One point that was raised throughout the review process regarding these novels related to the titles and where they came from? Making Out with Blowfish was more obvious than the first one… So I asked Brian to write guest post regarding his explanation of the titles… please see his reply below
In the first book, we see Hank as an angst and hormone-filled teenager. On the surface, it's easy to dismiss his bumbling and stumbling as typical adolescent high jinks. But as we dig deeper into his life, we realize there are demons behind the curtain. When Hank stumbles across a belly dancing album in his parents' record collection--belly dancing being the Pilates of the 70s--he's enchanted by the cover of the album. Even the title is mysterious: Exotic Music of the Belly Dancer by Mohammed El Bakkar and His Oriental Ensemble. What's more, the album is the perfect metaphor for Hank's detachment from his own sexuality; the beautiful topless belly dancer on the cover has no face. The title of the album cuts her off at the neck. In a world Hank has never trusted, his first true love can only be a faceless belly dancer. Biographical note: This was an actual album my mother owned. TWCS publications department briefly considered using the real cover (see image above), but felt it was a bit too explicit. Halfway into the editing process, I actually had to go back and change an entire paragraph describing this album cover in detail when we decided to go with a more subtle stock photo.
Like you said, the second title was a bit more obvious. In the opening scene of the second book, we have Hank and his best friend Hatch lamenting the idea of getting old. Hatch, who is now a naval officer, recounts a military anecdote about a blowfish. Hatch says,
“It’s just a phrase my submarine captain used to use whenever we got into a dicey situation. ‘Men, it’s time to make out with the blowfish,’ he’d say. [It means] you choose your battles. Blowfish are the second most poisonous vertebrate in the world—two-hundred times more deadly than cyanide—but they’re also a culinary delicacy. The choice is yours whether to die or have a good dinner.”
Like the belly dancer in the first book, the blowfish in the second book becomes a metaphor for Hank's trials and tribulations. Will he rise above it all or let the world consume him? And in the end, both the belly dancer and the blowfish are dual metaphors for the ultimate question asked by both novels: How does a boy become a man when all the men in his life are taken away from him?
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This is the part in our hero’s story where he looks back and reflects upon the man he is today, but the truth is I’m still searching for him. I am still lost. Not the guy who thought I had found my way out of the wilderness . . . not the guy I wanted to become.
When we last saw Hank Fitzpatrick in Exotic Music of the Belly Dancer, he seemed to be finally figuring things out. He had a girlfriend. He had a life. But his secrets were yet to be discovered, his demons yet to be exorcised, and soon he would have no choice but to face them both. Gone is the boy we came to love, replaced by a man we struggle to like. Welcome back to Empire Ridge. Making Out with Blowfish is fear and loathing in the suburbs as told in Brian Sweany’s uniquely uninhibited voice.
Since 2000, Brian Sweany has been the Director of Acquisitions for Recorded Books, one of the world’s largest audiobook publishers. Prior to that he edited cookbooks and computer manuals and claims to have saved a major pharmaceutical company from being crippled by the Y2K bug. Brian has a BS in English from Eastern Michigan University, from which he graduated magna cum laude in 1995. He's a retired semiprofessional student, with stopovers at: Wabash College, the all-male school that reputedly fired Ezra Pound from its faculty for having sex with a prostitute; Marian University, the former all-female school founded by Franciscan nuns that, if you don't count Brian's expulsion, has fired no one of consequence and is relatively prostitute-free; and Indiana University via a high school honors course he has no recollection of ever attending.
Brian has penned several articles for EverydayHealth.com about his real-life struggles to overcome sexual abuse as a young boy. Making Out with Blowfish is the sequel to his debut novel, Exotic Music of the Belly Dancer, and both books draw inspiration from this experience.