A.M. Homes: Writers on Writing

"The most important thing I’ve learned is to stay curious, to stay open to what the characters bring to the story – don’t be overly determined to control the story but rather let it evolve organically."
By Gabriel Packard | Published: July 17, 2013


HOMES_03A09In June, A.M. Homes won the prestigious Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) for her latest novel May We Be Forgiven, beating titans such as Zadie Smith, Barbara Kingsolver and Hilary Mantel. Homes’ work often takes on dark subject matter. Her best-known novel The End of Alice focuses on a convicted child molester and murderer, and May We Be Forgiven follows two brothers, one of whom kills his own wife after catching her in bed with the other. Homes has published 10 books in 24 years, and although she’s primarily a writer of fiction, she has also published journalism and a memoir (The Mistress’s Daughter) and worked as a writer and producer on the hit TV show The L Word.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?

The most important thing I’ve learned is to stay curious, to stay open to what the characters bring to the story – don’t be overly determined to control the story but rather let it evolve organically. My mentor Grace Paley used to talk about writing as “the truth according to the character.” I think that’s very important. It’s not about what you as an author think or want to have happen. It’s about what’s accurate for the character.

How has that helped you as a writer?

I am a fiction writer who works from my imagination. My characters are pulled out of the ether and made whole by the stories they have to tell. If I stay true to the character and the story, it works out. I try not to insert myself or my point of view. It’s hard for the reader to see that, because, of course, I am the one writing the story. It is my voice, my tone – but the story belongs to the characters.

Gabriel Packard is the associate director of the creative writing MFA program at Hunter College in New York City.

  • Angela Smith

    Great interview! So true about the story belonging to the characters. I find that readers who know you personally have a harder time remembering that. I was going to say perseverance was the most important thing I’ve learned about writing, but I love what you said about staying curious. And I guess maybe you do need some perseverance in order to stay curious. Your novel sounds great! Thanks for sharing.

    • Alicia

      Thanks for your comments, Angela. Check out the next issue (OCT) when we pay closer attention to the role of curiosity in writing. We look forward to reading more of your thoughts then!