Janet Evanovich, FORTUNE AND GLORY

Janet Evanovich, FORTUNE AND GLORY

Zibby Owens: Welcome, Janet. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Janet Evanovich: My pleasure. Fun to be here.

Zibby: Tantalizing Twenty-Seven, your latest book in the Stephanie Plum series, Fortune and Glory, congratulations on this one. Are you still getting excited when this is the twenty-seventh book in a series? Do you still get excited for pub day and all of that?

Janet: Yeah, I do. I usually get a little bit more excited when I can actually do book tour and go out and see everybody. This is a new experience for me, all this virtual stuff. It’s fun to have it out there because that’s why you write the book, so that other people can read it, especially for me because I think of myself as being the fun author. I don’t kill any good people in this book, only bad people. I look forward to it.

Zibby: You might argue that killing people at all does not make you a fun author. Just saying. There are some books where nobody dies at all. I read a lot about your background and how you got started and how your manuscripts were rejected and your romance novel career. I would like to hear a little more from you about how you became this powerhouse author of this hugely successful best-selling series in such an unexpected way if I were to tell you at age twenty that this is what would happen. Can you tell me a little more about getting started and how you kept the resolve to keep going?

Janet: I was this amazing overnight success that took twenty years. I wasn’t published until I was in my forties, which is amazing since I’m only thirty-five now.

Zibby: Exactly.

Janet: I was always the kid that could draw. I was not a big reader. I read comic books. I loved comic books. I still have a subscription to Uncle Scrooge. Being a writer was not something that I thought about as a kid or in high school or even in college. I was always a visual artist. Then I had a couple kids. I was at home. Painting just wasn’t working for me. What I realized is that what I always loved about painting was telling the story about the picture I was doing. I loved reading stories to my kids. All of a sudden, it was this thunderbolt moment that hit me. God, maybe I should be telling stories instead of painting pictures. I had no background. I didn’t know anyone who was a published author. I had very small literary background. I think I had English 101 in college. It took me to a long time to learn my skills to figure out where I wanted to go. I started out writing bizarre books because as a student in the Douglas College Art Department, I had teachers like Roy Lichtenstein and big guys that were really kind of out there. It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to say, who I was, where my voice was. The difference was that after about ten years of sending out stories and not having any success at all, I realized that it wasn’t enough for me to write for myself. I love to write. I enjoy it. I get up in the morning, and I go into my own world. It’s the world’s best job. You sit in this chair at five thirty in the morning. I go into some place. It’s almost like being an actress and assuming another role. What I realized is that if people weren’t reading it, it wasn’t any fun for me. It wasn’t enough that I was enjoying it.

When I realized that what I wanted to do was to write for other people and not for myself, that just made a huge difference. I started looking at audience and what books I was reading. I was a young mother. I knew about love and relationships and happiness. That was where I started, with the romance novels that I was reading. Actually, after about three years of that, I needed money. By then, my kids were looking at college. My husband has a doctorate in mathematics. He has a good job, but we were competing with two-income families. I was a stay-at-home mom. I really needed to get smarter about it. Not only did I have an audience to read my books, but I could help out with the family income. That was when I turned to the romance novels. Halfway through that, my son was at Dartmouth. The romance novels were not making enough money. I wasn’t reaching enough audience. It was a very finite audience that I had with romance novels. I decided to go into crime fiction. I had little snippets of adventures and crimes creeping into my romances anyway. I had a hard time with three hundred pages of relationship. It wasn’t my thing. There were many things I loved about romance. I tried to bring them over into the mystery genre. I wrote romance for, I guess it was five years, did twelve books, and then took a year off and tried to retool and figure out where I wanted to go.

