By day, Elaine meryl Brown is structured and strategic, charged with in-house brand marketing video production as vice president of special markets for HBO’s creative services division. But, at day’s end, she starts a second shift, engaging her creative senses as a mystery writer. She authored the critically acclaimed best-seller Lemon City (One World/Strivers Row; $12.95) and its enthusiastically received sequel, Playing by the Rules (One World/Ballantine; $13.95).
For Brown, writing is an indulgence of self-satisfaction. “I wrote what I wanted to read-a book that was light, fun, quirky, and entertaining,” she says. “After a long day, I wanted to be entertained by a medium outside television.”
Brown, who has been at HBO for 17 years, where she also executive produces video presentation tapes for various internal and external clients, says she has cultivated her passion for writing as a researcher and then writer for ABC’s Emmy award-winning series FYI. The dearth of diverse African American literature in the mid-1990s motivated her to write a novel that reflected her tastes and sensibilities.
Brown sets her story in Lemon City, an invented, isolated town in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains that was settled by freed slaves before the Civil War. Faye is the errant Dunlap daughter who breaks a town tradition and marries a shady outsider to disastrous results. “The premise of my story was a woman experiencing her own evolution,” Brown says.
The engaging sequel introduces the exploits of Faye’s sister Louise, with equal doses of twist and intrigue.
Brown wrote Lemon City in eight years, drawing a wellspring of determination from a crucial lifestyle change. “Quitting smoking allowed me to eliminate all distractions and commit to my passion,” she says. “My willpower was channeled into [completing] what I’d started.”
To add authenticity to the narrative, she spent a year researching at the Schomburg Center for Black Culture in Harlem as well as in local libraries to uncover the sociopolitical and economic climate of the 1970s. “Townspeople were autonomous descendants of tradesmen, educated with strong moral values-all elements of African American historical heritage.”
After signing with the Victoria Sanders Literary Agency, Brown worked with an editor for an additional two years, and then Random House signed her to a two-book deal. Brown says, “I was open to suggestions that would maintain the integrity of the story and improve its structure.”
During the editing process, she stood her ground, however, regarding changes that she felt were detrimental to the spirit of the story. “Writers must be completely comfortable with and believe in the story and its characters,” Brown says.
In an effort to maintain a healthy work-life balance, Brown has relaxed her strict schedule and now writes several hours a week. “It’s equally important to step aside for a period,” she advises new writers. “Be patient with yourself and understand that every time you write, you are moving forward.” To purchase call 800-733-3000 or www.elainemerylbrown.com.