Tiffany McDaniel is a name that many of you are familiar with. And for very good reasons. Her debut book, The Summer That Melted Everything, has earned her several awards and nominations, finding a permanent home among fans of fiction. She also happens to be an incredibly talented poet and artist. I am thrilled to share an interview with her today on Books, Vertigo and Tea.
1.I noticed you also write poetry and paint. Did you grow up wanting to be a writer and artist, or did you have other career dreams when you were younger?
I’d make homemade books out of notebook paper, using cardboard as the cover and binding the book with my mother’s crochet yard. I wasn’t driven to write by an external source. I think for most of us authors, the desire to write is something that’s born within us, ultimately part of our soul. For me, I had an innate desire to write down the images and characters that were in my head. Where art is concerned, I would illustrate my stories and poetry. The visual art form has always gone hand-in-hand for me with the art form of the written word. As far as other careers, I’ve always loved archaeology and the various sciences that explain and explore our universe, so I’ve always thought digging up bones or walking the stars as an astronaut would be a pretty nice way to spend one’s life. But the joy of writing is that writing gives me the opportunity to be an archaeologist, an astronaut, and more, because there’s no career that writing itself, can’t explore on the page.
2.Do you find the process of writing to be one that energizes you or exhausts you?
The best part of being a writer is the writing itself. It’s publishing, and the business of publishing, that is the exhausting part. The Summer that Melted Everything is my first published novel, but 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. It was an eleven-year journey full of rejection and frustration, but for many of us authors, the struggle to get published is the fire we must walk through in order to realize our dreams.
3.Do you recall the moment you knew you were going to write The Summer that Melted Everything, or was it something that sort of happened over time?
I do recall. It was one of those Ohio summers that was so hot, I felt like I was melting. When I start writing a novel, I start with the title and the first line. These two things lead the entire rest of the story for me. So, The Summer that Melted Everything was a title born out of true heat. I didn’t know everything I was going to write in the novel, for I never outline or plan a story beforehand. I like for the story and the characters to develop with each new word and page I write.
4.I find magical realism to be an extremely difficult but wonderful genre as a reader. It seems that it either works very well or not at all. Most readers I talk with will agree. Where did you draw your inspiration from? Was there a lot of researched involved in your writing process?
I actually didn’t see the novel as being magical realism until some readers labeled it as such. I don’t mind that label, I just never focus on a particular label when I’m writing. I just let the story come out, with the goal of telling the truth of the characters to the best of my ability. As far as where I draw inspiration from, it is from the characters. They’re like real people to me, and I want to make sure I’m writing their authentic life. I’m inspired by them to do just that. In regard to research, the novel takes place in the early 1980s and in the early days of AIDS, so I researched how the emergence of that disease was affecting the nation and the world. I don’t research a whole lot for a time period, because I want the story to feel timeless, so as far as the 1980s themselves were concerned, I did surface research such as what clothes were popular, what music folks were listening to, things of that nature. But for the landscape of the story itself, I had the fortune of coming-of-age in this Ohio setting, so the research of the land and of the culture was from my own memories and experience.
5.What challenges, if any, did you encounter while writing from the perspective of male characters?
A writer’s job to be able to write every race, culture, religion, gender, and age, so for me, writing a different gender from my own, wasn’t a challenge, but more of an opportunity to explore life through another lens. I think female authors are often thought to not be able to write a male perspective in an authentic voice. That theory is just another representation of sexism within the industry, which being a female author is something I’ve often faced. I even thought of writing under a male’s name, but then I realized I wouldn’t be part of the solution, I’d be part of the problem, and I’d be hiding my identity in the process.
6.Did you edit any portions of The Summer that Melted Everything that you now wish you could have left in the story?
I was fortunate in that the story was one that my editor and I were happy with from the get-go, so what the editing process entailed was more fine-tuning. Probably since this is my fifth or sixth novel written, I’ve gotten to the point that it’s less about fitting everything into a single book, and more about writing a story that best expresses what you’re trying to say.
7.I could not help but notice that you are also from Ohio. I grew up in South Eastern Ohio for most of my childhood. Did you encounter any struggles or concerns related to writing about a story set in Ohio?
It’s great to hear that you’re an Ohio native, too. Yep, I was born and raised here. The town in the novel is based on a town in Scioto County, Ohio, which is where I spent my childhood summers and school-year weekends, on the family farm. Both my parents were raised in those foothills of the Appalachians, and it’s where my extended family still nests. It was a landscape that was so different from where I was coming from, which was central Ohio, where the land is flatter and the dialect lacks that country twang. So far, for all the eight novels I have written, Ohio has been the setting for all of them, particularly the fictional town of Breathed, Ohio. That landscape and southern Ohio culture has shaped me as a writer and writing about it is like writing about an old friend. I’ve been approached by readers from that area who have read the book and it’s their stamp of approval that makes me happy. Oftentimes, when you’re writing about a real place, you want to make sure that you’re doing the place and the people who call that land home, proud.
8.I could not help but look through some of the watercolor you have on your website that seems to correspond with the book. Do you have a favorite painting you could share with us?
When I write a novel, I do corresponding artwork. I like to take the story and the characters to that next level that art allows. The pieces, “Show Me Your Horns, Sal” and “I Melt with You” were pieces I’d done as possible covers for the novel. But perhaps my favorite of the novel’s artwork is “Old Fielding and the Great Weight of Sorrow.” My mother held the hand pose for that one, even though the traits were turned into those that would represent Older Fielding.
Old Fielding and the Great Weight of Sorrow
By Tiffany McDaniel
9.What can we expect from you in the future in terms of books? Do you have any current projects in the works that you can share a bit about with us?
I have eight novels written, and a completed compilation of my poetry. I was hoping to have a next book out soon, but as always, publishing is proving to be an uphill battle and so far my pitched novels have received only rejections, with editors predominately citing the “riskiness” of my writing, which, as a female literary fiction writer, is something I’ve heard often throughout my career. The novel I was hoping to follow TSTME up with is titled, The Chaos We’ve Come From. It’s a story based on my mother’s coming of age in southern Ohio from the 1950s to the death of her father in the early 1970s.
10.Last but least, I must always ask; do you drink tea and if so, what is your favorite blend?
Though the house always seemed to have iced tea in it when I was growing up, I’ve only had tea myself a handful of times. It wasn’t anything fancy. It was Lipton served hot with sugar. It’s what me and my mom would drink down on the farm. Even if I do ever have a better blend of tea, nothing will ever be better than that tea from the pot I shared with my mom.
The Summer That Melted Everything
By Tiffany McDaniel
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 temperature 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 wrestle with their own personal demons, a fanatic drives the town to the brink of a catastrophe that will change this sleepy Ohio backwater forever.
Tiffany McDaniel is an Ohio native whose writing is inspired by the rolling hills and buckeye woods of the land she knows. Also a poet and artist, she is the winner of The Guardian’s 2016 “Not-the-Booker Prize” and the winner of Ohioana Library Readers’ Choice Award for her debut novel, The Summer that Melted Everything. The novel was also a Goodreads Choice Award double nominee in both fiction and debut categories, was a nominee for the Lillian Smith Book Award, and a finalist for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award for Outstanding Debut. The novel is currently a Target Store/SkimmReads pick.