Sarah A. Hoyt: Saudade for Portugal and the me I never was – Interview
Posted on 10 November 2016.
By Millicent Borges Accardi, Contributor (*)
Science Fiction genre novelist Sarah A. Hoyt was born in the northern village of Granja, Águas Santas, Maia, mainland Portugal, where she grew up. She recalls:
When I was little there were often processions down the village street. The village women used to collect flower petals and lay them down in patterns creating designs, like a tapestry. Then we’d pull out the best bedspreads and rugs and hang them from the windows.
As an adult, Hoyt has had great success in the field of science fiction genre novels, publishing countless books, including many popular multi-volume series like Musketeers (written under the pen name of Sarah D’Almeida), Death of a Musketeer, The Musketeer’s Seamstress, The Musketeer’s Apprentice. Her Magical British Empire historical series from Bantum Dell: Heart of Light, Soul of Fire and Heart and Soul has also been very popular with readers. Other book series include Witchfinder and Darkship.
She graduated from the University of Porto, with a Master’s in Modern Languages and Literature. Married in 1985 to mathematician Dan Hoyt (also an author), Sarah Hoyt has two teenage sons and currently lives in Colorado.
After I interviewed the novelist Larry Correia(*) a couple of years ago, he suggested Sarah Hoyt as a fabulous subject. So here we are, now, talking with her for the Portuguese American Journal. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you tell me how you and Larry became friends?
Oh, he started working for my publisher. I saw the last name and asked,
Correia, are you Portuguese?
Sweet, there’s two of us now. We have them surrounded.
By the way, my publisher relates this story with “And I thought they were joking.”
Where were you born?
I come from Águas Santas — actually Granja, Águas Santas, Maia — in the district of Porto. If you go to Granja now, it’s all skyscrapers, but when I was a kid it was all fields and nothing above three stories.
And my dad was one of the very few people who had a job as we understand it, instead of farming or running a small business. We were by definition rich because he was paid in money.
In retrospect, we were all poor as Job (as my brother says) but it was a very happy place to grow up in.
Miss it a lot, but going back is not the same. Took younger son for a walk and got lost…Went to high school and college in Porto, though. So “lived” there a lot as a young adult.
How did you come to write in what has been perceived as a male-dominated genre?
There is a long distance between perception and reality, and some of that perception of a “male dominated genre” has been fostered a-posteriori (yes, they’re pulling out of their *ss) by young women who want to feel like they’re storming a male bastion.
There have always been women in the genre, and, as I was coming of age in the 1970’s, I read a lot of female writers translated into Portuguese. The ones that come to mind right now, as I sort of visualize my science fiction shelf, are Anne McCaffrey, Ursula Le Guin, and Joan Vinge. There must have been at least another ten (but I’m in the middle of the third move in nine months, and I think my mind is packed in one of the boxes.)
So it never occurred to me that science fiction and fantasy was a male genre. Why should it?
It’s good to know women have a foothold in genre fiction and earning fame too?
Women twenty years older than I were famous enough to be translated into the obscure language of a little country (Yes, I know the language as such is not obscure. But, this was not a Brazilian translation, but a Portuguese one, so. . .)
Now, early on, in the twenties or thirties, when most of the writers were engineers and frankly “geeks” (although there were women involved), they tended to not want people to know they were involved.
Early on, before science fiction and fantasy conquered the culture there was this perception that it was “weird” and people practicing it were “crazy.” Women tend to be more susceptible to social opinion than men.
In that sense, I was like those women in the early century because in Portugal, at least till I got married in the mid-80s, science fiction and fantasy were considered very weird, and I learned not to mention my fascination to my parents’ friends. As was, I only became a science fiction fan because my much older brother was an engineer. And, as in the early days of the genre here, most engineers were sci-fi fans.
Are you active in the Portuguese community?
Though there is a Portuguese community here in town (Colorado Springs) they contacted me at a bad time, when I’d just moved in and had a toddler going nuts. I have no idea what I told them, but, they didn’t contact me again.
Since my husband is American (his family founded a city in Connecticut), I don’t know many Portuguese people here, writers or not.
