Soon the publishing house was flooded with faxes and phone calls from some of its feminist authors. In a message to one staffer, a writer accused "Poodles" of "undoing the 20 years of work we've spent trying to empower women."
Deena Metzger, a Los Angeles therapist and prominent Harper San Francisco author, was one of the protesters. She says Graham not only ridicules Estes' book, but women in general.
"You take that title, and you go from wolves to poodles, implying dogs that are very far from wild, that are denied their essential nature in the interest of fashion, you are then talking about women who are the same."
"I think every movement needs humor," says Peggy Taylor, editor of the New Age Journal, whose magazine ran a story on the "Poodle" controversy in its June issue. "What I like about Barbara's book is it's not mean humor. She's done all this stuff. She's adding some levity to the crazy trips we all go on."
But Harper San Francisco apparently didn't see the levity. Under pressure from what a staffer calls "the PC police" and threats that some women authors might bolt, the publisher demanded that Graham change the title. Graham refused, and Avon snapped up "Poodles" soon after.
Neither Grady nor Estes will discuss the affair. Estes' agent, Ned Leavitt, says he has nothing to say beyond what he'd told New Age Journal, which is this: "Why not satirize someone whose work is truly harmful instead of publicly making fun of a valuable healer like Dr. Estes, whose work needs and deserves our support?"
The flap has only fueled publicity for Graham's book. "Clarissa and I have become like the Tonya and Nancy of the New Age, only I'm not sure who's who," Graham says.
But Graham is upset by the negative reaction from Estes and other spirituality authors, whose work she respects. "I see this as a trickster book," she says, referring to an archetype in Native American culture, which Estes and many others revere.
"They're losing sight of the role of the trickster, who keeps things from getting too sanctimonious."
For all its excesses, "the New-Age psychoculture is very valuable. I have personally benefited from it enormously," she says. "My book is trying to get across a message that, run with the wolves, bleat with the sheep, but also value yourself the way you are."