I recently read and reviewed The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel, you can see my review here. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to interview Tiffany and get a little background info/behind the scenes look at the book and her writing process, plus a few other odds and ends. If you have not yet read The Summer That Melted Everything, I would definitely recommend it. Quoting from my recently posted review “This book was interesting and thought-provoking with what I thought was a very creative plot line. The characters were all complex and the story line was well-paced.” Definitely check this one out!
So, here is Tiffany’s About the Author from her website:
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.
Below is the interview I had with Tiffany. My questions are in bold and her answers follow.
- When did you realize you wanted to be an author and did you have another profession before this?
Writing was the first thing I remember doing as a kid outside of any external influence or direction to do so. I just knew I wanted to pick up a crayon and put down what was in my head. As a kid with my ‘still learning to write ways’ it probably appeared to be scribbles to the nearest adult, but to me as a kid I was writing an entire story. I came out of the womb drawn to story. Reading it. Creating it. I wouldn’t realize it was something I could do as a career until much later, when I was in middle school. The guidance counselor came in with her Rolodex of careers and we had to choose a card listing the career we wanted. I had no idea what card to pull out. So the guidance counselor asked me what I liked to do. I said, “I love to write.” And she said, “Well, then you’ll be a writer,” and she pulled out the card and handed it to me. I remember there was another girl in the class who also wanted to be a writer, so we had to share the career. Only I wouldn’t let her have the card to hold. There was something so powerful about it. As if it was a physical key and I didn’t want to lose it for the door I felt was just right there. I wonder about that girl in the class who wanted to be a writer too. I hope she became one. I hope she’s a bestseller right now, and I apologize to her for not letting her hold the card.
- For this book, did you work off of an outline while writing or did you just start writing and went where the story took you?
I never outline or write a synopsis. I find that writing an idea down before hand causes the idea to lose its appeal to me. I always start a novel with two things. The title and the first line, always. These two things determine the course of the story for me. I never know the direction the story will take. I just sit in front of my laptop and type. Whatever I type that day ends up in the story. The more you draft and chip away, the more the story takes shapes. I never force anything out. I let it come on its own and that works best for me.
- Give us some insight into Fielding as a character, what inspired you to create him?
I always say what inspires me are the characters themselves. I’m inspired by them to tell their story. It’s almost as if this is their own truth and I’m merely the vessel through which they tell this truth.
- Do you have any special rituals that you find yourself following when you’re writing? OR Take us through your typical work day.
I have no routine or schedule. I know some authors try to write a certain number of words or pages in a day, or start at a certain time and finish. I’m very ‘whenever.’ Sometimes I work on one chapter for several weeks. Sometimes I can write several chapters in a week. It’s really just what’s there at that moment. I don’t have any rituals I follow. I do try to avoid distraction when I’m writing. The internet mostly.
- What do you do to cure writer’s block? Do you have issues with this often or hardly at all?
I’m a very superstitious writer, so I don’t talk about that which is mentioned above. It’s almost like the Bloody Mary game. If you say it’s name three times, it will appear. So I just don’t speak of it.
- What (if any) research did you have to do for this novel? What was your favorite piece of research you did for this novel?
The Summer that Melted Everything takes place in 1984 so I had to research not just the year 1984, but also the decade. Make sure I got it right socially, culturally, down to the way people dressed, the music they listened to, the television and film they watched. Since this is early eighties and right on the cusp of the AIDS epidemic, I had to make sure I had the appropriate news headlines to correspond with the disease and at what point it was coming to the masses at that time. It was really wonderful to travel back to the eighties. I was born in 1985, so the eighties were not a decade I was living it up, dancing to the boom box and getting a perm in my hair, so it was fun to write about a time not our own.
- Do you find that you base any of your characters on people in your life? Have you gotten any inspiration for scenes in your novel from things that have happened to you in real life?
I don’t tend to base any character on a specific person in my life. I think that’s dangerous territory, because the person you base that character on might not like the portrayal. I always say the characters are their own people, and really they are. This is their story. This is what is happening to them, in as a real a way as their fictional universe will allow.
- How long did it take you to write this novel, from when you first put pen to paper to when it was published?
