- - Friday, May 2, 2014


By Danielle Steel
Delacorte, $28, 352 pages

Somehow, Danielle Steel is always on the best-seller list — hardcover or paperback.

With more than 600 million books sold, she is a publishing phenomenon and one of the most successful authors in the world.

Every nine months, the Mistress of Romance births a new novel with a glamorous photo of herself on the back cover — beautifully coiffed, elegantly dressed and magnificently bejeweled. Her stories highlight the haute monde and the uberrich, along with their social triumphs and business woes. Miss Steel, who is an integral part of that milieu, is a character straight out of one of her own plots.

“Power Play,” her latest novel, is all about the allure of the top job involving two CEOs, one male and one female, at the head of two international companies — along with their jealousies, angst and secrets.

It is a familiar tale, one involving a hardworking devoted mother who sacrifices a personal life for her success, and a philandering scheming male who always seems to land on top. There is a certain amount of heavy breathing, but nothing raunchy or schlocky. Miss Steel does not do bodice rippers, and there is no violence. Glossy places and glossy people who dine in pricey restaurants, fall in and out of love, wear Balenciaga and Armani and stay at the Four Seasons or the Ritz in New York and Paris.

All are part of Miss Steel’s territory.

There is also deceit, hidden lives and betrayal, the natural ingredients of a soap opera. Twenty-two of her nearly 90 books have been adapted for TV. Some have won Golden Globes.

In 1972, her first novel, “Going Home,” was published. It focused on family issues and human relationships and became her stock in trade.

Although Miss Steel is known for less-than-dazzling prose and is considered airport reading, she has dealt with a number of serious issues, including the Holocaust, incest, war and personal tragedy. Nicholas, one of her six children, committed suicide at 19, and she has written a poignant nonfiction work, “His Bright Light” — also a best-seller — about his life and death.

Married five times, once to a prison inmate, and later to a drug addict, Miss Steel’s own life is the stuff of fantasy.

When I interviewed her many years ago in her imposing mansion in San Francisco — she now divides her time between the Bay Area and Paris — her gaggle of kids were looked after by a collection of doting nannies. She was then married to John Traina, husband No. 4, a vintner and major social figure, whom she adored and called “daddy.” During those years, most of her books were dedicated to him in over-the-top purple prose. Her work ethic was and is ferocious.

While writing one book, Miss Steel researches several others, locking herself in her office for months. Meals are brought to her door, and she emerges only to sleep a few hours each night or to cope with a severe family crisis. On the walls are storyboards, just like a movie production, with photos, diagrams even pieces of dress fabric or a remnant of a World War I uniform.

Her concentration is total, her formula down pat, and she never writes sequels or fails to reach the top with every single book. Although some downplay the prolific author as a fluff, she has legions of fans around the globe.

Do not dismiss Danielle Steel. Her name is golden. (There is even a perfume named after her.) At 66, she remains a star, a classic survivor whose next work of fiction is already destined to become a best-seller.

Sandra McElwaine is a Washington correspondent for The Daily Beast.



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