Terceira Island,  Azores Archipelago

The Jewel of the Oceano Atlântico

Photo by Beth Furumasu.

I am often asked why I chose to set my novel, Artemis Rising, in the Azores Islands. The answer is quite simple: I used to live there. But that doesn’t really tell the story, does it? To truly describe the love I have for these islands, I have to go back to Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota in 1994. My family had lived there for four long, cold years, and ever since I was a wee tyke growing up in Washington State, I had loved the ocean. I mean LOVED the ocean. Think of your most favorite thing or person in all the world. Can you picture it? Okay, yes, this is exactly how I felt about the sea. Being landlocked for four years was a soul-crushing experience for me, so when my mother told me where we were to be stationed next, you can believe my reaction. Though, I confess, I’d never heard of the Azores and had no idea where they were. But frankly, I didn’t care. That was just about the best news I’d ever had, um, EVER.

And it continued to be, the more I learned about the Azores, the more I discovered its people, its culture, its beauty. Nothing in my previous experience had prepared me for the sight of the moonrise heaving up from the sea in my backyard, its light-stream bursting over the surface of the breaking waves. I don’t even know if I do it justice in the novel. But I sure tried. And that brings me to my real reason for setting my novel there. I wanted others to experience the love I have for these islands and this people. I wanted them to feel what I felt, to see what I saw.

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 I first arrived on Terceira Island (one of the largest of nine islands in the mid-Atlantic, about 800 miles off the coast of Portugal and 2000 miles from the U.S.) at 3 a.m. on a stormy night. I had no idea what to expect. We stayed in temporary housing at Lajes Air Force Base that first night, and in the morning, when I peeked out the window to that round rim of blue ocean encompassing an island only 18 by 11 miles wide, the first thought I had was: “I’m going to miss this island when I leave.” You might find this reaction rather strange. I was surprised by it too. I’ve since learned that the Azoreans have a word for it. They call it saudade. It is one of the most difficult words in the world to translate, but I can tell you this: I felt it deeply on that day. I can only describe it in my own words as a perpetual and intense longing for something you did not know existed. It is sadness and joy mixed into one. And it encapsulates everything I feel for the Azores Islands.

It wasn’t until I did leave the islands two years later that I realized I wanted to set my first novel there. I have always had a love for historical novels and particularly novels set in the late 19th century. So when I was 22, I began a 5-year-long study of the Azores Islands, and out of this research came many of the elements of my book: religious festivals, arena bullfights, street bullfights, and the towns and villages I frequented when I lived there–Angra do Heroísmo, Praia da Vitória, Agualva, and Lajes.

These elements are interwoven seamlessly into the mythological aspects I also use in the novel: the Greek myth of Alpheus and Arethusa and the Arthurian legend of Tristan and Isolde. In a way, writing Artemis Rising was like piecing a puzzle together. I knew in my heart that the pieces fit—I just had to figure out the order.