Sunday, January 28, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 28, 2001

'Waiting to Exhale' author gets back in the groove

By Kim Curtis
Associated Press

DANVILLE, Calif. — Terry McMillan has just read an early review of her new novel, "A Day Late and a Dollar Short," and she’s giddy. "They called it a gift,’" she marvels. "Unbelievable."

Terry McMillan’s bestselling novels about middle-class African Americans have led to a number of new black publishing imprints and helped other writers of popular fiction involving blacks find their way into print.

Associated Press

Critics haven’t always been so kind to the 49-year-old author. They often balk at her simple characters and dialogue-driven plots. But they haven’t been able to ignore her sales: The first printing of her latest book, which hit stores last week, is close to a million copies — not quite John Grisham or Tom Clancy, but close.

When McMillan startled the literary world in 1992 with her third novel, "Waiting to Exhale," she tapped into a market the publishing industry had long ignored: young, black educated women.

Her story about the lives of four women and their search for love and happiness sold almost 700,000 hard copies and more than 3 million in paperback. A film version starring Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett took in $67 million.

"Prior to Terry, when it came to publishing black books, it was all very serious," says Manie Barron, publisher of Amistad Press, an imprint of HarperCollins that publishes fiction and nonfiction by blacks. "There was no such thing as black commercial fiction. . . . That’s what was so groundbreaking. Here was language that the reader understood. . . . It wasn’t highfalutin, it was everyday stuff."

"Day Late" (see review, Page E5) is an intoxicating, uproariously funny, thought-provoking study of the Price family. McMillan began writing "Day Late" in 1993 but the deaths first of her mother and then of her best friend put her into a tailspin. "For a couple years, I just couldn’t write," she says.

"I was just totally numb."

She began to emerge, and to be able to write again, only after the trip to Jamaica that led to the bestselling "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" and her marriage to Jonathan Plummer in 1998 (and, yes, he’s younger than she is).

The 430-page "Day Late," told from each family member’s point of view, is a seamless combination of voices and characters.

And it’s McMillan at her best.

"I write about real people, real situations, and I don’t even know how it’s going to turn out," says McMillan, who resents critics who condemn her work for selling so well.

"I don’t apologize for the way I tell my stories. I don’t want to be Toni Morrison. I love what Toni Morrison does but I’m not trying to be Toni Morrison or Alice Walker or Gloria Naylor.

"They don’t tell stories like I do."

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