In December of 1994, Danielle Steel published her third bestseller of the year, and only furthered the notion that any work she produces will soon become a bestseller. Wings, the story of small town girl Cassie O'Malley who beats all odds to become a renowned woman pilot on the brink of WWII, seems somewhat out of the realm for Steel. Much of the story centers around Cassie's extreme admiration of Amelia Earhart, and the way in which she is eventually convinced to attempt an around-the-world flight on the anniversary of Earhart's tragic flight. The onset of WWII forces Cassie to switch to a Pacific Ocean tour, and at the end of the novel she ends up near Pearl Harbor in the middle of a war zone. The historical twist to the plot differs greatly from Steel's works near the time of the publication of Wings, but the summer of 1994 was a time when Earhart and remembrances of the devastating A-bomb were certainly pertinent in the media.
Though Steel's books consistently receive less than favorable reviews from critics because of poor grammar, non-sequiturs, and an infallibly consistent plot line, Wings possesses a multitude of qualities which make it an unmistakable contender for an American Bestseller. Its genre as a historical romance novel, the story of a woman asserting herself in a man's world in a time when women's liberation was so apposite, the envied persona of Danielle Steel, the nearly identical appearance in cover art of Steel's novels, her incredible readership of an excess of a million people, the fact that the book is simultaneously published in hardback, large print, and limited editions, not to mention subsequent publications in paperback, Braille, book club editions, and 15 different known translations, and its easy to read nature make Wings inevitably attractive to readers. It is also uncanny that TNT broadcasted a highly publicized TV movie starring Diane Keaton as Amelia Earhart on June 12, 1994. This movie was so highly regarded that the Smithsonian Institution held a special mega-screen preview at the National Air and Space Museum with an introductory lecture by Doris Rich, the author of Amelia Earhart: A Biography. Additionally, in as early as August of 1994, the Smithsonian Institution was in the middle of the most heated debate over an exhibit in history, "The Last Act: The Atomic Bomb and the End of WWII." New York University history professor, Susan Ware, had just published Still Missing: Amelia Earhart and the Search for Modern Feminism, a book that caused an incredible stir among critics. Additionally, the Ninety-Nines, an organization devoted to women pilots, announced the start of an extensive fund raising, restoration, and preservation effort towards the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum. Lastly, Women in Aviation, International, an organization with the purpose of encouraging women to seek opportunities in aviation, was formally established in 1994. The extensive media captivation with Amelia Earhart near the time of the publication of Wings only furthered the success of this novel, and greatly minimizes the seemingly random nature of this topic. Danielle Steel can no longer write a book without its guaranteed success as a bestseller?society has enthralled itself with her glamorous persona and formulaic novels.
Wings, as well as all of Steel's books, belong to a genre of unwavering interest in American society. The romance novel has long been a staple on bestseller lists; the fact that all 3 of Steel's 1994 publications: Accident, The Gift, and Wings, all appeared on the yearly bestsellers list and are all romance novels furthers this notion(Bestsellers database). Additionally, the majority of the Fiction bestsellers in general were romance novels; Waller's Bridges of Madison County, Crichton's Disclosure, and Sheldon's Nothing Lasts Forever are just a few examples. Several of the books on the Nonfiction bestsellers list also deal with romance and male-female relationship issues: Gray's Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and Reiser's Couplehood are examples of this. Clearly, 1994, as well as the 1990s in general, was a period when society took a great interest in romance and relationship issues.
