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Prodigal Son by Danielle Steel
Danielle Steel: With 650 million books sold, published in 43 languages in 69 countries, just the name of this prolific author conjures images of rows and rows of mostly novels (but non-fiction and children's books as well) in your favorite book, drug, everything store. From her first published novel (Going Home, in 1972. She wrote her first novel at 19), to the forthcomingCountryabout the Nashville music scene (due out in June). Steel has written 140 books on subjects as varied as Wall Street, the pharmaceutical and fashion industries, both World Wars, the war in Viet Nam, embezzlement,life threatening illnesses, to the family struggles between siblings battling over a will. (And most recently inProdigal Son, the fight between good and evil, between twin brothers, one of them a sociopath, but which one is it?). We got to ask the San Francisco and Paris-based author some questions...
Q: You write at a pace that the Roadrunner would envy. Where do you find the time, and the ideas?
A: I've always kept up the pace, and I write a lot. When my children were young, I spent the day with them, and wrote at night. Now that they're grown up, I write all the time, long work days and long nights. And usually, when I'm writing and working on a book, I get new ideas for future books. Still, I never know where an idea will come from, something someone says, a news item, a subject that interests me, something I see or think about. The ideas come from a variety of sources.
Q: As different as your books are, readers always know they're reading a Danielle Steel novel. Do you think there are any overarching themes across your books?.
A: I dont think so. In fact, I work hard to keep them very different, about different issues and very different themes. I think there is one common thread though, which took me years to realize. I think I try to give people hope, to let them know that whatever is happening, or how challenging a situation, others have survived a similar problem, and they can too. Many of the themes in my books are universal in that they are the problems and challenges we all face and wrestle with as human beings. I think that touches a chord in my readers. And I work very hard at there NOT being recurring kinds of characters in my books. I keep them VERY different from each other.
Q: What other writers do you like to read?
A: I don't have as much time to read as I used to. I never read other writers when I'm writing, and I write most of the time. Publishing 4 books a year keeps me busy. But when I have downtime, i enjoy novels where I can escape and get lost in the story. I read a lot in French, and enjoy Marc Levy, some older writers like Maeve Binchy, and for inspirational reading, I love Joel Osteen's books.
Q: Can you describe your writing schedule?
A: My writing schedule can best be described as "all the time". I write best with long uninterrupted stretches of time, where I can keep going and follow the story. When I am working on a book, I write daytime and nighttime and just stay with it for as long as I can. I sometimes write for 20 hours at a time, I normally work about an 18 hour day, writing. If I have less work to do, I prefer to work at night, when it's quiet and there are fewer interruptions. I usually end my writing day between 2 and 3 am, sometimes later. And I'm normally in my office by 8 am. (I don't need a lot of sleep, which is a blessing, and has been all my life!!)
Q: Who are your "first readers"? Do you have people read the books before you send them off for publication?
A: I don't have "early readers" and always discourage writers who are just starting out from having them. They can be incredibly confusing. For my first few books, I would give the manuscript to friends, and ask for their comments. Their comments were usually off the mark, would confuse me, and lead me in the wrong direction if I listened to them. You really need a "pro" to read the books, not a well meaning amateur. Editing is a skill and a talent which very few people have. So I have no early readers. I have an extraordinarily talented editor, whom I have worked with for many years. She is the only one who sees my books in the early stages, and her suggestions are perfect for my books, we work well together, and I trust her judgement and comments. I don't let anyone else read my books until they're finished.
Q: Complete this sentence: "Danielle Steel is the kind of writer who..."
A: Writes stories that go straight to the core and heart of human relations, and the human condition, whose work describes and touches on our joys and fears and pains, and makes us feel less alone. Her books feel entirely real about the people we are and the people we know. She makes me care about the people in her books, and I hate to see them end."
Q: Who are your readers?
A: According to research, my readers are from 11 to 94 years old. That's a broad range. I know that many of my readers are women, probably most of them. But a great number of men read the books too, according to my mail. Men stop me on the street sometimes, or in airports and at dinner parties to tell me that they read my books. Just as my books cover a wide span of interests and issues, my readers do as well. I love the fact that my books touch so many different people, of all ages, from all walks of life, they seem to resonate for a very broad spectrum of people, and I'm very grateful for that!!
Q: Are your characters ever based on "real" people?
A: I borrow from real life in my books, but not necessarily (and very rarely, in fact) 'my' real life. I write about real situations and real-seeming people, and once in a while a real incident will inspire either a scene in a book, or a theme for a book. The characters are always fictional though, I don't write about real people. It's too limiting if you try to make a character like someone you know. It's much better to write about a fictional person. Then you have completely free rein to write about who they are and what they do.
Q: What would you tell a person just starting out as a writer?
A: I would tell them that what they need most is perseverance, and discipline. It takes discipline to get yourself into a chair and start writing. It takes discipline to sit there and and open a chapter, and enormous discipline to keep at it and to finish a book. And most of all you need perseverance, you have to be willing to work hard, give up fun times, not go out to lunch, not hang out with friends, and stay home and write. You have to persevere past doubt and discouragement about your work, endure criticism and rejection. I didnt make any money at writing for 11 years, or not enough to live on. You have to persevere past fatigue, your own qualms about your writing and self-doubt. It took me about 15 years to become successful at writing (I wrote my first book at 19). And you have to do it your OWN way, whatever that is. There are no set rules for how it should be done, everyone's writing style and habits are different, you have to find your own. And like anything else in life, to do it well, you have to be passionate about it. You can't do it halfway or half-heartedly. And you have to strive hard to make your work better and better, and always push yourself further to your limits, and beyond. Being a writer is not an easy life, but it's immensely rewarding. And no matter what, you have to keep trying. And you have to be honest with yourself and your reader.There are no short cuts, no easy ways, no instant successes, or very few. If you want to be a writer, be ready for hard work every time you sit down to write. But in the end, for the satisfaction alone of a job well done, the hard work is worth it.