The Novel Hannah Tinti “Didn’t Want to Write” Is Now a Hit

By Neal 

hannah-tinti-withcover.jpgWhen she reviewed Hannah Tinti‘s The Good Thief for the Boston Globe last month, Julie Wittes Schlack suggested that the novel, which features a child protagonist, wasn’t being sold as a YA novel because “agent and marketer agreed that this book was simply too good and too rich with commercial potential to be limited to the YA section.” So the first thing we asked Tinti when we met up a few weeks ago was: Did she start out writing a book for young readers and decide somewhere along the line it was grown-up literature? “That’s not the case,” she told us. “I didn’t write to be anything one way or the other, so I didn’t write it towards a YA audience—I just wrote it.”

Tinti also noted that while Schlack was interpreting The Good Thief as “a teenage book that can be appreciated by adults,” Maile Meloy was telling NYTBR readers it was “a book for adults, in addition to being the kind of story that might have kept you reading all day when you were home sick from school.” Either way, she’s excited that so many people are responding positively to the book, “and if younger people want to read it, too, I’m psyched.” (One quick clarification, per the comments below: The supposed differences in quality between adult literary fiction and YA fiction come from the reviewer, not from Tinti, who had lots more to say in a positive vein about literature for younger readers.)

“I really didn’t want to write a novel,” Tinti reflected. “I was really happy with short stories… But I came across an idea that was too big to be contained in a short story.” It began when she was reading a book called Forgotten English and came across the phrase “resurrection men,” a 19th-century term for grave robbers.” She began writing a scene in a cemetary and soon realized that somebody would need to be waiting on the other side of the fence with the cart and horse, so she began describing that character, who turned out to be a young boy. “I quickly realized that he didn’t have a left hand,” she said, “and that opened him up to me as a character.” That one scene expanded to two chapters, after which she backtracked to find out what led the boy, now named Ren, to that moment. All in all, she told us, she spent six years on the novel, as compared to the six months she usually spends writing a short story.

Tinti’s commitment to the short story format is strong; she’s written enough for her own collection, Animal Crackers, and she’s one of the founders of One Story, a magazine that publishes, as suggested, one story per issue. “I always warn One Story writers, if they’re new, that the first thing that’s going to come out of an agent’s mouth is, do you have a novel?” she laughed. By the time that she got an agent, though, she was already well into the writing on The Good Thief, so it wasn’t as much of an issue.

Speaking of One Story, the magazine was officially designated as a non-profit organization earlier this year. “The magazine pays for itself now, but with absolutely no extras,” Tinti reported; fundraising efforts will provide a financial cushion and offer additional compensation for the staff. She also noted that, with just over 100 issues published, the magazine has attracted attention from several publishers interested in a “best of” anthology—but, she said, with the extensive library of author Q&As and audio recordings from their ongoing reading series, the editors are hoping for something much different than the usual straightforward compliatiion.

Tinti will be appearing tonight at the Housing Works Used Bookstore Café with Kathleen Kent and Maud Newton for an early Halloween tribute to “witches, demons, and thieves.” (And, funnily enough, not two minutes after first publishing this, we saw that Maud just published her interview with Tinti, too.)