Wings takes place from 1918-1942 and much of the focus is on World War II. The historical twist on this romance novel only makes it more appealing to a broader age range. While it retains the lure of a romance novel, older generations could possibly take a deeper interest in this particular novel because it deals with issues they had to personally face during wartime. Due to the fact that romance novels fare exceptionally well as bestsellers, it can be concluded that society is looking for entertainment that allows one to escape to a world of passion and love. Wings also possesses the "Horatio Alger paradigm" of a person working their way up and women asserting themselves in a man's world. Cassie O'Malley definitely does this; she disavows her engagement to her small town high school sweetheart and moves to California to pursue her flying dream. The addition of her falling in love with her father's best friend, Nick Galvin, a man twice her age, makes the drama even more suspenseful. When Nick leaves to help the war effort in England, Cassie is disillusioned into marrying her boss, Desmond Williams, a cruel businessman who is only out to use Cassie's persona to his own benefit. After nearly losing her life in a plane crash, Cassie divorces Desmond and is reunited with Nick Galvin in England, a scene which happens extremely fast and is based on much coincidence. Though this book, like all of Steel's books, is criticized for the formulaic ending with the heroine being reunited with the hero, this is clearly what the general public wants to see. This book is a way to escape to a romance and a seemingly perfect start of a much-awaited love life. In fact, this love story formula is so sought after by Steel's fans that Publishers Weekly mentions that this will no doubtedly be missed in its review of The Gift:
"Steel deviates sharply from her usual romance formula in this tender is sometimes sappy story?Nice as it is, however, her fans will no doubt crave for the day when Steel returns to her tried-and-true one-woman/two-great-loves potboilers"(Publishers Weekly book reviews)
The subsequent publishing of Wings was certainly excitedly received by her fans. Publishers Weekly exactly explains the nature of Wings when describing Steel's novels, summing up what society will make into a bestseller.
Danielle Steel's Persona
The 1980s and 90s have embarked upon a new category of bestsellers?the author's name is enough to ensure the success of a novel. Stephen King, Micheal Crichton, Mary Higgins Clark, Judith Krantz, and Danielle Steel are a few of the multitude of authors with an enormous following. In searching newspapers and magazines for articles on Danielle Steel, it is remarkable just how many articles are available which deal with her personal life(Galenet). Though Steel has been married 5 times and her marriage dealings are a main topic of writing, there is still a definite societal interest in her as a person. Her personal website, www.daniellesteel.com, can attest to the fact that people are interested in learning about her interests and daily activities. With such links as "Meet Danielle Steel," "Scrapbook," and seasonal letters addressed to her fans with tidbits of her family life, Danielle Steel is able to simultaneously possess a down-to-earth attitude as well as an extremely glamorous side. Her "Scrapbook" even includes an excerpt entitled "A Typical Day in the Life of Danielle Steel," detailing the incredible amount of time she apparently spends with her children as well as making it known that she writes her novels in the wee hours of the morning. Though she is presented in the light of a typical mom who helps with homework and drives carpools, there is no doubt of her extreme wealth and fame. Her books and website show only glamorous pictures with Steel outfitted in jewels and very expensive looking clothing. The back cover of Wings shows Steel outfitted in a leather bomber jacket with a military patch, but she is also wearing very nice looking pants with a matching top and an enormous necklace with matching earrings. Steel has an added draw to readers because while they can fantasize about her money and fame, she is also a seemingly wonderful mother to 9 children. She has what every American woman wants?money and loving relationships.
The cover art of Steel's books are no marketing accident. Each book is nearly identical, with the only variety existing in a different picture to depict the title and a slightly different shade of color from the one published before it. Also, Danielle Steel's name is just as large as the title of the book. When looking in a bookstore for Danielle Steel's books, the collection assimilates into a rainbow of colors, with each book's slightly lighter or darker shade blending into the overall grouping. This makes these books extremely recognizable to Danielle Steel's fans. As bookstores continue to grow into mega superstores, Steel's familiar cover art will only make a reader feel more comfortable. While the size of the store and the millions of books overwhelming consumers, familiar names and appearances will stand out even more.
Clearly, Steel has established an enormous following. Her first hardback printings are usually 1 million(Bestsellers database), and this is not including the limited editions and large print editions that are simultaneously published at the first printing. These extra editions allow collectors and visually impaired people the same chance to get her most recent novel at the start of publication. Her books go on to be published in paperback, Braille, and several translations. Wings was found to be published 15 different times in a multitude of languages, and Danielle Steel's website details her overseas publishers in at least 29 different countries. She does not only captivate American audiences; Danielle Steel is so popular that there is a market around the entire world for her novels. In printing in so many languages and different editions, Steel is guaranteeing that some form of her work will be available to people of any language. Though Wings was neither published on audio tape nor made into a TV movie as many of Steel's books are, there is no lack of translated editions.
