We all know the saying ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade‘. Right?
Well, the brand new debut, Bigfoot, Tobin & Me, by US author Melissa Savage is a heartwarming and life affirming story for readers aged 9+, boasting a main character called Lemonade! Following the death of her mother, Lemonade moves to Willow Creek to be with her Grandpa, and meets Tobin, the CEO of Bigfoot Detectives, Inc.
In their quest to take a snap of Bigfoot, the friends discover lots along the way, and learn to navigate new challenges.
Having just read this poignant and uplifting adventure, I was delighted to have the opportunity to ask author Melissa Savage about the book and her writing! As well as writing for children, Melissa is also a child and family therapist. She lives in Minneapolis and has a big interest in cryptozoology!
Tell us about the story of Bigfoot, Tobin & Me!
Bigfoot, Tobin & Me is a fun adventure searching for the elusive Bigfoot. However, it is also a story about friendship, acceptance, kindness, healing and most of all hope. The life journey that protagonist Lemonade Liberty Witt must endure, as well as many of the other characters in the story, is not unlike a journey others may face: it’s full of hardship and sweetness, struggles and friendship, lemons and love. Lemonade learns in the end that the best way to endure her own lemons is to find gratitude in adversity and embrace new changes with optimism and courage while recognizing the gifts given despite the sadness loss can bring.
What was the initial spark of thought that inspired the story?
I wanted to write about a little girl who struggled with a very unexpected loss, as some children do. And I also wanted to provide some very understanding adults to help her navigate that loss with gentle guidance and love, with the ability to embrace the memories of the past versus trying to forget to ease the pain.
Research today tells us the best way to heal from grief is to have a new kind of relationship with the person we’ve lost. By holding special rituals and by celebrating those people instead of trying to forget.
Mostly, I wanted this story to contain a great deal of hope regardless of the lemons that come your way, to help kids to start to learn coping skills early in life. Charlie represents that very special and safe adult every kid should have in their life to support them and help them with their hope. Not everyone is so lucky. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had a Charlie in our lives for the times when our lemons feel just too hard to carry all by ourselves?
What kind of character is Lemonade Witt? And Tobin? How did they come to you?
Lemonade was the very first character. I see her as one who tries to find the bright side of things and is sometimes annoyingly opinionated. The idea came to me to write about a character who was named Lemonade and taught from a very young age to always have hope through adversity. And when the character faced a very difficult loss, we would watch her fight to find her way in her new world and succeed in her journey in finding that hope again.
The Tobin character came later. He’s a very special character for me in the book and was named after my son, Tobin. My son passed away in 2012 at nine months of age and, just like Lemonade wanting her mother to remain a part of this world, I wanted my son to remain a part of this world too. The character Tobin is what I imagined the real life Tobin to grow up to be. Stoic and brave, as he was, but also scientific like his Dad and as big a fan of Bigfoot and cryptozoology as his Mommy! Losing someone you love is an extremely tough lemon, as Lem experiences in the story, and she struggles to find how to make lemonade again. For me, sharing my son’s name and spirit with children all over the world is one of the ways I’ve learned to make my own lemonade.
Although others see Tobin as different, I see him as passionate and full of curiosity and excitement about discovery with a need for some control in his life. He too has had some hardships and he reacts to that with a need to have things just so, as well as a need for recognition for his discoveries to feel as if he matters in the world. Although Lemonade doesn’t always understand him and he is often annoyed with her habits and questions (and Twinkie breaks!), they find a way past their differences to form a lovely friendship of support.
Is Willow Creek based on a place you know? Or is it entirely fictional?
Willow Creek is actually a real town in northern California. It is really known as the Bigfoot Capital of the World and they have a large wooden Bigfoot statue. They also have a Bigfoot museum and Bigfoot Motel! Additionally, they have Bigfoot Days each year including a parade and other fun events for kids and families.
Your book is full of yummy food references. What is the ideal snack to be eating while reading your delicious story?
A hot cup of tea and Mrs. Dickerson’s ginger snaps.
How has your work as a therapist helped or inspired your writing, especially for a Middle Grade audience?
Because of my work with children, my writing has always focused on issues many children grapple with. Most recently I’ve worked with children and families who have struggled with the loss of a loved one. Although this subject is heavy, there is always hope in healing from adversity and more than anything, I want to portray that in every story I create.
When a child comes to me and tells me he/she has gone through the same thing or that they know someone who did, I know they are telling me because this aspect of the book resonated with them. And more than anything I’d like kids to know they are not alone in whatever they may be going through.