I love Porto, one of my favorite places. The fancy McDonald’s, the waterfront, the Harry Potter bookstore! Any special place you can recall?
Would you be upset if I told you that I cried in front of that McDonald’s? My maternal grandfather used to take me there when it was a coffee shop, and there were signed pictures of 19th century writers on the walls. The writers used to frequent it, see, and so did my grandfather when he was young. They were a very fancy coffee shop indeed and served a Victorian high tea, with little toast, cut almost as fine as paper and brushed with butter. I understand the market for such establishments is very small, but when I saw a MacDonald’s had taken over, I stood on the sidewalk and cried. My sons still make fun of me for that.
My older nephew is among the people who worked on making the waterfront from a dangerous slum into a tourist attraction. It’s lovely, but not what I grew up with.
My classmates and I used to go down to the dangerous slum and go pub crawling, like college students throughout history. It’s much nicer now, mind you. You won’t find me crying in front of the renovated houses.
Do you use Portuguese characters or stories in your books?
When I first started writing, I used to, but I found I didn’t know enough about both cultures to successful write Portugal for Americans.
Now… it’s a different story.
The book Larry and I are writing this year happens in Portugal to a great extent. I’m trying to convince him to let me do a follow up featuring this ‘Monster Hunter’ group I created: Fado Negro.
They were created by patent from the King of Portugal and use the cover up of a fado singing group, so they can take all these monster-killing implements in their van.
There is this YA (young adult) I’d love to write. You see, from age 3 to 12 or so, my grandmother told me a story every night. I was a stupid kid and thought she was riffing off stuff she’d read. When I asked her where I could read them, she told me she made them up. The stories were about the village, but with all magical/magic endowed people.
The priest was a werewolf (and a good guy :-p) for instance.
I only vaguely remember them, but would like to write a YA with that setting as a sort of collaboration.
Eventually (maybe in the next year) the boys will leave home, and I’ll find the time. Even if it doesn’t sell much.
Larry said he puts a Port character in every one of his books, so subversive and admirable.
Portuguese? He does. I … uh, now I think about it I have one of the supermen in the Darkship series, the good one, he is Portuguese. Doctor Bartolomeu Dias. Eh.
Your Shakespearean fantasy series Ill Met by Moonlight was a finalist for the 2002 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, and you write mysteries, fantasy and science fiction, which is your favorite genre?
Yes. As in, whatever strikes me at the moment. There are ideas that are better expressed in one genre or another.
I guess I’m very Portuguese in some ways, because all the books have a fascination with history. Even science fiction is just history projected into the future.
Your book, Gentleman Takes a Chance is called an “urban fantasy adventure” can you define what that means?
It’s a sequel to Draw One In The Dark. Both the books are now collected under the omnibus “Night Shifters.” I have no idea, actually. My publisher comes up with the copy. 😉 I think they were trying to make sure that people understood it wasn’t a near romance as most Urban Fantasy is. It’s instead a group effort against the bad guys.
Many of your books deal with historical figures and facts (such as the British Empire Series) what is your research process like?
Exhaustive. Also expensive. For a while there, we could just make my paycheck over to the History book club. Now I mostly buy used through Amazon. Still there are some books I own that are published in print-runs of 80. It’s me and some college professors…
Can you describe a strong memory of a Portuguese event you attended as a kid?
There were so many festas, they run together. They used to be more fairs. This has changed because of the EU.
The parade portion is the “procession.” When I was little there were often processions down the village street. The village women used to collect flower petals and lay them down in patterns creating designs, like a tapestry.
Then we’d pull out the best bedspreads and rugs and hang them from the windows, then burn candles at the windows for night processions.
Those processions stopped by the time I was in elementary school, and then there were just day ones, with the local band playing (and not going through the center street in the village, which had become heavily travelled.)
The fun part for a kid was the “angels.” I.e. the little kids dressed as angels and saints, following the procession. They usually were paying off an older relative’s promise to a saint. The promise involved monetary outlay for the costume (which was rented from a mortician. Yes, I know. Well, the past is another country. In my case, literally.) As you’re probably guessing, I know all these details because one of my mom’s cousins promised that I’d go in procession dressed as St. Rita.
