Cynthia Hamilton


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Cynthia Hamilton

Reading and Writing: Home-Grown Inspiration

One thing I’m really enjoying about the Madeline Dawkins series is that it takes place in my own backyard. When casting about for a city with the demographics I needed for the backdrop for “Spouse Trap,” it hit me that Santa Barbara was the ideal setting. It worked perfectly and I liked the fact that I could include landmarks and establishments that readers familiar to this area would recognize.

When I began work on “A High Price to Pay,” the second book in the series, I realized that after what I put Madeline through in “Spouse Trap,” she was going to need some sort of martial art to protect herself in the future. (What I had in store for Madeline in the new book was not good!) While writing the first book, I took a private investigation course so I would know what the heck I was talking about. Because Madeline needed to learn a martial art, I searched the Internet to see what I could find that I might physically be able to handle.

I had never even had an exercise class before, and I was a fairly compromised grandmother of three, so trying to imagine myself in a karate outfit, endeavoring to keep up with students decades younger than myself made me doubt I’d be able to pull this off. Luckily for me, I found a women’s self-defense site. That sounded like something I could manage. And it was. It was also the beginning of my love affair with Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan.

I took a two-hour self-defense lesson with Teri Coffee McDuffie, AKA Master Coffee, and discussed with her my need to understand karate well enough to convincingly portray it in “High Price.” She had me come in and watch a regular classroom lesson, after which I decided to go for it. That was a year ago. Since then, my private karate classes are the highlight of my week. I grin like a jackass the whole hour—except of course when I’m making fearsome noises as I knock the stuffing out of the targets—something that makes both Teri and me gurgle with happiness.

But reality and fiction merged when I wrote my amazing instructor into the story. I had warned her this might happen; she said she would be honored. That was all I needed to hear. What surprised me was how much of a role she ended up having and how when I wrote her dialog, it really felt like something she would say.

I inducted another Santa Barbara local into the story—my favorite caterer, Philippe Sautot, of Events by Philippe. He was also a good sport, after the fact. As I wade into book three, I wonder who I might Shanghai this time…