Joni Rendon

Behind the Book by

Blame it all on Jane Austen. From the moment I gazed reverentially upon the three-legged writing table at which she pondered truths universally acknowledged and penned masterpieces like Persuasion, I became an unabashed literary voyeur. Standing in the modest red-brick cottage, I felt my pulse race and my skin prickle at the visceral sensation of inhabiting her world.

After that, it was no longer enough to merely delve into the pages of my well-thumbed classics and literary biographies. Instead, I had to follow a trail of ink drops to where the stories got their start. As an American newly transplanted to London, it was easy to fan the flames of my obsession.

Bypassing Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace (they could wait), I made a beeline to humbler destinations like the brick Georgian dwelling where Dickens penned Oliver Twist. I even stumbled upon literary riches while strolling my own neighborhood, once home to Victorian essayist Thomas Carlyle. Venturing into his quaint historic house, I found myself lusting after his soundproof attic study and cringing at a charred scrap of paper on display—all that remained of one of his lengthy manuscripts after a maid accidentally set it alight. 

These emotionally charged moments are what draw me time and again to the personality-filled homes and haunts where scribes once dreamed, dozed, drank and drew inspiration. Fortunately, my bibliophilic friend, Shannon, is equally afflicted by this compulsion. The mere mention of Wuthering Heights was enough to inspire her to pack a bag and book a transatlantic flight from New Jersey for a sojourn to the Yorkshire moors.

At the Brontë Parsonage Museum, we grew misty-eyed gazing at the black couch where 30-year-old Emily had gasped her dying breath from tuberculosis, and stared in disbelief at the tiny dresses of diminutive Charlotte, who succumbed to illness a few years later. Alas, we didn't meet Heathcliff while rambling across the brooding moors, though the atmospheric conditions did inspire us to contemplate future literary pilgrimages.

With our writerly imaginations fueled by a few pints of sturdy Yorkshire ale, we ruminated about creating a booklover's Baedeker that would take us from Steinbeck's Monterey to Dostoevsky's St. Petersburg and all points in between. But more than just crafting a bibliophile's Life List of must-see literary locales, above all, we wanted to illuminate the behind-the-scenes stories that captured the magic and romance of places famed novelists had once made their own.

We were fortunate that Novel Destinations soon found a home with an editor whose love for literary travel rivals our own (she once considered selling an organ to buy the Connecticut abode of Fitzgerald and Hemingway's legendary editor, Max Perkins!). Working together made the monumental task of researching hundreds of destinations seem manageable, and writing the book gave us the perfect excuse to visit more literary locales than we'd ever dreamed possible.

While my not-so-literary husband graciously tagged along to soak up the sun in Ernest Hemingway's Key West and tilt at Quixote's windmills in central Spain, it was more gratifying to travel with Shannon, who never tired of waxing poetic on Austen's heroines or Edith Wharton's impeccable taste. One of our favorite trips à deux was to Paris, where we luxuriated in the lavishly decorated Maison de Victor Hugo and were reprimanded for trying a little too zealously to find a secret staircase said to be used by his mistress. Later that night, we toasted Shannon's birthday at Le Procope, where Hugo and other scribes once dined. Despite the standoffish service, we refrained from behaving like former patron Oscar Wilde, who banged his walking stick on the table to attract a waiter's attention.

Since closing the final chapter on our literary labor of love, my book-stuffed suitcase continues to stand at the ready for more adventure. Just like the eager 10-year-old in me who always begged the librarian to take home "just one more book," I will forever be angling for my next literary fix. Back then, mere words were enough to transport me, but these days, traveling off the page is the way I prefer to see the world.

When not taking to the road, travel writer Joni Rendon resides in her adopted home city of London. The literary travel guide Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemingway's Key West is her first book, written in collaboration with longtime friend and fellow travel writer Shannon McKenna Schmidt.

