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By Terry Dean
Melda Beaty has all kinds of stories in her head waiting to get down on paper or on a computer screen. She has for most of her life.
One of those stories, a novel dealing with domestic violence set against the New York fashion world, has just made it to print. Her book, Lime, hit bookshelves in July. It's about a multiracial model, Lime Prince, whose life in the fashion world collides with the realities of relationship violence against women.
The book was inspired in part by the popular TV show America's Next Top Model, and by a friend of the author's who was a victim of domestic violence. Beaty, a 1989 graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School, says she's never been a victim but has older family members who were. Her friend — who's also her sorority sister — was a victim, which surprised Beaty. That friend inspired a somewhat unique take on the domestic violence issue that Beaty looked to explore in her book.
Her friend doesn't fit the typical stereotype of a domestic violence victim as portrayed in the media, — a financially unstable women with few or no opportunities to escape the violence — Beaty says. Her friend, she says, represents the other side of the issue — successful women whom you would never think could become a victim.
"I don't hear about those stories," Beaty said. "I'm not saying they're not being told at all, but you hear about the women who are of a certain race and age and socio-economic status. I don't hear stories about women who would make you shake your head if you heard they were victims. Not you; that's the other women who have no options. You have options."
Lime is Beaty's second book but first work of fiction. Her previous book, My Soul to His Spirit, was about women's relationships with, and feelings about, their fathers. In that book, Beaty talked with other women and gathered their stories. For Lime, the story came from Beaty, which is something she enjoyed.
The main character is Ethiopian and Jamaican; her green eyes and exotic beauty make her a natural as a fashion model. She rises to the heights of the New York fashion world, but finds herself pulled into a domestic violence situation that also stirs up memories of her own troubled past.
The character is a composite of different people, Beaty says. To ensure she captured her character's world accurately, Beaty researched the modeling industry and talked to professionals. She researched Ethiopia and Jamaica, even learning about the languages and dialects. Beaty studied national and local domestic violence organizations as well.
It was around 2004 that she thought of writing this story. At the time, Oprah Winfrey was doing a series of shows about the violence against and mutilation of Ethiopian women in their native country. Beaty was a frequent watcher of Top Model and was fascinated by the contestants. Around that same time she learned what was happening to her friend.
"I was shocked," Beaty recalled.
A Jackson, Miss. native and mother of three daughters, Beaty is planning a sequel to Lime. She also has other stories she hopes to write.
Beaty has enjoyed telling stories since she was a child. After graduating from OPRF, she earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Illinois-Champaign/Urbana, but says she preferred the writing side to appearing on-air. Since switching careers, she has become a college writing professor and playwright.
She plans to focus on writing fiction books going forward. Whatever story she writes, though, she wants it to challenge readers to challenge society.
"I want to raise consciousness and want people to question society," Beaty said.
This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Melda Beaty's name.