Tracy McMillan doesn't seem like the type of woman who would write a book titled "Why You're Not Married Yet: The Straight Talk You Need to Get the Relationship You Deserve." That woman would wear her hair in a tight chignon and dispense prissy relationship dogma, while silently, sternly judging you.
McMillan, whose head is framed by a mass of buoyant curls, is a tough girl who peppers her talk with laughs and admissions of her own numerous mistakes, influenced by a childhood that hardly destined her for greatness.
Her father was a Minneapolis pimp and drug dealer, currently serving the tail end of a 20-year sentence in a federal prison. Her mother was a prostitute who gave her up to the foster-care system when she was a young girl. Instability was her norm. Even so, she got a job at age 11, delivering the Minneapolis Star by bike in an inner-city neighborhood, and she credits that experience with sparking her ambition.
A graduate of Southwest High School in Minneapolis, McMillan, who now lives in Los Angeles, went on to be a successful memoirist and writer for broadcast news and television, whose credits include "Mad Men" and Diablo Cody's "The United States of Tara." She also went on to be divorced, three times.
She published her first book, a well- received memoir titled "I Love You and I'm Leaving You Anyway," in 2010. In 2011, she wrote an attention-getting essay targeted at women looking for Mr. Right, on the Huffington Post. It went viral, kicking up a lot of discussion about whether she was trying to set women back half a century or merely spouting plain truths. Now McMillan (not to be confused with Terry McMillan, author of "How Stella Got Her Groove Back") has turned that essay into a book, and hopes to adapt it for a film or television project.
Q How did your childhood shape your attitudes toward attachment?
A My relationship with my dad cast a long shadow over my love life, to the degree that the relationship with the first man in your life is going to affect all the rest. I had been in and out of many homes by the time I turned 9, so that affected my ability to sustain a relationship.
Q Doesn't the book's title reinforce the antiquated notion that marriage should be every woman's ultimate goal?
A I won't say that every woman should be married. It's about becoming more of a loving person, to yourself and others. I could have called it "Why You're Not in a Long-Term Relationship," but that wouldn't have the same ring to it.
Q You offer some really good advice, like "In order to change, you're going to have to do the one thing you most don't want to do." But sometimes the tone seems a little browbeating. Intentional?
A I think there's enough humor in there to offset that, but the point is, you have to find the right balance between coaching yourself and letting yourself off the hook. You need to push yourself more, maybe a little, maybe a lot. If you're not happy in your relationship, you can be sure there's something you need to look at more deeply in yourself. There's a difference between taking blame and taking responsibility. Your response to a situation is way more important than the outcome.
Q You seem to expect women to do most of the emotional heavy lifting. Are some of the statements you make, like "the male ego cannot be repaired," letting the guys off too easy?
A I'm being realistic. Some men can do the heavy lifting, but they're the exception. Women don't have to do it, but there's something in us that makes us more willing to. Why is "The Bachelor" in its 13th season? Because women have an endless appetite for trying to work out a relationship. What about celebrating that rather than feeling bad that we care?
Q Are you in touch with your birth parents?
A I don't know where my mom is. My dad is serving a 20-year sentence for narcotics dealing, at the federal prison camp in Duluth. He gets out in October. I last visited him in 2009. We talk every couple of weeks.
Q When did you write for "Mad Men"?
A I wrote for the third season, particularly the episode "Christmas Comes but Once a Year," the one with the office-party cha-cha line and Don gets really drunk.
Q Who's a hero of yours?
A Mary Tyler Moore. I became her, newly divorced and writing for a TV news show in Portland. I think of her as my spirit animal.
Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046