By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS, email@example.com
TRAVERSE CITY — Doug Stanton considers Traverse City plum lucky to have landed best-selling author Janet Evanovich for its National Writers Series.
Evanovich, creator of the wildly popular Stephanie Plum mystery books, will star in the series' Monday, July 9, event, a scholarship fundraiser benefitting student writers.
"We could do another two shows with her and still have a waiting list," said Stanton, of the sold-out program presented with the National Cherry Festival.
Evanovich knows what her readers want, and she delivers. Her formula — equal parts mystery, comedy and sexual tension — has made her one of the world's best-selling authors, with more than 75 million copies of her books in print. Her latest, "Wicked Business: A Lizzy and Diesel Novel," is the second in her new Wicked series, which spins off one of the characters in four of the Plum novels.
Like the Plum mysteries, which revolve around a big-haired New Jersey lingerie-buyer-turned bounty hunter, the Wicked books feature a lovable heroine (cupcake baker Lizzy Tucker), a hunky man of mystery (mono-named Diesel), and a supporting cast of quirky characters. But in a new twist, the Wicked mysteries are infused with the supernatural.
Evanovich said she created the series partly to keep her books fresh for both herself and her readers and to try something new and fun.
"I love this new series because it has this added element to it and I set it in Salem, Mass., with its spooky history," said the New Hampshire-based author, who now hopes to turn out one Plum and one Wicked book every year. "It's a lot of fun, and as a creative person I can create an adventure that has a lot at stake.
"It's always risky to create a new series," said Evanovich, known for choosing book titles from fan submissions. "It takes a long time to build your readership to the point of the Plum series, especially in this economy, because people are reluctant to spend money on an unknown product. You just hope people like it."
So far the risk seems to be paying off. "Wicked Business," which centers on a high-stakes search for the Luxuria Stone, an ancient relic thought by some to be infused with the power of lust, was released June 19 and is at the top of most best-seller lists.
Lust is a recurring theme in the author's books.
"There's the chase, but they never totally catch each other," said Evanovich, who began her career as a romance novelist. "If you ask fans why they read the Plum or Wicked series they say two things: it makes them laugh or they're hooked into one of the characters. The sexual tension is an integral part."
She said the popularity of the Plum series' dark and dangerous Ranger character was the catalyst for Diesel's starring role.
"People really love this. They love the sexiness, the mystery, the little things we don't know about Ranger. I thought, what if I went a step further and created this character who has special abilities. Not a vampire, not a werewolf. He's a big sexy, scruffy guy but I give him powers that are beyond normal."
The writers' life
After some 50 books, including a Barnaby & Hooker series, several miscellaneous books and some romances she co-authored early in her career, Evanovich shows no sign of slowing down. She writes seven days a week beginning at 5:30 a.m., with time off for a luncheon brainstorming session with her son and daughter, who help manage her Evanovich Inc. empire, and for dinner and a movie with her husband, Pete.
"I like the continuity and I have contracts for a lot of books so I don't have the luxury of taking a year to write a book," she said, noting that she got behind after taking two months off to help publicize the recent movie, "One for the Money," based on her first Plum novel.
If morning is her best time — "Somehow ideas have come in the night," she said — afternoon is her most dreaded.
"At 3 they have hired a trainer to come and haul me out of the office," she said. "I write a lot about junk food and it makes me fat. And I hate to work out. For me a workout is going to the mall when there's a shoe sale."
Though she reportedly commands an advance of up to $10 million a book — Forbe's ranked her 79th of the 100 most powerful celebrities this year — Evanovich said she still sometimes struggles with writing.
"I finish the book and I gained 23 pounds. I'm frazzled. I send it off to the publisher. I say, 'I'm done, I hate this, I'm never writing another book.' And then the next morning I get up and I don't know what to do. I have no interests, no hobbies, no sports. I'm a writer. My burnouts last about 12 hours," she said.