I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to chat with author Tiffany McDaniel about her debut novel, The Summer that Melted Everything, in the wake of the novel’s paperback release. TSTME was originally released by St. Martin’s Press in July 2016, and was just released in a US paperback edition on July 3rd, 2017. It has also been published by the U.K. publisher, Scribe, this month!
McDaniel’s first published novel, The Summer that Melted Everything, is the story of small town Breathed, Ohio, which experiences a bit of turmoil after the devil accept’s the local newspaper’s invitation to visit. Unique, right?
Here’s the official synopsis:
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 wrestle with their own personal demons, a fanatic drives the town to the brink of a catastrophe that will change this sleepy Ohio backwater forever.
And here’s a little overview about Tiffany:
Tiffany McDaniel is an Ohio native whose writing is inspired by the rolling hills and buckeye woods of the land she knows. Also a poet and artist, she is the winner of The Guardian’s 2016 “Not-the-Booker Prize” and the winner of Ohioana Library Readers’ Choice award for her debut novel, The Summer that Melted Everything. The novel was also a Goodreads Choice Award double nominee in both fiction and debut categories, is a current nominee for the Lillian Smith Book Award, and a finalist for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award for Outstanding Debut.
And now to the super fun stuff–the interview!
Hi, Tiffany and welcome to daydreams and night reads! First off, congratulations on the paperback publication of your novel! It’s been a year since the novel’s original release in hardcover. What has this past year been like for you as a published author?
TM: Thanks so much for your congratulations. This past year as a published author has been continuing that marketing I started about four months prior to the July 2016 release of the hardcover. There’s a lot of worry with having a book out, because if it doesn’t find its audience and doesn’t have strong sales, it’s harder to get a publisher to take another chance on you with a subsequent book. I haven’t had that time yet to relax and celebrate having a book published. It’s been contacting bloggers and reviewers for interviews and reviews, while also trying to fit in as many festivals, fairs, and bookstore signings that I can. I also do book club outreach to book clubs while also offering to Skype in and discuss the book with them. An author’s job doesn’t end with writing the book, and marketing is something that seems to never end.
Where did the idea for The Summer that Melted Everything originate and how did you begin to execute that idea?
TM: The novel started first as a title. It was one of those hot Ohio summers that I felt like I was melting. When I start writing a new novel, I start with the title and the first line. These two things lead the entire rest of the story. I don’t outline or plan the story ahead of time, so the story evolves with new word and page that I write. I think if you plan a story too much, it can domesticate it in a way, and I like to preserve the story’s wild soul.
You’re an Ohio native, and the novel takes place in 1980s Ohio. How has your upbringing in Ohio influenced your stories and writing?
TM: Ohio is a landscape that has shaped me as an author. I grew up in a rural community and I would spend my childhood summers and school year weekends in the south-eastern portion of the state running the hills of the farm my father was left by his parents. The southern Ohio culture became a part of me, so much so I’ve said before, cut me open and fireflies will fly out of me because the landscape is in my blood.
Speaking of influences, what authors and books have played a key part in developing your writing style?
TM: I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I wrote poetry, short stories, and then my first novel when I was eighteen. I’ve always written more than I read. For me, my writing style developed on the internal lathe. I think every author is born with a tool set and it’s up to us to hone those tools to the best of our ability. There’s no better way to do that than to write early and to write often.
What has been the biggest challenge with The Summer that Melted Everything? What about the biggest reward?
TM: The biggest reward has been to have a published book finally on the shelf. I should say that while The Summer that Melted Everything is my first published novel, it’s actually my fifth or sixth novel written. I wrote that first novel when I was eighteen, and wouldn’t get a book contract for TSTME until I was twenty-nine. It was an eleven year journey to publication, full of lots of rejection and perseverance. I was always told my writing and story-telling was risky to publish. Because it was such an uphill battle to get published, I would say that getting published was the biggest challenge as an author. The biggest challenge specific to TSTME would be the continued marketing.
I can’t get over the unique names for your characters! I had to re-read when I was first introduced to Autopsy. What is the character-naming process like for you? How do you brainstorm these names and ultimately, choose them?
TM: The characters know their names before I do, so it’s up to me to listen to them and name them their truth. In the case of Autopsy, I had seen that word the day I was writing his character, and I knew it was the perfect fit for a man who one day invites the devil. I try to add subtle meaning to the characters with names. In the case of Autopsy, the patriarch of the family, his name has a bigger meaning for looking at the entire book as a body itself, on a cold slab, about to be cut open and examined. The novel can be seen as one big autopsy of that summer and of the narrator’s life. Another example of a character with an unusual name is Elohim. Elohim is used for the name of God in the Hebrew bible. We have a character who is called god and another character who is called devil, and yet the one called god does not act godly, and the one called devil does not act devilish. It’s about taking these ideas and turning them on their heads. I could go on about the names, but I fear that would prove an essay-length answer, so I’ll leave it by saying, each name used serves a purpose to the story.
The Summer that Melted Everything explores both elements of good and evil, and can get quite dark at times. How do you separate the dark subject matter that you write from your everyday life?
TM: I often get the question: Why do you write so dark? But as most authors who do write darker stories will say, it’s not our choice. This is the imagination and tool-set we were born with. Some authors are born to write lighter stories, other authors are born to write darker tales. What this does is it gives the reader and all of us a variety of themes, characters, and stories to digest. It’s not an effort for me to separate the fictional world in my head from the real world I’m in. Because these thoughts and stories have always been with me, I’m used to them.
When writing, would you consider yourself more of an outliner or a free-writer?
TM: A free-writer. I’ve never outlined. I think a lot of creative energy can go into
outlining, energy that is better put into writing the story itself. But lots of authors find outlining and preparation useful. That is what is so great about writing. It’s unique to the individual’s creative wheel.
What is your biggest inspiration while writing?
TM: The characters. They come into my mind and I feel a responsibility to them to write their truths to the best of my ability.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
TM: I love baking, gardening, and spending time with all the animals in my life. I also enjoy photography, watching movies, and creating art. Art is another way to keep that creative wheel spinning and I do everything from charcoal to watercolors.
What have you been reading lately?
TM: I’m reading Ruth Franklin’s bio of the wonderful author Shirley Jackson. It’s titled, A Rather Haunted Life. Shirley Jackson is one of my favorite authors so it’s nice to read more about who she was as a person.
What’s next for you?
TM: I have eight completed novels. The novel I’m hoping to follow The Summer that Melted Everything up with is The Chaos We’ve Come From. It’s a story inspired by my mother’s coming-of-age in southern Ohio from the 1950s to the death of her father in the early 1970s. It’s the first novel I wrote at eighteen. It feels like a good time to return to these characters and to this story.
It’s been such a pleasure getting to know Tiffany and her writing better through this interview. I can’t wait to dive further into her novel, especially with my newfound understanding of some of her techniques and with great insights to her characters. Thanks again, Tiffany!
You can keep up with Tiffany on her author website www.tiffanymcdaniel.com.