She knows first-hand how to keep your head up when facing tough times - or just a ton of rejection letters. Monroe wants writers to know, though, that it's possible to be a commercial success while being true to yourself, and that the best stories to write are the ones that you want to read.
Mary, for those who haven't read your book, what it's about?
This is the fifth book in my ongoing God Don't Like Ugly series. Annette Davis, the main character, pressures her meek, docile husband to hire a female friend of hers to work as a manicurist in the barbershop he owns. One thing leads to another and the husband and the friend fall in love and move in together. Out of anger and frustration, Annette resumes a relationship with an old boyfriend who turns out to be the boyfriend from hell. Those two situations are bad enough but in Annette's case when it rains, it pours. Her best friend's evil daughter Jade, who stalked and harassed Annette with hate mail and menacing phone calls in God Don't Play (third book in the series), is back in town and determined to stir up more trouble.
You were the child of Alabama sharecroppers. What kept you going when times seemed tough?
Determination and a desire to get more out of life than my family settled for is what kept me going. I had a dream to fulfill and I was not going to let anybody or anything stop me.
What inspired you to write and make something of your life when others in a similar circumstance have gone another path?
Back in the day, my relatives included several generations of farm workers, domestics, factory workers, and welfare recipients. They dragged along, in misery, from one year to the next. They complained about their lives, but other than a lot of group praying, they did nothing else about it! I was not going to settle for any of that. Working on the farms was boring so I entertained myself and the other kids with stories I'd dreamed up. I hadn't even started elementary school at the time, but even then I knew that writing was the only profession I wanted to pursue. I taught myself how to write, I ignored the people who tried to discourage me, and I survived hundreds of rejection letters from publishers, editors, and agents.
You've found success in writing inspirational novels. In a time when there's so much negative news out there, why did you find it important to write about such themes in your novels?
Even though I think it is important to inspire readers, I didn't set out to do that. But years ago, Toni Morrison told me to write the stories that I wanted to read and that is what I do. My stories have universal themes, so a lot of people can relate to them. I receive a lot of email from readers who tell me that because of something they read in one of my books, they got inspired to read more, make some changes in their lives, and so on. One woman, who had been sexually abused as a child like my main character Annette, said that my books encouraged her to expose her abuser and to get some therapy.
When you first heard your book hit the New York Times list, what did you do?
It was the first day of my September 2006 book tour. I was eating dinner in a rib joint in Memphis with my publicist and our media escort. My publicist got a call on her cell phone, said a few words to the caller, and then she hung up and told me to put my fork down. We were in one of the restaurants that Elvis used to visit so there was Elvis memorabilia all over the place. There was also a picture of a large pig on the sign outside and the waiters gave you plastic bibs to wear. While my mouth was full of ribs and potato salad, the front of my bib covered in barbeque sauce, my publicist told me that her assistant had just informed her that I'd made the New York Times Bestsellers List. I stopped chewing, jumped out of my chair and danced a jig.
For those who are contemplating whether to write something more "commercial" or write from their heart, what advice would you give them if they truly want to be a success?
It really depends on what level of success the writer wants. But you can do both at the same time, which is what I do now. When I wrote only from the heart I couldn't get published. If you want to attract a large audience, you have to compromise and write stories that the general public wants to read. You can do that and still "write from the heart." I read several newspapers each day, all of the tabloids, a couple of books each week, and I follow what's on TV and in the movies. This is how I keep up with what people want to read. I write about some gritty subjects but I do it with a lot of passion. If a writer doesn't care about Hollywood or making any of the Bestsellers List, he or she can write only what they want to write "from the heart" and still be happy.