Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Lonely Heart of Steel

Poor Danielle Steel. I felt really bad for her as I read a recent interview she granted. She's lonely at the top.

On her website, you can see one of her homes - from the outside it looks more like a hotel, she's sold more than 550 million books (leaves even Nora Roberts in the dust), but she admits she's become a lonely recluse and laments it in a rare, personal interview with journalist Karen Angel of THE AGE, an Australian publication. Here's most of the article:

True love. Danielle Steel, whose name is synonymous with romance, has no man in her life, and she wishes she did.

It's not as if she had nothing to do - Steel began writing her books at night, often making do with only four hours of sleep, in order to be there for her children during the day, and she still keeps to the same gruelling schedule, hammering away at the same 1946 Olympia typewriter she has always used. But writing isn't enough any more.

"I have nothing else to do," she says, "and because of that schedule I will never have anything else to do. I move between San Francisco and Paris... I have a wonderful beach house in California. I have these wonderful homes, and no one to share them with."

It's a theme that recurs throughout a telephone conversation from Steel's San Francisco home, a few weeks before the February release of her 66th novel, The House, and less than a week after the death of her mother. It's the author's first major interview in more than a decade, partly because she calls herself "very painfully shy" but largely because she wanted to protect her children from the tabloids.

"Being famous has made it so much worse," Steel says. "In the old days I was too busy with children, and I always had a husband to drag me out. Now I have to force myself. It's difficult to talk to people... I walk into a room and I'm Danielle Steel, and whatever I say is going to be taken apart... People are much more inclined to believe and say bad things about you if you're famous.

"It's hard being visible, so I've made myself invisible," she concludes. "I've shut myself inside these walls, and I'm going to be a very lonely old lady if I'm not careful."

Now in her late 50s, Steel has averaged three books a year since 1973, when her first was published. Every one has hit bestseller lists in hardcover and in paperback, and in 1989 she made The Guinness Book of World Records for having a book on The New York Times bestseller list for 381 consecutive weeks - a record she has since broken with more than 390 consecutive weeks.

"I'm astonished by my success," Steel says. "I wrote because I needed to and wanted to. It never occurred to me that I'd become famous. I did it at night because I loved it. I never did it to make money, as a job. I just did it because I had to."

Millions of readers have connected with what she had to say, which Steel finds gratifying.

"I try to write about the stuff that torments us all," she says. "I think I'm very real as a person, and that comes across in my work. I try to give people hope. Even though life is bleak, there's hope out there."

Her characters typically move from naive contentment to heartbreak, followed by an epiphany and a bold life change that leads to romance, betrayal, more heartbreak and, eventually, true happiness. Even so, Steel sees her books as "all very different," and says that they stem from various sources. The House, for example, began in real estate and moved on to family.

"(It was) a friend of mine trying to buy her great-grandmother's house that sparked this story," the novelist says. "I like the idea of four very different generations of women... It's about a mysterious great-grandmother who leaves her husband and family, and about the next generation, the heroine's grandmother and her mother, a woman in her 60s who's extra-tough and somewhat bitter, and married to an alcoholic and dealing with all the issues of someone who had a very bad marriage...

"Through the older people, the younger woman realises what she does and doesn't want to do with her life."

Sounds like another hit. US publisher Delacorte ran a first print run of about 800,000 copies, an astonishing number for almost any other author but, for Steel, simply business as usual. In real life Steel has had a life so colourful that, well, it would make a good romance novel. The mother of seven children and stepmother of two has been married and divorced five times, colourful liaisons that have attracted much unwanted publicity, especially involving husband No. 2, who is in a Colorado prison serving a 40-year term for rape. No. 3 was a heroin addict and convicted burglar. But Nos. 1, 4 and 5 - French banker Claude-Eric Lazard, cruise-line chief executive John Traina and venture capitalist Tom Perkins - are more what you'd expect from a Steel hero.

Steel doesn't like discussing her early marriages, and blames the sleazy revelations about them in a 1994 biography of her for destroying her marriage to Traina. Authors Lorenzo Benet and Vickie L. Bane had obtained records of Traina's adoption of Steel's son Nick, whose biological father was No. 3, William Toth. She sued in an effort to keep the records sealed, but lost.

