Author Talk: Fran Cannon Slayton and When the Whistle Blows

Looking for a non-scary Halloween book to read? Go find Fran Cannon Slayton’s When the Whistle Blows. Each chapter features a different All Hallow’s Eve adventure as Jimmy Cannon grows up in his West Virginian railroad town.

Recently, Fran answered a few questions about her book…

Tell us about your book.  

whenthewhistlecovWhen the Whistle Blows is a coming of age story about Jimmy Cannon who is growing up in 1940s Appalachia during an era of economic upheaval.   The backbone of his small town is the B&O Railroad, and with the engines switching from steam to diesel technology, Jimmy’s world is changing – and he doesn’t want it to.  Jimmy navigates the tracks of friendship, love, loss, and going head-to-head with his father as he struggles to carve out his own niche in the adult world.  Did I mention the secret society he discovers his father is a part of?  Or the Halloween pranks he engineers?  They’re in there too!

What were you like as a kid? 

I was a tomboy all the way.  Queen of the kickball field!

Did you like school? 

Yes, loved it.

What’s the grossest or most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you as a kid?

I’m having a brain block on this, but when I was 18 my boyfriend (now husband) and I cut off all my hair, shooting for the Annie Lennox look (do you remember, the lead singer in the Eurythmics?)  But my hair didn’t turn out quite as cool as hers.  In fact it looked as if I might have just had head surgery!  One night a few weeks later I was standing outside with my coat wrapped up around me and a man addressed me as “son.”  Doh!

If you weren’t an author/illustrator, what would you be? Why? 

Maybe a professional football player.  But I guess I’m a little too old.

What’s one thing you’d love to learn to do? 

Paint.  Oil and watercolor.

What’s the coolest place you’ve ever been? 

Rowlesburg, WV.  Second place?  Reykjavik, Iceland – very cool geysers!

How did you get the idea for When the Whistle Blows?


Which story (chapter) is your favorite one? Why?

Oh I can’t pick a favorite story!  I love them all! 

How long does it take you to write a book? Where do you like to write?

It took me about 2 1/2 years from start to acceptance to write When the Whistle Blows.  Regarding where I write – I like to change atmospheres often, so sometimes I type away in my office, while other times I’ll go to the family room or out to a local coffee or pastry shop.  The time of day varies too, but mostly it’s during school hours or late at night.  If I didn’t have to keep a schedule I’d write from dinner until 2-3 in the morning and then get up around 11 the next morning.  But real world obligations don’t allow that!

We loved your book! Is there a similar book from a different author that’d you’d recommend for kids who liked yours?

Thank you!  It’s had to compare my own book to the work of others, especially books I admire and are well known!  But some books I’d like to think share some similar elements to When the Whistle Blows are Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, and Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury.  Other book reviewers have compared my book to Richard Peck’s A Long Way From Chicago, which I consider to be an incredible compliment!

What’s next? 

I’m currently writing a fantasy about a girl who wants to be a pirate, tentatively titled Ship’s Boy.

Fran’s haiku about When the Whistle Blows!:

The coffin’s dark wood
Draws the boy from the shadows
Into his future

And finally, Fran’s facts on her author card:


Visit Fran Cannon Slayton’s website

Visit Fran Cannon Slayton’s blog