Life at the Top...of the Bestseller List

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Authors can rarely boast that their books soar instantly to No. 1, but they're not Janet Evanovich. The novelist's last seven books have done just that, and her latest, Twelve Sharp, is no exception — it has spent much of the summer atop the New York Times best-seller list. As usual, her spunky heroine, bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, prevails against the odds. Evanovich, 63, got together with TIME's Andrea Sachs and talked about about her heroine, NASCAR and New Jersey's in-your-face attitude

Stephanie Plum, the heroine in your books, isn't the world's best bounty hunter.

She's better than she was at the beginning. But she's never going to be the superhero. She's never going to be the tough bounty hunter with all kinds of skills. That's just not what she's about. I've heard her described as ditzy, but she's absolutely not ditzy. She's not entirely prepared for the job she does, but she's smart, she's resilient, she's tenacious. She does the best that she can with what she has to work with. She has other ways of making her captures. Where a man might want to muscle his way in, beat down the door and drag somebody out, Stephanie Plum doesn't have to do that. She can sidle up to somebody in a bar and clap the cuffs on them.

She's also a saucy girl with two love interests — Ranger, also a bounty hunter, and Joe Morelli, a cop. What's that about?

It's just fun. She has these two hot guys in her life. She can't make up her mind. And why should she? This is fiction.

Plum is based in Trenton, N.J. Why?

In my mind, Jersey has energy. Jersey has a sense of humor about itself. Jersey has an in-your-face attitude. And Trenton is large enough that you could imagine that it would have a decent amount of crime. It has this small-town kind of environment, second-generation Americans, working-class people. This is my background. This is what I feel comfortable with.

There are so many tormented writers. You don't seem like one of them.

Are you kidding? Look at me. I'm in a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel. I have a view of Central Park. I'm living my dream. It would never have occurred to me that I would be able to have this lifestyle. I get up every morning at 5 a.m. I get my cup of coffee, I go into my office, and I go back into the world of Plum. I leave the real world and move into my make-believe world. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Who taught you how to write fiction?

It was really self-taught. I always felt that if it amused me, it would amuse a lot of other people too. So I just tried to find out what I liked — what do I like in television? What do I like in movies? What do I like in books? I think that I'm a very typical person. I am Average Janet. I come from this working-class background — went to a state school, first in my family to graduate from college, didn't even stay in a dorm. We didn't have any money, but we're hardworking people. This is America. I think that I am America.

Critics can be hard on commercial fiction like yours.

A critic is just one other reader. They have their opinions, just like all the other readers do.

Thousands of people flock to your book signings. What's it like to have this kind of following?

My fans are amazing! They want to know what these characters do between the books. That's one of the things that's fun about a series. You get hooked into it, just like a soap opera. You have an emotional investment in those characters. They ask questions like, Does Ranger have chest hair? Well, he does if you want him to!

One of your great loves is NASCAR. Why?

I love cars. I love the excitement of the competition. I love the way the cars smell. I love the sound of them. I go as often as I possibly can — six, seven, eight races last year. I want to see all of the tracks

With your seven-figure advances and big royalty checks, you must have amassed a little money by now.

No. I don't amass it. I spend it. Money isn't any good unless you get rid of it.

What do you spend it on?

My whole family works for me, and I pay everybody what they deserve, which is a really good salary because I wouldn't be here without them. Those lean years when I was unpublished, nobody ever said to me, "Why don't you get a real job?" They said, "You can do it, Mom." So now we're all sharing in it.