Tiffany McDaniel writes with a wholly original beauty that is rarely seen. Arresting. Disquieting. Luminous. This is a sample of reviews from readers. There are a thousand more like them.
“I think something deep in my soul has shifted after reading this book. My gut is still churning after turning the final page 2 days ago… My heart broke and wept openly as a reader, as a mother, and simply as a human being. PLEASE read this book; it will certainly be a pick in my round up for TOP 10 books I’ve read this year.”
“I am a mess! I mean an emotional wreck! I have a migraine from crying! This is the best book that I have come across since ‘A Little Life.’ If I could give it 10 Stars I would! 11? I cannot believe that this is a debut novel!”
“The language is fundamental to the story; the originality of expression is that of a master wordsmith, not a debut author. It is difficult, layered, and complex; providing a stark contrast to the simplistic language of hate the forms the darker currents within the novel. The single words used to embody an entire doctrine of superiority and negation.”
“Here is the truth: this book is perfect. When you look at every single element of this story, every single character, phrase and all of the parts of the plot, you get one perfect whole, completeness that leaves you breathtaken in an absolutely literal way.”
Tiffany is an Ohio native who says her 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 (St. Martin’s Press, 2016) is her debut novel. It is a 2016 Goodreads Choice fiction nominee and has been featured on BuzzFeed, in PARADE magazine, Booklist, and roughly a hundred other places including here in The Guardian. Tiffany and THE SUMMER THAT MELTED EVERYTHING also won The Guardian’s 2016 “Not-the-Booker Prize” by a shocking margin.
Thank you for joining us, Tiffany. We are honored to have you.
Let’s start from the beginning, your beginning.
Where did you grow up? What sorts of things did you like to do as child?
I was born in Circleville, Ohio and raised in Ashville, Ohio. As a kid I’d spend my summers and school year weekends in southern Ohio doing much of what I describe the youth doing in The Summer that Melted Everything.
Fishing, running the hills, listening to the crickets and the bullfrogs speak. I’ve always had a fascination with archaeology so I spent lots of time digging in the dirt, studying rocks, imagining them to be dinosaur bones or remnants of lost civilizations. I’ve gardened since I was a kid and I, of course, wrote. Poetry, short stories, plays. I’d make books out of cardboard and my mother’s crochet yarn.
Favorite books from your adolescence?
I was a kid of the 1990s so I grew up on R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps and Fear Street series. I liked the Fear Street series more than the Goosebumps because Fear Street was written for teenagers and Stine was allowed a little more mayhem for the older audience.
Favorite side dish?
Pretty much anything potato.
Favorite family tradition?
I liked getting into the car late at night on Fourth of July and driving to the dark and quiet overpass up the road from our house to watch the fireworks being set off from town. The summer air was warm, and yet there was a sadness there in the air too because it seemed that the last of summer was shooting up in the air and being released in those fireworks.
How do you describe your genre?
Literary fiction. It could also be Midwest Literature or Midwest Gothic.
It’s been said that overnight success doesn’t exist. For all your tremendous talent and all the acclaim THE SUMMER THAT MELTED EVERYTHING has received, you paid your dues to get here. When did you write your first story? How long has it been since then? What did you learn from your journey in publishing?
I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen. I wouldn’t get a publishing contract until eleven years later for The Summer that Melted Everything, which is my first published novel but my fifth or sixth novel written. Getting published is no easy feat. It’s full of hard work, rejection, and perseverance. If I’ve learned anything from my journey to publication is that it’s an uphill battle. Even after publication, it’s an uphill battle to market and sell the book. The author’s job does not end with the writing.
You wrote eight novels before choosing THE SUMMER THAT MELTED EVERYTHING as the one you wanted to debut with. What made it stand out from the others for you?
I liked the relationships between the characters and I liked the mystery of the character of Sal. Is he the devil or isn’t he? The book has a hook. You want to uncover the mystery. You want to know who these people are and what exactly melted that summer.
What themes did you explore in THE SUMMER THAT MELTED EVERYTHING and what drew you to them?
While The Summer that Melted Everything takes place in 1984, the issues it deals with are relevant today. I never outline or plan what my stories will be, so when starting a new novel I don’t know what issues will be addressed. I like for the issues to arise naturally as the characters evolve. That way it doesn’t feel like a forced commentary, but rather it’s the truth of the characters.
It could be argued that THE SUMMER THAT MELTED EVERYTHING, which has been compared to To Kill A Mockingbird, has the potential to raise awareness and even to incite social change. What are your thoughts on this? Was that your intention? Do you feel called to do it again in the future?
With story, I don’t aim to entertain only. I hope to be part of the conversation that we should all be having. A conversation about who we are. A conversation about who we want to be.
How did you conceive Breathed, Ohio, the fictional town at the center of your novel? Why was it important to you to set it there?
