As we speak, author Janet Evanovich is taking a well-deserved hiatus in her rural New Hampshire home; in a couple of weeks, she embarks on a 15-city North American tour to promote her latest Stephanie Plum mystery, Hot Six.

"I hate the flying part, but I love meeting my readers, and I'm a real ham," she says, laughing. "Still, even a two-week book tour takes four weeks out of your life. The week before you go, you have to get your roots done and shop for new clothes because the old ones don't fit anymore. Then you're on the road for a couple of weeks, and everything revolves around you; a driver takes you back and forth to the hotel, people cater to your every need. When I get home, I'm nuts for a week as I adjust to being a normal human being again. The first thing I do is get dressed in a pair of sweats and go to the grocery store."

Like her fictional alter-ego Stephanie Plum, Janet Evanovich is charming, talkative, and funny. "Have you read the new book?" she asks me. I reply that I have read it and loved it. So you got an ARC (advance reading copy)? she queries further. When I answer in the affirmative, she chuckles and says, "Good for you; one sold on eBay a few weeks ago for over $400. [The actual figure was $462.78, ed.] When you have finished with it, you can put it up for auction and generate some extra income." It seems that six of her loyal fans were so eager to find out the identity of Plum's new lover (an unresolved cliffhanger from the last book, High Five) that they formed a consortium to place the high bid on the internet auction. They shared their newly gleaned information by conference call, passed the book around amongst one another, then resold it on eBay to recoup some of their expenses.

A cast of lovable characters in Evanovich's work ensures that readers keep coming back for more. "I used TV sitcoms as models for the Stephanie Plum books," Evanovich says. "It's like Seinfeld. Stephanie is Seinfeld, the central character everybody revolves around." The usual suspects return in Hot Six: the enigmatic and sensual Ranger; on again/off again sweetheart Morelli; sassy Lula, the sidekick with a 'tude; and the unsinkable Grandma Mazur, who moves in with Stephanie after a falling out with Stephanie's parents. "Grandma Mazur is actually my Aunt Lena with a little bit of my Grand-mother Schneider thrown in. When I was a little girl, all the ladies would have coffee and read the obituaries in the newspaper, then go to visit the recently departed. This was before there were shopping malls, and in that part of New Jersey back then, the only evening recreation available was funeral parlors. They would even visit people they didn't know." Hot Six is, not surprisingly, the sixth book in the Stephanie Plum series (the others being One For the Money, Two For the Dough, Three to Get Deadly, Four to Score, and High Five). The wily feminine bounty hunter chases down a variety of oddball perpetrators: a high-school girlfriend about to jump off a bridge, a dope-smoking burnout with a generous spirit, and a homicidal maniac whose weapon of choice is an elderly Ford. In between Plum finds time for romance of both the requited and unrequited varieties with her two main squeezes, Ranger and Morelli.

Many fans of the Stephanie Plum series may not be aware that Evanovich had a steady career as a romance writer for several years before her first mystery. "I didn't get my first book published until I was in my early 40s," she says." In that respect I think I'm a great role model for my children; I have shown them that you are never to old to try something new. I really enjoy genre fiction," she continues. "I wanted to write in the first person, and this is one of the only areas in which you can do that. I think I write adventure novels, rather than mysteries, like, um, Indiana Jones in Trenton, New Jersey." The Indiana Jones analogy is an apt one, as TriStar Pictures has bought the rights to the first Stephanie Plum novel, One For the Money. " That was five or six years ago, and we are still waiting," she laughs. And who should play the lead role? "That's a tough one. I sort of see Stephanie as a composite; there is some of me, some of my daughter, Goldie Hawn, Cher, Julia Louis-Dreyfus." Suggestions from the Evanovich website include Julia Roberts, Jenna Elfman, and Sandra Bullock.

Stephanie Plum, like many of us, is transportationally challenged. In Hot Six, her unloved Escort is reduced to cinders by a misplaced cigarette of dubious origins (another drug-related tragedy, if a deceased Escort can be considered a tragedy). Her new ride is a Buick of indeterminate age but impeccable provenance: "That car is based on my father's old baby blue Buick that he bought when I was a small child. It was so uncool. I always wanted a snappy little roadster like the one that Nancy Drew had, but we were stuck with that old Buick. It was still around when I learned to drive. All of my friends had Impalas and other cool cars, and I had this Buick." So, did Evanovich ever get the Nancy Drew-esque roadster? "No, she replies with resignation in her voice. Although I did have a '66 Mustang, which was pretty okay."

Between book tours, speaking engagements, and other promotional activities, Evanovich spends a large portion of her day writing. " I start each morning at 7:30 a.m., and work through until lunchtime. I'm supposed to get some exercise, and sometimes I actually do," says Evanovich, who claims her favorite exercise is shopping. "In the evenings, four or five days out of seven I work on the website, e-mails, etc, and answer letters." Letters? "We get 10 or 15 snail mail letters a week as well as a number of e-mails. When a new book is due out, those numbers can go up dramatically. We answer every one that comes in. It's our way of bringing the reader in and making him part of the family. Basically," she continues, "I'm just a boring workaholic. I motivate myself to write by spending the money I make before it comes in."

A Plum-crazy website

Don't miss the Janet Evanovich website. Designed by Evanovich's daughter, Alex, the website is exceptionally user-friendly and chock full of interesting factoids and fun stuff to do. There is an author bio (actually an autobio ), a bibliography, a chat room, a schedule of tour and book release dates. Readers can even supply the title for the next book in the series. The website also includes excerpts from each of the Stephanie Plum novels, the chatty Plum News newsletter, and some great graphics featuring the old blue Buick. Says Evanovich, "Nowadays I think that old Buick is kind of cool. Go figure."

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