By Millicent Borges Accardi
The writer Nathan Tavares hails from southeastern Massachusetts, where he grew up in a Portuguese-American community that helped develop his love for fantastical stories: everything from superheroes to mythology.
In college, he studied English, receiving an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University, in Cambridge, MA. His short fiction has appeared in Expanded Horizons, PANK online, Hobart, and Icarus Magazine, and he’s had pieces in GQ, Conde Nast Traveler, and other publications.
Often, his work celebrates queer culture and historically excluded communities. He is the author of two novels: A Fractured Infinity (2022), and Welcome to Forever, “a sci-fi & queer hope-infused cyberpunk odyssey,” about living forever. Due out in March 2024.
In this interview for the Portuguese American Journal, Nathan Tavares speaks of his Portuguese heritage, his childhood in Fall River, Massachusetts, where he developed an early love for fantastical stories, and of his writing celebrating the queer culture.
Q: Where do your Portuguese roots lie?
A: Both sides of my family hail from São Miguel in the Azores. My parents and grandparents moved to Fall River in the 70s, and then my parents met while they were in college.
Q: Have you spent time in Portugal?
A: I spent a good amount of time as a kid in São Miguel, visiting in the summer and seeing the villages where my parents grew up, and going to festas, and hanging out at the beach.
The first time that I went to continental Portugal was on a tour with my family when I was in high school, then I spent a few days in Lisbon with some friends about ten years ago.
Then, in 2017 me and my dad rented a car and spent two weeks just driving around the historic north of Portugal, visiting small villages, and vineyards, and some spots on the Camino de Santiago. It was really amazing to learn more about the history of Portugal, its culture, and hear more about what my parents’ childhoods were like.
Q: Do you have family in the Luso world? Have you made acquaintances?
A: I still have some cousins in the Azores that I unfortunately haven’t seen in a while!
Q: You are from southeastern MA—whereabouts?
A: I grew up in the Fall River area. I lived in Somerset, but between family in Fall River and lots of church events, I was in Fall River usually every week. I also had a ton of family in Pawtucket, so we’d spend every New Year’s Day hopping in the car and visiting all of them.
Q: Did you attend festas when you were growing up?
A: The festas at St. Michael’s church in Fall River were a big part of my childhood, from marching in the processions to hanging out at the fair in the back church parking lot. I still try to go every few years. I went this past July, and it brought back a lot of memories. My parents were also involved in Portuguese civic organizations, so we went to a lot of related events.
Q: You’ve explained that you don’t get hung up on categorizing things: speculative fiction/fantasy/literary fiction/etc. but how would you describe your two novels? Fantasy adjacent? Genre hybrid?
A: I’d describe my books as sci-fi novels that lean into literary fiction. I’ve heard from an editor or two that readers of sci-fi aren’t really looking for beautiful prose, but more straightforward writing that moves the plot across. I don’t really believe that. I think sci-fi can still have beautiful or unusual language, and that’s something I try to work into my novels.
Q: Your first book, A Fractured Infinity (2022) has been described as a sci-fi & queer universe-hopping road trip about what we’re willing to do for love and if we can escape our shadows of doubt. What was the origin of the idea for this book?
A: Before I sold A Fractured Infinity, I’d been trying for about five years to sell a previous book (which actually was an earlier form of my upcoming novel, Welcome to Forever).
And then I lost my job out of nowhere when the magazine I worked for shut down. So I felt like I’d failed on a number of levels. In therapy, I started working on how a lot of my struggles were because I was comparing myself to this idealized version of myself who I thought I should’ve been already.
When I was ready to work on a new book, I decided to put the idea of trying to get it published out of my mind, and just create something I loved. So then I got the idea of a main character who is heckled by this idealized version of himself, and things snowballed from there. I’ve never really wanted to write nonfiction about myself, but I borrowed pretty liberally from myself for this first book.
Q: You write stories about people in strange, heartbreaking, or otherwise unexpected situations—How did you get started with these themes? What drew you there?
A: As a kid I was really drawn to mythology and superhero stories. Besides the really fun aspects of gods coming down from the clouds to mess with people, or heroes flying around and controlling the weather and stuff, what drew me in was the thought of “and then what happened?” Like, a person has this weird or maybe supernatural experience, and then what happened? How would they react? How would that change their world and how they view things?
Q: How important is identity in your writing?
A: Voice is everything. Especially since my first two books are written in the first-person, I really hope readers will feel like a friend is telling them a story. Voice is so shaped by identity—how the character grew up, what struggles they faced because of where they came from, how they look, or who they love.