 

Blame it all on Jane Austen. From the moment I gazed reverentially upon the three-legged writing table at which she pondered truths universally acknowledged and penned masterpieces like Persuasion, I became an unabashed literary voyeur. Standing in the modest red-brick cottage, I felt my pulse race and my skin prickle at the visceral sensation of […]
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The legend of Dracula is one of the world's most enduring, spanning over 500 years since the death of the fearsome Romanian prince who inspired it, Vlad the Impaler. Thus it seems only fitting that any literary endeavor attempting to take on a historical and mythical figure of this magnitude should require time, patience and fortitude. Fortunately, debut novelist Elizabeth Kostova didn't shy away from the challenge, investing 10 long years of writing and research into what has become one of the most anticipated novels of the year, The Historian.

Kostova's keen interest in the subject stems from a childhood of being entertained by her father's stories of Bram Stoker's Dracula. From these early fictional seeds, her fertile imagination took flight, eventually percolating into an epic and unforgettable story of such breathtaking scope that it seems to belie classification as a debut novel.

Arcing back and forth between the 1970s and the 1950s, The Historian follows a motherless young girl's quest to learn the truth about her father's secret past and his search through Cold War-era Eastern Europe for the murderous fiend that has cost him so much—Dracula. The two journeys eventually become one as the story traces the monster's footsteps from the hallowed halls of Oxford to the mist-shrouded mountains of Transylvania and finally to a medieval monastery that yields a shocking truth. Going back in time to the Middle Ages, the novel peels back centuries of history and myth, threading together a chilling hypothetical portrayal of Dracula's lingering bloodthirsty presence into modern times.

It is this stunning fictional premise, made all the more plausible by the novel's rich historical context and use of epistolary narrative devices and archival documents, that makes The Historian so viscerally alluring. Ambitiously transcending genres, it succeeds equally as a terrifying gothic thriller, enlightening historical novel and haunting love story. Though the shifts between the two main storylines are occasionally awkward, Kostova's masterful and atmospheric storytelling yields a bewitching and paradoxical tale that would satiate even the prince of darkness himself.

 

RELATED CONTENT

Behind a blockbuster
Among the many debut novels published each year, only a small percentage are granted generous advances, film rights sales and the full force of a publishing house's publicity machine. In 1997, the debut novel that drew the world's attention was Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha. This year, the smash hit in the first-novel category is unarguably Elizabeth Kostova's vampire novel The Historian, which has more than 800,000 copies in print. Ten years in the making, the novel follows a young girl who takes up her father's quest to find the real Dracula. Kostova was inspired both by her own father's vampire stories, and by her experiences living and traveling in Eastern Europe as the Iron Curtain fell. On one such trip to Bulgaria in 1989, she met her future husband, Georgi Kostov, who later emigrated to the U.S. Told partially through letters and punctuated by digressions on European history and vampire lore, Kostova's novel might not have looked like a sure bet. However, when the book was published in mid-June, first-day sales topped those of another surprise blockbuster, The Da Vinci Code, and it hasn't left the bestseller lists since. The leisurely pace and literary style of The Historian are quite different from the hectic speed of Dan Brown's novel, but both books blend fact and fiction in interesting ways and both keep readers eagerly turning the pages. Kostova has said that her next novel will be vampire-free, though it still deals with her first love, history. Whatever the subject, her phenomenal success guarantees that the book will resemble its predecessor in at least one respect: sales figures.

—BookPage

The legend of Dracula is one of the world's most enduring, spanning over 500 years since the death of the fearsome Romanian prince who inspired it, Vlad the Impaler. Thus it seems only fitting that any literary endeavor attempting to take on a historical and mythical figure of this magnitude should require time, patience and fortitude. Fortunately, debut novelist Elizabeth Kostova didn't shy away from the challenge, investing 10 long years of writing and research into what has become one of the most anticipated novels of the year, The Historian.

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What would happen if the man you just married yet hardly knew died suddenly, leaving behind not only a vast fortune, but a host of secrets as well? If you were an aristocrat in Victorian England, you'd certainly let sleeping dogs lie and focus your attentions on finding a new husband after an appropriate period of mourning. Fortunately for us, the independent-minded heroine in Tasha Alexander's debut novel has other ideas. Lady Emily Ashton has never been one to follow society's conventions, and after finding a mysterious cautionary note in her late husband Philip's personal effects, she decides to investigate his death.

