The Root Interview: Terry McMillan on Getting to Happy

The novelist opens up to The Root about her new novel, Michelle Obama, Twitter, getting along with her ex and why we need a national coming-out day.

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The Root caught up with Terry McMillan just as she was to begin the tour for her latest novel, Getting to Happy, the sequel to Waiting to Exhale.

The Root: How are you? Where are you?

Terry McMillan: New York. I'm going to the Barnes and Noble [in Union Square]. I didn't get much sleep last night -- I haven't done this in five years! But I'm used to it.

TR: Why did you join Twitter?

TM: My publisher asked me to join Twitter in May. And I never thought I'd like it. I always thought it was sort of stupid: "I'm on my way to Starbucks," or "I just woke up," or whatever this is. I found out I can say a lot in 140 characters. It turned out to be a nice avenue in which to put your thoughts and your concerns, what you are about. So that's the conduit it became for me. And I try not to talk about myself that much -- that's boring. But since my book is coming out, I'm on it.

TR: What do you think of D.L. Hughley and Sherri Shepherd's recent comments on The View about men on the down low being responsible for the rate of HIV infections among black men?

TR: Where were you on 9/11, and has it impacted your work?

TM: I don't think 9/11 has impacted my writing. I was in bed, and my sister called at 6:30 in the morning and told me to turn on the TV, and I turned on the TV. It was like an out-of-body experience. I was somnambulating! I felt I was sleepwalking. I can't tell you how many times I've watched it. The more I watched it the less real it seemed. You had to keep watching it. When I was a young girl during the Vietnam War, I was on my yellow school bus and looking up at the sky. I thought, "They always have a war in other countries, and I wonder why they didn't attack us." But back then I didn't know anything.

TR: What do you think of the state of black literature?

TM: It's bad, let's face it. I think there's a dearth of really good stories, and the ones who are telling good stories aren't being read. The urban-ghetto fiction writing is canceling itself out. There should be more readers of stories that are better written and better edited. On some level, some of the stories that are being told are glorifying the things we as black people fought so hard to mitigate, like violence, gratuitous sex, money, money, money.

I'm not saying write things to be didactic, but no one even acknowledges what this says about us. It's almost embarrassing and insulting that blacks are treating each other like this. And I'm sick of looking at naked women on the cover of these books! It makes me sick. And it's just us! You don't see Jewish naked women or Asian naked women on book covers. No other ethnic group does this. I love to make mention of good young writers. I try to let folks know there are other people out there writing good, quality fiction.

TR: Does Michelle Obama inspire you in any way as a writer?

Arlene McKanic is a freelance writer from Queens, N.Y., and Blair, S.C.

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