“I write about the strug­gles, defeats and vic­to­ries we all ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Danielle Steel says her nov­els are deeper than you might think

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & STYLE - BY NORA KRUG nora.krug@wash­post.com Nora Krug is a con­tribut­ing editor at Book World.

“The idea for ‘Coun­try’ just hap­pened, which is how most of my books are con­ceived,” Danielle Steel says. “Some­thing just snags my in­ter­est and haunts me for a while. The ideas come out of the at­mos­phere, some­thing I see or hear or a news event. I’ve never writ­ten about coun­try mu­sic be­fore, but I re­searched it very care­fully, as I do all my books. I write about the strug­gles, defeats and vic­to­ries we all ex­pe­ri­ence in a wide va­ri­ety of sit­u­a­tions, and I think peo­ple get caught up in the sto­ries and iden­tify with them and the char­ac­ters be­cause they see them­selves in them.

Danielle Steel

Since the pub­li­ca­tion of her first novel, “Go­ing Home” in 1972, Danielle Steel has be­come a sta­ple of the beach bag, as in­dis­pens­able and re­li­able as a bot­tle of Cop­per­tone. Her glam­orous tales of love and heart­break have cap­ti­vated le­gions of book buy­ers — an es­ti­mated 800 mil­lion world­wide — and made her a near-per­ma­nent fix­ture on best­seller lists.

Some of this, of course, has to do with how many books Steel has writ­ten — 142 and count­ing — and how quickly she pro­duces them. Her latest book, “Coun­try,” is one of four she plans to pub­lish this year. Over the course of her long, boun­ti­ful ca­reer, Steel also has writ­ten po­etry, chil­dren’s books and lyrics — all while moth­er­ing nine chil­dren (and mar­ry­ing and di­vorc­ing five times).

In an in­ter­view by e-mail from her home in Paris, Steel talked about her rise to pop­u­lar­ity and why peo­ple shouldn’t call her books “beach reads” — or ask her for re­la­tion­ship ad­vice.

Why do you think your books are so ap­peal­ing to so many peo­ple?

I write about the strug­gles, defeats and vic­to­ries we all ex­pe­ri­ence in a wide va­ri­ety of sit­u­a­tions, and I think peo­ple get caught up in the sto­ries and iden­tify with them and the char­ac­ters be­cause they see them­selves in them. And of­ten read­ers find hope in what I write that they, too, will sur­vive what­ever they’re go­ing through.

Did you al­ways want to be a writer?

I started writ­ing by ac­ci­dent. I have al­ways been in­volved in the vis­ual arts, and my dream through­out my child­hood was to be a fash­ion de­signer. I have al­ways been in­volved in fash­ion de­sign and in­te­rior de­sign; I went to Par­sons School of De­sign [ and New York Univer­sity]. And now three of my daugh­ters work in fash­ion — as stylists, con­sul­tants and de­sign­ers. But my first job was as a trans­la­tor, be­cause I’m bilin­gual in English and French. My sec­ond

job was in a small bou­tique ad agency, Su­per­girls, in New York. I had al­ways writ­ten po­etry as a child and young girl, and I was a vo­ra­cious reader. At the ad agency, I be­gan writ­ing for our clients, one of whom was the pub­lisher of Ladies’ Home Jour­nal, and he en­cour­aged me to try writ­ing se­ri­ously. I took him at his word and wrote my first book [ at 19], and that’s how it all started. And con­trary to my early dreams, the art work be­came my hobby, and writ­ing be­came my pas­sion and life’s work. Which shows that you never know where life will take you, and what path will turn out to be the right one.

Your latest novel, “Coun­try,” tells the story of a woman who finds new love with a coun­try star. How­did you come up with this idea? Are you a coun­try mu­sic fan?

The idea for “Coun­try” just hap­pened, which is how most ofmy books are con­ceived. Some­thing just snags my in­ter­est and haunts me for a while. The ideas come out of the at­mos­phere, some­thing I see or hear or a news event. I’ve never writ­ten about coun­try mu­sic be­fore, but I re­searched it very care­fully, as I do all my books.

