Mr. Wonderful is a touching story that follows Brian, a college professor, in the throes of a life crisis like none he has ever faced. What was the initial idea behind this story and how did that transform as you were writing the novel?
Initial idea behind the story: MR. WONDERFUL began as a memoir. I was a college professor and my father has recently passed with advanced dementia. I don’t have a ‘loopy son’ as in the book but I do have a son about that age and know many other millennials who behave a bit like Danny in the novel. But as I got into the writing of my memoir, I realized I wanted and needed the freedom to invent–a lot. A fictional story came into view about a professor’s world sort of closing in all around him and I decided to let my memoir morph into a novel and let it take me–and readers–into some unexpected but hopefully moving and memorable places.
What I liked about Brian was that his character was layered and his emotions were relateable. What were the driving ideals behind his characters development throughout the story?
Brian, like me, is flawed but, hopefully, someone readers would root for. So I focused on telling a story in which Brian’s world is full of conflict; in sorting out competing desires (he loves his son but realizes he needs some tough love, etc.) we often learn the most revealing things about ourselves. Good, rich, layered characters need inner problems–as well as outer conflicts–to resolve and overcome and that’s what I worked to create for Brian (and for Danny, for that matter). The driving ideal or goal for the characters, especially Brian, was how do I succeed as a respectable man in the world? How do I make the most of my time in this world? Can I/will I live a life as admirable and eventful as Brian’s father, ‘Doc’ Fenton?
I felt like all the characters in the novel were well thought out and developed. What were the morals you were trying to capture while creating your characters?
I’m not sure I was intent on capturing any particular set of ‘morals’ with these characters except perhaps to showcase them working to figure out how they can learn to care as much about others (at least in their family) as they do about themselves.
What is the next story that you are working on and when will it be available?
I’ve recently begun a bit of a sequel to MR. WONDERFUL, focusing on the ‘next generation’ of the Fentons story: that of Danny and Dawn out on the road trying to reinvent themselves as ‘respectable’ people while still living the free-wheeling lifestyle that is so central to their identities. Probably won’t be done until early 2019. I’m also working on finding financing for my next major feature film, BLOOD BORN, about a young man who’s world is turned upside down when he discovers that his blood can cure cancer. My first feature film, TEXAS HEART, starring John Savage (THE DEER HUNTER) and Lin Shaye (INSIDIOUS), is now available on Amazon Prime and on DVD. Very proud of that film.
In spite of the world’s struggle and sorrow, life sometimes shows us the wonderful.
Brian Fenton’s life is falling apart. A professor at a bankrupt “directional school,” Brian suddenly learns he must either take early retirement or double his workload. As he confronts the embarrassment of his job going south, Brian discovers that his loopy son, Danny, is paying a surprise visit—which can only mean a hand out for money and a need to crash. To top it all off, Brian is fielding frantic calls about his aging father who’s declining rapidly with dementia.
Once a family doctor in Juniper, the small Texas town where Brian was raised, “Doc Fenton” is going down fast—forcefully reminding Brian of his own mortality and the painful issues separating him from his domineering father—a man only his loving wife could call “Mr. Wonderful.”
When Brian’s father passes, the gathered Fenton family partakes in a volatile small-town Texas funeral—at once hilarious and poignant—which produces startling revelations about Doc Fenton that propel Brian and the whole family into a new direction, a new path forward.
In the engaging vein of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth and Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You, Daniel Blake Smith’s debut novel is at once a comic and heart-wrenching family saga. It offers a piercingly honest window into how we struggle to make sense of ourselves, our families, and our life purpose. If we’re lucky, we discover Mr. Wonderful.
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Mr. Wonderful, by Daniel Blake Smith, is the touching tale of Brian Fenton, a college professor in the throes of a crisis like none he has ever faced. Brian and his wife, Corinne, are parents to a thirty-year-old son, Danny. The two adopted Danny as an infant at Brian’s insistence. From the beginning of Danny’s life with the Fentons, Corinne struggles to find her motherly instincts and is, for lack of a better word, relieved when Danny becomes a self-sufficient adult and leaves them as empty nesters. Danny’s return to their home turns Corinne and Brian’s lives upside down as Brian, in turn, deals with his elderly father’s declining health and the increasing pressures of a career he, may or may not, still love.
