Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...

updated 02/05/1996 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/05/1996 AT 01:00 AM EST

>Terry McMillan


No way did I expect my book to become the success that it did," says Terry McMillan, whose Waiting to Exhale, a bestseller in 1992, is now No. 1 in paperback sales, with 3 million-plus copies in print. "When it happened, I felt like I was on my way to a beautiful island and had gotten lost at sea. Everybody was calling, wanting something. I felt this heavy-duty guilt trip that I didn't deserve success. All I'd done was write this little book. This time," she adds, "it's more fun."

This time, McMillan is buoyed by the onscreen triumph of her novel, which has turned into the female-bonding hit of the season, starring Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett. "The movie focuses more on these women's love lives than the novel, but I'm not naive enough to think that without a man we are nothing," says McMillan. "The message to men is that tenderness, honesty and respect are what women want. To women, I'm saying, 'Relax. Stop blaming men and worrying about how long a relationship is going to last. Nothing's forever.' "

McMillan, 44, who values her personal relationships above all, lost her 59-year-old mother (following an asthma attack in 1993) and her best friend (to cancer, only weeks after her diagnosis in 1994). Mourning and unable to write, McMillan spent last summer in Jamaica, where she met the new man in her life, Jonathan Plummer, a hotel management employee. "Jonathan helped get me through it," she says of Plummer, who now lives with Terry and her son Solomon, 11, and two lovebirds, a calico cat and a black Labrador retriever near Oakland. "Gradually I started feeling like myself again," she says, "and ended up writing a book about how you lose your spirit and what you have to give up to get it back." That novel, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, is due this spring. "My life is a series of ups and downs," says the Michigan-born former secretary. "I exhale every day and count my blessings. I'm grateful to God, my mom and anyone else out in the ozone who caused all this good fortune to come my way."

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