I wrote The Summer that Melted Everything in a month during the summer I was twenty-eight. It wouldn’t be submitted to editors until I got a new agent in the autumn I was twenty-nine. It sold that autumn to St. Martin’s Press. I turned thirty during the publishing process. And I’m thirty-one now when I’ll see the book released, so it takes a while to see a novel on the shelf, even after you have a publishing contract. Before I got the contract for The Summer that Melted Everything, I worked for eleven years to get published, having written my first novel when I was eighteen. Eleven years of rejection after rejection, and me fearing I’d never be published. I feel very fortunate now to be in the position I am where I am about to see my novel on the bookstore’s shelf. And I certainly sympathize with writer’s still on the journey to publication. All I can say is to never give up. It’s hard, but never give up. Are you working on any future books now?
- Are you working on any future books now?
I just finished the novel I hope to follow The Summer that Melted Everything up with. This novel is titled When Lions Stood as Men. It’s about a brother and sister escaping Nazi Germany. They end up in Ohio, and while there try to survive in their own special way. It’s a unique story I really can’t wait to share with readers. I do have nine novels total, so I write all the time. I’m just waiting for publishing to catch up to me.
- Are there any books or authors that have really influenced you and made you want to write? What about those authors inspired or influenced you?
I didn’t read the literary heavyweights until I was much older. Donna Tartt, Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Toni Morrison. I wouldn’t say anyone influenced or made me want to write. Writing is just something I’ve always done and been drawn to do. But the writers listed above are definitely some of my favorite authors to read. Especially Shirley Jackson and Ray Bradbury. I also love the poetry of James Wright. If you’ve never read his poetry, you’re missing out some of the shiniest stars in the sky.
- Have you read anything lately that you loved?
I waited a long time to read Peter Pan and Wendy by JM Barrie. Mostly because of the Disney version. I just never really cared for the Disney Peter Pan movie and I thought that’s what the actual novel was going to be. It’s definitely not the Disney story. JM Barrie’s prose is beautiful and the story so melancholic. It is so much more the ‘children’s story’ it is billed to be. It’s honestly one of the saddest books I’ve read.
- What do you like to do in your spare time?
I read of course, a great deal. I garden. We always had gardens growing up so the message to work from the land was instilled in me from a very young age. Right now in the garden there’s paw-paw trees, cherry trees, blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, okra, zucchini, corn, broccoli, peppers, the list goes on and on. I’m pretty into gardening, hope to have a greenhouse one day. I also really like to bake. Breads and pies mostly. I think my crumb-top rhubarb pie is probably the best in the world, but I’m biased and I’m sure I am also sorely mistaken.
- Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Like I said, never give up. The eleven years it took me to get published was heartbreaking and oftentimes emotionally devastating as it is for most writers. Being told over and over again that I was not publishable, or commercially relevant to publishers, that’s a hard thing to hear. The genre I write, which is literary fiction, is very difficult to break into, especially if you’re a female literary fiction writer. So if you’re looking to get published, just remember you are worth it to yourself to keep trying. Query all the agents there are, draft and re-draft your novel if you have to but don’t ever lose yourself. And NEVER give up. I do have a ‘pay it forward’ mindset with aspiring writers. Meaning I never turn an author down who asks me for help. I only ask that once they get published they do the very same thing to another author and pay forward the help and kindness. We have to help each other out or we’ll go insane.
- What do you hope people are taking away from your stories? Do you have any particular messages you are trying to convey to readers?
When I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of extra money. So I’d go into the bookstore and I knew I could only get one or two books. Books are not terribly expensive, but they are expensive if you don’t have a lot of money. So I had to hope the books I chose would be well worth the money. I remember how disappointing it was to have spent money on a book that ended up being not very good. So that’s what I strive for. That readers have in me an author they feel good about spending their hard-earned money on. That they’ve bought a book they can close and say, “Well, that was worth the money after all.”
- Is there anything else about you that you’d like your readers to know?
That readers have all the power. With books like mine, there’s not going to be a lot of marketing put forth as say a publisher would do with the Stephen King’s of the world. So the novel’s success comes down to word of mouth. It’s really up to readers. If they like the novel, I hope they talk to people about it, and share the name of the book. Especially with a debut novel, it all comes down to readers. They determine your life as a writer in more ways than one. No writer becomes a career author by herself. My only hope with this novel and my others to follow is that readers like what they’ve read and they can honestly say, “I’m really glad I read The Summer that Melted Everything. I’m going to tell all my family and friends about it!” Please do!
I just wanted to say thank you to Tiffany for being featured on my blog. It was a pleasure reading your book and interviewing you! Readers make sure to check out The Summer That Melted Everything!