If there’s one thing we love about a really good book, it’s the twist.
Erin A. Craig, author of House of Salt and Sorrows, writes a different kind of twist—she twists classic stories! Her upcoming novel Small Favors is a reimagining of “Rumpelstiltskin.” It’s a chilling tale about what the people you think you know can hide from you.
In this Q&A, Erin A. Craig and Kara Thomas talk about writing twists, from their inspiration to their research. Don’t miss the lightning round at the end!
Kara Thomas: Small Favors is loosely based on “Rumpelstiltskin,” but I am familiar with that fairy tale, and I still wasn’t even close guessing the twists! What else inspired the book and the world of Amity Falls?
EC: Once I’d decided to try a spin on “Rumpelstiltskin,” I knew I wanted to approach what the creature would be differently. Small Favors is set in Amity Falls, which is found in a fictionalized Colorado mountain range, and imps just felt too European to me. I researched a bunch of different American cryptids, learning about the Dark Watchers of California (fun fact: John Steinbeck claimed to have witnessed them!) and Pennsylvania’s Mothman. For a twist on Rumpelstiltskin’s tale, I decided to make my main character an apiarist—he uses bees and honey instead of straw and gold to spin his magic.
Erin A. Craig: In That Weekend, your characters sneak out to a lake house to avoid prom. What’s the craziest thing you ever did in high school?
KT: I never did anything as remotely crazy as my characters, but my parents definitely didn’t know I stayed at a beach house in the Hamptons for my prom weekend. (If you’re reading this, Mom and Dad, sorry!)
KT: If you could trade brains with one twisty author or filmmaker, who would you choose?
EC: It changes daily, but today it’s Mike Flanagan. His movies are master classes in pacing and dropping just the right amount of bread crumbs to really nail the plot twist. I adore his turns! What about you?
KT: Dennis Lehane! Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island have some of the best twists I’ve ever read.
EC: Do you ever surprise yourself with your own plot twists, or are they planned out so far in advance that you know them all along?
KT: Some of my plot twists don’t emerge until revisions! My editor and I are extremely collaborative and are always thinking about ways to make my next book more surprising, so it’s not unusual for me to come up with new twists between rounds. One of the twists in That Weekend didn’t emerge until the third draft!
EC: I always know the big final twist that I’m writing toward, and I try to cover its tracks while drafting. I usually plot out a super rough sketch of the book, chapter by chapter, but most of the red herrings are created organically, in the moment.
EC: Where’s your favorite place to write? I often imagine thriller authors’ offices must be wallpapered with corkboards and red string! Please tell me this is true and let me live out my fantasy!
KT: I do have a corkboard in my office! But it has boring things on it, like pictures of my son. The real chaos is in my desk, where I have way too many notebooks filled with pages and pages of red-string conspiracy plotting. Where do you like to write?
EC: I tend to write my first drafts mostly by hand, so when the weather is nice, I love going outside to write. We’ve got a big oak tree in our backyard so I’ll take a blanket out and write under that!
KT: What is the most disturbing, “Oh God, I’m going to wind up on an FBI watch list” thing you’ve ever researched for a story?
EC: Oh gosh, I went down a terrible rabbit hole once looking up historically accurate autopsy practices. You?
KT: One word: dismemberment.
Lightning round questions:
Do you prefer writing gory scenes or kissing scenes?
EC: There is literally nothing scarier to write than kissing scenes. Gore.
KT: Gore for sure.
Favorite over-the-top dun-dun-DUN plot twist trope?
KT: SECRET EVIL TWIN!
EC: The person you thought was alive was really dead THE WHOLE TIME!
Name a twist you still haven’t recovered from.
EC: Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts
What are the two best flavors of soft serve to twist together?
KT: Chocolate and vanilla!
EC: Chocolate and raspberry!
Which do you prefer: Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” or “Let’s Twist Again”? (Why does that man sing about this so much—what is he hiding?!)
KT: “The Twist”
EC: “Let’s Twist Again”
Favorite “Oh snap! I got to the twist!” while reading .gif?
EC: Joaquin Phoenix’s horrified gasping in Signs
KT: DRAMATIC CHIPMUNK!