"I just bought a house in North Carolina and I have absolutely no furniture,” Janet Evanovich says via Zoom. “It’s a total disaster. I’m not equipped for video.” The author is in her bedroom, surrounded by boxes, at a makeshift writing desk, her fluffy white dog at her feet.
She moved from Florida to Chapel Hill to be closer to her daughter, Alex, and her grandson; she also has a condo in Hawaii, where her son, Peter, and his children live. “At this point I just follow my grandkids around the country,” she says. “But I like change. It’s good.”
Evanovich, 78, has been making moves lately. She signed a four-book deal, said to be for eight figures, with Atria in 2020, and in March 2022 she’s releasing The Recovery Agent, the first book in a new series. It centers on Gabriela Rose, a treasure hunter for hire—and a descendant of the pirate Blackbeard—whose sexy ex-husband routinely complicates her life. “I probably enjoyed writing this one more than any other,” Evanovich says of the book, which finds Gabriela traversing jungles in Peru and Costa Rica. “She’s my Indiana Jones.”
Evanovich’s books have sold more than 90 million copies, according to Atria, and have been translated into 40 languages. She’s written romance novels and adventure and mystery series, including the Fox and O’Hare and the Lizzy and Diesel books, and the wildly popular Stephanie Plum series (28 installments and counting), about a New Jersey bounty hunter with a tangled love life—and a weakness for junk food (just like Evanovich).
Unlike Plum, who hangs out in New Jersey and keeps her gun in a cookie jar, Rose is a globe-trotting fashionista who expertly handles weapons. The women are opposites, but they both have charm in spades. Evanovich says she was filled with angst when she wrote the first Plum novel because she wasn’t sure it would be successful. The Recovery Agent was different: “I didn’t give a crap if anybody was going to like it!” she says. “I wrote it for myself and my fans.”
A native of New Jersey, Evanovich grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood and was a dreamer who never quite fit in. “I was weird,” she recalls. “I’d run around pretending to be a reindeer and dig holes in people’s lawns with my ‘hooves.’ Or I’d walk down the street singing opera. I was a baton twirler in high school, but I couldn’t throw and the baton broke my nose. I spent a lot of time sitting in trees, watching people. My internal life didn’t match the life around me.”
The author got her professional start in the 1980s in romance, but “writing long sex scenes wasn’t my thing,” she says. At 51, she published One for the Money, the first Plum novel. She and her husband were cash-strapped, living in Virginia with their kids.
Evanovich recalls living in a little house whose previous owner was a sex worker. “When we cleaned out the yard, we found slingback shoes and condoms. The windows had bullet holes.” Then Evanovich got the call that the movie rights for One for the Money had sold for $1 million. “The shingles from my roof were scattered across my lawn because we couldn’t afford a new roof, and there’s this guy on the phone telling me I’m a millionaire.”
When she started making big money, Evanovich and her husband traded roles. “He became the house husband and I became the wage earner,” she says. These days, both he and the kids help run Evanovich Inc., and they’re the first to read Evanovich’s books and give feedback. “I’d be nothing without my family. When I was a struggling writer, nobody said go get a job. They’ve always been supportive.”
Author, screenwriter, and producer Lee Goldberg has cowritten five Fox and O’Hare novels with Evanovich. “Janet is one of a small group of writers who is beloved in every language and culture around the world,” he says. “Working with her was like taking a graduate course in writing bestsellers. The books I’ve written since then have been the most critically and commercially successful of my career. I learned from Janet that less is more. Don’t try to impress with your brilliant prose. Tell the story as economically as possible.”
“Janet is a matriarch who’s built an empire,” says her agent Celeste Fine, a principal at Park & Fine. “It’s hard to give people what they want year after year, and also give them something new. That’s stamina.”
A self-described workaholic, Evanovich writes every day. “I have no life,” she declares. “I have one hobby. When I get tense, I knit. But I don’t make anything. I have a 27-foot scarf that I keep adding yarn to.” Junk food helps, too: “Give me a bag of chips and I’m brilliant.”
Evanovich’s drive is matched only by her youthful outlook. “I have a total disconnect with my age. I think you can be whatever age you want. I’ve been lucky. I’m healthy, I don’t take pills. I had a face lift at 60, and it’s still holding up pretty good.”
Plum has been in her 30s since the 1990s, and that’s how Evanovich intends to keep her. “My characters don’t age. I don’t either.”
Evanovich describes herself as “a happy writer” and says she wants people to “close my books smiling.” She adds, “The thing that made me a success in the beginning still makes me a success. Readers know I’m not going to kill cats or dogs, and things are going to end well. My characters aren’t politically correct or woke. It always helps to have a man kill a spider for you. By the same token, it’s perfectly okay for a woman to rescue a man.”
“Janet doesn’t have to work anymore, but she can’t not do it,” says Libby McGuire, publisher of Atria. “She’s a born storyteller. You know when you sit down with one of her books that you’re going to laugh. People need that.”
“She’s funny and has a great time writing, and that comes out,” adds editor Peter Borland. “She’s a pro, but not high maintenance like some authors can be. I’ve noticed with Janet, it always comes back to what her readers want.”
Evanovich is excited for the future. She has a new house and a new series, and, now, a goal: “I really want a television show,” she says. “I see my books like movies when I write them, and the fact that I haven’t had a show and only one movie is a killer.”
She then offers some advice: “If it’s important to you, don’t give up. When I started in publishing, I kept sending out query letters and getting rejected. I once got a rejection written on a bar napkin. You can’t let that matter. The no’s don’t make any difference. Just keep going for that one yes. That’s what counts.”
Elaine Szewczyk’s writing has appeared in McSweeney’s and other publications. She’s the author of the novel I’m with Stupid.