Today we have a visit with author, David Hosp. His thrillers are stunning! He’s offered to talk about his newest book, Among Thieves and the writing life. If you have any questions of David, you are welcome to head out to his website.
1. Tell us a little bit about your book, Among Thieves.
Among Thieves is a novel based on the real-life art theft that took place at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. Most of it takes place in the present day, though there are a number of lengthy flashbacks to the robbery itself. The premise is that one of the thieves—a former IRA operative—has returned to Boston to track down the paintings and mete out retribution to those who participated in the theft with him. Scott Finn, my protagonist, gets involved because he is a lawyer who represents a down-on-his-luck thief in jail for another robbery who has a connection to the Gardner theft.
2. Where did the idea for the book come from?
One of my favorite places in Boston is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum—a beautiful spot that also happens to be the site of the largest art theft in world history. Twenty years ago, two men dressed as Boston Police Officers stole nearly half a billion dollars worth of art on the night of St. Patrick’s Day. The theft is an amazing mystery—there is so much that is known about it, but also so many things that don’t make sense. The robbery has never been solved; the paintings have never been found.
In many ways, though, it was not the theft that first inspired me; it was the museum itself. It is the only institution of its kind in that it embodies the artistic vision of a single individual. Isabella Stewart Gardner, one of the wealthiest women of her time, built her museum in the last decade of the nineteenth century. She helped design the building in the style of a Venetian palazzo turned in upon itself, with a monstrous glass roof suspended four stories above an enormous central garden courtyard. She selected and placed every single piece of art—one of the greatest private collections assembled in history—herself, and left the museum to the public upon her death with the proviso that nothing about the museum or the placement of the art ever be altered. As a result, the paintings that were stolen have never been replaced. Empty frames mark the spots where the paintings used to hang. To me, it was a perfect backdrop for a thriller involving my Boston-based characters, and I couldn’t resist.
3. Did your publisher have any qualms about publishing a novel based on a true story
I don’t think my publisher had any qualms, but it certainly represented a challenge for me. It’s always a little dicey to write a fiction work that centers on real-life events. On the one hand, I wanted to be true to the actual facts of what happened as we currently know. I went through reports from the robbery, contemporary newspaper accounts, as well as secondary sources to get as clear an understanding as I could of what actually happened; and I tried to stay true to the facts so that the plot maintains plausibility. At the same time, my goal was to tell a story that would captivate people, and keep them riveted. I was helped by the fact that there are so many strange things about the theft itself. For example, while some of what was stolen was incredibly valuable, there were other items that were comparatively worthless. No one has ever been able to explain these quirks in the robbery, and they provided fodder for plot twists and character development.
4. How long did it take to write the book? Do you write every day?
It took me a little more than a year and a half to write, but some of that was spent on research. Again, to be true to the reality, I researched not only the Gardner theft itself, but art theft generally, the IRA, the Boston mob scene, etc. That took more time than I anticipated, but it was fascinating. Once the research was done, I sat down to create the characters and fit them into a plot that tied all the factual material together.
I generally write every day on my commute by boat up from Boston’s south shore to the city. My commute is where I get more than ninety percent of the writing done.
5. How difficult is it to balance your work as an attorney and writing thrillers?
I really don’t find it difficult at all. Notwithstanding the good fortune I’ve had with the books, I still approach writing as a passion, rather than a profession. I never anticipated that anything I wrote would get published—I did this for fun. If anything, I feel like writing and working as a lawyer provides a balance that I would otherwise be missing. It’s sort of a left brain-right brain thing.
6. Could you tell us about your journey to find an agent (since that is so difficult)?
It is a story filled with good fortune and serendipity. As I mentioned, I never planned on trying to get anything published. I liked to write, and I decided to write a novel for fun on my commute to work in Boston by boat. When I was finished, I was going to have a couple of hundred copies made up at Kinko’s that I could give out to friends and family. My parents read the manuscript and thought it was great. They suggested that I give it to a guy they knew who was a literary agent. The short version of the story is that the agent reluctantly agreed to take a look at it, and called me a week later and offered to represent me. Shortly thereafter I had my first publishing contract. There is a much longer, funnier version of the story, but it gets a little complicated. Suffice it to say that I will always appreciate my good fortune. I believe all writers need to recognize that, no matter how good a novel is, there is an aspect of luck that goes into every “success” story.
7. Did you recommend the title Among Thieves or did it come from your publisher?
The title went through a number of iterations. I think I first had it as DEN OF THIEVES, but there was a very successful non-fiction book that came out a while ago with that tile, so we kicked it around until someone (I can’t even remember who, now) suggested AMONG THIEVES. I actually like it better than my first suggestion.
8. Did you experience rejection before finding a home for your first book? Please share a bit about the process of getting that first contract.
As I mentioned, I was very lucky. See answer 6, above.
9. Are you working on another book? If so, are you able to give us a little teaser?
I am working on a couple of new books at the moment. One involves the same characters, the other is completely new. I would give readers a teaser, but that would spoil the fun!
10. What advice would you give to someone wanting to write a novel?
I would tell them not to listen to too much advice. Most people who write do it because they are driven to write; they have a story inside them that is trying to get out. When it comes to the mechanics of getting that story out, people do it differently. There is no “correct” way. If you enjoy writing, then write, and talk to other writers. Take whatever advice resonates with you, and leave aside without concern whatever does not. Find the joy in the writing process itself; there is too much uncertainty in publication to rest your sense of fulfillment in that. If you are fortunate enough to have your work published, never take that for granted. Always remember that your success is as much a product of timing and luck as it is of talent.
11. What are the biggest obstacles you experience in writing?
For me, the most challenging part of the writing process is producing something that I am happy with. I am far and away my own worst critic, and I am constantly striving to be a better writer at both the substantive (plot/character) level, and the technical (execution) level. I pick apart my characters and my plots constantly to make sure I am pushing myself to create the best story I can. Then I rip every sentence down to its barest essentials to make sure I’m telling that story in the most understandable, compelling way I can. That is the joyful, maddening process that challenges me and makes writing a passion. It happens very rarely, but the moments when I can look at some small portion of something I have written and think to myself, now that’s good, are worth the madness.
12. What do you read for fun?
I read a wide variety of things. I read a lot of non-fiction in part to get ideas for new novels—I like having a non-fiction hook for my books. I also read many different types of fiction, from historical fiction to literary fiction to mysteries and thrillers.
13. Do you have a favorite novel of those you’ve written? If so what is it and why?
It’s a tough question. I have a very strong emotional attachment to INNOCENCE, which just came out in paperback, because it was inspired by pro bono work I did with a client that had spent seven years in prison for the attempted murder of a Boston police officer. DNA evidence exonerated him in 2004. He was a very good guy, and I spent a lot of time with him. Tragically, he was murdered a few months after the book came out. But I also really love AMONG THIEVES because I feel like the characters are very strong.
14. Do you have a website? If so, what is it?
I do, at www.davidhosp.com. I am still working on it, and more information can be found at my facebook page.