Janet Evanovich, creator of Stephanie Plum crime novels, to kick off Savannah Book Festival

Janet Evanovich
Janet Evanovich Submitted photo

Best-selling mystery writer Janet Evanovich has no problem being the happy, entertaining writer.

And with more than 75 million books sold worldwide and a million-dollar movie deal, she shouldn't.

Her brand of sassy crime novels -- the most popular being the Stephanie Plum series, now in its 22nd reiteration -- has made Evanovich a household name and a top-earning author.

"I don't have any aspirations that I'm going to change the world, but I would like to think that I can make someone smile," Evanovich said.

Evanovich will be the opening speaker at this year's Savannah Book Festival on Feb. 12. Now in its eighth year, the festival brings together authors from around the country for a three-day literary event with book signings and author-reader interaction. This will be the first time a female author will open the festival.

When Evanovich first started writing, she got so many rejection letters that she filled up a big cardboard box (which she later set on fire). She found success writing about the misadventures of Stephanie Plum, a spunky lingerie saleswoman turned bounty hunter from New Jersey with a fondness for junk food and a penchant for blowing up cars.

The 21st Plum novel, "Top Secret Twenty One," was released in June. The next one (called Plum Twenty-Two until there's an official title) will hit stores in November.

There's a light, cheery, fluff factor to Evanovich's novels, with a healthy dose of action and sexual tension, making the books as indulgent as the doughnuts Stephanie Plum routinely chows down on.

"I like entertaining people," Evanovich said. "I write about positive people. They're not perfect, but their flaws are not terrible either. They're people that we can all relate to and understand and maybe see a little bit of ourselves in."

Being able to tell (and sell) a good story with relatable characters has become second nature for Evanovich. She has since expanded her crime fiction stories to multiple spin-offs and separate series written with other authors.

About half her time is devoted to co-author projects, she said. "I spread myself around. It's a little easier writing with a co-author. They do a lot of the work upfront for me, and then I come in at the end and make sure it meets my expectations."

Her literary empire also extends to her family. Her daughter, son and husband all work for her company, Evanovich Inc.

Before she opens the Savannah Book Festival, Lowcountry Current spoke with Evanovich about working with family, her early writing days and a potential Plum TV series.

Question. What do you see coming up for Stephanie Plum? A third romantic interest? Marriage?

Evanovich. I don't know about a third guy. Wow. I hadn't thought of that, but that might be fun. I get my romance vicariously through Ranger and Joe and Stephanie, but also with these co-authored books. "The Job," the latest book of the Fox & O'Hare series, is about a sexy con man and an uptight FBI agent. So I can go there for a third sexy guy instead of burdening Stephanie. [laughs]

Q. Any word on a second movie?

Evanovich. You never know. I think it's possible. Right now they're working on taking it to television. Stephanie Plum is with SONY and they have a screenwriter on board. And then Fox & O'Hare also, we're looking at trying to get that to television. I just saw a screenplay for it that I thought was fantastic.

Q. I read that when you first started writing, you went to improv acting classes to learn how to write dialogue. Do you still do anything like that to keep the dialogue snappy and funny?

Evanovich. No. I don't do it anymore. I've kind of figured it out. When I first started writing, I didn't really have any skills because I was never an English person. I was always the kid that could draw. In college I majored in fine arts. So when I started working on books, I realized I had no ear for dialogue and that my dialogue was very stiff and boring. But I had a friend who was doing acting classes, so I joined one of the improv classes that she was doing. What we do as writers is very similar to what actors do. You get up and create a character. And you find ways of cueing the audience to who that character is. So I use that skill when I write. My characters are really moving through my head like a movie.

Q. Can you describe a typical day for you? You've previously said you tended to be more creative in the morning and handled business matters in the afternoon.

Evanovich. I wake up in the morning at about 5. That's always my most creative time. When I'm sleeping, my head fills up with ideas. Then by lunchtime I've used up all those ideas and I sort of move over to the business side. That's when I schedule phone calls. But because I am a little over-committed, I usually go back to work for a few hours after dinner.

As the empire expands, all of a sudden you find that it's not enough just to be a writer. You have to take care of the business end of it, and it grows out of proportion if you're a success. Then all of a sudden there's all this other stuff going on.

Q. Your husband, son and daughter all work for you at Evanovich Inc. What is that dynamic like?

Evanovich. My son (Peter) is my agent. He's very detail oriented. My daughter (Alex) interfaces with my publisher and handles all the online stuff and social media. My husband, Pete, manages all aspects of the business and tries to keep me on time. It's great. We like each other and get along really well. We all have different skills. My son, my daughter and my husband are always my first editors. We all live in the same neighborhood and usually have lunch together.

Q. Do you all work out of the same place?

Evanovich. We all have our own home offices. My son is about a three minute walk from my house. My daughter is about 10 minutes. I have an office that's about 15 minutes away. I have an office manager there who manages fan mail and runs the online store. Everyone thinks it's this real store, but it just operates out of our garage.

Q. What do you think it is about your books that makes the series so successful?

Evanovich. It's a pleasant and fun experience. Maybe that's not so easy to find today. There's a lot of dark stuff out there. My books don't necessarily go there. I offer an alternative to the darker forms of entertainment that we have.

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