Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Rethinking Danielle Steel

I can hardly believe I typed those three words. It's all Snoopy's fault (see the book on the sidebar. And thanks to BookLust for making me aware of it).

As a bookseller I don't give her books the time of day. I trip over Danielle Steel books everywhere I go scouting for new inventory. They are even more ubiquitous than microwave cookbooks and Reader's Digest condensed books and just as worthless for resale. If I were to stumble across a large batch of non-book club hardcovers I might pick them up if they were dirt cheap and sell them as a group lot on eBay. But other than that, I avoid her books and have even been known to thrown them in the trash if one surfaces in a box of unlisted inventory, figuring it's not worth the effort to donate it to Goodwill or the library.

As a reader I have never given her books the time of day either. Without reading anything written by her I have dismissed her as a formulaic romance writer and would rather page through a microwave cookbook. Her popularity (550 million books in print, 66 bestsellers) has always put me off. But last night I read the short essay she wrote for Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life. Here are a few excerpts:

"Anyone who tells you how to write bestsellers is a sham and a liar. I can tell you how I write books. I write them with fear, excitement, discipline, and a lot of hard work. It takes me a year to write the outline and about a month to write the first draft. For me that's the shortest part of the process. But that's a matter of twenty-two hour days, of not leaving my house or my office, of not speaking to my friends, or speaking to anyone other than my children. All I do is write...the whole process takes me about two and a half years.

Where do the ideas come from? I really don't know. I've always had a deeply religious feeling about my writing. I feel very unimportant in the scheme of it all. I pray a lot before I start a book and as I work through it. And the less important I feel, the better the book goes.

I sit at my typewriter and type until I ache so badly I can't get up...Everything hurts...And after a while my whole body goes numb. I have often typed so long that I saw double. I have had to close my eyes to keep typing because my vision was so blurred. I have fallen asleep face first in my typewriter and woken up the next morning with the keyboard marks on my face."

Steel understands the importance of humility in the writing process. She works very very hard at her 1946 Olympia manual typewriter and says her work is a "job and a career" and "not an artistic pastime." I looked at her website and found out that she has nine children. One of her sons had bi-polar disorder and committed suicide at age 19. Now that I know these things about her I will trip a bit more respectfully over her books. And who knows. Maybe the next time one of her books surfaces in one of my boxes I will try reading it, instead of automatically throwing it in the trash.
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Blogger Mimi said...

They are brain candy - she did one called "Zoya" about a Russian woman who gets caught up in the Revolution you may enjoy.

It's been years since I've read one, though, and I've not read "Zoya" since becoming Orthodox, so she may have botched that all up, I'm not sure.

She has some interesting food for thought in her essay, though. Thank you.

A blessed Holy Wednesday to you!

11:12 AM  
Blogger Eric John said...

Wow. I had no idea. I admit to poo-pooing Steele as well. It appears, however, that she does not produce her books like someone microwaving potatoes. That doesn't mean that I'd read her books. I much prefer classic literature, being a Steinbeck devotee and Hemingway fancier. I won't make fun of my mother (as much) when she reads Steele.

9:00 PM  

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