McMillan, Rosalynn A. 1953–
Rosalynn A. McMillan 1953–
Rosalyn McMillan is the sister of Terry McMillan, a best-selling writer whose success has led publishing houses to actively recruit new black women writers. Terry McMillan’s success may often times seem to overshadow her younger sister’s success, but if it does, the younger McMillan does not appear to feel daunted by the comparisons. Certainly, the degree of her sister’s influence or guidance is an issue that Rosalyn McMillan faces often. Many of the reviews of her books mention that she is the younger sister of a best-selling author, and initially, at least, it was difficult for McMillan to focus attention on her writing and away from her sister’s. In an interview with Sonya A. Clark, for the Southern Women Writers website, McMillan stated that her sister “has not critiqued any of her work,” nor do they have any plans to co-author a novel together. Although she has worked at a number of other jobs while searching for a creative voice, eventually this author of five novels has found success as a romance novelist without relying upon her older sister’s help.
Rosalyn McMillan was born in Port Huron, Michigan, on October 14, 1953, one of five children born to Edward McMillan and Madeline Washington Tillman.
Although Port Huron is only located an hour north of Detroit, it is a world away from Detroit’s image of urban crime and industry. With Port Huron’s emphasis on lakes, beaches, and parks, the city promotes itself as a camping and recreation destination. Growing up as the child of working-class parents, McMillan knew that money was in short supply and that she was expected to help make ends meet. When he was able to, Edward McMillan worked as a sanitation worker, but he was also an alcoholic and a diabetic who often was unable to work.
After her father’s death in 1968, money became even more of a struggle. In between factory jobs, McMillan’s mother would be forced to accept welfare, and McMillan and her siblings would find jobs to help support the family. Although McMillan and her siblings quickly found jobs raking leaves, babysitting, and clerking to help out, it was McMillan’s mother who encouraged her daughter to develop her skills as a typist. McMillan hoped to find a job as an executive secretary, but some excellent sewing skills, instead, led to a job as a seamstress at Ford Motor Company. Because she was very fast at her job, McMillan could earn good money at Ford, but the job was also without challenge. Although
Born October 13, 1953, in Port Huron, Ml; daughter of Edward (a sanitation worker) and a factory worker; married John Smith; four children.
Career: Ford Motor Company, seamstress, 20 years; novelist, 1996-.
Memberships: Executive Advisory Board of the Memphis Black Writers Conference; Editorial Board of VIP Memphis Magazine.
Awards: Blackboard Book of the Year for Fiction, 1999.
Address: Email —[email protected]
she spent twenty years at Ford, McMillan longed for something more. Writing was something that she had wanted to do since she was a child, but marriage and children and a full-time job at Ford made it difficult to find the time to write. McMillan has four children from two marriages and a healthy need for escapist reading. As she mentioned in a 1996 interview with People Weekly, McMillan is a romance novel enthusiast, having read more than 200 books before she began writing her own romance novels. Thus even though she tried other creative outlets, such as jewelry making and lingerie sales, what ultimately drew McMillan to writing was creating the kinds of books that she, herself, loved to read.
Although McMillan went to work at Ford right after completing high school, she also took courses in creative writing, including advanced creative writing and screenwriting. In addition, she joined a writer’s group and attended dozens of seminars in an effort to learn her craft and develop her skills. McMillan has advised other aspiring writers to take writing courses and to read good fiction.
In addition to the writing courses, there were other factors that finally led McMillan to pursue her dreams. According to a 1996 People Weekly interview, the impetus for her first novel came in the form of a 1991 phone call from older sister Terry McMillan, who told her younger sister that “few novels by African American women had been published that year.” This information led Rosalyn McMillan to sit down at her computer and begin the novel she had long wanted to write. Opportunity to write came in the form of an auto accident that McMillan had suffered in 1989. It was while she was on medical leave from Ford that she found the eight to ten hours a day that she needed to begin writing. Now on a medical retirement from Ford, McMillan has found success writing what she loves to read—romance novels by women and about women.
