Solving Etiquette Mysteries with Janet Evanovich

Takedown Twenty” is Janet Evanovich’s twentieth novel in a series starring her heroine Stephanie Plum, a Trenton, NJ lingerie buyer-turned-bounty hunter. The book is in the top spot of the New York Times Best Sellers List this week, which is pretty familiar territory for Evanovich at this point.

Since starting the series in 1994, Evanovich has imagined her character into – and out of – a variety of tricky circumstances, so we figured she would have the answers to the (real or imagined) etiquette crimes faced by our listeners.


Brendan Francis Newnam: Janet Evanovich got her start writing romantic fiction. She’s now famous for her wildly successful mystery-adventure novels featuring lingerie buyer turned bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum. All in all, Janet has sold more than 75 million books. Her latest is called “Takedown Twenty,” and it is, yes, the twentieth installment in the Plum series.  And Janet, welcome.

Janet Evanovich: Thank you.

 Brendan Francis Newnam: This twentieth book is well-titled. I know you have your audience help you with the titles.

Janet Evanovich: Yeah. I’m missing the title gene. We needed help on that.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So this is your twentieth Stephanie Plum novel and I’m curious, at this point, what is your relationship like with Stephanie? Is she like an old friend? Is she a daughter you’re watching grow up, or is she just a day job?

Janet Evanovich: Well, a little bit of everything, but she is a day job. I’m a professional. Not that I don’t know where she lives. If you notice I’m wearing Uggs today, even though I’m in L.A., because I broke my toe over the weekend.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Oh man. Sort of reminiscent of Plum?

Janet Evanovich: Yeah, one of those Stephanie things. At least twice a year I break a toe. But I wanted to be all dressed up today because I had a lot of meetings, so I got Uggs with little bows on the back. These are my dress Uggs.

Rico Gagliano: I think you need steel toe boots is what it sounds like.

Janet Evanovich: Oh, that would take all the fun out of it. Life is an adventure, right?

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah.

Rico Gagliano: Many of the books, all of them I guess, take place in Trenton, New Jersey. This is where Stephanie is from, and this is where you’re from. And, at least partly, this book revolves around Stephanie tracking down this mobster named Uncle Sunny. There is such a history with these kind of characters, the New Jersey mobster. What  previous characters did you draw from, or maybe what did you consciously stay away from, coming up with this guy?

Janet Evanovich: I was just basically ripping off “The Sopranos.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: Really?

Rico Gagliano: Good job.

Janet Evanovich: I’ll steal from anybody. I’m not proud.

Brendan Francis Newnam: This whole series was inspired by “Midnight Run,” right? The movie with Robert De Niro where he plays a bounty hunter.

Janet Evanovich: That’s true. Yeah. I was coming out of romance and looking for something that my heroine could do because I didn’t want her to be a P.I., I didn’t want her to be a cop. And I saw the movie Midnight Run and I thought, “This is so cool!” I didn’t know anything about the bail bonds industry. I had never heard about bounty hunters.

Rico Gagliano: It’s kind of between an outlaw and the law, in a weird way.

Janet Evanovich: Yeah. And it was a long time ago. It was before “Dog.” Now everybody knows about bounty hunters.

Brendan Francis Newnam: In public radio, we hire bounty hunters for people who say they’re gonna donate and don’t.

Janet Evanovich: I could make some money in my spare time.

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s right. So are you ready for our etiquette questions?

Janet Evanovich: Yeah, because I’m just full of etiquette.

Brendan Francis Newnam: We can tell.

Rico Gagliano:  This is from Kevin in Seattle. Kevin writes, “There’s almost always a camper parked outside my apartment. Thirty feet of light-blocking, parking-hogging lameness. I don’t know who it belongs to, but not someone in our small complex. Just curious how Stephanie Plum would take care of this?”

Janet Evanovich: Well, if she needed money, she could have it towed and sent chop shop and she might be able to make some spare change. But if she really wanted to have fun with it, I think she could get Lulu to shoot out the tires.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Lulu, her driver?

Janet Evanovich: Yeah, and then maybe explode it. I love car explosions. I have to destroy at least four cars in a book. She could have it run over by a dump truck, garbage truck…

Rico Gagliano: That’s much better. That’s a little more polite.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So there you go Kevin. You can either bomb it, send it to a chop shop, or have someone run it over.

Janet Evanovich: There you go.

Rico Gagliano: Three choices. Whichever fits into your lifestyle, I guess.

