Interview with Janet Evanovich

September, 2010

Janet Evanovich You may find her on the crime shelf, but Janet Evanovich says she's always writing adventure stories at heart. After an early career in romance novels, Evanovich found her enduring heroine in One for the Money, a mystery that stars a bumbling but charming bounty hunter from Trenton, New Jersey. Tales of sassy Stephanie Plum continued in Two for the Dough and Three to Get Deadly, counting all the way up to Sizzling Sixteen. Her new book, Wicked Appetite, spins off the mysterious character of Diesel into his own Unmentionables series. Filled with supernatural elements, Wicked Appetite is an entirely fresh, slightly magical adventure involving the seven deadly sins, lots of cupcakes, and a ninja cat. Evanovich chatted with Goodreads about why romance blossoms in phone booths and how she's never had more fun writing a book.

Goodreads: You've dabbled in paranormal fantasy before, but would you say that Wicked Appetite signals a major shift away from crime fiction?

Janet Evanovich: No, and in fact, I don't think this is paranormal fantasy. Maybe it dips its toe in there somewhere, but I think this is an adventure story. The hero, Diesel (who was previously in four books attached to the Plum series), is what I call an "Unmentionable." He has abilities that are a little bit beyond normal, but I don't think he goes into the paranormal fantasy range. The truth is that when I started this I thought to myself, "This could exist, right? How do we know who is living next door to us?" A guy who wins the lottery twice in a row. He could just have this little bit extra ability somehow that he picks the right ticket. The guy who always finds the right parking place. Maybe there's just something special about him that we don't know about.

In the Plum series I have a hero, Ranger. Ranger has some abilities that are not easy to explain: He can open doors. Stephanie Plum has no idea how he does it. He gets into her condo. She can have chains latched, she can throw bolts—we don't know how he does it, but he can open doors. Ranger was what led me to Diesel. I thought, If I just take a hero a fraction of an inch further, wouldn't that be fun?

GR: When did you know that you wanted to develop a fresh series around the character of Diesel?

JE: I always did. Keeping Diesel in the world of Plum was always difficult, because maybe he is not quite normal, and the world of Plum is so normal. So when I moved him out [for Wicked Appetite], it really opened me up and gave me a lot more freedom. This was probably the most fun book I've ever written. When I would get up in the morning and I started writing, Diesel was in his own world, and it was like hearing the "Hallelujah" chorus playing in my head. It is much more fun creating a whole new world and cast of characters. I did bring Carl the monkey with me. Carl the monkey was from the world of Plum, but he now belongs to Diesel.

GR: Whether Diesel likes it or not.

JE: Yeah, we're not sure.

GR: Although Diesel and Carl will be familiar to your readers, the series's true center (and its narrator) is a brand-new character: a pastry chef and unlikely heroine named Lizzy Tucker. How do her sleuthing skills compare to Stephanie Plum's?

JE: I think she's similar in that she is a very approachable, normal young woman with all of the same problems and aspirations that we all have. She has bad hair days, she has money issues, she's struggling to establish a career for herself, there's not a man in her life. The difference is that she is also an Unmentionable. She doesn't realize this at the beginning of the book, but she has her own special set of skills that Diesel does not have. It turns out that these are two people who really do need each other. They need to work together to solve this really bad problem.

When I first started out writing romance novels, the rule was, If you want to set up a lot of sexual tension, make sure the people have issues between them. You put them in a phone booth. You make sure they can't get away from each other by putting them in a confined space, which is what happened here. They are in a confined space and need each other. Maybe they don't like each other; maybe they wish things were different sometimes, but they definitely are in a confined space together.

GR: Lizzy inherits a house from her late Aunt Sophie near Salem, Massachusetts. Is Salem really as kooky as you describe it?

JE: Yes, it is! Salem is nuts. You're walking down the street, and there's the wax museum and the witches' houses. There will be a perfectly ordinary office building, a little restaurant, and then there will be some dungeon you can visit. The whole thing is very touristy, but it has lived up to its reputation. This is, after all, where the Salem witch trials took place. I thought [this setting] lent itself to this feeling of anything can happen. Who are we to say? Maybe you could be walking down the street and you could come across a book of spells. It could work, right? You could buy a broom at the hardware store, and maybe when the lights go out at night and no one's looking, it could fly. We don't really know these things.

