Today as a part of our weeklong look at #LastListEgmont, authors Bree Despain and Anne Bustard share their stories in a joint interview.
Bree: On the surface, our books seem pretty different—Anywhere but Paradise is a middle grade story about a girl who moves to Hawaii in 1960, while my book The Eternity Key is YA about an underworld prince who is sent to our modern day world to complete a quest—but what they do have in common is the “fish out of water” theme. You’ve written that Anywhere but Paradise is informed by your childhood in Hawaii. How was your experience the same or different from Peggy Sue’s? Have you ever been the new kid at school?
Anne: Hawaii-born, I moved to California when I was two, and returned to start sixth grade. Unlike Peggy Sue’s, my reentry was pineapple sweet. Hikes with my cousins, visits with my grandparents, hula lessons, new friends, snorkeling in Hanauma Bay . . . Yes, I was the new kid at school, but it was not traumatic.
Until the next year. Intermediate school overwhelmed me. A girl threatened to beat me up on the last day of school. She called it Kill Haole (white people) Day. I was petrified. For the whole year. On the last day, like Peggy Sue, I witnessed a couple of fights. Unlike her, I was spared.
What about you? How have your own experiences informed the “fish out of water” aspect? Was it fun writing about a prince who has never been around girls before?
Bree: Of course, I’ve never been an underworld prince who finds himself the new guy at a prestigious high school for the kids of the rich and famous, but I do know what it’s like to feel like you don’t belong. I’m very introverted and danced to the beat of my own drum in middle school and high school so it was easy to draw on those feelings of social awkwardness to inform Haden’s character. In fact, writing Haden is the most fun I’ve ever had writing a character. As part of his quest, he has to convince a certain girl to fall in love with him, but he knows very little about the mortal world, and even less about dating, girls, and love. I have him turn to the internet for advice on a few occasions—with some pretty epically disastrous results.
You know, another thing we have in common is that my dad was an American who grew up on a Polynesian island. He lived in New Zealand from 1950 to 1960. Your novel is set in the 1960. What role did research play in its creation?
Anne: What a fascinating childhood your dad must have had! Primary research was an enormous part of my process, a never-ending part, in fact. And I loved it.
From the Honolulu Advertiser, I gleaned a sense of current events, hairstyles, popular foods, prices, movies, TV and more. I also studied high school yearbooks.
I read books about Hawaii, interviewed the principal at my former intermediate school, contacted tsunami experts, and dug through archives. I verified facts with the Honolulu Zoo, the quarantine facility, a Hawaiian language expert, and a Texas epidemiologist.
Your series is inspired by Greek mythology. Did you do a lot of research for your books? Tell us a little bit about the myths you use in your books and how you came to choose them.
Bree: I studied a lot of mythology while working on the Into the Dark series. The first book, The Shadow Prince, is based on two myths: Persephone and Hades and Orpheus and Eurydice. I was especially intrigued by early interpretations of Persephone’s story that say she chose of her own free will to go with Hades into the Underworld in order to become the queen of the dead, and wasn’t kidnapped as the conventional version of the myth says. I wanted to explore this theme of choosing to follow someone into the dark (or the unknown) for the sake of love as both Persephone and Orpheus did. In the second book, The Eternity Key, I also get to play with the myth of Cupid and Psyche.
So another thing our books have in common is that both of our main characters have a cat that is very important to them. Can you tell us a little about the cat in your story? Are you a cat person?
Anne: I am 100% a cat person! Howdy is based on my current kitty, a feral named Sweet Baby James, who didn’t purr for over two years.
I’ve heard people say that the cat in your story is one of their favorite characters. Please tell us about Brimstone.
Bree: I love Brimstone. She’s a runty little Hellcat that Haden saved when her mother abandoned her. Now she is Haden’s best friend and acts like a protective big sister—and even tries to help Haden out with the ladies. She’s teeny tiny, about the size of a two month old kitten, but don’t let her size fool you—and never get a hellcat angry!
Okay, so let’s talk about our differences for a moment. I’ve never written for the middle grade audience. What’s it like being a debut middle grade author?
