Today, it is my absolute pleasure to chat with bestselling author Jennifer Weiner–yes, that Jennifer Weiner!–about her latest MG novel, The Bigfoot Queen. The final installment in the “cheerful” (The New York Times Book Review) and “charming” (People) trilogy about friendship, adventure, and celebrating your true self, is out tomorrow, October 24, from Aladdin/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.
The Bigfoot Queen: A Summary
Alice Mayfair, Millie Maximus, Jessica Jarvis, and Jeremy Bigelow face their biggest challenge yet when a determined foe threatens to expose the secret, sacred world of the Yare. The fate of the tribe’s right to live peacefully out in the open is at stake. Impossible decisions are made, friendships are threatened, secrets are revealed, and tremendous courage is required. Alice, her friends, and her frenemies will have to work together and be stronger, smarter, and more accepting than ever. But can some betrayals ever be forgiven?
Interview with Jennifer Weiner
MR: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Jennifer! Before we talk about The Bigfoot Queen, I must share that I’m a HUGE fan of your novels. I won’t reveal my favorite—it’s like asking Rose Feller to select her favorite pair of shoes (😀)—but let’s just say… I think you’re fab.
JW: Thank you so much! That’s always nice to hear.
MR: Most, if not all, Mixed-Up Files readers are familiar with your wildly popular novels for adults, many of which have appeared on The New York Times Best Sellers list and have sold millions (and millions!) of copies. With this in mind, what prompted you to switch gears and write MG? I’m guessing your daughters might have had a say in the matter…
JW: Yes, you can give my daughters some of the credit and/or blame for this. But I also was an avid reader as a child, and YA and middle-grade books were some of my favorites. (Shout-out to My Side of the Mountain!) When my younger daughter was six, she was obsessed with a TV show called “Finding Bigfoot.” This led to dinnertime discussions about the titular creatures, and how they’d interact with the human world. Would they want to be online? Make money selling stuff on Etsy? Which parts of the our world would they embrace, and which would they reject? And how would that play out within tribes and families?
Middle Grade: Challenges and Rewards
MR: What’s the biggest challenge for writing for a middle-grade audience? The greatest rewards?
JW: The challenges are remembering that writing for kids means keeping some of the themes (and all of the language) more, um, family-friendly than for an adult audience. The greatest rewards are telling a great story, and having readers along for the ride. And middle-grade readers are that perfect balance of knowledgeable and credulous. They know how the world works, and how people are, but they’re still willing to believe that they could open a closet door and find Narnia.
Millie Maximus: The Littlest Bigfoot
MR: Your MG trilogy, The Littlest Bigfoot, features a character named Millie Maximus, a member of the Bigfoot clan. What inspired you to craft a character like Millie—and to write about the topic of Bigfoot in general?
JW: I don’t think there is a person alive who’s been through adolescence and can’t remember feeling like a monster. Whether it’s your body or your personality that seems to put you on the outside–and gets you to believe that nobody’s ever been this freakish, or weird, or big, or little, or just wrong–I think that’s a universal experience.
In writing about Bigfoots, I wanted to explore the idea of monstrousness, especially as it applies to young women who get told, early and often, that their bodies are wrong, unruly–too big, too strong, too fat, too flabby, too hairy, too much–in some way. I wanted to turn some of the human world’s biases on their head, just to show how arbitrary the rules can be.
So, here’s Millie who is tiny and delicate in a world that does not prize those qualities in females, and who wants to be seen in a world that what she should want is to be invisible. And then she meets Alice, who’s big and strong with wild, impossible-to-tame hair, who’s been made to feel those things are wrong, when, to Millie, she’s the epitome of beauty.
MR: While we’re on the subject of Bigfoot, what kind of research did you do for the trilogy? I’m guessing it was more involved than watching grainy videos of large, hairy creatures running through the forest…
JW: I absolutely read all of the literature–such as it is–about Bigfoots, starting with the Patterson-Gimlin film, and continuing on to FINDING BIGFOOT and WHERE BIGFOOT WALKS…but, really, what I paid more attention to was Greek mythology, and those stories about nonhuman creatures, and how they interacted with mortals.
Cast of Characters
MR: In addition to Millie Maximus, “No-Fur” characters (aka humans) feature prominently in the series, including Alice Mayfair, a half-Bigfoot New Yorker with an unruly mane; Jeremy Bigelow, an amateur Bigfoot hunter; Jessica Jarvis, an ex-bully with a secret tail; and Charlotte Hughes, a hotelkeeper’s granddaughter with a dangerous secret. How did you come up with this incredible cast of characters? Which character stands out most for you, and why?
JW: I loved giving Alice and Millie a tribe of like-minded kids to support them and accompany them on their adventures, and I’ve got a soft spot for all of them: for Jeremy, who feels like he’s an afterthought in his family, because his two brothers are such standouts, and for Jessica, who’s not as shallow and vain as she seems, when we meet her in the first book.
But I especially loved writing about Charlotte. She comes into the trilogy later, and is a little older than the other kids, and she’s got a very different perspective on the world, due, in large part, to her economic circumstances. She’s a working-class kid in a dying town–or, rather, a town that was dying until it was revitalized by a mysterious scientist–and she’s not inclined to want to help the spoiled, rich, big-city girls who come to stay at her grandmother’s bed and breakfast.
It was interesting to look at the characters, and have them look at each other, through various lenses, and to think about different kinds of privilege. There’s the privilege conferred by wealth, and the privilege conferred by thinness and by meeting the current beauty standards–and, of course, the privilege of having loving, supportive parents. But money matters. Even to kids. Maybe especially to kids.
