Matthew Swanson here. I’m the author of The Real McCoys series, which recounts the adventures of an indomitable ten-year-old named Moxie and her complement of a little brother Milton.
I started writing the first book suddenly one day, chasing down a voice that had popped into my head. I shared the early draft with our agent Meredith, and she made a few excellent suggestions (not the least of which was that Moxie should be girl (in that early draft, she’d been a boy named Herman).
I wrote and wrote, and a story emerged, the tale of a sister/brother problem solving team named Maggie and Herman. Meredith pitched the book to an editor named Erin (who was already publishing a few of our picture books), and Erin said yes. There was tremendous hooting from the Barn (Robbi [my wife and the book’s illustrator] and I work and live in the hayloft of an old barn). Erin liked the book very much. But she was not sold on the names Maggie and Herman.
And so we thought and thought. Eventually, the name Moxie came to mind. Robbi thinks it was her mind, and I think it was mine. We may never solve that mystery, but a love of alliteration led us to round out the pairing by convincing Herman to change his name to Milton.
But what is Moxie? Beyond a word that means “force of character, determination, or nerve”?
Moxie is a soft drink that originated in 1876 as a patent medicine known as Moxie Nerve Food. I’ll let Wikipedia do the heavy lifting, but the thing I didn’t know until I did a little research was that the adjective “moxie” derives from the beverage and not the other way around. Apparently, the marketing campaign was so successful that it made people want to drink a beverage of unquestionable bitterness. And so successful that it became synonymous with vitality and pluck.
I mean, look at this guy. Have you ever seen such moxie?
In book 1 of The Real McCoys, our heroine Moxie explains her name by telling us that her mom bought her dad a bottle of Moxie on their very first date, wanting to make sure he liked the taste because it was “just like her, a perfect blend of bitter and sweet.”
The author in me liked the sound of Moxie and I liked the backstory, but because Moxie is bottled only in New Hampshire and not terribly well-known in the Mid-Atlantic, the consumer of beverages in me had never actually TASTED it.
But last year when were were in Decatur, Georgia for the Decatur Book Festival, we found a novelty shop that offered hundreds of varieties of soda, one of which, was Moxie.
We bought a bottle. I took a sip.
I tasted the bitter. I tasted the sweet. I contemplated the complex happenings in my mouth.
The conclusion: I would drink Moxie again. Maybe not every day. But sometimes. When I want to embrace the power of contradiction. Or maybe when I have a cold that will not seem to lift.
Robbi had a different take.
Which is to say, I’m glad that I’m not Moxie’s mom. And I’m glad that Robbi isn’t Moxie’s dad.
Though in a way, we certainly are her parents.