Embarking on a search for answers that takes her from the halls of the British Museum to Paris and beyond, Emily plunges into a fascinating world of ancient antiquities, Greek mythology and scholarly pursuits not at all suited for a lady, as her class-conscious mother constantly reminds her. Undeterred, she delves further into her investigations and finds herself belatedly falling in love with her late husband, whom she'd married primarily as a means of escaping her mother's clutches. When her sleuthing reveals elements of forgery, theft and deception lurking beneath the surface of the genteel world of statuary collecting beloved by her husband, Emily ends up facing the same danger that may have brought about his untimely demise. Confiding in two of his dearest friends, both of whom vie feverishly for her affections, she soon realizes that in life, as in art, appearances can be deceiving.

Engagingly suspenseful and rich with period detail, And Only to Deceive provides a fascinating look at the repressive social mores and painstaking rules of etiquette in Victorian high society. Barrier-breaking sleuth Nancy Drew has nothing on Alexander's fearless and tenacious Lady Emily, and readers will be glad to discover that there's an encore performance in the works for this unconventional heroine.

Joni Rendon lives in London and loves novels about Victorian England, but is grateful for today's more relaxed code of conduct.

 

What would happen if the man you just married yet hardly knew died suddenly, leaving behind not only a vast fortune, but a host of secrets as well? If you were an aristocrat in Victorian England, you'd certainly let sleeping dogs lie and focus your attentions on finding a new husband after an appropriate period of mourning. Fortunately for us, the independent-minded heroine in Tasha Alexander's debut novel has other ideas.
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The cacophony of sights, sounds and smells emanating from the seamier side of Victorian London seethe like the city itself in the pages of this highly atmospheric debut novel that chooses an unusual backdrop for murder: the city's sewers. During this era, crumbling subterranean tunnels festered beneath the cobbled streets, absorbing the city's detritus and spewing it out into the Thames, which had become a giant, odiferous cesspool. By the summer of 1858, things had reached a fever pitch as a cholera epidemic ravaged the city and a sewage backup gave rise to a stench so repulsive it became known as "The Great Stink." It is within this pungent milieu that Clare Clark sets her richly imagined story of murder, madness and corruption centering on a humble surveyor with the Metropolitan Board of Works, William May. After witnessing the atrocities of war on the Crimean frontlines, William returns home in a precarious mental state, finding comfort in his wife and child as well as in his work assessing the decrepit sewers. But after a murder occurs in his subterranean sanctuary, he plunges into a madness so profound that it nearly destroys his family, his tenuous connection to reality and even his very life, as he finds himself standing trial for the crime. The only one who can save him is a Dickensian sewer scavenger, Long Arm Tom, who knows more than he cares to share and has a score of his own to settle. Interspersing the narratives of the two men, The Great Stink takes us on a fascinating aboveground tour of London's corrupt bureaucracies, raucous taverns and overcrowded tenements, by way of the labyrinthine underworld that connects them all. Combining riveting fact with imaginative fiction, the author brings to heady olfactory life the fascinating political machinations surrounding the birth of the city's modern sewer system. As deeply engrossing and evocative as the novels of Caleb Carr and Charles Palliser, The Great Stink shines a lantern into the dark and uncelebrated recesses where few have dared venture before.

 

Joni Rendon writes from London, where she is very grateful indeed for the Victorian modernization of the sewage system.

 

The cacophony of sights, sounds and smells emanating from the seamier side of Victorian London seethe like the city itself in the pages of this highly atmospheric debut novel that chooses an unusual backdrop for murder: the city's sewers. During this era, crumbling subterranean tunnels festered beneath the cobbled streets, absorbing the city's detritus and […]
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Fans of Sue Monk Kidd's best-selling debut novel, The Secret Life of Bees, will be equally enamored with her beguiling sophomore effort, The Mermaid Chair, which revisits some of the terrain of its predecessor but in an altogether new context. Though the novel centers on a middle-aged woman rather than a young girl, it remains a coming-of-age story of sorts, and its themes of self-discovery, parental loss and the redeeming power of love echo those of Kidd's earlier work.

