Today we're excited to spotlight Crossing the Line by Ellen Wolfs Valladares! Read on for more about Ellen and her book, plus an interview, excerpt, & giveaway!
Meet Ellen Wolfson Valladares!
Ellen Wolfson Valladares is an award-winning writer/author, workshop facilitator, community volunteer, and mother. A native Floridian, she grew up in St. Petersburg and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Florida. She has worked as an editor, public relations professional, and freelance writer.
Valladares believes in the magic of the Universe and loves to write entertaining stories that have elements of mysticism, magic, and inspiration. Her first book, a children’s novel entitled Jonathan's Journey to Mount Miapu, received several awards, including a Mom’s Choice Gold Award and the 2009 Coalition of Visionary Resources Visionary Awards Book of the Year award. She also has a meditation CD, entitled “Healing and Manifestation with the Archangels.”
Valladares has two sons in college and lives in Weston, Fla., with her husband, two dogs, Flash and Chili Pepper, and a crazy cat named Zelda.
Laura, who died thirty years ago, enlists the help of a tenacious high school reporter named Rebecca, who is very much alive. Rebecca, although skeptical and conflicted by her supposed encounters with a spirit, determines to learn the truth about Laura's tragic death. As the clues unravel and their worlds collide, Rebecca finds herself at a dangerous crossroads.
Laura, now pulled back into everything she left behind when she died - her old high school and memories of her life and death--has been in training for this exact moment. And nothing means more to her than succeeding at her assignment.
It is her one chance to make sure that what happened to her does not happen to anyone else, and especially not to her new friend, Rebecca.
A Chat with Ellen Wolfson Valladares:
1. What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
The more I’ve been answering this question lately, the more I realize that there is a bit of irony in the way the idea unfolded. Crossing the Line alternates between two worlds – our “real world” and the “imaginary” world of The Academy, a school for teen spirits with a mission to help others. Similarly, the inspiration for the story came from both the real world and the world of my imagination.
It started about eight years ago with true events that took place in South Florida, where I live. There were a couple of incidents involving teens doing hurtful things to each other. I was heartbroken and disturbed, and I thought if these kids had just taken a moment to stop and try to understand what was going on with the other person, they wouldn’t have made the rash choices they made. It was one of those things that really stuck with me and I started to ask myself if there was something I could say or do to make a difference. I guess I hoped to write a story that would change how people perceive each other and perhaps their world. I didn’t have a clear idea about how I would do that though.
Then one day, I remember I was sitting on an airplane, the idea popped into my head that a spirit who had died would come back to make sure that what happened to her didn’t happen again. I vividly “saw” the first scene in my mind where these girls were playing with a Ouija board and the spirit connected with them. It wasn’t going to be scary, but instead about a unique connection between the spirit and a living high school girl. I knew it would be a converging of the past and present, two stories intersecting, begging the question, could history be prevented from repeating itself? Could making a different choice end in a different outcome?
From there, the story developed and unfolded in ways I never expected. It became about so much more than that original message I wanted to get across. It became about friendship, about the possibility of life after death, and about the courage to believe in yourself, in others, and in things beyond this reality. Underlying it all is that message that you never really know what is going in another person’s life and we all just want to be seen and listened to.
2. Who is your favorite character in the book?
Oh gosh, I hate to play favorites. I have two sons and I would never choose a favorite so in the same way, I’m going to say that both of my main characters were my favorites. By the time I finished the writing and editing process for the book, I felt like Laura and Rebecca were real and I felt close to them both. I love the fact that now they’re out there, with new readers meeting them and getting to know them.
I’ll share a little about what I love about each of them. First, Laura, the spirit, was definitely the easier of the two for me to relate to and write about. That’s mainly because she went to high school in the early 1980s, the same time I did (no accident there). It was actually fun to flash back to some of those high
school times as I wrote. I love how Laura in her spirit form still has some of her traits from her life, like her sensitivity, sense of humor, and friendliness, yet is also evolving past some of the shallowness and self- centeredness she had as a teenager in high school.
What I love about Rebecca, the current-day teen, is that in many ways she is independent and confident and yet she still has her self-doubts and insecurities as we all do. I could also relate to Rebecca’s hesitancy and fears about what people would think about her communicating with spirits. I’ve had my own spiritual journey over the last 20 years and often found it difficult to share some of my beliefs and experiences with others. I love Rebecca’s curiosity, tenacity, courage, and persistence.
