Author Interview: Anne Bustard’s Advice on Historical Fiction & Far Out!

By Gayleen Rabakukk

When I was brand-new to Austin, my fellow Vermont College alumnx welcomed me to the local kidlit community, especially Anne Bustard. At a writing retreat six or seven years ago, Anne told us she was working on an intergenerational story set in the 1960s, with a small Texas town planning a UFO welcome festival. With so many of my favorite elements, I knew immediately I’d love to read this book. And soon it will be out in the world: Far Out! (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, April 18, 2023). From the promotional copy:

It’s 1964, the Space Race is well underway, and eleven-year-old Magnolia Jean Crook and the other residents of Totter, Texas, are over the moon about UFOs.

The whole town is gearing up for the First Annual Come on Down Day—in just one week, they are hoping to host any and all space aliens who would like to visit Earth. But right before the kick-off party, a meteorite goes missing—and MJ’s beloved grandmother Mimi, who is the vice president of the Totter Unidentified Flying Object Organization, is the prime suspect.

MJ is desperate to show the town that this Crook is not a thief. The only problem is that there is a lot of evidence against her, and Mimi herself isn’t helping things. She’s acting suspiciously, pulling disappearing acts, and worst of all, can’t seem to answer any questions about where she was or what she was doing.

But much like UFOs, extraterrestrial visitations, and sending people to space, the impossible has been known to happen.

Constellations of thanks for inviting me to Cynsations today, Gayleen!

What inspired you to write this story?

I love this question because the spark was serendipitous. At a writing retreat in Palacios, Texas, in 2011, I wandered into the area’s Historical Association. A quiz in their newsletter caught my attention. One question asked why the Cincinnati Post reported on an event they held in the 1970s. The answer? Their First Annual UFO Fly In Day to welcome space aliens. I knew in an instant that I wanted to have a similar celebration in a book someday. My quest became to find a story worthy of it.

What do you hope young readers will take away from the story?

Curiosity. Wonder. Agency. And a compassionate heart for those with memory issues.

You’ve written several historical fiction books, what tips do you have for other writers working on historical fiction?

  • Expect to be surprised in the best possible ways. Embrace research and the occasional rabbit trail. They are an essential part of the glorious, messy, ongoing process. I believe that you don’t need all of your questions answered or every fact checked before you start writing. I promise that more questions will emerge as you go along. I try to get a handle on my most essential wonderings first.
  • Old newspapers, magazines, journals, diaries, interviews, audio recordings, telephone directories, books from and about the time period, magazines, catalogs, TV shows, photographs, and films are my go-to resources. They never fail to offer facts and insights into the everyday and the extraordinary. Fortunately, many primary sources, like the 1960s diary I read describing life in a rural Texas town for Far Out! are only a click away.
  • Fall in love with details. For me, the believability of a work of historical fiction is in the minutiae. The vocabulary, hair styles, clothes, music, attitudes, ephemera, phases of the moon, weather, trees, plants, books, choice of character names and more, matter. This is why visiting the setting of your novel, whether it’s real or based on one that is, makes a difference.
  • Reach out to experts. Do as much research as possible and then ready specific questions. I’ve sought insight and answers from librarians, historians, a university professor, judge, former police officer, a school principal, WWII veterans, and more. Remember to thank them.
  • Organize your findings in a way that makes sense to you and your story. You’ll need ready access as you write, revise, and then respond to questions from your agent, editor, and copyeditor.
  • Most importantly, have fun. You’ve got this!

What are you working on now? What are you most excited about in your writing life?

I’ve been swimming into a humorous story about a mermaid and a shark.

I’m a panster through and through, but I know that my write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants ways haven’t always served me. For one, it takes me years and multiple drafts to figure out a plausible plot. I’ve tried to outline every story I’ve ever attempted. And failed. But I’m nothing if not persistent. So, I dove into structuring my most recent project. And succeeded!

The only explanation I have is that maybe after all these years the basic three-act-structure and I have become one. Or not. It also helped that I already knew the main characters. I sent it off to my critique group and agent for feedback. They offered significant insights and questions for which I am most grateful. Now it’s time to play with it some more. I’m ecstatic that there’s been a shift and can’t wait to see how the story evolves.

Cynsations Notes

Hawaii-born author Anne Bustard holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in addition to degrees from the University of Texas at Austin (BS, MLIS, PhD). Books have always been central to Anne’s life. She taught in elementary schools and universities, co-owned Toad Hall Children’s Bookstore and was named for Anne of Green Gables.

She is the author of several works for young readers including the award-winning books Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2005) and Anywhere but Paradise (Lerner, 2015). Her second middle grade novel, Blue Skies (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) and picture book RAD! (Abrams Books for Young Readers) were both published in 2020. Anne recently married her college sweetheart and divides her time between Ontario and Texas.

Anne will be at the Texas Library Annual Conference in Austin, Texas, April 19 and 20. And have a book launch party at 2 p.m. on April 30 at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd. in Austin with Cate Berry, author of Thank You, Teacher!

Gayleen Rabakukk holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and an undergraduate degree in Journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma. She has published numerous newspaper and magazine articles, and two regional interest books for adults. She is a board member of Lago Vista’s Friends of the Library and an Austin SCBWI volunteer. She loves inspiring curiosity in young readers through stories of hope and adventure.