Today I’m welcoming fellow Houston author and friend Crystal Allen! Crystal’s the author of HOW LAMAR’s BAD PRANK WON HIM A BUBBA SZED TROPHY (Balzer and Bray 2011), which arrived to great acclaim and starred PW review among other things. Plus it’s one of my favorite MG books ever because of Lamar’s voice.
And now, Crystal’s second book is here – THE LAURA LINE (Balzer and Bray 2013), with another great voice, one Miss Laura Dyson. I would say that Crystal Allen has hit another home run with this one – a fitting analogy since Laura loves baseball.
Here’s the cover copy:
Thirteen-year-old Laura Dyson wants two things in life: to be accepted by her classmates and to be noticed by ultracute baseball star Troy Bailey. But everyone at school makes fun of her for being overweight, and Troy won't give her a second glance. Until their history teacher puts Laura front and center by announcing a field trip to the old run-down slave shack on her grandmother's property. Heck to the power of no way!
Her grandmother insists that it's more than just a shack; it's a monument to the strong women in their family—the Laura Line. Something to be proud of. But Laura knows better: if her classmates can't accept her now, they never will once they see the shack. So she comes up with the perfect plan to get the field trip canceled. But when a careless mistake puts the shack—and the Laura Line—in jeopardy, Laura must decide what's truly important to her. Can Laura figure out how to get what she wants at school while also honoring her family's past?
From Crystal Allen comes this 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 asked Crystal some questions so you could get to know her and Laura and here’s what she had to say!
Joy: Tell us about Laura Dyson.
Crystal: Laura Dyson is a humorous, 13 year-old, overweight African American girl with dreams to do great things. She loves fashion, which leans her dreams toward modeling. However, she also loves pitching and would love to get invited to play baseball, especially if that invite came from Hunky Chunky, Troy Bailey! Unfortunately, bullying by her classmates causes Laura to be unsure of herself.
Joy: What drew you to this character once she popped into your head?
Crystal: I wanted to tell the story of the little house on my grandmother's farm. During a "what if" brainstorm, Laura entered my thoughts with a low self-esteem. She had several personal issues, one being how important it was to keep the "little house," a secret from her classmates.
Joy: Was she as insistent you tell her story as Lamar was?
Crystal: I'll probably never have a character as insistent as Lamar. :)
Joy: Tell us about writing a story that balances a thirteen year old girl's regular life -- school and crushes and insecurities-- with a family history that goes back to this slave shack. Was that a challenge?
Crystal: Yes, it was a challenge, and I'm not sure if there ever was a balance for Laura in this story. And that's okay. Laura's life wasn't complicated; it was contaminated with insecurities and fears of the unknown. So, my biggest challenge was making sure she traveled the path from low-self esteem to confidence in a way believable to the reader.
Joy: What kind of research did you do for this novel?
Crystal: I studied the story of the Amistad along with its captives, and actually toured a replica of the ship when it was docked in Boston a few years ago. It was painful to be on that schooner, and I wasn't sure where that pain was coming from. I gave some of that emotion to Laura. I also sat with my relatives and learned as much as I could about my ancestry.
And I ate quite a few pork chop sandwiches. :)
Joy: I know there are many aspects of Lamar that came from you and your personality and life experiences and love of bowling! What about Laura?
Crystal: 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.
As I've traveled this road to The Laura Line, my relatives have sent me pictures and newspaper clippings of family members I had never met or worse, didn't know they existed. Now, I'm trying to piece my family history together and I'm closer than I've ever been before. It's been a wonderful feeling to find my own "Line" as I wrote about Laura's.
Joy: Was the Laura Line always the title?
Joy: For the writers who are reading this, talk a little about writing a second novel.
Crystal: Writing The Laura Line was different than right How Lamar's Bad Prank Won A Bubba-Sized Trophy for several reasons.
1. This story was not a sequel to Lamar.
2. My protagonist was a girl.
3. I'm not sure why, but writing my second book seemed harder than writing my first.
Joy: Advice for those aspiring writers?
Crystal: Only listen to the voice of truth, the one that says you can do it.
Joy: What's up next for Crystal Allen?
Crystal: I'm working on a series for Balzar and Bray for early middle-graders.
M and M's or Twizzlers? Red Twizzlers rule, baby!
Unicorn or zombies? Unicorns
Favorite guilty pleasure TV? Cold case.
Wine or Beer? Wine...no wait...beer....no wait...
Salty or Sweet? Swalty.
Book(s) for the desert island? If I'm not there by choice: The Dummies Handbook on How to Build a Boat, and a the Bible. If I'm there by choice: A variety bag of trashy romance, legal thrillers and pound-the-sand, laugh-out-loud funny books.
Perfect vacation? Cruising.
Thank you, Crystal, for stopping by!