Q+A: Janet Evanovich on Wealth, Plastic Surgery, and Chris Christie

The bestselling author (and self-described "Jersey girl") says she'd love to meet the Garden State governor

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© Roland Scarpa

Is it possible that the King and Queen of Trenton have never met?

Garden State native and bestselling novelist Janet Evanovich, who has sold 75 million books worldwide, is the chronicler of Trenton; her heroine, intrepid bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, has made her home there for 20 entertaining books.  And New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who just had an overwhelming electoral victory this month in his reelection bid, is now the darling of the GOP, plotting his likely bid for the White House from the New Jersey capitol.

Yet the two have never shaken hands. Determined to rectify this situation, we spoke by phone with Evanovich, the prolific author of 45 books:

 TIME: Takedown Twenty is your 20th novel about Stephanie Plum. What makes Stephanie tick?
Janet Evanovich: I think it’s the same thing that makes everyone else tick.  She’s just a normal person. She’s a very average person, out there trying to get through the day. She doesn’t have any grandiose ambitions. She’s a good person with a family that she loves and drives her nuts. She has a couple hot guys in her life, which is one more than most of us.

I know you’ve been asked this thousands of times, but is she based on you?
There is a lot that we share. I don’t know if she’s based on me, but when I created the series, I knew that I was going into an area that was new for me, that I knew nothing about being a bounty hunter. So the easiest thing to do was, of course, to learn with Stephanie, for me to put myself in her shoes. And when I’m writing, most of the times, when Stephanie is confronted with a situation, with a dilemma, with a decision to be made, I ask myself,  What would I do? If I were in her shoes, what would I do?

I’ve given her a lot of my history: we went to the same college; we have a lot of the same embarrassing moments; we have a lot of the same embarrassing relatives. The whole Grandma Mazur and funeral home thing, that’s right out of my childhood. That’s part of my history.

The Plum books are based in Trenton. Why?

Well, because I’m a Jersey girl. That was where I grew up. That’s really what I know. And I ‘ve moved around a lot since then, but I think that’s what shaped me. I think it doesn’t matter where I live [she currently resides in Naples, Florida] or how old I get, I’ll always be a Jersey girl. And I’ll always understand that culture. I feel comfortable with it. I think there’s a lot of value to it. I love the energy. I like the kind of in-your-face survival mentality that you find there. I like the fact that there’s a lack of political correctness, because I have like my own crusade against political correctness. I think we’ve confused political correctness with kindness and decency, so I just don’t go there. I insult everyone.

New Jersey has been in the news a lot lately, with Chris Christie’s victory. Have you ever met him?

I have not.

Would you like to?

I would love to! I think he’s an interesting, obviously talented guy. I think it’s going be a pretty interesting thing to see where he goes.

Do you think he’ll end up as President?

I think it’s possible. But as we’ve been seeing in last six years, anything’s possible when it comes to the president.

Do you think New Jersey gets a bad rap?

Not in my eyes. I think New Jersey has all the problems that any urban center has and certainly makes a lot of mistakes. Trenton has made a lot of mistakes, and Trenton has lots of problems when it comes to crime and politics. But there’s so much good about New Jersey. I think Christie is doing a lot of good stuff.

Your son and daughter work with you, don’t they?

[…] My kids are a part of the business, my son and my daughter. They live in my neighborhood. We’re like a little herd, we move around together. And lot’s of times they come over for lunch and we have lunch meetings, talk about the books. They help me when I’m struggling with plot or whatever. Or we talk about business—where we’re going. Or sometimes we just enjoy each other’s company and eat lunch. Even though we work together, we still actually like each other.  […]

At three o’clock, my family has hired a trainer who drags me off to the gym for an hour. Because I’m very sedentary, so I always have weight issues. I mean, this is another reason I love Chris Christie. I like anybody who’s got a bigger waist size than I do.

Forbes reported in September that you made $24 million last year. Were they accurate? Are they in the neighborhood?

They’re in the neighborhood. They’re definitely in the neighborhood. We don’t talk to Forbes. They call me every year and we don’t give out any financial information, so they have to dig around and look at contracts and all that kind of stuff. So they’re never precisely accurate. But I do make a lot of money. [Laughs.] I do.

Has it changed your life dramatically, to making that kind of money?

Yes, in surprising ways. It doesn’t make me feel like any different person. I love going to the supermarket. Every Sunday we go out, my daughter and my three year-old grandson. We go to breakfast and then we go to Whole Foods and go food shopping, and go to Publix. There’s still a very strong part of me that’s Janet the mom. And there’s still strong part of me that’s Janet, the writer who wasn’t published for ten years, and then was a romance writer, making two thousand a year. I was that person for a so long, I don’t think that person will ever go away.

But what the money has done is, it’s allowed me to hire somebody to come in and help with the housework. It’s given me time. It allows me to buy good food. To not be standing at the cash register, counting out my change, and putting back a can of tomato sauce.  I did that for a lot of years, and I don’t have to do that anymore.

The most important difference that it made is that, last October my 40-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia, and it allowed me to fly him to Mass General, and get him the very best medical help I could get him. It allowed me to be able to afford to charter a plane, because he couldn’t fly commercial. He had no immunity. His blood count was bottomed out. And I had the money to be able to charter a private plane to fly him to Mass General, which is the number one …That’s when you understand the value of money, when you have a tragedy like that. And that’s what my money did for me. He’s doing great. He had a bone marrow transplant March 1. He’s home here, he’s playing tennis, he’s in remission. He’s going forward with his life. He expect to be cured, he looks healthy. He looks like he was big faker because he’s just doing great. But that is the real value of money, when you have the ability to do something like that.

You turned 70 this year and you look gorgeous. What’s your secret?

Well I have a real good crew. I have a fantastic hairdresser. I have a guy who gives me, what he calls, his “beauty lite.” I have a real team. I really do. I don’t look like that when I ‘m sitting at my computer and going off to the supermarket. I think that age is just a number. While I don’t look quite as glamorous, as I do in my pictures, everyday, I think I’m doing pretty good. I get up in the morning and the truth is, I think I’m 35, that’s how I feel. I feel like I’m 35. I feel like I’m a working woman. … I’ve been very fortunate—I’m never sick. Aside from falling off the stage and breaking my foot a couple years ago, I just don’t have anything wrong with me. I don’t know what you’re supposed to feel at 70 but it’s not an issue for me. I just don’t feel 70. It’s just an arbitrary number. Of course, the facelift helped.

Did you have one?

Yeah I had a facelift when I was 60. It was my a birthday present to myself.

What did you think?

It was the best thing I ever did.

Did it hurt?

Nah, I was all drugged up. I had it done in New York. I had a fabulous surgeon. I told them, “I don’t want to be pulled so tight, I don’t’ want to look like I’m twelve. I just want to look good for my age.” It was just an amazing experience. I had it done because I was looking at someone in the mirror and I had no idea who she was. She just didn’t look like who I felt like inside. I was starting to have droopy eyes and I didn’t know who that was. It was a total identity disconnect. So I got up the courage, because I’m not really a doctor person, and went in and got this facelift. I get up in the morning and I look in the mirror, and I think, Huh, I’m still pretty cute.