Danielle Steel is a venerable novelist who has written over 180 books and is a staple of the New York Times bestseller list. In the interview below, she discusses everything from her experience as a mother, to how she develops her ideas, and why her decision to include an intimate LGBTQ scene in her latest novel, Child’s Play, was an important one.
I’d like to ask some follow up questions to the recent (and incredible) piece in Glamour about your success and work. You mentioned that some ideas begin as more “mundane” but then become “magical.” From where do you draw inspiration? Does it start with a character or a conflict?
My ideas start with a character or an event, either a theme that intrigues me, or sometimes a news event that captures me. In Child’s Play, it’s about a mother who thinks she has ‘perfect’ adult children who are doing everything she hopes for them and thinks they should—-and suddenly they all have their own life plans, entirely different from hers or what she wished. It’s something most parents of young adults go through, and should resonate both with parents, and adult children. Mother does not always know best!!! A big adjustment for all!!
I was fascinated by your rigorous writing schedule that you detailed in that article, which has obviously paid off in spades. If you could give any advice to young writers about starting and maintaining a consistent writing practice, what would it be?
Write Every Day!! (I didn’t take a day off from writing for the first eleven years). And work as hard as you can—and even harder. Discipline is essential, and perseverance. Don’t just wait for inspiration to strike you, sit there and work no matter what, even if it comes slowly. There is NO substitute for hard work (in anything, not just writing).
You have written 180 titles at the time of this printing. As a thought experiment: other than Child’s Play, your most recent title (which I’ll get to in a moment), if you were a bookseller recommending your own work to a prospective reader (or a professor teaching a Danielle Steel 101 course) which ones would you recommend they start with? Of all your books, which stand out as particularly special throughout your career?
183 titles. My work is intentionally very varied, historical fiction, contemporary fiction, books about corporate life and industries, some thrillers (like my recent book The Dark Side), some books slanted toward women, some of strong interest for men, family sagas, some lighter themes, and some very serious ones. There should be something for everyone in my body of work—-even children’s books, and a few non-fiction. The book that was the most special to me of course was the one about my late son Nick, “His Bright Light.”
Child’s Play, your newest novel, introduces the reader to Kate, a successful woman who has lots of ideas about how her life and the lives of her three adult children should be. Her steadfast devotion to certain ideals—high quality education, marrying well, etc. reminded me about a section in the Glamour piece where you discussed the differences in how you experienced your early working life and how your children have experienced theirs. Was the inspiration for this book drawn from your own observations as a mother?
My observations in Child’s Play come from my experience as a mother (of many children. I have 9), and from what I’ve seen around me among young people and parents. We want the best for our kids, but our plans for them aren’t always what they want or what is suited to their life. It takes strength and courage to find the right path in life, and it takes patience, understanding and great love to let your children follow the path that seems right to them. And sometimes the two are very different!!
I loved how Kate really thinks she knows her children but they are all keeping things from her, to varying degrees. As she described her relationships with them, I felt only encroaching dread because I knew that the more clearly she defined them, the more wrong she would wind up being. Without betraying their privacy of course, what are some of the things about your own children that have surprised you as they’ve grown up?
Motherhood and mothering is always surprising!! Life is surprising!! My children have followed paths I expected for the most part, but with their own special spin on it, which suits their individual needs and personalities. I’m very proud of them!!
The three “children” in Child’s Play are of course adults in their own right with fascinating storylines: the son Kate describes as a nerdy video-game designer who would have no social life without his squeaky-clean fiancé is actually quite a Romeo who has an affair; Claire, whom she views as naive in relationships decides to pursue the most permanent of them all, motherhood; and Tammy, her workaholic daughter with no time for a relationship is actually in a committed partnership with a woman. How did you develop each of their characters, and did you plot each of their endings before the story began?
I tried to think of the things that would surprise me the most and might be the biggest adjustment for most parents, to make the book varied and resonate with my readers going through challenges with their kids.
The reader quickly learns that Kate has been keeping secrets of her own, and that realization is what sparks the children to be more open about their own paths in life. Your novels often overlap genres, between mystery, thriller, and even coming-of-age journeys. What do you love most about writing in each genre?
I write about the human condition, which is what fascinates me most, the things that make us all suffer and bring us joy, the challenges we face that we have no control over (like the loss of a loved one). I love what difficult situations bring out in people, how we grow from them, however painful. I love writing about people and relationships that bind us, what brings us closer to each other and tears us apart. The rest is all a backdrop for those relationships, a stage on which life plays out.
Tammy’s storyline in particular was quite moving and very modern—there’s a beautiful intimate scene between her and her partner involving artificial insemination as they pursue building a family. I can’t recall another book with a scene like that in it, and I think it’s so important for the LTBQIAP+ community to see themselves represented, as well as for your straight, cisgender readership to be exposed to scenes like that. Can you discuss the process of writing that scene, and why it was included?
Tammy’s storyline and the scenes around it are important because it is part of our modern life. It’s as real as all relationships, and important to include in a book about relationships, couples, and families.
I know you don’t read while you write, but are you reading anything right now? If not, what are some of your favorite books by other authors that you would recommend?
I’m not reading anything right now, and I wish I were. I have a lot of work on my desk at the moment, and two books in outline that I’m going to start soon, so I’m not reading right now.
Last question: please describe Child’s Play in three words.
Describe Child’s Play in 3 words: A Great Read. And 3 more words: Please read it!!
Child’s Play is on B&N bookshelves on October 8.