What about the squirrels?

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/graeme-daniels/blended2/

Okay, so I’m not going to be churlish about my Kirkus review. On the whole, their critique of Blended is positive and fair, given the limitations of space (allocated word count for the review), plus the needs/priorities of their readership. I particularly enjoy the compliment directed at my style: “Daniels writes in a fluid, elegant prose”, though I’m also aware by now that in the world of publishing, good prose isn’t what sells books. High concept or gripping plots are the order of fiction. Besides that, for those who may be interested in my modest family drama, the pieces between the lines, or the elements not commented upon, here’s my response to my best Kirkus review thus far—my filling in of the gaps.

First of all, regarding the summary: Kirkus generally does a good job of summarizing the plots of the books they review, and most of their efforts seem directed towards this task. In fact, blink once too often and you might miss what the reviewer actually thinks of a work. So, not too many complaints in this department, just a comment on what is missing. Tillie Marsden, my protagonist, does indeed have an altruistic (if waywardly so) bent, and is only thinly understood by her husband, Bill, adequately described here as benignly workaholic. Jacob, the stepson, is however, much more than a surly twenty-something who mostly gives silence to Tillie, as the reviewer suggests. Like the primitivistic imps that are the immigrant Pakistani couple’s seven children, Jacob is a rambunctious, unfinished dish at large in Tillie’s back garden and inner space. He recalls for her callow habits, dreams, and other lost ways of her own youth, and amidst the comic boyishness of Jacob, his ‘gross-out’ edge, there is within him a thoughtful streak that moves Tillie.

Passages about eating habits, misadventures around food, plus a certain amount of toilet humor may have thrown my Kirkus reviewer. There is little to suggest in his or her 700-word opinion that these parts of the book were much more than filler between plot advancements. I’m used to this: several of my novels feature tangents and other indulgences that bemuse some readers. It’s an aspect of what I believe is my surrealistic style. Symbolic phrases and cryptic elements abound, there to be seen if readers care about such nuance, and to be missed by the majority because…because they have better things to do? I don’t know. I think lasting art, or at least that which has captured my mind, is rarely there on the surface, seen or heard the first time one scrolls past. Elements, bits and pieces, aggregate and tell stories beyond the story. Seriously. Therefore, back to eating, belching and farting, the beta elements of my social chaos theme: The seven kids of my Pakistani family are meant to parallel Jacob’s persona, serving the “twinned lives of the two families” idea that the reviewer observes.

It’s gratifying that this aspect of the novel was noticed: “an admirable attempt to figure out something about America’s view of itself and the outside world”. But what about George, my Donald Trump stand-in who takes over leadership at Tillie’s ACS job and plays the bombastic vulgarian, crudely intruding upon civilized order until learning some humility at that subplot’s end? A happy resolution, I thought. Worth mentioning, I further think. What about the undercurrent of imperial corruption that lies within the working world of Bill and his not-so-benign corporate employers? Turns out they were the company that employed Bahram, the father of the refugee family, hence their emigration to the town wherein Bill and Tillie live. It also turns out that Bahram left his former job and country under a cloud, having been embroiled in nefarious events in Pakistan, a residue of which is exported to Bishop Grove and revealed in the novel’s climactic sequence. Wasn’t that worth mentioning? I also wonder.

And finally, what about my squirrels, those mute, intrusive yet ubiquitous creatures whose scrambling, ravenous pleasure feeds on us, somehow comments upon us? They chase each other, fighting over territory, competing over resources provided by hosts, and acting with entitlement, as if thinking they’ve been here longer than anyone or thing. Buy a copy of Blended and you’ll see a squirrel on the back cover, lurking upon a tree, gazing upon the Marsden household. Project what you like onto its expressionless void. Imagine who might take the squirrels’ places in another reality, locked out but coveting what’s in.

 

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Kirkus reviews Blended

Finally, a Kirkus reviewer likes one of my novels. Take a look:

 

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/graeme-daniels/blended2/

 

More later. Let me take it in…

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Who Cares

 

Been gone from this for a while. Several reasons: I wrote two blog articles for psychecentral.com, both of which called for some extra time and attention. Next, I’ve thought to give Blended some time to breathe—that is, to let the six or so entries devoted to it a chance to sink in. Fat chance, I think sourly, which leads me to the most personal reason for my absence: a certain discouragement and torpor. Nothing special, just the standard writer’s self-importance, feelings of petulance…immaturity.

Another priority was the preparation for January 4th, my latest chance to talk Tommy before an audience. I’d been wanting to present at Mechanics’ Institute (MI) in San Francisco for ages, and I said as much at the outset of my talk. Thursday night I had my moment before an eager crowd of sixty, there because of MI’s capable marketing team. I got paid nothing for my time and labor. That’s what I’ll say if the tax or music copyright watchdogs ever ask, and the truth is I’m not doing it for the money. The reason I talk is the reason I write. I want someone to hear me. I want an audience.

