Recently Tiffany McDaniel reached out to me and offered me a review copy of her new novel The Summer That Melted Everything which is released today in the US. This unique, thought-provoking novel has to be a stand-out for me of 2016 so far and I’m so pleased I got the opportunity to read it and interview the author! You can take a look at my review here and view the book on Amazon here.
The Summer That Melted Everything is a very unique story. From the cover you could be forgiven for thinking it’s quite a light, contemporary, summer novel. The blurb hints at something much darker. How would you categorise the book’s genre and describe the story?
I do think the cover the US publisher chose doesn’t really represent the story as best as another cover possibly could. But as a debut author, I have no say in cover selection. I do think the UK publisher’s cover, with its black background and tossing of flames, really does give the reader an idea of the story itself. How I would categorize the book’s genre is as literary fiction. But what makes my literary fiction different from other books in the genre, is that The Summer that Melted Everything has a hook. That which pulls the reader in.
I would further describe the story as that of a man named Autopsy Bliss who one day, torn between the morals of his job and the morals of himself as a man, puts an invitation in the newspaper, inviting the devil to town. The one come to answer the invitation is a thirteen-year-old boy in overalls with the fading presence of bruises. This boy arrives with the start of a hell-hot heatwave that bakes the town from the inside out. For one summer, enough events transpire to change a life. To change many lives. This is the story of everything that melted. This is the story of the flames that did the melting.
[Left: US Cover Right: UK cover]
The Summer that Melted Everything is your first novel. When were you first inspired to write this story, and how long did it take you to write?
While The Summer that Melted Everything is my first published novel, it’s not the first novel I’ve written. I have eight completed novels, and am working on my ninth. The Summer that Melted Everything falls on that list as being the fifth or sixth book I’ve written. I wrote it in a month the summer I was twenty-eight. It was one of those Ohio summers I felt like I was melting into a puddle at my feet, and thus the title was born.
What other works of fiction and poetry have inspired you?
I’ve been writing since I was a kid, so I can’t speak specifically to what has inspired me. In terms of the inspiration for each of my novels, I always say it’s the characters themselves that inspire me to write the story as authentically as I can. My characters feel very to me, so I owe it to them to write the beginning, middle, and end they deserve. A story that is their truth. With this being said, there are so many authors and works of fiction and poetry that I am simply in awe of. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I want to be buried with this book so I can carry it with me into the afterlife, if only to keep me company with its story and its characters. Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a book I have read over and over again. All of Jackson’s writing is that of a true master. It is the writing of a woman doing exactly what she was put on this earth to do. I love The Secret History and The Little Friend by Donna Tartt, the books of Toni Morrison, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. All works and authors who are the true giants of their craft. And of course, poet James Wright. A lesser-known figure of the poetry world, but he is a poet from my land of Ohio. He writes with an ease and a verse that is born to him from the stars, I haven’t a doubt. These are the true authors. Compared to them I’m an idiot with words.
Why did you choose the year 1984 to set your summer?
When I was thinking of the time the summer was going to be set in, I thought of the 1980s. To me they seem like a decade-long summer of neon colors, booming boom-boxes, big hair, and big dreams. Girls in bikinis and surfing the waves. Guys in bright cars, squealing their tires. The 1980s was this summer’s true home. No other decade could have matched the story as well. As far as why 1984, well, it was early enough in the decade for the AIDS epidemic to be just beginning in a way that made it even more fearful to everybody. Furthermore, 1984 is of course the title of George Orwell’s beautiful masterpiece. And once readers read The Summer that Melted Everything they come face-to-face with Orwell’s work in ways that made 1984 the perfect year for this particular summer.
I understand you’re an Ohio native – how much of Breathed was based upon/inspired by your hometown?
Breathed, Ohio is based on my childhood summers and school-year weekends spent down home in southern Ohio on the hilly acreage and in the cinderblock house my father was left by his parents. For being in a northern state like Ohio, southern Ohio has a southern United States twang. It’s a front-porch life down there, of dirt roads and rolling hills. Having spent that time in southern Ohio has shaped me as an author. I am the dirt roads, the rolling hills, the creek flowing by. I am of rust and bone and all moon-shine speak. Open me up, and bull-frogs hop out. My blood will bleed fire-flies and my soul will cast as rolling as any of the hills.
