As you may have noticed in my book review Tuesday (read it HERE), I’m kind of obsessed with new book release, The Summer That Melted Everything. As soon as I finished the book, I online stalked the author, Tiffany McDaniel, because I HAD to speak with her. I would have searched the whole world to talk to Tiffany. Luckily, all it took was an email (although, since we both live in Ohio, we have agreed that one day we will meet up for whiskey). So. Meet Tiffany.
What inspired you to write this book?
The Summer that Melted Everything began its life as a title. It was one of those Ohio summer evenings that I just felt like I was melting. When beginning a new novel, I do always start with the title, with no real plan for what the story is going to be. Once I have the title, I write the first line always. Together the title and the first line determine the entire course of the story for me. In this case, not planning on writing about the devil, the first line really determined I would. I never do an outline or synopsis so the story is always created that moment I’m sitting in front of the computer. For me it’s not so much as being inspired by a particular thing outside of the story, but really just allowing the story to naturally flow without being forced into a specific direction. And once the foundation of the story is built, I’m inspired by the characters themselves. To do right by them and really let their voices be heard.
The story is really very sad. As a writer, did you ever want to stop and turn away from the world you created?
I’ve always said I’m drawn to the crash, not the landing. I want to explore the wreckage, the broken fragments, the things that were once whole and are now scattered upon the ground. I never have that urge to stop or turn away because to me these moments that test us emotionally are moments we’re closest to the truth of our own infinite selves. The novel does deal with heavy issues, as all my writing does.
It’s important to write about these heavy issues but usually when a female author does it, she’s often told she’s too dark and shouldn’t go there, as I have often been told during my writing journey. But when a man writes something that digs into the deep interior, he’s merely being brilliant or a daring risk-taker. The answer here has suddenly turned into a discussion of gender and where we fit in contemporary literary fiction as female authors. So I’ll conclude by saying yes, the novel is at times sad. But I truly believe it’s the hard things in life that define our souls in enormous and even magical ways, because sadness is not just tears on the face and tissues on the floor. It’s being reminded to be present in our lives, to be appreciative of what it means to value each day and those we love in it.
What’s your religious background? How do you think your background (religious or otherwise) affected SUMMER?
I think sometimes that discussion of the author’s religious background can lead readers in a direction the novel itself is better equipped to do. I tend to avoid personal questions, so I won’t go into all that but just say that I tried to find in the novel a balance between traditional religion and rogue religion. Furthermore, exploring singular belief but also that shared belief of who the devil is and who we are in relation to not just our own beliefs, but belief as a whole on that greater scale which pivots in the clouds with the stardust and all the things we cannot see by physical eye.
Is the devil really just other people?
I think this is a great question readers themselves will ask after reading the novel. And after having read the novel, readers will really be able to answer this. I don’t want to give any spoilers away at this point, so I’ll just redirect the answer by saying you learn very early on in the novel that the devil we’re dealing with in this story is not the stereotypical devil found in the biblical narrative. Gone is the beastly appearance of horns and serpent scales and all that we’ve grown accustomed to in thinking about the devil. As I say in the novel, “Sometimes it’s the flower’s turn to own the name.” And in this town of wildflowers, the fields are not left in want.
Who’s your favorite character in SUMMER?
I don’t know if I’d say my favorite character all around. But one of my favorite characters to write was Grand who is Fielding’s brother. Though Grand’s personal battle is specific to him, his struggle for true self and identity is universal. I think also because we see Grand through Fielding’s eyes, we fall in love with Grand just as Fielding has. Grand is the older brother we all want to have. That heroic, selfless human being, who in the end proves himself in more ways than one. If Grand is anything, he is a billion blurry lights become a galaxy of clear illumination, and how can a character like that not be someone to hold dear.
What do you hope people get out of your debut?
That family is more than a house structure and the people inside are more than the titles we give them like father, mother, son, brother. We should always strive to know and understand each other and that goes for the community as a whole as well. Just because someone is called devil doesn’t mean they are the devil. It’s up to us to figure it out for ourselves and to know peace and harmony never lie at the end of those paths paved with hate and paved with the type of red surface others have had to bleed to make.
What’s next for you?
While The Summer that Melted Everything is my first published novel, it’s not the first novel I’ve written. I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen years old. I didn’t get a publishing deal until I was twenty-nine. Some authors publish much sooner than that, others take longer still. What’s true in most cases is that the road to publication is oftentimes a very long, difficult journey. It’s full of rejection, and even still with a novel coming out, you face rejection with subsequent novels and their publication. It’s never easy, but what’s next for me is to just continue writing. The novel I’m hoping to follow The Summer that Melted Everything up with is titled, When Lions Stood as Men. It’s a novel I really hold dear as the subject matter demands that. It’s about a brother and sister and their guilt of surviving the Holocaust. But more than that it’s a story about this brother and sister surviving each other and surviving a love that both defines and determines the course of their entire lives. Sometimes we think the lions in our lives are standing, but really that’s only because we are crawling at their feet, and this novel, while complex in its layers and emotions, is universal in its theme of what it means to stand after tragedy.
The Summer that Melted Everything is the novel to introduce my writing style to readers, but When Lions Stood as Men is the novel that’s going to solidify my style and genre as a writer. It’s a novel I’ve put a great deal of work and love into and I can’t wait for these characters and their stories to be heard. That’s what it all boils down to. Hoping readers hear and find me. Readers have all the power. They’re the ones who give writers like me a career because they buy the book and read it. And that’s all I hope. That folks read what I’ve written and in the end close the book and say, “Hey, that’s a pretty good story. I’m really glad I read it.”
(If you haven’t already ordered your copy of The Summer That Melted Everything, do it soon. It’ll change your life. Click HERE.)