Mabby the Squirrel’s Guide to Flying by Matthew Claybrook
Up for review, this week is Mabby the Squirrel’s Guide to Flying by Matthew Claybrook. After reading the book I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew and writing an honest review. The entirety of the interview is in Matthew’s own words.
About the Author
(Copied from author’s page) Matthew Claybrook is proudly married way over his head. Matthew was a dedicated underachiever in school. After that, he joined the U.S Navy, traveled the world a little bit and worked as a volunteer minister. After the services, he worked briefly as a guitar maker and soon entered college to study theology. Then while in college and at the behest of his gorgeous girlfriend ( now wife), he finally turned to his childhood passion; writing. He self-published his first threat to the public, The Palmyra Chronicles in 2013. Now he maintains his blog matthewclaybrook.com
Matthew is working on several new projects to include, “The Voyage of Gethsarade” a prequel to Mabby. Currently, Matthew is undertaking his Master of Divinity at Oklahoma Graduate School of Theology. He can be found at facebook.com/mgclaybrook twitter.com@mgclaybrook.
The Synopsis of Mabby the Squirrel’s Handbook to Flying
There are only a few books representing Aspergers and learning disabilities in young people, especially stories that illustrate Asperger’s symptoms. Mabby The Squirrel’s Guide to Flying is an inspiring and encouraging story about high functioning autism in the metaphor of a city of flying squirrels, for the high functioning autistic child and parent, by an Aspie who found a way. Because it’s about time.
Because learning disabilities are just as much about the family, Mabby is a generational fable, written for a wide age range, recommended for young adults and up.
On 16 Tadwick Way, Tankery Bough, in the treetop realm of Hesperia, there lived a little squirrel pup named Mabby, living alone with his father. He was having some trouble learning how to be a flying squirrel. But it seems his wings were a little different.
His friends vowed in secrecy to find out about the strange happenings in Hesperia. Syriss the Secret Keeper, was the rather annoying “leader.” Nevertheless, it turns out, someone is going around killing squirrels.
How could a little handful of misfit squirrel pups do anything about the dark shadows? And further, how can Mabby succeed in his pursuit of major airtime and general awesomeness, with such awful and annoying distractions, like conspiracy and murder?
When I agreed to review Matthew’s book and received my complimentary copy, I have to admit I was somewhat skeptical about reading a book about flying squirrels. But after finishing the story and interviewing the author, the message he has to his readers is clearly written in the book. Geared toward a younger audience – 6th – 12th grade, I thought Matthew did a great job explaining that it’s okay to be different. In Mabby’s case, it was the fact that he was unable to fly like the other squirrels. But it’s not just about that. It’s about acceptance, challenges and social issues that those that suffer from Aspergers could relate to. Matthew takes you into their world and does an outstanding job of making others try to understand it.
Today in our schools, bullying is at an all-time high. This would be a good book for those bullies to read. Even though I enjoyed the book and clearly understood the author’s message I felt the story didn’t flow easily in some parts. Some sentences and paragraphs were long and drawn out and at times confusing. I felt the length of the book was too long for younger adults and might be a challenge to keep them engaged.
Overall Mabby the Squirrel’s guide to flying was an enjoyable read and had a fantastic message for its readers. A valuable source for bringing awareness of Aspergers Syndrome and autism.
COVER DESIGN 4 STARS – The cover content was ideal for a younger audience but felt the colors could have been a little brighter or bolder to attract the eye.
CHARACTERIZATION 5 STARS – All the characters were well developed and each had their own unique personalities and quirks.
STORY & PLOT 4 STARS – A great approach for bringing awareness to young adults about Aspergers. Told in a language they would understand. At times confusing and drawn out but overall the message was clearly written.
OVERALL RATING 4 STARS –
I don’t give the authors a word limit on their answers when I interview them. As I mentioned, the answers are entirely in the author’s own words. This is an extensive interview with Matthew. He had a lot to say and wanted to reach out to my readers about Aspergers. Be sure to click on “Read more” for some of his answers.