Jessie Sullivan returns home to the South Carolina island of her youth after finding out that her estranged mother Nelle has committed a bizarre act of self-mutilation. While attempting to uncover the secrets of her mother's tormented past, she meets Brother Thomas, a Benedictine monk from the neighboring abbey, with whom she shares an immediate and powerful attraction. As their relationship unfolds, Jessie undergoes a seismic spiritual, artistic and erotic awakening, shedding the confines of her 20-year marriage and her circumscribed roles as wife and mother. When Nelle's mental state takes a turn for the worse, her eccentric and endearing friends stage a dramatic intervention in which Jessie learns the truth about the death of her beloved father decades earlier. Freed from the guilt and sorrow that have weighed on her since childhood, she is finally able to take possession of herself and begin life anew.

As in the author's previous novel, myth and legend figure prominently in the narrative, here in the form of the title's eponymous chair residing in the island's abbey. Intricately carved with mermaids and dedicated to Senara, a mermaid turned saint, the chair's purported power to answer prayers has long captivated the imagination of hopeful supplicants. But as Jessie discovers with her misguided desire for Brother Thomas, the chair's mythical qualities are no shortcut to enlightenment and serenity. Reconciling the spiritual with the human, The Mermaid Chair is a captivating metaphorical and sensual journey into one woman's soul. Weaving enduring folklore about the seductive and transformative power of mermaids into a modern-day tale of rebirth, the novel shows us that sometimes we need to swim out to sea for the currents to carry us back home.

Joni Rendon writes from Hoboken, New Jersey.

Fans of Sue Monk Kidd's best-selling debut novel, The Secret Life of Bees, will be equally enamored with her beguiling sophomore effort, The Mermaid Chair, which revisits some of the terrain of its predecessor but in an altogether new context. Though the novel centers on a middle-aged woman rather than a young girl, it remains […]
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Mary Gordon's novel Pearl is a weighty meditation on the complexity of familial bonds and the burdens of guilt and forgiveness. On an otherwise unremarkable Christmas Day, single mother Maria Meyers receives an earth-shattering phone call from the State Department. Her beloved daughter Pearl, studying abroad in Ireland, has embarked on a six-week hunger strike and chained herself to a pole in front of the American Embassy for reasons that remain unclear. Frantic, Maria heads to Ireland, hoping she can intervene before it's too late. The only clues to Pearl's bizarre actions are gleaned from letters found on the ground beside her nearly comatose body: one is addressed to her mother and the other to close family friend Joseph Kasperman. In the documents, Pearl declares she is sacrificing her life to bear witness to the death of a young boy, an event for which she feels partially responsible, as well as to make a political statement for the peace process. Arriving on the scene, Maria struggles to piece together the private world of the daughter she thought she knew one whose seemingly well-adjusted, apolitical veneer bore no hint of the tortured emotions that led her to these actions. As Pearl hovers on the brink of death, Maria and Joseph must instill in her the will to live while facing down their own recriminations for past failures. This moving philosophical novel lends many penetrating insights into the human psyche, although the intrusive presence of an unidentified narrator erects a barrier that keeps the reader from becoming fully engaged in the plight of the characters. Fortunately, the author's sharply observed, intimate portraits of the characters' emotional lives overcomes the distance invoked by the narrative voice.

Most compelling of all is the nuanced portrayal of the changes wrought within Maria, Joseph and Pearl as they grapple with some of life's universal questions. The ultimately uplifting message delivered is that hope springs from the power of human beings to change and that the sheer act of living makes a stronger statement than even the noblest of deaths can achieve.

Mary Gordon's novel Pearl is a weighty meditation on the complexity of familial bonds and the burdens of guilt and forgiveness. On an otherwise unremarkable Christmas Day, single mother Maria Meyers receives an earth-shattering phone call from the State Department. Her beloved daughter Pearl, studying abroad in Ireland, has embarked on a six-week hunger strike […]
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Disparate family histories collide and long-buried secrets resurface in this ingeniously crafted modern-day suspense narrative that combines elements of a traditional detective novel with riveting psychological character studies. Kate Atkinson, award-winning British author of Behind the Scenes at the Museum and two other novels, artfully incorporates her gothic sensibility and keen observations on human nature into a compelling page-turner that explores the fine line between love and obsession, grief and recovery, guilt and redemption.

