An Interview with Hannah Tinti

Hannah Tinti is the author of “Animal Crackers, which has just come out in paperback.

“Home Sweet Home" tells of a double murder that takes place in a quiet suburban neighborhood. What makes the story distinctive is the way the author uses an omniscient viewpoint that takes the readers inside the minds and lives of numerous characters—the victims, the neighbors, the police, even a dog who lives on the block. The dog is what gets this story in Animal Crackers because each of the stories in this collection deals with animals in some way.

Hannah is currently working on a novel and serving as co-editor of the uncommonly successful literary magazine One Story. We included an interview with Hannah in Fiction Gallery but she's so much fun, we wanted to follow up with a few new questions.

GWW: You like to get at the dark underside of things. In “Home Sweet Home," for example, we have this suburban neighborhood that seems very ordinary on the surface but, turns out, all kinds of twisted things are happening in the characters' private lives. You drive the point home by letting the reader get inside numerous characters, and they've all got their share of shadowy thoughts. You seem like a really upbeat person, so what's going on with the darkness?

TINTI: I get this question a lot. In fact, after I had my first meeting with my agent, she told me that she was going to offer me representation earlier, but decided she needed to meet me in person after reading the collection, to make sure I wasn't crazy. So—darkness? I think it's in everyone, and I may be a little more tuned in to mine, having grown up in Salem, Massachusetts, home of the witch trials. Some of the buildings from this time period (1692) are still up—in fact, Jonathan Corwin (one of the magistrates) lived one block away from my house. He condemned 19 people to hang for witchcraft and his place is still there—it's called the witch house—you can almost feel him peeping through the windows. I used to walk past it every day on my way to school.

GWW: You write about lots of animals in Animal Crackers, and the situations are diverse—a boy who talks with turkeys, a woman who has a strange relationship with a snake, a trio of giraffes who go on strike for better conditions at the zoo, and so on. Did you do much animal research while writing the book or did you go mostly on instinct?

TINTI: I was a Biology major in college, before switching to writing. I wanted to be the next Jacques Cousteau, but unfortunately I was very bad at science. I couldn't remember any numbers or data, only weird anecdotes—that a Rhino horn, for example, is actually made out of hair—one giant, weird dreadlock on the end of its nose. That fascinated me. Or that giraffes have these long black tongues. So some of the facts in the stories were ones that I already knew, from my studies. Others I had to look up to make sure they were accurate, like what kind of markings would be on a Columbian Red-Tail boa constrictor.

GWW: Writing teachers usually advise students to dash through a first draft then take a story through numerous revisions. In your Fiction Gallery interview, you revealed that your process flouts this conventional wisdom—even on the first draft, you labor over each line before moving on to the next. But that's when you were mostly writing short stories. Has your process changed now that you're writing a novel?

TINTI: Absolutely. I learned, early on, when I started my novel, that it would take me ten years to finish if I wrote it the same way. So I really loosened the reins, so to speak, and pushed through the action of the chapters, just to get down what was happening, and then went back to fill in the details.

GWW: When we interviewed you for Fiction Gallery, your first book, Animal Crackers, was just about to be released. Now it's been out for a year, you've toured the country doing promotion, and the paperback version is about to come out, and you'll be back on the promotion circuit. Do you like the chance to get out there and meet the readers or do you prefer working safely in solitude?

TINTI: When I'm working on a book, I need to hide away. I keep my social outings to a minimum, and my focus inward. But when I've finished, I'm ready to get out and smell the air again. It's been a thrill to meet people who've read the book and connected with the characters—it's a bit like going to a parent/teacher night, and discovering that your children have other lives that have nothing to do with you.