It’s 1984, the year of the infamous Michael Jackson Pepsi dilemma, Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, Ghostbusters is a hit, and WHAM! is singing about waking them up before you go-go. I was not alive this year, but I can bet you it was electric. For Fielding Bliss it was another story all together. In the debut novel The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel, we see how one young boy can make a small town change in the blink of an eye, and how one family can change their lives with one little letter.
Fielding Bliss and his family live in the small town of Breathed, Ohio. A place where everyone knows everything and word travels at rocket speed. When Fielding’s father Autopsy (yes, that’s his real name-if you wanna know why you gotta ask his mama), writes a letter to the devil summoning him to the town, little Breathed, Ohio gets more than they bargained for.
When Sal shows up one hot summer day, claiming to be the devil himself, everyone is beyond shocked. That’s when Fielding besides to bring Sal home, to show his daddy that his letter has been answered, and Sal is here to stay. Even though the Bliss family welcomes him with open arms, not everyone in town is as excited to see Sal. When the heat starts to reach the boiling point, people actually start to see Sal as the devil for real. How else could it be getting hotter and hotter with no explanation?
With this heat comes catastrophe and the Bliss family has to reconcile some of their differences. If Sal really is who he says he is, then this small little town has opened up a whole new can of worms.
Okay first of all, I have to say that this book sucks you in like a good movie, and you can actually feel the heat sweltering as you read it. I’m pretty sure I was sweating through half the book. The other thing is, that Sal is so sort of likable and interactive that it’s impossible to view him as the devil, yet that’s who he claims to be. This books writing is impeccable, the story telling is on point, and I cannot wait to read another Tiffany McDaniel book. I want to read it all over again for the first time, but I’m so happy that I read it, does that even make sense? I give this book 5 out of 5 sweltering stars, and I received this book from the author herself in exchange for an honest review.
Not only was Tiffany so sweet as to send me her novel, but she also answered some questions for us! I was really excited to pick her brain after reading that incredible book, not only that but she is an amazing person who I believe will go far as an author.
Kerrie: Is The Summer that Melted Everything the first book that you’ve written?
Tiffany: While The Summer that Melted Everything is my first novel to be published, it’s actually the fifth or sixth novel I’ve written. Getting published has been an eleven year struggle for me. The Summer that Melted Everything is the book to save me from the abyss that is home to the unpublished author. This book will always have a very special place in my heart for being the first book that got me published and in that the first book that made me feel like a true author.
K: If not, what other books do you have written and if they are not published would you ever publish them?
T: I have a total of eight other novels completed. I’m currently working on my ninth. I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen and struggled for years trying to get it published. Then finally when I was around twenty-seven years old, I realized that first book wasn’t going to be the first novel I got published. So I got to work writing all the novels I should have written during the course of those nine years trying to get the first book published. So in two years I wrote eight novels. I think the stories were ready to come out. On average they took a month to write, as did The Summer that Melted Everything. One of the novels took eight days. I’m still not sure how that happened. Out of the crop of those eight novels, I felt The Summer that Melted Everything really had the best chance to get published. I would love to see the other novels published. Of course, that comes down to if The Summer that Melted Everything is successful or not. With a first book, a writer has to prove to the publisher that there is an audience of readers that respond to her story-telling. My only hope is that those readers are there for me.
K: What was the inspiration behind this novel?
T: The novel started life as a title. It was one of those Ohio summers that I felt like I was melting. What inspired me through the beginning, middle, and end of writing the novel, is what inspires me in writing all my novels, and that is the characters themselves. To me, my characters feel very real. They exist, and in that existence they inspire me, demand even, that I get their story right.
K: There are a lot of mystical and other worldly characters in this novel, and some interesting takes on religious beings. What gave you the idea to make the devil a young boy?
T: When I was thinking of the devil character, Sal came to mind. The characters, being so real to me, they really are their own people. It’s up to me as the author to capture their characters as authentically as I can.