Q: You write mainly about queer characters who sometimes parallel your own mental health journeys. Has writing served as a healing and navigation tool for your life?
A: Writing has definitely served as a big healing tool for me and as a way for me to understand the world around me, and a lot of my feelings about things. My biggest takeaway in the last few years, though, has been about finding other healing and navigation tools, even just taking care of myself physically by getting lots of sleep, working out, and eating well. Writing can’t be the only self-care tool.
There’s this common thought among writers that’s like, “I can only write when I’m miserable.” I really try to swing in the opposite direction and approach writing with a sense of joy and play. Even when I’m writing something heavy, and Welcome to Forever gets pretty heavy at times, I have to make sure I’m in a good place physically and mentally.
Q: Do your books have any Portuguese elements? Or influences? I notice you have a character named, Figueiredo.
A: My first book, A Fractured Infinity, has a lot of Portuguese elements and influences. My main character is a Portuguese-American who was raised by a mom from São Miguel. I consider him, his upbringing, and his mom as one big thank-you letter to the way I was brought up, and especially the really strong women who raised me.
There are some small bits that take place in Portugal, and some hints that a Luso culture dominates an alternate version of Earth. It was harder to work Portuguese elements in my second book, Welcome to Forever, since it takes place farther in a kind of post-nation future. But a few names are Portuguese, and there are some hidden references to Nossa Senhora de Fátima in a few sections.
Q: There’s a great community of Portuguese American writers. Are you aware of them and perhaps have favorite writers?
A: I don’t know them personally, but I do read some Portuguese-American writers. I’d love to read more. I really enjoyed The Undiscovered Island by Darrell Kastin.
Q: An article in Gizmodo encapsulates your novel, Welcome to Forever as a “mind-bending tale with a queer romance at its center.” Would you like to add to that description?
A: It’s about a character named Fox who wakes up at a memory recovery center after a terrorist attack and discovers he has basically no memory of his life. He learns that his husband who he doesn’t remember, Gabe, was also victim in the attack. And, as Fox explores memories of his past traumas, and his and Gabe’s life together, he uncovers a close connection to someone who’s planning a revolution for humanity.
Q: Welcome to Forever has been called a “psychedelic, hopeful cyberpunk tale about what digital immortality can do to love, centered on a time-blurring, mind-bending love story between two refugees.” Kind of difficult to answer, maybe, but which element is more important? Cyberpunk? Or love?
A: When I was writing Welcome to Forever, I was really interested in writing a realistic story about a long-term marriage between two people with a lot of past trauma and baggage. And how a technology that can basically make people immortal would impact a marriage.
Like, when you can actually love someone basically forever, what does that do to a relationship? One of the many cool things about working with an editor who you trust and really get with is that they can look at your story with a fresh pair of eyes. It was my editor, George Sandison at Titan Books, who basically told me that I’d written a cyberpunk story that was infused with hope instead of all the negative tropes about humanity that are normally found in that genre. So I really veered in that direction with my revisions, but at the beginning, I was more drawn to the love story.
Q: Do you write in an office or cafes?
A: I write at home, mostly at my kitchen table, mostly in cozy clothes. I have a hard time writing in cafes because I usually need near-silence since I’m so easily distracted when I’m writing.
Most days, I start writing as early as I can, around 7 am or earlier. I try to get a good three or four hours of writing done in the morning before a decent break for lunch, and then a lighter few hours in the afternoon. Then switching over to things like catching up on emails and other assignments from my day job in the late afternoon and evening.
Q: And, finally, do you have events or readings associated with the book launch that you would like us to mention in PAJ?
A: Yes! I’m having a book launch at Brookline Booksmith in March. After that, I’m going to do some readings and events in other places. I’m still planning a tour, but it looks like I’m going to a few places in California and England, where my publisher is based, so I’m really excited about that. I’ll keep track of dates on my website http://www.nathantavares.com/afi and on Instagram.
Millicent Borges Accardi, a Portuguese-American writer, is the author of four poetry collections, including Through Grainy Landscape, 2021 (inspired by Portuguese writings) and Quarantine Highway (Honorable Mention at the Latino Book Awards 2023). Her awards also include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Fulbright, CantoMundo, California Arts Council, Foundation for Contemporary Arts (Covid grant), and Fundação Luso-Americana (Portugal). She also curates the popular Kale Soup for the Soul reading series.