I remember being rather offended that I couldn’t be one of the prettier costumes, like the virgin Mary with a doll for a baby, or one of the angels. But I also learned not to envy those kids, because frankly it was a grueling 3 mile march, in the hot sun, and my feet were all blistered when I got back to our home church.
What about being Portuguese-American informs your books?
I think the immigrant experience comes across in a certain sense of being dislocated. There’s also a fascination with history, and of course, a tendency to bite off more than I can chew.
My kids say I’m excessively Portuguese and quote Pessoa at me (which I thought was banned under the Geneva conventions) in saying that I am “The entire sea, or just the fraying border. The whole or its nothing.”
What was your first job and how (if it did?) did it shape you?
Ah. I’m not as interesting as Larry Correia. If you go strictly by my first official job, I worked as a hotel maid in Germany for a summer. I’m afraid as a writer I’m not sort of a super house wife who makes everything tidy.
Oh when I was eight, and desperate for money, my idea was to start a neighborhood newspaper. I wrote most of the articles myself, bullied friends into doing the rest, and we copied it all out in as we could (in my case not very.)
We used to dream of a photocopier.
I think we had three issues, before life got too busy to continue it. I know some people still have copies of this “newspaper” and frankly, I live in fear.
Anyway, it shows I thought of writing as a way to make a living.
What’s your favorite food? Drink?
I unfortunately am rather too fond of food.
Drink? For “light drinking” I like Vinho Verde, which is entirely too stereotypical for a Portuguese from the North. Right now we have a couple dozen bottles in the house, and about once a week, we go “fancy” and have dinner with wine. Probably today.
For heavy drinking I like Devil’s Cut, which is very American. Not that I drink heavily, but sometimes I have two fingers of bourbon, late at night in winter, if my throat is scratchy. It’s… purely medicinal. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Right now on the eve of a trip to Portugal, you can’t get me to choose one food. I’ve spent the last month dreaming of really fat sardines grilled over coals. (You can’t really get the fish in CO. Not fresh.)
I like broa and presunto (we order presunto from portuguesefoods.com usually once or twice a year.). I like arroz de marisco.
But if you’re going to pin me down, I miss mom’s chicken and new peas, the most. With the whole stewed in a little bit of wine and garlic, with chouriço for flavoring, and the peas freshly shelled from our garden.
Can you share a passage from one of your books? So our readers can be introduced to your work?
Um… Usually my favorite work is the latest. And the latest is Through Fire, coming out in August in paper (already available in ebook.). Through Fire is sort of a French revolution in the future. Sort of. The characters know about the French revolution, they’re just hoping this time it will turn out better. It’s… interesting.
A spaceship mechanic has no place in a fairy tale, not even when she’s dressed in a flowing gown and being courted by one of Earth’s most powerful men.
I was designed to be able to repair spaceships and to navigate them home safely. I had calluses on my hands from working with heavy tools on delicate machinery. I was strong enough to kill a grown man with a casual blow. And I had a burner strapped to my ankle under my ball-gown.
The man courting me was a scoundrel, a dictator, and likely a murderer. And we were dancing at a spun-sugar palace, atop a fairytale seacity. It was his ballroom, his palace and his seacity. He was my only protector on Earth and my host for the last six months. He wanted me. He had been gentle and caring and solicitous of me. I wanted to escape the happy-ever-after fairytale ending.
You should be careful what you wish for.
It was a relief when the palace exploded.
What do you think writers can do to enhance communication between North America and Portugal?
Have relatives there. I don’t know, sometimes I wish mom’s communication skills weren’t so enhanced. As in “Where have you been? Why haven’t you answered the phone? Why don’t I have any new pictures of the boys?”
For what I think you’re asking, yeah, Portugal has a deep history and a lot of knowledge just through events, which a lot of other places could benefit from.
But we run into two problems: how to tell the stories from a detached enough POV that people get it, (i.e. if you write from close in, things are taken for granted and it confuses readers who’ve never been there.) It’s a craft. I’m trying to learn it.
