Dinan’s second book explores characters gone rouge

Ally Guo | Staff Writer

 When Boone McReedy is swindled out of $15,000, it’s up to him and his ex-girlfriend Darby West to earn back the money, one scam at a time.

Following the publication of his award-winning first book, MHS English teacher Kurt Dinan’s second novel, The Scam List, was released in August 2020. The story follows the adventures of Boone McReedy, who is a skilled and charming con man, despite not wanting to end up like his imprisoned father. However, when he’s tricked out of the $15,000 that his mother needs for her flea market, he’s forced to team up with his equally cunning ex-girlfriend to get the money back — by conning other people around town.

Dinan said that inspiration for The Scam List first arose from his fascination with the concept of cons and conmen.

“Usually when I write, I think of the things I like,” Dinan said. “I like the idea of con artists — someone who can persuade and manipulate someone else into believing them. I like that idea in theory. In the real world, they’re terrible people, but in a book, you can make them as lovable and as justifiable as possible. So I started with that idea, and the plot kind of grew out of that.”

As for the setting of the story, Dinan said he was drawn to the idea of a flea market due to the location’s distinctness and diversity.

“I needed [the characters] to be conning people someplace,” Dinan said. “Using a flea market like Traders World was just easy. That place, if you’ve never been, is so full of character and characters.”

While writing these characters, Dinan said he was influenced by the students around him. However, though he felt that teenagers would be able to relate to both Boone and Darby, the greatest draw to his book was the humor. 

“I don’t think there are enough funny books out there,” Dinan said. “I think Young Adult, especially, is so issue-driven. That’s great; we do need books that deal with heavy subjects, but I also think a big part of being a teenager is just getting in trouble and having dumb conversations with your friends. That’s a big part of growing up, so there needs to be more of that in writing. I think that’s what teenagers and all readers have connected with.”

Dinan said, however, that when he started out writing, he didn’t intend to focus so much on humor; it simply came out as a part of his personality.

“For years, I tried to write horror and fantasy, but it’s not me,” Dinan said. “It doesn’t flow that easily, but writing humor, it just comes naturally. I think you have to be who you are and not try to force who you aren’t. The comedic element is who I am, so that flows right into my work.”

Alongside the humor, another key part of The Scam List is the cons the characters use. Dinan said he needed to do a lot of research to write them properly but thoroughly enjoyed the scenes that resulted from that research.

“The question everyone always asks is, ‘How did you learn all of these cons?’” Dinan said. “I did a lot of research on that. I would learn those cons and scams, and then I would have to tweak them to fit the world of the characters. I liked writing those chapters where they were being con artists and kind of stringing the reader along where it’s like, I’m giving you information, but you don’t fully understand what they’re doing until the end.”

Despite all the fun Dinan had while writing these cons, the book did not originally center around them.

“The book started as a detective novel,” Dinan said. “I love detective novels, so I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll write a teen detective novel.’ And I wrote it a couple of times, but I didn’t have a good enough mystery for the book to exist. So then I changed it to being con artists and the book was much easier to write then. I ended up with all of these other scenes that I enjoyed writing that worked really well.”

Not all of these scenes ended up in the final book though, including one of Dinan’s favorites, where Darby threatens to set someone’s car on fire at a gas station. However, as he is currently working on a sequel to The Scam List, that moment could reappear in the future.

In addition to changes to the initial concept, Dinan also struggled with conveying emotion and introspection in his work.

“[I’m not] very good at expressing emotions,” Dinan said. “Even knowing what those emotions are, it usually takes me a couple of days to figure out why I’m in a bad mood. So when I write those scenes, I really struggle. To help with that, I’ll listen to music to hopefully get my head in the right spot, but that is definitely one of the more difficult parts of writing for me.”

But after overcoming those obstacles and releasing two novels, Dinan said to students who aspire to write a book or be published one day to start as soon as they can.

“I didn’t start writing until I was 30, and it took years to learn what I was doing,” Dinan said. “I’m still learning. I couldn’t even imagine where I’d be if I had started — if I had had the passion and interest to write — as a teenager. But just starting now and learning and writing terrible stuff, you’ll get to that level [of professionalism] so much faster.”