An appreciative audience of more than 100 people — mostly women — filled the Brubeck Room at Wilton Library on Tuesday, June 7, to hear author Terry McMillan read from and talk about her new novel, I Almost Forgot About You.
Author of best-selling novels When Stella Got Her Groove Back, Waiting to Exhale and A Day Late and A Dollar Short among others, McMillan read from the beginning of I Almost Forgot About You for 20 minutes or so, with many in the audience nodding in agreement, calling out approval or applauding as McMillan’s character, Georgia Young, contemplated what happened to the men who had once meant so much to her, why it was so hard to forgive the emotional wounds they inflicted, and what would the rest of her life look like.
When she finished, McMillan opened it up to questions and one woman asked her what inspired her to start writing in the first place.
“Ironically enough it was a guy,” said the author whose books don’t always cast men in the best light. “I was in college, I was like 18, and I can’t even remember his name but he broke my heart … and I wrote a poem. I did not write poetry, and I left it on the kitchen table,” she said. A friend associated with a literary journal read it and offered to publish it.
“I was like, what is a literary journal?” After that, however, “from there, if a leaf fell off a tree, a poem.” She started writing fiction a few years later.
When asked if any of her books are autobiographical McMillan insisted no.
“What makes it feel autobiographical is I take my characters, I take their problems and them very personally. I feel as if I know them. By the time they make it to a page in a book I have done so much homework and background I know everything about these people, even the little kids. I know what their temperament is, what their shoe size is, whether they pay their bills on time, if they get parking tickets. I know their credit score.
“I know what their biggest secret is. Do they lie? What their anxieties are.… what it is they wish they could do over. What they are struggling with right now. I know all of it.
“Their lives are very real to me. By the time I put them in these situations, very real.”
Moving on to her writing style, McMillan made a further connection.
“I wake up at the crack of dawn, normally I’m up at 5 a.m. I usually know who’s going to be in the story. I know what my main characters are up against. Then I just write every day … I don’t take the weekends off … I often take two naps a day just because emotionally, if I’ve done what I’m supposed to do, I’m spent,” she said. “Some days I have babies, some days I die,” which elicited laughter from her audience.
Commenting on whether this book might be made into a movie, McMillan said, “I resent the fact that women in middle age and older aren’t seen as sexy and attractive and beautiful and we are,” which again elicited loud approval.
“They don’t see us as sexual beings,” she said. “We don’t die at 50.”
On change, she said, “There is still life after 50 and 60. It depends on what you do with it. Some of us have done everything by the book, then you realize I’m tired of doing this … you don’t know what else to do, you don’t know if it’s OK to take a risk, and I wanted to create a character who was afraid but who owned up to it.
“Most people are afraid to make changes because it requires that you change and all of us know what that feels like.
“To be good a story should make you feel better when you finish it,” McMillan said. “You should feel a sense that you’ve been through something and that you feel better about yourself emotionally.
“Change is scary but you have to do it or you suffer worse and that’s what this story is pretty much about.”