Goshen News, Goshen, IN

April 23, 2012

Everybody is kung fu reading

Author of popular book series visits Middlebury students


MIDDLEBURY —  “The first thing is that I love to learn new stuff,” said author Jeff Stone. “The second thing is that I love to tell everyone.”

Stone, author of the award-winning Five Ancestors series, visited Northridge Middle School students Friday and Middlebury Community Library patrons Friday evening.

The series features five orphan monks in 1650s China, each trained in a different kung fu animal fighting style, and each on the search to discover their past that will help them save the future.

When Stone says he loves to learn “new stuff,” he’s not talking about book learning.

“I really didn’t read much when I was a kid,” Stone said. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t important in my house.”

But he was active in school, participating in baseball, football, basketball, soccer and track. He had always been interested in martial arts, but never had the opportunity to pursue that sport.

Stone, a Michigan native now living in central Indiana, attended Michigan State University as an engineering student, switching to an English and journalism major.

“Writing came easy,” Stone said. “I ended up with an internship at General Motors as a technical writer for the advanced engineering staff.”

In his last semester at Michigan State, Stone finally began a life-long passion. He took Tae Kwon Do lessons, earning a yellow belt.

The classes ended with his graduation and Stone didn’t pursue martial arts for another 10 years.

Then in his early 30s married with two children, Stone still had a list of “big things” he wanted to do. His list contained three items. Get in shape. Find his birth mother. Write a book.

And with that list Five Ancestors began to take shape.

Stone pursued martial arts at a high level, learning Shaolin Du Kung Fu, and having the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to test for his black belt at the legendary Shaolin Temple in China.

“It was a little intimidating,” Stone remembered. “But I was so focused from move to move that I really don’t remember anything.”

He didn’t remember swinging a staff, jumping and almost hitting a tree. He didn’t remember losing his glasses. And he didn’t notice that what started out as a group of 50 spectators turned into hundreds including several temple monks and busloads of tourists.

Fortunately for Stone, he passed the test. He could check one thing off his list.

With this experience and a journalism degree behind him, Stone began writing the first book of the series.

“I tell everyone to write what they know,” Stone said. “And I tell them to show the reader what you mean, don’t tell them.”

He advises students not to describe a character, but to put them in a situation that shows their qualities, strengths and weaknesses.

And while that new project was underway, Stone returned to a familiar story — trying to locate his birth mother.

“I tried five major searches over 15 years and didn’t have any luck,” Stone said. “But as I finished the first draft, during the sixth search, I found her!”

Now he could check two items off his list.

With the publication in March of 2005 of Tiger, Stone checked the last item off his list.

Seven books later, Stone is still signing autographs, traveling the country talking to children and adults and trying to spread the message to get active, get excited and get writing.

Stone’s latest book, due out this September, is called Phoenix. While this first book in a trilogy also features Kung Fu, the story is set in the present and brings in a new sport — mountain biking.

And yes, Stone has mastered that activity, too.

“I have to live the books,” Stone said. “I have to do it while I’m writing.”

Stone spent Friday morning and afternoon signing books and bookmarks, answering questions and hearing lots of comments.

“One day I spent the whole day reading Tiger!” said sixth-grader Nicholas Kirchner, who had Stone sign six books.

“Your books are amazing!” yelled another student who ran past the table toward the cafeteria.

“Will you sign my forehead?” asked another student.

“No.” laughed Stone. “I’d get in trouble!”

His afternoon ended at the middle school auditorium where Stone called students up on stage and helped them demonstrate several Kung Fu animal stances.

The Five Ancestors series include Tiger, Monkey, Snake, Crane, Eagle, Mouse and Dragon.