Who is Amor Towles? Possibly one of the most talented writers alive today, and one of my favorite novelists. And how did he become such an amazing writer? To answer these questions, I have been looking into the background of this writer of these three amazing novels: The Rules of Civility, The Gentleman in Moscow, and The Lincoln Highway. I loved reading each of them luckily enough as they came out or within the year or so afterward. What I found out about him as a writer is pleasantly surprising and inspiring.
First, what I appreciate most now about him is that his career as an author began later in life. At the age of 48, his first book was published and was given critical acclaim likening his style to that of F. Scott Fitzgerald and other greats in American literature. 48! That gives hope to all aspiring authors, including me. Granted, he seems to have been thinking about writing for sometime. One story, which sounds more like a myth, paints a picture of him as a chosen son, destined for greatness. At ten years old, he is said to have placed a message in a bottle and thrown it into the sea. Of all people, the managing editor of the New York Times found it. He contacted Amor. Not only did that all happen, but they continued to correspond for many years. It is fascinating how something serendipitous like that happened, and he ultimately has become a phenomenal writer. Or was he always a writer even from that age? More likely the latter. It was in him. Whatever drove him to write the message and put it in the bottle also drove him to write his first novel, and the second, and the third. Curiosity. Intellect. The desire to contribute to humanity and share reflections on life. I suspected this and found it confirmed in a podcast I listened to where he spoke in November 2021 about being a creator, an artist, and writer throughout his life, and struggling during the times where his career title didn’t match his identity as a writer.
Amor Towles didn’t start his career as an author. In fact, he hasn’t even had his full attention on writing until the second half of his life. It was only one year after the success of his first novel that he retired from the financial analysis business to become a full-time novelist. Even though he is incredibly gifted at crafting a fictional story and has produced three New York Times best sellers, he worked as a director of research for Select Equity Group in New York for more than twenty years. Granted he graduated from Yale undergrad and Stanford with a Masters degree in English, he did not go directly into writing. Instead, he has taken his decades of living and working amongst the country’s elitist elites and used his insider knowledge and first hand witness to build his characters and story lines. Similar to Michael Lewis, but with an added twist of historical fiction and set about a generation ago for all three novels.
What is even more fascinating is that he wrote a novel while working his full-time job, and scrapped it. He had worked on it for seven years! From that experience though, he made a huge turn and set out to write his first published novel in one year. He started it on New Year’s Day and finished it on New Year’s Eve, paralleling his writing with the timing of the novel, “The Rules of Civility.” He spent years revising it, but what a learning curve in developing his writing technique and finding what works well for him. Finding his voice as a published novelist took years, but his talent was evident from his time in college. He was first discovered by a teacher who was a visiting novelist, Peter Mattiesen, who became his mentor, friend, and greatest fan when Amor finally succeeded in becoming the writer he always knew Amor could be.
Knowing who the man behind the pages is just helps me understand where all of these high quality novels are coming from. I hope his work continues to be published for years and years. I am happy to know that his book deal has him under contract for at least one more novel. And from his discussion on the podcast, he is two notebooks in, which hopefully means there will be another book published sometime between 2024-2026.
© 2022 Megan Davia Mikhail