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The Story Behind The Sweet Spot
Dorothea Benton Frank, bestselling author of The Hurricane Sisters, interviews Stephanie Evanovich
Dottie: I just want to congratulate you on the success of your debut, Big Girl Panties. And you’re following that up a year later with a new novel that I’m sure will keep people talking.
Stephanie: Thanks, Dottie! It’s been a really fun year. I’m looking forward to the July eighth release of The Sweet Spot. I can’t wait to get back out there and talk to readers about it. And congrats on your new release—The Hurricane Sisters. It’s the book I think I’ll be taking with me when I travel, if I can wait that long to read it.
Dottie: The romantic duo in The Sweet Spot, Chase and Amanda Walker, were sidekicks in Big Girl Panties—did fans specifically ask for you to bring them back for a star turn?
Stephanie: After Big Girl Panties hit the streets and I started getting feedback, it was pretty clear that some readers really took to them. They nearly stole the show! And I’m positively thrilled by that. They may be my favorite couple.
Dottie: Chase Walker is a superstar baseball player and a lot of the tension in the novel comes from Amanda trying to decide if she wants to be a superstar’s girlfriend. I know you’re a sports fan. Were you excited to have a pro athlete as your hero?
Stephanie: Excited is a bit of an understatement. It was more like crazy-over-the-moon psyched. There’s just something about athletes . . . yum.
Dottie: There’s some genuinely fun, spicy scenes in this book. How do readers react when you turn up the heat?
Stephanie: When I went out on the road with Big Girl Panties and met readers, fun seemed to be the order of the day. Throw some spice in there and it’s a recipe for delicious hotness—at least I’m hoping that’s the case.
It was a top down kind of day. The sky was blue, with a few passing clouds and just a hint of breeze indicating that winter was waving its final good-bye. It hinted at summer just around the corner. The sun was bright and warm, encouraging buds to blossom into fragrant glorious flowers. The very atmosphere spoke of all the things possible as the earth renewed itself after a cold east coast hibernation. It was just too tempting. Amanda never put the top down anymore, not since the first summer she had the Chrysler Sebring anyway. She’d always wanted a convertible. At least fate had been kind enough to wait until August two years ago to sport around before a wasp tangled itself in her hair at 40 miles an hour on her way to opening day at the Cold Creek. It ended up stinging her hand, her neck and inadvertently, her front bumper and an unsuspecting fire hydrant. She spent the night she had meticulously been planning for months moping in an ER room with a slight concussion and a burn from the airbag. It had been air conditioning whenever she was in the car from then on. But when she walked out the front door that late April afternoon and was greeted with that first you-know-you-don’t-need-a-jacket day, she was willing to take the risk. Today felt different. And wasps would still be drowsy. Amanda watched ducks and geese and squirrels roaming in pairs as she drove past Maxwell Place Park, looking actually love struck, ready to extend their respective species. People on the streets were smiling as they hustled about their day, others were acting flirty. It was nothing short of spring fever, and she couldn’t help but catch it. At a stop light, she titled her face up towards the sun to let it shine on her for a moment as she offered up a quick prayer of thankfulness for this beautiful day, her wonderful life and all the possibilities that came with it. Maybe she’d do some flirting herself. She turned up the radio and began to bounce to the music. Yeah, it was a top down kind of day.
And then there was the seagull that flew overhead.
Amanda watched it all go down from the rearview mirror as she checked her make-up after pulling into The Cold Creek Grill’s small parking lot. The white and green gloppy goo fell perfectly onto the right side of her head, a stark contrast to her long black waves. She stared at it for a few moments as the reality and the poop sunk in.
“That didn’t just happen.”
But it did happen, and once again, Amanda Cole had been reminded. Never get too cocky. Avoid using words like perfect or wonderful. Never attach your own name. They were invitations to comeuppance. She wouldn’t go as far as to say she considered herself particularly unlucky, she just knew her boundaries. She couldn’t pinpoint when she’d learned it for sure, but it was probably somewhere in between not making cheerleading and being as her mother called it, “twenty pounds away from prom queen.”
Her mother wasn’t cruel, but she was blunt. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference and every now and then, someone you love says something thoughtless, and it sticks.
Catherine Cole didn’t really want her to be a prom queen, anyway. As Essex County DA, Amanda’s mother wanted her to be smart and shrewd and strong.
Amanda was beautiful and sensitive in spite of herself, her retired family court judge father never failed to remind her.
