Terry McMillan returns with 'Who Asked You?'

October 7, 2013

She has had an enjoyable string of best-sellers. Remember "Getting to Happy," "Waiting to Exhale" and "How Stella Got Her Groove Back"? Remember "Mama"? Well, you wonít likely forget Terry McMillanís "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:

Q: Itís 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 donít think thatís a long time. Plus itís kind of hard to separate characters youíve been living with for a long time from new ones. Itís like starting a new relationship with a new guy or girl when you havenít got over the last one.

Q: What was your inspiration for ĎWho Asked You?í?

A: I wouldnít say I was inspired to write. I was more curious. Iíve 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 donít 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 arenít as linear or singularly focused as weíd 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, thatís pretty much all we have and thatís 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 donít know if that really exists. Right now, Iím in a hotel and itís very quiet and itís raining outside. If I didnít have anything else to do, this would work. At home, I get up at 5 a.m. I have my coffee and itís dark outside and I love it. Thatís pretty much it. I donít have a set number of hours I write. I write until Iím emotionally exhausted or Iíve written myself into a corner.

Q: Youíve produced at least eight titles since you launched your career. Which of them did you have the most fun writing?

A: I think Iíd probably say "Waiting to Exhale," but itís not the book Iím 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 isnít the book that lifted me.



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