Tiffany McDaniel, author of The Summer That Melted Everything, talks to me about her writing process.
An Ohio native, Tiffany McDaniel’s 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 is her debut novel.
About The Book
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.
What inspired you to start writing?
Writing is the earliest thing I remember doing as a child outside of an adult telling to do something. I just remember picking up a crayon and scribbling down on paper or cardboard boxes, whatever was around. In my child mind I was writing the story exactly as it was in my head. To an adult it looked like scribbles. When I was a kid I’d make handmade books out of notebook paper for the pages and cardboard flaps for the cover, tying it all together with the yarn my mother used to crochet with. Nothing really inspired me to write. I just knew I wanted to.
I wouldn’t even realize it was a career option until years later in middle school, when the guidance counselor came in to our class to talk about what we wanted to be when we grew up. My parents didn’t have careers, they had jobs. Very hard jobs at that. So I thought that’s what I would have to do in my life as an adult as well. Work at a job that was hard and made me tired and angry and not a lot of money. When the guidance counselor asked me what I liked to do, I said, “I love to write.” And she said I would be a writer then. I couldn’t believe I could spend my life writing and get paid to do it. Before I thought people who wrote books, did it in their spare time aside from other harder jobs. I didn’t realize you could get paid to write. I didn’t realize dreams do come true. However, I will say writing is not something you can make a living at, especially just starting out. It’s not a Stephen King type of paycheck, that’s something I think most authors expect when they start out.
What do you wish you’d known about the publishing process?
That it is extremely difficult to get published. Especially when you write in the genre I write in, which is literary fiction. Add to that to be a female literary fiction writer and you’re in it for the long haul. I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen. And I didn’t get a publishing contract until I was twenty-nine. While The Summer That Melted Everything is my first published novel, it is actually the fifth or sixth novel I’ve written. It is only the second novel to be pitched to editors and publishing houses though. Starting out at eighteen I was so optimistic and hopeful and I really did think publishing was going to be easy because I was ignorant to the whole process. It was eleven years full of rejection after rejection, and agents and editors saying that while they really loved my writing, it wasn’t commercial enough for publishing houses to take a risk on.
I think a lot of the time, publishers underestimate the readers’ appetite for darker literature, like what I write. But over and over again, readers prove they’re interested in literary fiction. Publishing is a business, and businesses like to make money, so commercial fiction is always what they’re going to go after first.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
To never give up. I know many writers will be on the journey to publication even longer than the eleven years I was. The journey to publication can be a heartbreaking one and emotionally devastating and I know at many times you just want to give up, but don’t. You’ll regret it. I have a pay-it- forward mentality when it comes to writers. I always try to help my fellow author out. I only ask that they pay it forward when they’re in a position to help another author out.
What’s next? Are you working on anything else?
I’m hoping to follow The Summer that Melted Everything up with my novel, When Lions Stood as Men. It’s a novel that follows Liora and Abba, a Jewish sister and brother fleeing Nazi Germany. They end up in Ohio of all places and try to survive not just their guilt of escaping Germany and the concentration camps, but they’re also trying to survive each other as well.
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently re-reading James Wright’s book of collected poems, Above the River. There is tremendous beauty in his prose and I never stop wishing I could just tattoo his words on my soul.
Tell us more about Fielding. Why did you decide to write from his perspective?
I always write in the first-person. To date out of all my nine novels, only one is written in third person. I feel like I really tell the story better if the character who has experienced these things the most is the one speaking to readers. Fielding was the perfect narrator because this is his coming of age, living life to old age and inviting readers in to see all that has indeed melted for him.
What influenced the events depicted in The Summer That Melted Everything?
No events influenced those in The Summer that Melted Everything. The novel started life out as a title. It was an Ohio summer and I just felt like I was melting. I always start a new novel with two things. The title and the first line. I never outline or plan what the story is going to be and the direction it is going to take. It’s a very organic process for me. I just sit in front of the laptop and type what’s there in my head that day. It almost feels like the characters are telling their own story and I’m merely their vessel through which it comes. These events really are their own. They belong to Fielding and Sal and Autopsy and Stella and Grand. To me my characters are real people. Their fictional universe is just as tangible as our own.
Which authors influence you the most?
I came to read all the literary heavyweights of late. Donna Tartt, Shirley Jackson, Toni Morrison. So I can’t say that they influenced me, but they remain among my favorite authors. Especially Shirley Jackson and Ray Bradbury. They spent their lives doing exactly what they were put on this earth to do, which is to write. I can only hope one day someone says the same thing about me.
The Summer That Melted Everything is out on July 26th. Click here to read my review.