1 – How long have you been writing and why do you enjoy it?
I have been writing for about 5 years. I dreamed of being an author ever since I was a little kid, but my family discouraged it. They said it was not helpful and that authors were a dime a dozen. It took me a long time to get over that. About 20 years, actually. But it was my wife who really encouraged my writing when I was in college, and because of her I finally worked up the courage to publish a little thing on Amazon Kindle, which went nowhere. But it was a thrill and a learning experience, and I’ve been writing and working to improve my craft ever since.
2 – Other than writing, what else do you like to do?
I am also an English teacher. Between my writing, my other job, and my family, I occasionally get a workout in or pick up my guitar. I played guitar for 22 years, and I nearly went the musician route, but I kind of realized I didn’t really like the kind of scene. Plus I dealt with the drama of bandmates for about a straight week, and I was definitely done with that. So here I am. 🙂
3 – What inspired you to write “Mabby The Squirrels Guide to Flying?”
I was really struggling in college. Like, really struggling. I loved my major, Bible, I understood the material, and I loved to just be there in the halls of academia and even getting to know my professors whom I dearly admired. But I just could not make myself sit down and do the task work. Big papers, no problem, but I always failed on account of the small stuff. So I blamed myself and went through this period where I just quit and went to sell cars. I was really in a state of self-loathing. Selling cars helps with that. But it was in that time that I also got to walk my wife across the stage, at the same university where we met, and everyone knew I had dropped out. It was the most humiliating day of my life. I was proud of my wife, don’t get me wrong. But I still hated myself for feeling the way I did, I just couldn’t be there for her because I just felt like such a loser. Well, again my wife intervened. She was a psych major and a good one, multiple honors, and she realized around that time that I was displaying symptoms of ASD. I resisted the idea for a while, but then the more I learned about it, by watching Parenthood with her and such and so on, the more I realized I needed to probably accept this.
I thought at first it spelled the end of me ever getting to accomplish my dreams in my life. But as I learned more and more about attention and autistic spectrum, I realized there may be a chance I could harness the advantages while controlling the disadvantages of neuroatypicality. So researched and read everything I could, from neuroscience to psychotherapy, to brainwaves. I found some things out, and I found some things that worked for me, so I said, okay, let’s try this again. I went back to college and worked my way out of academic probation, then I eventually graduated with a GPA that allowed me to get into the graduate school at the university I had previously failed out of.
When I would tell people about my story, they would ask, “what is it like?” and I thought about it. One day I said, “It’s like being a flying squirrel with a terminal fear of heights.” It’s like, you KNOW you can do this, but something in your mind simply will not let you, and you cannot fight your own brain. So one day someone said I should write about my experiences. I thought about that metaphor again, and I kind of started to have some fun ideas with it, and it kind of took off on its own from there.
I should say that as of yet I am undiagnosed, though Alzheimer’s, autism, depression, an ADD/ADHD (statistically related stuff) is all over in my family (something I would have like to have known BEFORE college) and my theories are mainly based on using myself as a guinea pig for my own research. I believe that ASD is a sleeping disorder. It’s the brain not being able to fully wake up, so that’s why there is diminished activity in the frontal lobe. Not enough temporal difference processing going on. So, what that means is all of the more creative, model-based learning areas of the brain are highly active. That’s why people with ASD display high intelligence in areas of learning where they are doing something they are emotionally attached to. But if they are not emotionally invested they can’t pick it up as well, or when there’s too much task-oriented stuff, and they fall behind. ASD does not affect intelligence, but it does affect learning, which is different, so that’s why a lot of kids with ASD do fine for a while and then hit a wall in the school. They’re labeled as ‘high functioning.’