3. Which came first, the title or the novel?
The title came pretty early on. From the moment I introduced the rules about “Crossing the Line” at The Academy, I knew I wanted that to be the title. It also represents so many of the other themes and storylines taking place in the book. I wasn’t sure if it would work because it’s such a common phrase. In fact, there are quite a few other books with the same title. It was considered a “working title” by the publisher and I wasn’t sure they would use it until the book went into the design process. It really does capture the essence of the book, so I’m glad it stuck.
4. Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
For me, the beginning of being a writer goes way, way back to when I was a child. I always loved to write and knew I wanted to be a writer. So one of the most important things I’ve learned actually goes back to what I instinctively knew back then. As a child, I wrote for the sheer fun and joy of writing and didn’t really care about what other people thought about it. As I got older, I began to take myself a little too seriously and became sensitive to criticism. So one of the most important things I’ve learned and am still learning is to be more like that child. I’m so fortunate to do what I love and live out my childhood dream and I want to enjoy every moment. If I feel pressured or strained, it’s time to step back and regroup. I’d also add on the criticism part, I’ve learned that getting honest, constructive feedback on my writing is not only valuable, but necessary. So many early readers helped me improve Crossing the Line! You really do have to write what you love, because you love it, and not take others’ opinions too personally.
5. What do you like most about the cover of the book?
A funny thing about the cover is that when the publisher asked for my input about the cover, I said the one thing I don’t like is seeing real people on covers. So the publisher sends me the first version they designed with a note saying, “I know you said no real faces, but just see what you think about this one.” I couldn’t believe it – I loved it. We did end up making some minor changes, but the face you see on the cover was there the whole time. What I love about the cover is that I think you get a feel that this is a story about a spirit and there is a misty feeling that hints of another realm. And of course, I like the faded police tape that alludes to “Crossing the Line.”
6. Which was the most difficult or emotional scene to narrate?
The most emotional and difficult scenes for me to write were some of the scenes with Teresa, the girl Laura is trying to help. I am a peace lover and am blessed to have come from a peaceful household, so it was a bit uncomfortable to create the scenes between Teresa and her abusive father. Without giving too much away, suicide is also a theme in the book and those scenes, of course, were emotional, especially when you’ve come to care about the characters you created.
7. Which character gave you the most trouble when writing your latest book?
Rebecca, the current-day high school girl, was a little challenging for me just because I don’t have the personal experience of being a young woman in these times. I spent a lot of time getting to know Rebecca and it took a while for her to fully develop. Being around some of my sons’ friends and being with high school girls as I chaperoned debate tournament trips certainly helped me in my “research.” In fact, I had several young women as early readers who gave me valuable input and helped me see that Rebecca’s character was a little too flat in the beginning. My editor at WiDo Publishing also helped me add depth and personality to Rebecca. Ultimately, I think what I discovered is that while so much of the teen experience and angst is the same as it was thirty years ago, today’s young women seem to have more depth, diversity, and knowledge than I did at least. I hope Rebecca’s character reflects that.
8. Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
Ha! Definitely drafting. Revising and rewriting is the hardest part of the process for me. I love to perfect things but as a writer, I get to the point where I just don’t want to go back through the whole story again. I rewrote and revised Crossing the Line several times and although it was difficult, it was well worth it. It got better and better every time!
9. What would you say is your superpower?
I love this question because it really stumped me and made me think. My first instinct was to say punning because I’m known for my ability to make people groan with my impromptu puns. But is that really a superpower? Not sure.
So I’m going to say it’s believing. Believing in myself, believing in the magic of the Universe, and believing that everything is always working out for me, no matter what. I don’t always tap into it, but when I do, I feel like I can fly! It certainly is a superpower that helped me along this journey of making my dream of becoming a published author come true. I hope you will always believe in yourself and your dreams.
My heart pounded and my fingers quivered on the keyboard. Nicole was over and it was time to see if there really was a Laura Sherman. Jenny had a meeting after school and wasn’t too thrilled with us going ahead without her, but we promised to keep her posted. I wasn’t waiting one more moment.
All day long I’d been distracted thinking about the Ouija board. In Spanish class, everyone laughed when I responded “Si, por supuesto” not realizing Mrs. Sanchez had asked, “Cuàl es tu comida favorita?” Brian Bowman thought it was hilarious. “Of course, your favorite food is of course,” he kept saying, laughing harder every time. Mrs. Sanchez gave me one of her looks. She’d always had this unfair expectation of my Spanish-speaking skills since my mom’s family was from Cuba. But my mom was raised here and my dad’s American, so we only spoke English at home. The little Spanish I knew came from my Grandma Lucia and my Cuban cousins, who’d taught me all the bad words.
