Jeff Stone is one busy guy. A Detroit native, he is an avid mountain biker and martial artist in addition to being an author of several children's books. I read his latest book last year, the first in a new series, and throughly enjoyed it. I had a few questions for Mr. Stone about most recent work, his diverse cast of characters, and what's next for him. I thought it was only fair to share his amazing responses with all of you.
I think one of the things I liked best about Phoenix (Five Ancestors: Out of the Ashes #1) were the characters. I especially liked Hu Die, who seemed very no-nonsense and courageous almost to a fault. While developing the story, did you have a favorite character in particular? Or were they all fun to write equally?
My favorite part of writing is creating new characters, which is one of the main reasons all of my books are told from a different main character’s point of view. So, yeah, the characters in PHOENIX
were all equally fun to write—but never at the same time! Phoenix would be my favorite for a week or two, then Hu Die would stomp on him and become my favorite, until Phoenix would do something to one-up her and take the top slot again. I thrive on competition.
I really liked the descriptions of Phoenix's journey to China and what he saw when he got there. Have you been to China? Did you base those descriptions on your own experiences?
I’ve been to China a bunch of times, and, yep, many of those descriptions came from firsthand observations. My wife is from Hong Kong, and we had a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony there many years ago. I’ve also traveled to mainland China twice for book research.
In 2005, I spent 15 days criss-crossing China with several dozen kung fu black belts. We visited locations that are of historic martial arts significance, such as the village where Tai Chi originated; a legendary bandit stronghold like the one featured in my book, SNAKE
; and multiple Shaolin Temples, including the largest and most famous one in Henan Province that welcomes millions of visitors each year. I had the huge honor of testing for my black belt in Shaolin-do kung fu at the main Shaolin Temple. The Shaolin monks don’t issue black belts, but the Grandmaster of Shaolin-do style kung fu does. He was leading our trip, and he has a great relationship with the monks. They allowed me and a young woman named Cassie to take our tests on their sacred grounds. It still blows my mind.
Most of the descriptions of China in PHOENIX
came from that epic kung fu trip. I also traveled solo to Shanghai a few months ago to do research for Five Ancestors: Out of the Ashes Book #3 JACKAL
(to be published Sept. 2014). During the trip, I visited with students from Shanghai American School. It was a riot. There are some sweet pics on my Facebook page.
I think it's very interesting that you decided to set your new series of books as a modernized, present day version of your last book series. What gave you that idea? Do you plan on making more references to the original series in future books?
The idea for a modern-day version of the Five Ancestors came from my latest obsession—cycling. I bought a road bike while writing DRAGON
(the last book in the original Five Ancestors series
), and I signed up for three months of training at a local bike shop. I quickly found out that half of the training was actually off of the bike. The riders did yoga to develop core strength. I was okay on the bike, but much better off of it because even though I’d never done yoga before, yoga is very similar to kung fu.
I realized that if a kid did kung fu from age 4 to age 12 or 14—and then raced a bike—s/he would totally rock because that kid would have developed core strength well beyond that of most other kids. Also, a kung fu-practicing kid would have outstanding endurance and fantastic balance, plus s/he could throw an elbow or kick while riding if someone was messing with her or him. This concept fascinated me, and I pitched it as a modern-day story idea to my editor at Random House. He liked it so much, he said, “How about a trilogy?”
Book #1 PHOENIX
combines kung fu with two kinds of cycling: mountain biking and cyclocross. Book #2 LION
combines kung fu and road bike racing, while Book #3 features kung fu and various types of BMX riding and racing. I love bikes, and I’m hoping these books will expose kids to everything that cycling has to offer. As for future books making more references to the original Five Ancestors series, just wait until LION
comes out this September! There’s a pretty big surprise in that one.
Can you give us any hints as to what's in store for Phoenix Collins and his grandfather? Will we be meeting any fun, new characters in upcoming books?
Phoenix and his grandfather are going to have to take a bit of a back seat. Hu Die, too. As with the original Five Ancestors series, the remaining Out of the Ashes books will each feature a different main character’s point of view (POV). Book #2 LION follows Ryan’s first-person POV, while Book #3 JACKAL follows Jake’s first-person POV. Of course, Phoenix and Hu Die will still need to bust a few kung fu moves to keep Ryan and Jake out of trouble, and Phoenix and Hu Die might even have to teach Ryan and Jake some kung fu.
There are indeed some very cool new characters to come, such as Ryan’s para-cycling cousin Peter in LION. Also, a few surprise old-timers resurface. I’m talking REALLY old timers! I’m hopeful that readers who enjoyed the original Five Ancestors series will appreciate the way I worked some of those characters into the new series. I’m also hopeful that people who’ve only read the Five Ancestors: Out of the Ashes might pick up the original Five Ancestors series and find those books equally fun and engaging.