I love middle grade books with humor, heart and shenanigans, and I fell in love with the premise of FAR OUT! by Anne Bustard. The book’s anticipated release date is April 18, 2023.
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.
According to your website bio, you have an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. What led you to decide to get a degree in writing, and what about it did you find most rewarding?
Galaxies of thanks for hosting me on your blog today, Karen, and asking such great questions! I love school and if I could, I would be enrolled in one forever. So, when I discovered there was a degree in writing for children from a school named VCFA, I wanted one. But I knew I wasn’t ready. Instead, I took a week-long summer class in Austin, with Kathi Appelt. Among other things, that wonderous experience taught me that I needed to write more, read more, and join a critique group. So, I did. Years passed. Then eldercare became a necessity and a privilege. My desire for a writing education never waned, and in fact grew. After those seasons, I applied and was accepted at VCFA.
The two years I spent in the program were the most nourishing, enriching educational experience I have ever had. The support from my mentors and other students was amazing. And in a multitude of ways, continues to this day. So, the answer to what was most rewarding is—everything!
Amazing! FAR OUT! takes place in 1964 Texas. How did you know this was the time and place for this story?
The inspiration for this book was based on an out of this world little-known event in the coastal town of Palacios, Texas. In the 1970s Palacios invited any and all space aliens to visit. Every time I think about their Fly In Day, I smile. Unfortunately, the space visitors never came. (While I’m an avid researcher, I purposely did not read about their happening, so I could be free to create my own.)
As a nod to history, it seemed appropriate to set FAR OUT! in Texas, though a fictional town in the Hill Country better served my story. As for the year, I chose 1964 because the space race was accelerating, a Texan was in the White House, and the opportunity to use phrases like “far out” and “outta sight” was irresistible.
Very serendipitous indeed! You’ve written both picture books and books for middle grade readers. What do you love most about writing for each age group and why?
I’m a visual learner and thinker, so I find crafting picture book manuscripts ultra-compelling and satisfying. While I write, I love to imagine how an artist might interpret my words, where the page turns might be, and how they will surprise me and readers. The economy of language is a gratifying challenge. Because picture books are generally read aloud, I find delight in reading my drafts out loud a zillion times. Ultimately, there’s nothing better than holding the final book in my hands and engaging readers in real time.
Middle grade books hold so much magic for me. They are what made me an avid reader and are still my favorite genre to read. I’ve noticed that place often comes to me first. I suppose that’s because “home” is a recurring theme of mine. In many ways, I write for the reader I was, in hopes of touching the hearts of other readers.
Middle grade often comes to me first too! And it really is interesting to hear an illustrator’s perspective on the different ways a story can be told. What are some of your current projects?
I’ve returned to a picture book manuscript that I adore but needs more work, including additional research. I’m hopeful this exploration will inch me closer to completing another draft. I’m also swimming into a middle grade story about a mermaid and a baby shark.
Answering these questions has been a blast! Thanks, again!
To find out more about Anne Bustard and her books, go to https://annebustard.com/