On the bus ride home, Nicole sat with one of her basketball friends and I was glad to get a seat by myself. I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts and figure out what had really happened with that Ouija board. I’d come to the conclusion it was fake, but I couldn’t wait to get home to Google what we’d found, just to check. As I stared out the window, I caught my reflection. My hair was messy and extra frizzy from the humidity. My eyebrows were too dark and thick. Tyler crossed my mind. He’d been sweet today, grabbing me in a big bear hug from behind. He’d squeezed me so hard it hurt, but I’d loved it. I didn’t want to make too much of it, though, and get obsessed like Jenny with Jake. I took in my reflection again. I wasn’t sure Tyler would go for me anyway.
As Nicole and I sat on my bed in front of my laptop, the cursor in the search bar blinked at me, daring me to begin.
Nicole chewed her nails. “Oh my God, I’m so nervous, Bec. What if she’s for real?”
Romeo, my black and white cat, strolled across the keyboard, rubbed his cheek hard against the corner of the screen, then curled up by the window, clearly unimpressed with our mission.
What did we know? Her name was Laura Sherman. She died in 1983. She supposedly had lived in St. Pete.
I typed in Laura Sherman in the search box. Nicole walked across my room, squatted, put her head down, and threw her legs up against the wall so that she was in a headstand. I stared at her.
“What are you doing?”
“Calming down. Headstands recirculate your prana and help you focus. Wanna try?”
I chuckled and went back to my computer screen. As I had suspected, there were only about twelve million results for Laura Sherman. I had to narrow the search, so I typed in Laura Sherman
St. Petersburg. Better. Only about a few thousand results this time. My eyes flew over the screen.
“Oh my God, Nicole,” I said slowly and quietly for some reason. “There are actually several entries here that say Laura Sherman and St. Petersburg.”
She came down from her headstand and plopped on the bed, looking over my shoulder at the computer screen.
I started typing in the search bar again: 1983 obituaries Laura Sherman.
I was narrowing it down. Only a few hundred results.
Then I added St. Petersburg, Florida after Sherman. That should be specific enough, I thought.
My heart skipped a beat and I heard Nicole gasp behind me as we saw several exact matches. I held my breath as I clicked the mouse over the first result. The page was titled Saint Petersburg Obituaries N–S 1983. There were no pictures, just lines and lines of text. I found it easily.
Sherman, Laura, 17, of St. Petersburg, FL, passed away on April 16, 1983. She was the daughter of Betsy and Harrison Sherman and the sister of Scott and Randi. She was a senior at St. Petersburg Southern High School. Funeral and burial took place at Memorial Gardens.
My body was on fire, tingling all over. I jumped up at the same time Nicole did. We started walking around in circles in my room like crazy people. We couldn’t make complete sentences.
“Oh my God.”
“Do ya think?” “Could it . . . ?”
“I don’t know . . .” “St. Pete Southern?” “Oh my God.” “Only 17?”
“Oh my God.” “How?”
I heard the front door. My mom was home. “Okay, let’s get it together,” I said. “Deep breaths.” I inhaled deeply and exhaled, trying to calm my nerves. “Okay, Okay. That’s better.”
“I have to text Jenny,” Nicole said.
A wave of anxiety raced through me. “No!” My scream startled her. I wasn’t ready to share this, especially with Jenny, who lived for amassing record numbers of likes on her posts. All I needed was this, whatever this was, going viral.
Nicole looked confused. “But we promised her.”
“I know, I know. Just not yet, okay? We need to figure it out.”
“All right,” she said tentatively.
I went back to my laptop and typed Laura Sherman St. Pete Southern High School. What were the odds of finding a spirit that went to our high school?
“OMG, Nicole.” I pointed to the entries that appeared. “Click on that one.” My hands were shaking. “I can’t.”
She leaned over me and did it herself. It was just another search site to help you find old classmates from St. Pete Southern. I relaxed a little and took back control of my computer. I clicked on another result. This time it took us to a class reunion website page titled In Memory Of.
I scrolled through the page of names and photos until I came to Laura Sherman. “Do you think that’s her?” Nicole said.
I shrugged and read the paragraph next to her name out loud. “Who could ever forget our precious Laura, lost at such a young age? Laura, we will always remember your smile, your beauty, and your awesome cheerleading. Your death touched us all. You will be missed and thought of at the reunion and always.”
