Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Getting to Happy

I remember buying Waiting to Exhale. It was hardcover (first edition, hot off the presses), and I wasn't working so it was a splurge. It was shortly after my mother passed away and I was grieving hard. I needed a distraction. I went to the Aurora Mall and wandered the halls before it hit me that what I wanted was a novel. I hadn't read a novel in years. At the time, I was reading a lot of self-help and nonfiction stuff trying to get my act together. But after my mother died I wanted a big juicy read, something to get lost in. I went into Waldenbooks and plopped down on the floor in the fiction section and started browsing. I hadn't heard of Waiting to Exhale or Terry McMillan before then. The title intrigued me. I opened it and the narrator lived in Denver. I lived in Denver! She worked in PR. I worked in PR! I bought it. I took it home and sank into it like a warm bath. I probably didn't exhale once that whole year after my mother's death, but this was one of the books that made me think that one day in the future I would.

I remember later when the movie came out. I was with my stepmother and my Latina sister-in-law in Killen, TX and we were so excited as we got in the line. All of us, white, black, Latina, in groups of friends and relatives, were eager to see a movie about grown women and grown woman stuff.

I never would have guessed back then that I too would be a novelist. I never would have guessed the book I bought (and then, of course, went back and bought Mama, Disappearing Acts, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and all the rest) was opening a career door for me and dozens (hundreds?) like me.

Today the sequel is out. And reading it is like visiting with old friends you haven't seen in a long time. And just like real life old friends, these women made me laugh, made me sad, made me frustrated (I'm talking to you Savannah!) and, yes, made me happy. I'm curious to see how Getting to Happy will do in the current book-selling environment. I'm hoping the audience that Terry helped create will show up big for this one. I'm hoping that all those women who stood in line to see the movie version of Waiting to Exhale will show up in bookstores for this visit with some old friends. (You can follow Terry on Facebook and Twitter too.)

Anyone else care to share their experience of the Waiting to Exhale phenomenon? You buying Getting to Happy? You are, right? Right?


jeanette nicole* said...

Will be on my way to grab it on lunch today. I remember reading this book for the first time when I was like 11 years old & it pretty much changed my reading scope completely.

Shan said...

As a white reader, this was my first introduction to Black literature back when I was in high school. I read all of her books in just a few weeks. I was very excited when I heard about Getting to Happy.

My review went up today - http://goodbooksandacupoftea.blogspot.com/2010/09/getting-to-happy-by-terry-mcmillan_07.html

Doret said...

Thank you for sharing Carleen.

I remember going to see the movie, I was so excited because I loved the book.

I went with a friend, somehow we got tickets to an adavanced showing. The theater was packed and the enegry was so happy.

I am off to review Getting To Happy at Color Online.

Jara said...

Hey Ms. Brice! I finally made it over to your blog (*taking late pass*). Very nice.

Thanks for sharing your story of how Terry McMillan's "Waiting to Exhale" inspired you to write. It's easy to forget that this novel was a monumental game-changer. Before WTE (and Alice Walker's "The Color Purple"), the book publishing world was convinced that we don't read for pleasure or purpose!

As I shared on Twitter, my mom bought me "Waiting to Exhale" when I was 12. I read it when I was 13. When my dad finally heard about it, he tried to pull rank about me reading such a "grown" book. Too late. I'd already devoured and memorized every line! While my friends' parents weren't letting them read WTE, my mom's reasoning for the early exposure: "She has to learn about triflin' men and the bad decisions that women make in love at some point. Better that she learn about them from a fictional world." Amen.

I'm definitely purchasing "Getting to Happy" today. And I'll start reading it after I finish "Orange Mint & Honey". ;-)

Carleen Brice said...

@Jeanette and @Jara, Y'all are making me feel old! Reading WTE when you were 11 & 12?! I read Valley of the Dolls at that age. LOL & Jara, Welcome to ye old blog & thanks for checking out Orange Mint!!

@Shan, Thanks for the link to your review.

@Doret, Wasn't it happy energy? I'm glad you'll be posting a review too. Look forward to reading it!

wdjenkins1 said...

"Disappearing Acts" was my introduction to Terry McMillan, and I was just blown away by it. My daughter was in high school then (talking about feeling old!), and all of her friends just ate it up! I had never read anything remotely like it. When "Waiting To Exhale" came out, we were all ready and we were not disappointed. And who had ever seen anything like the movie, from its beautiful, brilliant cast to the music by Babyface. Good wishes to Ms. McMillan - she opened up so much.

DeBerry and Grant said...

