Like This Afternoon Forever’ is inspired by the story of two Catholic priests who fall in love amid deadly conflicts in the Amazon between the Colombian government, insurgent groups, and drug cartels.
Tell us more about the book.
Colombia, early 1990s. For decades, the country has suffered a three-sided conflict between the cartels, the guerrillas, and the government to control the drug trade, destroying the Amazon and killing thousands of innocent people. Lucas, a young rural boy, who manages to escape his violent family background in order to become a priest, meets Ignacio at the seminar: a skeptical and vibrant Baru Indian who has left his ancestral lands and people, threatened by the ongoing war. Ignacio and Lucas initiate a love story that will take them through a lifetime of romance, desire, deception, rage and companionship. Their unique and visceral bond evolves as Ignacio struggles with his inner demons and devotes himself to help a poor community, unfolding a terrible scandal that will expose the miseries of the war and will put his life in danger.
What drew you to Kaylie Jones Books?
When I finished writing LIKE THIS AFTERNOON FOREVER, I knew that I wanted to work with an editor who would be sensitive to the novel’s themes. I immediately thought of Kaylie Jones, whose writing I admire, and whose literary taste I respect. The fact that she had an imprint with Akashic Books was a bonus: I was happy with how well Akashic had handled the publication in 2012 of my novel, CERVANTES STREET.
How did you come up with the concept for this book?
My two most recent novels, OUR LIVES ARE THE RIVERS, andCERVANTES STREET were epic works. This time around, I thought a short novel would be ideal to delve—in depth but with concision—into the themes I wanted to explore.
Is this book based on a personal experience? If so, how did that affect your work?
In January 2011, I read in a Colombian newspaper the story of two Catholic priests who had been lovers since their years as seminarians. In fact, the priests had been significant social activists; one of them had denounced the case of the False Positives, a government sanctioned plan that paid soldiers $1,500.00 to murder innocent citizens and present them to the public as guerrillas killed in battle.
This was the story which caught my attention, and I became obsessed with wanting to know more. Three months earlier, my partner of 33 years, the painter Bill Sullivan, had died under circumstances that I’ve come to see as a deliberately slow and painful suicide. I wanted to write about what it meant to me to be in a long-term relationship that was deeply enriching but also difficult and painful at times. Through the story of the two priests, I hoped to explore my own relationship with Bill; I was looking for a way of understanding how those 33 years with Bill had shaped me.
What inspired you to write this story?
One of my favorite 20th century authors is Graham Greene who wrote novels he called entertainments. He was a Catholic whose work often dealt with his faith and his own doubts as a believer. (I’m not a Catholic, not even a lapsed one; though I was born in a Catholic country like Colombia, and my family was and still is Catholic.) Greene was famous, too, for his political novels, many of which where set in places like Vietnam, Mexico, Haiti, and Africa. He was writing in the tradition of Joseph Conrad, for whom travel was essential in order to say what he had discovered about the world and about human beings. (Maybe that’s the influence of Don Quixote on Greene’s work.) In retrospect, I see that Like this Afternoon Forever drew inspiration from a Graham Greene novel, The Power and the Glory, which is about a debauched Catholic priest in Mexico during the time of the Mexican revolution. I wanted to write my novel in Greene’s cinematic style.
Another Catholic writer, Flannery O’Connor, had a profound influence on me, when I started out. However, when I was writing my book, I also had in mind some films I love about priests and nuns. French films such as Pierre Morin, Priest, by Jacques Becquer, and Diary of a Country Priest, by Robert Bresson, are works that affected me in powerful ways. On a less existential note, I also love A Nun’s Story, a thoughtful, yet sensual and emotional, movie in which Audrey Hepburn makes us care about the plight of a rebellious Belgian nun.
What challenges did you encounter while writing this book?
After my partner died in 2010, I had a complete “melt down” that went on for over three years. Since the start of my writing career in English (I wrote my first four books in Spanish), Bill had been my number one fan: he read every word I wrote. What’s more, when I showed little interest in publishing my poetry in English, he started a small press and published the two volumes that have appeared so far. When he died, I couldn’t continue writing without his constant encouragement. When I finally began to scribble something, most of the time I was incapable of writing more than one or two sentences a day. Sometimes I felt as if I were scratching every word with my fingernails on the walls of my study.
Can you tell us about your writing process?
I had to do a good deal of research, and some traveling. The hardest thing is, of course, to create characters that I see as real people—not literary conceits. My process is somewhat influenced by method acting: I have to do an intense job of introspection to find out what is veiled under the skins of these people. Often, I ended up thinking not what I thought might be the most obvious truth for me, but what they might have thought or done.
What surprised you about this book?
At every turn of the novel, the characters surprised me. I would say the way I ended up caring so much about these two men, so different from me, is what surprised me the most.
What are you excited for readers to discover?
I have published seven novels, and I never know what to expect from the reading public. All my books are outwardly different (though in all of them I explore the same themes.) Whenever I publish a new novel, I encounter pretty much a new readership. In Colombia, where the novel came out in translation this year, I was surprised by the intense and personal reactions of the people who wrote to me. I wonder how American readers will respond to a political/religious novel.
What are you working on now?
I’m writing a short novel about a boy and a rooster.