Leah Vernon is having a great 2016. With the publication of her debut novel Impure, the twenty-something proud African-American, Muslim from the Metro Detroit area is determined to bring diversity to commercial YA/NA fiction. The author, who loves Sailor Moon and X-Men, also earned her a B.S. in management, an M.A. in creative writing/fiction, and an MFA in publishing from Wilkes University.
When she isn’t writing or eating tasty foods, she’s modeling and tending to her body positive style blog. We’re thrilled that she took time out of her busy schedule to share details about Impure and how she incorporates mystical elements into her fictional worlds.
Thank you so much. I’ve been writing for at least seventy years, so I’m excited to finally put something out there.
I started working on the idea of Impure in 2013 when I was in my creative writing graduate program at Wilkes. I get a lot of inspirations for stories from music. So one day I was listening to a song by Coldplay and characters and worlds started to form in my head. The main idea was the what would it be like to have a black child rule over an entire nation? From that idea, the protagonists Saige and Avi arose.
Picture this. We are five hundred years in the future, and America is divided by a huge wall separating the North from the South. In the Southern Region, highly technological Blacks ‘Upper Residents’ have taken over and enslaved ‘Europes’.
Saige is a very gritty and complex character. She’s an Impure (mixed with Black and White) and categorized as a Lower Resident like the other slaves and forced to work until she expires. Both her parents were executed for producing her, so she drifts through life alone, bitter, and seeking freedom. Her goal is to escape from the region, which is nearly impossible.
Avi is the General’s daughter and next succeeding general. She is smart, intuitive, but sometimes emotional and naïve. She doesn’t agree with the slave system her forefathers have set up and wishes to change it when she becomes ruler. The problem is her father isn’t having it and does whatever he can to keep her in line. Even if that means marrying her off to a boy she hates.
There is a third character, Leo, a white farm worker who has underdeveloped telekinetic abilities. White rebels want to use him to overthrow the government.
These three teens from different castes are in search of their own identities in a world where everything is set in stone. But together, they start to make waves in an unequal system.
2. What inspired you to go the indie route for Impure? Tell us about your publication journey.
I’ve written four high-concept multicultural speculative novels and every single one of them has been rejected well over five hundred times from agents in LA and New York and everywhere in between.
I had to ask myself: how long are you going to keep reaching for validation from these publishing gate-keepers? How many more books are you going to write and not ever put on the market? Will you die peacefully knowing that you could have used other paths to accomplish your goal of becoming a published writer?
With the support of my friends and a few other self-published authors, I mustered up the courage to just do it and learn as I go. I’m just starting out so I’m not a self-pub guru as of yet. Haha. But I ask a lot of questions to writers who’ve been in it, who’ve experienced the highs and lows of the self-publishing world. And that has helped me tremendously.
3. Impure has strong revolutionary themes. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
It does! And thank you for noticing that. Impure is a lot of themes rolled into one. I want Impure to be a conversation starter. And most importantly, I want it to be an adventure, a new experience for the reader. It has strong underlining themes like racial equality, government control, and feminism, but it’s a book that a girl of color could read and enjoy just as much as a teenage White boy could.
And to the naysayers, this isn’t a Black against White story or vice versa. This is a whoever-has-power-will-probably-misuse-it story. It makes you wonder who’s good and who’s bad. The lines are very much so blurred. Just like in real life. And I think that’s pretty freakin’ cool!
4. What was the most surprising thing you discovered while writing the book (personal or otherwise)?
Oh wow. Great question. I’ve learned so much about myself during this entire three plus year journey. I learned discipline, perseverance, and balance. There were days in the story’s infancy where I didn’t leave the house or even see my friends. The characters overtook me and started making me crazy. Although, I was proud to be dedicated to such an amazing story, I was hurting myself mentally. So I still wrote and read every day, but I also took personal and physical time out for myself which boosted my energy and gave me new ideas to add to the plot.
5. What do you do when you’re not writing?
I eat good food! Haha. I do a lot of things. I maintain a body positive style blog: Beauty and the Muse. I’m a plus model. I conduct head wrapping seminars around the city. I laugh. I dance. I go to the gym. I grind.
Keep up with Leah!
IG: @Lvernon2000 (www.instagram.com/Lvernon2000)