Did you know when you started out writing the story exactly how it would turn out?
I never outline or pre-plan a story. What the story becomes, how it ends, I’m always surprised myself because the story evolves as I write it. There’s no clear-cut direction. I never force a specific action upon a character. It all comes down to how the characters naturally progress and in that the story is never fully known to me until I write that last word.
How did you go about finding an agent and securing a publishing deal for your novel?
I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen and it wouldn’t be until I was in my mid-twenties until I got my first agent. And then it wouldn’t be until I was twenty-nine when I got the publishing offer from St. Martin’s Press for The Summer that Melted Everything. All in, it was eleven years of rejection and fear I’d never be published. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life, because after the heart-ache and despair brought on by the struggle to get published, I felt like I never would be a true author. I’m thirty-one now, so even with a publishing deal, publishing moves at a snail’s pace, and with all the years in, I will have waited thirteen years to see one of my books on the shelf for the first time. More authors will wait and struggle for even longer. So I don’t want to take away from their struggle. To them I say never give up. That’s easier said than done, but if you do give up, you might miss tomorrow, and tomorrow could be the day the tides change in your favor.
Do you have any quirky writing habits or tips?
I’m very boring in the way I just sit there and type. I’m pretty disorganized, so I find when my desk is cluttered, I’m less productive. I usually like to work in silence. Sometimes I may listen to music, but nothing with lyrics. Unless they’re lyrics that would make me want to paint my walls black. There is one strange thing I do from time to time when I’m writing, but it’s too weird to say.
The book is narrated by a much older Fielding looking back on the summer of 1984. Why did you choose to tell the story in retrospect?
I find that in my writing I do tend to include the story line of life and looking back on it. I’m not sure why this has been a theme in my writing, but it’s what feels very natural to my writing, especially to Fielding’s story. If this story would have been told in the moment it was happening, we would have lost the effect that summer had on Fielding throughout the rest of his life. We would have lost the realization of the man he became. I’ve always liked the scar of a wound. That’s what retrospect is. Standing on the scar, remembering the wound beneath.
“YOUNG FIELDING MELTS IN THE PUDDLE OF INNOCENCE”
Original Watercolour by Tiffany McDaniel
All of the characters in Breathed are complex, with their own secrets and burdens. How do you go about developing your characters, and how much of their back-stories had you planned before you began writing?
I plan no backstory for any of the characters. Really all the characters evolve with each new word I write, and each new page. I really do surprise myself how these characters turn out, because I don’t know them from the beginning. I meet them along the way. I know them only by the last line, and the last word of the story. My characters really do feel like real people to me. These secrets and burdens are their own. These lives are their truths.
Do you think any of the characters in the novel are truly good, or truly evil?
We see the possibility of goodness in so many characters in the novel, and we see the possibility of wickedness in them as well. As it is in the real world. A true villain has good inside him. A true hero has evil. It’s the deciding factor of a person that makes them truly good or truly evil. The decision to be, rests in our own hands and for most of us, we find ourselves tracking in those shades of gray, between black and white, somewhere in the middle of the halos and the horns.
What’s next for you?
I’m hoping to follow The Summer that Melted Everything up with my newest completed novel When Lions Stood as Men. It’s about a Jewish brother and sister who escape Nazi Germany, cross the Atlantic Ocean and end up in my land of Ohio. Suffering from survivor’s guilt, the brother and sister create their own camp of judgement where they serve as both the guards and the inmates. While in their created camp they must survive not only their guilt, but each other.
What is the main emotion or lesson which you would like readers to take away from this book?
That we are only as godly as the love we give. We are only as devilish as the hate we spread.
The Summer That Melted Everything is out today in the US and 11th August in the UK. Find out more at tiffanymcdaniel.com. I’d like to thank Tiffany and the publishers again for this opportunity – hope you all enjoyed reading!