Losing someone very special is one of the hardest things to cope with. What’s harder is that no one likes to talk about it. So many people going through grief can feel very alone in their sadness. Lemonade is fortunate to have very loving and supportive people around her as she learns to heal and move forward. She also finds a new purpose in her life in Willow Creek and knows in her heart it was her mother that led her there.
Can grief have a purpose? It can, if you choose to find it. And I believe Lemonade does just that.
What was the key message that you wanted to come out of the book?
I think the heart of this story was conscious, yet at the same time, so many scenes formed very organically. As far as the key message, first and foremost, my desire is that readers of Bigfoot, Tobin & Me will find it to be filled with hope. There is healing and a newly acquired strength after dealing with tough lemons if you choose to accept it and surround yourself with gratitude, and people who love and support you. I also hope that readers take away a renewed acceptance and respect for those who are different than themselves. And of course, a newfound interest in cryptozoology!
I’ll be honest, I had to look up ‘cryptozoology’! How did you get into that? And how much did your interest influence Bigfoot, Tobin and Me?
I love science and history! And I’m a Bigfoot geek! Mostly because I am fascinated when I see news articles about scientists who have located an animal or species of animal they either thought to be extinct or didn’t know existed at all. Or even when they find the bones of an ancient species they didn’t know about. And I find Bigfoot intriguing for that same reason. Although we possess a fossil record of Gigantopithecus from ancient Asia, they are thought to be extinct for millions of years.
Wouldn’t it be exciting to find out there was a group of descendants still in existence today? I’ve done a great deal of research on the elusive creature and even had my scientific facts in the story edited by Dr. Jeff Meldrum, author, Professor of Anatomy and Anthropology at Idaho State University and a collector of Bigfoot prints.
Additionally, I believe the concept of grief can be a tough one, especially for children, and to provide a backdrop of adventure and fun is a nice balance when reading about difficult subject matter. I also liked the parallel between Bigfoot hiding in the forest and Tobin hiding behind his camera. Tobin identifies with the creature because of his fear of how he is judged by others. I think Lemonade helps Tobin to feel more comfortable in the world and I think Tobin helps Lem feel more accepting of her new life in Willow Creek. And a woolly monster in the forest is a wonderful backdrop for that friendship.
Tell us about your own writer’s journey!
I have wanted to be an author since I was eight years old, however I never truly expected it would happen, so I pursued other avenues, including becoming a therapist which I have loved a great deal. Then in 2008, I enrolled in a Master’s Degree in writing for children. Again, to me it was always a hobby and it took me until 2013 to graduate, taking breaks in between. In the meantime, I have pursued publication through a couple different avenues, nothing ever coming to fruition and yes, of course some rejections.
Then I got involved in the San Francisco Writers Conference and there was a fiction contest and I submitted the required fifteen pages. Laurie McLean, co-owner and agent with Fuse Literary, emailed me to ask for the full manuscript to review. Once I sent her the manuscript and she read it, she signed me as a client and we began to edit the work together.
A month later, I was so incredibly fortunate to have it sold to two wonderful publishing houses. Emily Easton of Penguin Random House purchasing the manuscript and Barry Cunningham of Chicken House acquiring the foreign rights. I never really expected to be published, but to be involved with these two prestigious houses and editors is an absolute dream come true. I still pinch myself that this is all truly happening. I’m incredibly grateful to have been given this gift.
And what’s next for you, writing wise?
My next book is also a middle grade novel about two ten-year-old boys, Mylo and Dibs, who come upon the 1947 UFO crash site in Roswell, New Mexico. In 1947, the U.S. military announced to the world that they had recovered a real flying saucer and by the next day they had retracted the story, stating it was just a weather balloon.
To this day, so many years later, many people still believe it was more than just a weather balloon and witnesses still swear by what they believe they saw so many years earlier. Some even reporting to have seen the creatures themselves. Another interesting cryptozoological adventure! I thought it would be fun to write a story about kids finding the wreckage in the field, and even more fun a story about who they find amongst that wreckage!
And of course, there are additional social issue addressed in the story as well, including abuse, addiction and finding meaning and healing after a loss.
Thankyou so much to Melissa for taking the time to do this interview. We’ll be very much looking forward to your next book!
And many thanks to Laura and Chicken House for including this hellopipski blog in the blog tour, and for the fabulous book!
Find Melissa on twitter @melissadsavage and do take the time to visit her website!
Happy reading 🙂
Pippa Wilson 2nd June 2017