Author Interview: Anne Bustard on Buddy: The Story Of Buddy Holly

Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly by Anne Bustard, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, 2005). A picture book biography of a music icon whose persistence led him to change rock ‘n roll forever. Ages 4-up.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

On a road trip in 1990, I ate lunch in Lubbock, Texas, Buddy Holly’s hometown. It was my first visit. Afterward, my friends and I wandered through a museum on the campus of Texas Tech University. There was a display of Holly memorabilia. I remember a guitar, a pair of thick black glasses.

I’d always loved Buddy Holly’s music, but I knew little about his life. In the coming years, that changed. I saw “Buddy, The Musical” on stage. I heard Buddy Holly’s band, The Crickets, perform live on “Austin City Limits.” I watched a PBS tribute. I learned that Buddy Holly dreamed big. And never gave up.

During one school year I traveled to Lubbock on business at least twice a month. After I finished work each day, I played tourist. I cruised by the Hi-D-Ho Drive Inn, where Buddy Holly and his friends once sang on the roof. I visited his high school campus where he performed in the choir, drove through streets he’d played on, and I walked along a bank where he might have gone fishing. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was doing primary research.

Buddy Holly was my inspiration. His music. His life.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

The aha!—I want to write about Buddy Holly happened in 1996. Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly was published in 2005. That’s nine years. And if you count the ones spent marinating, it’s fifteen.

The first draft that I showed my critique group in the summer of 1996 was modeled after my favorite picture book biography, Flight: The Journey Of Charles Lindbergh by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Mike Wimmer (Philomel, 1991), which was edited by Paula Wiseman. I remember sitting at a picnic table in the town square of Round Top, Texas, (an hour or so from my home in Austin) after eating a scrumptious meal at Royer’s Cafe (along with a piece of one of their famous homemade pies, of course), reading my manuscript. When I finished there was silence. Then one member said, “Your author’s note is interesting. That’s where the story is.”

It was an important lesson. I had to be faithful to my voice, my style, not Burleigh’s. As a beginning writer, I wasn’t sure what my voice and style even were, or how to find them, but I knew that would be part of my journey.

A year and a half later I took two pages, all I had rewritten at that point, to a writer’s retreat where I got invaluable feedback from a real live editor. Ten months after that, December 1998, I had a manuscript I thought I could send to publishing companies. My critique group cheered me on. I tiptoed into the submission process. I sent Buddy to one editor at a time, waited for a response, received a rejection letter which almost always said children wouldn’t be interested, felt sorry for myself for a day or a week or a month or two, and then sent Buddy to another editor…

Then came September 2001. I mailed the manuscript to NYC and marked the likely arrival date on my calendar. 9/11. I can’t begin to imagine what that day was like for the editor and others in the city. It was horrific enough from over 1000 miles away. When four months passed and I hadn’t heard anything, I wrote to follow up. In January 2002 my self-addressed stamped postcard returned. The editor checked the box that indicated she had not received the manuscript. And she wrote: “I love Buddy Holly.”

I had hope.

The editor? Paula Wiseman. Yes, the one who edited my favorite book. Why didn’t I send it to her earlier? I don’t know. She’d been reading my work for at least six or seven years. It just wasn’t time. Until then.

Over the next year, we worked on the manuscript. It went through four revisions. Paula helped me find my voice. My style. I’ll never forget the time I e-mailed her in full panic mode. She wrote back one word: “Courage.” It was not the response I expected, but I loved it…and I figured out what to do.

The offer to publish came next and by then Paula had her own imprint, Paula Wiseman Books at Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. I found a fantastic agent and signed the contract in early 2003.

That spring Kurt Cyrus, illustrator extraordinaire, accepted the project. Yeah. I was a huge fan of Sixteen Cows [editor’s note: Sixteen Cows by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Harcourt, 2002)].

I thought my part was done. Silly me. Starting up again in the fall of 2003 Paula and I tweaked the text even more and worked on the afterword until the book went to press.

I held a finished copy of the book in my hand a month and a half before its bookstore debut February 1, 2005. Kurt’s artwork was incredible. He captured the times, the tone, and Buddy Holly himself. I put on a Holly CD and danced.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

As you might have guessed, I’m not a fast writer. And because there were time gaps (sometimes years, and later months) between my drafts, the manuscript and my research would get cold. As excited as I’d be to dive back in, it was often troublesome to do so until I figured out the key—music.

I’d sit in my overstuffed green chair and listen to Buddy Holly’s music and to those who influenced him—Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Hank Williams, and Elvis Presley. Next, I’d review my notes, or rewatch the PBS tribute, or a performance on the Ed Sullivan TV Show, reread sources, or find new ones, tackle research questions, or brainstorm. One time, I knew I had to go back to Lubbock before I could make progress.

Along the way, it wasn’t just Buddy Holly’s life that I researched. I needed to know more about rock ‘n’ roll music, which meant I had to make a trip to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Right? And sit in the Music Library at the University of Texas at Austin and read back issues of Billboard Magazine. And find out things like, what words and phrases were popular with teenagers in the 1950s? While I am not a practicing librarian (I teach wannabe teachers), I do have a library degree and think research is oh so fun.

I wasn’t sure how much of Buddy’s story to tell in the narrative. While my early drafts encompassed his life from birth to death, my editor suggested exploring other possibilities. I was open to that, kind of.

Since I started the project, The Buddy Holly Center opened in Lubbock. It’s an amazing museum that also hosts exhibits for artists, outreach programs, and more. What a gift to the community, to the world. It was there that I interviewed Holly expert Bill Griggs.

The Holly artifacts I’d seen years before were moved to this location, and thanks to generous donations, the collection had been greatly expanded. However, there was only one small display about Buddy Holly’s tragic death. At first I was puzzled. Then it made perfect sense. The museum was a celebration of his life. And that’s when I knew I wanted my book to be about that, too. His death was mentioned in my afterword but the narrative ends when Buddy Holly realized his dreams were coming true.

There is more to Buddy Holly than can ever be put between the covers of any book. He was a remarkable son, brother, friend, husband and musician. We are still blessed by his life and music.

In Buddy, The Biography, author Philip Norman quotes Holly expert Bill Griggs, “Whenever you mention his name, it always gets the same reaction. Everybody smiles.”

That’s what I hope happens every time someone reads my book.

Cynsational Links

“Getting to Know Calkins Creek Books, the New U.S. History Imprint of Boyds Mills Press:” an archived chat with editor Carolyn Yoder from the Institute of Children’s Literature.

Elise Broach is the author of picture books such as Hiding Hoover, illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith (Dial, 2005), Wet Dog, illustrated by David Catrow (Dial, 2005), and What The No-Good Baby Is Good For (G.P. Putnam, 2005). She also has written a fascinating-looking mystery novel, Shakespeare’s Secret (Henry Holt, 2005). This is a lively, funny site. The “about me” section features a baby picture she claims resembles Nixon (nah!). The Q&A is an inspirational author interview. Even more thoughts on writing are available on her news page. But don’t leave without surfing by her favorites page. We have four of our favorite children’s/YA novels in common: Holes by Louis Sachar; Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson; Shattering Glass by Gail Giles; and A Step From Heaven by An Na.

More blogs to bookmark: Tanya Lee Stone, author of numerous non-fiction books and A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl (Wendy Lamb, 2006)(see also Tanya’s Web site), and Libba Bray, author of A Great And Terrible Beauty (Delacorte, 2003).