For a woman who lives in New Hampshire, writer Janet Evanovich is really a quintessential Jersey girl. "I love New Jersey," she says in a phone interview from her home near Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. "New Hampshire is a great place to write but I really go into Jersey withdrawals. I miss the New Jersey pizzas. I miss the malls."
Evanovich, creator of the bestselling Stephanie Plum crime series – whose main character is a bounty hunter in Trenton – is going to get her fill of Jersey when she comes to Trenton for the inaugural Stephanie Plum Daze Festival on Saturday, June 25. A benefit for Crime Stoppers of Greater Trenton, an organization that provides cash rewards for information leading to the arrest of violent offenders, the event takes place at the Trenton Marriott and on Lafayette Street. The event marks Evanovich’s first appearance in Trenton since 2002, when over 2,500 fans packed downtown Trenton to meet her. "I have the world’s most amazing fans," says Evanovich. "We’re all like family." But it wasn’t always like that. In the early days, she says, she would show up for book readings, and no one would be there.
It won’t be that way in Trenton. Far from it. For her fans in Trenton, Evanovich wanted to do something really special – not just some regulation book signing. After all, bail-bondswoman Stephanie Plum does her thing right here in Chambersburg, chasing after bad guys and dealing with her somewhat dysfunctional extended family and her crush on a certain detective in a series of novels that GQ said are "among the great joys of contemporary crime fiction." The Stephanie Plum series has collectively sold more than 12 million copies.
For the city that provides the backdrop of her Plum novels, Evanovich wanted to do something big. For the inaugural Stephanie Plum Daze Festival, all of Lafayette Street will close down and some of Trenton’s best restaurants will be serving food at – Evanovich will love this – a mall-inspired "Food and Beverage Court." Bands will perform, Barnes & Noble will be on hand selling copies of the newest Plum book, "Eleven On Top," which was released on June 21, and Evanovich will be on hand to sign them and pose for photos with her fans. Guided trolley tours will be offered by Trenton Historical Society where participants will get to see famous Trenton landmarks from the Stephanie Plum book series.
There will be a national "Name That Character" raffle, where the grand prize winner gets to name a character in Evanovich’s next book (and get an autographed copy of the book when it is published). The winner will also receive a two-night stay for two at the Trenton Marriott, dinner for two with Evanovich, as well as transportation to and from Trenton. Ten second prize winners will receive an autographed copy of the as yet untitled #12 Stephanie Plum novel. The drawing will take place on September 13, 2005.
There will also be a raffle for four tickets to the July 10 performance of the Tony award winning musical, "Spamalot." The second place winner in the raffle wins a free night stay and dinner for two at the Archives Restaurant at the Trenton Marriott. Proceeds from both raffles, and the Food and Beverage court will benefit Crime Stoppers.
Although Evanovich grew up in New Jersey, her relationship with Trenton didn’t begin until she was an adult. Raised in South River, she went to Douglass College and majored in art, graduating in 1965. "I was always the kid that was drawing," she says. It wasn’t until she was older that she realized that her enjoyment of art came more from the stories she created about what she was drawing than from the drawing itself.
After marrying her husband, Peter, a math professor who was originally from Sayreville, and having two children, Evanovich became a stay-at-home mom. "I was very fortunate. We didn’t have fancy vacations, and we didn’t have the best furniture, but I was there." When her children went to school, she says, "it gave me an opportunity. I had a couple of hours every day to write."
It took Evanovich 10 years to get her first book published – a romance novel – in 1987. But after writing 11 more romance novels in five years, Evanovich decided to try out a different genre. Living in Virginia at the time, Evanovich began making the trip back up to New Jersey regularly when her father became ill; her parents had moved to Mercerville, and he was in the hospital at St. Francis Medical Center. "I’d come up and sit at my dad’s bedside and then walk around," she says. "That’s how I became familiar with the ‘burg."
Although her novels are considered crime novels, or mysteries, Evanovich says she likes to think of them as a sociology study. "I wanted to write about family. When I grew up, everybody sat on the front porch; I wanted to go back and write about the front porch sitters." She found that in Trenton. "There’s a real attitude of community there," she says.
She found that sense of community in the police department too. "When I was doing research they hooked me up with a PR guy, and every time I’d turn a corner, there’d be Joe Juniak saying: ‘I’m Joe Juniak; put me in the book!’" Now a captain, Juniak has made a cameo appearance in Plum books One through Ten, but he didn’t make it in "Eleven On Top." It wasn’t until she was finished with "Eleven", Evanovich says, that she realized that she had forgotten Juniak’s cameo spot. "I’ve given him a promotion in every book – police chief, mayor – I’m really going to have to come up with something special in the next one!"
Juniak might not need a promotion in the next book, because he’ll have a leg up in one of the events going on at the Plum Daze Festival. There will be a contest for the best dressed Stephanie Plum character, so although fans can expect to see plenty of Rangers, Grandma Mazurs, Cousin Vinnie’s, and Lula’s, Juniak is a ringer.
No matter who wins the contests, Evanovich, who has continued her support for the Trenton police department by donating horses to the Mounted Police Unit, is happy to participate in the Plum Daze Festival. "I have a lot of friends in the police department," she says. "That’s the best part of this event – that the money will go to Crime Stoppers."
Stephanie Plum Daze Festival, Saturday, June 25, 1 to 5 p.m. Trenton Marriott, One West Lafayette Street, Trenton. For more information visit www.stephanieplumdaze.com or www.trentoncrimestoppers.com