The lighter side of Danielle Steel

Danielle Steel
WELL-READ: Nearly 600 million copies of Danielle Steel's books are in print. (Brigitte Lacombe - )
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By Monica Hesse
Friday, March 5, 2010

NEW YORK -- On learning the Dalai Lama has a Twitter account: "What does he write? 'Praying now,' I suppose."

On appearing to have a good relationship with her nine kids: "Well, we lie publicly."

On being the responsible pet owner in the family: "Dog poop is my role in the family. I'm the person they announce to, 'Oh, the dog just went in the dining room.' . . . I always said I shared a dog with my husband. He had the front end, and I had the back end."

Danielle Steel is funny. Not funny like "eccentric," or funny like "We must appease the Celebrity-Industrial Complex by subbing in a euphemism when what we really mean is that the woman is Froot Loops," but actual funny, like a sitcom that would be called "Oh, That Danielle!" about a designer-clad 62-year-old novelist who wisecracks her way through the annoyances of celebrityhood.

Here she is breakfasting at New York's swanky Carlyle hotel, with a sleek ponytail and a black turtleneck and giant purse, joking about doing battle with the plumber at her Paris home. Here she is, picking at her poached egg and talking about the time she recently got trapped on an airplane runway for hours and thought about mugging the small child next to her for his Oreos. She looks a bit older than her airbrushed book jacket photos, but more approachable, too, with a chesty laugh and a wicked eye roll.

This, in itself, is funny (funny-ironic-funny) because no one ever mentions her sense of humor. What gets mentioned is melodrama. Heartache. The interviews Steel grants inevitably result in articles that make her sound like a sad Miss Havisham, wandering forlornly around the Paris house or the San Francisco mansion, lamenting her failed marriages and other tragic events. The pervasive theme? Danielle Steel's life could be one of her novels. Oh my!

No wonder she hates interviews.

Fat chance

There are rules for heroines in romantic fiction. They can be cold, they can be damaged, they can be arrogant or insecure. They cannot be fat. Steel missed that memo when she wrote her new novel, "Big Girl." Released last week, it features a protagonist who is not merely a few pounds chubby, but genuinely heavy at a size 16. Victoria Dawson has brains, heart, friends, career and about 40 extra pounds settling around her midsection. She also has a stunning younger sister and shallow parents whose catty comments only send her galloping more desperately toward the Ben & Jerry's.

"It dawned on me that most books are about beautiful people finding other beautiful people," says Steel, who's written one or 40 of those books herself. "And I just thought it must be sort of discouraging for the normal part of humanity to get left out of that." She's previously discussed other body-image issues in the form of eating disorders and says she prides herself on staying topical.

The petite Steel has never struggled with her weight but knows the self-esteem gremlins that haunt department-store dressing rooms. "I always forget," she sighs deeply, "that I'm a foot shorter than the models and a hundred years older."

Will Victoria find love? Will she overcome adversity? Does the pope know Latin? (Have you read any Danielle Steel?) Plot twists, she's known for -- but they inevitably untwist themselves in time for a happy ending.

If this particular plot doesn't appeal to you, just wait four months. Steel's "Family Ties" will be out in June, about a young woman who unexpectedly gains custody of her sister's children. "Legacy" is out in October, about a woman tracing her genealogy to make sense of her life.

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