Amor Towles knows how to pull readers deeply into a narrative. Readers in the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids area will soon get to hear how those narratives come together from Towles himself. A partnership with the North Liberty Library, Prairie Lights Books and Penguin Random House will bring Towles to the North Liberty Community Center on Monday. He was scheduled to visit earlier this summer — he had planned a cross-country drive as part of his research for his next novel — but had to reschedule due to a family conflict. Because of that, Towles said he’s especially grateful readers are able to come out to hear him speak.
“You know, I think for a writer it’s a luxury to have a book that has captured the imagination of people enough that there’s a reason to go somewhere,” he said, by phone from his home on the east coast. “It’s like being on a rock ‘n’ roll tour without the crowds, the money, or the glamour. It is part of the job, but I’m in a fortunate position to have an option to go speak to readers because they want to talk about the book or hear what I have to say. And in a way, I think of it as like this: it takes me about four years to write a book, so I should be willing to spend a year on the road helping that book find its audience.”
Based on the popularity of Towles novels, readers are definitely interested in hearing what he has to say and his books have found their audience. Towles’ first novel, “Rules of Civility,” was published in 2011 and became a New York Times best-seller. It is a story about 25-year-old Katey Kontent who is coming of age in late 1930s Manhattan. “A Gentleman in Moscow,” Towles’ second book, was published in 2016 and also made its way onto the New York Times best-seller list where it stayed for over a year. It is set to be made into a TV adaptation starring Kenneth Branagh. “A Gentleman in Moscow,” which came to Towles as he entered a hotel in Geneva, plays out over the course of three decades as Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to permanent residence at the luxury Metropol Hotel in Moscow in 1922.
Towles is often lauded for his masterful approach to crafting novels that transport readers to another era and immerse them in the lives of the colorful cast of characters he creates.
“Your main character can be in any shape or form or from any walk of life, but you have to have a very strong sense of that character to build the story around,” he said of crafting his characters. “But the book only works if all the characters are three-dimensional and have a vibrancy about them. For me that requires I like them all to some degree. If I am bored by them, I’m probably not going to do a good job of bringing them to life or haven’t invested enough time in that character.”
When it comes to writing, he is pretty disciplined.
“I tend to try to make the most use of the morning hours but for me that doesn’t mean 6 a.m. Certainly by 9 a.m. I try to use the morning to the best of my ability so usually from then until 1 p.m. I’m usually at my desk and working.”
But he also tends to be a bit selfish as he gets started on a new project.
“I try to write the first draft for myself and for no one else,” he explained. “I pursue my own interests, what I’m fascinated with, what my instincts are. I will pursue vanities or, you know, whims. I’ll allow inconsistencies and contradictions and allow the story to go in the wrong direction, all those kinds of things.”
But once he’s gotten that done, he starts to think of others.
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“I start to, in the revision, think about the reader,” he said. “What I really consider through the editing process is that the reader is going to make an investment to read my book not just of money but also of time. If they are willing to do that, I should be willing to go back over that first draft and bring it into order, eliminate redundancies and inconsistencies, eliminate cliches, make the writing sharper and smarter and cohesive.”
According to Towles, the ideas for his stories have likely been with him for a while before he starts writing.
“I’ve been writing since I was a kid, so all my life I’ve thought about ideas for stories,” explained Towles, noting that being almost 55 means he has a lot of material to work from. “Over time you kind of write down the notions you have and then you might return to a particular notion and add notes. As the notes get longer and more detailed I start to picture the story in greater detail and with greater clarity. An idea has gripped me and I sit down to write the book.”
“And I personally outline very carefully well in advance of writing so that when I start writing the book, I know a great deal about it already,” he added.
When he’s not writing, Towles spends time with his wife and two teenage children. Currently, he is hard at work on his next novel.
“I don’t talk about it too much, but I’m halfway into my first draft of my new book. It’s about three 18-year-old young men who are on their way from Nebraska to New York City in the early 1950s. That novel will likely bring him back to Iowa as he plans to make the cross-country trip his characters embark on in the story.
Because of his process, readers may have to wait a few years for that story to be fully ready. Given the popularity of his other novels, it’s likely the book will be worth the wait.
If you go
• What: Amor Towles will speak
• When: 7 p.m. Monday
• Where: North Liberty Community Center, 520 W. Cherry St., North Liberty
• Cost: $10
• Tickets: www.eventbrite.com/e/rescheduled-author-event-amor-towles-tickets-60215644614