Amanda stomped in through the Cold Creek’s front door and slammed her purse on the bar with a loud thud. Eric and Nicole were going through the beer cooler’s inventory in preparation to stock up from the basement whatever they would need for the evening. Eric was a lanky blonde blue eyed surfer boy who had been accepted to Harvard, but opted for Bartending School instead when he realized how late he liked to sleep. All his savings and vacation time were spent in search of the perfect curl. In between budgeting, he felt New Jersey waves were as good as anyplace else, and he could be close to his family. Nicki was a free spirited Seaton Hall drop that Amanda had known since high school out who was trying to break into acting. She was a petite, vivacious brunette who had a great horror movie victim scream, but her booking to audition ratio was often disappointing. She did her best to stay optimistic, paying her dues, as they all called it. Eric was a few years younger but that didn’t prevent him and Nicki from becoming fast friends as well as roommates. Although nobody got involved, it was common knowledge that the two were known to hook up now and again, usually the result of her not getting the call and his ability to make the best commiserating cocktail. Amanda didn’t care if they shined the bar with their butts, as long as they could work together, did it after closing and cleaned up afterwards.
Eric looked up briefly from his clipboard and then took a double take as Amanda approached their end of the bar.
“Yikes,” he said, his face scrunching up in distaste, “Hope that’s not a fashion statement.”
“Bird,” was Amanda’s one word reply as she proceeded past them.
“Geez, what was that thing eating?” He said, casting a quick look to his counter-part.
“It’s supposed to be good luck!” Nicki called out while Amanda began disappearing within the ladies room.
“Not feeling it,” Amanda could be heard snapping as the door closed behind her. She walked up to the mirror over the sink to best assess how to clean the mess up. It had begun to drip further down, appeared to be soaking into the thick black hair she spent a half hour blowing dry. She took a deep breath. This was nothing more than a problem that needed solving. She had this. First she took some toilet paper and tried to scoop as much as she could with one grab. It got the bulk of it, but the parts left behind were now successfully smeared deeper into her hair and beginning to clump together. She wet some more tissue and tried to wash the remainder out, but it started to decompose in her hand and her hair, leaving bits of it behind and adding to the mix. She took one more handful of tissue and wet it again but this time left it too soaked. When she tried to gently squeeze it over the affected hair, the overflow dripped down her hand and onto the front of her blue silk Jones of New York blouse, leaving a wet spot directly over the center of her ample right breast.
“Really?” she shook her head in disgust at her reflection in the mirror. Not only did she have bird shit and toilet paper remnants in her hair, now she looked like she was lactating.
She had only managed to make things worse. Giving the shirt priority, she tried the hand dryer for it. After a minute, it dried up the moisture but left a rather large off color stain where the water had been. It no longer looked like she was lactating, but merely that she had lactated. The right side of her head was now crunchy.
Amanda stormed out of the bathroom, back to the bar where Eric and Nicki were now waiting.
“You can barely notice it,” Nicki said after staring for a minute.
“Are you kidding?” Eric took the more direct approach. “It looks like a pterodactyl flew over her after a chili cook-off.”
Amanda closed her eyes, bit her lip and began counting. When she reached eight the phone rang. She quickly fired off nine and ten out loud and went back near the front door.
“Cold Creek Grill. How may I help you?” She answered the phone as if her day was right as rain. She was a business woman, first and foremost.
“I need a reservation for tonight,” a gravelly voice barked into the phone. The caller was either on a cell phone with a bad connection or had a mouth full of marbles.
“Of course sir, what time are you looking for?”
“Seven,” he said impatiently and Amanda pictured him running to catch a subway.
“Let me make sure I have that available,” she told him, trying to buy time while she booted up the computer at the podium a few feet away. She moved the phone to the other side of her head, forgetting it was a war zone and her hair crackled near her ear.
“Trust me, sweetheart, you have a table available.”
“Sir?” She didn’t know what to be more offended by, his use of the word sweetheart or the underlying threat that she better be able to seat him. And she determined he was just some arrogant blowhard who was sitting with his feet up on his desk overlooking the water and a fat stogy in his mouth.
“A superstar is having dinner at your restaurant; you don’t want to make him wait.”
“All of our guests at the Cold Creek are VIPs Mr…?”
“Maybe I should speak to the owner?” he cut her off and she thought she heard more spit squish out of the end of his cigar.
“I am the owner. My name is Amanda Cole. To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?”
“Don’t seat us someplace high traffic like near the front. He’s not there to be an advertisement. You’ll get your photo op.”
It sounded so scathing, like she was some sort of a bistro whore looking to make a buck, as if she would be interested in taking a picture with him in the first place. Supreme Court justices and past presidents dined at the Cold Creek without incident. “Mr. What-ever-your-name-is, I’m not only concerned for the comfort of our guests, but the safety of my staff. And we have had some high profile guests in the past. Several are regulars.”
