Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Interview with "The Summer that Melted Everything" Author, Tiffany McDaniel

I was so excited to have the opportunity to interview the author of one of my favourite books so far this year, Tiffany McDaniel! I've corresponded a lot with her through e-mail and she is quite literally one of the most warm, lovely people I've encountered during my bookstagramming days. McDaniel talks about the long road to getting published and the difficulties she encountered along the way, as well as her thoughts on the physical book vs kindle debate. Oh, and the books you definitely must read in your lifetime! 

Photo Credit: Jennifer McDaniel

Hi Tiffany, can you give a brief description of what your debut novel, The Summer that Melted Everything, is about and where you got your inspiration from?

Tiffany: 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.
To answer the second part of your question, the novel started first as a title. It was one of those hot Ohio summers that I felt like I was melting. I always start writing a new novel with the title and the first line. These two things lead the entire rest of the story for me. As far as where I got the inspiration from, it wasn’t anything external, but rather I am inspired by the characters themselves. I have a responsibility to the characters to write their truths to the best of my ability. 

When you wrote this book, did you always have a definite ending in sight or did the story evolve as you progressed?

T: I don’t outline, do character sketches, or plan a story beforehand. The story evolves with each new word and page I write. I think if you plan a story too much, you can domesticate it, and I like to preserve the story’s wild soul. Writing this way means I end up being just as surprised writing it the first time as the reader is reading the first time. I don’t yet know how a story will end until I write that final line. With this particular novel, I knew there was going to be melted things, but what was melted, I wouldn’t know until I placed that final period. 

Did you encounter any difficulties in getting TSTME published? 

T: I should say that while TSTME is my first published novel, it’s actually my fifth or sixth novel written. I worked for eleven years toward publication. It took me 5-7 years just to get my first agent. I was often told my writing and storytelling was risky to publish, which is something I think female literary fiction authors hear more than their male counterparts. When TSTME went on submission to editors it was rejected by every publisher it was sent to, except for one. For the most part, publishing has been an uphill battle for me and not one part of it has been easy. But the struggle has made me the author I am today. An author who knows the value of hard work and the value of each and every reader. 

What are you currently working on?

T: I have eight completed novels. The novel I hope to follow TSTME is titled The Chaos We’ve Come From. It’s the first novel I wrote when I was eighteen. It’s inspired by my mother’s coming-of-age from the 1950s to the death of her father in the early 1970s. It feels like a good time to return to this story, and to these characters. I’m also compiling my first poetry collection. 

If you could go for a coffee with any author, past or present, who would it be and why?

T: Perhaps because I am an author, I know our characters are sometimes more interesting than us. There are some authors I would like to chat with like Agatha Christie, Shirley Jackson, or Ray Bradbury. But more than them, I’d love to chat with their characters. Imagine solving a crime with Hercule Poirot, mixing up poison with Merricat Blackwood, or running the dandelion fields with Douglas Spaulding. Now those would be pretty great ways to spend the day.

What do you think about the book vs kindle debate? Do you think books will ultimately be swallowed up by technology in a similar vein to radio/magazines?

T: I love printed books. But our landscape is constantly changing, and part of that change is due to our increasing dependence on technology. In the wake of that dependence, some things will be left behind in the past. I certainly hope print books are not one of those things. I should say that I’ve never been on social media, I’ve never downloaded a song, and I don’t own an e-reader, so I try to live a life with as little tech as possible. With that being said, there are people born today who will most likely grow up reading only e-books, and will never have the experience of reading a printed book. These kids of tech will come to live with e-books as the carrier of story that they are most familiar with, and that familiarity could very well contribute to the death of paper. We’re becoming a society in love with the ease and convenience of words on our screens. I don’t think books will ever completely disappear. But I think, like with all media, there will come a day that print books will become too expensive to print versus their digital counterparts. There will still be a market for print books, but that market will always be in competition with the convenient and affordable digital book. Of course, some recent statistics coming out say that the sales of print books are rising, while the sales of digital books are dropping. There is hope for printed paper and I don’t think printed books will be disappearing anytime soon. 

For me, The Summer that Melted Everything is one of those books that I will be adding to my list of “Books That Everyone Must Read” – what books would fall into this category for you?

T: First off, I’m honoured to be on your “must read” list. It’s always hard to feel deserving of something like that, because I know the world’s library is teeming with candidates that enlighten us, encourage us, or give us hope in ways only good books can.
To answer your question, I’ve always written more than I’ve read, so I have lots of authors and books left to read. Give it a few years down the road and my answer to this might change. I have my favourite novels like Dandelion Wine and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but books that are a must read due to their message are The Diary of Anne Frank, Fahrenheit 451, The Giving Tree, The Velveteen Rabbit, and Miss Rumphius. The last three books are picture books, but their meaning of kindness and love shouldn’t be discounted because they’re shelved in the kids section. 

