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Amazing Tunes, Stupid Heat & Melting Things: An Interview with Tiffany McDaniel

It’s not too often that I get contacted by an author I’ve heard of previously, so it’s always super exciting when that happens! I’m so excited to share this interview with you guys, because you’ve probably seen her book around the blogging community.

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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. 

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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” 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, is a current nominee for the Lillian Smith Book Award, and has recently been announced as a finalist for the Ohioana Literary Award and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award for Outstanding Debut.

Let’s start with a get-to-know-you question: What are three random things about you?

Three random things…
One of my favorite movies is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
I wish I had been with Howard Carter when he unearthed King Tutankhamun’s tomb.
I love to garden.  

Because music is such a big part of my blog, I do need to ask, what are you favourite songs/bands/artists? Any recommendations for new stuff readers (or I) can check out?

Some of my favourite artists are Johnny Cash, John Denver, and Bob Dylan.  A few of my favourite bands are Imagine Dragons, X Ambassadors, Mumford and Sons, and The Rolling Stones.  To list a few songs, there’s Master Jack by 4 Jacks & a Jill, Bette Davis Eyes by Kim Carnes, Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry, River by Leon Bridges, and Stand by Me by Ben E. King.    

So many good songs and artists! What about all time favourite foods?

Blueberries.  Pretty much anything you can do with potatoes.  Fried green tomatoes, okra, and zucchini.  You can never go wrong with ice cream.  I also love to bake breads, pies, and cakes of all kinds.   

What sort of books do you like to read?

Some of my favourite books are Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, and The Secret History by Donna Tartt.  One of my favourite poets is James Wright, a poet from my land of Ohio.  Above the River: The Collected poems of James Wright, is a really wonderful collection of his work.  

When did you start writing?

I’ve been writing ever since I was a kid.  Writing is the first thing I remember doing as a child without being told to do so.  There was an innate desire to write down what was in my head.  I wrote short stories and poetry, and would make little books as a child.  When I was eighteen, I wrote my first novel.  

What is your writing process like?

I don’t outline or plan the story ahead.  I think if you plan a story too much you can domesticate it in a way, and I like to preserve the story’s wild soul.  For me, the story evolves with each new word and page that I write.  

So The Summer That Melted Everything – what can you tell us about it?

The Summer that Melted Everything is about a man who one day puts an invitation in the newspaper, inviting the devil to town.  A boy, claiming to be the devil, answers the invitation, only this boy is not your stereotypical devil of red flesh and horns.  This so-called devil’s arrival coincides with the start of a heat-wave that threatens to destroy the town’s very sanity.  As the summer unfolds, the boy’s presence has tragic consequences on the town and everyone in it.  Who is the real devil?  That is a question The Summer that Melted Everything sets out to answer.

What made you want to write this book?

The Summer that Melted Everything started as a title.  It was one of hot Ohio summers that I felt like I was melting.  Out of true heat, the title was born.  There wasn’t anything external that drove me to write this story.  It’s all from that internal creative wheel.    

Did you listen to anything in particular music-wise while you were writing this book?

When I’m writing I don’t listen to music with lyrics because the lyrics compete with the words in my head.  So if I do listen to anything while writing, it’s always instrumental.  I do have a suggested playlist of songs though that I came up with after I wrote the novel.  In case anyone is interested, here’s the suggested playlist:

  • Death Cab for Cutie-I’ll Follow you into the Dark
  • R.E.M-Losing my Religion
  • Johnny Cash-God’s Going to Cut you Down
  • Band of Horses-The Funeral
  • Inxs-Devil Inside
  • Hozier-Take me to Church
  • Rolling Stones-Sympathy for the Devil
  • Gary Jules-Mad World
  • Jeff Buckley-Hallelujah
  • Banarama-Cruel Summer
  • Alphaville-Forever Young
  • Eurythmics-Here Comes the Rain Again
  • James Vincent McMorrow-We Don’t Eat
  • Michael Jackson-Beat it
  • Duran Duran-Wild Boys
  • Roy Clark-Yesterday when I was Young
  • Johnny Cash-Hurt
  • Mike and the Mechanics-The Living Years

Maybe it’s just me, but Fielding is kind of a funny name. What made you choose that name specifically?

With names I try to add meaning to the character and to the story.  Without giving too much of the story away, Fielding’s name will ultimately come to represent the things we field in this life.  

In the case of Autopsy, the patriarch of the family, his name has a bigger meaning for looking at the entire book as a body itself, on a cold slab, about to be cut open and examined. Fielding’s telling of the story is in essence one big autopsy of that summer and his life.

Another example of a character with an unusual name is Elohim.  Elohim is used for the name of God in the Hebrew bible.  So we have a character who is called god and another character who is called devil, and yet the one called god does not act godly, and the one called devil does not act devilish.   It’s about taking these ideas and turning them on their heads.  I could go on and on about the names, but I fear that would prove an essay-length answer, so I’ll leave it by saying, each name used serves a purpose to the story.  

What was the process of getting published like?

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, which is something I think female literary fiction writers often encounter in contrast to their male counterparts.  But if I had given up, I wouldn’t be where I am today with a book on the shelf.  So to all the writers out there on the journey to publication, I say, don’t let rejection destroy you.  Let rejection empower you.    

This book has been out in the world for a while now. How has that been?

From the few months before publication to now, I’ve continued marketing and getting the book out there as much as I can.  There’s so much worry with having a book out, because if it doesn’t do well, it’s harder to get published again.  So far I haven’t yet had that moment to relax and really celebrate having a book out.  There’s still a lot of work to be done, because an author’s job doesn’t end with writing the book.  

If people want to find out more about the book or about you, where they can find information?

While I don’t have social media, readers can always reach me direct through my website:

www.tiffanymcdaniel.com

I personally answer every email sent to me.  I also do Skype chats with book clubs to discuss the book.  Staying connected to the reader is important to me.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share with the lovely people reading this?

If you love a book, be sure to tell others about it.  So much depends on word-of-mouth with a book, especially a debut novel.  It’s the readers who really give publishers a good reason to continue publishing us authors.    

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5 thoughts on “Amazing Tunes, Stupid Heat & Melting Things: An Interview with Tiffany McDaniel

  1. What an exciting interview! I can totally relate to the music bit – I can’t listen to music that has lyrics in them when I need to write something (whether that’s a book or a uni assignment) because it’s so distracting! I always put on a nice instrumental playlist which is nice 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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