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Danielle Steel

Danielle Steel

Danielle Steel (born 1947) is an internationally best selling author of over thirty romance novels. Since publishing her first book in 1973, Steel has acquired an enormous following of loyal, avid readers.

Steel was born on August 14, 1947, in New York City, the only child of John Schuelein-Steel, a member of Munich's wealthy Lowenbrau beer family, and Norma Schuelein-Steel, an international beauty from Portugal. Steel's parents divorced when she was seven or eight years old. Afterwards, she was raised by relatives and servants in Paris and New York. She graduated from the Lycee Francais when she was not quite fifteen and in 1963 entered New York's Parsons School of Design. However, she soon abandoned her dream of becoming "the new Chanel" when the pressure to succeed caused her to develop a stomach ulcer. She then enrolled at New York University, where she studied until 1967. When she was eighteen, Steel married her first husband, a French banker with homes in New York, San Francisco, and Paris. Within a few years, she became bored with her jet-setting lifestyle and, against her husband's wishes, decided to find a job. In 1968, she was hired as vice president of public relations and new business for Supergirls, a Manhattan public relations and advertising agency. A few years later the five-woman firm began to falter and Steel was looking to the future.

One of her clients, then the editor of Ladies' Home Journal, suggested she try writing, so Steel isolated herself at her home in San Francisco and wrote her first book, Going Home. Published by Dell paperbacks in 1973, the novel had moderate sales. Around the same time, Steel's marriage broke up, and she turned to writing in earnest. However, she composed five more novels that were rejected before Passion's Promise was published by Dell in 1977. During these years she also wrote advertising copy as well as poems about love and motherhood that appeared in women's magazines. Some of these poems were included in the abridged edition of her only volume of poetry, Love Poems: Danielle Steel (1981), which came out in 1984. After Passion's Promise, Dell published three more of Steel's romances: The Promise (1978), a novelization of a screenplay by Garry Michael White, Now and Forever (1978), which was adapted for a film released by Inter Planetary Pictures in 1983, and Season of Passion (1979). Sales of The Promise, Steel's first big success, reached two million copies in 1979, and in the same year she signed a six-figure contract with Dell.

Steel set a grueling pace for herself, composing two to three novels a year, and in the early 1980s several more best-selling paperbacks appeared. In addition, Dell's affiliate, Delacorte, began publishing Steel's books in hardcover. Thurston House (1983) was the last of her novels to originate as a paperback. Steel tailors her work habits to meet family considerations. In 1981 she married John Traina, a shipping executive who, like herself, had two children. The couple has since produced five children together. Steel works in concentrated marathon sessions, which affords her blocks of time she can devote to her large family. Unlike many of her heroines, Steel shies away from the limelight, refusing to do promotional tours, and lives a relatively quiet life that is frequently far from glamorous. When writing, she has been known to work eighteen-hour days, typing away on a 1948 metal-body Olympia in a flannel nightgown.

Though she is an extremely wealthy woman—she recently signed a sixty-million-dollar contract with Delacorte—Steel shows no signs of relaxing her frantic pace. In 1994 she published three more novels, Accident, The Gift, and Wings, and since 1989, she has produced two series of books for children, the "Max and Martha" series and the "Freddie" series. Steel's romances feature both contemporary and historical settings, and their exotic and exciting locales offer readers fast-paced escape from the routine of daily life. They typically focus on a glamorous, well-to-do heroine who proves that women can "have it all": love, family, and career. However, Steel's characters are beset by obstacles on their road to fulfillment; often they are confronted with the task of rebuilding their life after an emotionally crippling tragedy. Sometimes Steel's heroines have one or more unlucky romances before they find lasting love, but all their relationships with men lead them to increased self-awareness, which, in many cases, helps them to establish successful careers.

A sampling of Steel's plots illustrates these themes. The heroine of Passion's Promise is a beautiful young journalist, Kezia St. Martin, who temporarily puts her career on hold to be with her lover, who is a social activist. The romance ends in tragedy but it provides St. Martin with the grounding she needs to come to terms with her family's affluence and to realize her goal of becoming a renowned writer. Family Album (1985) is about a famous actress who forsakes stardom to marry a wealthy playboy, watches anxiously as her husband squanders their fortune, and then achieves success as an Oscar-winning director. Zoya (1988) traces the eventful and dramatic life of the beautiful and resourceful Russian countess Zoya Ossupov. When the violent October Revolution explodes, she loses her position, wealth, and much of her family, and she flees to Paris, where she falls in love with a wealthy American army officer, whom she marries. Zoya and her husband live an exciting life in New York City during the Roaring Twenties but her happiness is destroyed once again when the stock market crashes, bankrupts her husband, and causes him to suffer a fatal heart attack. Another marriage brings more heartache. Zoya's second husband, a Seventh Avenue mogul who helps her launch a chain of department stores, enlists in the armed forces after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and is killed in action. Brokenhearted, but not broken, Zoya summons her courage and makes a new life for herself. Message from Nam (1990) takes the lovely, intelligent Paxton Andrews from her native Savannah, Georgia, to her college years at the University of California, Berkeley, where she studies journalism, and then to her life as a war correspondent in Vietnam. Paxton loses her first two loves to the war. When a third boyfriend is reported missing in action, Paxton abandons hope that he is still alive, but they finally find each other, and they take one of the last helicopters home from Saigon.