“Are you ready to rock?” exhorted my host, the activities director at MI. She’s a nice woman, supportive and interested. More than myself, even, she’d observed the potential for a discussion about The Who’s Tommy to bring out the fans amongst the MI membership. Actually, I’m not sure how many in the crowd were MI members. Maybe that doesn’t matter, but I’m grateful someone knows what people want to hear. Anyway, six o’clock on Thursday rolled around. I knew my material, was ready to talk, and as I stood in the wings, waiting for the audience to take their seats, I felt close to stardom, I think. I almost noticed how it felt, rather like I did in Santa Fe in August. Then I began.

Fifteen minutes in, all was going well. My voice, ordinarily dry and halting when speaking to groups, felt limber and relaxed. I paced languidly before my audience, gazing out casually, leaving pauses for effect, breaking into a slight lilt when reciting pertinent song lyrics. I stared over heads a lot—a technique designed to limit distraction, preempt anxiety. I played one or two samples of songs from Tommy—did my arm-windmilling bit, aping Pete Townshend, The Who’s songwriter and creative engine. The darkened room at MI made eye contact difficult. The few pupils I did meet seemed attentive and expectant, yet respectfully patient. An hour ahead of a promised Q & A session, I sensed the gathering of opinion. There was a handful of voices in the audience ready to challenge, to question or to share. I had suggested such an exchange at the beginning, right after the host’s rockin’ announcement. These people at MI: they weren’t like the staid crowd at the Creativity and Madness Conference in Santa Fe. They might have known less about psychology than doctors or therapists. Indeed, they likely gave less than a shit about John Bowlby or Melanie Klein, or James Masterson and Allan Schore. But they did care about Tommy. They had a lot to say about The Who.

Some just wanted to share how they’d been at Woodstock, and watched in amused awe as Pete Townshend stuck his knee into Abbie Hoffman’s groin. A political comment, sort of. Another man chuckled as he relayed a Jimi Hendrix/Who anecdote. I played along, knowing it would be the infamous Monterey Pop episode wherein the two bands tossed a coin to see who would get to play first, blow hippie minds and make rock history destroying things. One is meant to guffaw in concert at these tall tales, finding humor in the macho interplay of legendary rock stars. Truth is, I find this kind of jocular reminiscing slightly painful. After all, what I’d shared was, as far as I was concerned, a rich, layered analysis of a celebrated pop icon, yet still the kind of treatment The Who had thus far been denied. I didn’t want to merely reminisce with fellow fans. I wanted to muse with them, bring a sense of historical texture, intellectual interest wrapped in love and passion. I wanted to spark thought on something they had enjoyed over time but not truly examined.

Thankfully, the storytellers weren’t the only faction in the audience. One or two had read Townshend’s autobiography, Who I Am, and wanted me to speculate on how Tommy related to its author’s history of child abuse. Questions like this were a welcome challenge, but it was nothing compared to a penultimate query that has stuck with me since. Seated behind a man who had shared apocryphal stories about The Who’s early Mod days was a slender, brittle, middle-aged woman. Wearing a frown, she raised her arm, waited her turn, but upon being called, made a chiding comment that The Who were “a band for men”, and further offered that their love songs, few and far between as they were, seemed fraught with themes of abuse and exploitation. Punctuating this comment was a leading question directed at me: as a therapist, surely I thought (The Who) an unbalanced and harmful icon (something like that). Through the dim light, I looked into this woman’s angry eyes, saw the withering incomprehension of a staunch Beatles fan, a feminist revealing her barely male-tolerating ire. I didn’t want to answer her question per se. I wanted to spend another hour on the subject.

Collecting my thoughts, I noticed that we were towards the end. My host, the MI events organizer, might have glanced at her watch. I thought of “Sally Simpson”, a lesser famous song from Tommy that some critics abhor, for reasons I’ve never understood. The song is about a girl who falls in love with the guru-like Tommy character from afar, and gets hurt trying to touch him at a speaking event. Stood before the crowd at MI, with the seconds spinning by, I knew what I wanted to say at my slightly parallel event. I just had to organize myself. Moments later I was sharing an anecdote: a story about the inspiration for “Sally Simpson”; an incident in 1968 when The Who supported The Doors on tour, and Townshend witnessed the uber-petulant Jim Morrison kick a female fan in a melee. The incident sparked Pete’s sympathy, plus a memory, perhaps, of how he’d once envied the attention other bands (like The Beatles) garnered from screaming, clinging girls. The Who’s early songs were as female-bashing as anyone’s, I admitted on their behalf to that angry-looking woman in the MI crowd. But the following lyrics from “Sally Simpson” show what Tommy and great rock n’ roll are all about, ultimately:

She knew from the start

Deep down in her heart

That she and Tommy were worlds apart

But her mother said never mind, you’re part is to be what you’ll be

 

We grow up

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Narcissus and Nemesis

A familiar story?