Brendan Francis Newnam: This next question comes from Lisa in Burbank. Lisa writes, “Stephanie’s mother is constantly pushing her to change jobs. ‘I hear they’re hiring at the button factory!’ is one line when she’s trying to get her to switch work. What’s the best way to politely decline job related advice from relatives?”

Janet Evanovich: She could say,”I really appreciate the fact that you’re trying to help me get a job. The button factory is very exciting, but I’ve already accepted a position at the condom factory.” There really was a condom factory in Trenton.

Rico Gagliano: Is that true? Was it a major employer?

Janet Evanovich: Yeah it was. The Trojan factory was there.

Rico Gagliano: It was a company town for Trojan?

Janet Evanovich: Yes, yes it was. And when I started the book, I wanted to use that and everybody was like, “Oh my God, you can’t do that.” So I changed it to a button factory.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Wow. Famously the slogan is, “Trenton makes what the world takes.” And now I’m trying to work that into a condom factory… “Trenton prevents the world from making…”

Rico Gagliano: Period.

Janet Evanovich: It’s not a good visual.

Rico Gagliano: And now we have a nice euphemism for condoms. We’ll just call them buttons.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well, there you go, Lisa. Just shame your mother by suggesting you’re gonna get a more embarrassing job.

Rico Gagliano: Here’s something from Melinda in Los Angeles. I love this question. “There is a woman in my office,” writes Melinda, “who always calls me Meredith even though my name is Melinda. She is super nice and we have had some deep conversations, however she’s been calling me by the wrong name for about two months now. Last week she did it in front of some other co-workers and now I feel like I’m leading a double life. Help. This actually happens a lot.”

Janet Evanovich: I think good for you, because you have a double life, which means you can have twice as many hot guys. And anyway, who really cares? Get a life, Melinda.

Rico Gagliano: But it’s her name.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I like how you use the correct name. “Get a life, Melinda.”

Rico Gagliano: How did she get into this thing? They say it the first time and you just correct them.

Janet Evanovich: Yeah, wouldn’t she just correct them?

Brendan Francis Newnam: Why is Melinda, not to be mean to our listener, but why is she…  Melinda why do you have to hang out with this woman?

Rico Gagliano: Well she says that she’s nice. I think this is Melinda’s problem.

Janet Evanovich: Or she could get a magic marker and she could write her name on her forehead. See these problems are so easy to solve. You just got to be creative.

Rico Gagliano: Just go for it. And maybe, on some levels, she wants to lead a double life or she would have corrected the woman to begin with.

Janet Evanovich: Or she could start a campaign to start calling everybody by the wrong name.

Rico Gagliano: She should start calling this friend…

Janet Evanovich: Fred. Call her Fred.

Rico Gagliano: There you go Melinda. Or Meredith. Whichever you prefer.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So we have a question from John in Pasadena, California. John writes, “Why shouldn’t it be okay to quietly talk on a cell phone while dining out alone? Other patrons talk with each other.”

Janet Evanovich: I don’t know why it isn’t okay.

Rico Gagliano: It is weird when you put it that way.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I don’t think it’s okay.

Janet Evanovich: Really?

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah. Because I feel like my antennae are up. Years and years of evolution have told us that if someone’s talking to themselves, they’re crazy. And you need to protect yourself, so your whole Darwinian, biological drive to protect your family is up.

Janet Evanovich: Well that’s sort of scary.

Rico Gagliano: That’s true. He’s thinking, after reading your books, this is how one thinks.

Janet Evanovich: I think noise is noise and, if you can talk to some guy next to you, you should be able to talk on your cell phone, as long as it’s quiet.

Rico Gagliano: It’s also, in a way though, by making this an issue, lonely people have to pay the price. They’re lonely and they want to talk to somebody. They don’t have a buddy to spend time with.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Then they can get a TV dinner and call your friends at home.

Janet Evanovich: Boy, you’re tough. I tell you.

Rico Gagliano: He’s a little tougher than me.

Janet Evanovich: You’re from New York and you’re not talking on your cell phone in restaurants? What is that?

Brendan Francis Newnam: I can’t afford to go out to restaurants in New York. And we don’t have cell phone service in the subways which is amazing, so people just have to read books.

Rico Gagliano: It’s terrible.

Janet Evanovich: Well, I am in favor of reading books.

Rico Gagliano: I would imagine.

Brendan Francis Newnam: There ya go.

Rico Gagliano: So, John, if you’re gonna be on the phone, talk quietly. Or better yet, bring a book. And Janet thank you so much for telling our audience how to behave.

Janet Evanovich: It was fun.