Can you tell us a bit about your own work as a lyri­cist?

I was asked to write lyrics by three French com­posers in France. I liked their mu­sic, and they liked my writ­ing, and they thought a col­lab­o­ra­tion would be ex­cit­ing, with each song telling a story. We made an al­bum to­gether [“Love Notes,” by Danielle Steel]. It was enor­mously chal­leng­ing to learn some­thing so new, but great fun to do it. I wrote the songs both in English and in French, and it took two years to pro­duce the al­bum and was a huge amount of work. It was also a new ex­pe­ri­ence for me to work as part of a team, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with oth­ers [sev­eral ar­rangers, the three com­posers, three singers, seven mu­si­cians]. It was fas­ci­nat­ing and very ex­cit­ing, and I learned a lot from them.

What’s your fa­vorite song?

My cur­rent fa­vorite song, in a light vein, is

“Happy,” by Phar­rell Wil­liams, be­cause it re­ally is so happy and makes ev­ery­one feel good.

You now write about four nov­els a year. How do you get it all done?

I take very lit­tle time off and work long, long hours, al­most all the time. My fam­ily comes first and then my work. I never go out and “play” or see friends or go to so­cial events if I have work to do. Work al­ways comes be­fore play for me. I’m very dis­ci­plined. I write in the day­time, but pre­fer to write at night, when all is peace­ful, and of­ten write for 20- to 22-hour stretches at a time. It’s phys­i­cally bru­tal, but good for the books when you stay with it as long as you can, with­out in­ter­rup­tion.

Of your books, which is your fa­vorite?

My fa­vorite book is al­ways the one I am cur­rently writ­ing at the time, or just fin­ished.

Is it true you don’t write on a com­puter?

I still write on my 1946 Olympia type­writer. I ac­tu­ally have sev­eral Olympias: my fa­vorite and orig­i­nal in San Fran­cisco, my No. 2 at my home in Paris and a room full of

bat­tered ones for spare parts. As type­writ­ers go, Olympias are re­mark­able ma­chines, and each one was partly hand­made, so each is dif­fer­ent and has a per­son­al­ity of its own.

Many of your books star suc­cess­ful women. Most of your read­ers are women. Have you con­sid­ered writ­ing a book that is about — and for — men?

Most of my read­ers are women, but many are men. And I have writ­ten some books that are more geared to men than women. “Daddy,” for in­stance, is about a man whose wife left him with three young chil­dren, and he has to cope with be­ing a sin­gle fa­ther. I write about sub­jects that will in­ter­est men as well — wars, in­dus­tries, the chal­lenges men face in re­la­tion­ships. “Win­ners” was about a wid­owed man, bring­ing up his daugh­ter alone and fac­ing it with her when she has an ac­ci­dent that changes her life and his. It al­ways touches me when men like my books, too.

Do peo­ple of­ten ask you for re­la­tion­ship ad­vice, and if so, what do you tell them?

When peo­ple ask me for re­la­tion­ship ad­vice, I re­mind them that I am much bet­ter at solv­ing re­la­tion­ship prob­lems in books than in real life. As the writer, I have a much eas­ier per­spec­tive than when fac­ing my own prob­lems, or those of friends.

Peo­ple of­ten say that Danielle Steel is the ul­ti­mate beach read. What makes your books so great for a sum­mer day?

I’d like to think that my books are more than a “beach read,” since I put my heart and soul into them and work so hard to give them depth and mean­ing.

What do you read on the beach?

Most of the time, I read my own books in some form, be­cause I am al­ways edit­ing, cor­rect­ing, pol­ish­ing, re-writ­ing, re-read­ing. I never get enough time to read other peo­ple’s work, but I en­joy it when I do. Read­ing some­one else’s work is a real hol­i­day for me.

MARVIN JOSEPH/THE WASHINGTON POST

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