By Karu F. Daniels
Black America’s reigning contemporary literary queen Terry McMillan returns to form with the wickedly poignant and fiercely hilarious new effort Who Asked You? (Viking), an eye-popping, jaw-dropping must read revolving around the trials and tribulations of a working-class grandmother making her way through life in Los Angeles post 9/11.
With more than 11 million books in print and TV and motion picture adaptations of her novels, McMillan is gearing up for her next screen project: Lifetime’s movie version of the 2002 novel A Day Late and a Dollar Short, executive produced by and starring Academy Award winner Whoopi Goldberg, due next year.
What was your process in crafting this latest tome? What inspired it?
I started out wanting to tell a story about a grandmother who, right before she was ready for retirement, was faced with a dilemma of caring for her grandchildren. I have worried about grandparents and what [this] does to their lives. I empathized with them as well as the children, who are basically abandoned. I was also curious about what happens when other folks offer their opinions in or play a role in how you navigate this journey. As a result, I discovered that the only way to tell the story honestly was to tell it from each character’s point of view.
What’s the takeaway from Who Asked You?
Sometimes we need to know who to listen to and who to ignore. Often, people who care about us think they have the solutions to our problems, our lives, which they don’t. And often fail to look at their own issues. I think understanding that we first need to look at our own behavior before we try to manage others, even if we love them, is major.
What role does “parental guilt” play in the story?
My protagonist, Betty Jean, worries, like a lot of mothers, if she did a good enough job. She suffers from guilt, and worries how much more she could’ve done. I don’t think parents can be totally responsible with how their adult children turn out, unless, of course, they were abused on any level. You can teach them the basics. After that, however, children grow up, have their own personalities and influences and they’re on their own.
You’re active on social media, and you’ve come under scrutiny for your honesty.What draws you to it?
I see social media as a platform to voice my opinions, and I’m willing to take the criticism. I once thought Twitter was stupid, but now it feels more intimate, and I have a lot of respect for my followers.
Has social media helped you professionally or personally?
I don’t know how much being on Twitter or Facebook has helped me professionally or not. I was doing okay before social media, and I don’t like the idea of using it for self-promotion. It feels too manipulative. I’ve been around a while now, and if people like my work, they’ll read it.
As one of a select few who have been blessed to have your literary projects adapted into films and TV projects, share with us some of the pros and cons of that?
I don’t really know the cons, except that folks seem to assume that every new book is going to be a film. I don’t think of my novels as movies. But if they can do double duty in terms of inspiring folks, all the better. I also pay the IRS a ton!