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Evanovich makes her business a family affair

October 8, 2000
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us

Janet Evanovich has turned being a best-selling author into a family affair.

She is the writer of a hugely successful series of novels featuring bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. Her son, Peter, 30, a Dartmouth college graduate, is her financial manager. Her daughter, Alex, 27, who lives in San Francisco, is her Webmaster (the Website at www.evanovich.com gets 1 million hits a month). Her husband, Peter, is her business manager.

She and her husband live in a big old house in Hanover, N.H.

"I'm pretty luck to have a talented family and we get along pretty well," Evanovich said. "They have personal freedom and no rules." Evanovich was speaking from a hotel room in Chicago while she was on tour recently promoting her latest book, "Hot Six."

Evanovich said that she got married between her junior and senior year of college while her husband, Peter, worked on his Ph.D. from Rutgers.

"Then for many years I was a stay-at-home mom with two kids," she said. "My identity was that of a wife and mother."

When Evanovich began to be successful, she had some difficulty adapting to her new role. Her children and husband took it in stride.

"It's a change," she admitted. "But a nice one."

What's even more surprising, perhaps, is the fact that Evanovich was not an English major in college. She was an art major at Douglass College (part of Rutgers), but as the years went by her writing couldn't be denied.

It's easy to compare Evanovich to another fabulously successful mystery writer, Sue Grafton, and her Southern Californian sleuth Kinsey Millhone. You might say that Grafton is to the West Coast sleuthing business what Evanovich is to the East Coast.

Evanovich is flattered by the comparison.

"Sue Grafton is the queen of the female private investigators," she said. "And she was to a large extent responsible for Stephanie Plum. But when I was reading Sue I didn't want to compete with her so I wrote an anti-Sue Grafton novel.

"By that I mean my character Stephanie is different from Sue's character Kinsey. Kinsey is a loner who doesn't care about clothes, hates to shop, and doesn't hesitate to pick up nail scissors to trim her hair.

"Stephanie is surrounded by a huge extended family, loves clothes, lives to shop and takes time on her hair. She wouldn't let a pair of nail scissors near her head. I'm a Jersey girl and so is Stephanie," Evanovich said.

"I offer the reader something different, a choice," she added. "So don't stop reading Sue Grafton, but read me, too."

Evanovich was born in South River, N.J., 35 minutes from Trenton, where her novels are set. Her one complaint about her new home in Hanover is that there are no nearby malls, a typical Jersey girl reaction.

Evanovich's character, Stephanie Plum, is a bounty hunter. But this in reality is a job with which Evanovich has had no first-hand experience. And although she got to know several local bounty hunters in New Jersey, none would take her along on any of their arrests.

"Here I was a slightly overweight, middle-aged white lady," Evanovich said. "They would never take me with them on any of their busts but I did ride around with them and got to know their routines and equipment."

When "High Five," the fifth Stephanie Plum thriller (available now in paperback) opens, Plum is looking for her missing uncle Fred. Along the way she encounters photos of a dead body, a nasty bookie who might be a cop, her stun-gun toting grandmother (classic scene: grandma finds Stephanie's stun gun and tries it out on her son-in-law during dinner), two very sexy men and a very angry, very short man who ends up living in her apartment.

Here's another thing that Grafton and Evanovich have in common: they are both very, very funny writers.

"You have to be careful with humor," says Evanovich. "You can't force it. I've noticed that humor is to a large extent point of view. I call what I write docu-comedies as opposed to docu-dramas. When I start out I'm writing a serious book, but I take a different perspective and a satirical look at people."

Whatever, it works.

What, then, does Evanovich find difficult about this successful life she's leading, surrounded by family and friends?

"The more difficult transition to make is from the public Janet to the private Janet, " she said. "I'm a real ham. I love being on stage. The hard part for me is coming home from the book tour and not talking about myself for 22 hours a day. Then I come home, put on my sweats, and go to the supermarket."

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