"Nick never wanted the other children to know that he wasn't John's child," Steel says. "The records of adopted children are sealed in California. That seal is considered inviolable... The judge ruled that, because I was famous, he didn't have the same rights as other kids.

"We could have appealed," she adds, "but the whole thing was so traumatic for my son that we decided to let it go, so they did print that he was adopted... We told the siblings before the book came out. It probably would have come out in our family eventually anyway."

So bruising was the episode that Steel briefly decided to stop publishing her books, letting them be printed only after her death. She backed off from that resolution within a year, at her children's urging, but stuck to another for much longer.

"I decided I would never do interviews again," she says. "I have stayed below the radar for 15 years... I didn't want to humiliate them. They were being chased around by tabloids."

Steel's own childhood was, by her own account, a lonely one. She was raised in New York by her German father, a minor player in the Lowenbrau beer dynasty.

Her parents divorced when she was seven and her mother, who was Portuguese, moved to Europe. Steel rarely saw her.

The novelist vowed that her children's lives would be different - she refers to herself as "a mommyaholic" - and structured her life around them. As her youngest daughter prepares to depart, she admits to finding herself at a loss. "Being run over by a train would have less of an impact," Steel says. "I have spent 35 years of my life being a full-time mother. It's the best and most fulfilling job."

It's not always a happy job, though: In 1997, at age 19, her son Nick committed suicide. Though she calls herself "a super-private person, practically a recluse," Steel went extremely public with the experience. His Bright Light: The Story of Nick Traina, telling the story of her son's life, his struggle with manic depression and his death, became a bestseller and remains the most personal of her books.

"I didn't want him to slip away in silence," Steel says. "I wanted people to know that he was an amazing kid... and (wanted) what we learned to serve others."

One thing she learned was that no amount of fame can provide a complete buffer against the blows of life.

"I've had my share of tough stuff," Steel says. "When people look at me outside, they think, 'She's so lucky,' but no one's exempt from tragedy."

Steel's novels have addressed serious themes, treating issues such as cancer, infertility and kidnapping. She has tackled some of history's darker hours, telling stories set on the Titanic, in Nazi Germany, in a Japanese internment camp and in Vietnam.

Critics generally have been kinder to her weightier efforts, but that's not why she writes them. In fact, Steel says, she doesn't read her reviews. Ever.

"My early reviews were so bad that I decided I didn't want to read them again," she says. "Either the world likes them or it doesn't, and fortunately enough people seem to."

Yes, I admit it. I do still have a couple Danielle Steel novels in my TBR (to be read) pile. When I was a teenager, I gobbled them up voraciously, but once I got older, that changed big time. They became too trite and sappy for my tastes - with only two exceptions. MALICE and THE LONG ROAD HOME. I highly recommend both. I've always joked that these were probably the only two she actually wrote herself, LOL. They're very good - deal with serious issues and have more depth than you'd normally expect from a DS book.

Well...I certainly wish her the best. I hope she finds her heart's desire soon. As we all know, life's much too short to dwell too long in discontentment.

Perhaps it's as they've always said: "America reads Danielle Steel. And so does the rest of the world."

So - confession time - who's still reading Danielle Steel? Someone must - just don't like admitting it. ;-)


  1. My mother loves her writings. Like you, I have not read her for several years. I was not going to feel sorry for her when I first started reading this post, but after near the end I really felt sorry for her. Is success this horrible? I hope not.

  2. Okay, I confess. I do still read Steel's books. I just can't help it, I started read them about ten years ago and like some more than others(Malice and Long Road are two of my favorites including Zoya, Rememberance, Message From Nam, and her newer one Toxic Bachelors, that one was pretty good) but I can't help it, when I see the new ones, I have to buy 'em. I guess it's more out of habit now than anything else. Ditto with Barbara Taylor Bradford and Jude Devereaux!