And that there are very few people interested in Portugal just because it’s Portugal (as opposed to say, England.) Again, it is a matter of craft to learn to mine your heritage in such a way that it’s commercial enough for enough people to read it that it makes a marked difference. (Boutique literature is all very well, but to make a difference, you need to be widely read.)
I don’t know. I’m working on it. Ask me again in ten years.
You have two sons. How has motherhood influenced your creative life? Like, for example, do you write books that you hope your children will enjoy?
Mostly they have stopped me writing as much as I needed to. Even now, when they’re in their twenties, and in Medicine and Engineering. On the other hand, they’ve become pretty good consultants for specialized knowledge, so there’s that.
Do they read your work?
I am ambiguous on my kids reading my books. Partly it is of course the closest they can come to really knowing me. You can’t help revealing yourself in books. On the other hand … it’s the closest they can come to reading me.
As is, it doesn’t apply. I’m just mom. Larry – now, he’s a writer and they read him.
As a writer, what is your first priority?
Writing. I know that sounds tautological, but so many writers run around promoting their writing (a necessity these days) or searching for a secret handshake, that they forget the most important handshake in publishing: that between you and your keyboard.
If you hope to be a writer, put butt in chair and hands on keyboard.
After that, I am still continuously learning to make my stories more fun and appealing. If you are not read, you’ve failed as a writer. Writing is communication. The objective is to write so as to reach as many people as possible.
What project are you working on?
Darkship Revenge, the third in the straight Darkship Thieves line (As opposed to the step line which so far is A Few Good Men and Through Fire.) It is almost done when the third move in nine months sent my life spinning. I’m hoping we’re settled for 20 years or so, now, but we’re preparing for a two-week trip to Portugal, which right after moving has proven challenging. So. I’m working on it at a glacial speed. Hoping to deliver it in July. (From Portugal). Yeah, my parents wouldn’t recognize me, if I weren’t sitting at the dining room table typing like a demon. It’s mostly what they saw of me as a kid. After I got my typewriter at 14, at least.)
After that I’m putting out Royal Blood, the second Vampire Musketeer book (indie.). And after that, I work on Guardian, the book with Larry Correia.
Was there something you would like to discuss that I did not mention?
I’m about to leave for Portugal. I have a conflicted relationship with Portugal. For years I said I wasn’t from Portugal but from Granja, because I identified more with the little village than with the wider country.
As the kids have grown, I see a little of Portugal in them. Particularly my older son, who likes Portuguese guitar solos and fados, and who is of a diffident and overworking disposition.
Now going back – such is acculturation – I’m more American than Portuguese, after thirty years, and it hurts a little, kind of like seeing the person I could have been, if I’d stayed.
I have no regrets, and the village has changed enough I wouldn’t recognize it. At any rate the person I am was formed by the choice to come to the US and become American. But there is a Portuguese word that defines it – I never feel as much saudade for Portugal as when I am there. Saudade for what is no longer, and saudade for the me I never was. As such it’s a bitter sweet experience that never fails to touch me to the core.
Is there a line you would like to be remembered by?
Of course, right now none but the silly ones will come to me, so I’ll go with one from my main character (female) in Darkship Thieves. Athena is a bit of a sociopath, and that sort of comes across. “If someone hits you on the right cheek, hit them very fast, one two, before they know what’s happening.”
(*) Related Post
(*) Millicent Borges Accardi is a contributor to the Portuguese American Journal. She is a Portuguese-American poet, the author of three books: Injuring Eternity, Woman on a Shaky Bridge (chapbook), Practical Love Poems and Only More So (available now). She has received fellowships from CantoMundo, the National Endowment for the Arts, Fundação Luso-Americana (FLAD) and California Arts Council. Recently, she taught poetry at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk; University of Texas, Austin; The Gathering at Keystone College; Nimrod Conference in Tulsa, and the Mass.Poetry Festival. Millicent lives in Topanga, CA. Follow her on Twitter @TopangaHippie
Earlier Posts by Millicent Accardi