Wings, as well as the majority of Steel's other works have been dubbed as easy reads(Galenet). Her books are sold at all major booksellers, second hand shops, they can be checked out at the library, and they are found in many drug stores, grocery stores, and in airports. The books are fast moving, there is no difficult language, the plot is very linear and predictable, and the reader is drawn into the feelings of the characters. Danielle Steel does not claim to write on a high literary level (Galenet), and thus her books should be treated as a way to escape to a world of make-believe but identifiable characters. Critics point out her poor grammar, non-sequiturs, and run-on sentences, but the novel moves so fast and the reader is so enthralled that it becomes easy to look past this. Whether this says that society is reading on an extremely low level or just reading for pleasure, it is indisputable that Steel's books are hard to put down.
In researching a reason as to why Steel would have focused on World War II, flying, and aviation hero Amelia Earhart, it became apparent that these topics were very prevalent in the media at this time.
On June 12, 1994, TNT broadcasted a highly publicized TV movie starring Diane Keaton as Amelia Earhart. The movie was mentioned in several major newspapers including The Washington Post, as well as all major magazines and entertainment guides(Galenet). Amelia Earhart: The Final Flight was so highly regarded that the Smithsonian Institution offered a mega-screen preview at the National Air and Space Museum with an introduction by Doris Rich, author of Amelia Earhart: A Biography. Additionally, in as early as August of 1994, the Smithsonian Institution was in the midst of the most heated debate over an exhibit in history. "The Last Act: The Atomic Bomb and the End of WWII", an exhibit including Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped "Little Boy," the first atomic bomb, on Hiroshima was a widely publicized uproar at the politics involved in displaying this plane(Washington Times Archives, Washington Post Archives). These happenings in the media could have contributed to a furthered interest in Wings, which dealt with many of the same issues.
In April of 1994, New York University history professor, Susan Ware, published a highly debated book on feminism entitled Still Missing: Amelia Earhart and the Search for Modern Feminism. This book dealt with the disappearance of Earhart and her assertion of herself as a woman through the ultimate defiance of nature?flying. Along the very same lines of the thinking of Wings heroine Cassie O'Malley, this book could serve as a perfect segueway to Steel's romance novel.
1994 also brought the announcement that The Ninety Nines, a group of people who enjoy sharing the knowledge of Amelia Earhart and other women pilots, was beginning extensive fundraising, restoration and preservation efforts to restore The Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum(www.ninety-nines.org). Ironically, Cassie O'Malley becomes one of the founding women of The Ninety Nines at the end of Wings. Also, Women in Aviation, International was formally established in 1994, an organization dedicated to encouraging women to seek opportunities in aviation(www.wiai.org). At the time of the publication of Wings, the media was full of happenings pertaining to Amelia Earhart, aviation, and women and the ongoing struggle for feminism. There was much mention of a lack of religion and morality, as well as the loosing of family values. Though the characters of Wings were in no way highly religious, the strong family structure was perfunctory. When Cassie lost her brother, the reader was engrossed in her family enough to feel pity for the characters.
Though Danielle Steel's books are in no way of a literary quality to win any awards, she has certainly captured the hearts of millions of readers all over the world. Wings is just another addition to the growing collection of books her name sells each year. The popular genre of historical romance, Danielle Steel's persona, the marketing and publishing strategies surrounding her works, and the frequent media attention surrounding Amelia Earhart and aviation make this book an inevitable bestseller. 1990s society is enthralled with movie stars and Danielle Steel is able to portray a glamorous and a motherly persona at the same time. People want to live a perfect romance, and Danielle Steel's books allow that to happen. Wings has is all: the love story, aviation, and a woman asserting herself in a man's world at a time when feminism dominates our culture.
Galenet-Biography Resource Center