Tag Archives: Janet Evanovich

One for the Money Faithful to Evanovich

The Katherine Heigl movie based on Janet Evanovich’s first Stephanie Plum book, One for the Money, is getting terrible reviews.  Here are actual quotes from some reviews.  I am presenting them as ad “blurbs”  for your entertainment:

So, of course, I went to see it.  I’ve blogged about Stephanie Plum before  (here and here) and I was curious to see how the Trenton, NJ gal translated to the big screen.

I’m not afraid to say it:  folks, it was not that bad.  Really.  It was actually kind of fun.  Katherine Heigl is maybe not quite sassy enough to be Stephanie, but she’s believable.  The “no-name” actor who plays Morelli is cute as all get out.  The actor playing Ranger is no Benjamin Bratt, but he can’t help it that I had cast Bratt in my head when I read the books.  And Debbie Reynolds is not quite ethnic enough to be Grandma Mazur, but she’s still a hoot.

All the minor characters could have been pulled right out of an Evanovich book.  The plot (about which the word “convoluted” is usually used) is totally Plum.  If it’s not 100% word for word what Evanovich wrote, I can tell you, it is completely in keeping.  I gotta say – if you like the books, you’ll probably like the movie.  Since the studio is investing approximately $0 in marketing, here’s the trailer.

One last note:  it’s pretty clear that the market for Janet Evanovich is women over 45.   I’m being generous here, since if the 1:00 movie at the Lake Theater in Oak Park, IL, is any indication, the actual target demographic should be 63.5 years of age.  I was definitely on the young side.  The ladies loved it.  The women’s room was much a-twitter immediately following the show.

Smokin’ Seventeen: Sizzle or Fizzle?

Janet Evanovich’s seventeenth Stephanie Plum caper – Smokin’ Seventeen – is not currently on the New York Times bestseller list.  Not in print hardback or e-reader.  But it’s #34 on Amazon’s top 100 list of mysteries and thrillers with  an average Amazon 3-star rating.

I can relate  to the middle-of-the-road reviews.  As I said before (in last year’s review of the sixteenth Plum book), it was Janet Evanovich’s breezy mix of fun and mayhem that led me to think “Hey, maybe I can write a mystery!”  She’s got a winning formula that can’t be replicated, except by her.  And that’s a good thing.  And maybe a bad thing.  Because while her latest Stephanie Plum adventure has all her great, compelling and quirky characters that we’ve come to know so well… we’ve come to know them.  So well.

One for the Money came out in 1994.  Stephanie’s been dithering between Morelli and Ranger for 17 years, and she is showing no signs of making any kind of a choice.   Ranger’s still hot.  Morelli’s still hot.  Stephanie’s still hot.  Grandma Mazur’s still feisty.  Lula’s still a ho at heart.  Stiva’s is still the place to go for corpses and cookies.  You get the picture.

Still, if you’re looking for a cotton candy read – go for it!  It may be a formula, but it’s a fun formula.  One hint:  Try not to think about the “extra character” rule. You know, the one that says that if there’s no good reason for this person to be in the book, he’s probably the bad guy.  Awk!  I gave it away.

More mysteries.

But not the kind that I read and review.  Other mysteries, specifically:

1.  Why is it that NOW I’m able to see all the things that need tightening up, expanding, revising, etc., on my first mystery?  It’s been done, complete, finito for a couple of years.

I’d shopped it around to agents, many of whom said nice things, but ultimately passed.  Is it the economy?  The tightening up of the market?  The fact that Janet Evanovich completely occupies the funny-mystery niche?  Or was it… duh.duh.dum… that it was only 62,000 words long?

Having convinced myself that it would be good to revisit in order to insert a subplot worth, oh, about 15,000 words, I gave the book to my writing group with STRICT instructions to assess it for subplot opportunities.  I somewhat grudgingly allowed that they could also point out any other areas of potential improvement.  If they had any.  (As if.)

