A few days ago the excellent novel The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel was published in the US (The UK release date is August 11th, 2016, and Dutch translation will be released on August 30th). Tiffany was so nice and answered some of my questions about the book, writing and also gave some book recommendations, so you TBR list can grow even bigger.
read my review here
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Tiffany McDaniel is an Ohio native whose writing is inspired by the rolling hills and buckeye woods of the land she knows. She is also a poet, playwright, screenwriter, and artist. The Summer that Melted Everything is her debut novel.
Fielding Bliss has never forgotten the summer of 1984: the year a heat wave scorched Breathed, Ohio. The year he became friends with the devil.
Sal seems to appear out of nowhere – a bruised and tattered thirteen-year-old boy claiming to be the devil himself answering an invitation. Fielding Bliss, the son of a local prosecutor, brings him home where he’s welcomed into the Bliss family, assuming he’s a runaway from a nearby farm town.
When word spreads that the devil has come to Breathed, not everyone is happy to welcome this self-proclaimed fallen angel. Murmurs follow him and tensions rise, along with the temperature as an unbearable heat wave rolls into town right along with him. As strange accidents start to occur, riled by the feverish heat, some in the town start to believe that Sal is exactly who he claims to be. While the Bliss family wrestles with their own personal demons, a fanatic drives the town to the brink of a catastrophe that will change this sleepy Ohio backwater forever.
– Q&A –
Q: First of all – congratulations on the publication of your debut novel! The Summer
that Melted everything is your first novel, and I wonder – was the story with you for a long time, waiting for you to write it down, or did the idea just struck you one day and you started to write?
A: Thank you for your congratulations. I appreciate that. While The Summer that Melted Everything is my debut and my first published novel, it’s actually the fifth or sixth novel I’ve written. I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen and wouldn’t get a publishing contract until I was twenty-nine. So it was eleven years of trying to get a foot in the publishing door. This is the narrative so many authors have. The road to publication can be really difficult, discouraging, heart-breaking even. I got rejected, disheartened, but I couldn’t give up, because writing and being a published author is all I’ve ever wanted. When it came time in my journey to write The Summer that Melted Everything, this novel started first as a title. It was one of those Ohio summers that I just felt like I was melting. All my flesh and bone just dripping to the dandelion ground. I always start writing a new novel with two things. The title and the first line. I didn’t have the story with me for a long time. I don’t like the story to sit for too long, so I try to write the beginning, middle, and end down as soon as I can. I wrote The Summer that Melted Everything in a month. On average that’s how long it takes me to write a novel.
Writing a book sounds like an impossible task for me – how does your usual writing day look like?
I never outline or plan so my writing day is just sitting down at the laptop, typing away. I don’t like to domesticate the story, and I find outlines do that very thing. I like the story to maintain its wild spirit. I don’t have a set number of words or pages I try to write. Setting too much of a routine or schedule isn’t how I work best. The story really does evolve with each new word and page I write. I never know who the characters are going to be, what they’re going to do, or how the story is going to end until I type that last word. I’m surprised myself as the author how the story turns out. So my usual writing day is just turn on all the faucets and catch what comes out. Sometimes it’s a drip, others times it’s a waterfall, but it’s that natural flow that works best for me.
The story is moving and sorrowful, how did you deal with writing those especially cruel scenes?
I always say I’m drawn to the crash not the landing. I like to explore those broken fragments. There’s something to learn in all those pieces, maybe even more so to learn than when those things were unbroken and whole. But also, as the author, it’s my job to not turn away from those scenes. I owe it to the character to write their truth, and sometimes that truth is sad and it’s cruel, but if I turn away from those things then I’ve failed the characters.
You live in Ohio, the state where the story is set. How much of the Breathed from the book do you see in the city you live in?
Breathed, Ohio is inspired by my childhood summers and school-year weekends spent in southern Ohio on the hilly acreage my father was left by his parents. That landscape is inside me. I always say cut me open and fireflies will come out. I’ve got the hills and the hollers in my soul, I’ve got the moon-shine frogs in my palms and the creek crickets in my speak. With that being said, Breathed doesn’t exist. Elements of it do. The hills are there, the rocks are too, the dirt roads are laid out, but the buildings, the houses, the layout, it’s
not real. If a reader thinks they are going to go to southern Ohio and find Breathed, they won’t. They will find hills, the creek, the dirt roads, but Breathed itself is a dream, taken from reality, but still very much a dream.
Was it difficult for you to write from a male perspective?
I have to say I didn’t find it difficult. My job as an author is to become any gender, race, age. Writing from that perspective if you’re not that gender, race, or age, I think an author always has to be careful not to fall into stereotypes of that particular person. It’s important to represent the character to that character’s truth, and not rely on stereotypes to develop them. Writing from those different perspectives is to me one of the best things because you get to get inside the characters, you get to shed your own identity to explore theirs.
Is the artwork inspired by the story or is the story and characters inspired by the art?