Until Waiting to Exhale made publishers understand that black people read and purchase books, we were mostly left outside the literary gates. Clearly the publishing powers did not learn in American history that black people risked and often lost our lives in order to learn to read. They would publish “literary/historical” fiction about African Americans, but not books about our contemporary lives--the way we live now, in America.(And sadly that category is now shrinking steadily.)But the Exhale phenomenon is the reason many of us were given a chance--not just to write, but to be published. Thank you Terry McMillan.

Trina said...

I am going to get it now! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

great review of a brilliant writer

Rich said...

Carleen, would you say that EXHALE paved the way for SEX AND THE CITY?

Carleen Brice said...

Rich, Funny you should ask. I've been thinking a lot about that today and I think so. The experience of going to the first Sex and the City movie was very much like going to see WTE. An event. And the idea of four women in their 30s going through romantic and life adventures, frankly talking about sex, I think it definitely helped pave the way for SATC and many others.

Crystal Wilkinson said...

Thank you so much for this Carleen. Reading this blog brought up so many memories of my own connection with this book. I carried it around. It was the first black book that I saw in the hands of white readers in airports, at work, etc. and it made me proud to see that cover in those hands.

Anonymous said...

I marveled at her first books when they came out like a lot of women. I felt like they were speaking to me, and were about me and my friends.

But I no longer feel that way. Her plots make me ache now to think that I ever felt like that. You know the school of thought where a strong sista finds herself alone, save for a few friends and family, facing an unforgiving world but that the next 'good man' will change everything.

It's not that the plots are bad, but that they're just tired old Disney plots for women.

And who is that good man that this genre says we want? The same that this genre always says- A straight man who is all but gay. (I only recently heard of Terry's personal troubles, so believe me when I say I'm not a hater. But read into it what you want!)

The funny part is when I stopped believing in stories, and stopped looking for that mythical man she writes about, I found my fiancee soon after!

Just something for anybody lining up for this.


Anonymous said...

Hey Carleen, first time commenting on your blog!!

Haven't bought the book yet since I am more into paperbacks but I am anxious to get this one. I read Mama (a long time ago), saw Waiting to Exhale movie first then finally read the book & the same with Disappearing Acts. Oh, loved them all!! The last book I read by Ms. McMillan was How Stella Got her Groove Back. I need to go back and read A Day Late and a Dollar Short. Glad to see her back on the literary scene. She motivates me on wanting to write.

Just haven't read good books in a long time. The last one was yours Orange, Mint & Honey. Enjoy your blogs & follow them for inspiration.

Cecelia Dowdy said...

Yes, more than happy to share! I knew about Terry McMillan BEFORE Waiting To Exhale. I was in my mid-twenties, sharing an apartment with my best friend. My sister calls me from Philly, telling me that I should check out the book Disappearing Acts by this author named Terry McMillan. I got the book and was hooked. A co-worker loaned me the book Mama, so I read that one, too!
Then Waiting To Exhale was coming out. I read it while I was on the plane going on a trip to New Zealand! I loved it!
When the movie came out and people were clamoring over this great "new" author, I pointed out that I recalled her earlier works! Terry blazoned the trail for other African American writers to get published. The success of her books made publishers realize that Black people read books, too!

Judith Chapple said...

I joined a virtual book club with a view friends, this was our second read.  Our first read "The Help" was certainly a hard act to follow. 

The story lines of "Getting to Happy" are typical, needy woman who either have everything and still need a man to validate them and low down black men who will stop at nothing to humiliate and marginalize black women. 

I appreciated the fact that McMillan touched on some very important issues of the day; the abuse of anti-depresents, Young Black men and drugs, and even the homosexual lifestyle. However, I think she took a very liberal position on the subject illegal drug use.

Speaking of Liberal & Conservative: I am a Black Republican who did not vote for Obama. Actually I think he is all ****symbolism and NO substance*** I do not see how insulting the Republican party and George Bush added any value to the story line.  It simply made her look like another hypnotized - Black Kool-aide drinker." "All I need to know is that he is Black and he has my vote." or the white Dems who gave him the, "He is such an articulate Negro vote."  The insult to the republican party came so soon in the book I actually started to flush the book in the toliet in tiny little pieces.  Two things kept me from doing that: 1: I would not be able to participate in this month's discussion with my book club members and 2: the book is on my $700 iPad 2, it just would not be prudent. 

If you are typical, lonely, man hating, female who though you hate all men still need them to make you whole, this is the book for you. If you are self validating but would like a look in to that world, pick up this book. All others keep looking, this book is not for you.