If you're going to have an ongoing series, it's good to write about some place you know. My New Hampshire house is up for sale, but when we were living there, we spent a lot of time in Boston because I had to have my shopping fix. (I'm from New Jersey! Give me a break.) From time to time I would go up to Boston's North Shore to Salem and Marblehead. So I got to know it. My daughter liked it so much, she bought a little house in Marblehead, a little town next to Salem that is absolutely New England normal. This is where the heroine lives, in a little, historic house (that looks a lot like my daughter's historic house). I hesitate to use the word magical, because I don't want people to think that I'm lost in the world of vampires and sorcerers, but I like the idea that there's a little history of magic, maybe, or sorcery [in Salem]. Not in the real world, but this historical stereotype. Stereotypes are fun. When I set the Plum series in New Jersey, I made good use of stereotypes. Everyone understands it and looks forward to it. There is a reason for it, because there is some truth to it.

GR: The New Jersey and Salem stereotypes are fertile ground for humor, but writing for laughs can be tricky. Do you set out to make your books funny?

JE: Humor comes pretty naturally to me. The hard parts for me are the more serious parts: the narrative parts, the introspection, the mechanical parts like transitions, making the book move smoothly from one scene to the next. I think these are all very difficult skills.

The humor comes naturally, but I think where you have to be very careful with humor is not to straggle over that line where it becomes sarcasm. What I'm doing is creating characters that I want people to love. They aren't perfect. They're flawed and get into all kinds of messes. Even though in the Plum series, for instance, Lula is a little bit outrageous—she's a former ho, her clothes are a little bit too tight, and she wears a lot of animal prints. She's kind of out there in her attitude. You always have to be careful not to take that so far that she becomes unappealing to the reader.

GR: Goodreads member Rachel asks, "Do you have a plan for the ending of the Stephanie Plum series?"

JE: Yes, I have a plan in mind, but I'm not telling anyone. I'm also not telling anyone when I'm ending it. I have no intention of ending it anytime soon.

GR: Goodreads member Pam writes, "I would like to ask Janet if she was stranded on a deserted island, who would she pick to be stranded with (and why): Morelli or Ranger?"

JE: If I was on a desert island, it would have to be Ranger. If I was stranded in a pizza place, it would be Morelli. I think the desert island is Ranger's area. He'd be more fun.

GR: Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?

JE: I actually have two very distinct days. In the morning I'm the creative person writing books, and in the afternoon I'm Janet the businessperson. I'm up at 5 a.m., I go downstairs, make coffee, and get a yogurt out of the refrigerator. My little dog Ollie and I go to my office where Ida, my parrot, is waiting for us. This is my favorite part of my day. I sit down at my computer, and I get to go into the world of Plum or the world of Alex Barnaby or the Wicked world. While I've been sleeping my head has filled up with all of these ideas. The first hour and a half is just joy. It's the best part of my day. Then after that my head empties out, and it gets a little tougher to pull out those ideas. I work through the morning until noon, then in the afternoon I take care of business. If you've ever read my books, you'll know that I have terrible food issues. I love all food. I love bad food and good food. I love a glass of wine and a glass of beer. So at 4 p.m. the trainer or Pilates instructor shows up, and they make me work for an hour.

GR: What authors, books, or ideas have influenced you as a writer?

JE: Probably the person that influenced me most was Carl Barks, because when I was a little girl, I read Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge, and Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and they were always going off on adventures to the Klondike, the moon, and the Amazon. Donald was always after a treasure. They would get the treasure and bring it back to Duckburg, and they'd convert it into quarters or something, put it into his big money bin, and push it around with a bulldozer. That is what I always wanted to do. I still do. I aspire to having a money bin some day and pushing all of it around with a bulldozer. Seriously, it gave me a love for the adventure novel. I was a big comic book reader. We actually just put out our first comic book, Troublemaker, which was a total labor of love. I absolutely adore it. When I have a moment, I just leaf through. I love the pictures, the story, everything about it.

I started out as a romance writer, and I think that probably the reason that I went into romance was Nora Roberts. I just love Nora Roberts's books. I also fell in love with Amanda Quick. The first time I went to London I knew where I was going because I had been reading Regency romances. Then when I decided to move out of romance into crime, I read a lot of Robert B. Parker. The Spenser books with Hawk. He was such a wordsmith. His books were so pristine, very linear, and very reader friendly. That was a very strong influence on me. I don't think books should be difficult to read. As an author, I work hard so my readers don't have to. I don't want anyone to have to sit with a dictionary and have to look words up when they are reading my books.

GR: You sold the film rights for One for the Money in 1993, and it finally just started filming in summer of 2010. How does it feel to see it getting made after all this time?

