“I always wanted to be rich and famous, and I am!”
Janet Evanovich was anything but subtle in her appearance at the Texas Book Festival, where she declared “I think of myself as an entertainer.” The 79-year-old author, worth a reported $140 million, has sold 200 million books – but not the sort that wins the Pulitzer or Nobel. While her most popular series, which began in 1994, are the Stephanie Plum books (29 so far), Evanovich’s career began in a different genre in 1987.
“I started out writing romance novels. I did 12 of them but after book 7, I started running out of positions!,” a remark greeting by raucous laughter.
“So I needed to go to a different place and decided on the crime genre. I took a year off to decide what I loved about romance that I wanted to take into the crime with me. I brought with me the bad boy heroes from romance: they have their own moral code that don’t necessarily adhere to the rest of society. It makes for very interesting character, a man of mystery.”
“I was able to use language that I was used to growing up in New Jersey, and I was trying to find something I would be comfortable with. I didn’t want to do a cop or a PI, but I saw the movie Midnight Crime with Charles Grodin and Robert de Niro. It’s about a bounty hunter, and it appealed to me. That’s how Stephanie became a bounty hunter: Stephanie is not me , but I do know a lot about her. I hung out with a bunch of bail bondsmen in Virginia. These guys would take me into certain sections of DC. That’s really how Stephanie came about.”
“I find it very hard to write without humour, so that’s an easy part for me, the serious part is hard for me. The nuts and bolts of writing are hard. Sometimes I spend days writing about transitions – how to move people through space or a different time seamlessly or effortlessly. But the action scenes are pretty easy to write. When I write I start with a very basic outline: I know the beginning and end and a few things in the middle. Reading should not be hard, it should be enjoyable and should be a pleasure.”
“When I started writing about Stephanie I wanted to do a series because I’d been writing these little romances and I’d been writing them so quickly (2 or 3 a year) I had to keep their names above my computer screen to remember who I was writing about. So I wanted to stay with it for a while: be careful what you wish for! It was has lasted 28 years now.”
The Stephanie Plum series appeals to a diverse group of readers, not just as an escape to the female audience. With characters like Ranger one draws in the gay audience and Joe Morelli who has draw of the macho audience. Evanovich even can make the role of a prostitute funny and benign enough as to be very funny and relatable and not offensive to even the most puritan reader.
A key character in the books is Grandma Mazur, who Evanovich said is a combination of both her own grandmothers. “They were amazing ladies: very strong women but very different. When I was a little girl I lived in a big extended family in a small town. There wasn’t a lot to do but we had two really good funeral parlours so in the afternoon everybody would go over to my aunt’s house, sit in the kitchen and go over the obituaries. They would decide who they would visit that night. It was like you would go to bingo two nights a week and the funeral parlour three or four.” The author said the only real ‘adult in the room’ is Stephanie’s Mom, as both Stephanie and Grandma Mazur are on the same plane. “That’s why she drinks a lot,” quipped Evanovich. Grandma represents the ‘skeleton’ character in many of the readers audience: one that is loved but rarely talked about.
Another key character is Lula. “When I wrote the second book I kept thinking about Lula. There was something about that character that appealed to me. She’s sort of been taking over the series ever since. I have to be real careful that she doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the characters because she’s such a favourite of mine! I can do things with Lula I can’t do with anybody else. She’s been a ho all these years,” but Evanovich, at the behest of her new book editor, decided a better description would be ‘erectile engineer’ or ‘organ grinder.’
Each character is so multifaceted that if allowed one could dominate and be a series unto itself.
So what about taking the Stephanie books to the big screen? “For years I thought Sandra Bullock would have been a great Stephanie, but that ship sailed! Then I thought, and still do, that Anna Kendrick would be great. I have never been able to find precisely the right person.” She thought the 2012 film One for the Money was miscast, “but I did like Katherine Heigl, she did a pretty decent job.”
Even Evanovich admits “I am not a literary person.” Candid, frank and honest! While the lasting value of all this output is problematic at best, she is riding high now and offered a down-to-earth look at her life and career that was clearly appreciated by the sold-out audience in Austin.
This literary nitch may never rank with War and Peace but does provide escapism for the reader that is critical in today’s volatile and dark society. So strange as it sounds the world needs more of Evanovich to keep the world on an even keel. So bring it on Evanovich. You have earned a rightful place in the literary world.
Article and Photo by M. Emanuele