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Stephanie Plum, Monk scribes collaborate on new book

| Saturday, July 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Two old friends decided a while back to write a novel together. You may have heard of them: Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg.

Evanovich is author of the best-selling Stephanie Plum novels (“One for the Money, Two for the Dough” and so on), among other works. Goldberg, meanwhile, has been a successful TV producer and writer (“Diagnosis Murder”) as well as penning a series of books, including 15 novels inspired by the “Monk” TV show.

Their new collaboration, “The Heist,” is about con artist Nicolas Fox; Kate O'Hare, an FBI agent who has doggedly pursued Fox for years; and a complicated series of scams and schemes that includes stops in Las Vegas and Indonesia. Goldberg said the first book resembled a TV pilot in setting up the premise for a series of stories about the devil-may-care Fox and work-fixated O'Hare. Indeed, there's already a short e-book prequel, “Pros and Cons,” and Goldberg is deep into the draft of a second full novel.

And it all started when the longtime friends were talking over dinner about a year ago.

“I was saying how I loved being in the world of Plum but I was itching to go out to more exotic locations,” Evanovich said in a telephone interview. “Everyone wants Stephanie to stay in New Jersey, and I wanted to go to New Zealand. I wanted to go to Pakistan. So the more we talked, the more we realized we were thinking about the same book.

“Lee had been wanting to do a book that had really compelling characters, that had romance — not the romance of a romance novel but the romance of exotic locations, of Rio, of the South Seas. And we wanted to go after criminals on a more global scale. Stephanie Plum is sort of like writing a crime novel in a phone booth. It's very self-contained. And I wanted to do something that was a little bit bigger. ... And every time I said I wanted to do something, Lee would say, ‘I want to do that, too!' ”

Goldberg, in a separate interview, also thought “this was something that hasn't been done in a while.” He sees it in terms of things like the original, Steve McQueen-starring “Thomas Crown Affair,” or TV shows like “Remington Steele” and “It Takes a Thief”: “Sexy, smart characters, international locales and a lot of fun. Real energy, and an escapist adventure.”

“So, by the time the pizza was done,” Evanovich said, “we had decided that, why don't we write this together?”

Goldberg was delighted. “I am working with a superstar,” he said. “She is amazing.” Indeed, “Pros and Cons” recently hit ninth place on the New York Times list of best-selling e-book fiction (and ranked 17th among all print and e-book fiction), which Goldberg credited to Evanovich's following.

Still, considering their respective busy lives, Evanovich said it was unlikely that either would write the book solo. “We figured together we could actually make a whole person,” she said.

But with two halves miles apart: Evanovich lives and works in Florida, while Goldberg is based in Los Angeles. So there were phone calls, and some visits to Florida by Goldberg, and help from Evanovich's daughter Alex and son Peter, both of whom work for her company, Evanovich Inc.

“We spent a lot of time talking at first, and coming up with the characters, and making sure they were the characters we had been dreaming about, and who they were, what were their aspirations. We made long lists of character analysis,” Evanovich said.

But — surprising in a crime-novel writer — Evanovich said, “I suck at plotting out a book. It's just not my thing. And Lee is brilliant at it. So, after we set up our characters and our mission statement, Lee went off and set up the plot.” A world traveler, he also knew most of the locations firsthand. (“The only place in this book I haven't been, and Janet hasn't been, is Indonesia,” Goldberg said. “So I called people I know who have been there and did a lot of research.”) But there's an Evanovich touch in the romantic-sexual tension between Fox and O'Hare.

Because Evanovich was busy with a new Plum novel, Goldberg wrote the first draft of “The Heist.” Along the way, he sent pages to Evanovich, who made comments before Goldberg continued.

When the first draft was done, “by that time I was done with my Plum, and I took it over,” Evanovich said. “I did a very extensive editing of it ... because we wanted a product that would satisfy my readers as well as his audience. ... My job was to take all of the good stuff he did and put it into my voice” — while retaining a sense of Goldberg's style.

“I learned so much from her about writing, and about telling stories, and about humor,” Goldberg said of their work together. “She has raised my game enormously. I'm learning all sorts of new things. ... There's a humor that only Janet does. She can take something that I've written, for instance, and just by deleting a line or two, or twisting the phrasing, suddenly raises it 1,000 percent. Or she will put in a female point of view that I never would have thought of in a million years.”

Evanovich also has some things she always does in her books. “I have rules, right?” she said. “Like, we don't kill any cats and dogs. .... And we write about good people. They're flawed. But they're people like me. To some extent, I think I'm writing about myself, because I think that I'm pretty average, and that's just what interests me — the average person doing something extraordinary.”

An average author of dozens of popular books?

“I work very hard at (writing) ... and I've been very lucky and very successful,” she said. “But when you strip that away, I'm sitting here in Pilates pants covered in dog hair. I get up and start work at 5 o'clock (in the morning) so I haven't had a shower yet. And I've got cold coffee sitting here ... and I actually like eating at McDonald's. I think I'm still the person who was born into a blue-collar family.”

Goldberg, who has spent a long career both writing and dealing with writers, thinks Evanovich understates her accomplishments. He has nothing but praise for his new writing partner.

“I'm very much used to collaboration,” said Goldberg. “I enjoy collaboration. And I think Janet and I are bringing out the best in each other. It's not me writing Janet, or Janet writing me. It's an Evanoberg!”

Rich Heldenfels is a staff writer for the Akron Beacon Journal.

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