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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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"I try to be very real and honest with my readers," says Steel, but she grew wary of the endless rehashing that's followed her personal mistakes, as if she is everybody's favorite morality play. "We've all had stuff in our lives that we've done or we regret. There comes a point where it's too difficult, and too painful, and you don't want to embarrass yourself."

Steel long ago decided to limit her exposure to the press. In the past 10 years, every interview she grants is touted as "rare!" as if she's a collectible gold coin. She agreed to some publicity for "Big Girl" only because her children are now grown, and because the publishing industry is floundering, and selling books now requires extra effort -- even for her.

Still, she shies away from discussions that get too personal. The great irony of her life and the ensuing coverage is that "I didn't even make a lot of mistakes!" she groans at the perceived injustice. "I didn't have a hell of a lot of fun."

Before she elaborates, Steel's personal assistant, who has been mostly silent through breakfast, shoots her boss a concerned glance.

"Are you sure you want to talk about this?" the assistant says. "This is a backdoor way of talking about something you said you didn't want to talk about."

"You're right, you're right," Steel says.

She's done adding fuel to her own burning in effigy. For Pete's sake, can't everyone move on? Would you want anyone rummaging around through your early relationships?

Ask Steel if she's currently seeing anyone, and she immediately cracks back, "Are you asking me on a date?"

'But I'm Danielle Steel'

On beauty: "I once looked like Norman Mailer in a picture with bad lighting."

On being famous: "You always have to be polite at the pantyhose counter" in case someone recognizes you.

On manipulating fame: "It's very humiliating when you try [pulling] 'But I'm Danielle Steel,' and you get, 'What was that? Fields?' Then you know you're screwed."

A few months ago, Steel was inducted into the California Hall of Fame -- in the same class as George Lucas and Carol Burnett. "I told myself it was a really bad sign," she says, "because only very old people get these awards." She's founded two foundations, one helping mentally ill youths, the other assisting the homeless; she's written about both issues, and has testified in Washington before the Senate in support of mental health legislation. She's been happily unmarried for more than a decade.

She'd love to write a feature film screenplay one day, something like "Love Actually" or "The Holiday," and several of her books have already been adapted for television. She says she's close with all of her children -- after the Carlyle breakfast, she was heading off to scope out apartments with a daughter who lives in New York.

She seems to be in a good place now -- but then again, don't celebrities always say they're in good places? In truth, the witty, fun version of Danielle Steel might not be a much more accurate a portrayal of Steel than the tragic romantic heroine narrative. But at least it's a start. What more does she want?

"World peace," she says, then starts giggling. "No, I'm kidding. I want to be Miss Universe when I grow up."

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