Laura Parker Castoro

Laura Parker Castoro
Crossing The Line

Interviewed by: Lauretta Pierce
January 8, 2003

1. What inspired you to write the novel “Crossing The Line?”

A couple of things. I had been looking for years for the right subject for a mainstream novel and I had wanted to write about African American characters, a far cry from my mostly European-oriented historicals. Then I wrote an article for “ESSENCE” magazine about myself. It was entitled “Invisible Sister” because I am a very fair-skinned, green-eyed, light-haired African American woman. The article was brought to the attention of the president of my then publishing house. She was intrigued by my unique social situation and suggested that I write a novel based on my worldview. After 4 years and a change of publishing houses “Crossing The Line” was publishing in August of 2002

2. How did you come up with the title “Crossing The Line?”

That’s a good question! In a way the title is tongue-in-cheek. As I worked to come up with a unique story about the subject of identity, I didn’t think another story about a black/white relationship would cover any new territory. Many writers have done it well, including Eric Jerome Dickey and Sandra Kitt. But what if my African American heroine is judged wrongly, because of the way she looks, and has to deal with the wrong assumptions all her life? When she fell in love with and married her college sweetheart, who happens to be white, some considered her to have crossed the line -- gone too far. To others the title means she ‘passed’ or pretended to be white because she could. She didn’t. No one really understands the real Thea. When, once widowed, she begins to see an obviously African American minister, Xavier Thornton, is she ‘crossing back’ or is she just being herself, ‘crossing only the lines of expectations’ drawn by others without her consent or input? It seemed the right title to me.

3. How did you come up with Thea and Selma’s relationship?

Well, I have a lot of nerve because I don’t have a sister, just 3 younger brothers. My family has members who range in color from very fair to very dark, and we know this is not unusual in African American families. These subtle and sometimes startling differences between siblings can affect how they were treated. The more questions I asked of friends, the more stories I heard. The lighter-skinned person is often perceived to have ‘advantages’ even if this isn’t the case. It causes strife and unhappiness that is completely unnecessary. Selma and Thea represent what happens when family secrets prevent the truth from coming out, and so old hurts can’t heal. What is between them isn’t what it seems, and yet when color or race is involved, even the smartest people can get caught up in the ‘color struck' part and never get to the real issues. I hope readers will be able to watch the sisters progress and learn that what seems ‘obvious’ isn’t always the truth.

4. Why did Jesse feel she needed to speak with Xavier at the funeral?

Up to that point, Jesse had never willingly been in Xavier’s presence and never spoken to him unprompted. I wanted to show that she had grown up a bit, that her experiences in the book were beginning to serve as lessons learned about life, how precious it is and how things said and left unsaid can have a lasting impact on another’s life. Jesse had to make the first move. It didn’t matter what they said to one another. She knows what it is to lose someone you love. They connect on that level.

5. How did you come up with Aunt Della’s character?

What can I say? I love and admire elderly women. They are so strong, have endured so much, and survived. They are opinionated and say exactly what’s on their minds -- or not. I didn’t try to make her ‘politically correct.’ I made her a woman of her time with all her biases and pride in tact. She is the product of 80 years of living, has seen and experienced things that younger people haven’t. She isn’t the easiest character to understand but she rang completely true to me. I grew up with two grandmothers, and two grandaunts, one of each daily in my life. I saw how independent and stubborn they could be, how pride had to carry them when nothing else was available. They were ‘ladies’ but they were also formidable women, not easily crossed. My editor laughed after she read the scene about the talcum powder and said she would never want to tangle with Aunt Della!

6. How did you come up with Xavier and Thea’s relationship?

I had only one thing in mind when I conceived Xavier. I wanted him to be a decent moral, thoroughly adult African American male character. I know several wonderful ministers and dislike the way they are often portrayed as ignorant fools or sleazy con men in movies and on TV. I have loved and admired black men all my life. One of my brothers said Xavier reminded him of our dad. I can’t think of a better tribute.
As for the relationship, I was looking for someone who would be able to connect to Thea on a level different from everyone else in her life. I didn’t at first mean for them to be former summer loves. That developed as I wrote about them. Thea thought her choices in life were made. Then her husband dies and she has to deal again with every ‘settled’ thing in her life. Xavier became quite naturally one of those ‘things.’ Yet they meet now as adults and must find in each other things that will satisfy an adult relationship. It was a joy to write about grown-ups who have enough baggage and moral authority to keep them from jumping in the sack even though the jibe is alive. They know the cost of mistakes and they each have a lot at stake. I found Xavier’s morality to be very sexy. I hope readers do, too.

7. How long did it take you to write, “Crossing The Line?”

It took four years, on and off. I wrote two other books during that time. Some of the time was lost when the house I began work on it for lost interest and I had to resell it. That turned out to be a lucky break because I was able to expand on it in ways the first publisher wasn’t open to. I wanted to tell a story that was as much about family relationships: mother/daughter, sisters, aunt/niece as to was romance. It has a deeply felt lovestory but it is not the main focus of the story. The possibility of romance drives the other relationship conflicts. That was an important change for me as a writer of romance. They say all things work to the good. I now believe that.

8. Do any of the characters in this novel have your personality?

Yes and no. Thea is physically like me, with fair skin, light hair and green eyes. But I see her as a much more closed and businesslike person than I am. She has, after all, a deep sad secret that I don’t share! But she’s a good person and likeable. That’s why it was very important for me to have her funny mischievous side come out in her thoughts. She seldom says what’s she’s thinking. She’s learned to hide her feelings. But Xavier won’t allow her to stay locked inside. It hurts to break out of a shell, but then there’s the freedom earned.

Jesse is a typical teenager dealing with all the insecurities of trying to decide who she is and how she’ll ‘fit in’. I think all of us know that scary feeling. I remember thinking when I turned 18 that no one could pay me to be less than 18 again!

Certainly my point of view of life is present in the book. So, yes, I’m there, but in every plot twist and voice. I think everyone grows in the story, even Selma.

9. Are you currently working on another novel?

I have completed another historical romance called “NOTORIOUS” as Laura Parker that will be out in February 2003. I am currently scratching my head over my next mainstream. I have many ideas, got to choose. Many readers want a sequel to CTL. I’ll keep you informed.

10. What message would you like readers to receive from reading “Crossing The Line?”

First, I want readers to enjoy the book, and feel that they’ve read something fresh and different. Then I wanted to show how things could be misunderstood when race is involved, even things that have nothing to do with race. Would there have been that big stink at school the Monday after homecoming if Jesse’s date had been white? Who actually wrote that nasty remark on her locker? I want readers to participate in the story, too. Have an opinion and then, perhaps, see how they might want to change their minds if they realize they were blindsided by what comes next. We learn best when we can identify with the subject at hand. Thanks to all who do read Crossing The Line. Remember, I write for you.