“Yeah, yeah, I heard that. That’s why I’m calling. But lady, you never had anyone this big,” he said with an air of superiority that was nothing short of skin crawling. At least he had upgraded her to lady.
If he wasn’t being such a total jack-ass, she might have taken him more seriously. “Would you like to tell me who he is, so that I might inform security?” she said with overt sarcasm. He could either take being spoken to in kind, or he would start to ream her out and she would hang up on him and he could dine elsewhere, bad business or not.
There was a pause and she thought he may have hung up on her first. But then he said, “No. Better you don’t know till he gets there. Someone tips off TMZ and the night’s a bust. And he brings his own security”
“Will they be joining you for dinner?”
His laugh was particularly smarmy. “They’re not paid to eat.”
So he wasn’t only rude, he was also a tyrant. “That’s fine, sir, they can stand guard with mine.” Only hers were imaginary. She no longer cared if the computer was ready. It was a Weds, they were rarely fully booked, and this man and his famous guest seemed intent on dining there. He was probably going to be more aggravation than anything else, even if he was only half as self-important as his representative. “You’re all set, dinner for two at seven. Would you like to leave me a name or is there a code word or what?”
There was another pause, and once again Amanda was given the false hope that he may have hung up and saved her from a night of inconvenient distractions at the very least. But then she heard him on the other end, it sounded like a snort.
“You’re spunky, kid,” he told her. “Name under Alan Shaw. I’ll be there at 6:50. I don’t like to wait either. And make sure there are good steaks on hand, he’s a meat-eater.”
There was no mistaking the disconnection this time. A security conscious carnivore with pope-like status was joining her for dinner tonight. One who had an obnoxious toady. She pulled the phone away from her ear, turned it off and wiped the watered down bird residue off it with the sleeve of her shirt before setting it down on the bar. She noted the time on the now fully booted up computer, which opened to the day’s reservation page. They were completely booked for seven. She had forgotten about the art house theatre opening a few blocks away. Strike three. Her day officially went bust at 2:02 pm. That was fast, and on a day that started off so well. When would she learn to keep thoughts on perfection out of her head?
Amanda took a look over at Eric and Nicole. When the exchange started taking a turn for the testy, they stopped what they were doing to watch, waiting to see if their usually competent boss was about to unravel. Amanda picked her purse up off the bar.
“Can you two hold down the fort for a couple hours?” she asked, more out of courtesy than concern while fishing out her keys.
“Sure,” they said in unison. Then Nicki added, “Where you going?”
“I’m using a mulligan and starting the day over,” Amanda said over her shoulder as she headed for the door. She wasn’t sure it was going to help.
Meet Stephanie Evanovich
Hi! My name is Stephanie Evanovich and I have a confession to make.
Ever since I was five years old, I wanted to be an actor. Okay, that’s not entirely true. At first I wanted to be a singer, but in my teenage years I started smoking. It didn’t take long for me to realize I had started sounding more like Bobcat Goldthwait than Celine Dion, so I scrapped the crooning. It would be years until I finally figured out that what I should have scrapped was the smoking. Can I get a rebel yell?
For decades I studied and practiced the craft, trying to pay my dues. I took classes; I did more cheesy community theater productions than I can count. I did some low-budget films—I don’t think I even remember the titles. I was also an extra on Fletch Lives. If you look really closely at the end, you can see a blurry head in a blue choir robe peeking through a door as they wheel a body past. The look I was going for was horror; the assistant director actually told me to keep doing it for all the takes, so I’d like to think I made an impression. But my real claim to fame is that there are probably enough head shots of me in garbage cans to shut down a local landfill.
And since I’m being completely honest, there were long stretches of time when the priority was entertaining my two sons, who (coincidentally) were also my best audience. If they didn’t have to go and grow up on me, I’d still be happily doing it. But I knew that if I raised them right, eventually they would venture out into the world on their own and I would have to have something to replace that tremendous void.
I started writing to amuse myself and my friends, but still held on to the acting dream. It was actually the release of the movie The Wrestler that finally put a pile driver to it. I found out a good deal of it was filmed in Asbury Park, New Jersey—literally a half mile from my house. It was then that it dawned on me, like waking up out of a sleeper hold: if I can’t find my way onto a set as an extra in a movie about a washed-up wrestler that is being filmed a stone’s throw from my front door, maybe I don’t have the right connections. I won’t even bother going into detail about the funk that followed.
Luckily, I have some very supportive friends who also happen to be writers and creative types in general. They encouraged and motivated me to write the novel Big Girl Panties. I can’t help but see symmetry in it all: whether I’m singing, acting, or writing, maybe what I really want to do is entertain. I just took the scenic route to my medium.
I consider it a privilege to have this opportunity to try to entertain you. In fact, I’ve been waiting for it most of my life.