Breathed, Ohio is a fictional town based on the southeastern potion of the state where I spent my childhood summers and school year weekends. It’s the hilly acreage and down home culture both my parents were raised in. I didn’t realize how much that landscape would end up shaping my writing until I wrote my first novel, which was based on my mother’s upbringing in southern Ohio. Since that first novel, Breathed, Ohio and the southern Ohio culture has found its way into every one of my novels.
One of main characters, Sal, is a bruised and tattered thirteen-year-old boy who claims to be the devil himself. Where did the idea for him come from?
I will say none of the characters are based on real people. The characters just come into my mind as I write their story. It’s our job as authors to deliver these characters to the world while also preserving each character and preserving their authentic self. Sal is an interesting character because he’s a contradiction. And old soul in a young body. Who is Sal? He’s a mystery even to me.
You start your books with nothing more than a title and a first line. How is that possible? Do you have characters in your head? An idea of what the story is about?
I never outline. I like to spend my creative energy in the actual writing of the story. The title and the first line lead me to the story. As long as you trust in the story, it’ll come out the way it’s meant to.
Where do you get your story ideas? How do they come to you?
The ideas are in my head. They just come. There’s no science, no conjuring, no special tools needed to prepare and extract an idea. I know this is a rather boring answer, but it’s the truth.
What part of writing a novel is the most difficult for you? What is your trick at overcoming it? What part is the easiest?
What has been the hardest part of my writing journey is not the writing itself, but the publishing. Just getting published was hard enough, and then the continued work to market the novel and sell the book has proved difficult. To answer your question of which part of the writing journey is the easiest. That’s an easy answer. Falling in love with the characters.
You write very quickly (even one in 8 days!), and yours are not short books. What is your schedule like when you are drafting?
I like to write the story from beginning to end as quickly as I can. I don’t like for the story to sit for too long because it loses its essence for me. People think if you write a book fast then you’re not able to make sure it’s of quality, but the actual writing of the book and the actual drafting of a book are two different stages, and the copyediting stage is yet another part of the process that ensures you’re constantly bettering a novel from that very first write.
What is your revision process?
It’s pretty simple. I just read, read, read, and edit. During the copy-editing stage I seem to catch something new to correct each read through.
Who are some authors you share your audience with?
A lot of readers who like The Summer that Melted Everything seem to also like Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, Harper Lee, Flannery O’ Connor, Donna Tartt, and Toni Morrison. And those are some pretty good authors to share an audience with.
You do a ton of grassroots marketing. Can you tell us about that? How does one budget for marketing? How do you find the book clubs?
I’ve been trying to market the book to book clubs since July and thus far, five months later, I only have six book clubs on my schedule to Skype with. Book Clubs that meet off-line can be hard to find now-a-days. I do offer to Skype into the club meeting, I give a discussion guide, recipes from the characters, and a suggested playlist of the novel, so I try to make it as special for clubs as I can.
My other marketing has consisted of contacting book bloggers for reviews. I’ve done over a hundred author interviews for these blogs, and I’ve ran giveaways. I’ve tried my best to get the book out there and it’s a constant battle to reach a wider audience. As far as how to budget for marketing, well it gets expensive very fast. I think most people think the author gets tons of free books to market out. That’s not true. The author has to buy the book whether it be for reviews or giveaways. There can be bigger expenses depending on your marketing strategy.
To what/who do you owe your artful, literary voice?
I think all of us are born with the passion, love, and talent to do what we’re meant to do in this world. Whether you are meant to be a teacher, a firefighter, an astronaut, or a farmer, we all have inside us the things that make us unique and the things which drive us to be who we are. Without getting too philosophical, I suppose in the swirls of our soul lies the answers to questions like this one.
You are a woman of many creative gifts – novelist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, and artist. Does each artform come from the same place in you? Do they make you feel the same way? In what ways do they overlap and contrast?
I think each art form comes from the same creative wheel. They can overlap as seamlessly as waves in an ocean. And they can be as contrasting as the moon and the sun. That’s what keeps their identity as separate art forms and in essence it is what allows them to work together while also working apart.
What has been like to write the screenplay of THE SUMMER THAT MELTED EVERYTHING?
I’ve always loved the art of the screenplay. It’s been great to begin work on adapting The Summer that Melted Everything. I’m staying true to the novel. I should say there’s no film deal yet, but hopefully once I finish the screenplay it can go on submission and then it’ll be waiting to see if we get any interest.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers?
Publishers give authors the chance to get published and test the waters, but it’s the readers that determine if an author sticks around or not. Publishing is a business first and foremost, and if your books don’t sell, you’ll have a hard time convincing a publisher they should risk losing money on you. If you want to see an author continue to be published, you have to show the author some support by buying their books and telling others about them. Word of mouth is so important, especially for authors just starting out. Authors do not have a career without readers.
To aspiring writers?
My advice to aspiring authors is to never give up and don’t let rejection defeat you. You can’t lose faith that one day you’ll be published.
What is your next book about?
