Life often inspires art, but rarely do the two align with such symmetry as they did for debut author Jeff Stone. An adoptee who had conducted a 15-year search for his birth mother, Stone succeeded in his quest just a week after he completed Tiger: The Five Ancestors #1, the first novel in a series about five orphaned brothers. In an uncanny twist of fate, the author's fictional explorations served as a catalyst for resolving an unwritten chapter from his past.
Stone says his journey started with two objectives. "I was going through an early midlife crisis and realized there were two major things I wanted to try to accomplish in life one was to write a book and the other was to find my birth mother," he told BookPage from his Indiana home. Stone eventually came up with an idea that would allow him to work toward both goals: he would write a series of children's books that explored the different sides of adoption, particularly the range of emotions and stages that adoptees go through during searches.
Stone also drew inspiration from his practice of Shaolin kung fu, an ancient discipline based on a rich history of Chinese legends, myths and philosophies. Stone, who has earned a second-degree brown belt, was particularly intrigued by the legend of five warrior monks who miraculously escaped the destruction of China's famed Shaolin Temple in the 17th century. He thought it would be interesting to approach the story from a child's perspective by asking what would happen if the five young monks were forced to deal with this tragic event while simultaneously trying to uncover their own mysterious pasts. This hypothetical scenario plays out in Tiger, which follows the adventures of the orphaned monks as they are raised in a secret temple under the tutelage of an avuncular kung fu Grandmaster.
While there are many reasons children will fall in love with this exciting new series, Stone says, "I just hope kids will be inspired to recognize that everyone has individual strengths and weaknesses. If they can embrace the differences and build on their strengths, it will make the world a better place for them." The author's own lifelong passion for martial arts and Asian culture may seem incongruous in light of his Polish heritage and Midwest upbringing, but Stone says it was a childhood love of '70s kung fu TV shows that ignited his imagination. "It drove my parents nuts," he admits, laughing. But this portrayal of a distant and unfamiliar world appealed to him, he says, "because that foreign feeling was something I felt growing up all the time, looking and feeling a little bit out of place, and [the shows] transported me to another world." Stone realized that "a lot of adoptees, including myself, struggle with nature vs. nurture issues," so he decided to incorporate this conflict into the lives of the young monks in his series.
Stone faced these issues head-on while writing the book and searching for his biological mother, but fate dealt an unexpected blow when he lost his job during the process. Fortunately, his four-year-old daughter provided the encouragement he needed to forge ahead. "I was sitting there one day, kind of down, and she came up and handed me a scrap of paper. I asked her what it was and she said, 'It's your new business card!'" It said simply, 'Daddy, Write Books' and his daughter matter-of-factly informed him, "You love to write books, Daddy, so just do that."
Fortunately, Stone took this youthful advice to heart and finshed Tiger, which was snapped up in a heated publishing auction shortly after he was happily reunited with his birth mother. He has since completed the manuscript for the second book in the series, Monkey, due out this fall, and there are five more books in the works. In a fitting finale, this spring Stone is visiting the Shaolin Temple in China, where he hopes to test for his black belt and bring closure to a journey that has come full circle.