JE: I'm really happy for the fans. It's a little after the fact for me. I love writing the books. Once it leaves my desk and goes to the publisher and eventually to the bookstore, it belongs to the readers. So I'm possibly not as excited about the movie as some of my readers are, only because I'm not involved in the process. [The fans] have wanted a movie. They all had their favorites of who they wanted to be Stephanie, Grandma, and Lula. Some of them got their favorites and some didn't, but I do think they did a great job of casting the movie. So I'm hoping it turns out well.

GR: What are you working on next? And how will you juggle plot lines with a new series to add to your already full writing schedule?

JE: I am currently working on the next book in the Plum series, Seventeen. I like that I move from one world to the next. That I'm in someone's head for several months, then I get to move out of that. I was worried it was going to be a little confusing, but what I found was that it is actually very enriching. There is something about being in Stephanie Plum's head and then moving to being in Lizzy Tucker's head. I'm seeing things in a totally different perspective. When I was done with Wicked Appetite and went back to write the Plum, I felt like her character expanded for me because I had vacationed from it for a little bit. When I came back, there was something fresh. I enjoyed being there and felt that I knew more about her. I feel that Sizzling Sixteen is probably the most interesting portrayal of Stephanie Plum that I have had in all of my books. We see just a little bit more of her and that she had grown a little bit. So I like moving around between the series.


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Comments (showing 1-28 of 28) (28 new)

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message 1: by Mary (new)

Mary Raihofer I have never read any of Janet Evanovich's work but I enjoyed learning about the author herself. The interview helped create a point of reference for me and knowing a bit about the author, her appreciation of historical context, her writing day and her joys helped create a writer that I would enjoy reading. Looking forward to her latest book. Winterwhite


message 2: by Sandy (new)

Sandy I can hardly wait to see the movie.....I think the casting of Sherry
Sheppard as Lulu is incredibly exciting...she's perfect...Katherine Heigel...not so sure, but we have to give her a chance. Morelli...hmmm...we'll see and the actor that plays Ranger is just what I thought he would look like.


message 3: by Mary (new)

Mary Raihofer Now you are creating some excitement here! Need to read at least two of her books before seeing the movie. Thanks for motivating. Winterwhite.


message 4: by Bryony (new)

Bryony Yes! I LOVE the Plum series, and am so glad that Janet Evanovich is planning to continue on with it!! Am also excited to read more Diesel books - the between-the-numbers Plum books were always some of my faves. Thank you!!!


message 5: by Diane (new)

Diane Conley The only criticism is that I have to wait a whole year for the next Book and I will finish the book in one day. Can't wait till the 14th to get Wicked Appetite. In fact I have a Nook (love it by the way) and will be up at midnight to down load it. May not get much sleep that night.


message 6: by Sherry (new)

Sherry I have read all sixteen of the Plum series. Always a fun read. My husband has also read all sixteen, and he doesn't read just anything. If a book doesn't have a rapid pace from the get-go he puts it down. It's quite an achievement to get him to stick to any author past two books. I always love Evanovich interviews she's as fresh, as intelligent, yet approachable, and as funny as her heroines. Cudos to her. I can't wait to see the bulldozer pushing money in one of her scenes.


message 7: by Diane (new)

Diane Conley I have read all of the books too and most of them more than once plus the between the plums. Can't wait for everyone to come out!


message 8: by Angie (new)

Angie Love this!


message 9: by Sherry (new)

Sherry Sandy wrote: "I can hardly wait to see the movie.....I think the casting of Sherry
Sheppard as Lulu is incredibly exciting...she's perfect...Katherine Heigel...not so sure, but we have to give her a chance. M..."


I agree about Katherine Heigel. I always saw Sandra Bullock in that role. But Heigel has a good sense of comedy. She might be great.


message 10: by Michael (new)

Michael crage I appreciate the article. I am going to my library site and reserve some of Janet Evanovich's books right after I leave here.


message 11: by Sherry (new)

Sherry Gabi wrote: "I will give the library a nudge. Love your Stephanie Plum series........There's a Movie??? Katherine Heigel, I know the name - what has she been in that I should remember.... Oh please, please let ..."
I first saw her on "Grey's Anatomy," Pretty blond nurse. Since then several Appatow (sp?) comedies.


message 12: by Dawn (new)

Dawn Kunda Your new series, Wicked Appetite, sounds scrumptious. I like the idea that the main characters have the little something extra, but not too much.
By the way, Janet, when I first began to write, your book on writing (can't conjure up the name at the moment) was my first purchase. It's earflapped, highllighted, and ragged, now sitting on my "special" bookshef.
Thanks for your diligence and passing on your kowledge.


message 13: by Sherry (new)

Sherry Dawn wrote: "Your new series, Wicked Appetite, sounds scrumptious. I like the idea that the main characters have the little something extra, but not too much.
By the way, Janet, when I first began to write, yo..."

