Mary Monroe is a New York Times Bestselling African-American fiction author. Her first novel, The Upper Room, was published by St. Martin’s Press in 1985. She is best known for her novel God Don’t Like Ugly (originally published by Dafina Books in Fall 2000), and the series revolved around the characters first introduced in this book.
Mary Monroe is the third of four children, born in Toxey, Alabama. She spent the first part of her life in Alabama and Ohio, moving to Richmond, California in 1973. Successful author and mother of two children, Mary currently resides in Oakland, where she continues to write bestselling novels.
1) First, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me! When did you know that writing is what you were called to do? What is it about being a writer that you love the most? What about being a writer frustrates you the most?
I knew before I even started elementary school that writing was my destiny. Characters would come to me out of nowhere, so I started making up stories about them to share with my playmates. The thing I love most about writing is that it’s something I can control and I can work my own hours. It also allows me to say things in print that I would never say verbally. What frustrates me is the fact that a lot of the people I know think writing is a “hobby” not a real job. Although writing can be fun, there is also a lot of hard work involved.
2) Can you tell us a little about your book(s) and where our readers can find out more about them and you?
Most of my main characters are African American women, young and old. I grew up in some rough neighborhoods (with people you probably wouldn’t want as neighbors…), so I write about what I know. My characters get involved in everything from homicide to redemption. But most of them learn life lessons that help them improve their situations. Readers can find out more about my books and my background by visiting my website at www.Marymonroe.org
3)Where do you draw your inspiration from for the stories that you manage to weave together and the characters that you create?
I get inspiration from a variety of sources. Most of my characters are composites of people I know. My books are based on my personal experiences, but I also get ideas from current events, eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations in public, and from other authors.
4) Do you have a schedule for when you write? Do you outline your novels? How long does it generally take you to finish a novel? What projects are you currently working on?
I don’t have a real schedule, but I write something every single day. Some days it’s only a few pages, but on other days I may write several chapters. I always start a new book with a chapter by chapter outline. It usually takes me four or five months to complete a full-length novel. My novellas take about half the time. I am currently working on a new series set in Alabama during the Great Depression. My mother and other elderly family members used to share some very interesting stories with me about what life was like for Black folks in the South back then.
5) What’s the first book you ever read that really moved you emotionally? Who is your favorite author to read? What book are you currently reading?
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest Gaines really moved me emotionally the first time I read it back in the late seventies, and even more when I read it for the fourth time recently. My favorite author of all time is the late mystery writer, Doris Miles Disney. I am currently reading One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
6) What has been your most significant achievement as a writer thus far? Where do you see yourself within your career in the next five years?
My most significant achievement was my sixth novel, God Don’t Play, making it to the New York Times bestseller list in September, 2006. I hope to land my first movie or TV deal for one of my novels in the next five years.
7) How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career? What is your advice for other writers to better be able to cope or navigate their way through the publishing process, be it traditional or self-publishing?
I have received hundreds and hundreds of rejection letters over the years. They used to depress me until one of my mentors, the late great Toni Morrison, told me before I published my first book that rejections were nothing but detours. I still encounter “detours” but I simply take a different route, like rewriting the rejected piece and resubmitting it later. That’s the best advice I can share with other writers because it usually works for me!
8) Do you find it hard to juggle the creative side of being a writer against the business side of being a writer, in terms of marketing and promotion and things of that nature? How hard has it been (or easy) for you to build up your author platform?
It’s not that hard for me to juggle the creative side against the business side. I have a great publicity director who does most of my marketing, but I promote my work as much as I can on my own by participating in book(
9)So many writers say that they hate reading their own work. Do you ever enjoy reading your own work back to yourself after it’s out there for the rest of the world?
I don’t like reading my own work after it’s been published. When I do, I always see something I wish I had written differently. But I do enjoy reading a few pages to audiences when I do public events or during radio/TV appearances.
10) Do you believe that there is ever a point in life where it’s too late for an aspiring writer to become successful in this industry? Do you feel a late start would hinder their chances?
Writing is one of the few careers you can pursue at any age, as long as your mind is still sharp. But the longer you put it off, the longer it’ll take for you to achieve success. I’ve been corresponding with a woman in Canada who has been telling me for twenty years that she’s going to write her autobiography someday. She started working on it this year! But she is now in her eighties and her memory is not as sharp, so it’s going to be hard for her to tell her story the way it should be told. Once that’s done, she’ll have to get an agent who will find her a publisher. That could take YEARS.
11) I feel like writing is a remarkable tool to help people not only express themselves, but also to cope emotionally and mentally. I know for me I write to be and feel more authentic. What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity? How does writing help you to be more empowered in your purpose?
I have been slightly shy and introverted most of my life. Writing stories using so many different voices is an excellent way for me to show the world that I am also strong, funny, in-charge, and as bold as I want to be.