Well, good reader, they did.  Cruel, heartless Addy, Claire and Sue.  But the amazing thing was that I was totally ready to hear it.  And I’m in the midst of revising (up to chapter 5) and it is going swimmingly.  I read somewhere that someone famous said “kill your darlings.”   My darlings may not all be dead, but many are maimed and some are gasping.

And tons of potential subplots, expansions, and missed opportunities.  Why are there several characters that only show up once?  Why do I show the reader a couple of scenes set in the theater, but only a couple, when they’re so amazing? (I’m interpreting, here.)  Why are there two separate law firms?  Lastly, how do I break myself of the habit of introducing a character and immediately telling you what they look like?  (Although now I am noticing, everybody does this.  It’s just that some people do it really well.)

I guess it’s kind of like losing weight.  When you’re ready, dieting’s easy.  When you’re not ready, it’s cupcake city.

2.  Second mystery:  What the heck is up with my blog?  My most popular post this week is Analyze Your Writing, posted on July 15, 2010.  Dozens of people looked at this post over the holiday weekend.  I am mystified.

Stephanie Plum strikes again.

It’s been sixteen years since Stephanie Plum first hit the scene, and this not-so-effective, but cute and acerbic bail bonds-woman has not aged a bit.  One for the Money came out in 1994… and Sizzling Sixteen is this year’s installment in the series penned by Janet Evanovich.

Self-revelatory statement:  It was the Stephanie Plum series that convinced me that I could write a funny mystery.  They’re fun, they’re lightweight, people get killed but you don’t really care, Stephanie’s in danger but you know that she’ll either get herself out or get rescued by Joe Morelli or Ranger.  They’re easy to read and (I thought) easy to write.  And although I have succeeded in writing a funny mystery and am in the midst of another one in the series that is also getting yucks, it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be.  In the meantime, today’s NYT says that Janet Evanovich made $16 million with her writing in the last year.   I made $50.  Sigh.

At any rate, Plum fans will enjoy this one.  It has the usual romantic entanglements – cop Joe Morelli is the love of her life, and extra-dangerous bounty hunter Ranger is the guy who tempts her from the straight and narrow. Grandma Mazur is still a hoot, Stiva’s is still the place to go for a good funeral, Lula is the chicken-eating ho with a zest for life and an itchy trigger finger.  Rex the hamster munches apples when Steph’s feeling maternal.  It may be a formula book, but it’s a formula Evanovich knows how to work to perfection.

Downside?  Stephanie’s been around the block a few too many times.  There’s never a meaningful new character.  Never any emotional engagement.  The hilarious hi-jinks in the Burg aren’t memorable.  I know that Sizzling Sixteen‘s plot revolves around the rescue of Stephanie’s cousin Vinny, who’s been kidnapped and held for ransom until the gang manages to pay off his $1.3 million debt.  But that’s because I finished it today.  Can I remember anything about the other 15 books?  Nope.  Do I care?  Nope.

That’s because the Stephanie Plum Series is the literary equivalent of a summer movie.  It’s a fun way to spend a few hours.  Drink lemonade.  Laugh out loud. Evanovich has a deft approach to sexual tension, which is a plus.  You don’t need to remember these books.  That’s why there’s a number in the title.  So that if you missed #12 (Twelve Sharp) you can get it from the library and head for the back porch.

Recommended reading?  Sure.  Be sure to check out page 132, where Stephanie notices the “shears” hanging in the windows.  If you envision, as I did, a gardening implement, you’ll get an extra laugh out of the book.  Totally worth it.

Analyze your writing!

On his blog, Drew passed along news of an interesting web site that he heard about from his friend, Lisa.  On this site, you paste in your own writing, be it fiction, nonfiction, a blog post, whatever!  It runs your text ever-so-speedily through a magical analytical process, and out pops what famous writer you write like.

This is fascinating of course, because it is just like examining your navel except that someone is doing it with you and giving you compliments while doing so.

So I entered the last chapter of my first mystery, Character-Driven.  Ta Da!  I write like Stephen King.  Not bad.  Millions of readers.  Millions of dollars.  I was going for Janet Evanovich, but I’ll take Steve.