Case Histories introduces us to a convincing mix of unconventional families and imperfect individuals whose lives are pockmarked by loss, abandonment and regret. Startling connections between them emerge when three different decades-old mysteries are thrust into the lap of private detective Jackson Brodie. First, there's the disappearance of three-year-old Olivia Land, whose aging sisters discover a disquieting clue among their deceased father's possessions; then the inexplicable stabbing of 18-year-old Laura Wyre by a deranged stranger during a routine workday at her father's law office; and finally, the grisly ax murder of a hapless husband ostensibly by his young wife in a fit of despair and rage. The tragedy and horror of these bygone crimes is brought sharply into focus through the use of omniscient narration, which crisscrosses family histories and vividly allows us to examine the three crime scenes in both the past and present tense.

Although decades may have intervened and the tragic headlines are now forgotten by most, the family members affected by these traumas still crave closure, leading them to Brodie's doorstep in a final attempt to lay their ghosts to rest. The emphatic private eye absorbs the burden of their collective grief while attempting to track down new leads and piece together the missing links of the long-unsolved cases. Meanwhile, he struggles with his own host of personal problems including an acrimonious divorce, a daughter growing up too quickly, and the sudden appearance of a mysterious enemy who seems to want him dead. Increasingly, Brodie's own life takes a backseat as he becomes irreversibly entangled in the melancholic lives of his clients the quirky and spinsterish Land sisters, the lonely and grief-obsessed father Theo Wyre, and the enigmatic sister of the convicted ax murderess, who harbors a dark secret. As he begins to unravel the threads of their seemingly incongruous cases, he uncovers subtle connections and painful truths that eventually help heal old wounds as well as bring his own troubles into sharp relief.

Featuring an engagingly offbeat private detectives and an equally intriguing cast of complex and lovably eccentric characters, Case Histories propels the reader forward with a rare intensity and compassion. With an unerring eye for domestic detail, Atkinson peels back the cozy trappings of family life to expose the imperfections that often lie beneath the favoritism, selfishness and jealousy that can form dangerous fault lines. Expertly laying bare human frailties and failings, the novel exposes the indelible bonds that connect individuals and the power of emotions to alter the course of family histories. Atkinson has conjured a wonderfully inventive take on the classic detective novel that jolts readers out of complacency by combining ordinary settings with macabre twists. The result is a highly original and entertaining novel that is the author's best to date, successfully blending elements of comedy and tragedy with rich insights into the human heart.

 

Joni Rendon writes from Hoboken, New Jersey.

Disparate family histories collide and long-buried secrets resurface in this ingeniously crafted modern-day suspense narrative that combines elements of a traditional detective novel with riveting psychological character studies. Kate Atkinson, award-winning British author of Behind the Scenes at the Museum and two other novels, artfully incorporates her gothic sensibility and keen observations on human nature […]
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The sprawling, multigenerational debut novel by Ingrid Hill deftly arcs back and forth between past and present to explore the hidden connections in our lives and the fragility of human life. When two-year-old Ursula Wong falls into an abandoned mine shaft, a community is galvanized in a dangerous rescue effort that has far greater significance than anyone present can possibly imagine.

As the only child of a woman of Finnish descent and her Chinese-American husband, Ursula is the modern-day culmination of the dreams and struggles of two disparate lineages. Ursula's birth was nothing short of a miracle, given the crippling pelvic injuries her mother sustained in a childhood accident. But in one horrible instant, the gift of Ursula's life is almost extinguished as arbitrarily as it was granted. While Ursula's fate hangs in the balance, we travel back in time to trace the extraordinary lives of her ancestors, many of whom also came into being against incredible odds. We encounter a Chinese alchemist in second-century B.C. who fathers a child at age 79, a 16th-century Finnish widow who bravely escapes a leper colony to go in search of her orphaned son, and a host of immigrants struggling for a better life in America, including Ursula's great-grandfather, who dies in a mining accident eerily presaging her own fall. Each of these links in the chain of Ursula's genetic lineage is bound together by countless little twists of fate to which her own existence is tied.