If you remember the name of the book on writing, please post. I would love to read it.


message 14: by Dawn (new)

Dawn Kunda I went to my library and pulled it from it's special shelf, which I was too lazy to do before. It's titled "How I Write, Secrets of a Bestselling Author" by Janet and Ina Yalof.
I like that it's written with intelligence and fun to read!


message 15: by Sherry (new)

Sherry Dawn wrote: "I went to my library and pulled it from it's special shelf, which I was too lazy to do before. It's titled "How I Write, Secrets of a Bestselling Author" by Janet and Ina Yalof.
I like that it's ..."

Thanks, I'll get it!


message 16: by Sherry (new)

Sherry I don't know -- when she became a member of the rock band and they rehearsed at the house. I think I laughed out very loud!


message 17: by Vikki (new)

Vikki Parman I love the Plum books, many times I have laughed out loud while reading.


message 18: by Barbara (new)

Barbara My daughter introduced me to the Stephanie Plum books and I introduced my husband. We all love them. They are just so much fun! We all love Grandma the best. Not all reading has to be literature -- sometimes it's great just to read for enjoyment. Thanks, Janet!


message 19: by Barbarakeely (new)

Barbarakeely I have read every Plum book written. Wicked Appetite has been ordered and I am looking forward to reading it. As for the movie, I can hardly wait. I thought Sandra Bullock would make a great Stephanie. I love the character of Grandma Mazur. Would like to know who they chose for that role. I think Debbie Reynolds would be perfect for that part.


message 20: by Marna (new)

Marna I laugh out loud through Janet's books continually. I love the Plum numbers series, and the in-between books I love even more. I am so delighted to hear there's a new series with Diesel in it--I've been actually wanting that and thinking about that. To know that it's here is very fun and exciting. Thank you, Janet!


message 21: by Sherry (new)

Sherry I'll put my vote in for Betty White as Grandma Mazur.


message 22: by Vicky (new)

Vicky Van Interesting to read about the influence of Robert B Parker on Janet. I love his books because he creates a world using very spare language. He takes the reader on a fairground ride. Janet does the same. It's almost as though she gives a gift to the reader who has fun unwrapping the present. Thanks for such entertaining reading and we appreciate the hard work that has gone into it


message 23: by Joanne (new)

Joanne I love love love the Stephanie Plum series. Sherry Shepherd will be great as Lula. I also would've loved Sandra Bullock in the role of Stephanie, but probably couldn't afford her, hence Katherice Heigl. So looking forward to the movie!!! Can't wait to read Wicked Appetite!


message 24: by Jeanette (new)

Jeanette I love the Plum series and have read them all, including the "Diesel" ones. I always saw Sherry Shepherd as Lula when I read the books, before I knew a movie would be made with her in it as Lula. Great! Somehow I don't see Katherine Heigl but hopefully they'll make her up to seem like Stephanie. Who will be Ranger and Morelli?


message 25: by Sherry (new)

Sherry Diesel gets together with Lula in the last one -- 15. Very funny! He's in most of them in the teens, I think. He ends up guarding Stephanie a lot, when Ranger wants to keep an eye on her.


message 26: by Jeanette (new)

Jeanette Diesel may appear occasionally in the number series, but he is actually featured in the "outside the numbers" books, such as "Plum Lucky". He is usually the main character in those books. Ranger has a man named Tank who guards Stephanie. At one time Tank and Lula were engaged but that fell apart. Do I sound like a fan, or what?


message 27: by Sherry (new)

Sherry Oh, right! Now I remember. Obviously I get Tank and Diesel mixed up sometimes. I guess its the gas used in a Tank. (my only excuse except senility) I love the relationship of Tank and Lula. I'm glad it's Diesel and not Tank whose leaving.


message 28: by Jessica (new)

Jessica I love all of her books. They are so funny and once I start a book I have a hard time putting the book down. My grandmother started me on reading books by Janet Evanovich and I love them all. I wasn't aware at first that they all went in order but I caught on.


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