So in Mabby the Squirrel’s Guide to Flying there’s this series of platforms at J. M. Rammerie’s Flight School. Each level (grade) involves flying longer and longer leaps and midair abilities, until one day you can make it all the way around this giant course and then you graduate in this kind of race day celebration, where the winner is crowned as the “top-class” winglier. Mabby’s dad, Dorma, was the winner of this award the year he went through, and he always believed that ‘your only true opponent is yourself.’ Well, the squirrel kit he meets is not so good. She is her own worst enemy, it seems. Her wings are incredibly large, too big, it seems to do anything. He tries to help and ‘tutor’ her all the way through school and even sews up her wings so she can look like other squirrels. This causes her to just not be quite able to fly as well, and though it helps a little with the small parts of the course, this kept her from discovering her true abilities with her type of wing.
Another squirrel, Bolly Beeley, was incredibly advanced, the true best in the class because he had mastered this having wings like hers because he had been privately schooled in the beginning. He is enraged when he sees what Dorma had done to her, and sacrifices his own final exam, failing out of the school in efforts to sabotage the event in such a way that would force her to discover herself. He’s a very passionate squirrel. This unfortunately causes him to become bitter and given over to resentment for the rest of his life, because Dorma thwarts Bolly’s efforts and she winds up marrying Dorma instead (really she just never had feelings for Bolly; Bolly looked at her wings, but Dorma looked at her, if you catch my drift).
This is the backdrop of the story, and the reason I tell this is that I wrote this book not just to entertain and inspire people with learning disabilities. I wrote it to relate to the fact that we have this tendency to feel like we have kind of been shortchanged by the world. We have been given these powerful imaginations, complex emotions, this ability to see the big picture like most people clearly cannot, but because of the everyday drawbacks, it seems like the whole world is designed, sometimes, to frustrate us. It’s easy to feel that way. Unappreciated, misunderstood, and the things that neuroatypical people can do better than neurotypical people, it’s like that’s all we really want is to just do that for the world but no one cares. It seems like the world is set against us for no reason that we are just different. And really, that’s because it is.
So I didn’t just write a book about a squirrel with wings too big. I wanted to capture that whole world of problems and social issues associated with neuroatypicality, including the generational issues. It’s a conversation we need to have everywhere, in our insidious and toxic lobbyist scam of an education system, in our homes, and in our places of faith and social life where people everywhere demand that there is this one best way to do and think and be, and we all just end up, in the end, arrogant and bitter and can’t even say really why. We don’t want to understand; it’s easier to find ways to understand as little as necessary, and to simply rename it things like universal education, or in religion, ecumenicalism.
That’s what the adults in the background of the book are doing all the time; talking about names and titles and categorizations and compensations, and congratulating one another, and accomplishing really nothing. In the social sphere, we actually have the audacity to call it ‘social justice,’ all the while seeing very clearly there is nothing just about it. There’s this nuclear order in our minds for everything, that literally doesn’t even exist in our minds. And that is what is really causing us to not just do damage to people that are diverse from us, but fail ultimately to see anyone and everyone for who they are except me, myself, and I. Really, I could have written a book about just a little squirrel with a little trouble learning how to fly, but I wanted to capture everything that is really at stake here with the conversation of neurodiversity, so that is why it is a full-length generational novel and not just a children’s book, that is designed specifically for certain people to get really mad about, and kids to love.
4 – Who as an author, inspires you and why? You may mention more than one.
I’m really a classicist. I love the Waverly novels, Walter Scott. I love Joyce, Tolkien, etc. I don’t bother reading new novels for a few years. My professor once said, if you really want to narrow your reading, go for the books people are still talking about in five or ten years. So that’s what I really go for in my writing, to be like one of those. J. K. Rowling, wrote the most demographically marketable book in history, in the most marketable genre right now, aside from straight up pornlit. That’s fine, and can I appreciate what writers like her and James Patterson are doing. But I’m just not interested in that. I’m interested in finding a hard issue and tackling it with a complex and unique metaphor. I don’t care about popularity or sales.
5 – Name three of your favorite books. Explain why these are your favorites.
