It isn’t often that Hamilton and the ‘Burg, as well as downtown Trenton, NJ, gets to be the salty backdrop for a string of novels and a major motion picture.
Janet Evanovich, the author of a wildly popular twenty book series set in Trenton, created colorful characters that you could swear you know. An Entertainment Weekly reviewer once called the “local color a bit too forcibly hued,” in the books that feature a heroine with an attitude, money problems and a boyfriend who’s a Trenton cop.
To Trenton locals, each detail is like a firework of recognition bursting. They love Stephanie Plum because they know she’s the real deal. She has to be. She lives in their neighborhood. She hangs at Italian Peoples Bakery.
The first book, One for the Money, has just been released as a film starring Katherine Heigl with Debbie Reynolds in the supporting role of Grandma Mazur. Evanovich was a special guest at the movie’s premier last night in New York City.
She spoke with me about her writing and how she draws upon her Trenton background.
Janet, how did you come to pick Trenton for the setting for your Stephanie Plum, Bounty Hunter, novels?
Trenton has a good mix of urban and small town. And I thought the Delaware would be convenient for dumping bodies.
Trenton area residents are charmed by the references to local settings in your books and “Trenton ex-pats” say reading the books make them homesick. Your bio says your hometown is in Central Jersey, not far from Sayerville and East Brunswick. How have you managed to acquire such accurate and useful detail of the Trenton area? Who’s your source?
My parents moved to Mercerville when I was in college, so I got to know the area. We spent a lot of great evenings enjoying Burg restaurants.
Local Burg businesses, like Italian People’s Bakery, are thrilled and flattered to be included in Stephanie Plum’s universe. Matt Guagliardo, an IPB owner, said the bakery is referenced in the movie. He also recounted your visit and said you were very pleasant. What might we see included as landmarks in future Stephanie Plum stories?
A couple of years ago National Public Radio interviewed me at Italian People’s and they were gracious enough to let us get in the way during the morning pastry and coffee rush. The bakery and its great cakes, cookies and canolis was one of the inspirations for one of the chief hangouts in the Plum books — the Tasty Pastry. If you’re planning on a tour of Trenton, don’t use one of my books as a guide because other than landmarks like the “Trenton Makes…” Bridge, the Quakerbridge Mall, the hospitals and some of the main streets, I make everything else up and I frequently switch streets around for privacy purposes.
Have you had a Rossi Burger?
No, but my sister hung out there all the time.
The movie dressed up a town in Pennsylvania as Trenton (probably less potholes). How much input or consultation, if any, did you have with the moviemakers? Did the screenwriters and producers come to you with questions?
Actually, the movie was shot in the Pittsburgh area and I can’t comment about the potholes because I never visited the set. I had no input on the movie. That said, I was really pleased when I saw it.
Has there been any talk of the movie becoming a franchise or a TV show?
That would be fun, but my guess is that the movie company will probably wait and see what the box office tells them before plunging ahead.
Fans that have visited with you at book signings characterize you as very entertaining with a witty and quick sense of humor, not unlike your heroine. Do you share Stephanie’s feisty, take-it-to-their-face attitude? Any thoughts on the selection of Katherine Heigl to play your main character?
Stephanie’s younger and more quick witted than I am. She’s much faster at coming up with snappy comebacks than I could ever be. I think Katherine Heigl really does a great job as Stephanie in the movie.
Do you have a plan for ending the series, such as Sue Grafton had with 26 books based on the alphabet?
I don’t. I’m having too much fun writing about the Plum gang to call it quits.
Have any shoutouts or messages for Trentonians?
Hello to Joe Juniak, a former Trenton cop who helped me so much in the early stages of my research. He remains a good friend to this day.
Your co-authored series of romance novels is keeping pace with your other series, with the newest, Love in a Nutshell, released on January 3rd. What can you tell us about the new book and working with Dorien Kelly?
It’s set in a small Michigan resort town. Our heroine, Kate, is a magazine editor who’s just lost her job. She returns to make over her parent’s lake house (nicknamed the Nutshell) into a bed and breakfast. She meets Matt, the owner of the brewery who’s having problems — someone’s been sabotaging his business. Kate needs money and he hires her to get to the bottom of the problem. She starts to fall for Matt and sparks fly, as they say. Dorien, a successful writer of romances in her own right, has been great to work with.
Evanovich’s next novel is scheduled to be published in June.