Local author releases first novel based on childhood

In the 1960s, a young African-American girl witnessed the effects of the Civil Rights Movement in her small Arkansas town. Now, more than 40 years later, Big Sur resident LaVerne McLeod, 67, has released “Corn Hollow,” a novel based on her experiences.

McLeod started writing the book 14 years ago after realizing that short stories she had written could form a full-length novel. The result is a picaresque novel battling topics like racism, sexism and more.

“They started as little stories, little African-American tales that I wanted to capture, then I decided, ‘Well maybe it could be a book,’” the former CMS teacher says.

The protagonist, Tamara, is a young girl based on McLeod herself. After the stories and characters were created, McLeod needed to tie them all together with the setting; she decided to center the book in the fictional town of Corn Hollow, Tennessee, a town eerily similar to her own hometown.

“One of the things I did was I drew a map,” the author recalls. “And it turned out to be my hometown!”

McLeod’s goal was to share the stories of her youth, but tell them humorously to differentiate her piece from other, more serious works of the same genre. Even when tackling subjects such as abuse and the presence of the Ku Klux Klan, she balanced them with comedic relief to maintain the general tone of the novel.

Even in the midst of tragedy, it is quintessentially human to find solace in the humorous aspects of life. This is something McLeod displays in her novel. Applying this to her novel, McLeod modeled this phenomenon after how her parents talked to her about the same issues; although there were questionable acts occurring all around her, her parents tried to avoid these topics.

“They didn’t want us to know a whole lot of things,” the current Big Sur resident says. “That’s why I developed Tamara to want to find an answer to these questions. Because you’re always curious, you felt the tension.”

Not only did McLeod write the novel, but she published it herself as well. She was first approached by a friend about the topic.

“I hired a friend of mine and she said, ‘I can do some research and she can help you find a publisher and this, that and the other,’ and I needed a little change anyway so I said, ‘Okay.’”

After dealing with difficult publishing firms, McLeod decided to suspend the project.

“I said, ‘You know what? I’m not even interested in publishing right now! So let’s just shut the door on this,’ and started writing another book,’” McLeod says. “I said I’ll publish it when I get to it.”

After a few years of waiting, the author decided to take on the task of publishing her book as well, establishing Purple Feather Press.

McLeod’s novel gained new relevance with the racial tension surrounding the election of President Donald Trump. Although this commentary was not her original intention, she has fully embraced it.

“What happened was I finished the book three years ago,” McLeod explains. When she got around to publishing “Corn Hollow” in November, Trump had already been elected. The author took the opportunity to speak about race and the inequality in American society, going so far as designing day-long workshops on the subject.

“My goal is to eradicate racism.”

The first step is sharing her experiences with people in the community, and with the publication of “Corn Hollow,” that part is already underway.

Although her book has been released, McLeod is nowhere near done writing. She has four ideas in the works, including a young adult nonfiction work concerning climate change. “Corn Hollow” is available for purchase on Amazon and Google Books.

-Alex Poletti