It’s All About The Line

the laura line coverTHE LAURA LINE is a new middle grade novel written by BBS contributor, Crystal Allen. It’s funny (ding!), affecting (ding, ding!), and full of heart (ding, ding, ding!) Yes—you do have to read the story to be up on the “ding”.

With themes of body image and self-acceptance, it’s a timely tale that also contains a prominent historical subplot…seemingly disparate elements that Crystal connects with skill. Publisher HarperCollins calls it a “touching and funny story of one girl’s path to figuring out where she came from, and the unlimited possibilities of who she can become.”

I’m such a fan of Laura Eboni Dyson (and all the other Lauras) that I used my insider status to get the scoop from Crystal on how THE LAURA LINE came to be:

First, let’s talk about some of the backstory. How did the idea for this book first come to you? And which came first: Laura’s character or the plot? 

The scenery for The Laura Line was taken from my grandmother’s farm.  There was a small “shack-like” house in a wooded section on the property, very close to the family cemetery.  I later found out that my mother raised my oldest brother and oldest sister in that little shack-like house.

I never ventured inside and to this day, I regret it.  Later, my grandmother sold the farm to the city.  Everything was torn down to make room for a freeway.  However, in my grandmother’s contract with the city, she specifically requested the cemetery be preserved, and it was.  But now that my grandparents and all of my older ancestors are gone, no one knows who’s actually buried in that cemetery, other than the fact that they are relatives since there were no names on the crosses or headstones.

I began to put several “what ifs” together concerning the little shack-like house, the cemetery, and my own personal actions. Soon thereafter, Laura visited my thoughts and the journey began to The Laura Line!

Laura Dyson is truly a piece of work…and I say that in the best way possible. She’s both larger than life and totally identifiable. Strong yet vulnerable. Confident but insecure. That’s who she is to me…who is Laura to you?

Laura represents every young girl from yesterday and today, who was or is:

  1. Unsure about her talents or abilities;
  2. Insecure about her personal features; and
  3. Vulnerable to what others say about who she is or what she is.

My goal was to encourage Laura to love herself right now, and learn to believe in the possibilities of her future.

Other than Laura, who is your favorite character? Why?

My favorite character is Grandma because she was so flexible in how she helped Laura, yet never once veered from her love of “The Line.”

In HOW LAMAR’S BAD PRANK WON A BUBBA-SIZED TROPHY, you incorporated one of your favorite activities, bowling. Is baseball another favorite sport of yours—or did it require a lot of research on your part?

My sons played baseball and my oldest one is still very much involved in the sport.  I read an article about a young woman who pitched during professional baseball’s spring training, so I thought it would be a great addition to a story about pursuing dreams.

Speaking of research, what kind of research was involved in the historical elements of your story, particularly those concerning The Amistad revolt?

Not only did I do a lot of online research, I was lucky enough to actually embark the replica of the Amistad when it docked in Boston a few years ago.  It was difficult being on that schooner, seeing the shackles, seeing machetes and knowing they were used during the revolt.  A black and white profile photo of each captive was on display and a short story of what was known about their life was written underneath the photo.  But there was an emotion that I couldn’t place.  It wasn’t anger, and I’d already eaten lunch so it wasn’t a hunger pain.  But standing on that schooner and having a clear understanding of what happened on it, made me ill.  I actually “abandoned ship” because I couldn’t handle it.  I began crying uncontrollably and had to leave the shipyard.

Did you originally set out to write a story with such a prominent historical element? 

Actually I had planned to fill the story with lots of prominent African American historical elements.  But after I began writing The Laura Line, the focus soon settled on one particular historical element:  The Amistad Revolt.

What do you hope readers take away from THE LAURA LINE?  

Love yourself, Love your “Line”, Live your dreams.

In my own writing, I find that each of my characters usually are an extension of myself in some form or fashion.  In what way are these characters a reflection of you (present or past)?

  1. Grandma:  I love to cook.
  2. Momma:  I’m very independent and have a great relationship with my mom.
  3. Daddy:  I try to be involved in the things my sons like to do
  4. Troy:  There was a boy I was “sick, crazy, couldn’t live without”  in love with in fourth grade, but I loved him from a distance and never let him know.
  5.  Sunny:  Doesn’t everybody have a Sunny Rasmussen in their life?
  6. London:  London represents the caterpillar to butterfly effect all of us girls experience at some point in our lives.
  7. Sage:   Sage represents that best friend who always has an abundance of drama that eventually involves you.
  8. Laura:  Laura represents my reluctance, my secrets, and eventually my confidence and strength.

And you know how I like to end an interview—Almond Joy or crackers and cream cheese? 

Almond Joy, no doubt.

Astros game or Ebony Fashion Fair Exhibit?

Actually, I’d choose the Ebony Fashion Fair Exhibit any day over an Astros game. I’ve never been to the Ebony Fashion Fair Exhibit, but I’ve been to at least six Astros games.  The power of free tickets.  :)

A gabfest with the girls or going down memory lane with grandma?

This one is tough because I don’t see my “girlfriends” much anymore because of working schedule conflicts, but I would never turn down a Memory Lane stroll with Grandma, either.  :)

For more information on author Crystal Allen and  THE LAURA LINE, visit her website.

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5 Responses to It’s All About The Line

  1. tadmack says:

    I love the concept for this book – being one of those who has a very short family tree, and knowing that is the case for a lot of brown kids, this sounds like it’s about loving what you’ve GOT, which is always promising. Can’t wait to check it out, and congratulations!

  2. Wow – so much about this book intrigues me – I already like Laura :) Thanks for sharing such a rich and wonderful interview and for the addition to my TBR pile!

    Marilee Haynes

  3. Thanks so much for your comment, Tadmack. You’re on point with the premise. Hope you get a chance to check it out!

  4. Thank you, Marilee, for stopping by The Brown Bookshelf and leaving a comment. When you get an opportunity to read The Laura Line, I’d love to hear from you again!

  5. Tivi Jones says:

    This is great!

    I’m looking to contact the leadership of the Brown Book Shelf. I’m looking for talented African-American Illustrators for a project. Could someone please follow up with me?

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