The great beauty of this novel lies in the hauntingly resonant voices of Ursula's ancestors and the author's skillful weaving of their individual stories into an integrated family history spanning 2,000 years. This vast and prismatic narrative technique shows us that life, indeed, is a miracle, and that history is alive, embodied in the individual triumphs and tragedies that make up the collective human experience. A powerful meditation on origins, Ursula, Under poetically demonstrates how centuries-old connections can reverberate into the present.

 

The sprawling, multigenerational debut novel by Ingrid Hill deftly arcs back and forth between past and present to explore the hidden connections in our lives and the fragility of human life. When two-year-old Ursula Wong falls into an abandoned mine shaft, a community is galvanized in a dangerous rescue effort that has far greater significance […]
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Peter Mayle's latest irresistible tale is sure to tantalize the legions of Francophiles and armchair travelers who have flocked to his earlier best-selling books. A Good Year is vintage Mayle, transporting us to sun-drenched Provence through its sensual rendering of the region's sights, sounds and especially flavors.

Max Skinner is a down-on-his-luck Englishman who inherits an aging chateau and vineyard from his uncle. He takes up residency in France hoping to seek his fortunes in wine, but his visions of Euro signs are quickly dashed when he discovers the vineyard's wine is so bad it's nearly undrinkable. Matters become further complicated by the unexpected arrival of a beautiful American heir, the daughter his uncle never knew he had. When the two seek the advice of a wine expert, the property's doting and affable caretaker, Roussel, makes a startling revelation: he'd been cultivating a special parcel of land and selling its top-quality wine under the table. More plot twists and turns abound as the trio discovers a scam far more lucrative and devious than they could have ever imagined.

Brimming with colorful, eccentric characters, A Good Year offers both a behind-the-scenes peek at the high-stakes wine business and a voyeuristic portrait of Provencal village life. Richly evocative of the pleasures of both place and palate, Mayle's latest is sure to entertain and delight his many devotees.

Joni Rendon writes from Hoboken, New Jersey.

Peter Mayle's latest irresistible tale is sure to tantalize the legions of Francophiles and armchair travelers who have flocked to his earlier best-selling books. A Good Year is vintage Mayle, transporting us to sun-drenched Provence through its sensual rendering of the region's sights, sounds and especially flavors. Max Skinner is a down-on-his-luck Englishman who inherits […]
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Janis Hallowell's mystical and emotionally charged debut novel is both an unusual coming of age story and a modern-day parable about the seductive powers of belief. Chester, a homeless schizophrenic, envisions 14-year-old Francesca Dunn as the Virgin Mary incarnate, thus igniting a religious frenzy that engulfs many in its powerful wake. Through the use of four narrators who embody distinctly different views on belief, we see how faith can take various forms, all of which can be damaging in their extremes. The multiple narrative voices allow us to observe events from many perspectives as they swirl around the easily suggestible Francesca, who resides in the eye of the storm.

After a purported healing seems to substantiate Chester's vision, Francesca is besieged by legions of followers searching for salvation and desperate to believe in the miraculous over the mundane. As they make her the unwitting repository for all of their needs and desires, she becomes dangerously convinced of her own divine powers. The inattentions of her preoccupied, recently divorced parents and the self-centered opportunism of the people charged with protecting her succeed in fanning the flames to a fever pitch. When the tide begins to turn against Francesca, the passion of her followers turns murderous, and events unfold that force her to face her own very human limitations.

In Francesca and Chester respectively, Hallowell perfectly captures the fragile vulnerability of adolescence and the precarious divide between the delusional and the visionary. Her inventive hands create a world of clever ambiguity that casts a hypnotic spell on the reader, mesmerizing us with its delicate, delicious dance between the possible and the improbable.

Beautifully written and brimming with strong, appealingly eccentric characters, this magical and modern twist on the story of the Virgin's Annunciation raises intriguing questions about the nature of contemporary faith and religion.

Joni Rendon writes from Hoboken, New Jersey.

 

Janis Hallowell's mystical and emotionally charged debut novel is both an unusual coming of age story and a modern-day parable about the seductive powers of belief. Chester, a homeless schizophrenic, envisions 14-year-old Francesca Dunn as the Virgin Mary incarnate, thus igniting a religious frenzy that engulfs many in its powerful wake. Through the use of […]
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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.

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 […]

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