Tanya Saracho loves an epic love story. The creator, showrunner, and executive producer of the new STARZ series Vida, which premieres Sunday, May 6, loves to write them, loves to watch them, and loves to be inspired by them. She just didn’t expect to be the subject of one.
That’s not to say the 42-year-old from Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico didn’t have happy relationships—but she knew romance rarely, if ever, plays out like the Hugh Grant rom coms she grew up on. As a queer woman of color, it was hard to find any love story that didn’t cater to the straight male gaze.
That’s why Saracho—who has also written for How to Get Away With Murder and Looking—was drawn to Outlander, the romantic drama about a woman, Claire, who travels back in time and meets the love of her life, a Highland warrior named Jamie. “It’s so female gaze, ” she says. “That sex scene where Claire takes Jamie’s virginity? It’s like, when have you seen it from that perspective?”
Saracho’s appreciation—OK, obsession—of Outlander grew as the series went on. “I was obsessed with everything about it—the stories, the way it looked,” she explains. “I followed each and every writer on Twitter. I followed the producers. I was like a freaking stalker…a fangirl, you know.” So in 2014, after Saracho’s father disowned her and wouldn’t let her attend her grandmother’s funeral, she relied on the show to take her mind off her family issues. “I was so sad,” she says. “At the time, I was thinking, ‘Where am I going to go for Christmas now?'”
The answer came easily: Scotland. “I thought, you know what, I’m going to go to Scotland, and I’m going to find my own Outlander,” she says. “I had become obsessed, so I booked a Christmas and New Year’s trip without knowing anyone [there]. I didn’t even know where I was going to stay.”
At the time, Saracho was working on Looking in San Francisco and had to answer to some skeptical colleagues. (“They were like, ‘You’re going to Scotland by yourself for Christmas? That’s the saddest thing ever!'”) One of those coworkers was Raul Castillo, who played Richie Donado on the show and was Saracho’s first high school boyfriend. He told her not to go to Scotland by herself, but she felt drawn to the country. “He said, ‘For a stupid TV show?'” Saracho remembers. “And I said, ‘It’s not stupid. It’s the best show ever.” Wanting to have a clean slate, she even broke up with the woman she was seeing before she left for the trip.
Saracho had no definite plans for Scotland—except for one: “I had actually met Sam Heughan [before I left for Scotland],” she says. “My friend called him in for a casting meeting, and I happened to be there. I tried with all my might not to say, ‘Oh my God, Outlander is my everything,’ so I was just like, ‘I really like your show.’ He was so kind and gave me his info. He said, ‘We’ll have a wee dram [a shot of Scottish whiskey] when you get there!’ I was thinking, Great! I’m going to have a true Outlander experience.”
But when she arrived in the country, she ended up blowing off Heughan completely. “It’s crazy,” she explains. “When I got to Scotland, I signed up on a site called Meetup.com. It’s like these group things you can do—a poetry reading, a hike, whatever. I signed up for it all and asked somebody in the group if they could help me with my train itinerary. I was feeling so lost that first day and thinking, ‘Am I going to have to eat every day by myself? What have I done?’ One person wrote back—his name was Scruffy Scot—and was really polite and helpful. He didn’t have a picture next to his name, and he was so formal in his writing that I just assumed he was this older man.”
Turns out, “Scruffy Scot” wasn’t an older man; she discovered he’s the same age, had a career in IT, and is named Colin Stubbs. “Without knowing anything, I said to him, ‘This is a weird thing to ask, but if you want to have coffee in a public place, let me know.’ He said yes, and I thought, ‘OK, great, one hour, a coffee with a Scottish person! This is fantastic because my wee dram with Sam was not until the following week in Glasgow. I had nothing else planned.”
But that one hour coffee with “Scruffy Scot”—or Jon Snow’s doppelgänger, as Saracho calls him—turned into six. “I didn’t let him talk,” she says, laughing. “I literally didn’t shut up. He has no game. He was shy, and I just felt really safe. I kept texting Raul [in the states] and was like, ‘Do you think I should go have dinner with him?’ and he said, ‘Are you crazy? You’re going to get raped and murdered in a castle dungeon!'”
But Saracho didn’t take her friend’s advice. When he offered to drive her to Glasgow, instead of taking the train, she took him up on the offer. He soon became the sounding board she had been searching for. “I started bawling in his car,” she says. “Everything around me was so beautiful—the trees looked like lavender cotton candy because of the snow, and I started thinking about how it was almost Christmas and I wasn’t with my family and my dad had just ousted me.” Stubbs reached over to grab Saracho’s hand and kept driving without saying a word. “That was the first time I was like, ‘Whoa,'” Saracho says. “It was so soothing and comfortable. He just let me cry.”
Saracho says she and Stubbs developed a deep connection, but it wasn’t sexual: In fact, throughout the entire car ride she kept referencing her past relationships with women. “I hadn’t had sex with a cisgender male in five years, so I was like, ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t want to go there. I don’t know what that is anymore,'” she says. “He was just so happy to be at the party, you know? He was like, ‘I didn’t even know this was going to happen.” Stubbs was patient with Saracho. “We took our time,” she says. “I got to know him, and he got to know me.”
What was supposed to be a two-week trip ended up turning into a six-week stay. Three weeks in, Saracho met Stubbs’ family. “I was like, ‘That’s really quick [to meet someone’s family].’ But he is so innocent! He was like, ‘I don’t understand, quick for what?’ They’re the loveliest humans and so polite and nurturing. I fell in love with them so deep.”
Eventually, Saracho returned to the U.S.—but Stubbs came to California for long visits. “He stayed one time for nine months—six months of that because I got a spinal infection and almost died,” she says. “This will tell you what a [good] soul he is: He literally bathed me [daily], wiped my ass, and quit his job to take care of me. He tells me loves me all the time, but he has shown me he loves me more than anything. I realized that no one had done those things for me before. His soul is amazing, and he’s so pure.”
Saracho still can’t believe this is her life. “I’m like, ‘What the f-ck is this?’ I mean, we’re just endgame,” she says. “This is it, you know what I mean? The fact that he quit his job to take care of me? There’s no going back from that. We’re bonded. He saved my life.”
In the three and a half years since their first meeting, Saracho and Stubbs talk or FaceTime every day and consistently make plans to see each other. They hope to eventually live together in the same city, same house. “I never wanted to be married,” Saracho says. “That was never a thing for me. But now it’s like, OK, we have to do it. When we do, he has to wear a kilt.”
As for Outlander, Stubbs had never heard of the show before he met Saracho. “I made him, poor guy—and his family—watch the first season,” she says. “He tells me he likes the show. I hope he’s just not telling me that. If he tells me he doesn’t like it, it might be over.”
Now, of course, when Saracho—and Stubbs—watch the show, the promos for Vida run next to it. “The fact that I have a show on STARZ, it’s crazy. It’s insane,” Saracho says. “When Vida got the green light, STARZ sent me this picnic basket of Jamie Fraser red wine and all these Outlander things that I’ll never open because it’s like my sacred thing.”
The same could be said of Saracho’s journey with Stubbs. Her friends think she should write her own love story next, but Saracho’s not sure. (“Everyone says I have to make a movie, but I’m so close to it that I don’t know.”) For the time being, she just wants to live in the present and enjoy working on Vida. “Everything’s been a dream. You can pinch me. It’s just exciting that we get to tell this story,” she says.
Of course, maybe one day she’ll also tell her story with Stubbs. “I feel like I was called to Scotland,” she says. “It was truly a gut feeling. The universe was being a puppeteer, like, ‘You and you will end up meeting.’ It’s just crazy that way.”