The novel I had hoped to follow The Summer that Melted Everything up with is When Lions Stood as Men. It’s the story of a Jewish brother and sister who escape Nazi Germany, cross the Atlantic Ocean, and end up in my land of Ohio. Struggling with the guilt of surviving the Holocaust, they create their own camp of judgment. Being both the guards and the inmates, they punish themselves not only for surviving, but for the sins they know they cannot help but commit. There’s also that first novel I wrote and which is inspired by my mother’s coming-of-age. It’s a novel I’m looking forward to letting out into the world.
Cheese or Chocolate?
Tomato Juice or Orange Juice?
River or Lake?
Writing on Computer or with Pen and Paper?
Thank you, Tiffany! We support you now and always. ☺
THE SUMMER THAT MELTED EVERYTHING
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 temperatures 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.
WINNER OF THE GUARDIAN’S 2016 “NOT THE BOOKER” PRIZE
“Sometimes a book comes along that is so good that it defies all descriptions, but I’ll give it a shot anyway: Tiffany McDaniel’s astounding and heartbreaking The Summer That Melted Everything reads as if Carson McCullers and Shirley Jackson got together with Nathaniel Hawthorne in some celestial backwater and decided to write the first truly great gothic coming-of-age novel of the twenty-first century. There, I said it. Now read it.” ―Donald Ray Pollock, author of Knockemstiff and The Devil All the Time
“This debut novel shines with beauty and lyricism. . . Give this to fans of atmospheric fiction, particularly those who enjoy the grit of Donald Ray Pollock, the foreshadowing of Shirley Jackson, and the mounting suspense of Peter Straub.” ―Library Journal
“[McDaniel] is capable of stirring powerful emotions…an ambitious novel that will invite thought and surely spark discussion.” ―Booklist
“Tiffany McDaniel’s The Summer That Melted Everything is a wonderfully original, profoundly unsettling, deeply moving novel that delivers both the shock of fully realized reality and the deep resonance of parable. This is remarkable debut by a splendid young writer.”―Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
“In this bold and surprising debut novel, Tiffany McDaniel reveals a new voice in contemporary fiction. At times comic, at times heartbreaking, The Summer That Melted Everything, moves between the future and the past, and gives us a window on a particular time, the hell-hot summer of 1984, and a group of characters George Orwell could not have imagined. In this world nothing is quite what it seems, as mystery and revelation alternate, right up to the end. At times surreal, magical, this story of a family and community incorporates global warming, AIDS, discrimination, fear, mass hysteria, lynching, and martyrdom, but in the end is a love story, warning us not to be too quick in judging what is evil and what is good.” ―Robert Morgan, New York Times bestselling author of Gap Creek
“Sometimes there is a novel so strange and beguiling it makes you give up your world for another world, all the while that you are reading it. Such a story is Tiffany McDaniel’s tale of an enchanted boy―who might be the devil―welcomed into a family with no right to their name, Bliss. It will frighten you, and charm you, and break your heart if you allow it . . . and you will allow it, because once this world has hold of you, it won’t let you go.” ―Jacquelyn Mitchard, New York Times bestselling author The Deep End of the Ocean and Two if by Sea
“When word gets out that the devil may be in Breathed, tensions and temperatures will rise, and soon the town will find itself enveloped in full-blown hysteria. A fantastic Jackson-esque debut about rumors, fears, and beliefs.” ―BookRiot
“The Summer that Melted Everything is inventive and provocative…a meaty and relentlessly good story.” ―Bookreporter.com
“A haunting Appalachian Gothic novel that calls into question the nature of good and evil.” ―Akron Beacon Journal
“Tiffany McDaniel’s brilliant literary debut is a feast for the mind. Her gifted language and stunning story craft shine a bright light on human nature as she examines the face of good and evil. I enjoyed every single word.” ―Susan Crandall, bestselling author of Whistling Past the Graveyard
“It is rare that a narrative makes me question my own beliefs. This book did that very thing. A fine story with a message about truth, trust, family, and the dangers of the devils among us.” – Suzanne Palmieri, author of The Witch of Bourbon Street
“The Summer That Melted Everything is a blast of hellfire, humor, and heartbreak that’s part Flannery O’Connor, part Stephen King, and wholly original.” ―Lou Berney, author of The Long and Faraway Gone
“A wondrous debut of a novel. Imagine To Kill a Mockingbird, seen through the eyes of Neil Gaiman. McDaniel’s prose is rich and magical, full of passages of exquisite, strange beauty that ache with bitter truths and old sorrows. You’ll not read anything else like it.” ―James Sie, author of Still Life Las Vegas
THE SUMMER THAT MELTED EVERYTHING is available –
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Interviewed by –
Her women’s fiction and is represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the contest chair for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association 2016 Rising Star writing contest for unpublished authors.
Her work has appeared in national and regional publications, including skirt! magazine. When she isn’t editing her novel, #LOVEIN140, you can find her belting out Broadway tunes (off key and with the wrong words), cheering herself hoarse over a soccer match (USWNT!), learning to play piano (truly pitifully), building or fixing household things, and trying to squeeze more than twenty-four hours out of every day.