Catching up With A.M. Homes

AE: After writing this memoir, do you find that people are more likely to cross that line of privacy?
AMH: People have always felt with me that they have the right to cross that line, and I don’t know if it’s because my first book, Jack, about a kid whose dad is gay, made people feel they could absolutely ask me about my own sexuality and also assume that my parents must be divorced and my father gay, even though that wasn’t true. They didn’t seem to know the difference between fiction and reality.

The nature of my work has always been to write about sexuality and about things that people aren’t talking about, but for whatever reason people have always felt perfectly willing to ask me all kinds of questions. Now it’s about my child, and I just think … well, I used to think that every question deserved an answer, but now I just think they don’t.

AE: I think when people write memoirs, there’s a sense that because the writer revealed one part of their life they are now somehow obligated to reveal every part.
AMH: When people want to know whether you’re adopted or whether you’re gay or whether you’re this or that, it’s because they are trying to identify with you, and they are trying to either find themselves in you or find the differences between you and them. In some ways, that actually is what the memoir is about. My sense of difference wasn’t ever so much about my sexuality as about perpetually being on the outside, from the more primitive experience of being given away by my mother.

For me, that was more the large issue — of being adopted into a family where a 9-year-old child had died. My issues of identity are not first and foremost about my sexuality but about my right to be on the planet. The rest of it is secondary, though I understand how for some people it’s primary, it’s their major struggle.

AE: Who do you picture reading The Mistress’s Daughter?
AMH:
You mean besides Joan Didion? [Laughs.] Honestly, what’s interesting about it for me is that this book will be read by literary readers who’ve read my other books and the people who know my work, and then also it will be a very important book to people whose lives are affected by adoption — whether it’s birth mothers who’ve given up children or people who are adopted or parents who have adopted children. I’m hearing from all of those people.

AE: You’ve said that your adoptive mother considers it the best book you’ve written; do you know why?
AMH:
I don’t know [laughs]; you’ll have to ask her. I think she thinks of the book as being incredibly honest, and she appreciates that. She knows how true it is. She knows that it was not just painful to write but very painful to live.

I think one of the things about the memoir that is very different from any of the fiction I’ve written — though I think the memoir benefited from my experience as a writer and the fact that I wrote eight books before this — is really trying to find language for what is essentially a very primal and primitive experience, an experience you have before you have access to language.

AE: While writing The Mistress’s Daughter, were you inspired by any other memoirs or writers? You mentioned Joan Didion earlier.
AMH:
I love Joan Didion. I think the comments I’ve made about memoirs are because there is a kind of contemporary memoir that is a 12-step culture therapy confession, like: "I ran over the dog and drank a beer and now I don’t feel so bad about it." I don’t relate to those. I do very much admire writers like Joan Didion who in their work — and I wouldn’t even define it necessarily as memoir versus nonfiction — are really talking about interesting and serious things. I also like Lillian Hellman’s memoirs.

AE: You were a writer and producer for Showtime’s The L Word in 2004–2005. What was that experience like?
AMH:
I loved it. It was incredibly fun and a wild ride.

AE: Would you ever return to the show?
AMH:
Sure. I had a great time doing it. Now I’m working on a show of my own for HBO, so there are all these different things you’re allowed to do and not allowed to do.

AE: Can you talk a little bit about the show for HBO?
AMH:
No [laughs]. That’s all I’m allowed to say, I think.

AE: As far as working on The L Word, did you feel drawn to any particular character or story line?
AMH: I look at it in a very novelistic way, which is that you’re dealing with all of the characters as an ensemble. I think that there is a mistaken impression, when people talk about how a TV show gets written, that one person writes one character and another person writes another character. The fact is we all write all of them.

That said, I think because I am a writer and because the character of Jenny is a writer, people kept saying to me, "Can you fix Jenny? Can you do something about Jenny?" My joke is that maybe Jenny should be fixed in the neutered sense. [Laughs.] I don’t think there is any fixing Jenny. I think that Jenny is just who she is, which is part of what makes all these characters people that viewers invest in because they are flawed and they are frustrating and we get mad at them. But I think that’s OK.

AE: I actually like Jenny. I don’t think she’s all that bad.
AMH:
So there you go. [Laughs.]

AE: Are you working on a new novel now?
AMH:
Well, I just finished with the memoir, and a novel I had published in this country last year [This Book Will Save Your Life] is still coming out all over the world, so at the end of the week I leave to go on a book tour in Germany. Basically, at the moment, I’m chasing the books all over, which is kind of great. Yes, I’m trying to work on fiction, but in the middle of publication it’s not something I can do.

AE: Do you think this memoir will impact the way people read your fiction?
AMH:
Well, there’s this thing where people think they know who you are. If you’re well-known, people think they know you — whether they know things about you or they read a book like The End of Alice, which is about a jailed pedophile murderer, and they’ll think we have something in common.

They know pieces of you, fragments. They know something about the ideas and the things that concern you. But is all that going to make anyone know me more? No. I think there will be people who feel closer to me because they’ll feel we have things in common; people who are adopted will feel we have this experience in common, some understanding that is not shared by every person. But beyond that, who knows?

For more on A.M. Homes, visit her website.

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