Smith weaves an intricate story of love lost between parents and children. The first person narrative is highly effective at drawing the reader into Brian’s sorrow, frustration, and his panic at being the voice of reason both at home between Corinne and Danny and long distance as he goes head-to-head with his brother, Jeff, over his father’s care. It is hard to watch Brian ponder the differences between his memories of his father’s treatment of him and his brother and the way in which his stepmother, Claire, speaks so lovingly of Robert, his father, as she cares for him. His emotions are raw, real, and easily relatable.
Corinne–not my favorite character. Her coldness toward Danny and her disdain at having to see him again in her home is as amazing as it is heartbreaking. Danny, not the best behaved boy on the block, is not welcomed by Corinne, and the blame she throws at Brian is somewhat misplaced and a struggle to witness. I found myself wanting her turnaround to come–and to come soon. Smith has written a memorable, if infuriating, character in Corinne.
Brian’s relationship and subsequent discoveries about his father’s past are poignant. Robert, ailing and entering the stages of dementia, is also hard to like. The manner in which Brian describes his past with his father left me wanting desperately to not feel sorry for Robert. Here, again, Smith crafts a turn of events that left this reader feeling a sense of compassion she did not see coming–but appreciated in the end.
I have to admit I saw Brian as weak. I didn’t want to, but I found myself wanting to shake him and jerk him upright from the downhill slide he was surely taking as the days passed him by. By the story’s climax, in Brian’s hometown of Juniper, Texas, I was more than ready for Brian, and Corinne, to show growth. Smith creates the perfect opportunity for self-awareness and life-changing decisions with his choice to bring his characters together in Juniper.
I have to give Mr. Wonderful an emphatic 5 stars out of 5. Smith’s use of the alternating first person points of view creates a deep connection between readers and characters. The Fenton family and their trials are not to be missed.
Pages: 164 | ASIN: B077Z3WK9N
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Henry and the Hidden Treasure is the story of one little boy’s quest to keep his treasure a secret from his sister. How did the initial idea for this story come about and how did it evolve as you wrote?
Imagination. Secrets. Spies. Treasure. These were all the things that I loved to read about when I was a child, so it made sense that I would incorporate these themes into a picture book sooner or later. Probably the very first thought I had when I set about writing Henry and the Hidden Treasure centered on the idea of treasure. What makes the concept of treasure so appealing to children? From there it wasn’t hard to extend this idea and ask the question: What constitutes real treasure within a family?
The story leads the reader on a journey into a child’s imagination and its endless possibilities. What do you hope your readers take away from the story?
Exactly that! I try to write every one of my books to encourage imagination. I think the mark of a great picture book is when children go beyond the written narrative and begin to explore the world of the story for themselves. Of course, it’s important to have positive themes and morals, but I try to make them subtle, or at least secondary to the imaginative qualities of the tale.
I love the brother vs. sister dynamic in this book. What were the morals you were trying to capture while creating your characters?
I think anyone reading Henry and the Hidden Treasure will immediately identify with the dynamic between Henry and his younger sister. Henry has the traits of a child who is perhaps a little possessive and who is certainly suspicious of Lucy’s place in the family. Lucy is a lot more enigmatic throughout the story, but her own qualities end up challenging Henry’s perceptions.
There are a number of morals that can be highlighted in the story. Henry’s possessiveness with his ‘treasure’ not only examines his exclusive approach to playing, but has a valuable lesson in listening to parental advice. His suspicion of Lucy also challenges his ideas of what it is to have a little sister, and what it means to be the big brother. In addition to this, there are other teaching points in the story, such as the use of ordinal numbers, understanding the broad use of financial institutions, and of course, the power of imagination.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
The next book coming out is called Titch the Itch. It centres on the idea of friendship and how this can be difficult when you’re an itch. It will be available on November 30 2017.
Henry and the Hidden Treasure is an imaginative adventure a young child has in defending his pocket money against his little sister. Henry constructs elaborate defensive measures that he is sure will stand up to the clever ambitions of Lucy. Little does he know, Lucy has a few tricks of her own.With a focus on introducing children to the use of ordinal numbers, Henry and the Hidden Treasure also draws out some important qualities of being a kid – such as creativity, the value of listening to parental advice, and of course, being nice to your sister.
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Corporate Comedy by Thobias is a crazy funny yet totally believable account of one man’s life in India’s corporate sector. His experiences that made up his professional career are so entirely funny and entertaining, you may not want to read this book in public. In some ways this book is extremely ridiculous in the things that take place in the corporate world. These people are frustrating and yet laughable. They seem like characters from a movie! Yet the whole point is the story of a man who climbs the corporate ladder and his experiences. It’s a profession many think would be a great one, but the realities of what this man went through makes the reader see it all in a brand new light.
