1. What made you decide to move from your home country to the Algarve?
The most clichéd reason of all: I fell in love. At the time, I was publishing Star Trek: Voyager fan fiction to my website, and I received an email from an intriguing reader in Portugal that very politely began, “Dear Ms. Fletcher…” Maria and I became penpals, then friends, then a leeeetle bit more than friends, and then I flew to Lisboa to meet her. By the time that visit ended, so had my doubts about my sexuality. (Which was very inconvenient, considering that I was straight and married at the time.) A little over one year later, I had made all the preparations and was able to move to Loulé. I gave up my job, my house, three-fourths of my belongings, my home state of Oregon, and to some extent, my family and friends — but I have never regretted it.
2. As a member of the LGBT community, how is life for you here?
Safe. Safer than in the US, to be honest — and that feeling has only increased through the years. My wife and I appeared in a front-page article for Público in early 2009 as representatives of “out” couples who wanted the right to marry. It was effectively Maria’s coming out at work (she’s an archaeology professor at the University of Algarve), as public as one could possibly be, yet she experienced no repercussions other than a few “you go, girl!” comments. We have always held hands while walking through town and never received so much as a frosty glare.
It was also quite lonely at first, as there was no LGBT community here that we could tap into, in contrast to the vibrant community in Lisboa. That has changed quite a bit for the better in the last decade.
3. Many writers, poets, and other artists who live here have drawn inspiration for their work through the people, climate, scenery, and relaxed pace of life. Can you relate to that as a writer yourself?
In the 13 years since moving here, I have published ten novels, though I can’t claim the relaxed pace of life enabled it. Honestly, what enabled it was not having to work 40 hours a week at a different job.
What I have drawn from is my vastly increased exposure to different cultures (via travels around Europe), festivals, foods, the kind of historic architecture we don’t have in the US, and — for a character arc that dealt with loss and recovery of faith — to learning about Portuguese attitudes toward religion, which in its quiet privacy is radically different from the lawn sign and bumper sticker display of religion in the US.
4. If you had a chance to go out for the day with a tourist friend who had never been to the Algarve, where would you take them to eat, walk and socialise?
I’ve already done that, on numerous occasions! Moving to the Algarve means you have just become a magnet for visiting family and friends.
For food, one must enjoy fresh Algarve seafood, and that means either the Ilha de Faro or our favorite restaurant in Vila do Bispo, Ribeira do Poço. For walking? Straight out the front door of our building, past the bus station, through Loulé’s lovely city park, and up into the hills north of town. The views are spectacular, the hills inspire a nice bit of hard breathing, and the unanimous reaction of every guest I’ve taken up there is “You live here?? My god, you’re lucky.” Which is quite true. For friends who are ready for longer walks, I enjoy the trail that loops around Amendoeira or the one that ascends Rocha da Pena. For bird watchers or elders who need easier paths, I always go to Quinta do Lago. The wooden bridge is beautiful and so photogenic, there are fiddler crabs in the spring, and the bird blinds always yield fantastic sightings.
For socializing, I take my guests to the events at the Museu do Trajo in São Brás, any festival that might be occurring at the time, or intimate dinner parties at the homes of friends.
5. What you are working on currently?
I’ve just published two back-to-back books, Alsea Rising: Gathering Storm and Alsea Rising: The Seventh Star, both of which debuted in the #1 spot of Amazon’s LGBT Science Fiction category. A month and a half later, they’re still at #9 and #10 respectively. (At least, at the time of this writing.) Now I’m re-editing an earlier book in my Chronicles of Alsea series, which is the last to come back to me (the rights to my first five books have been reverting to me over the past three years, and I am so close to having them all again!). I can’t wait to reissue it with a new cover and a smoother narrative, and to finally end ties with my first publisher.
After another few walks in the hills to stir up the creative juices, I’ll sit down to start outlining my next book, which will be the first of a 6-book young adult series also set in my Alsea universe. I’m ready to try a different style of writing with a single point of view, and inhabit the curious, passionate, and sometimes foolish mind of a young woman freed from a dangerous life but not quite trusting her new one. Future books in this series will focus on different main characters, including a transgender young man, for which I’ll need to do a bunch of research (and find a sensitivity beta reader).
6. If someone asked you about settling down in the Algarve, what would your top tips be?
Prepare to be ruined forever regarding fruit & veg (it actually has flavor here! And it’s cheap!) and wine (ditto!). Also prepare for two-hour meals at a restaurant, because the Portuguese love to linger over food and your server won’t bring your bill until you ask for it. Accept this; it’s part of learning to slow down and enjoy life.
Get ready to rearrange your brain regarding consumerism — you can’t get what you want when you want at the click of a mouse. Shipping and customs can make things impossible. On the other hand, you’ll be surprised at the quality of what you can buy locally (meaning, within Iberia).
Learn at least enough of the language to navigate through grocery stores, restaurants, and shops. Even if the clerks speak English, they appreciate someone making the effort with their language. You’ll also do a lot better with any government bureaucracy if you can speak some Portuguese.
If money is an object, and for most of us it is, you’ll have an easier time finding affordable housing if you look away from the coastal strip. The interior towns have their own charm, but many of them do demand better language skills.
My final tip? If you’re ready for a slower pace of life, a smaller footprint on the world, and the security of living in a safe, beautiful area, come here and enjoy one of Portugal’s most liberal and lovely regions. But if you need lots of socialization, cultural opportunities, and excellent public transit, head for Lisboa or Porto. There’s a reason so many artists love the Algarve, and it’s not the nightlife or the boogie.
Personally, I can’t believe I fell into this place by sheer luck and the pull of my heart. Sometimes, blowing up your life can result in an incredible second chance.