 

In Greek mythology, Narcissus was renowned for his beauty. The goddess Nemesis punished him for his hubris by drawing him to a pool. One day walking the forest, Narcissus was thirsty and went to drink from the stream. As he saw the reflection, he fell in love, not knowing it was him (he is unconscious). He bent down to kiss the reflection,  but it seemed to run away (ideals are elusive), and Narcissus was heartbroken. He would not touch the water for fear of damaging the reflection (his public image?), so he died staring at his reflection.

Tragedy?

Graeme Daniels, MFT

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Apologies for the golden sperm

 

Not what you’re thinking, whatever you’re thinking.

I was walking along a dirt trail, getting some fresh air, post-wildfire air, with a colleague.

“What kind of feedback are you getting about your novel?”

I pause, considering the question for a moment, like I hadn’t thought about this kind of question already

“Apologetic”

“What?”

“Nothing. Inside joke. Look out.”

“Oh,” my colleague says, tracking my gaze and thus looking down. There lies a golden or mustard-colored slug sliming its way across the dirt path. I’d just saved its life.

“Talk about patience. See, it’s in no rush. It’s just doing its thing. Ask it ‘how’re you’re doin?’, it might say ‘gettin’ there, taking it one slithering inch at a time”

“You’re a comic” My colleagues responds familiarly. He knows already my habit of personifying things, ideas. It’s my thing.

“Imagine it gets three quarters of the way across, then a vehicle comes by and crushes it. Fate. Now that would merit an apology. That would crush its spirits”

“Different perspectives. Life is relative,” my colleague says, joining if not really adding to the whimsical mood.

“Good thing it doesn’t have our perspective, actually. No thinking. No disappointments. No pain.”

“Ugh” my colleague utters. Now I track his gaze. Up ahead, a second slug appears, similarly colored, only this one was sliced in two.

“It’s a slug exodus,” I say. “Somebody owes it an apology, even though it’s tougher than us. Think about it, because we can. God didn’t give it anymore than it could handle. Look at it, the head. It’s alright, really. It’s smiling, knows its place in the universal order. It doesn’t think as we know it. Doesn’t have a self. As long as one of them makes it, it primitively knows. It lives its truth–like sperm. in fact, they even look like sperm. Golden sperm”

Weird. That’s what my colleague’s face says. He looks at me. He wants to look away, I can tell. Maybe he wonders if my novel is weird, too. He’d know if he read it.

“Sorry, friend. Better luck next time,” he says reverently, looking down at the slug. We look at each other. We appraise.

“Well, somebody should say it,” I say.

 

Graeme Daniels, MFT

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Guest blog review: a direct approach

 

Blended

Clarion Rating: 3 out of 5

Blended is a sympathetic, lighthearted story about the search for meaning.

A midlife search for connection and meaning drives Graeme Daniels’s Blended, a slice-of-life story featuring one woman’s thoughtful, if action-light, personal journey.

Tillie Marsden’s reflections on her career and relationships give depth to the narrative, which is a candid account of her life over several months. Her days are filled by her part-time job with the American Cancer Society, her interactions with her husband and coworkers, and her thoughtful examinations of all of these events.

Tillie has a history of wanting to help others, and she always finds ways of connecting to the people around her. Her unending quest for meaning leads her to volunteer to help a refugee family settle into her small Oregon town.

Tillie becomes the listening ear for each of the Pakistani spouses. They push her comfort levels, and she receives only cursory encouragement from her husband, Bill. As she tries to navigate her role in helping the family, Tillie’s thoughts wander to her own children and stepchildren. She questions the status of each relationship, particularly with Jacob, the stepson who is the last to leave her home.

As interactions with the Pakistani family increase, they act as a mirror to Tillie’s appraisal of her own family. Tillie’s is an inward journey, one in which she attempts to glean meaning and insight from every interaction. A few misunderstandings and incidents between Bahram, Bill, and Jacob result in the story’s main, though still scant, action.

Writing flows well, and dialogue is believable. Insights from supporting characters lend the narrative depth, and the portrayal of the uprooted Pakistani family and their backstories adds a richness to the story. A bit of wry humor comes through as well, such as through a diversionary scene with Tillie’s boss, where she goes against her grain. Keen observations and descriptive details make for fully fleshed-out and relatable characters.

As Tillie endlessly dissects her interactions, though, the narrative begins to drag. Never content with a situation until it is fully explored and explained, she questions the intentions of others, reads into every exchange, and explores the reasons behind her own responses at length.

Still, Tillie’s story is easy to relate to, particularly for anyone who seeks deeper connections to their friends, family, and coworkers. In the end, Tillie develops a blueprint for fulfilling interactions: If you’re not sure, ask; if it makes you uncomfortable, don’t; and be honest.

Blended is an often lighthearted story that is sure to provide comfort to all who, like its main character, are seeking more meaning in their lives.

Reviewed by Felicia Seeburger

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Clarion’s review of Blended

 

A review of Blended by Clarion. Enjoy, and keep an open mind…

 

https://www.forewordreviews.com/reviews/blended/

 

Graeme Daniels, MFT

 

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