Author Terry McMillan talks about finding out her husband was gay, the women who come to her readings and her new book, “I Almost Forgot About You,” which is about a woman who doesn’t meet a new Mr. Right, but learns to appreciate the ones she had.
Terry McMillan was alone in a hotel room in New York. And she felt like talking. About everything.
The women who had come to see her in Connecticut to hear her read from her new book, “I Almost Forgot About You,” which will bring her to the Seattle Central Library at 7 p.m. on June 20.
“I had about 100 people,” she said of the Connecticut reading.
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“You think so?” McMillan asked. “Ninety percent of them were white women over 40.”
“That’s what I said,” she said. “But that was the neighborhood. I don’t discriminate.
“If I read a book by a white author, which I do, I don’t think, ‘Gee whiz, this book is only for white people.’
“It just so happens that my characters are African-Americans, and I hope that women of other ethnicities read my books.”
Do they ever. McMillan made her mark by bringing the African-American middle-class experience to popular culture.
Her two best-known novels — 1992’s “Waiting to Exhale,” and 1996’s “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” — both sold millions and were made into movies.
“Stella” is about a 40-something stockbroker who takes a Jamaican vacation and falls in love with a man half her age. It was based on McMillan’s experience with her former husband, Jonathan Plummer, whom she married in 1998, when she was 47 and he was 24. Six years after their wedding, Plummer told McMillan he was gay. They divorced, suits were filed and they settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
They’re friends now, McMillan said. He’ll text her when he hears a song on the radio and still calls her “my love.”
They broke the rules, McMillan said, and she’s glad.
“All I was going to do was milk it until the milk was dry,” she said of their relationship, then paused. “That’s a terrible analogy. We were good for eight years, and then he started boring me to death.”
She laughed, then softened.
“I am grateful for having loved him,” she said of Plummer, with whom she appeared on an episode of Oprah Winfrey’s “Life Class.”
“I loved him and he still loves me. I loved the man that I met. Now, I just like the man that he is.”
Her new book follows a familiar path: Georgia Young is a successful San Francisco optometrist with two grown daughters, two failed marriages and a clutch of colorful friends. But she is in a vague, early-50s rut, and knows it.
There has to be something more.
One day, a new patient mentions the name of her father, who turns out to be a former lover of Georgia’s. She had lost track of him. And he had died a couple of years before.
It shakes something loose in her, and Georgia begins a quest to track down the men she has truly loved, determine what went wrong, and use those lessons to make the best of the remaining years of her life — and her quieted heart.
“I was just curious about a woman who has done everything right,” McMillan said of Georgia. “Got her degrees, her kids are grown, she is successful, she has her own home. And she realizes that she’s bored.”
McMillan’s research involved observing not just her friends and peers, but people on public transportation.
“I can tell who is not happy,” McMillan said “Sometimes you can just tell, listening to complete strangers, like they really do have this attitude like, ‘Is this it?’
“We start thinking about our own mortality and we’re like, ‘Wow, this is not how I want to spend the rest of my life.’ ”
Georgia’s “quest” is not to find love, McMillan said. Every female protagonist doesn’t have to land a man to end a book. Rather, she said, Georgia seeks to come to terms with the effect love has had on her life. What it has taken from her, and what she’s gotten from it. And how it feels to be in it.
“I’m not writing to preach; it’s a journey,” McMillan said. “But deep down inside, there is a part of me who knows there are women out here who have given up. And I don’t believe it.”
So, Terry McMillan, after all she’s been through, still believes in love.
“Absolutely!” she said. “Everybody in their right mind would. I am not in love now, but I hope to be. I’m dating, and things are looking up. I’ll put it that way.”