Let Your Freak Flag Fly!
MR: Letting your “freak flag” fly is a central theme in The Littlest Bigfoot trilogy. What is it about being an outsider that resonates so deeply with you? Also, what advice would you give to middle-grade readers who feel as if they don’t fit in? Advice for parents, teachers, or other trusted adults?
JW: I was an extremely weird little kid, and I was much more comfortable with books than other children. Books were my friends…but they also showed me people like me, and let me believe that I’d meet some of them, someday, if I could just make it out of elementary school. You never forget feeling like an outsider or an outcast, so those are the characters that speak to me, and their stories are the ones I want to tell. And I hope that kids who read them come away feeling a little less lonely, like they aren’t the only one who’s ever felt like a freak.
In terms of advice, I think the only thing worse than having been an outcast yourself is when you see it happening with your own children. I don’t know if there’s much parents can do, except to remind their kids that they are loved unconditionally, and that, whatever they are feeling, they won’t feel it forever.
Trilogy: Plot, Outline + “The End”
MR: What’s the secret to writing a successful trilogy, Jennifer? Also, how does it feel to write “The End,” knowing you (most likely) will not be spending time with these amazing characters in the future?
JW: I always imagined the Bigfoot stories as a trilogy, and I knew I had enough story for three books. It was just a matter of plotting everything out, of knowing, broadly, what each book would be about, and what ground it would cover. I had a big outline for the entire project, then specific outlines for each book…and I always knew how the story would end. Which isn’t always true with my adult books, but was absolutely true here. Saying goodbye was definitely bittersweet. I’m going to miss Alice and Millie and Jeremy a lot. (To order The Littlest Bigfoot boxed-set collection click here.)
MR: The film rights to The Littlest Bigfoot were sold to Fox 2000 in 2016. Any updates on when fans might be able to see Millie, and Alice, and Jeremy, and Jessica, and Charlotte on the silver screen?
JW: Sadly, no. As I’m writing this, the writer’s strike is just coming to an end. I think it will take a while before I know whether that project will move forward. But, honestly, I’m just so proud to have all three books out in the world, and to have kids using their imagination to bring the world to life.
MR: You are incredibly prolific writer, Jennifer. How do you continue to come up with so many original ideas for your novels, short stories, and works of non-fiction? Is there a secret sauce you can share with Mixed-Up Files readers?
JW: I think spending close to a decade as a newspaper reporter helped a lot. You get used to writing, on deadline, every day, and coming up with lots of ideas for stories. It teaches you to pay attention to the world. That seems to have worked for me.
MR: What does your writing routine look like? Do you have any particular rituals?
JW: I treat writing like a job, and I’m at my desk Monday through Friday, for at least four hours. I try to exercise first thing in the morning – it helps focus my mind, and helps me sit still. I walk my dog and do word games with my husband. Then I go for a slow run, or a bike ride, or a barre class. Then I come home, and I’m generally at my desk from 10 or 11 in the morning to 2 or 3 in the afternoon.
I don’t really have any rituals. Again, I give my past as a journalist credit. When you get used to writing in a newsroom, where it’s noisy, and there are always people talking, and police scanners going off and television sets turned on, you learn to focus, no matter where you are or what else is happening. I’ve got a tiny home office that used to be part of my closet, and I write there most of the time. But I’ve written in coffee shops, and on airplanes, and in hotel rooms, and in my minivan while waiting for my kids to finish at school or rehearsal.
MR: What are you working on now, Jennifer?
JW: Another sister story, about two girls who were in a band, and how the band’s success and eventual breakup affected both of their lives.
MR: And finally, no MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…
Preferred writing snack? Coconut-flavored rice crackers
Coffee or tea? Iced coffee
Bigfoot: Fact or fiction? Fact!
Superpower? Parallel parking
Best piece of writing advice? You can’t be a writer without being a reader.
Favorite place on earth? In my bed, with my dog curled up on a pillow by my head, and a great book.
If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be? My Kindle, my Kindle charger, and a generator to keep my Kindle charged.
MR: Thank you for chatting with us, Jennifer. The Littlest Bigfoot trilogy was a pleasure to read, and I’m sure MUF readers will agree!
Jennifer Weiner, whose books have spent more than five years on the New York Times Best Seller list, with over 11 million copies in print in 36 countries, is the author of the novels Good in Bed (2001); In Her Shoes (2002), Little Earthquakes (2004); Goodnight Nobody (2005); the short story collection The Guy Not Taken (2006); Certain Girls (2008); Best Friends Forever (2009); Fly Away Home (2010); Then Came You (2011); The Next Best Thing (2012); All Fall Down (2014); Who Do You Love (2015); Mrs. Everything (2019); Big Summer (2020); That Summer (2021); The Summer Place (2022), and The Breakaway (2023).
She is also the author of three middle-grade novels, The Littlest Bigfoot (2016), Little Bigfoot, Big City (2017), and The Bigfoot Queen (2023), as well as the nonfiction collection Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing (2016).
Jennifer has appeared on many national television programs, including The Today Show and Good Morning America. Her essays, including “Mean Girls in the Retirement Home” and “First, I Cried; Then, I Rode My Bike,” have appeared in newspapers and media outlets across the world. Jennifer’s work has been published in dozens of newspapers and magazines, including Seventeen, Redbook, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Allure, Ladies’ Home Journal, Time and Good Housekeeping. Learn more about Jennifer on her website and follow her on Instagram.