Last year author Janet Evanovich ranked No. 79 on Forbes’ list of The World’s Most Powerful Celebrities, with earnings estimated at $33 million.
Hollywood adapted one of her novels to the big screen.
To date she’s written more than 45 books and sold more than 75 million.
So I’m embarrassed to admit I was only vaguely familiar with her novels.
“The mystery-novel equivalent of comfort food.”
Janet’s wealth comes from a series of numbered, comedic mysteries starring gutsy bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. They’re titled One For The Money, Two For The Dough, Three To Get Deadly, etc. She’s currently on Notorious Nineteen.
The New York Times calls the series “the mystery-novel equivalent of comfort food.” It’s not a compliment. Reviews like that made me avoid her books until I learned she was a late bloomer.
Janet published her first novel at age 44 after ten years of rejection. She began the Stephanie Plum series at age 51.
So I felt duty-bound to read One For The Money (recently made into a movie with Katherine Heigl) before writing this post. I’ll tell you what I thought of it later.
Janet Evanovich didn’t start out as a writer. Her first calling was art, but the idea of being a ’60s free spirit appealed more than the work:
After high school, I spent four years in the Douglass College art department, honing my ability to wear torn Levis…Painting beat the heck out of digging holes in lawns, but it never felt exactly right.
After graduating, she married her high school sweetheart, Pete Evanovich, who was completing his doctorate in Mathematics from Rutgers University. They soon had a son and daughter, Peter and Alexandra. Janet settled into the life of a stay-at-home mom.
But while the kids were in grade school, she discovered a new artistic impulse — writing. She wrote and submitted for ten years, hitting rejection at every turn.
And like any parents trying to give their children the best life possible, Janet and Pete struggled.
We were living in this little brick house in northern Virginia. We had no money. We had two kids who had gone through two very expensive post-secondary schools. It had been a hard winter. The shingles from my roof were on the front yard, and we had no hope of getting a new roof.
In one interview, she poignantly remarks that they couldn’t afford to buy oranges. So she filled a box with rejection letters, took it to the curb, and set it on fire. The next day she signed up with a temp agency.
Four excruciating months later (I can relate to each one), a publisher called. One of her manuscripts had been accepted for $2000, a nice sum in the 1980s. She quit her temp job and started writing full-time again.
For the next five years, she spun formula romances for Bantam Loveswept. Each came with a $7,000 advance.
But after twelve novels, Janet decided to try something different.
I saw the movie Midnight Run with Charles Grodin and Robert De Niro, and I thought what a cool idea. I didn’t know anything about bail bonds or bounty hunters, but I liked the idea of it.
That’s how the Stephanie Plum was born. One for the Money hit big in 1997. Janet was paid her usual $7,000 advance and within months got a call from Hollywood, offering $1 million for the movie rights.
“I work real hard so the reader doesn’t have to.”
With that nice bit of seed money, Janet’s family helped her build an empire. Her mathematician husband became her manager. Son Peter took over for the finances. Daughter Alex built her website and handles everything related to the Internet.
Yet those condescending reviews persist. Janet pays no attention.
I made a choice that I was not going to be a pretentious writer. I work real hard so the reader doesn’t have to. I don’t want them to have to look up words. And there are no flashbacks. This is a linear novel.
So what did I think after reading my first Janet Evanovich novel, One For The Money?
I loved it. Stephanie Plum is a sympathetic protagonist, the plot never falters, and the dialog hums. Stephanie lives in a middle-class, mixed-heritage Catholic neighborhood similar to the one I grew up in. I went to high school with half her relatives. She’s believable.
And Janet Evanovich plans to keep writing for as long as she can.
I really have no intention of stopping. And I don’t have to. Why? Because I’m only 32.
Actually, I’m outing Janet. She turns 70 tomorrow, April 22. Happy birthday to a fabulous late bloomer and congrats on 25 years of success!
- Evanovich.com: “About Janet”
- BookPage Interview: “For Janet Evanovich and Her Signature Character, Age is Nothing but a Number”
- The Globe and Mail: “Evanovich, Inc.”