The photograph was of a pretty girl with shoulder-length blonde hair, straight except for some loose curls toward the bottom. Her eyes were blue and bright and her smile was that of a beauty pageant contestant, trained to show the right amount of teeth and to look self-assured without seeming overly confident.
“She’s beautiful,” Nicole said. I glanced back at her.
“Not that that matters,” she added, realizing she’d broken her own rule. Ever since she’d read that “Barbie Complex” article in sixth grade, Nicole had been a staunch advocate of seeing girls for more than their appearances.
“We don’t know that’s our Laura Sherman, or if there even is a Laura Sherman,” I reminded her. “Maybe it’s just a coincidence
Or was it? I could taste the deliciousness of the mystery and was enjoying trying to crack the case. My computer beeped and we both jumped. “It’s just a notification email,” I said. I opened the email.
Nicole was looking over my shoulder. It said, Laura Sherman wants to be friends on Facebook.
What the? I froze. My heart stopped. Then I forced myself to look at Nicole. Her eyes were bulging. We burst out of my room and ran down the hallway, screaming. My mom, who was looking through the mail, let out a little scream of her own when we reached her.
“What happened? What’s wrong?” she asked. I saw her eyes screening us, looking for signs of blood or trauma.
Nicole and I looked at each other. I wasn’t about to tell my mom what had just happened. I hadn’t even processed it yet. What the heck? Facebook? She was haunting us, this Laura Sherman. This was happening. Ghosts were real, and we’d woken one up. What had we done? I couldn’t tell my mom the truth.
“There was a spider in my room,” I panted.
Now she was annoyed. “You girls scared the heck out of me. I walk in the door and get greeted by screaming banshees. Over a spider? That’s crazy. Really, you two are wimps.”
“It was really big and scary looking,” Nicole added, nervously pulling her hair back into a ponytail. I knew she was trying to help, but I had experience lying to my mom. My mom had a knack, her sixth sense as she called it, for knowing when I wasn’t being truthful. So I’d learned it was best not to embellish or give details. That’s when I got into trouble.
I was hoping that my mom’s sixth sense wasn’t detecting how freaked out I was. My body was quivering and my hands were icy cold and sweaty. The spider lie was a good cover-up, because it might explain me never going back into my bedroom again. How was I going to sleep in there? We’d unearthed a ghost and I felt she was now living in my bedroom. She’d even taken over my laptop. We were going to end up on one of those paranormal shows where ghost hunters in green night vision goggles search for proof of hauntings.
Then I thought of something. Maybe my mom could help. As frightened and freaked as I was, I still wanted to know more about Laura Sherman.
“What, honey?” She slipped off her black heels and looked in the fridge for a drink. “What year did you graduate high school?”
I glanced at Nicole, whose eyes were popping out of her head.
“Just wondering. I’m doing some research for an article in The Ledger.” It was a good one. I was involved with the school newspaper and it was quite plausible that I could be working on a story like this.
“Do you remember a girl named Laura Sherman, by any chance?” I asked.
My mom stopped mid-sip and pulled the Diet Coke away from her face, almost choking.
“Of course! Laura. Wow, I haven’t thought about her for years. Are they doing an anniversary story of her death?”
“Uh, kind of,” I said, trying to keep the shakiness out of my voice. I still couldn’t believe this was happening. My mom actually knew this Laura Sherman person. Un-frickin’-believable! I continued with my lie. “I’m really not sure how we’re covering it yet. It just came up and we didn’t get into the details. So what happened, exactly?”
“Mr. Anderson didn’t tell you? He was at St. Pete Southern then,” she said. “No, I told you, we didn’t have time to get into it,” I said.
“Oh, it was such a tragedy, for the school, for the whole town. It was awful.” She was shaking her head and her face saddened. “I don’t even know why Mr. Anderson would want to dredge that whole thing up. Maybe I should talk to him. I’m not sure it’s appropriate.”
“No, Mom.” I thought I was going to explode, but tried to keep my cool. “Can you just tell me what happened?”
She looked at me and Nicole, hesitating. She was struggling with something—either if she should tell us or how she should tell us.
Finally, my mom said, “She was a beautiful girl, Homecoming Queen and all, everything going for her, you know? She was about to graduate and this girl, Katie Knowles, shot her.
Crossing the Line
By: Ellen Wolfson Valladares
Release Date: March 2018
Five winners will receive a copy of Crossing the Line (US only).