  3. Brighton ArcherMarch 30, 2006 1:11 AM

    Wow, Millenia! Thanks for sharing that. I have to admit I don't think I've ever read one of her books.......perhaps years ago I may have read one or two, but I certainly don't recall it. Reading the interview made me want to read one of her works. I think I'll grab one of your recommends. Thanks for posting this, it was truly interesting. I've always heard of Danielle Steel over the years, but hadn't associated her with the impression left by the interview. Thanks!

  4. The interview did change my impression of her as well. Although I had heard about the suicide of her son, I never knew the details. Now I want to read that book. Can't begin to imagine what it's like for a parent when a child kills themself. :-(

  5. I think her writing's garbage. Her and Roberts just got lucky, but there are much better writers out there that deserve their wide appeal more than they do.

  6. I once went through a phase of reading nothing but Danielle Steel books. I loved them, as did most people I knew. I haven't read her in a good while, but I guess that's because my taste in books changed.

    The problem is, she's ridiculously famous, and once that happens, she becomes an easy target for critics. Even people who have secretly enjoyed her books, will publicly criticise her, because it's not cool to admit to being a Danielle Steel fan.

    Yes, her books can be overly sentimental, but I truly believe that, that's part of the reason she was/is so popular with readers.

  7. Like you, I gobbled them up when I was a teenager in high school. I have purchased several over the last six years or so but still haven't read them. I've started, but was never able to sit still long enough to get through them. I think when I was younger the stories seemed "glamourous" and were stories I dreamed of living. But now it just seems over the top and I can't get "lost" in them like I once did. Maybe I've just grown pessimistic in my "old" age. ;) heehee

  8. I read much of her stuff through the 70's, but cooled off soon after that. I will admit to reading them now and again now, but I don't exactly rush out to go get them.......I agree with Karen, like Millenia said, no body's tripping over themselves to admit they read Danielle Steel novels...but obviously they do!

  9. Hi Karen - I agree that's why she has such mass appeal. At the end of the day, I think we're all suckers for sentiment. :)

    Hi Hope - I don't think it's because you've grown pessimistic, I think it's like Karen said, as you get older and become more well-read, your tastes change as a result. What seemed glamorous to me at 13 is hardly so at 29, you know?

    I remember simply being in love with A PERFECT STRANGER when I was 12 or 13 years old and thinking it was one of the best stories ever! I re-read it a few years ago and got eye strain from rolling them too much, LOL! I had such a fond memory of reading the book, but unfortunately, that was dashed after the re-read. ;-)

    Hi BSA Pontif - I'll admit to having some in my TBR pile, but I have no clue when I'll pick one up and read it! LOL

  10. I've never read a Danielle Steel novel. I don't know how this happened since I was a voracious Harlequin Presents reader as a teen and would have no doubt gobbled up DS had I known about her. I just never did. She never hit my radar screen until I was older. Someone gave me one of her books once, and I still have it, still plan to read it someday.

    It wasn't snobbery that kept me from reading her. If there'd been a DS novel in the house, I'd have read it. As it was, I read Mary Stewart instead.

    Thanks for posting this, Millenia. I wouldn't have thought I could empathize with someone like her, but wow, I do.

  11. Wow, so we've found two people who've never even read a DS novel! I didn't think there was still a female reader out there who hadn't read one. ;-)

    Lynn - if you do decide to break your "Steel virginity" (LOL), get MALICE or THE LONG ROAD HOME. Those are still great, IMO. :)

    You know, come to think of it, the last DS book I tried was DATING GAME. It didn't pass my 50 page test. I don't even think I made it beyond 30 pages.

  12. Oh! I have to admit to loving Danielle Steel. She is a wonderful storyteller and while I can see how some may find her work tiresome if you read too much of it at once, the stories always seem to have comforting undertones. I've always enjoyed them, myself.

    I'm so sad to hear she's unhappy and I too wish her happiness. I hope she finds a good man before long and feels content soon as well whether or not she does.

    By the way, I so enjoyed reading the article VERY MUCH. Thanks for posting it, Millenia!

  13. I'm still one of her biggest fans. I've read almost all of her books.


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