South American-born author and musician Antonio Michael Downing talks about the inception of his first published novella, describing Molasses as “a rhythmic, seething odyssey into the centre of heartbreak.”
Blaurock: When did you first start writing Molasses?
Antonio Michael Downing (AMD): It was a Saturday in June and I got up and walked out into my backyard which was surrounded by trees and the wind was blowing, and I sat on a chair listening to the wind and I basically sketched out the characters and the plot in one day over ten hours. I knew what was going to happen; I just didn’t know how it was going to happen.
Blaurock: Can you talk a bit about what the writing process was like?
AMD: I wrote pretty much twelve hours a day for the entire summer, half of it in Trinidad, and south of Trinidad in the jungle. I would stay up late at night, listen to the rainstorms blow through, and I would write then. I liked walking at night whenever I was stuck and I couldn’t figure something out. I would walk and talk to myself and talk to the characters, listen for the characters, and almost without fail every walk would yield a solution. I did that intensely for probably eight weeks, which produced the first draft.
Blaurock: What lead up to that day in the backyard when the light bulb first went off?
AMD: There’s a long period of incubation where I’m not really sure where it’s going but I have certain images that are sticking with me and that are vibrating at the same frequency. In this period, all I do is just read, and I read things that I feel are going to nourish these visions. I’ll listen, and I’ll be very direct in rationing my experiences so that they feed into the vision so the people I hang around, the places I go, the things I do, the reading that I’m doing is all geared towards it, and then at some point it hits a critical mass.
Blaurock: Were there any authors that particularly affected you during your research for this book?
AMD: Certainly, Kathy Acker’s Empire Of The Senseless was a light bulb moment in terms of pushing the form of prose and of the novel; what you can do with it and what you can’t. Ondaatje’s In The Skin Of A Lion, and Camus’ The Outsider was a big influence on it. Cynthia Heimel’s Sex Tips For Girls certainly gave me a new perspective on what was possible in terms of portraying female characters. And then newer forms…places like www.textsfromlastnight.com, I enjoy the way they approach those little snippets of chaos and debauchery.
Blaurock: The distinct voices are probably one of the things that stand out most in the story. The text is very rhythmic. Did that come naturally to you as a musician?
AMD: Yeah, I think voice is one of the things that as a writer I’m most interested in. I do music like a literature guy and I do literature like a music guy. That voice is really stitched into my DNA.
Blaurock: What inspired you to write from the female perspective?
AMD: The book is so sensual, and because I wanted to keep it in that realm of the five senses, and in that realm of emotion and of heartbreak, of sensation and exhilaration, I felt that the voice had to come from a female. Not so much because men don’t feel that, but more in the sense that that’s how society sees it. As soon as we hear it in a woman’s voice, society makes a lot of assumptions, and it’s those assumptions that form a lot of the soil that the novel grows out of.
Blaurock: When you set out to write the book, did you intentionally plan to mess with the reader’s expectations?
AMD: Yes, definitely. Ultimately it’s an experimental novel and those ambiguities are exactly the thing I wanted to explore. That is the real topic of the book; it’s not so much the plot. The characters are hiding and unveiling and revealing, and then hiding themselves, and I wanted the way the story was told to reflect that fact. What do we really know about ourselves, about our gender, about our relationships, about our partner, about the very fabric of what we call reality?
Blaurock: Do you really think that Oprah’s book club and RIM are bad for society at large?
AMD: I think that’s what Amanda thinks. I think it’s more a comment on wealth and how we relate to it, and a comment on technology and our faith in it, which she doesn’t share. Do I feel that? Sometimes.
Blaurock: Any more works in progress?
AMD: At this point, they’re all in incubation stage. I’m still working with novellas and there are definitely more works coming.
Watch clips from the video interview (8 minutes):
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