Young author explores bullying through science fiction

2012-06-10T00:30:00Z 2012-06-10T22:02:06Z Young author explores bullying through science fictionBY DOUG MOORE • dmoore@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8125 stltoday.com

LAKE SAINT LOUIS • Matthew Montgomery's mind is filled with imaginary worlds — not that uncommon for an 11-year-old boy who likes science fiction and video games.

What sets Matthew apart from other kids his age is that he paused long enough to explain one of those complex worlds in the form of a book.

Read the 150 pages closely and it soon becomes clear that this science fiction ride about kids from various planets who bring their special powers together to save Earth from evil is rooted in fact.

Kids who are different are misunderstood. Picked on. Bullied.

Matthew admits in explaining his book that he has experienced and witnessed bullying. But he provides few details. The book, however, would suggest that riding the bus has been an unpleasant experience. Dad confirms that.

"He would ask his mother for help with a problem with kids bullying him on the bus, and then I would see her advice emerging in the story as the advice from one of his characters," said Dr. Peter Montgomery, Matthew's dad. "As I edited this book, I noticed how he used the aliens as a metaphor for kids dealing with the pressures of school and childhood. All kids feel like aliens that don't fit in."

For the record, this was not a project pushed by parents of a precocious child. Not initially, anyway.

But once Montgomery found out that his son was getting up before school and writing a book on the family computer, he did get actively involved in the project.

"Sometimes I have to admit I was more excited about his book than Matthew was, and more than once, he asked me to stop talking about it," Montgomery said. "I would back off, and then a few days later he would ask me to edit something new that he had written."

The process began in April 2011, when Matthew was 10 and a fourth-grader at Green Tree Elementary School in Lake Saint Louis.

Once Montgomery discovered his son's work on the computer, Matthew kept writing. First one chapter. Then another. Soon, he had 100 pages. Within six months, "Aliens in Disguise: Rise of the Heroes" was completed.

"Kids love to tell stories, but, man, he loves to tell stories," Montgomery said.

'DARK ENERGY'

Writing a science fiction story makes sense for a kid like Matthew. Consider that he dedicated the book to "all my friends in the Alientologists Club" at Green Tree.

"My friends were not consultants but they gave me ideas," Matthew said.

The idea to include Osmium fuel and Thorium reactors came from Montgomery, a science buff who practices family medicine and got his bachelor's degree in biology. But the idea about Dark Energy came from Matthew, after reading one of his dad's science magazines.

"I let him have his way with some serious stretching of the laws of Newton, Einstein and Hawkins," Montgomery said. "This is sci-fi after all and, who knows, maybe he might have discovered some law of physics not yet known to man."

Matthew's world has been one of the universe since he was a toddler, when his dad was buying him every book about planets that he could find. His bedroom ceiling was covered with glow-in-the-dark stars at age 3. And there was the father-son trip to NASA when Matthew was 8.

His mother, Allison, a licensed clinical social worker, said culture and creativity are important elements of rearing Matthew and his sister, Ellie, 8. She rewards good grades by taking them out of school for museum visits and enrolls them in drama and art camps.

Matthew said it made sense to combine real-life experiences with kids and super powers; his dad encouraging him to "write what you know."

The book has its influences. Readers will get a taste of Harry Potter, X-men and Men in Black. Yet it feels original.

It helps that the Earth scenes are set in familiar spots, including Lake Saint Louis and a sci-fi convention in Collinsville, an event Matthew and his dad attended last year. Montgomery told Matthew to find an artist at the convention he liked and Montgomery would hire him to do the book cover.

In addition, Matthew's parents hired an editor, although several family members also served in that capacity. Montgomery stressed, however, that the work is all Matthew's.

"He did invent every character, what they look like, what powers they had, and each one's backstory," Montgomery said. "He also created the plot line and defended it against multiple people trying to change it."

BOOK SIGNING

Montgomery said he and his wife talked about how far to go in helping their son write his first book and decided their efforts were not out of line with what other parents do.

"A friend spent $1,000 for batting lessons for his son, I'm spending $500 on getting my son's book published," Montgomery said. (After hiring the artist, that amount climbed to $1,000).

About 135 copies of the self-published book have been sold, the majority as downloads. Matthew also donated 30 copies of his book to the Wentzville School District, so two could be placed in each library including the one at Green Tree.

Montgomery, serving as his son's agent, arranged for two book signings including one on Thursday at Subterranean Books in University City. The first was last month in the Green Tree gymnasium during the school's annual used book sale. The book is available for $9.99 at Amazon.com.

"Where do I sign, Dad?" Matthew said when a teacher came up to buy a book.

"Usually, inside the cover," Montgomery said, handing his son a Sharpie.

"To my favorite P.E. Teacher," Matthew wrote to Char Wagemann.

Matthew is well into writing his second book and says there will be two more in the series, written under his pen name of M.M. Scott. He's not a fan of drawing out a story line.

"Harry Potter could have been done in five books," Matthew said. He read the seven-book series in a month.

"Aliens in Disguise" follows Dragonamir, a boy from Jupiter recruited to the Space Academy where he meets boys and girls from other planets. When they crash on Earth after a chase across the solar system, they meet Alex, a human boy who helps hide them from the bad guys, and helps them find their way home.

Montgomery said he sees his son in the two main characters.

"They say that first books are autobiographical, so I read this book looking for insights into my kid's mind, mainly to find out if I messed up anywhere," Montgomery said. "I think Matthew is more like the Alexander kid but wishes he were like Dragonamir."

Both boys become heroes. Both are picked on because they are different.

Matthew hopes those who read his book get the message that is underscored by one of the characters late in the book: Evil is what you become if you don't stop being a bully.

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