The artwork is inspired by the story. I like to write the story first, flush out the characters and their scenes and then paint them afterward. I need to write them before I can paint them. Painting their image is really like capturing a photo for a photo album. I have to know who they are before I can capture them with paint. I love painting the characters and their scenes because to me it adds another layer of their identity. In the case of The Summer that Melted Everything, the medium I used was watercolors for the most part. I felt like the dripping of the watercolors spoke to the melting spirits of these characters.
For me book covers are very important, they are most likely to attract the right audience for your book. Would you agree with me on that? Were you involved in the creation of TSTME cover? What do you think of the UK and Dutch covers?
I would definitely agree with you on book covers. I wasn’t involved in the creation of the covers for any of the publishers. As a debut author especially, the contract states the publisher has full control and final decision on a cover. I think someone like Stephen King is able to have input, but as a debut author I certainly didn’t. I feel like the US cover with its crayon drips and bright colors and chunky font really doesn’t capture the story within the pages. To risk the fury of the US publisher, I don’t feel like the cover represents the story. So far the consensus from readers is that they find the US cover makes them think the novel is Young Adult. I do think the US cover is too YA. The UK cover done by Scribe better captures the story with its black background, fire imagery and melting font. I think the UK designer did a really beautiful job. The Dutch cover…well, it’s a photo of a landscape that isn’t represented in the novel, so I’m still confused by why they chose that cover. But I just hope the readers don’t judge the book by its cover. If they do, I think a lot of people might not even take a chance on the novel. We miss out on some good stories when we judge a book by its cover.
What are top five books that you think everybody should read?
There are so many books we should read, but here’s just a sampling of my thoughts:
The Diary of Anne Frank. One of the big reasons to read this book is because you’re reading the truth of a Jewish girl who is hiding with her family from the Nazis. We have fiction of that time, and fictional accounts of emotions, but this book is the honest capturing of a girl is not just going through adolescence, but also experiencing one of the biggest evils to have ever touched the human race. She wasn’t writing this as a book, but as her diary, and that makes it even more special. We owe it to Anne to read this book. We owe it to every person who did and did not survive the Holocaust to read this book.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. My favorite Bradbury book is Dandelion Wine. But a Bradbury book I think everyone should read is Fahrenheit 451. When I first read it, it was the first time I had heard of book burning and book banning. That is what is so great about this story. It opens up that discussion of censorship and the loss of individual thought. This book teaches us to remember that papers burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, but it also reminds us that a lot more burns at that temperature as well.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This is one of those books that if you’re not a big reader, you still take a message away from reading this book. That message of courage, justice, and of standing up for what it right. This book became an instant classic because its message is so relevant. Its message will never die.
I’d say the next book we should all read is a good collection of poetry. I don’t have a title
for this because it can be any collection as long as it’s got Walt Whitman, James Wright, Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, among others. Poetry doesn’t strike a chord with everybody, but I think for the most part we all can find that favorite poem. If anything, poetry is a writing that allows us to feel. To be touched by brief expressions of words. There’s power in poetry. It dares us to love or hate it. But more than that, poetry, in its magic, has the great possibly of teaching us something about ourselves.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. A book marketed to children, but it’s a book we should read and re-read as adults. Such a simple message, and yet such a powerful one. The relationship between a boy and the tree that gave everything to him, even to the end. I hate the boy every time I read this book, but I also hate the tree for giving everything of herself to the boy. And that’s the beauty of this book. It reminds us not to be the boy. It reminds us not to be the tree either. It’s definitely a book we should all read, if only to remind us to love trees.
MY THOUGHTS ON TIFFANY’S ANSWERS
I’m utterly impressed that Tiffany wrote the book in a month! A MONTH! She has some serious talent that she’s able to produce such a beautiful story so quickly. And even from reading her answers, you can see that she just can write beautifully. I agree with Tiffany completely on the covers – from the three available, the UK one does the best job of conveying the message of the story. The US one seems way to happy as if it’s a story of a lazy hot summer with some fairly happy story, this cover doesn’t warn you that this will be a darker read, that there will be issues brought up that are serious and horrifying.
All at work is from Tiffany’s page. There are fantastic and I just had to feature them. They compliment the story absolutely beautifully.
Check out another interview with Tiffany over at Chocolaten Waffles Blog. Donna asked entirely different questions, and her interview is really fun. And Tiffany shares what her next novel might be:
Before I let you off the hook, what is next for you?
I’m hoping to follow The Summer that Melted Everything up with my newest novel, When Lions Stood as Men. It’s a story about a Jewish brother and sister who escape Nazi Germany, cross the Atlantic and end up in my land of Ohio. Suffering from survivor’s guilt, this brother and sister isolate themselves and create their own camp of judgment where they act as both the guards and the prisoners. It’s a story of love above all else. The things we do for love. The things we lose to love itself.
I really hope that publishing this novel won’t be such a struggle and we will see this book soon enough!