CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Author and Bridgeport native Mike Martin is not sure when or why it started, but in their formative years, he and his brother Patrick had a different way of saying, "I love you."
It's one of a couple of details lent to the main characters in Martin's debut young-adult novel, which was released last week.
The book centers on the relationship between two brothers in dire circumstances, and although the fictional Mike and Patrick may share their names and some quirks with the Martin boys, the brothers and world of "The End Games" are far different.
Martin, whose pen name is T. Michael Martin, can quickly provide a capsule synopsis for the book.
"It is about two brothers, ages 17 and 5, surviving a monster-filled apocalypse in the coal towns and capital of West Virginia," Martin said.
The rural backdrop of the book is taken directly from the 28-year-old's home state. But it wasn't just about writing what he knows. Martin maintains that the state has qualities that make it perfect for this story. In one sense, he says, West Virginia is "one big haunted house."
"This region in the United States - it's kind of the birthplace of the modern zombie story," Martin said. "The other thing is I always felt West Virginia has a sense of the supernatural."
Martin faced a challenge in depicting West Virginia to outsiders, as his time acquiring a bachelor's of fine arts in filmmaking from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts opened his eyes to negative aspects of the state's reputation.
"I wanted to reconcile what I think West Virginia is with what people think it is and create a truer and positive picture of the state for audiences," Martin said.
The setting and scarier situations in the book have been garnering readers, but one main draw is the evolving bond between the siblings as the story takes shape.
"The book has tons of action, a lot of scares, a lot of humor as well," Martin said. "It's really about whether you can protect innocents in a apocalyptic event or very frightening times."
Martin says his feeling of protectiveness over his own brother helped inform the ties between the characters.
He recalled the anger he felt when any of his friends would curse around the younger Martin when they were kids. An early reader even said he responded to the fictional relationship as a parent more so than a sibling. That bond became pivotal during the writing process.
"I think that's something people have been responding to a lot in the book," Martin said. "That was incredibly helpful in terms of shaping the emotional structure of the book. The stories I like the most are about a single, central relationship. I think those are the most satisfying stories."
Martin was able to get help and input from fellow authors before the book was published. One particular vote of confidence came from celebrated children's author R.L. Stine, the prolific author of books in the "Goosebumps," "Rotten School," "Fear Street" and "The Nightmare" series.