I admit, I was a latecomer to Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. But when I went on maternity leave, I was determined to enjoy my "free" (ha!) time and try something new, so I picked up One for the Money, which I had heard so much about. I was then completely hooked by the zany, untutored, but relentless bounty hunter Stephanie Plum and the over-the-top situations that Janet Evanovich put her in.
Twenty-three books later, Stephanie Plum is still knee-deep in trouble. Evanovich and I chatted on the phone about her newest book, Turbo Twenty-Three, Stephanie's quandary about her life, co-writing with other authors, and reaching readers in a digital age.
Amazon Book Review: Now that you're twenty-three books into the Stephanie Plum series, how do you keep it exciting for yourself?
Janet Evanovich: There are a couple of ways. One is the nature of the series. I really like the continuity of it, and I set some rules for myself in the beginning. I said she was thirty and I have not mentioned age since, because Stephanie and I are not aging. [Laughs.] But as you go through the series, you watch your characters evolve and grow. You can enjoy it for years as these people interact with other people, as their jobs change, as their needs change…and as the world changes! And so each book is a little reflection of the times and where that character is going. In this book, in Turbo Twenty-Three, Stephanie is realizing that she's very directionless. She's just wandering through life. She hasn't got any big goals. She's comparing herself to Ranger. And Ranger is in the business of repairing his karma—we don't know what his dark past is, but it's there—and his goal is to make the world a safer place and to make himself a better person. His goal is not to get married and have children, because he has a higher calling. Stephanie is looking at that and thinking to herself, Where do I fit in here? I'm involved with this man, I'm involved with another man who has very definite goals… And [she and Morelli] are thinking they're engaged to be engaged, but she's not sure because no one wants to talk about it. So she's in this quandary, this inner turmoil of coming to terms with all of this. That's the interesting part of this book for me.
I genuinely love getting up in the morning to go into that world. I leave my world, and I go into the world of Plum. I like the characters. I've got these two hot guys, and I've got Randy Briggs, who's only three feet tall. I've got Grandma Mazur, who is now inviting men into her bedroom, and Stephanie's mother is having a heart attack. The bottom line is that it's fun. I enjoy doing this.
And the other thing is that [keeping the Plum series exciting] is one of the reasons why I have the other series. Some of them were two- or three-book miniseries. Some are with coauthors. But it gives me a break so it's not all just Stephanie. Every now and then I get to get out of Stephanie's head and get to be in another woman's head. And the women in those other series are always pretty different from Stephanie. They are each their own person. I did the Wicked series, and the heroine there is really Buffy. Her mindset is so different from Stephanie. So when I go from Wicked to the world of Plum, it's all fresh again, and I'm happy to be there.
You're co-writing a couple different series now. What do you enjoy the most about collaborating with different writers?
They do a lot of the hard work! The way that we work is that we talk about where we're going to go: what the series is about, who the characters are, what this particular book is going to be about. And then I step back and let my coauthor write the book. And when the book is done, they give it to me, and I completely ruin it! [Laughs.] I just get my fingers in there and mess it up and put my stamp on it. Somehow it all works out. I get a new [book] but I get one that still meets my readers' expectations, which I think is critical.
My readers expect a certain kind of entertainment from me. They know I'm not going to kill any cats or dogs. They know it's going to turn out well. And I have a voice as a writer that I think my readers have become used to. So the books all have their own personalities, but I do Janet-ize it.
I like the collaborative process. I do like working with someone else. I enjoy my Plums and being on my own and working on my own, but it also is fun to have a little bit of a social interaction going on with another writer that you're working closely with.
Your Plum books have had alliterative titles since Fearless Fourteen. Now you're in the twenties, so you're going to have to come up with all these new "T" titles. Do you have any worries about that?
No. We try very hard not to have the titles mean anything at all. When you write this many books, you're just happy for a title that fits on the cover.
I hear people sometimes say that they are too busy to read—like it's something to be proud of! (I think they don't have their priorities straight.) How do you keep attracting readers' attention in a world with so many distractions?
Yes, well, I think what they're saying is probably true. But what is making them busy? We as authors and publishers and bookseller just have not found a way to compete, so that in people's busy days, they want to make that time for the reading experience. It's a hard problem. Some of us are tailoring our [books] more to help people enjoy reading in shorter bites, because we are competing with so many things, and people do have busy days. I took a lesson from [James] Patterson, who started making his chapters shorter. I always had twenty-page chapters, and he was making five-page chapters. And I thought, You know, that's not a bad idea. It gives people a sense of satisfaction, and they can go on with their busy day and then come back and read another ten pages—rather than feeling like they have to allocate a large chunk of time to this very serious endeavor of reading.
Huh. That's interesting. I hadn't thought of that.
I really think that the onus is on us to adapt to the changing world. Because there are readers out there who want to read. We just have to make it easier on them to make reading more enjoyable.
Or…do what you've been doing, which is write a completely addictive series.
Yes, but you know, even that is very difficult because you still have to inform [readers] that book is out there. If they are not on your email list, then they don't know. You can't even send out internet ads anymore because there's just so much that people don't pay attention to it. So even when you have a good, addictive series, it is very difficult to [reach] the consumer.… I have friends who are writers who just want to write their books. The kick for me is the audience. I started off as a painter. One of the reasons why I left is that the audience is too small; the communication was too obscure. I realized that I liked to talk to the world. That's what keeps me going—the communication. I have no social skills and don't have any friends [laughs], so I have to have all those readers out there that love me! It's my addiction! [Laughs.] If that's your goal and your addiction, you have to get smart, because you have to help people find your books.
Turbo Twenty-Three hits shelves on November 15, 2016.
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