|photo by Scott Feldstein|
Ali Brandon, aka Diane A.S. Stuckart, is the national bestselling author of the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series and the critically acclaimed Leonardo da Vinci historical mystery series. Additionally, she is the author of five critically-reviewed historical romances soon be re-released as ebooks. Learn more about Ali/Diane at her Ali Brandon website and her Diane Stuckart website.
Paws of Death
Dante left out one circle of hell while documenting the official nine in his classic Inferno. Forget Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, and so on. The most terrifying one of all is actually Circle Number Ten: Junior High P.E. class.
I spent a couple of years in Ten. It’s a harrowing place to be, loud and hot and smelly, filled with mean girls and rotten boys. I was one of the doomed souls always hiding in the corner of the gym during dodge ball. I also was last to be chosen for the kickball team, was stuck off to the side anytime we played volleyball, and never did manage to do a single pull up. Obviously, I had no aptitude for athletics, and past performance predicted I’d never be one to enjoy physical sports.
How, then, did I manage to reach red belt rank in Taekwondo after waiting until my early forties to take up the sport?
And, given my “advanced” age, why in the heck did I even try in the first place?
The short answer to that last question is that a friend and her daughter signed up for a family martial arts class. They invited me along for moral support. I was looking for a new exercise regimen (I’d recently given up on the local gym…too many mean girls, again!) and so I figured that would be a fun way to get in shape. After all, I’d always secretly been a major Bruce Lee fan.
The longer answer is that, despite my early failure as an athlete, I had decided around the time I reached thirty that I really needed to revisit the world of physical fitness. And while no particular sport had quite “taken” to that point, I realized I liked the idea of being able to defend myself in a not-always-friendly world. Several years earlier when I’d temporarily decided to be a jogger, I also happened to own both a Doberman pinscher and a German shepherd. With those two dogs by my side as I ran, I’d felt invincible no matter how dark or lonely my jogging path was. Nobody was going to mess with me and my hell hounds!
But time had passed and my only remaining dog now was the shepherd, who was getting on in years. I figured my best bet was to recreate that feeling of power and competence on a more personal basis. And so I joined my friend for that first lesson, and stuck with it long after she and her child had lost interest.
I was involved in martial arts for a good three years, starting out in American karate and moving on to Taekwondo, with a brief foray into Aikido. While not a brilliant student (see above for Circle Number Ten reference), I was determined. I moved up the ranks at a respectable pace, though each belt test was an exercise in major stage fright that required a Zen-like attitude to get through.
The best classes were sparring nights, when we put on our protective gear and paired up to fight with our fellow students. Unfortunately, there were rarely more than one or two other women in the class with me, meaning my opponents usually were men. Big, young men with lots of muscles! And while punches and kicks above the shoulders were technically forbidden for anyone under the rank of black belt, I still got hit in the head enough times to know that my next physical challenge was not going to be boxing!
But despite the bruises and sprained necks and broken toes I collected, I was in the best shape of my life. My confidence in my physical abilities was higher than it ever had been, and I was having a great time. And when my sensei shut down his studio while I was still training for my brown belt, I was bereft.
But what does any of this have to do with my new Black Cat Bookshop mystery, Words with Fiends?
In the previous installment, A Novel Way to Die, my bookstore owner protagonist, Darla Pettistone, comes close to falling victim to a killer. The fear and helplessness she felt in that situation—particularly when she saw her beloved cat, Hamlet, put himself in jeopardy on her behalf—spurs her to take action. And so, in Words with Fiends, she heads off to martial arts class to learn a bit of self-defense. I won’t tell you what happens then, but you can guess that Darla and Hamlet once again stumble across another unseemly murder.
So what about me? After my sensei called it quits, I did, too. I moved on to yoga and even earned my 200-hour teaching certification. More recently, I took up belly dancing, but a torn Achilles tendon and heel spur recently made it impossible to dance. So I am back to the gym again. This time around, the girls aren’t quite as mean…or maybe I’m just a bit tougher now.
And what’s up next for me and Darla? Don’t tell anyone, but in the fourth Black Cat Bookshop mystery due out in fall of 2014, Darla and Hamlet head down to Fort Lauderdale for vacation. She pretty well sticks to the beach…but, just for fun, I may have to give surfing a try.
Words with Fiends
Lately, Hamlet hasn’t been chasing customers or being his obnoxious self—something Darla surprisingly misses. Concerned, she hires a cat whisperer to probe Hamlet’s feline psyche and then decides to get out of her own funk by taking up karate to learn how to defend herself in case the need arises again. But when Darla finds her sensei dead at the dojo, it seems that even a master can be felled by foul play. Darla decides to investigate the matter herself, and the promise of a mystery snaps Hamlet out of his bad mood. After all, Darla may be the sleuth, but Hamlet’s got a black belt in detection…