'Stella' finds readers' groove New book: Fans flock to buy Terry McMillan's latest novel, "How Stella Got Her Groove Back."

April 30, 1996|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,SUN STAFF

Paula Tolson showed up almost as soon as copies of Terry McMillan's new novel arrived yesterday at Waldenbooks in Security Square Mall. She was followed by Kaye Campbell. And then by Princeanna Quarles.

All three women refused to wait a day longer than necessary to learn "How Stella Got Her Groove Back." And their eagerness is shared by thousands of mostly middle-class African American women who will gladly lay out $23.95 to find out who Stella is and what this groove thing is all about.

That's the power of Terry McMillan, 44, whose last novel, "Waiting to Exhale," sold 4 million copies, inspired a hit movie by the same name and singlehandedly forced publishers to start paying attention to black women readers.

So it's safe to say that people have pretty high expectations for "How Stella Got Her Groove Back." The new novel is expected to do well.

Hugely well.

At a New York writers' conference in March, Ms. McMillan told the audience that she received a $6 million advance for the new novel. The first hardback printing is 800,000, which puts Ms. McMillan in the same league as authors like Tom Clancy and John Grisham. "And it may be higher before the day is even out," says an excited Paul Slovak, a vice president at Viking Penguin, which is publishing the book. The movie rights have already been optioned.

Yes, the publishing power of Terry McMillan.

Weeks before the book arrived at Waldenbooks in Security Square, customers were streaming in to request hold copies, says store manager JoAnn Crue, thumbing through a stack of at least 50 requests.

"We are expecting big sales on this," Ms. Crue says. Company policy would not allow her to say exactly how many copies the bookstore ordered, but suffice it to say it is plenty.

"We are very excited about this," she says. "We have been waiting for the new Terry McMillan to come in for a long time."

So has Waldenbooks customer Kaye Campbell, a 40-something African American woman who works for the state health department.

"I have read all of her books, even before they were really 'in,' " Ms. Campbell says, clutching her newly purchased copy of "Stella."

Ms. Campbell saw Ms. McMillan in an interview on the "Today" show yesterday morning and stopped at the bookstore for her copy.

The kicker

"I can relate to her. She's single. I'm single. She's fortyish. I'm fortyish," Ms. Campbell says. But, for Kaye Campbell, this is the real kicker, the reason for having to get the book right away: "I heard the book was about an older woman dating a younger man. Ooooohhhh! I can relate! I said I need to read this book!" she says.

The protagonist in the new novel is a 42-year-old divorced, highly successful investment analyst who is also the mother of an 11-year-old boy. Then Stella takes an impromptu vacation to Jamaica and falls in love with a man half her age.

Although there are the usual publisher's notes insisting everything and everyone in the book is a work of fiction, Ms. McMillan has admitted the novel is at least, semi-autobiographical. To wit; the author is the hugely successful 40-something single mother of a son who is dating a 20-something man from Jamaica.

Ms. Quarles, who has read Ms. McMillan's three other novels, knows "Stella" will deliver the kind of fast-paced fiction she loves to read.

"I love her because she gets right to the point," says Ms. Quarles, 31, who works for the postal service. "She does not take 500 pages to get to 'and they went out to dinner.' I like her boldness and guts. She says what is on her mind."

Pub Date: 4/30/96

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