Nora Thompson's Twisted features 28 brief chapters of repulsive, funny flash-fiction. In our review, we noted that the debut author “shines at using multiple perspectives to breathe new life into conventional tales, with story endings that are surprising and skillfully foreshadowed.” Thompson grabs attention via the unexpected (“Lobotomy Pie,” anyone?) and uses both text and spacing to heighten reader interest.
We recently caught up with the author and illustrator, who tells us her various creative endeavors are supervised by a Stain Boy figurine, a Jack Skellington doll and Animal from The Muppet Show. She’s currently in the middle of writing a middle grade/YA novel based on a short story she wrote as a nontraditional student in a fiction writing class.
You had experience as an illustrator, graphic designer and creator of The Rots [characters Thomson developed] before you wrote Twisted. What motivated you to write a book?
I had gone back to college as a nontraditional student and had to take a writing class as a core requirement. I chose a fiction writing class, and we wrote and read tons of short stories. After the class was over, I realized I had a lot of good work that I wanted people other than my professor to read.
Shortly after I graduated, I created The Rots and started using them in greeting cards. I decided to adapt some of those greeting card gags and images into something that would work in a book that included those short stories I had written in class. Once I had a focus, I wrote and I illustrated more stories to fill out the book. I’m finding a lot of people who appreciate the whole twisted concept that I was experimenting with.
It sounds like your fiction writing class opened up a number of new possibilities. Did you always know that you wanted to work in the arts, or was your career path more circuitous?
Right out of high school, I didn’t really think choosing a career in the arts was a viable option. I tried to go a safer route early on—my first year in college was spent studying engineering and computer science—but there was always a pull to be creative. I know it’s still creative, but writing doesn’t feel as natural or happen as easily for me as creating visual images. My writer’s group has to constantly remind me that, yes, I am a writer.
What are some of the challenges and benefits of using such a variety of means for creative expression?
I’ve always had a problem sticking with one medium. If graphite didn’t express what I wanted to say in a drawing, then I learned pen and ink. If not pen and ink, then paint or photography or Photoshop. Now it looks like I’ve expanded into words. The challenge is how sometimes it can make me feel scattered, and I’m afraid some people may see my illustration work as expanding too far from how I’ve branded myself. The benefits of using so many different mediums means I’ll always have the medium necessary to tell the story I want to tell in the way I want to tell it.
One of the aspects of Twisted that made it so enjoyable was the unusual layout of the stories. What prompted you to configure the book in this way?
I realized somewhere toward the end of putting this book together that I was a reluctant reader who had grown up to become a writer. I owned many books growing up that had a bookmark sitting pretty much permanently at around page five. I wanted so badly to read books like my friends, but my mind wandered off the page.
Once I became a graphic designer, I started to put some clues together as to why that was. Most of the books I was reading were mass market paperbacks with small type, small leading and small margins. Publishers do those things to save money, but for someone like me, it made it difficult to concentrate for any length of time. I also found the size of a novel a little intimidating.
I think this book addresses these things. I was very careful when I laid out the book to give the pages ample margins and leading and the font a decent point size. The stories can be read in small enough chunks that they aren’t overwhelming. Substitute illustrations for some of the stories and include subjects that reluctant readers—normally code for “boys”—will hopefully find funny, and maybe we’ve got a recipe for an antidote.
The stories in Twisted cover a variety of topics—an exceptionally violent attack of sneezing, the possible pitfalls of owning an unusual pet and the rules for cooperation between monsters and parents, to name just a few. On your book’s website, you share some of the original inspirations for those stories. How do you take commonplace occurrences like headaches and insomnia and turn them into twisted fiction?
I think most of the ideas came from writing through them. Lots of…drafts were straight-ahead, tell-it-like-you-see-it kinds of stories. And then you realize they’re boring and you walk away. You think about it. You figure out how you can throw in a curveball.
It kind of reminds me of a scene from Ghostbusters II where Egon is doing experiments on kids and their emotions. They measure how happy the kid is when there’s a puppy in the room. Then there’s that one line when Egon says, “Let’s see what happens when we take away the puppy.” I think that sums it up pretty well. That’s what it feels like I’m doing in my stories. Only trouble is interesting—something I learned from my fiction writing class. I just let go of what I know and think about what might happen if something totally unexpected is introduced into the mix, and I take away the puppy.
Twisted was reviewed in Kirkus June 20, 2012.