'Stella' in South Africa: Still Looking for Her Groove: Best-Selling Author Terry McMillan Reveals New Details of Art-Imitating-Life Love Affair

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MAKING her first trip to the new South Africa, best-selling author Terry McMillan (How Stella Got Her Groove Back) inhaled and exhaled, giving new and revealing details of her art-imitating-life love affair. Speaking with unusual frankness and emotion, she said that she and Jonathan Plummer, the young man she met on a Jamaican beach in much the same way that Stella met her younger lover, are happy for now, but that she is realistic and realizes that the relationship may not last.

McMillan said that when she went to Jamaica to recover from the emotional trauma she endured after the death of her mother and her best friend, she carried along with her biases that support the tradition of older man-younger woman relationships. "I couldn't write any more. I had completed 140 pages of Day Late and A Dollar Short, a novel which features a loving mother; a lot like my own, but I wasn't able to continue. I needed relief from my grief. I wanted to be alone. I didn't want anyone to recognize me." For McMillan, the trip to Jamaica fumed out to be monumental in several ways. "The sun. The breeze. The weather. The sand," she says. "I enjoyed it all. I felt my mother's spirit close by, and she told me to take happiness in the form in which it comes. She encouraged me to be receptive."

McMillan, who had never been to Jamaica before, says that unidentified intervention guided her to the island that she previously missed because of scheduling conflicts. "I jogged along the beach and exercised," she says. "I was feeling good and looking in good shape."

Her writing style in How Stella Got Her Groove Back, which McMillan wrote in less than a month, caught her readers off guard, says McMillan, who justifies her free-flow sentences and wholly inclusive paragraphs without intervening punctuation marks. "`Girl, did you miss that week in school on punctuation?' some readers asked. But the style is intentional. It is reflective of my stream of consciousness, which has no punctuation," the popular novelist says. "Even though I did not edit the sentences and paragraphs, they are real. The cadence. The rhythm. That's the way my mind was working. The style is dictated by the story and characters. I knew that it would be jaring at first. But I expected the readers to join in my mental and emotional tirade, which does not express exhaustion, but exhilaration instead."

With the beach flashback, McMillan reflects on the relationship that grew out of a chance meeting and declares: "I wasn't looking for romance. I wasn't looking to get laid. But s--t happens." That's also what the principal character in McMillan's newest novel says. She, too, is a 20th century superwoman who was time-locked by traditional mating ideals. Whether you call her Stella Payne or Terry McMillan seems insignificant. They parallel each other to an unalarming degree. "Stella is as close to autobiography as I've written in a long time," McMillan concedes. "When she realizes that she is a breath away from the 21st century, alone, and unhappy, her heart skips a beat. She recovers. Acts. Adjusts. I felt my mom on that beach in Negril, Jamaica. She was telling me, `I know you miss me, but you've got a life to live.'" She denies that she is a spokesperson for others who feel locked in and want to go where their hearts lead them, no matter the age. "I may be perceived as a spokesperson, but I'm not one," she says. "I can't do that. If I wanted to try harder, I suppose I could. I am just showing that Black women can do whatever they put their minds to. I never thought I would be reaching millions of people."

Stella, the main character, is, like the author, a fortysomething single mother of a pre-teen son, a power-packed professional who is no longer in possession of her "groove." Both by to get it back.

Groove. An elongated hollow to receive a corresponding ridge. Symbolism abounds in the book, which notes up front that Stella has no one to "share her bed" or "rock her world. …