As I mentioned a week or two ago, in January, EgmontUSA announced that they were going out of business, and that this spring’s list would be their last. I signed up to participate in Cuddlebuggery’s Last List Blog Hop in hopes of offering at least one of the affected writers a little bit of free publicity.
As part of that blog hop, Anne Bustard, author of Anywhere but Paradise kindly agreed to talk writing, books, and the travails of publishing with me. Be sure to read through to the end for some exciting news about what’s next for Ms. Bustard and the other EgmontUSA Last List writers.
BostonWriters (BW): Anywhere but Paradise is a beautifully written Middle Grade (MG) novel (with appeal to younger teens) about a twelve-year-old girl who has just moved from Texas to Hawaii, and the many difficulties she faces making those adjustments. Please tell us what inspired you to write that particular story.
Anne Bustard (AB): Thank you for your kind words, Shala, and thank you for inviting me to this conversation! I love to talk about books!
I was born in paradise and I spent most of my growing up years on Oahu. I collected shells and beach glass with my cousins, celebrated special dinners with my grandparents, strung lei from flowers in our backyard, and took hula lessons once a week, culminating in a recital at the end of each school year.
Life was pretty perfect. Except for school in seventh grade. I worried all year long because an eighth grader threatened to beat me up on the last day of school, a day she and others called “Kill Haole (white people) Day.” Nothing happened to me. But, still.
So, I wondered, what if a reluctant newcomer’s initial entry was wobbly? And I went from there.
BW: I confess, I had a lump in my throat from almost the opening pages of Anywhere but Paradise. The scene where Peggy Sue has to leave her beloved cat, Howdy, in the quarantine center is heart-wrenching. And yet I never lost hope for Peggy Sue. In fact, I found the ending deeply satisfying. Could you talk a little bit about how writers can strike a balance between sorrow and hope in their novels?
AB: Can I tell you that while writing those scenes, I had a catch in my throat, too, and maybe a few tears?
For me, the balance between sorrow and hope was an evolution. It came over time, through zillions of drafts and a big aha!
I’m all about hope. So even though I created challenges for Peggy Sue, it was a difficult for me to fully embrace sorrow on the page. When I finally did, I went off the charts dark. Too far off.
The story rested for years. Then, with more input from beta readers, and a big aha! I began again.
I reevaluated what Peggy Sue wanted, what each of the characters wanted. Over time, their wants had changed and/or I finally recognized what they were. I believe that understanding made all the difference.
In that next draft, I got miles closer to finding center. Then, in the revisions that followed, I continued to hone the balance.
BW: Anywhere but Paradise touches on several important, yet difficult issues, for readers — bullying, discrimination, loneliness, and coming to terms with major life changes over which you have absolutely no control. In the end, your book is a wonderful example of how writers can deal with these issues in an approachable, and not moralistic, fashion. What advice do you have for writers who are developing books that touch on similar issues?
AB: Research is our friend. Read books and articles and interviews. Talk to experts and people who have had these experiences. Ask questions. Listen to the answers and the silences. Ask more questions.
I have found people to be incredibly generous with their time.
Trust that there is a reason you are drawn to stories that touch on sensitive issues. If these experiences come from your own life, journal about them. By hand. If you can, deconstruct them with someone.
Then, as Neil Gaiman said, “Start telling the stories that only you can tell.”
BW: What do you enjoy reading? Which books have inspired or informed your own writing?
AB: A huge stack of middle grade novels is always near by. I can’t be without a book! Right now, that group includes Listen, Slowly by Thanhhà Lai, Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin and an advanced reader copy of Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
In the past few years, I have returned time and again to One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, May B. by Caroline Starr Rose and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
I often reread with a single focus in order to study what I am wrestling with. Reading books on craft is helpful, but in my opinion, studying the works of others is even more essential for our education.
BW: You have just endured a major upheaval in your career plan — your publisher Egmont, has just announced they are going out of business and that your book will be part of the last list of books they ever publish. If you don’t mind my asking, what happens now? What are the next steps for you?
AB: There is big news! Egmont recently announced that Lerner Publishing will buy the last list of Egmont books to be published, as well as many of their other titles. I’m ecstatic! This means our books will have a wonderful home with a company dedicated to children’s and YA literature.
As for me, my plans for welcoming Anywhere but Paradise into the world on March 31st continue. They include participation in the Texas Library Association Annual Conference, a book launch party, ongoing social media events, an opportunity to speak at a writers’ workshop, and more.
BW: What are you working on now?
AB: I’m having a super fun time writing a humorous story for slightly younger readers.
Mahalo nui loa, Shala! Thank you very much! I loved chatting with you!
About Anne Bustard:
Anne Bustard is a beach girl at heart. If she could, she would walk in the sand every day, wear flip-flops, and eat nothing but fresh pineapple, macadamia nuts and chocolate. She is the author of the award-winning picture book Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers). Her debut middle grade historical novel Anywhere But Paradise (Egmont Publishing) will be released on March 31, 2015. She lives in Austin, Texas.
- Book Review: Anywhere but Paradise by Anne Bustard (BostonWriters)
- MG vs. YA fiction: What’s the difference (MiG Writers)
- Anne Bustard’s web page
- Anne Bustard’s Facebook page
Disclosure: I received a free kindle copy of Anywhere but Paradise from EgmontUSA via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. You can preorder Anywhere but Paradise from Amazon here. The book will be available in stores March 31, 2015.