An Interview with Writer Hannah Tinti About her Debut Novel "The Good Thief"
(One of the hot books of the season is the debut novel “The Good Thief” by Hannah Tiniti. The novel features a 12-year-old boy named Ren, who is missing his left hand (and has no idea how he lost it). Benjamin Nab, Ren’s alleged long-lost brother, shows up to claim him from an orphanage. That’s when the adventure begins. Tinti has been compared to Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickens in the dozens of blurbs and reviews the book has received. That’s some heady comparisons. Hannah Tinti grew up in Salem, Massachusetts. Her short story collection “Animal Crackers” was a runner up for the PEN/Hemingway award. She is also the co-founder and editor-in-chief of One Story Magazine. Hannah, as a fellow New Englander, knew DaRK PaRTY was a huge fan of the New England Patriots so finally decided to grant us an interview about her sudden literary fame and how she views fiction writing.)
DaRK PaRTY: When did you know you wanted to be a novelist?
Hannah: My mother was a librarian, so I’ve always been surrounded by books. I think I was 19 when I took my first writing class, and after that, I was hooked. But I never thought I’d be a novelist. I was comfortable in the world of short stories. Then I came across this word, “Resurrection Men”. It’s what they used to call thieves who would dig up bodies and sell them to medical schools. I cut out the definition and pasted it into my journal. I thought of a scene, and I wrote it down. Then I thought of another, and I realized that it was going to be a novel, not a short story. And I was terrified.
DP: Can you tell us about the process of writing "The Good Thief?" Where did the initial spark of the idea originate?
Hannah: It was a strange and mysterious process. I wrote the middle of the book first. Then I wrote the beginning, then I wrote the end. I went through many, many drafts. Whole sections were sketched out and never used. Three characters merged into one. My first draft of the book was over 500 pages. The second was about 230. I’m an intuitive writer, and this may not have been the best way to go about writing a novel. I know other writers who use diagrams and note cards. I just try and follow the sentences, and sometimes they lead me to strange places.
DP: The novel has been compared to Dickens and other Victorian novelists. Are you a Dickens fan? What authors are your influences?
Hannah: I am a Dickens fan. He wrote his novels serially in magazines and newspapers, each chapter having its own kind of arc, and I definitely was inspired by that as a way of making my way from one end of the book to the other. Other influences would be the Brontës, James Fenimore Cooper, Robert Louis Stevenson, but also more modern writers like Flannery O’Connor.
DP: Can you describe your writing philosophy? How do you approach a project?
Hannah: Most of the real work for me is done in the editing process. I sketch out scenes and characters and try and push them as far as I can, and then I print the pages out, and rework the language, and try and see the patterns and what I’m trying to say. Often I don’t know what is missing, but I’ll put a big X on the page, or a double-headed arrow, which means: this needs to be opened up and explored, or there is a scene missing here, or a step has been skipped. Then I go back to the computer, and start adding and subtracting and shaping the story. When I’m exhausted and can’t look at it anymore, I print it out and start all over again with the editing.
DP: "The Good Thief" has been getting excellent reviews. How does it feel to be a "hot young" writer on the rise?
Hannah: I don’t really consider myself “hot” or particularly “young”. I’m 35, and I’ve been a part of this literary community for a while. I am extremely appreciative of reviews, whether they are good or bad. The fact that anyone has read my book and taken the time to respond is incredibly humbling. It took me six years to write, and there were many late nights at three am where I came close to chucking the whole thing. I tried to write a book that I would like to read. In the end, I think I accomplished that. If anyone else enjoys it, that is just an amazing bonus.
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Labels: 5 Questions, Hannah Tinti, interview, The Good Thief, Writing