Interview Questions: The Good Thief (Hannah Tinti)
1. How did you become inspired to write The Good Thief and were there autobiographical components to the novel?
It all began when I came across the phrase “Resurrection Men” and read the definition. Resurrection Men were thieves who would dig up bodies and sell them to medical schools. The practice exploded in the U.S. and Europe as medical schools were becoming established, and still continues today. It was the first thing I’d ever come across that I felt I could write an entire novel about. I’m from Salem, Massachusetts, and so Gothic elements have always made their way into my writing. In the end I wanted the book to be an homage to the classic boy adventure tales that made me fall in love with reading when I was a child: Great Expectations and Treasure Island. As for autobiographical elements—I’ve never robbed a grave in my life!
2. Explain your writing schedule. (Do you have a specific place/time to write and do you write for long periods or in snippets?)
I write whenever I can find the time and space. But often weeks go by when I am busy teaching or editing, and I don’t get anything down at all.
3. How did you decide what elements were important for this time period?
I purposely did as little research as possible with my first draft, so that the characters would drive the narrative. Then, I went back and read books on medical history, and resurrection men, and also read many newspapers from the 1800s. But growing up in Salem, MA made it easy for me to imagine how everything should look and feel—most of the houses there are from the 1700s and 1800s.
4. You began as a short story writer. When did you decide to write a novel?
When I came across a subject too big to fit into a short story.
5. Do you believe that novice writers should hone their skills with short stories before attempting to write a novel?
Not necessarily. Short stories and novels are very different, and require different things, stylistically and structurally. Some writers I know can only write novels—they need more room to breathe.
6. The Good Thief is set in Salem, MA; your hometown. Do you feel that authors should stick to the known when writing?
Actually, The Good Thief is not set in Salem—most of the action is set in a made-up town called North Umbrage. I purposely didn’t want to use any real places in the book, so I would have more freedom to develop the setting. I don’t think writers should only stick to what they know—I think they should write about what interests them.
7. The protagonist, Ren, is a young male orphan. Why did you choose to write from a male perspective instead of that of a young girl?
It seemed to make sense for the story. A young girl in this situation would be more complicated, and would have to deal with sexual issues if she was on her own at such a young age.
8. How did you decide to tell the story from only Ren’s point of view and not the other characters?
After sketching out the first scene, it was clear to me that Ren was the hero of the story, and it should be told from his point of view. I wanted the reader to discover things along with him.
9. Why do feel that the characters resonate with fans of Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson?
I think this is because I used Dickens and Stevenson as my inspiration. I wanted the book to be a real action/adventure tale. I also tried to employ “classic” storytelling techniques.
10. Benjamin Nab is such a charismatic adventurer. Is he modeled on characteristics of any people in your real life?
No, he is modeled on Johnny Depp!
11. Who were some of your favorite authors growing up and who are you currently reading?
I loved the Bronte sisters. I re-read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights every few years. I am currently reading Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, which just won The Story Prize.
12. What made you want to become a writer and what are some of your current projects?
My mother was a librarian, and so I grew up loving books. But I never thought of being a writer until I took my first writing class with Blanche Boyd at Connecticut College. She opened the door to the possibility of being a writer. Currently I am working on a new novel, and also a comic book series.