What inspired you to be a writer?

T: There was never an external inspiration to write. There’s only ever been an internal creative wheel that has driven me to story. Writing is the first thing I remember doing as a child without being told to do so. I’d write poetry, short stories, and make homemade books out of notebook paper and cardboard. Writing is my compass. It’s who I am. I’m lost without it. 

Lastly, do you have any words of encouragement for aspiring writers?

T: Never give up. Like I said, 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 for The Summer that Melted Everything. It was a long eleven-year journey to publication, full of rejection and perseverance, 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.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Book Review: The Ninth Configuration by William Peter Blatty

Set in a secluded castle that is now being used by the US government as a military asylum, The Ninth Configuration tells of a facility that houses 27 officers who have recently suffered from a mental break. Have the inmates truly lost their minds, are they faking it to avoid combat, or is something else going on? Colonel Vincent Kane is a Marine Corps psychiatrist who is called in to try and help uncover the cause of these bizarre obsessions, but he has his own demons to contend with.

"You're convinced that God is dead because there's evil in the world - then why don't you think He's alive because of the goodness in the world?"

Okay, as a pre-warning to anyone who may be interested in reading this book, it's a bit different and quite unusual compared to most other books I've read. The start in particular is pretty confusing, but once you get into it, it becomes very addictive. It's a relatively short book at only 170-odd pages, yet somehow Blatty manages to succeed with very impressive character development in such a small number of pages. It's funny, it's thought-provoking, but I don't think it's the kind of book you can read without the need to analyse the deeper themes. If you're looking for a light read, this isn't the book for you. Similarly, if you're looking for another horror book in the vein of The Exorcist, this ain't for you!

I didn't expect to be so moved by the events of this book, given the humour and, at times, ridiculous dialogue. Yet by the end I really felt like this book would leave a lasting impression. There's discussions about God and His existence, the presence of evil and good in the world, it's a very philosophical book. However, even with the strong philosophical themes, there's still a good, strong story here, with twists and turns I wasn't expecting.

I'm not sure I ever would have read this if it wasn't suggested to me by my buddy Cam (who I also buddy-read this with), so this is another scenario where I'm thankful to bookstagram for opening me up to books I might have otherwise missed! Definitely a unique reading experience and it gets 5 stars out of 5 from me!


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Book Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

The classic vampire tale of Count Dracula, forming the foundation for all the vampire mythology that was to follow. A gothic, dark classic telling the story of Count Dracula as he moves location from his castle in Transylvania to England in a bid to find new prey and fresh blood. 

"There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights."

Okay, so I am officially a lover of Dracula. From the very first page, I was hooked. Usually it would take me longer than a week to read a 400 page book, but I was using every spare minute I had to race through this book. I was reading it while blowdrying my hair, while waiting for the kettle to boil... that's when I know I'm digging it! Bram Stoker was a genius - well of course he was, he was Irish *smug face*. Dracula is a masterpiece, end of.

The gothic scenery depicted in Dracula is stunning. It makes me want to go back and live in that time period, inhabiting a huge castle (without the blood-sucking). The atmosphere Stoker creates is simply outstanding, and the constant sense of foreboding - I felt on edge a lot whilst reading this. I loved the format of the book, with the story being told via letters and diary entries, I really feel like it helped the flow of the novel as I kept telling myself "I'll just read this one entry and then go to sleep..." *four diary entires later* SHIT MY ALARM IS SET FOR 5.40AM. The characters were mostly awesome, although Lucy sometimes got on my nerves. Her storyline was just tedious at times - how dumb was her mother too!? Dracula himself was as enigmatic as I had hoped, so mysterious and frightening. Mina was a favourite too, as was Van Helsing. 

Although I'm raving about how much I love Dracula, it's not without its faults. The misogyny at times was making me roll my eyes so hard I thought I was gonna go blind! Oh, Mina can't be part of the initial plans to take down Dracula because she's a woman?! That crap won't fly with me, Stoker. But then I remind myself that such an attitude is indicative of the time and I manage to let it go. My other complaint is the length, 50 pages or so could definitely have been cut out, some parts just kept rambling on and on. 

It also annoyed me how so many people were able to transfuse blood to the one person without any issue - after a bit of research (soz, that's my job), I realised blood types weren't discovered until 1901... so Stoker gets a pass here, but it still irritated me. I can't help it!!

