This summer, West Virginia University Press is pleased to publish Tom Bredehoft’s Foote: A Mystery Novel. (While the official pub date is August 1, the book ships now when ordered from our site.) It’s a tale of a private investigator in Morgantown who has a secret he dares not reveal: he is a bigfoot living in plain sight, charged with keeping his people in the surrounding hills from being discovered. Jordan Farmer said of the novel: “Part mystery, part fable but all original, Jim Foote is sure to be one of your favorite literary detectives—cryptid or otherwise.” Here Bredehoft talks with Vesto PR’s Caitlin Solano for our blog.
What inspired the story about a bigfoot private investigator?
My wife and I came up with the idea on a walk along the Mon River Trail in Morgantown, looking up at some of the rock formations and idly thinking that they might make a good hiding place for a cryptid. Neither one of us remembers clearly who said the actual phrase “bigfoot PI,” but as soon as it was out there, I knew I could have fun with it. She says that she’s had lots of conversations when someone has said “That could be a novel!” but I think she was surprised when I actually wrote it.
What kind of research did you do for this novel? Were you able to find a comprehensive history of bigfoot sightings in West Virginia and the greater Appalachia region?
I don’t think I did any research on bigfoot at all! I have often heard the old advice to “Write what you know,” and so I just told myself at the very start that no one could know any more about my bigfoot (and their history and place in the world) than me, so I pretty much felt free to go my own way. I did do some small bits of research on West Virginia history here and there to make the setting seem right.
The story is set in Morgantown, WV, where you live. What was it like to create a fictional world while experiencing its everyday reality?
I felt like Morgantown itself was a character in the book. Since Big Jim narrates the book, and he tells us right up front that he is in the business of telling humans plausible lies to keep the existence of bigfoot a secret, I knew that it would be important to keep the setting and the place as real as possible. But it’s been fun, too, to look around town every day and try to see how it all might look from a different set of eyes.
Did you set out to examine topics such as otherness, humanity, and drug addiction or did it evolve naturally?
It’s fair to say that the book evolved as I wrote it. But from a very early point, I knew that the book would have to be about secrets and lies: Big Jim himself has a secret, and he tells as many lies as he needs to in order to keep that secret. Perhaps it says something about me, but I can’t help feeling that having secrets and telling lies is a very human way to live, as well as something that Big Jim needs in order to do his job. And it seemed to me, as I worked my way through the book, that West Virginia has an incredibly colorful and also tragic history of secrets and lies centered around illegal substances: both moonshine and opioid drugs. In the end, I still felt like I was barely scratching the surface of these stories.
It seemed to me, as I worked my way through the book, that West Virginia has an incredibly colorful and also tragic history of secrets and lies centered around illegal substances: both moonshine and opioid drugs.
Can you talk a bit how you went from specializing in medieval literature as an English professor to writing a cryptid detective novel?
Well, the longer I was an English professor, the more I realized how much imagination I needed in order to try to understand people and literature from a culture radically different from my own. And of course literature is filled with characters who might have been bigfoot: from Polyphemus in the Odyssey to Grendel and his Mother in Beowulf, to all sorts of giants and trolls and wild men like Caliban in The Tempest. We could do a lot worse than to imagine that the original readers of some of these works understood such characters as cryptids!
Which writers in the mystery genre or otherwise influence your writing?
When I was young, I always imagined that if I wrote fiction, it would be science fiction, and I still read a great deal in that genre. Two series that have, perhaps, influenced me, if only indirectly, are C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner books and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga. In one the central character is the lone human living and working in the midst of an alien culture, and in the other, the human hero has a secret identity which must be protected—and in the later volumes, he eventually takes up work which is essentially detective work. Neither was a conscious influence while I was writing Foote, but recent re-readings of both series have helped me see linkages.
Literature is filled with characters who might have been bigfoot: from Polyphemus in the Odyssey to Grendel and his Mother in Beowulf, to all sorts of giants and trolls and wild men like Caliban in The Tempest.
What books are you reading now?
I have been working my way through Donna Leon’s Inspector Brunetti mystery series, and very much enjoying them. Brunetti’s Venice is also a kind of character in those books. I also quite liked Nita Prose’s new mystery, The Maid. And I recently dipped back into the Golden Age with Patricia Wentworth’s Outrageous Fortune.
Any plans for a Big Jim Foote series? Can you say what your next project will be?
I very much hope there will be a series of Big Jim Foote mysteries, and I have been hard at work on some ideas for sequels. One I am excited about is a “heist” book, in which Jim teams up with the Flatwoods Monster and the Mothman to pull off a complicated but necessary theft. I’ve been working most recently on the story of when Jim first arrives in Morgantown in 1947. More or less by chance, he falls in with a group of veterans back from the war, who are doing their best to settle into civilian life as the first set of university freshmen on the GI Bill. I like where this one is going, because the GIs have a lot to teach Jim, both about fitting in and about knowing when not to fit it. And of course, there’s always a mystery to be solved.