Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Character Highlights and the Dark Heartbeat of The Sandoval Sisters' Secret: Interview

Appeared July 7, 2014 in

Sandra Ramos O'Briant large

Stephanie: Pilar wants the freedom to pursue whatever she wants when she wants it.There are usually consequences to the decisions and actions we make in life that affect others around us when we want to just do what we want. Are there consequences for Pilar and how does her behavior affect the people around her?
Sandra: The youngest Sandoval sister, Pilar, had a taste of independence few women received in 19thcentury New Mexico, but just because she liked it doesn’t mean she was willful, spoiled or flamboyant. If radar had been in use in the Territory of New Mexico circa 1840, Pilar would have flown right under it. If anything, she’s guileless and assumes that others are equally open. This aspect of her personality is what gets her into trouble. Her mother died giving birth to her and left Oratoria, the eldest adopted sister, in charge of her sisters. She had been bought by the Sandovals for a sack of flour when she was eight-years-old. 
     Oratoria did not mistake Pilar’s wildness for impetuousness, but rather thought it a gift. When Pilar is betrothed to the much older Geraldo, she doesn’t run off or commit some heedless act-she accepts her fate.
     Geraldo is the perfect man for her sister, one who also prizes her “non-traditional” characteristics. My readers love Geraldo and I’m frequently asked where they can meet a man like him. He’s patient and knowledgeable about women. He doesn’t want her to have children while she’s still so young. This necessitated researching birth control methods in that time period. All of which Pilar and Geraldo use. A lot.
     Oratoria tells him, “Witches do not ride broomsticks on moonlit nights. They prefer stallions.” Pilar, on the other hand, scoffs at the whole notion of witchcraft, even when she personally suffers from its effects.
Sandra's Book Cover
And a bit of the dark heartbeat of the story:
Stephanie:  What are some of the prejudices and superstitions you feel that these women in your story face?

Sandra: My maternal grandmother was a Sandoval. In her home, there were santos, statues of saints and little altars, in every room. Many homes in Santa Fe were the same. Sounds all holy, doesn’t it? The flip side to this idolatry was a deep-seated belief that demons and witches live amongst us. In Northern New Mexico ancestor stories were interwoven with tales of witchcraft. The ritualistic power of feverish faith could be as simple as making the sign-of-the-cross over a whiff of bad luck, or carrying a wooden cross and wearing a crown of thorns in a secret ceremony, or perhaps self-flagellation. These same cultural aspects were even more evident at the time of my story.

     Back then, a whirlwind of change had descended on Santa Fe when both Texas and the U.S. decided they wanted to control the Santa Fe Trail. The people in the far northern reaches of New Spain had been isolated for two hundred years. They lacked education, and their livelihood was subsistence based. Many of their ancestors had fled the Inquisition in Spain or been banished to the remote outer regions of New Spain. 

     In my story, the Sandovals are set apart: “. . . others feared the awakening of dark powers for which the Sandovals had always been suspect. Not only had they acquired wealth in a desert frontier, they had survived Indians and epidemics while others perished. They could read, too, and their home was sumptuous with white marble pier tables, Brussels carpets and wood floors. This, while many New Mexicans lived in one-room adobe hovels alongside their goats. To make matters worse, they were handsome people. All good reasons to fear and respect them.”

     When Alma elopes with Bill and runs off to Texas with him she encounters prejudice of a different sort: she’d married into a slave-holding culture. Texas had fought hard for its independence from Mexico, and most of its Spanish-speaking residents had fled; Texans made few distinctions between Blacks and Mexicans, and the Texas Rangers were known to have lynched Mexicans. Alma’s former position in society was worthless in this new environment, but she made the most of the few friendships she made there, even training with the town doctor.

     When she returned to New Mexico, widowed and childless, she treated anyone who needed her help, including the prostitutes in a brothel. The community didn’t approve of this. They also didn’t approve of Pilar’s relationship with Monique, the half-Indian madam of the brothel.  “To the alchemy of whores and witches,” Monique said. 

     The people had lost land, been conquered by the U.S. and they were ready to place blame. The Sandoval sisters were an easy target and the crowd repeats this little ditty, “A father dies, a husband, too, and the widows, sisters all, dance under the witches’ moon.”

     Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudun was an influence on my work.  It’s a history of alleged demonic possession, religious fanaticism, and mass hysteria in 17th century France.  When I read about religious persecution in the “modern” world and the effort to slut-shame women (sexual persecution), I think of this untidy piece of history.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Sandra Ramos O’Briant, who is the author of The Sandoval Sister’s Secret of Old Blood, one of our medallion honorees at www.bragmedallion.com . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as The Sandoval Sister’s Secret of Old Blood merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.
*Stephanie M. Hopkins conducts author interviews and helps promote the B.R.A.G. Medallion. Participates in the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. She has reviewed books for the Historical Novel Society, is Co-Admin of English Historical Fiction Authors Group on Facebook. The original interview can be read in its entirety by clicking here