Yet those complaints didn't really affect my overall enjoyment of the book. A big fan of Dracula now - it gets 5 stars out of 5 from me!


Saturday, 15 July 2017

The Nocturnal Reader's Subscription Box: The Feast

Is this my favourite box so far (obviously excluding the very special King box)? Possibly! It's a strong contender anyway. I often feel like my first NRB will always be my favourite, as it was just the excitement of finally getting one...and also getting that Edgar Allan Poe tote. LIFE MADE. Anyway, the Feast has shaped up to be a deliciously dark box, so let's look at the contents!

First, let's discuss the books included this month. The new release for this month was Come to Dust by Bracken MacLeod - I've never read this author before so I'm intrigued! Synopsis is as follows:

Ever since her mother abandoned her, five-year-old Sophie has had to depend on her uncle Mitch for everything. Though their life is difficult, he works hard to keep their family together, despite the obstacles in their way. But just when everything seems to be looking up for them, it all comes crashing down when Sophie dies tragically. Mitch descends into a crippling grief, not knowing how to continue on without her. When scores of children around the world begin to inexplicably rise from the dead - Sophie among them - everything becomes much harder. Mitch rescues her from the morgue, determined to carve out a normal life for them no matter what, though it soon becomes clear that may not be possible. While the kids who've returned behave like living children, they still look very dead. And they can do something else that normal children cannot. Something terrifying. While debate rages over whether the children's return is a mercy or a sign of approaching judgement, a congregation of religious fanatics determined to usher in the apocalypse has their own plan for salvation. Now Mitch must find a way to save Sophie from an increasingly hostile world that wants to tear them apart and put her back in the ground for good.

YEAH. I need to read this like right now!! Although July is pretty jam-packed so I think it will take priority as one of my August reads. The second book in this month's box, and the previously released book, is Bleed by Ed Kurtz. 

When Walt Blackmore moves into an old Gablefront house on the outskirts of a small town, things are really looking up for him - he has an adoring girlfriend, a new job, and an altogether bright future. But Walt's destiny is irreparably changed when a dark red spot appears on the ceiling in the hallway. Bit by bit the spot grows, first into a dripping blood stain and eventually into a grotesque, muttering creature. As the creature thrives, Walt finds himself more and more interested in fostering its well-being. At first he only feeds it stray animals, but this soon fails to satisfy the monster's ghastly needs. It is gradually becoming something more, and for that to happen it requires human blood and human flesh. And once Walt has crossed the line from curiosity to murder, there is no going back.

That book sounds equally awesome! I'm impatiently waiting to be turned into some kind of vampire that doesn't actually require sleep because I need more time to read...

As for the non-bookish items, WOW. Fangirling over the NOS4A2 license plate like the true Christmasland fanatic that I am. One of my favourite movies is Silence of the Lambs (I haven't read the books yet - FIGHT ME), so I loved the stemless wineglass... I'm gonna feel so classy sipping on my prosecco from it (I don't drink chianti). There's also a pin inspired by The Troop (on my never-ending TBR pile), as well as a Jaws-inspired keychain!! I'm not much of a cook, but I do bake every now and again, so this amazing apron will be put to good use.

Lastly, the artwork. The artwork included each month is something I always look forward to and this month's is particularly creepy. It's called "The Night of the Vampire" and is by Michael Broom. LOVE IT.

Yet another stellar box! Next month is "Infested and Infected", which will actually contain THREE books. Get ready for creepy crawlies and all things disgusting... I actually got a sneak peak of one of the items a while ago and believe me, YOU WANT IT. Some boxes are still on sale, go get 'em! Use DRJOBIS15 to save yourself some money!


Saturday, 8 July 2017

Book Review: The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel

The devil has come to the sleepy town of Breathed, Ohio, in the form of a young boy. Fielding Bliss quickly forms a friendship with this fallen angel, now known as Sal, and he is welcomed into the Bliss family home. However, tensions quickly rise within the town, accompanied with soaring temperatures as the townsfolk begin to believe this child is actually who he proclaims to be.

"Sometimes this world is like red fences in the snow. There ain't no hiding who we really are."

Okay, I feel like I should open this review by clarifying that is NOT a horror book. It's not scary, it's not about the devil in a stereotypical sense. It's about so much more than that. It's about racism, looks at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, how we are so quick to judge people on some aspect other than who they really are. It gave me real To Kill A Mockingbird vibes, so if you love that book - pick this up!