K: The way that you write is so extremely imaginative and comes to life on the page, did you find the descriptive imagery to be a hard process? (This sounds like a really weird question but I don’t know how to word it, basically did you find it hard to write such descriptive and real imagery of the hot summer in the 80’s).
T: Writing for me isn’t the hard part, it’s the publishing that’s hard. In writing about the 80s for example, to me the 1980s always seem like a decade-long summer with the neon colors, big hair, and big life. Maybe that’s a stereotype. I can’t speak to the real 80s as I was born in 1985, but when I was thinking of the time-frame in which the story would take place, the 1980s was a natural fit. I found writing about a hot summer really fun actually. You get to push yourself to describe sweat in ways throughout the novel that doesn’t become repetitive. You have to write about the heat and the sun in new and exciting ways each time, so the reader just doesn’t sit back and say, “Okay, it’s hot.” So I tried to describe the heat in subtle ways. Ways that would hopefully make the reader sweat themselves.
K: What are some of your favorite books or authors?
T: Ray Bradbury. I want to be buried with Dandelion Wine so I can be sure my ghost has it in hand. Shirley Jackson. She’s one of those authors who created stories I am always in awe of and will be infinitely so. Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day takes my breath away. Above the River: The Collected Poetry of James Wright. I want to hoard Wright’s poetry in my soul. Some of my other favorite authors are Donna Tartt, Toni Morrison, and Agatha Christie whose books I always open with a smile, as if I am visiting an old friend. And of course I grew up on R.L. Stine’s Fear Street and Goosebumps series. I’ll always love Stine and his books because they are in essence my childhood.
K: What advice would you give for a writer starting out in the business?
T: I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen-years-old, and wouldn’t get a publishing contract until I was twenty-nine. It was eleven years of rejection after rejection. I felt defeated. I really didn’t think I would ever be published. I was told I would never be. There were so many times I felt like giving up because rejection can take its toll. So that’s the advice I’d give writers just starting out. To never give up. Because if you do, you’ll miss tomorrow and tomorrow could be the day the tide changes. It could be the day that your dream becomes a reality.
K: Do you like to let your writing sit for months? Or do you continue writing until the book is completely done?
T: I never let my writing sit. When you do, it’s harder to return to it. It loses its essence to me if it sits. I need to write the story from beginning to end. If I don’t, the characters fade, the story fades, until all I’m left with are empty rooms.
K: Do you work with an outline or plot for your book? Or does it flow freely as you are writing?
T: I never outline or pre-plan. For me the story is its best when I don’t try to hold down every single detail. I like to open the faucet of my mind and catch what comes out. In this very natural flow, the story takes shape in ways that, even as the author, I find surprising.
K: Where did you come up with the very unique names in your novel?
T: During the process of naming my characters, when I see a particular word that I can’t shake, I feel like that’s the characters themselves dropping me hints of their true name. As the author it’s my job to name the character the name they have always had.
K: Tiffany, you have an incredible way of making the devil someone who we feel sorry for, in a way, almost compassionate for the things that he’s done throughout history. How did you do that, and how does that make you feel?
T: I think having a thirteen-year-old boy naming himself the devil really helped with that. Sal is a character who is hard not to fall in love with. He’s intelligent, kind, and in his most emotional and tragic verse, has a way of capturing the experience of a fallen angel as well as the experience of a fallen boy, and in that there’s a natural sympathy because readers are relating to Sal as if he could be any of us. What Sal doesn’t do is possess an extraordinary evil or wickedness. He instead presents himself in a very human light that we can all relate to. Sal’s devil is told in opposition to the biblical arc. There’s also the great possibility that Sal isn’t the devil at all. So when readers sympathize with Sal, it’s not the same as sympathizing with the origin of evil that has been cast in the biblical sense. In essence, it’s sympathizing with our own selves when we too have fallen from the height we all aspire to be.
Also, here is the book trailer that Tiffany created herself: