The affluent, majority-black neighborhood of Silver Lake is home to powerful couples, ambitious professionals and concerned parents. This fictional Prince George's County gated community, where the lives of four families intertwine in social, professional and romantic relationships, is the setting for Connie Briscoe's new novel, "P.G. County."
The native Washingtonian's fourth book hit the shelves last week. On Saturday, Briscoe will sign copies at Karibu Books in Bowie.
With "P.G. County," Briscoe wanted to focus on something rarely represented in print: an elite enclave of wealthy blacks. Briscoe aimed to appeal to readers from inside and outside the county, a place she says has both a reputation for crime and mismanagement as well as for the kind of beautiful million-dollar homes and lavish lifestyles depicted in her novel.
"Both viewpoints are correct, but you never hear about the good things. When a police officer shoots somebody or there are problems with the school board, you read about those things and think, 'Why can't they do anything right?' " Briscoe said. "I wanted to write about this [upper-class] side of Prince George's County. We needed a book like this," Briscoe said, making sure to point out that the story and its characters are completely imaginary.
The characters of "P.G. County" are connected by scandals and secrets. They grapple with issues of social status, and judge those who live in townhouses on the outskirts of Silver Lake, or who work in jobs that are not prestigious.
Briscoe, 49, has never resided for very long in Prince George's County. Born and raised in the District, Briscoe lived in the Washington metro area until recently, when she moved to a large house on an estate in Ellicott City. Nonetheless, Briscoe has spent time with friends and family who live in Prince George's, and for six months while Briscoe wrote the book, she rented an apartment at Lake Arbor Towers in Mitchellville to get the feel of living in the kind of community that shaped her story.
Briscoe has little formal training in creative writing, although it was her strong suit in school. She often dreamed of writing a book but didn't find the motivation until she was in her late thirties. Until her first novel, "Sisters & Lovers," was published in 1994, Briscoe, who is hearing-impaired, had a day job as a managing editor for the journal American Annals of the Deaf at Gallaudet University.
"Sisters & Lovers" gave Briscoe the success she needed to quit her job and support herself as a professional writer. Her second novel, "Big Girls Don't Cry," joined her first on the New York Times bestseller list. Her third book, "A Long Way From Home," was nominated for an NAACP Image Award.
"Writing is not just knowing the English language and knowing how to put sentences together," Briscoe said. "It's learning how to express yourself, character development, making sure things click and flow and that characters stay true to form from beginning to end."
The characters of "P.G. County" include Silver Lake's acting king and queen, Bradford and Barbara Bentley, who deal with alcoholism and philandering behind the walls of their perfect mansion; Jolene, who wants more than her electrician husband and seduces Bradford; Pearl, the owner of a hair salon who lives with Kenyatta, her adult son who is dating a white girl, Ashley; Candice, Ashley's mother who uncovers a family secret about her lineage; and Lee, a runaway teenager caught up in prostitution outside Silver Lake until she looks for her biological father.
Briscoe plans to write another book after she finishes touring with "P.G. County." "I'll probably write until I can't pick up a pen. That doesn't mean I won't do other things," Briscoe said. "Writing a novel every couple of years works perfectly."
Briscoe will sign copies of "P.G. County" at 3 p.m. Saturday at Karibu Books, Bowie Town Center, 15624 Emerald Way, Bowie. Free. 301-352-4110.