Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Book That Melted My Heart

5 Stars

As I sit here trying to think of something to say, I am remind of the phrase, 'It's the thought that counts'. We say it often, mostly in defense of a harmless gift or situation gone awry. "I know it's not what you wanted... But it's the thought that counts!"

"I couldn't afford the best... But it's the thought that counts!"

It can be sweet when someone completely screws up something special, but they really had the best intentions at heart. So we give them the benefit of the doubt. You may be disappointed, but they honestly meant for the best, right?

Funny, how we can attribute our thoughts and intentions to be more important, endearing even, than our actions when it suits us. We even have greeting cards - 'Thinking of you!' - for the purpose of cheering someone up. It's nice, right? Being thought of. Knowing someone has you in mind, even if they can't be there physically.

It's the thought that counts.

Autopsy Bliss thought his advertisement was harmless. He had a question and wanted to know the answer. Mr. Elohim meant no harm spreading his ideas throughout the town. He only wanted to create a common goal for the good of all. Sal never thought his words would cause such suffering. He was only trying to find a place to belong. Fielding said nothing. He thought he'd have more time.

Their intentions were harmless. Their actions, nothing of note. But the result... The result was a thousand puddles on a road to no escape.

The Summer That Melted Everything is an emotional and deeply thought provoking story. A very sobering look into the mindset of America's past and the racism and prejudice that's still alive today. Though we may have dropped the elicit slurs as every day language, it's difficult to deny the truth of prejudice as it exists today. Think about it, we had to create laws to protect individuals rights to simply exist as they are. It's difficult to read, it's difficult to think about and to remember, but this book reflects the way things were in the 80's, and shows how much further we have to go. And to think things were much so worse even before that time.

It's always difficult to look in the mirror and count the mistakes wrinkling your face, the gray hairs beginning to surround you. Fielding could never look past them. He could never look back on life and be thankful for what he has now. It was all too much, his whole life melting away in the heat of the summer when the devil came to Breathed. And that's where our story begins - at the end. Fielding looks back on his life and remembers everything he wishes he could forget. His life is a beautifully tragic tale and I just don't have the words to describe the complexity and depth of this book.

I read another review that stated they could not believe this was a debut novel and I have to say I agree. The book was so well written, the story laid out to perfection, the message perfectly plain and easily relatable. It was sad, yet beautiful, hopeful, but also tragic, sobering, as well as inspiring. Again, it was emotional. A very worthwhile, and almost necessary read!

I spoke with the author, Tiffany McDaniel, and asked her a few questions. I think she can say more clearly what I can't.

Q&A with Tiffany McDaniel

Tiffany, your art is emotional and quite moving. The Melt is a piece I would definitely hang in my home. How much does your artwork influence your writing, or does your writing influence your artwork?

First off, thank you for the kind compliments of my art.  And for saying you’d hang one of my paintings in your house.  That’s definitely an honor.  I’m undeserving of it for sure, but definitely an honor for someone to accept your art in a way they bring it into their home and into the whole of their lives.  To answer your question, art, and not just my art, does fuel my creative juices.  You look at a painting or a sculpture or even a charcoal drawing on a brown paper bag, and you can’t help but be moved by the ability of the human hand to craft emotion, hope, dreams, and desire.  I read a book once that said what sets us different from the animals is the moment the woman or man in the cave began to draw the images on the cave walls.  The fact that our experience of life involved art and that that was what pushed forth our evolution into the species we are today.  Art has been with us since the beginning, and it’ll be with us to the end.

I tend to only paint the characters and scenes from my novel after I’ve completed the novel, just because I need to create them through story before I create them through image.  So my writing does influence my artwork more than vice versa.  Once I have that story in my head, the canvas is that which I let out the visuals in my head upon.  It’s in essence, another dimension to the story.  A story I can sit back and see in its own good time.  

How do you use your art to move your story along? Is a tool you use for writers block?

Art is definitely a way to motivate oneself to be creative.  There’s an ease with art and for me it doesn’t come with the same pressure as writing the perfect sentence, because with art perfection is thrown out the window.  Art is made of crooked lines and errors even, and in these faults the beauty breathes.  Art teaches me to let my writing breath as well.

The devil tells his own parables to the people of Breathed. Did you choose this way of telling his story because of his former relationship with God and it mimics the tellings in the bible? Are there lessons to be learned here?

To answer your first question, yes, Sal’s story-telling definitely parallels the story-telling proportions in the bible.  The bible is epic at its best, so I had to be just as definite in the way Sal tells his own stories.  Not to say Sal is definitely the devil, but he speaks in a way that being the devil is not far-fetched.  His intellect and his verse support the idea that he is the devil.  But his ‘devil’ is unique.  He’s a devil that we humans can relate to.  He tells stories of emotion and weakness as well the ability to lose.  And those are all things we can relate to.  To answer your second question, there are lessons to be learned.  I always say just because someone is called the ‘devil’ doesn’t mean they are the devil.  It’s up to us to push past stereotypes and racist agendas to listen to the person, to understand the significance of their existence and to draw our own conclusions, away from that herd mentality.  

Is the devil really to blame for the world melting? 

I don’t want to give any spoilers away, but I think (and hope) readers will come upon the opinion at the end of reading the novel that the devil we think exists in that metaphorical sense is not some red demon with horns and a pitchfork.  That he looks just like one of us.  That he hides in all of us.  That the melting comes from our own heat.

What, or who, inspired the elderly character of Fielding Bliss?

I always say the characters are themselves.  None of them are inspired by anyone else.  To me, my characters are very real.  It’s almost as if I’m just the vessel through which they pass to get into our world.  Their lives for me do not start with the first page of the book, nor end with the last page.  They’ve had life before that first page, they have life after.  So much dialogue between them no will ever read.  Holidays and moments shared between them, just like we have shared between us.  They are their own characters, their own truths, and I only hope I’ve told them as honestly as I can.

Do you believe in happy endings? That it's possible to look back on life and be thankful for the trials that brought you to wear you ended up?

Great question.  True happy endings are definitely possible, but I think for most of those who go through tragic trials or heartache, their happy ending isn’t really happiness but acceptance and ownership of the pain and the suffering.  I think it’s the human defense mechanism.  That we accept our scars and our pains in a way that brings us peace.  In the case of Old Fielding in the novel, he’s fighting against that peace.  He’s willing to give himself to the fold of guilt and in that ending, he has his truth.  I’m not saying those who go through terrible things will not have a happy ending, but I do think most movies and books have trained us into thinking we’ll all walk off in to the sunset.  Some of us do, but within the confines of reality, not all of us do get that happy ending or that acceptance that brings our trials and tribulations into the positive light we can move on with.

You have a contest coming up, right? How can we win goodies?!

The pre-order contest is happening right now!  It’s a great way to thank all those who have pre-ordered or intend to pre-order the novel, as pre-ordering is such a great way to help a debut novel out.  You can learn about the rules and prizes at the link here:

Up for grabs is a chance to win one of three audio books of The Summer that Melted Everything.  The audio book published by Blackstone Audio, a wonderful audio publisher, and narrated by award-winning narrator Mark Bramhall.  It’s a great compliment to the novel itself.  Other prizes up for grabs is one of seven of my favorite books.  To name a few: Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle and Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, among others.  And finally there is also the chance to win one of 100 limited editions prints of my original watercolor painting, Slipping Away.  The print is signed by me, and all prizes come with a handwritten note from me to the winner.  All told 110 prizes are up for grabs, and a great chance for me to thank those who did pre-order.  

Thank you so much Tiffany for the book and the chance to review your first novel!

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