Feverish, I enter the first chapter of my new book, In Scene.  Amazing!  I write like David Foster Wallace.  True, he’s dead, but everyone agrees he’s a genius.

But what about my blog?  I paste in the post about how nobody’s commenting on my blog.  That, evidently, is William Gibson.  William Gibson.  Doesn’t he write kind of science-fictiony-suspensy-stuff?  How can I write like him?  I don’t even read him.

I try again.  I paste in the post about going to Selected Shorts in New York City and how star-struck I was to meet Isaiah Sheffer. Yep.  William Gibson again.

In a fit of circularity, I am about to paste THIS VERY BLOG POST in.  Wait for it.

Very good.  It’s Arthur C. Clarke.  Him I know.  I was addicted to Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and even moreso, Robert Heinlein, as a teenager.  Perhaps I should be writing sci-fi.

So then I get tricky.  I find William Gibson’s website.  I click on a link that lets me read an excerpt of  his book Pattern Recognition.*  Who will it say William Gibson writes like?  William Gibson?

Nope.  David Foster Wallace.

My brain is starting to hurt.

*I know, I just realized that this is very spooky – the mystery algorithm picks William Gibson for me and I grab the first excerpt that pops up and the book is Pattern Recognition.  Exactly what the I Write Like website is all about.

Erotica… or am I a prude?

OK, so one of my writing group members starts her novel-in-progress – a police procedural – with a sex scene that’s very much of the raven-tresses-heaving-bosoms-rock-hard-manhood variety.  We discussed this in our meeting… and my take was that people who are looking for a police procedural will put the book down because it opens with that scene and that people who want a book that includes that kind of scene will be disappointed when chapter 2 comes and all of a sudden we’re dealing with cops in the precinct house.

Post-meeting, she sent a couple of links to web sites that teach you how to write love scenes.  Suite 101 has a section called Writing Erotica that explained the difference between erotica and pornography.  It also included helpful examples of words to use…including the following:   coarse, decadent, furtive, hunger, innocent, lubricate, mesmerized, organ, pacify, scorching, secluded, shuddered, strip, tantalize, tempt, throbbing, whisper, writhe, and yearn.

So here goes:  His coarse, decadent hunger for the innocent was furtive, yet scorching, as her whisper tempted, even tantalized him, with a yearning that made him writhe and his organ throb.  To pacify him, she lured him to a secluded place where he shuddered, mesmerized, as she stripped.

Dang.  Can’t fit in “lubricate.”

The other link was to a site called enotalone, where there’s an article about erotic talk.  Not for writers, this is actually advice on how to have a more satisfying romantic life by spicing it up conversationally.  (If I ever said, “Honey, your lips taste so good to me,” my husband would stop mid-smooch to look at me, inquiringly, as in “Who are you and what have you done with my wife?”)

My own view is that character-driven romance in a mystery novel – particularly one with a female protagonist – adds a human dimension to the characters and can be a plus if it’s in keeping with the whole gestalt of it.  Think of how much fun Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum has with cop-boyfriend Morelli and dangerous bad boy Ranger.  Stephanie has an irreverent attitude and her sex life’s irreverent, too.   Oral sex may be had and talked about, but somehow it’s all in keeping with the story.   On the other hand, there’s not much hanky-panky for Cabot Cove’s Jessica Fletcher… the very thought’s a little disconcerting!   And when I read Lawrence Block’s Small Town, it’s so full of various kinky characters and a wide variety of sexual hijinks that I felt like I was getting maybe a little too much insight into the way the author’s mind works.

I guess that’s what it comes down to.  When people shape a story, they shape the story they want to read.  And when they shape a love scene/sex scene/romantic encounter… they’re using their own perspective to decide what makes it interesting.  And for “interesting,” read “sexy.”   When someone writes about illicit sex between nameless people with perfect bodies, it doesn’t do it for me.  And I’m a little bit embarrassed that it does it for them.

Still, it sells.  So who am I to say?