Decided that it was in crime fiction. What I was going to do was I was going to take all the things I loved about romance and squash it into a mystery format. That’s what I did and sold the first book to Scribner. Had a fantastic editor, a really nice lady. She thought she was buying a mystery. It wasn’t much of a mystery. It really was kind of a sexy book with some romance in it and some characters that I found interesting. I knew I wanted to do a series, so I set it in New Jersey because that’s what I know. I gave my heroine, Stephanie Plum, a lot of my own history so I knew where she was going. I put it in Trenton. I spent a lot of time in Trenton. My parents lived just outside of Trenton at the time. That first book did not get me a lot of money, but it got me a start. I didn’t sell a lot of books. Mostly, I sold them to my relatives and my neighbors. By the second book, it started to pick up. By the third book, I was learning a lot about myself and a lot about where I wanted to go and a lot about my audience. The audience is the best part. I love my audience.

When I have signings and I go out and I get to meet everybody, it’s amazing. Whole families will come out to say hello to me, four generations and husbands. The husbands say things like, “I finally read one your books. I really liked it.” They were shocked because their wives had been reading me and had been laughing in bed. Finally, they took a look at it to see what it was too. I probably answered about fifteen questions now. Once I get started, especially about how this all happened to me — I’m the American dream. My grandparents immigrated to this country as indentured servants, domestics and factory workers. My dad and mom were the first to graduate from high school. My dad worked in a factory. My mom was a homemaker. I was the first to graduate from college. We didn’t have money for me to live in a dorm. I commuted. I was a commuting student at the state college in New Jersey and was an art student. Hate to admit this on air, but sort of supported myself with some shoplifting of groceries and art supplies when I had to.

Zibby: Oh, no!

Janet: Here I am. It’s amazing. This is a fantastic country. I’m the proof of the opportunity that you can have. I’ve been very lucky.

Zibby: It’s so nice to hear you say that because I feel like the American dream right now is this elusive concept. I feel like it’s so much less attainable than it used to be. It seems so impossible to achieve it. It’s so nice to see an example, particularly from a woman who’s saying, look, I can do this, and so can you. That’s amazing.

Janet: Absolutely. I think it’s a lot of baloney out there that the American dream is not achievable. I think it’s more achievable than ever before. It’s that people are trying to tell us that it isn’t. We don’t hear about all of the successes. We have a tendency to have people out there with a lot of the negatives. That not a bad thing because we need to broaden the scope of what’s available to people. My gosh, we have so many opportunities in this country. Look at the standard of living that we have and the standard of living that we can have, that we can bring out into even more people, the healthcare that we have, the fact that in such a short amount of time we found better ways to treat COVID. We have a vaccine right on the horizon. Unheard of. Just amazing. What I find really, really fantastic is that when COVID hit — it just did terrible things to the economy. There are a lot of people out there, all those little small businesses, that are just dying. They’re just struggling to survive.

At the same time, there are a lot of people that took the American spirit and said, you know, I could make some money out of this. I’m going to start making masks. I’m going to do takeout in my restaurant. I’m going to deliver curbside. There’s still a lot of opportunity out there. Maybe it’s not as available to everyone, but it’s there. I’m a real believer in the American spirit. I just think it’s there. People are going to find it. You have to persevere. It took at least ten years to get published. I started writing in my thirties, all this bizarre stuff, sending it out. Nothing. I started collecting rejection slips. I started out in a little shoebox. Then it got to be a bigger box. I had rejections that were written on bar napkins in crayon. It was bad. After ten years of rejections, I gave up. I went out and sat on the curb in front of my house with this big box and cried my eyes out and burned every rejection. I wish I hadn’t done that because I would’ve liked to have had them now. The next day, I borrowed a suit from my sister, and I went out and I got a job with Manpower. I worked at Manpower for — I don’t remember. I think it was maybe three, four months.

I had given up. It was my dream, and it was crushed. Because we needed the money, I just didn’t feel like I could keep going anymore. After work, I went to pick my daughter up at an ice-skating rink. She was ice skating. I was standing there waiting for her. My husband and my son came up. They put their arms around me. They said, “Your editor just called.” This was a hundred years ago, and I can’t think about it without getting very emotional. There was my dream. My dream came back. My life just started over. I made two thousand dollars on that first book. The very next day, I went into the office with a box of donuts. I left it at the office. I took my hairspray and my extra pair of shoes, and I went home. Right there, I just quit. I just walked right out. Then I didn’t sell another book for a couple years. We sort of had to give up eating oranges to make ends meet. Eventually, I started getting multiple-book contracts. Here I am.

