Credit: Courtesy

John M. Daniel: 1941-2020

In mid-December, John M. Daniel passed away at his home in McKinleyville, California, after a prolonged struggle with Parkinson’s disease. The world lost a warmhearted, brilliant, witty, and generous man who, as a writer, chronicled life in Santa Barbara and who, as a publisher, editor, and writing teacher, had a profound impact on Santa Barbara’s literary community.

John wrote several critically acclaimed novels, including The Poets’ Funeral (Poisoned Pen Press, 2005) and Vanity Fire (Poisoned Pen Press, 2006), both of which were set in a fictionalized version of Santa Barbara’s literary and publishing communities. His book Hooperman: a Bookstore Mystery (Dark Oak Mysteries, 2013) was inspired by John’s experience as a bookstore clerk in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1970s.

His short stories — many of which were set in Santa Barbara — were published in literary journals such as Tin House, ZYZZYVA, Fish Stories, and Santa Barbara Review, and in the collections Santa Barbara Stories (John Daniel and Company, 2015) and Generous Helpings (Shoreline Press, 2001). In collaboration with Steve Moss, John was the editor of The World’s Shortest Stories, a series of books that collected and published 55-word stories. His nonfiction works included books about writing and publishing, and memoirs that told the story of his remarkable life and the unconventional household and family in which he grew up.

John was born in 1941 in Minneapolis, the youngest of four siblings. When John’s father, Lewis Daniel, passed away in 1945, his mother, Hannah Mallon Daniel, moved her family to Cleveland, Ohio, to live with her brother, Neil Mallon, who was a bachelor and the CEO of Dresser Industries, which built parts for oil wells. In 1954, the Mallon/Daniel household moved to Farmers Branch, Texas, where the family played host to a long list of influential and consequential visitors, including the Dulles brothers and the Bush family. John had the rare distinction of pulling a drowning child out of the family’s backyard swimming pool; that kid grew up to be the second American president named George Bush.

John attended high school at Phillips Academy, in Andover, Massachusetts, and he earned a BA in American Literature from Stanford in 1964. After graduation, John spent a summer in Summersville, Massachusetts, attending the Radcliffe College Publishing Procedures Course, and in 1967 he returned to Stanford as a Wallace Stegner Fellow, studying creative writing under the tutelage of Wallace Stegner and of Nancy Packer, whose work he later published.

John began his career in books by working for Stanford University Press. He later worked at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park and, while living on the mid-peninsula, John worked as a freelance editor and started No Deadlines, his first foray into the world of small-press publishing.

His Santa Barbara years began in 1982 when he took a job with Capra Press, where he met and fell in love with his boss and officemate, Susan Winton. Before long, their lives were joined at home and at work. They were inseparable for more than 35 years.

In 1987, John started John Daniel and Company. Susan soon followed John to the new venture, and the company became Daniel & Daniel Publishers, Inc. Over the years, they would publish books by a variety of well-known authors, including Artie Shaw, Al Capp, and Charles Champlin. From among Santa Barbara’s authors, they published Dennis Lynds, Max Schott, Perie Longo, Julia Bates, Brooks Firestone, and Glenna Luschei.

While living and working in Santa Barbara, John also taught aspiring authors in the craft of writing — at the UCLA Extension and Santa Barbara Adult Education programs, and at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, where for 20 years he led a Pirate Workshop that lasted deep into the night. John listened to every writer who showed up with work to share. As a savvy observer of the writing process, he had a child-like excitement over excellent writing. He was a fair instructor whose praise, encouragement, and suggested improvements all were as honest as they were empowering to aspirational writers.

As a teacher, John was quick to laugh and to cry when appropriate. Linda Stewart-Oaten, who participated in John’s Pirate Workshops, remembers him arriving one night, dressed in a bowtie and looking dapper. He sat down at a piano and sang a song he’d written that made mention of, and offered praise for, each of the participants’ work.

In 2004, John and Susan moved to McKinleyville in Humboldt County, but the impact of John’s life in Santa Barbara is still felt. Eric Larson, who worked at Daniel & Daniel and learned the publishing trade from the Daniels, remembers John’s wisdom: “John learned how to graciously accept things that didn’t go his way, and he kept his sense of humor.”

John Daniel is survived by his wife, Susan; by his sons, Morgan Daniel of Mendocino and Ben Daniel of Oakland; by stepsons Cory Graham of Las Vegas, and Stewart Graham of Santa Barbara; by his brother, Thomas Daniel of Shaker Heights, Ohio; by seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren; and by a world more beautiful for his having lived in it.


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