She had an enjoyable string of best-sellers. Remember “Getting to Happy,” “Waiting to Exhale” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back”? Well, you won’t likely forget Terry McMillan’s “Who Asked You?” either.
In its 383 pages, McMillan introduces us to Betty Jean Butler, the rock of an African-American family weighed down by race, gender issues, economic challenges and, yes, family secrets.
Recently, she took some questions about her work:
Q: It’s been three years since your last book. Why did you make us wait so long?
A: Nothing. I have to make this stuff up. I don’t think that’s a long time. Plus it’s kind of hard to separate characters you’ve been living with for a long time from new ones. It’s like starting a new relationship with a new guy or girl when you haven’t got over the last one.
Q: What was your inspiration for ‘Who Asked You?'?
A: I wouldn’t say I was inspired to write. I was more curious. I’ve always wondered about grandparents, and grandmothers in particular, who end up raising their grandchildren. There are at least 6 million in this country. I just wondered how they did it and what it might feel like to be two-thirds into your life and have to parent again. I was also curious about people who are always trying to tell other people how to live their lives or offer advice without looking at their own behavior. They can be super critical but don’t turn the lens on themselves.
Q: You take on a lot of weighty issues: homosexuality, interracial relationships, grandparents raising their grandchildren, drug addiction and incarceration. Why so much?
A: I think our lives aren’t as linear or singularly focused as we’d like to think. People are faced with different issues simultaneously. They have to come to terms with those issues and rise above their own insecurities, their own flaws. When they can do that, they can begin taking baby steps to deal with them and thereby create more opportunity for hope. In the end, that’s pretty much all we have and that’s why I tell stories.
Q: They always say, write what you know. How much of this draws from your own life experiences?
A: None of it, but I did my homework. I research all of my characters. I relied on three different books on grandparenting. I talked to people who were living this.
Q: Describe the perfect conditions for writing.
A: I don’t know if that really exists. Right now, I’m in a hotel and it’s very quiet and it’s raining outside. If I didn’t have anything else to do, this would work. At home, I get up at 5 a.m. I have my coffee, and it’s dark outside, and I love it. That’s pretty much it. I don’t have a set number of hours I write. I write until I’m emotionally exhausted or I’ve written myself into a corner.
Q: You’ve produced at least eight titles since you launched your career. Which of them did you have the most fun writing?
A: I think I’d probably say “Waiting to Exhale,” but it’s not the book I’m most proud of. I had a good time telling the story and a lot of women identified with it. But I would say emotionally, that isn’t the book that lifted me.