Anne: It’s a dream come true! Ever since I was in elementary school, middle grade novels have been my favorite books to read. And now, that I’ll have one with my name on the cover, well, it’s happy tears time. Everyone has been so supportive. I feel like the luckiest person on the planet.
What about you? The Eternity Key is your 5th published book. That’s awesome! Will you share a memorable experience you’ve had with a reader in person at signings, book festivals, conferences or online?
Bree: A few months after my first book was published, I got an email from a teenage girl whose best friend had been in an ATV accident and was in a coma. Every day, this girl had been bringing my book to the hospital and reading it out loud to her comatose friend. After a couple of weeks, her friend woke up—and one of the first things she said is that she wanted to know what had happened to Grace and Daniel (my characters) so she decided to wake up. I got this email while I was sitting in the lobby at a big writing conference and I just started bawling. I had no idea something I’d written could have that kind of impact on someone’s life.
Finally, I’ve noticed that your book has a special dedication. Who is your book dedicated to and why?
Anne: Before I answer your question, I’ve got to say Wow! to your last response. What an incredibly beautiful and touching story about the power of words. Your words. They were and are a great gift.
I dedicated the book to Leilehua, my forever friend from Hawaii. We met in hula class and still talk all the time, though not on the bench at the back of Mrs. Beamer’s studio while sharing a package of red licorice.
Bree: That’s a great dedication! I am so glad I got this opportunity to interview you. I will for sure be picking up a copy of Anywhere but Paradise on March 31st. Actually, I will pick up two copies–one for me and my kids, and one for my dad. I know he’ll love reading your book.
Anne: Mahalo nui loa, Bree! Thank you very much for your enthusiasm and conversation. I’m excited to read The Eternity Key. Happy launch day, almost. I’ve circled April 28th on my calendar.
Bree and Anne: Thank you so much for having us on Teen Librarian Toolbox! It has been an absolute pleasure.
Meet our Guest Bloggers:
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. A former co-owner of a children’s-only bookstore, Anne has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. 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). Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Anne now lives in Austin, Texas.
Publisher’s Book Descriptions
Anywhere but Paradise
Moving from Texas to Hawaii in 1960,12-year-old Peggy Sue faces a difficult transition when she is bulled as one of the few haole (white) students in her school. This lyrical debut novel is perfect for Common Core classroom connections.
It’s 1960 and Peggy Sue has just been transplanted from Texas to Hawaii for her father’s new job. Her cat, Howdy, is stuck in animal quarantine, and she’s baffled by Hawaiian customs and words. Worst of all, eighth grader Kiki Kahana targets Peggy Sue because she is haole–white–warning her that unless she does what Kiki wants, she will be a victim on “kill haole day,” the last day of school. Peggy Sue’s home ec teacher insists that she help Kiki with her sewing project or risk failing. Life looks bleak until Peggy Sue meets Malina, whose mother gives hula lessons. But when her parents take a trip to Hilo, leaving Peggy Sue at Malina’s, life takes an unexpected twist in the form of a tsunami. Peggy Sue is knocked unconscious and wakes to learn that her parents safety and whereabouts are unknown. Peggy Sue has to summon all her courage to have hope that they will return safely.
The Eternity Key (Into the Dark book 2)
Fan-favorite author Bree Despain continues her modern-day romance trilogy inspired by the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades with this second book in her Into the Dark series.
Haden Lord, the disgraced Prince of the Underrealm, has chosen love over honor and will do everything in his power to protect Daphne Raines, the human girl he was supposed to bring to the Underrealm. Haden’s choice is put to the test as the Skylords and a figure from his past arrive in Olympus Hills with a plan that could destroy all of the realms.
Embracing her destiny as the Cypher, Daphne begins to understand the immense power of her musical ability to control the elements, but she must come to terms with her feelings for Haden and what she must sacrifice in order to protect him and her friends.
Believing the Key of Hades is the only thing that can stop the Underrealm Court from releasing the monstrous Keres on the mortal world, Haden, Daphne, and their friends set out to find the Key before Persephone’s Gate opens again on the spring equinox.