The story moves between two timelines, Fielding's life in the present day and then him looking back at the summer of 1984 when the devil arrived in Breathed, Ohio. It's truly fascinating how McDaniel builds the story, dropping little details here and there, building the tension, building all the emotions. I love her poetic style of writing, the symbolism. I was fangirling all over the place. I was constantly messaging my fellow bookstagrammers saying things like "This book is SLAYING me".

The characters in this book, I loved them all. The relationship between Fielding and his older brother is so beautiful to read about. Having two older brothers I can understand the love and adoration you can have for them, the feeling that they can do no wrong, that they're almost at a hero status. As for the devil himself, Sal, his anecdotes and stories were so thought-provoking and the impact he has on those around him is profound. Fielding's parents as well were pretty great. An outstanding cast of characters.

Tiffany McDaniel's writing is just...I'm speechless. HOW IS THIS A DEBUT NOVEL. I feel like I'm reading some author who has been around for years and years and has finally found their writing style. It is beautiful, stunning, heartbreaking, touching, resonating. I think this is my favourite book of the year so far. No joke. My camera roll is FULL of sections that I wanted to record in order to note in my quote notebook at a later date. McDaniel is something special, I have a feeling she has a hugely successful career ahead of her - at least I hope so, anyway, because I want and NEED to read more from her!

So I give this book ALL THE STARS. There's a lot of capital letters in this review and that's usually an indication of how much I love something! This will be a book that lives long in the memory. I'm also severely dehydrated after all the crying... this book is simply magnificent.


Sunday, 2 July 2017

Book Review: IT by Stephen King

Evil resides in Derry, Maine. Whether that is in the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, a werewolf or a leper, it pulses through the heart of Derry and has done for many years. IT focuses on a group of children, the Loser's Club, as they try to overcome evil and face their biggest fears in order to do so.

"Maybe there aren't any such bad things as good friends or bad friends - maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you're hurt and who help you when you feel not so lonely. Maybe they're always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. Maybe worth dying for too, if that's what has to be. No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart."

Excuse me while I curl up into a ball and bawl my eyes out... IT was my first King and it really was what got me hooked onto King's writing. I was almost apprehensive at rereading this masterpiece - not just because of its size - but I was afraid that it would tarnish my memories from my first read, I was afraid it wouldn't be as good as I remembered it. However, I can confidently say that it was even better. The Stand is not King's masterpiece, in my opinion, this is.

This book, alongside 11/22/63, the Dark Tower series and Duma Key, is where King's writing abilities truly shine through. IT is simply chockfull of paragraphs and sentences where you need to just stop and pause, and let the awesomeness sink in. You will feel ALL the emotions when reading this book - heartache, fear, joy, sadness... you will laugh, you will cry, you will feel like you ARE a member of the Loser's Club.

Speaking of the Loser's Club, they have to be one of the most well-developed group of characters I've ever encountered, and I think a lot of that lends to the length of this book. We get to spend so much time with each of them individually as well as within the group. People sometimes complain about the length of IT, and perhaps I'm slightly biased, but I love the size and it's probably why you feel kinda lost when you finish - you're so deeply entrenched in this world that leaving again is heartbreaking.

In terms of the themes explored within this book - friendship, childhood, growing up, overcoming your fears - King handles each with such ease. There's a number of similarities between IT and The Body from Different Seasons, it's almost as if The Body was King's practice session for this epic coming-of-age tale. Other themes are also explored within these pages: racism, prejudice, domestic abuse. To anyone who says IT is simply a horror book - you could not be any more wrong (said in the style of Chandler Bing). Yes, horror plays a big part in this book, but as is the case with all of King's books, it's about so much more than that. King's depiction of childhood friendships is something special, it really brings you back to your youth, when everything seemed to be heightened - your first love/crush, the connections and bonds you felt with your friends.

Gahhh, I could talk about this book forever! So I'll finish up by mentioning my favourite aspect of IT. Out of EVERYTHING that happens in this book and all the characters, I have such a soft spot for Ben Hanscom. On my first read, I recall Bill being my favourite, but on my reread, from the very first encounter, I have developed a crazy love for Ben. A reader, who is relentlessly bullied, someone who lived quite a lonely life until he met the Loser's Club...Ben is special to me. Then to see his love for Bev and the haiku he writes for her... MY HEART.

"Ben Hanscom had no sense of being lonely because he had never been anything but."

He's caring and sensitive...a truly good friend. Ben, you the real MVP.

And now I'll shut up. I could probably write a book on my thoughts about IT. One of my favourite books of all time and one of the best books I've ever read... firmly cemented in my top 3 Kings list. 5 stars out of me from me!!

"Your hair is winter fire,
January embers
My heart burns there, too."


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