a mix of romance, mystery, adventure and humor have become widely popular in recent years. A film adaptation of Evanovich's first book in the Stephanie Plum series, titled One for the Money, is currently in production.
(The following interview with Janet Evanovich was conducted with the assistance of Tonya Hoots.)
Brian Sherwin: Janet, I understand that when you attended college you majored in fine arts-- further research revealed that your focus was on painting. Do you still paint? Also, would you say that your studies in art helped to set your direction as a writer-- in the sense that creating visual art can be considered a form of story-telling unto itself?
Janet Evanovich: I'm so busy writing and editing two books a year that I don't have time for painting anymore. The truth is that when I was painting, I was painting stories I was telling myself. When I look back at it, moving to writing was a very natural progression for me.
Tonya Hoots: During your early years as an author you received rejection notice after rejection notice. If my sources are correct you almost gave up on becoming a published author. Can you discuss that time in your life? What kept you going?
JE: I received rejection letters for ten years (one on a napkin, written in crayon.) I had all my rejection notices stored in a box. When the box was finally full I took it to the curb and set it on fire. The next day I went out and got a temp job. Luckily four months later I got a call from a publisher saying that my manuscript had been accepted. I quit my temp job immediately and went back to writing full time.
BS: Is it difficult to keep things fresh when writing a series that is as long-running as the Stephanie Plum series of books? Did you intend for the series to be as on-going as it has been? Is there an end in sight?
JE: Yes it is hard to keep things fresh, but I still enjoy it and have no plans to end the series at this time.
TH: You have long worked at the side of your daughter Alex. In fact, a graphic novel titled Troublemaker 2 will be released soon-- this is the second graphic novel that you have worked on with your daughter. Can you discuss that professional family connection and the work you have done together?
JE: Working together on the graphic novel story was really great. My whole family is involved with my career - it's really a family business. Alex started as my webmaster and now is on top of all the ongoing electronic outreach like the website, Facebook and Twitter. My son Peter is my agent and my husband Pete is in charge of the finances for the company.
BS: You recently started a new series involving the character Diesel from the Plum books. I understand that there will be a new title in the series each fall to go along with the Stephanie Plum numbered books each spring. Why did you decide to take this direction with your characters? Furthermore, is it difficult switching from the mind of Diesel to the mind of Stephanie-- so to speak-- when writing?
JE: I really liked writing the books with the Diesel character, but I never really intended him to be a part of the Plum world. Originally he was a one time, special holiday kind of guy. He was so popular (and fun to write about) that he came back for a couple other holidays, and has now moved into his own spot. I don't really write from Diesel's point of view. Since I write in first person and have no idea what goes on in men's heads, I chose to write the Diesel series from the point of view of Lizzy Tucker, Diesel's reluctant ally.
BS: Readers are obviously drawn to your books for humor and mystery-- have you ever had a difficult time balancing the two? I assume that some readers are drawn to one aspect of your writing style more than the other-- do you agree?
JE: I really wouldn't classify the books as mysteries. I prefer to say that they're adventures. And no, writing them with my tongue in my cheek is very natural. My readers run the gamut of ages across both genders. I like to think there's something for everyone -- some sex, some adventure, and a lot of pizza.
TH: It is common for authors to mesh their political agenda within the pages of their books-- I understand that is something you have strived to avoid in your writing directly. Why did you decide not to use your popular books as a vehicle to bring awareness to issues that you are involved with personally?
JE: I write to entertain. When people read one of my books I want them to finish with a smile on their faces, feeling a little bit better about themselves and the people in their lives.
BS: Finally, do you have any advice for authors who are having difficulty getting published? Furthermore, do you have any advice for developing characters that readers will associate with?
JE: Read as much as you can in the genre you want to write to learn how others do it. Then, sit your butt in the chair and write. In order to see a book through to the end, you have to have discipline, so carve out time every day -- no excuses. When you get ready to write your novel, outline it first. There's nothing worse than getting halfway through and realizing you've painted yourself in a plot corner. Make sure your main characters are likeable. They can be flawed, but your readers need to be able to root for them.
You can learn more about Janet Evanovich and her novels by visiting her personal website at www.evanovich.com
This interview was first published at briansherwin-artcritic.blogspot.com on Oct 31, 2010, and is reproduced with the permission of Brian Sherwin
Janet Evanovich discusses Twelve Sharp and much else, with Mike Hayward
Depressed after ten years of nothing but rejection notices,
Janet Evanovich had pretty much dumped her dream of becoming an author and
began working as an office temp. Then, something nice finally happened: a
telephone call from an editor offering to publish a short category romance novel
she had written months earlier under the name Stephie Hall. The 1980s
book, Hero at Large, opened the big door to the world of
professional writing. She went on to write 11 more category romances both under
her pen name and as Janet Evanovich. Then, as she admits, she "ran out of sexual
positions and decided to move into the mystery genre."
In the early 1990s, Evanovich took two years off from writing to
investigate the world of crime, "drinking beer with law enforcement types,
learning to shoot, practicing cussing." In 1994, a novel entitled One for
the Money introduced the world to Stephanie Plum, a sassy
and brassy Trenton, New Jersey ex-lingerie sales person turned bounty hunter.
While not quite an overnight sensation, the book was named a New York Times
"notable book, a Publishers Weekly "Best Book of 1994," and a USA
Today "Best Bet." The Plum novels have won numerous other literary awards
and continue to sit atop the national best-seller lists.
Evanovich denies that Stephanie is an autobiographical
character, but says "I will admit to knowing where she lives." And, indeed she
should; Evanovich grew up in Trenton and the character of the city plays an
important role in all her Plum novels.
In 1995, Evanovich and her husband moved to New Hampshire, "...a
good place to write a book," she says, "and would be even better if we just had
a decent mall. You can take the girl out of Jersey, but you can't take Jersey
out of the girl."
BB: Given the success of your previous
Stephanie Plum mystery novels, I'm certain that the current book tour will
be "standing room only." How does this compare with your earlier book tours?
JE: I didn't tour as a romance writer. When I
started touring for the Plum series I was mostly going to independent mystery
stores. The people were great but the crowds were small. Frequently I didn't
sell any books. I shlepped around by myself staying in budget hotels, eating
candy bars because the schedule didn't include lunch. It was a demoralizing,
depressing experience, and I spent a lot of time crying myself to sleep. My
signings now run anywhere from 400 to 5,000 people. I travel with my webmaster
daughter, Alex, and usually my L.A. escort, Ken Wilson, who works as trouble
shooter. Having that many people to a signing carries a whole other set of
responsibilities. It requires water, and toilets, and lots of books, and wrist
bands so they don't have to stand in line for six hours, and entertainment so
they don't get bored. And lots of Advil for me. The human thumb wasn't meant to
sign 5,000 books in a single sitting. This book tour we're at Foxwoods with a
Tom Jones impersonator. Bring extra panties. Woohoo!
BB: Your daughter, Alex, has pulled so much
interesting material together for fans visiting your website that many view the
experience as enjoyable as reading one of your books. How much interaction do
you have with you fans at evanovich.com?
JE: Alex and I do the Q&A a couple times a week
and we read every e-mail. An automatic response goes out when the e-mail
comes in but somewhere in the next five days a human being reads the e-mail. We
get about 9 million hits a months so needless to say there's a lot of mail.
BB: Let's come back to your early writing days.
You've confessed to suffering through years of rejection notices. How and at
what point did things really start turning around for you?
JE: When I made my first sale with Hero at
Large. And then again when I sold the Plum series. Still, the early years
with Plum were a struggle. I've kind of inched my way up the ladder of success.
Finally making the Times list was a biggy.
BB: While we're sure that your early romance
novels are fast becoming collectibles, it's your work in mystery-adventure
writing that has everyone heading for the bookstore. Here's the stock question:
Why and how did you shift away from the romance genre for, let's say, "guns and
JE: By about the sixth romance I knew I wasn't in
exactly the right place. I liked writing action. And I wanted to write a book
with a little more edge than I was allowed in romance (remember this was over
thirteen years ago when there were a lot of rules associated with romance).
BB: On evanovich.com, fans get to vote for
who they think should play the main characters in the movie version of your
first Stephanie Plum novel, One for the Money. Sandra Bullock as
Stephanie and Queen Latifah as sidekick Lula seem to be the front-runners, with
Hugh Jackman and athlete-turned-actor "The Rock" as Stephanie's love interests.
What's your prediction as to if and when we might see your characters on the big
JE: TriStar bought One for the Money
thirteen years ago and it has been in "preproduction" every since. Hard to
believe they've been sitting on this multi-million dollar franchise for all
these years but go figure.
BB: Just to further impress you with your
popularity, we've polled our Evanovich-fan neighbors about the burning
question we should ask you, and they all want to know: Are you really the
writer-workaholic you've confessed to being, or (as you've also admitted) do you
just really enjoy spending all the money your books bring in?
JE: Yes, to both. I'm for sure a workaholic. I'm a
complete control freak and I take on way too many projects. I also think money
isn't any good sitting around, so I spend some time in the shoe department at
BB: I think most people from New Jersey are amused
at how often the state turns up as a joke or punch-line in the media. Your
heroine, very much like you, is Jersey born-and-raised. She lives and works in
"the burg" in Trenton where you lived. Do you ever miss New Jersey?
JE: I miss all kinds of things about Jersey. I
miss the people, the attitude, the energy, the pizza, the Tastykakes, Point
Pleasant, Jersey weddings, and the challenge of driving the Turnpike from Newark
to New Brunswick.
BB: Any thoughts about if (and when) you might
marry off Stephanie Plum and have her "settle down" so that you can move on to
new books with different characters?
JE: Good heavens, man, my fans would burn my house
down! No, no, no!!
BB: When you were first starting out in your
writing career, you were quoted as saying something to the effect that "romance
novels are birthday cake while life is often peanut butter and jelly." What's on
the menu when you're writing Stephanie Plum mysteries?
JE: Pizza and beer
and Cheez Doodles!