Alpine’s Anita Stansfield has pictures of Kevin Costner cut out in her office.
She also has magazine clippings of sexy models, ordinary-looking people and troubled actors.
“One risk prolific authors have is letting their characters all be the same, book after book,” Anita says. “But because I use photographs that represent each character while I write, I’m able to give each person his or her own personality.”
Using photographs also helps her juggle the four to five projects she has going at once.
“I look at the photo and I’m right back with that character and the struggles he or she is facing.”
The characters she’s currently writing about sit propped up next to one of three computers in her office, while the ones she’s written about previously are filed in a black binder. She flips through the pages and immediately the stories, feelings and characters come rushing back.
Anita is arguably the best LDS romance novelist ever, selling approximately 400,000 books since her debut with “First Love and Forever” in 1994. Her 17th book, “Where the Heart Leads,” is due out this summer.
While averaging three books per year, she also is a full-time mother for her five children. The oldest is on a mission in Oklahoma and the youngest is 2.
“People are amazed that I answer my own phone and do my own laundry,” Anita says. “But I’m just a mom.”
Just a mom who gets asked to speak at dozens of Enrichment meetings and women’s conferences. Just a mom who drives women to Deseret Book in droves. Just a mom who is responsible for millions of teardrops, thousands of used Kleenex boxes, and hundreds of changed lives.
Anita’s books often deal with difficult issues in the LDS culture, such as abuse, unhappy temple marriages, and rape. Anita has a personal assistant who helps handle the fan mail, much of which talks about how Anita’s characters helped them work through similar struggles.
Anita is a celebrity — or at least her name is — among prolific LDS fiction readers.
“I often get recognized when I go to write out a check — or when I schedule a doctor’s appointment,” she says. “I want my books to be famous, but I never wanted to be famous myself.”
In fact, Anita says sometimes she forgets her accomplishments. To help remind her, she’s had the covers of her books framed and has them hanging in the narrow hallway between her kitchen and her office.
“I like having them there because sometimes I lose perspective, and it helps to see them all here and say, ‘Hey, I’ve written a lot of successful books.’”
Her success story can’t be described as “overnight.” She wrote her first book at age 16. Sixteen years later, she signed a contract with Covenant to print her first book, which had been rejected five times, including by Covenant. Her perseverance and faith kept her motivated.
“I knew this is what I was supposed to do with my life,” she admits.
Anita is largely a self-taught writer. She didn’t attend college, even though she met her husband at a BYU ward. And “well-read” doesn’t describe her, she says. The word “talent,” however, does fit. “Romance” is another trademark word for Anita.
“Although I am a hopeless romantic, people get the idea that my entire life must be one big romantic episode,” Anita says. “We have a great marriage, but we have to work at it and spend time together.”
In fact, Anita and her husband say they only have three things in common: their children, their religion and their address.
“We used to have the same phone number, but now we have cell phones,” Anita laughs.
Anita’s incoming phone calls include radio personalities wanting interviews, visiting teachers, her agent in New York, and her kids’ friends.
Her kids don’t see her as famous. In fact, they often don’t read her books or get into the hype that surrounds her writing. Anita doesn’t mind. She’s just their mom. And she wants them to know that she’s their mother first.
“Often I write a sentence, fix a bottle, write a sentence, answer a question,” Anita says.
“My kids know that I will interrupt my work if they need me,” she says.
While her kids are her top priority, their names, likenesses and personalities aren’t part of her books.
“The names just come,” Anita says. “The plots sometimes come instantaneously, and other times the plot trickles in.”
Anita has lived in Utah County nearly her entire life, and many of the plots are set here, which she thinks is part of the appeal to her readers.
“I illustrate what life is like here, and people can see it clearly — whether they live here or not,” she says.
Anita’s books have pioneered new ground in LDS fiction, a goal she set for herself early in her writing career, which didn’t start out as a glamorous undertaking.
She wrote the better part of her first five books on a typewriter from Deseret Industries that didn’t have the letter “p.”
“I keep an antique typewriter in my office to remind me of those days,” she says. Now she has three computers, one of which is a laptop. “I use my laptop all the time because it’s easy to take to the dentist office or wherever I go with my kids,” she says.
She also brings her kids with her in the office, as she has their pictures pinned up — right next to her Kevin Costner prints.