By Kim Curtis
DANVILLE, Calif. Terry McMillan has just read an early review of her new novel, "A Day Late and a Dollar Short," and shes giddy. "They called it a gift," she marvels. "Unbelievable."
Critics havent always been so kind to the 49-year-old author. They often balk at her simple characters and dialogue-driven plots. But they havent 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.
|Terry McMillans 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.
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. . . . Thats what was so groundbreaking. Here was language that the reader understood. . . . It wasnt 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 couldnt 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, hes younger than she is).
The 430-page "Day Late," told from each family members point of view, is a seamless combination of voices and characters.
And its McMillan at her best.
"I write about real people, real situations, and I dont even know how its going to turn out," says McMillan, who resents critics who condemn her work for selling so well.
"I dont apologize for the way I tell my stories. I dont want to be Toni Morrison. I love what Toni Morrison does but Im not trying to be Toni Morrison or Alice Walker or Gloria Naylor.
"They dont tell stories like I do."
[back to top]