NEW YORK (Reuters) - Danielle Steel is one of the world’s most popular authors, known for tales of romance that have earned her hundreds of millions of dollars. But as a child she eyed a different career — as a Catholic nun.
Her plans for a life of poverty, however, went awry when she married at 17 and began writing at age 19. Steel has since sold more than 560 million books and on Tuesday will publish her 72nd novel “Honor Thyself.”
“I wanted to be a nun when I was young,” Steel, 60, whose success has made her a regular on the New York Times bestseller list, told Reuters in a rare interview. “Religion is what keeps me going, I would be utterly lost without it.”
Steel’s life is quite a contrast with the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience taken by nuns. She has been married five times, has seven biological and two adopted children and splits her time between homes in San Francisco and Paris.
But while she didn’t choose to become a nun, religion has remained a strong part of her life.
“I was brought up a rabid Catholic and there have been times — like when my son died and my (fourth) husband had left me — I went to mass twice a day just to hang on,” she said. “It’s a very present support system for me.”
“It’s not for everybody but it works for me,” she said.
Steel said she also used her writing as a refuge when her son Nicholas Traina committed suicide just over a decade ago at the age of 19. Traina had bipolar disorder, characterized by abrupt mood swings.
While “Honor Thyself,” the story of an actress who loses her memory when she is injured in an extremist attack in Paris, is her 72nd novel published, Steel said she has written a total of 88 novels, plus another 17 books, including one about Traina.
“It takes about two and a half years for each book, but I am usually working on four or five at the one time,” she said. “I use a 1946 typewriter — I love it. I do emails for my children though, they had dragged me into the 21st century.”
“I work about a 20 to 22-hour day, those are very long days, and then I sleep about three hours and then work another 22 hour day and I pretty much do that for a month and then that’s the first draft,” she said of her writing, which is mainly done during the winter months.
“After that I hone it for a couple of years,” she said.
Her inspiration for her stories, she said, “falls out of the sky,” although she admits sometimes it comes from her own life. “Occasionally it will be an event, but more usually it will be the feelings about some event I had in my life that I then reapply to something else,” Steel said.
But while some believe her own life story would make a good read, Steel said she has no plans to write her memoirs, not even for her children, who she said have asked her to do it for them.
“I like staying out of the limelight, I’m not that comfortable with it. I never said I was important — the stories are important,” Steel said.
For now Steel plans to come to terms with being 60-years-old — “this is the end of the world,” she joked — and plans to keep writing novels “till I face first into my typewriter I hope. I love my work.”