Old Man and the Sea.- Hemingway is not my favorite author, but this is my favorite book, which I find I like more and more as I get older. I think it speaks for itself as to why. I was a sailor. There’s just something in a man as he begins to experience being replaced and not being as capable of performing like he once was that just says, ‘Maybe I’m just going to go for it.’ It’s got all those things that go said without saying in a man’s mind about not being good enough, those questions that linger about whether you’ve ever been good enough, and so on. It’s like, maybe I can’t do everything anymore, but I can still show them a thing or two. And that is about the best thing you can really hope for when you’re getting on
The others are series’ and they are a tie, The Ender’s Game series, the Lord of the Rings, and Andrew Lang’s fairy tale books.
6 – What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Writer’s block is not a thing. Not reading enough, not taking care to keep a file with ideas to work on, not knowing how the creative process works, and just generally being lazy are things, and that is what it comes down to; one of those four other things. I solve it with writing one clear, specific goal before I start, doing my reading before I write, working every day to write at least a little on anything, and if I get tired I tell myself ‘hey, Matt, if you don’t do it, it’ll never happen.” That has always been enough. I have 147 books waiting for me to write. I never have writer’s block. Sometimes I have problems I can’t solve right away, but to me, that’s not an excuse because I know I have other things I can always work on, which I know will give me more ideas.
7 – What common mistakes do you see new authors commonly do.
I see authors worrying too much about whether or not their characters have “Black enough” names, or are they over-“gay”-izing or things like that as if it were the point of writing to simply serve up social commentary. If that were the work of being an author, honestly, I couldn’t do it. I have no interest in just writing plot-regurgitated send-ups, and if I find myself worrying if my story has enough transgender characters to be socially acceptable then I go back to the foundation and work on my metaphor, find something more specific to deal with. Then show, don’t tell. Telling is for the marketing bit. Also, guys, if you have to “tell” the audience that “one look and he instantly knew the ice-sword was sharper than any he blade he had ever seen…It was very cold.” That’s what I mean. That’s telling. Ask yourself more questions. What would the sharpest blade sound like going through the air? How would it look? Wouldn’t “His eyes deceived him as the razor-thin blade danced in the mountain sun one moment, then disappeared when the Ice Walker turned it towards him. And the prospect finally struck him, that he would never taste warmth in his throat again, but feel that frost blade burning in him forever.” Show, don’t tell.
8 – Are you currently working on anything now? If so, tell us a little about it and when it can be expected to be available.
I am working on a novel set in the world of Mabby the Squirrel’s Guide to Flying, called The Voyage of Gethsarade. It does a little more exploration of the social issues I faced in Mabby, but it’s really more of a just-for-fun read that leads into the other novels in the series, eight total, all standalone stories, all dealing with complex social and societal issues, very much in the tradition of how Fables are written, like Animal Farm, or Watership Down. Fluffy characters, heavy problems. It will be out towards the end of the year.
I am also working at the same time on a short novel called “Big Boy.” On that one, I am calling back my studies in religion when I was in college and it’s about a boy that just keeps growing and growing and growing, and it deals with our various misconceptions about God, and also how we tend to view one another through that framework as a result. It’s an apocalyptic genre, but if you read it as a mainstream Christian, it will probably make you really angry, and I mean it to.
9- What genre do you normally write in?
I normally write in fantasy, but I also write a lot of short works of poetry and some contemporary and sci-fi/dystopian stuff, most of which are just up on Amazon. It’s all experimental and I really don’t promote that stuff, it’s just there.
10- Other than Amazon is there anywhere else, readers can purchase your book?
I also sell to schools and libraries through Versaria Publishing and Brodart.
11- Do you have a website, Facebook page or any other social media page where readers can follow you? If yes, please provide links.
12- Is there anything else you would like to say?
Thank you so much for what you do. Any help an author can get means the world to us. I would love to let my readers out there know that they can follow me on facebook to get the inside on what is going on with my next books, and to get some free books when I am on promotion. I offer my books exclusively to my facebook followers for beta readings, reviews, and merchandise.
Again, thank you so much!
Other Interviews you May Enjoy