In Kaleidoscope (1987) and No Greater Love (1991) Steel turns her attention to the love shared by siblings. Kaleidoscope is the story of three young sisters who are separated after their father kills their mother in a jealous rage and then commits suicide; the girls grow up living completely different lives yet after many trials and tribulations they are eventully reunited. One of the sisters survives the horrors of rape and incest to become a powerful television network executive. No Greater Love concerns a twenty-one-year-old woman, Edwina Winfield, who takes it upon herself to care for her younger brothers and sisters after their parents die on the Titanic, a tragedy that also claims the life of Edwina's fiance. Edwina's burdens are eased by her family's wealth, but she nonetheless makes great sacrifices and endures much loneliness in an effort to keep her brothers and sisters together.

In a few of her novels, Steel shifts her focus to male characters. Fine Things (1987), for example, is about a department store executive, Bernard Fine, whose beloved wife dies from cancer a few years after their marriage, and Daddy (1989) describes the emotional recovery of Oliver Watson after his wife of eighteen years abandons him and their three children. Secrets (1985), another uncharacteristic novel, has six major characters, all of whom work on the set of a television soap opera.

While Steel can lay claim to one of the largest reader-ships in popular fiction, she is anything but a favorite among critics. Even when reviewers acknowledge that Steel is a commercial writer who does not pretend to write serious literature, they seem compelled to point out what they see as major weaknesses in her novels: bad writing, shallow characterization, preposterous plot twists, unconvincing dialogue, and rigid adherence to the "poor little rich girl" formula. Her novels are also faulted as being unrealistic because they focus on the lives of the wealthy and privileged. Critics reserve their harshest comments for Steel's prose style, which is generally considered to be sloppy and careless. A number of critics have expressed amazement that Steel's books do not undergo more extensive editing, and some have appeared to take delight in pointing out her run-on sentences, non sequiturs, and frequent repetition of certain words and phrases. In a review of Daddy, for example, Edna Stumpf remarked, "Ms. Steel plays with the themes of love and work like a child with a Barbie doll. She strips a life down, only to dress it up in billows of her famous free-associative prose, as scattered with commas as a Bob Mackie gown is with bugle beads." While some critics might prefer to dismiss Steel without comment, her enormous popularity makes her impossible to ignore. Beginning with her third hardcover, Crossings (1982), all of Steel's novels have received coverage in the New York Times Book Review. Steel responded to her critics in the Spring, 1987, issue of Booktalk: "Each book is different. I do historical plots, books about men, about women, about totally different things. I don't think the press likes big commercial authors. I have seen devastating reviews on my books, Jackie Collins', Judith Krantz', and Sidney Sheldon's books. We all get beaten up by the press. They usually pick a remote, esoteric writer to do the review, which is so unfair. There is obviously something to our books or millions of people wouldn't be buying them." Despite their low appraisals of Steel's talents as a writer, critics concede that her tear-jerking tragedies and happy endings meet some need in her millions of readers, be it a desire for satisfying diversion or for emotional catharsis.

Steel's fans have also been able to enjoy her stories in the form of television movies. In 1986 Crossings was presented as an ABC miniseries starring Cheryl Ladd, Jane Seymour, and Christopher Plummer; NBC made television movies from Kaleidoscope and Fine Things in 1990, and aired Palomino (1981), Changes (1983), and Daddy in 1991; a miniseries called Danielle Steel's "Zoya," with Melissa Gilbert and Bruce Boxleitner. Several of Steel's other novels, including Thurston House and Wanderlust (1986), have also been optioned for television films and miniseries.

Further Reading

Bestsellers 89, Issue 1, Gale, 1989.

Bestsellers 90, Issue 4, Gale, 1991.

Chicago Tribune, June 3, 1996; December 29, 1996.

Chicago Tribune Book World, August 28, 1983.

Detroit Free Press, December 1, 1989.

Detroit News, September 11, 1983.

Globe & Mail (Toronto), July 9, 1988.

Library Journal, September 1, 1993; October 15, 1993. □

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