Sarah Cannon’s TWIST is on the shelves Tuesday 2/11! I took a moment to interview her about one aspect of this wonderful middle grade novel…
When we were chatting about TWIST you mentioned that the story is set in a, let’s just say, familiar time period. When is it set and how familiar is it?
Twist is set in 1983, the year Michael Jackson first moonwalked, the year Return of the Jedi came out, and the year *before* there was any such thing as Jordans. I was a middle grader myself at the time, so I have strong memories of my neighborhood, my school, and 80s culture. It was also the year most of America finally had access to cable, which changed the way we played…those big, complicated outdoor games became much more like fanfic and much less like original worldbuilding. And I’ve always found that divide interesting.
You also said that it was fun revisiting some of the things from your childhood, with the benefit of hindsight. What are they and how did they inspire you?
Well, first of all, before Chuck E. Cheese was a thing, there was an even creepier pizza establishment with an animatronic band. I won’t name names, but it’s possible it inspired a fictitious pizza parlor in my book…which I proceed to destroy even as I celebrate it. So that was satisfying and fun. My characters fight and trap monsters with 80s toys, which was entertaining to write. I also had to immerse myself deeply in my own memories of everything from sensory details to the rules of the games we played. It was extremely satisfying to build a fantasy world around these things.
What’s one favorite memory from those years?
For me, it’s less the Spielbergian neighborhood in which I lived, and more the wild spaces around/behind/within it. For example, there was a vacant lot that would flood in the spring, and suddenly there would be tadpoles, frogs, nesting red-winged blackbirds– smack in the middle of my neighborhood. It was almost a pop-up ecosystem, the way we think about pop-up restaurants now. It was amazing, and then it was gone. There was still a farm behind my house, on the other side of a drainage ditch…that’s where the scary story Eli reads in class is set. There were pastured cattle back there, and one of my neighbors kept horses on that pasture. Red-winged blackbirds migrated through that area in such huge numbers that they blotted out the sky, until all I could see was the flash of the red and yellow on their wings. Like Court, one of the characters in my story, I gravitated toward those places, even when I wasn’t allowed to be there.
Lightning round…favorite things from the 1980s…
A week ago I would have had a hard time answering this question, but someone on twitter brought up fruit wrinkles! I had forgotten all about them, but they were a huge improvement on fruit roll-ups, which tasted like the plastic sheet you peeled them off of. Capri Sun also tasted like the space-age bag, btw. I was incensed when I drank one recently and it tasted like juice…kids today have it easy! And I’ll add a vote for Toaster Strudels, because warm pastry was fancy compared to past alternatives.
Oh, totally Language Arts. I was that kid who’d finish our reading assignments early because I had them tucked behind my math book. My fourth-grade teacher had a big claw-foot tub in her reading center and made a gigantic celebration out of Scholastic book orders. Her room was basically paradise.
Crop pants and jelly bracelets.
I hadn’t started spraying my bangs as high as they could go yet, but I was definitely rocking ribbon barrettes.
Whatever was playing on our local station, because it was usually blasting on the bus. But definitely the Eurythmics, Duran Duran, Michael Jackson (though I was not quite obsessed enough to sport a glove on one hand like some of my classmates, I DO remember the premiere of the Thriller video in ’82. TWIST has a lot of referential chapter titles, because I am punny and ridiculous and could not resist. There’s also a Spotify playlist of songs referenced in the book.
In ’83, “Return of the Jedi”, no question.
I read everything I could get my hands on, but I was definitely immersed in spooky stories at that age…before Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Daniel Cohen was putting out collections of terrifying tales. His Ghostly Animals collection kept me up at night! Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Witch series just about turned my hair white. And Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Veldt” probably sealed my fate as a spooky author. My best friend and I were also completely obsessed with Narnia.
Thanks, Sarah – I know your readers will love this book!