Martha Brockenbrough always wanted to write books. It’s not an outlandish dream, but as someone from a family of “non-readers,” she was always the odd-one-out.
Brockenbrough worked for her high school and college newspapers before eventually working her way through the journalism industry, eventually ending up as editor at MSN.com.
Brockenbrough wrote her first two books for adults: one about pregnancy; the other on grammar. During that foray into adult literature, she realized her true love was children’s books. She has since written three, and she released her latest one, “Finding Bigfoot: Everything You Need to Know,” in August.
“Finding Bigfoot” is a wildly popular show on Animal Planet. Animal Planet hired Brockenbrough to write the book partly due to the recognition she’d gotten through her nine-year stint as an educational humor columnist for Encarta.com. In that column, she got her first introduction to Bigfoot.
If that column was a handshake with Bigfoot, this book is a full-fledged love affair. Brockenbrough spent two and a half months intensely researching and writing on the aloof creature. She decided to bring in everything she’d learned as a journalist to this book. What resulted was a detailed, researched look at arguments for and against the existence of Bigfoot.
Animal Planet gave Brockenbrough access to its mountain of photos, transcripts and footage. But she had to get through that mountain quickly: She received the assignment just before Christmas last year and had to submit 50,000 fully researched words by March 15.
In many cases, Brockenbrough’s scientific approach came into conflict with the lack of research for a creature most people aren’t sure exists. She got around it by researching other similar animals.
“[On] the show, it’s hard on television to get deep into intimate discussions of science,” she said. They’re out there tromping through the woods. Because I was not tromping through the woods, I could do a lot of science.”
A scientific book on what many would argue is a mythical creature may seem counter-intuitive to some, but Brockenbrough said it’s not so much about Bigfoot himself but about the “search for things and exploration and curiosity, and those are all gifts that science gives us.”
The science gives credibility to an otherwise-fun myth.
“For me, it’s not so much about finding Bigfoot as looking,” she said. “I love that people are out there looking for Bigfoot — what a fun camping trip.”
Brockenbrough was motivated to take this scientific approach because she feels like science is “under siege” in the United States. She’s upset by the news that congressional leaders are trying to eliminate peer review on National Science Foundation grants and 20 percent of school biology teachers claiming to be Creationists.
“There should not be a penny spent on teaching intelligent design as science,” she said. “I tried to make this the most scientific-possible book for young readers about Bigfoot that there is.”
‘The definitive book’
Jean Feiwel, publisher at Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group in New York City, said she wanted to make “the definitive Bigfoot book.”
Brockenbrough’s writing brought a sense of fun and curiosity to the subject. Many Bigfoot authors just rewrite research verbatim, Feiwel said, but Brockenbrough “made it her own.”
With books like these, “you can’t discount everything,” Feiwel said. “You have to go in and embrace everything. She was taking this on a journey with her.”
The chapters include tips for Bigfoot hunters: from how to pack and prepare for an expedition to how to take field notes like a wildlife biologist and how to make a cast of a footprint.
Other highlights include jokes and Bigfoot-themed recipes, like Yeti Spaghetti and Butternut-Squatch Soup. The main audience for her book is middle school-aged boys, Brockenbrough said.
The book’s interest doesn’t stop with children, though, Feiwel said; there are plenty of adults, herself included, who are Bigfoot believers.
“Being in children’s book publishing — Bigfoot is one of those tried-and-true categories that children love,” she said.
Bigfoot has become a big trend recently, Brockenbrough said, from books to toys to sculptures. She thinks that fascination comes from the cool factor of discovering a new animal, as well as the animal’s inherent “kitsch value.”
“You always want to write about something that people are going to read,” she said.
‘A lonely experience’
Brockenbrough loved working with Macmillan and Animal Planet team because “to write a whole novel on your own is an incredibly difficult and lonely experience.” The editors and designers inspired her, especially with the fun, full-color designs on every page, she said.
Brockenbrough likes to write in coffee shops in Madison Park, Madrona and Queen Anne. She goes to El Diablo (1811 Queen Anne Ave. N.) in Queen Anne to get its “ridiculous” Cuban toast before she “dives into” her laptop to work.
While promoting this book, Brockenbrough was finishing two more books that will release in 2015: One is a novel set in 1937 Seattle, about “two young jazz musicians who do not realize that they’re the pawns in a deadly game played by love and death.” The other is a picture book based on a letter her daughter wrote while a third-grader at Epiphany School in Madrona.
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