She has millions of fans. Her novels have thrust middle-class African Americans, especially black women, into the mainstream. She has insisted on portraying her characters as fully formed human beings, and on tackling some prickly issues while she's at it.
Terry McMillian, author of "Waiting to Exhale," "How Stella Got Her Groove Back," "The Interruption of Everything" and "Getting to Happy," among other titles, will deliver the sold-out keynote address at this year's Black Ink book festival. In anticipation of her visit to Charleston, The Post and Courier posed a few questions about her celebrated body of work.
Q: You often write about love (searching for it, failing at it, etc.) from the perspective of compelling female characters. Was it your intention from the beginning to propel fully realized African-American women into the literary spotlight or are you simply culling from your own experience and perspective?
A: Neither. I wrote about and still write about what disturbs me, and from the start I wanted to know how black women in particular survived and thrived in the face of loneliness, adversity and how they handled motherhood and love or lack of it. I write about what feels like an itch and I have to scratch it.
Q: Two of your books, “Waiting to Exhale” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” were made into successful theatrical features, and two books, “Disappearing Acts” and “A Day Late and a Dollar Short,” were made into TV movies. What’s it like to work with filmmakers? How active are you in the process? How do you ensure the movies faithfully represent the novels?
A: It’s not as exciting as it sounds. I don’t like adapting my books and although I’m flattered, it’s too much work; too many participants. I like writing novels, when no one is looking over my shoulder. I told the story in the manner I wanted to tell it. Movies and TV versions are just flattering. And extra money!
Q: When you sit down to write, are you able to focus solely on the task of spinning a good tale, or are you influenced by reader expectations, social and political obligations, and the weight of your now-significant reputation as a trailblazer?
A: I don’t think about readers when I’m writing. I’m completely involved in my characters’ lives and the issues they’re dealing with. I take the problems they’re facing seriously, as if they are real, because to me they are real. I don’t think of myself as a trailblazer, I’ve just been writing for quite some time. I deal more with emotional politics. I put my political views on Twitter and Facebook.
Q: How do you conceive your novels? Do you start with a character, a plot outline, a philosophical or sociological idee fixe? And how do you go about fleshing out the story?
A: I start with a character in a situation. First, I know who my character(s) is (are) and whatever problem they’re facing is difficult. I travel with them emotionally to make sure they face it, because it’s often things we don’t want to (face). Ultimately, it is sociological.
Q: Your last novel was “I Almost Forgot About You” in which your protagonist, the restless optometrist Georgia Young, revisits the various men in her life who meant something to her. What are you working on now, and what character plays the starring role?
A: First, let me say that the idea for "Almost" was just that. I’ve never actually gone back to look up old loves. Mostly, because I still know or don’t really care! I’m working on a new novel: "It's Not All Downhill From Here." It’ll be published in the fall, 2019. My main character’s name is Loretha Curry. And she’s got friends. And she’s got a boisterous family. And a dog named B.B. King. That’s enough for now.