McMillan found quick success with the publication of her first novel, Knowing. First published in 1996, Knowing represented McMillan’s first attempt to write a romance novel about working class women. Although not autobiographical, this first novel clearly draws on McMillan’s own experiences. The heroine works in an auto factory, has dreams of an education and a whitecollar future, and has four children and too many responsibilities to just walk away from her job and escape the grind of her confining and unsatisfying job. In general, the reviews of Knowing were mixed, and occasionally even uncomplimentary. Although Carolyn See, writing for the Washington Post, calls the novel “energetic” and “good-hearted,” she also observes that McMillan is “a few sandwiches short of a literary picnic.” See comments that actions within the novel appear disjointed, as if the author has forgotten that the couple who just walked into a room had done so only a page or two earlier. In spite of some confusing flaws, which See thinks might be solved with a few carefully placed transitions, the critic points out that McMillan’s book is really “escape literature,” that should be accepted for what it is.
Other reviewers were also mixed in their evaluation. Barbranda Lumpkins, writing for USA Today, cites Knowing’s dialogue as “true-to-life, funny and sometimes biting,” but she also suggests that “this story drags on too long,” and is hindered by uneven pacing. However, in spite of the occasional mixed review, book buyers were more enthusiastic, turning McMillan’s first book into a success and paving the way for more books to come.
McMillan’s second book, One Better, followed in 1997. This story, which focuses on mother-daughter relationships, won the Blackboard Book of the Year award in fiction in 1999. In 1998 McMillan again found success with the publication of her third novel, Blue Collar Blues, which returned to familiar territory for McMillan—an auto factory. Still another novel, The Flip Side of Sin, followed in 2000.
Perhaps because editors think that romance novels are light fiction and thus of little concern, few romance novels are reviewed by the major newspapers. McMillan’s first novel, Knowing, was reviewed because its author was the younger sister of Terry McMillan, whose work had found major success with both readers and the Hollywood film industry. But the major reviewers largely ignored Rosalyn McMillan’s second and third books. However, with the publication of The Flip Side of Sin, book reviewers again took notice. Several reviews of McMillan’s fourth book were published, and they were decidedly uncomplimentary. The review that appeared in the Washington Post by writer Jabari Asim cited the “leaden language, the awkward prose style straining under the weight of dangling modifiers, misused words and abundant cliches” as faults in McMillan’s work. Asim observed that McMillan’s themes “are honorable enough,” but that her portrayal “falls short.” Ian Edgar’s review in the the Times pronounced The Flip Side of Sin, “an underwhelming sermon,” whose author’s vision is “too simplistic and cliche-ridden.”
McMillan’s most recent book, This Side of Eternit, was published in 2001. McMillan moved to a new topic, the history of oppression that African Americans faced in Memphis in the early 1960s. McMillan’s subjects, working conditions and salary equality, are important topics for discussion, but once again the book failed to move the critics. In a review for Black Issues Book Review, Susan McHenry focuses on McMillan’s handling of these topics. Although McHenry loved “the possibilities of her [McMillan’s] premise,” she was disappointed in the novel. In particular, McHenry cited the “jumbled soap-opera plot” that readers had to endure. One positive note was McHenry’s observation that McMillan had carefully and meticulously researched the history of Memphis and its changing demographics to provide authentic background for her book.
In spite of the occasional negative reviews, McMillan continues to write for an enthusiastic reading audience. She told interviewer Sonya A. Clark, that “negative criticism is going to come.” McMillan takes a practical approach to the negative reviews, saying that, “Most writers expect that.” She understands that her appeal to a reading audience is more important than critical reviews. McMillan’s reviewers may not enjoy her books, but black women readers, her core reading audience, do continue to buy her work. Although McMillan’s book sales have not reached the phenomenal levels enjoyed by her older sister, she has found a solid success as a writer.
McMillan, who serves on the Executive Advisory Board of the Memphis Black Writers Conference, also serves on the editorial board of VIP Memphis Magazine, the official publication of the Memphis Black Writers Conference. She is at work on a sixth novel and also has a screenplay expected soon.
Knowing, Warner Books, 1996.
Once Better, Warner Books, 1997.
Blue Collar Blues, Warner Books, 1998.
The Flip Side of Sin: A Novel, Simon & Schuster, 2000.
This Side of Eternity, Free Press, 2001.
Black Issues Book Review, July 2001.
People Weekly, April 1, 1996.
Times (London), January 19, 2002.
USA Today, February 20, 1996.
Washington Post, January 26, 1996; July 18, 2000.
—Sheri Elaine Metzger
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