I was lucky enough to have the amazing author of The Summer that Melted Everything, Tiffany McDaniel, reach out to me to help promote the release of the paperback version of her debut novel!
I was stunned by the gorgeously melodic and poetry-like writing (and was honestly shocked that this is her debut). If you’re looking for a beautifully written novel, look no further!
Tiffany was also nice enough to offer an interview based off of her novel (there are no major spoilers so no worries)!
—- Photo credit for the featured photo and this one: Me! Created for @the_book_noodle on Instagram 🙂 —-
Me: Where is your favorite place to write or the place you find you’re most productive working on your novel?
Tiffany: I think most authors dream of the perfect writing nook. When I first started out writing, I did so on my bed with the laptop on my lap because I didn’t have a desk. Now I finally have a desk in the corner of my bedroom where I write. It’s not my favorite place. It’s just the place that’s available to me at the moment. But the great thing about writing is that you can do it anywhere. It’s really the imagination you live and work in.
How did you start planning for this book? Did you start with characters, plot, etc.?
The novel started first as a title. It was one of those hot Ohio summers that I felt like I was melting into a puddle of myself. Out of true heat, the title was born. I always start writing a new novel with two things: the title and the first line. The title and the first line lead the entire rest of the story. I don’t outline or plan a story ahead of time, so the story evolves with each new word and page that I write. I never know the twists and turns a story is going to take, until I’m in the moment and writing it. But I like that element of surprise, because I think if you plan a story too much you can domesticate it, and I like for the soul of the story to run wild.
Why did you choose to write about your home state?
Southern Ohio, in those foothills of the Appalachians, has shaped me as an author. It’s where I would spend my childhood summers and school-year weekends running the hills of the farm my father was left by his parents. To me as a kid it was a place of magic and of moonshine madness. To watch the gars go swimming by in the creek and imagine them to be alligators, or to listen to the wild turkey calls through the fog of early mornings. I’ve said before cut me open and fireflies will fly out of me because that land is in my blood. For all eight of the novels I have written thus far, the fictional town of Breathed, Ohio, has been the setting for each of them. In a way, this fictional Ohio town is a character itself, and a character that I think will continue long in my stories as it’s inspired by the very real foothills of the Appalachians that I love.
What got you into writing? Have you always wanted to be an author?
I’ve been writing since I was a kid. There was an innate desire to write down what was in my head. I wrote short stories, poetry, and then my first novel at eighteen. There was never an external drive that inspired me to write. Rather I was driven to do so by that internal creative wheel.
Why did you decide to add the ability to speak Russian to Grand’s character? Was that just a random tidbit you added or was there a purpose behind it?
With novels you really want things to have a purpose and to not be random details that will throw the reader off, so with Grand speaking Russian there was definitely a purpose. When I thought of Grand and of who he was, I knew he was dealing with an identity crisis. I won’t give any spoilers away, but Grand is a character who is trying to figure himself out. Everyone in the novel thinks of Grand as the all-American small town hero. Yet, he wants to be more than what everyone expects him to be. In a way he’s using Russian to learn who he is, to learn this foreign feeling that he feels inside him. By embracing this foreign language, he’s ultimately embracing that aspect of himself that feels foreign in comparison to the slice of American life that he’s living.
If you sorted your characters into Hogwarts houses, who would be in which house?
Let’s see, Autopsy would be in Ravenclaw. Stella and Grand would be in Hufflepuff. Fielding would sometimes be in Hufflepuff, other times Gryffindor, depending on the situation and at what point in his life. Sal and Dresden would be in Gryffindor, while Ryker, Alvernine, and Elohim would definitely be in Slytherin.
Why did you decide to include quotes from Paradise Lost at the beginning of every chapter? I’m assuming that book greatly influenced the writing of yours. What other books have also influenced your writing?
I always title my chapters after writing a book because I don’t want the chapter titles to influence or lead the chapter in a way that’s not natural to the story at hand. When I was thinking of chapter titles for this novel, I thought of “Paradise Lost”. Most of these characters in my novel are dealing with the loss of their own paradise. The themes within Milton’s work and my own seemed to run along the same lines. Ultimately, it’s an exploration of good v. evil. To answer the second part of your question, I will say that I’ve always written more than I’ve read. By the time I read the authors that I consider to be among my favorites, I already had a few novels written, which is why I can’t say they’ve influenced me, but some of my favorite authors are Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, Donna Tartt, Agatha Christie, and the poet James Wright, who is from my land of Ohio.
Why did you choose to portray the devil as a 13 year old boy?
Thirteen is an age when we are starting to shed the innocence of our youth. An innocence that will be replaced by the maturity we’ll carry into adulthood. It’s also the age they say Joan of Arc was when she first heard the voices, so it seems to be a divine age as well. I didn’t want a stereotypical devil of red flesh and horns. When Sal came into my mind, he came as he was and there was no other choice for his character to be. I should say it’s a mystery as to whether he is the devil or not. One of the great things about writing Sal was that I was writing a mystery. He’s an old soul in a young body. A contradiction, really. He is intelligent and creative. That type of character is always a joy to write.
Where did you come up with the names for your characters? The name Autopsy has stuck with me for a while as being a totally random and amazing name for a character. I really would love the know the origin of that one!
The names do serve a purpose. In the case of Autopsy, I had seen that word the day I was writing his character. I was familiar with the word. The dead body on the cold slab about to be cut open and examined. That coupled with the deeper meaning of the word, “to see for oneself”. My hope with the name is that as readers continue to repeat the word “autopsy” through the course of the novel, that they began to look at old Fielding as someone who is at the end of his life and putting himself up on the slab. He’s cutting himself open, performing a self-autopsy, trying to figure out what killed him. In essence, the entire novel can be seen as one big autopsy. So in the end, Autopsy’s name is more than just the moniker of a man.
I was a huge fan of how you included commonly “touchy” subjects such as homophobia, racism, religion, etc. without making the story seem heavy. Why did you decide to increase the complexity of the story by adding in these ideas?
I don’t do character sketches or outline a story, so the issues were never part of a pre-planning stage. The issues developed as the characters themselves developed. You never want to force an issue on to a character for the sake of being controversial. You simply want that character to speak their truth. In the case of this story, homophobia, racism, and religion were the truths of these characters. These issues defined who they were, explained their actions, and ultimately was what made their journeys sincere.
Why did you decide to tell it from the point of view of a much older Fielding rather than in the moment?
I wanted to explore the ripples of that summer. I didn’t want to leave the effects in the past, but rather I wanted the effects to play out for the rest of Fielding’s life. A thing that has melted is permanent in that melt. Fielding is a character that represents that tragic aspect and conclusion of that summer. It was only fair to his journey from boy to man, to uncover how the rest of his life unfolded. That summer haunted him and changed the course of his future. To keep Fielding in that moment, and that moment only, would have been a disservice to his person.
Do you have any other books in the works for the future?
I have eight completed novels. 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 my first novel when I was eighteen, and wouldn’t get a publishing contract until I was twenty-nine for The Summer that Melted Everything. It was a long eleven-year journey to publication, full of rejection and perseverance. My writing is dark, and I was often told I was risky to publish in today’s commercial marketplace. The novel I’m hoping to follow The Summer that Melted Everything up with is titled The Chaos We’ve Come From. It’s that first novel I wrote when I was 18, and 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 feels like a good time to return to this story. I’m also compiling my first poetry collection.
Thank you so so much to Tiffany for being so lovely and offering to take time to answer all of my questions. If any of you haven’t picked this novel up, what are you waiting for? Go go go!