Zibby: Wow, what a story. That’s so amazing. It’s so inspiring. When you were telling it, I had goosebumps everywhere. That’s amazing.

Janet: It’s been good.

Zibby: Congratulations. The role modeling of all of it is just great. It shows if you just stay with it and you keep doing something that you love, it will pay off in some way, shape, or form. Yours was a particularly big payoff. I will grant you that, but still. Tell me a little more about starting with the romances and how, for instance, your son at Dartmouth felt knowing those scenes were out there. I read that you said somewhere that you stopped writing romance when you ran out of positions to put your characters in. Tell me a little more about that and being a mom and having all this sexualized content out there.

Janet: It wasn’t that sexualized. As a romance writer, it was a very positive genre, which is one of the things that I love about it. It’s one of the things that I think is such a great reflection of women. We’re nurturers. We try to be positive people. It was a positive genre. The romances ended happily. They were about basically good people. I didn’t have to kill anybody in a romance. When I started doing this, initially, my family was a little embarrassed. They were like, oh, god, Mom is writing this book. My husband, “Is this a reflection on me?” It turned out that it was actually a very good reflection. My son was very popular in college. He told everybody his mother was writing soft porn. That was good for him. My husband found out that he’d be in the elevator and women would come in and would want to talk to him. I noticed that his ties started getting a little flashier. He really milked it. When I eventually moved over into the mystery genre and I started with Plum, then he could tell everybody he was actually Ranger and everything was patterned after him. My family really got into it. We all work together now. We’re a little family business.

Zibby: I saw that. You have Evanovich Inc., right?

Janet: Yeah.

Zibby: What does everybody do? How do you make sure to work together in a seamless way?

Janet: We all have different talents. At the same time, we’re sort of like water. When there’s an opening, we flow into it. There’s not a lot of ego involved. We actually like each other. We pretty much live together. We move around like a little herd. In the beginning, it was that — my daughter went to film and photography school, Brooks in California. She had some aspirations of her own and then decided that maybe that wasn’t who she was. At the time, the computer was just starting to really have an influence. She said, “You’re sort of halfway supporting me while I’m doing my thing in San Francisco. Why don’t I set up a website for you?” She started my very first website. It became a full-time job for her because she turned it into this entertainment site, really helped to grow my audience, made it fun, made it a lot more fun. That was initially what she did. My son is brilliant. He took over family finances. He had some legal experience, so he was the contract reader, as was my husband. Everybody edited. They were all my first editors. They still are. As we went along, they sort of modified their roles. Until now, my husband is still editing. He’s still reading contracts. He keeps track of foreign sales and that kind of thing. My son and my daughter are doing more creative things. They’re still my editors. They edited me for so many years that they picked up a lot of writing skills. My son has been working as a coauthor with me. He actually has been a coauthor for longer than people realize.

When books would come in and they weren’t exactly in my voice and they just needed some extra help, Peter and Alex would jump in. They would do some writing for me because I had a pretty heavy schedule just doing original writing. They really did a very heavy editing job for me for several years. Now they’re branching out. They’re doing their own thing. Alex is in charge of everything that is on the computer, all my media. She interfaces with publishers and publicists and my agent. She’s really the one that says, “Your fans aren’t going to like this.” She always toured with me in the early years. She was the one who read the emails. She was the one who got in the lines and talked to people when I only had a couple minutes. When I was doing the big book tours, I’d have two, three thousand people out at a night. We’d start signing at five thirty. We’d end at two in the morning. I was moving along pretty fast saying, “Hi. How are you? Would you like your name on this?” Then they’d have to move along. Alex was there. Alex got to go down the line, and she got to talk to everybody and made friends and exchanged Christmas cards and found out what they thought and what they liked and what they didn’t like and what they wanted to see. She’s just been huge in the development of my career, the Plum series, some little side series that we’ve done just to give me some variety for fun. I’d like to clone myself so I could do more of those side series.

