So, the hero of The Secret Heart is a passionate boxer. I finished the first draft of the manuscript a couple of years ago, before boxing heroes had become so popular. But I'm not here to tell you that I was ahead of the curve. That doesn't matter--the book is coming out now, when I am behind the curve, and there are no extra credit points.
But I do think I bring something unique to the table.
Now, if you know much about me--and this is my blog, so I'll take the liberty of making this post all about me and my personal history--in any case, one of the first things people learn about me is that I'm a vegetarian. I've been a vegetarian for twenty years now. I don't eat cow, I don't eat chicken...I don't eat fish or skittles or marshmallows. I have crises of guilt about killing spiders and wasps.
In fact, I have a really viscerally negative reaction to violence in general. I do not watch sports on television, let alone blood sports--when I see people fighting, I don't cheer. I cringe.
Back when I wrote The Secret Heart I was spending about 8-10 hours every week at a specialized gym learning jiu jitsu. I absolutely loved jiu jitsu; I found it immensely satisfying. I don't live near a studio anymore, or I'd still be doing it.
And that's the twist. I don't think violence is sexy. But fighting, and learning to fight, took me on a really intense personal journey. I learned a lot. Jiu jitsu helped me grow and change for the better.
I don't want to say how I changed, because Adam's journey in the book mirrors mine to a great extent--not in particulars (I have never punched anyone in my life), but in the broad outlines of his psychological journey, yes.
I'm still ambivalent about blood sports. But I know what it's like to hang out in a gym full of passionate, intense MMA fighters who train for hours every day. I've been a fly on the wall, watching how they fight and how they behave in between fights, too.
Both of the places where I trained were incredibly soothing places. Really calm, really friendly, intense and disciplined but in a totally chill way. Not all gyms are the same. I'm sure that some are hotbeds of chest-beating aggression. But that was not my experience. The closest comparison I can think of, in terms of overall atmosphere, is a spa. Really.
I wanted to capture at least a little of that in the book. Maybe I succeeded. Maybe I didn't. I had one teacher who was sweet and shy in front of the class--he almost seemed embarrassed to be there--but when I went to see him in a cage match, he knocked his opponent out in 16 seconds flat. It was terrifying. Adam's trainer, Mick, is a character I based loosely on a different teacher--a famous jiu jitsu fighter whose school I attended for a short while.
And I know what it's like to fight. Half of every jiu jitsu class I took was spent in practice matches. I know what it's like to take on an opponent who outclasses me by a mile--which is to say, I know what it feels like to lose, and lose badly. I know what it's like to make an opponent much bigger and much stronger than me submit--because I had more skill, and I could run circles around him. I know what it's like to enter a competition, execute a fantastic sequence of moves that brings me to full mount, hear the spectators cheer...only to be flipped and choked in short order.
So. There are a lot of boxers out there right now. But I'm hoping mine is a little different. You decide, of course.