Corrections or additions?
This article by Tricia Fagan was prepared for the June 12, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
This Writer’s Plum Perfect in the Capital City
It has been four years since we last spoke. Janet Evanovich
is still in New Hampshire, she’s still unleashing her sexy "Burgerbit"
anti-heroine, Stephanie Plum in laugh-out-loud style, she still misses
New Jersey’s people and food ("You can’t get Tastykakes or Taylor
Pork Roll sandwiches up here!") — but some things have changed.
For one thing, her house is getting bigger. Forty-two construction
guys have been putting an addition on her country home since last
August. It’s almost completed, but Evanovich is at her wit’s end.
"I’m supposed to be working on my next book and all I think about
in bed every night is molding!" She has juiced up Stephanie Plum’s
romantic life. Ranger, the dangerously elusive bounty hunter, now
vies regularly with handsome Trenton cop, Joe Morelli, and Plum’s
steadfast hamster, Rex, for her time and affection. And Evanovich,
a relative "unknown" mystery writer just four short years
ago, has debuted her last two Stephanie Plum books at No. 1 on the
New York Times best-seller list.
Now she’s about to release her latest Plum book, "Hard Eight,"
in classic Evanovich style. And Stephanie’s hometown — Trenton
— is one of her first stops.
Readers can join writer Janet Evanovich on Saturday, June 22, at noon
at Trenton’s spiffy new Lafayette Yard Marriott for "Burgival!,"
a free book-signing — Plum-style. This is one of two gala "fly-in"
events that Evanovich is hosting for her fans this year. (The first
"Plumtacular" event takes place in New York City on Thursday,
June 20. For information, visit the author’s website at www.evanovich.com)
Cameras and appetites are welcomed to Evanovich’s Trenton party that’s
"sort of like a small street festival . . . only it takes place
in the Marriott." Burg restaurants, including Marsilio’s, Baldassari’s,
the Italian People’s Bakery will offer some tasty Burg cuisine, and
"special Trenton Guests" including bail bondsman Les Sebring,
whose fabulous legs are featured in "Hard Eight." The area
band the Nerds will perform in the ballroom.
Asked about her "sudden" U.S. celebrity, Evanovich is matter-of-fact.
"I think that I just, finally, reached a critical mass with readers,"
she says. "When you start out really small, like I did — with
print runs of about 12,000 books or so — you’re building your
audience very slowly, mostly through word of mouth. But after a while
that word of mouth reaches larger and larger audiences. I also believe
that my website and newsletter, both designed and run by my daughter
Alex, have been an enormous help in building a fan base for my books."
Evanovich’s personal commitment to her fans has to be another factor.
Although her website averages a million hits a week, and fan mail
pours in daily, Evanovich and her family continue to read every letter
and E-mail. "We may not be able to answer every one individually
any more, but we read them all," she says. "How else am I
going to stay in touch with what they’re thinking?"
Her lively relationship with her fans also led the fun-loving Evanovich
to rethink her traditional book tours.
"I decided a couple of years ago that book signings were, frankly,
boring. Around that time I had discovered that a lot of my fans were
using vacation time to fly in to one of my appearances. I thought
we should be doing more for them." She decided to have at least
two "fly-in" multi-media fan events a year. This year’s New
York City "Plumtacular" promises to be one of the "biggest,
corniest stage shows imaginable," she says, complete with WWE
wrestlers and a seven-foot drag queen.
Evanovich is delighted to be hosting fans in Trenton’s
new hotel. "It’s been difficult without a bookstore in the city,"
she says. "I go down to Trenton regularly, and hang with some
wonderful cops I know there like Bob Shinger and Joe Juniak —
my good luck charm who’s appeared in everyone of my books. Joe’s going
to be there on Saturday." She is interested in the on-going changes
in Trenton, but she confides that Stephanie’s Trenton will probably
"The `world of Plum’ is really a combination of the South River
of my childhood — and Trenton of maybe 15 to 20 years ago,"
she says. "It’s a town of second-generation East European immigrants
like my Aunt Lena and my Grandma Fanny Schneider [both of whom add
their personal color to the outrageous character of Stephanie’s Grandma
Mazur]. These were the people I loved and grew up with, but they’re
clearly very familiar to others as well. I get letters from all over
the country saying, `I know people just like this.’"