Zibby: It turns out that the secret weapon in your whole crime series is your children. That’s pretty awesome.

Janet: It’s true.

Zibby: First of all, how high are we going to go with this Stephanie Plum series? Do you have a number? Are you stopping at thirty? Is this an indefinite amount? Then also, what’s the next project to come out after this one?

Janet: No, I don’t have a number. As long as I’m enjoying it, I’m going to keep doing it, and as long as people out there are buying the books. The difficult thing is these two guys in Stephanie Plum’s life. There’s this tendency, you want her to make a choice. You want her to have babies and live happily ever after just like I did. That doesn’t work in that series. The fun of it is the adventure, the not knowing, the choices that she has, and the life that she can have that the rest of us really can’t. It would be scandalous if we did. I don’t have any set number for her. The next book that’s coming out is one of the coauthor books. It’s The Bounty. It’s in the Fox and O’Hare series. It has a new coauthor. I’ve had a lot of coauthors. I’m like death on coauthors, I think. I don’t know how James Patterson does it. I don’t know how he keeps these same great coauthors. It goes on to infinity. My coauthors are with me for — they’re all friends, is part of the problem. Lee Goldberg, I knew him for years. Same with Phoef Sutton.

They come on board. We have some fun. We write a bunch of books. Then they say, “I think I’m going to go be a big shot in television again.” They were all A-list sitcom writers. I have a new coauthor on this book. The last coauthor in the Fox and O’Hare series, my son jumped in and did. He did that at the last minute. That book almost didn’t come out. Peter said, “Okay, I can do it,” and stopped his life for about two and a half months and helped us get the book out. This book is in another new direction. That comes out in March. Then after that, I have a spinoff from this book that’s out there right now. It’s about a woman, Gabriella Rose. Whenever I do these little miniseries, I always like to do something that — the heroine is very different from Stephanie Plum just to give to myself a break so I can have some fun too. What I find is that when I go into some other woman’s head other than Stephanie Plum and then I go back to Plum, I always know a little bit more about her because of what I’ve learned about this other person. That book should come out sometime in the summer. It’s about Gabriella Rose.

Zibby: Very exciting. What advice would you have to aspiring authors?

Janet: If it’s important to you, just don’t give up. Keep trying to do better. Keep learning. Join a professional organization like International Thriller Writers, Romance Writers of America. That really helps because it allows you to get a peer group. It allows you to learn some things about agents and the process and publishers. Basically, you got to keep your ass in the chair. You really do. I like to tell people it’s like a job. If you took a job working at 7-Eleven and they expected you to be there for three hours at seven o’clock at night, you’d do it. You’d get there. If you had a cold, you’d show up anyway. You’d take some pills. Writing is like that. If you want to do it, you think of yourself as a writer. When people say, “What do you do?” you say, “I’m a writer. I’m not published, but I’m a writer.” Every day, if it’s only for a half an hour, you sit down and you write because that momentum is very important. It’s important that you believe in yourself even when you have ten years of failure like I do. Look at me. I was rejected for ten years. I was not giving up. Until you make my ten-year mark, don’t worry about it. Just keep going.

Zibby: And be ready to forgo oranges for as long as necessary, I guess.

Janet: You have to do what you have to do.

Zibby: Do what you have to do. Thank you, Janet. Thank you so much. It’s such a privilege to chat with you and hear the backstory and all of your encouraging remarks from the American dream to your first novel to everything. Thank you for sharing your time with me and with my audience.

Janet: You’re welcome. It was great being here.

Zibby: You too. Buh-bye.

Janet: Bye.

Janet Evanovich, FORTUNE AND GLORY