Every week, I so enjoy hosting book creator friends in celebration of their work. But my heart does a little extra happy skip when the book in the spotlight is historical fiction. Teachers and librarians have quietly confessed to me that it’s a tough genre to get kids hooked on (ouch); but I am convinced that it’s only because the reader hasn’t found the right book. One such “right book” is Anne Bustard’s newest, Blue Skies (Simon and Schuster) which reminds us what it takes to get through tough times. I can’t wait for you all to read it!
The first wisp of an idea for Blue Skies (Simon and Schuster) happened over fifteen years ago. What I didn’t know then, was that it would become the story of my heart.
As soon as I stumbled upon the history of the Merci Train, 49 boxcars filled with gifts from the people of France to the United States as a thank you for our efforts during and after WWII, I envisioned a picture book about two girls, one American and one French.
I plunged into research to learn more, wrote draft after draft, and received support from trusted critique partners. After the noes from editors, came a revise and resubmit, which turned into another revise and resubmit—with a huge what if? What if this picture book became a middle grade novel?
Yes! A novel. Only I’d been writing my first one on and off for years, didn’t really know what I was doing, and it was far from finished. So I tucked that gift of an idea away and worked on other projects.
Years passed, life happened. And then little to no writing occurred while I had the privilege of caring for my aging parents. Even so, I dreamed of writing that novel. Someday.
In time, that someday came. I enrolled in the VCFA Writing for Children and Young Adults program. Thanks to my advisors, fellow students, and more research, which included holding gifts from the Merci train with gloved hands, I graduated with a solid draft of a novel in 2010.
That version, seen by several agents, was rejected with a near-identical comment—it was too quiet. I shelved it for another day and worked on a noisier novel (yes, the very first one), which was published in 2015. After that, came drafts of two more middle grades that I couldn’t revise to my satisfaction.
It was 2017 and I wondered if my writing career was over or just stalled. I had a serious sit-down with myself and asked: If you could have one more book published, what story would you write? I knew in an instant—Glory Bea’s.
Publication is never guaranteed, but I had to try. I reread the story and was thrilled when new possibilities flowed onto my notebook pages. I gave myself the space and time to do the exercises in Donald Maas’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. Thank you for the recommendation, Janet Fox!
I researched (almost) all over again. I toured a refurbished Texas Eagle dining car like the one Glory Bea traveled on, revisited the Texas boxcar, immersed myself in the music and life of the 1940s, poured over reports, memos, telegrams, and correspondence from the Merci Train committee, as well as numerous newspaper articles about the train’s journey, Drew Pearson’s radio scripts, and poignant accounts of WWII orphans, many of whom fantasized that their fathers who perished in the war would return.
With a plan for change, I cut characters, combined characters, deleted scenes, added scenes, and tried to deepen the story. Again and again. I’m ever so thankful for my critique group and agent. I connected with the most perfect editor, who guided me through final revisions.
Throughout the novel’s evolution, Glory Bea’s hope that her Daddy, who was lost on Omaha Beach, might still come home never wavered.
Magical thinking is a powerful coping mechanism and it wasn’t hard for me to imagine that Glory Bea would embrace it, not only because my research supported it, but also because like her, I am a Daddy’s girl with an unbreakable, forever bond.
It wasn’t until I was close to finishing that I realized why Blue Skies is the story of my heart—it is a love letter to my dad.
It took a multitude of years and a trainload of support to be able to hold this story in book form today. I’m most grateful for each and every one. Glory Bea believes in miracles and so do I. This book is one of mine.
Hawaii-born, Anne Bustard is a beach girl at heart. So it’s no surprise that beaches play a role in most of her books, including her newest, Blue Skies. She is the author of several works for young readers like the award-winning Anywhere But Paradise. Anne is the former co-owner of a children’s bookstore and university lecturer. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She recently married her college sweetheart, and divides her time between Canada and Texas.
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