While this book is longer than some, it moves quickly. The story line flows smoothly and keeps moving at a quick pace. I like to laugh so it doesn’t take much, but I found myself laughing inappropriately loud and a bit embarrassingly, to be honest. I got some seriously weird looks from my own flesh and blood, I can only imagine if I would have been trying to read this somewhere more public, like the bus or at the park! I wouldn’t have been able to help myself. I ended up reading this book in one quick weekend.
Corporate Comedy by Thobias can be considered a comedy biography burrito. It’s both things all wrapped up in a warm outer shell. I truly felt myself feeling sorry for those in the corporate sector that are the middle man. Those that end up having to travel and be away from their loved ones. I used to think all that traveling would be fun, but in a way this book made me see it in another light. I am not quite sure how these people can manage to do it all.
I loved the descriptions of some of the locations and characters. They weren’t too wordy and overwhelming as some books do but are good enough that you can really visualize the character or location. I also loved how you would find yourself cheering for the main character. When he gets to the point where he stands up for himself I found myself rooting for him to really say how he feels! These people are so ridiculous at times I almost couldn’t deal with all of it!
It may be set in India but the situations and interactions could be in any corporate building located around the world. I really think that I will start seeing those busy men and women in a whole different light than before. It’s no wonder these people seem like totally unrelatable people by the time they reach a higher up position. If you enjoy quirky workplace comedies then you will absolutely enjoy Corporate Comedy. It’s hilarious and truly enjoyable from the start.
Pages: 246 | ASIN: B06Y12NZFG
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Dave Matthes’ vision of the holiday season is a beautiful thing: estranged and dying (or already dead) relatives, a Baby Jesus/eggplant switcheroo, and alarm clocks blasting out “Feliz Navidad” at ungodly hours of the morning. Lockless Doors in the Land of Harsh Angels spans just a few weeks in the lives of the Ponce siblings, primarily focusing on the black sheep, oldest brother Edgar, but, in reality, it covers a lifetime. Brought together by their mother’s not-completely-unexpected and not-really-saddening death, Edgar, porn-star celebrity brother Jean, and foulmouthed but well-intentioned little sister Charlotte learn to embrace what it means to be a family. As Matthes himself puts it, family is just “[being] together, through the shit and the worse shit.”
A worthy five-star examination of a truly modern family (though the Ponces and Matthes would likely chime in that they are not a modern family in the ABC Family sense), Lockless Doors is both hilarious and heartbreaking, soul-searching and sarcastic. The plot summary could read as clichéd: alienated brother is forced to reunite with his estranged family and ends up enjoying it. But Lockless Doors is far subtler and more complicated in its examination of relationships. Matthes skillfully reveals insights into the siblings’ relationships with each other, their parents, and significant others gradually, enabling highly interesting and thoughtful character development of all the main characters. Though it spans just one eventful holiday season, Lockless Doors examines life in all its stages, from open-eyed youth to rebellious teens, from mid-life crises to acceptance of death.
In addition to its fascinating story line and characters, Lockless Doors is impeccably well-written. Matthes fills the novel to the brim with clever plays on words and puns that could be overlooked by some readers, but are greatly appreciated by attentive ones. Admittedly, he also fills the novel with a plethora of creative curse words that may offend some neophyte eyes, but the obscenities fit naturally within the world of the Ponces that Matthes has created, and once you get past the first few hundred F-bombs, you hardly notice them. In Lockless Doors, Matthes also takes the time to create intriguing and frequently hilarious supporting characters and events. From the smirking funeral director in his bright pink tie or the super fit and hyper healthy dad in his skin-tight bike shorts, Lockless Doors creates a rollercoaster of emotions for readers, being at one moment laugh-out-loud and in the next a tearjerker.
But what readers will enjoy the most about Lockless Doors is just how fun it is to read. As you explore the world that Matthes had created, it’s both easy and amusing to see your own friends and family in the characters he creates (though hopefully your family is not quite as dysfunctional as that of the Ponce’s). Taken at a first glance, none of the characters seems like anyone you’d want to spend your Christmas with; but by the end, you’re cheering for their success in the New Year. Self-aware and self-deprecating, Lockless Doors weaves a brutally honest and incredibly unique story of a family, in all its ugly and painful moments as well as beautiful and loving ones.
Pages: 169 | ASIN: B073MP2QJ8
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