Recently we watched a film on Netflix which I had come across while looking through their offerings. I didn't know anything about it but as soon as it began I remembered something. One for the Money was based on a book by the author Janet Evanovich, whose books I had seen around and remembered as a successful author but was vague on what she wrote.
The film was kind of cute as it starred the lovely Kathleen Heigl who is always a pleasure to watch. The other characters (two hunky kind of heroes) were not as well known to me other than Debbie Reynolds as her grandmother and Sherri Shepherd who played a secondary character, Lulu, but is better known for being on The View.
As soon as I heard the name of the bounty hunter heroine, Stephanie Plum, I figured that this book, written in 1994, was intended to be part of a series. Some research after the film told me that Evanovich has written now 19 books with Plum as her heroine. Her last one landed instantly at the top of the NY Times bestseller list. She's obviously doing something right.
Not for me. I won't be buying the books and wouldn't likely watch another movie based on them; but when I see something like this, as a writer, I always wonder what that writer did right. What made it work for so many people? Can I learn from what she did to maybe write something that would likewise appeal to more readers? These stories are mystery/adventures not romances even though there is male female interaction-- and the torsos on those male heroes-- oh my.
What I think works is the family relationships, that this heroine seems like an ordinary woman (even if more beautiful than the average) who can then do these daring things, seeing her succeed, and the humor (although the grandmother shooting the holiday dinner turkey didn't seem funny to me). The stories are based in Trenton, New Jersey, where there is a tight family and also the broader community of which the heroine is part (and from which Evanovich also has come).
Janet Evanovich was a romance writer who decided she liked better the action part of her stories than the sexy parts. She had a reputation as a romance writer and to jump genres takes some toughness. She did serious research into what it would take to be a bounty hunter, weapons, cases, the investigations, etc. She uses that in her books as well as the family interactions and the attraction Plum has with either of those two hunky heroes.
I looked at the reader reviews for her last book, the one that was an instant best seller, and some of the readers who had stuck with her are getting tired of the same old same old. It's not easy to turn out almost twenty books without finding some repetition. In that length of time, stringing out the reader for which man the heroine will choose (if either) sounds a little like Matt and Miss Kitty from the old Gunsmoke TV series. Haven't we gotten past that and why can't Plum figure out who she really wants-- if either? Doesn't that smack of some heroine immaturity as well as hanging the readers out there?
As I thought about the plot in One for the Money, which I am assuming is the plot in its book, I felt it had a lot of phoniness. Through naivete or dumbness, Plum is constantly nearly getting killed and some fluke saves her or in steps one of the heroes to fix whatever she goofed up. I simply cannot get into such a book and can't imagine spending months writing about such a woman. She is the romance heroine in the worst way but without the romance-- sex does NOT equal romance.
What I wondered was Stephanie Plum Janet Evanovich's alter ego? It's not the life Evanovich lives but it's not unusual for authors to relate to one of their characters-- especially if you are going to live with that fictional character for nearly twenty years.
In my own books, the most I have linked together are three (loosely and without the same hero or heroines in each), but I can see the merit of creating such a series as it's a ready made audience for your next book. Except-- how you avoid being bored with it? Maybe when the heroine is you living this alternate lifestyle?
Anyway, I liked the film better than the critics but won't be reading the book to figure out more of how she has gained such popularity-- unless I can get it used at Bookman's when I am next in Tucson. I don't think I could do her kind of story; but since this blog is intended to encourage other writers who might have the potential to write such a series, it's something to think about. Series writing can be the way to go for building a readership and clearly Evanovich has done something right in hers; but I've said often and repeat again-- a writer can only write what is in them. And when you have to spend months or even years with these characters, it's important readers will like them but even more that you do.