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An Interview with Johan Twiss, author of Four Years Trapped in My Mind Palace

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Johan Twiss is an award-winning author who’s passionate about writing exciting science fiction and fantasy stories that are suitable for tweens, teens, and adults alike. He has nine published works, including his award-winning novel, Four Years Trapped in My Mind Palace, and the I Am Sleepless series. He’s the recipient of the Lonestar.Ink Rising Star Award, finalist in the Screencraft Cinematic Book Competition, and runner-up in the Book Pipeline Adaptation Contest. He has over forty published children’s stories available on the Sleepy Stories App and doubles as an audiobook narrator when time permits. He’s a loving husband and father with five amazing children and enjoys playing sports, a variety of musical instruments, painting, and exploring the world on road trips with his family. Learn more at

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer. I always enjoyed writing in school, but my creative outlet was music. Back in 2010, I started becoming involved with a number of NGO’s (non-profits) who were combatting human trafficking. I started a blog, interviewed non-profits and trafficking victim survivors, and helped raise money and awareness.

Through this experience, I decided I wanted to write a fictional story that encompassed some of these experiences of survivors, but I wanted to focus on the hope and aftercare available through non-profits like the ones I’d been involved with.

So I started writing. I just went for it. And while most of the writing isn’t that great when I look back at it, I learned a lot from the experience.

I was bit by the writing bug and I started going to writing conferences, which lead to joining writing groups. That first story became a trunk novel, which means it was hidden in a trunk to never see the day of light again.

But after I published three other books, I went back to that first trunk novel and completely revamped the story, which is now published as 30 Red Dresses. It’s the story of a young girl sold into slavery in Cambodia who is miraculously freed and finds hope and aftercare through a local non-profit.

Now, years later, it’s fun to find myself teaching at these same writing conferences I attended as a new writer. I love to share the things I’ve learned with others from the craft of writing to marketing and the business side. And I love to learn from other writers and their experiences. There are so many ways to climb the author mountain and find joy and success in writing!

What inspired you to start writing this book?

The idea for Four Years Trapped in My Mind Palace came after I watched a news story about a man who suffered a similar fate as Aaron. He contracted a rare form of meningitis as a boy that caused full paralysis and locked-in syndrome. Though he was still alive, he was trapped in his mind for nearly fourteen years, aware of everything going on around him, but no one knew it. Eventually, he recovered limited mobility and speech, and was lucky enough to find love and be married.

This amazing story pulled my thoughts toward an elderly family friend who was suffering from dementia. When I’d speak with this friend, we’d be having a normal conversation and suddenly he’d switch to thinking we were in the 1950s and I was his buddy from the 50s.

These two experiences collided and created the story of Aaron and Solomon—a humorous and heartwarming coming-of-age story, entwined with an end-of-age story, that will capture your imagination and renew your faith in the power of friendship.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

It’s a long title. I went back and forth with some other titles, but it just stuck. What’s interesting is when I’m at events selling and singing books, passersby will see my banner for Four Years Trapped in My Mind Palace and they’re drawn to come talk to me because of the title of the story. They’re curious and want to learn more.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

“Green in Blue” by Miles Davis. The elderly main character, Solomon Felsher, is a former jazz musician. I highlight this song in the book and talk about its influence on me in the author’s notes.

Describe your dream book cover.

The latest cover from my publisher is pretty close to a dream cover. And I love the physical copies. They did a slightly raised embossing of the head silhouette. It looks amazing in person.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

My wife and I have owned our own online retail business for 12 years now. We have a private label felt craft line and sell thousands of precut felt shape packs a week. I manage the Amazon businesses for other companies and all of our income from my books, to our business, to the businesses I manage comes through Amazon. Since 2012 I’ve sold over 20 million dollars in products on Amazon.

I’m also a partner in the Sleepy Stories app. It’s a bedtime stories app for kids with sleep anxiety (though we have a lot of adults who also use it). I’ve written over 50 stories for the app, and I edit stories from other authors and edit and master the audio from our narrator.

This came about after I’d done some audiobook narration of my own. I’d auditioned and been hired to do an audiobook for Bushel and Peck books. From that relationship, the owner, David Miles, brought me on with Sleepy Stories, which lead to signing a contract with Bushel and Peck for Four Years Trapped in My Mind Palace.

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

I read a lot for comfort. At this time, I believe I was reading the Muirwood series, and epic fantasy, by Jeff Wheeler. I read a lot of fantasy as an escape from everyday life. I’m a big fan of Jeff Wheeler and Brandon Sanderson. But I try to work in one non-fiction for every four fiction books I read.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

What I love about Four Years Trapped in My Mind Palace is how it crosses age groups and genres. I have grandmothers who read the story in their book club even though it’s technically a young adult book. They fall in love with it and then buy it for their grandkids. The grandkids enjoy the story and they talk about it with their grandma.

I’ve had some neat experiences where readers have reached out and told me how this book changed their lives. Once, I was selling books at an outdoor event and I lady stopped when she saw my banner. She asked if I was the author, which I replied I replied I was. She told me she was a high school librarian at a city about 30 minutes away. A senior had recently come up to her with a copy of my book and told the librarian she should buy copies for the library and how this book changed his life.

A grandma told me how she’d read my book and bought it for her granddaughter who was going through chemotherapy. It had a major impact on them both and gave them hope and comfort.

These experiences make my day and add to my drive to write and share stories with the world.

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