Asked if she’s seen any changes in her writing in the past four years,
Evanovich thinks for a minute before saying that she thinks she’s
been learning more about being a mystery writer.
"I think that the crimes are better, the plots resolve more cohesively.
I would hope that I’ve matured as a mystery writer."
And has Stephanie changed? "Well . . . I think that maybe she’s
a little better as a bounty hunter," she replies hesitantly, "but,
I don’t know. What do you think?" When I tell her I find Stephanie
a little more connected, a little less frazzled, a little more secure
in her world, Evanovich laughs and says, "Thanks. Now I’ll know
what to say at my next interview."
Where she does see change is in her awareness of the business side
of being an author. "You look for a voice as an author, but I
think you also need to find a `voice’ for your book as a product.
The Stephanie Plum books started out as a mystery series, but we’ve
found that there is a much more diverse audience for them then that.
People were also being drawn to the books because they were funny
and, maybe, familiar," she says. One way she addressed this was
to go back and find a new cover style for the books that reflected
her product’s "voice."
"People need to have fun," she says. "They want to laugh
and there’s not a lot to laugh at out there right now. Having a book
that people talk about is really essential to creating a fan base.
Probably one of the biggest surprises for me in recent years has been
the increase in male readership. It used to be that male readers were
husbands who’d hear their wives laughing out loud in bed and pick
up the book to see what was so funny. I’ve also been surprised that
we’ve been getting fan mail from 12-year-olds. The letters are great,
though I had never expected the books to go down to that age level."
Evanovich may like to have fun, but she’s never far
away from her next project. As we speak, she’s working on the final
edits for "Visions of Sugar Plums," a holiday book that will
be released in November. Although she won’t give away the plot, she
does drop one bombshell for the Plum public: the book will introduce
a New Man into Stephanie’s life!
"Even more than mystery, I think that these books are about the
chase," she says. "There’s Stephanie’s chase after the characters
who have jumped their bail, and there’s the chase after the other
bad guys who are out to hurt her — but there’s also the romantic
chase. One of the great challenges in writing is keeping that chase
As fans know, Evanovich has kept it fresh by creating not one, but
two delicious men for Stephanie: Joe Morelli, the splendid sometimes-boyfriend
cop, and Ranger, the elusively sexy bounty hunter. Evanovich reports
that fans have definite opinions over which suitor should win —
and that those opinions have evened out in recent years.
"The response right now is about 50-50 for Morelli and Ranger,"
she says. "Morelli rates high with people who value commitment.
Of all my characters, he’s probably grown up the most over the years.
He’s still hot, but he has a steady job, owns his own home, and is
ready to settle down. But Ranger’s been gaining on Morelli lately.
There are a lot of people out there who just want to have a good time,
and they like Ranger!" There’s even a "Ranger Babes" convention
taking place at the Marriott to coincide with Evanovich’s Burgival.
Evanovich is also active in a national literacy campaign, using her
popularity to encourage reading.
"I’m co-branding for literacy with WWE (formerly WWF) wrestler
Lance Storm," she says. They met when Evanovich’s daughter, Alex,
rigged a vote on Storm’s website. He had given his website reading
group a chance to vote on a book to read and discuss online. Storm’s
wife, a big Plum fan, insisted that her husband include at least one
Evanovich book for a vote. When Evanovich’s webmaster daughter Alex,
discovered the vote was in process, she sent out an SOS to Plum fans
who responded in the thousands. After winning by a landslide, Evanovich
contacted Storm to confess, and the families have become good friends.
Handsome wrestlers, fine-legged bail bondsmen, seven-foot-tall drag
queens, rock and roll bands — it’s all good and it’s all fair
game for this Jersey girl when it comes to getting people reading.
"I love everything that makes reading fun for people," she
says. "There’s no reason why book events can’t be a great time
and great entertainment." Clearly the Stephanie Plum didn’t fall
far from this tree.
— Tricia Fagan
609-421-4000. Gala book signing at the new Marriott is a tour kick-off
for author Janet Evanovich and her best-selling Trenton bounty hunter
Stephanie Plum. Free. Saturday, June 22, noon.
with Janet Evanovich, "The Case of the Passionate Plum," was
published in U.S. 1 October 28, 1998. It can be read online at www.princetoninfo.com/81028p03.
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