Drawing on her own experiences in Southern Ohio and the roots her family planted generations ago, Tiffany McDaniel ’07, English, has used the world around her as inspiration for her career as a poet, visual artist, and novelist. In her third published novel, “On the Savage Side,” McDaniel takes an intimate look at the unsolved murders of the Chillicothe Six.
“When I first heard about the crimes and the women disappearing, it seemed like there were some in the community who felt like because these women were linked to addiction and the lifestyle associated with that, they were somehow active participants, responsible for their own murders,” said McDaniel. “I think that all victims, regardless of race, gender, or culture, all voices should have the same opportunity to be heard. That was what initially pulled me into the story. These people really did matter. One day their children will grow up, learn what happened to their mothers, and I really wanted something out there that was a portrait of who they might be as individuals.”
In 2014 and 2015, six women disappeared from Chillicothe, Ohio, essentially rocking the rural community to its core. Now known as the Chillicothe Six, the women were often villainized, labeled as nothing more than drug addicts and prostitutes. The remains of four of the women have been found, but two are still missing.
“When I was researching, I looked at the photographs of the women and one stood out to me. I saw her name and realized that I had gone to school with her. I would be looking into a crime that she was a victim of,” said McDaniel. “I’d also grown up in communities that have been impacted by drug use. I’ve had women in my life, aunts and cousins, who have dealt with substance abuse. I was really drawn to writing about these women because I’ve always known them. I really wanted to amplify who they were as mothers, as sisters, as daughters, as complex individuals.”
Throughout her work, McDaniel has focused on writing realistic, strong female characters, a decision she had to defend when it was time to publish “Betty,” her second novel.
“It’s always a difficult time in publishing but I think especially before the #MeToo movement. I was told that the writing was great, but you need to change Betty into a boy. They sell better. You should take out things like menstruation. It will make readers uncomfortable. There wasn’t a ton of support to see a young girl coming of age, especially a young indigenous girl,” said McDaniel. “Even with the title, there was a bit of pushback from the publisher. I think it’s just ingrained in the industry, and you just hope that it will change in the future. I think the readers definitely show that there’s an appetite for that type of storytelling.”
For McDaniel, storytelling often starts with the location of her characters. Like many of her characters, she spent her childhood forming a bond with nature in Appalachia.
“I’ve always had a strong family connection to place, especially Southern Ohio. That’s where both of my parents were raised. I think having a connection to a place really helps you evolve your identity,” said McDaniel. “I’ve always loved nature and was always fortunate enough to have it outside my doorstep. Coming from Appalachia, I’ve witnessed a lot of environmental concerns. Through my writing, I try to make Appalachia a place readers want to invest in. A place they want to invest their time to really understand the area, to preserve, and protect it.”
With the release of her third novel, McDaniel has no intentions of slowing down and hopes to continue engaging with readers for years.
“I have over 20 adult books already written, and my next publication will surprise some readers of my literary fiction. I also write middle school fantasy. I really loved it as a kid,” said McDaniel. “Simon and Schuster will be releasing the first book in my new fantasy series, ‘The Wand Carriers,’ autumn 2024.”
To learn more about Tiffany McDaniel, visit https://www.tiffanymcdaniel.com/.
To learn about Capital’s English Department, visit https://www.capital.edu/academics/majors-and-minors/english/.