Guest Author Lou Sylvre – Give ‘em hell! Or, Why I Write Hard Times in Vasquez and James

Hello! I’m Lou Sylvre, author of the Vasquez and James books, including latest release in the suspense series, book 4, Saving Sonny James. Before I start out explaining why I’m constantly afflicting them with dread circumstances, let me say thank you to Charlie Cochet for letting me visit the Tea House and blog a bit. Also, I’d like to thank a reader (I’ll call her Ruby, though that’s not her real name) who is generous with both her praise for Vasquez and James and her thoughts about the couple’s adventures, even when she doesn’t agree with me.

Ruby said she sometimes wishes I’d lighten up a bit on Luki and Sonny.  Some of this post is almost verbatim from one of my responses, and the thing is I wouldn’t have been able to articulate this as clearly (I hope it’s clear) if she had not given me cause to think about it. So, thanks Ruby.  I value thoughtful and thought-provoking feedback because as an author it helps me grow, just like Luki and Sonny’s hard times help them grow…

How’s that for segue?

Main character Luki Vasquez has changed over the course of the four books in the suspense series. In book one, Loving Luki Vasquez, he seemed nearly impenetrable ice outside and supreme confidence inside. Although most readers (including  Ruby) continue to identify with him, some people lament that those traits have progressively become less prominent and unsullied. But it’s almost a truism to say that in fiction, one of the things that has to happen for a story to have any meaning at all is character growth. In a single book, we can often see change in the character that is overwhelmingly positive—and I think probably that’s what most see in Luki in Loving Luki Vasquez, and in the second main character, Sonny James, in Delsyn’s Blues. But in “real life” I believe change in a person always comes with an upside and a new challenge, and in a series if that doesn’t happen—speaking for myself as a reader as well as a writer—the growth begins to seem artificial, and difficult to sustain.

Rubiks_Cube_1982_Hungary stamp wiki comm licI can illustrate the idea by means of the Rubik’s cube–are you familiar? Lines of colors formed into a cube, which the player is supposed to arrange in lines of a single color. But if you turn one segment, unexpected colors pop up elsewhere, and this newly expressed puzzle is certainly no easier, very possibly more difficult to solve than the first. Even if it is solved—dare turn the sections once more, and it’s imperfect once more—or perhaps perfect, but a puzzle.

In people that unpredictable and unstable kind of change, or growth, makes us vulnerable. Luki, that strong, capable, smart, sexy, and supremely protective character in Loving Luki Vasquez, was far too fearful to allow himself to be vulnerable. So I (the author, after all) did him a favor and made him face that fear—and grow through it. He had resisted emotion and love for so many years, guarding his heart with ice even when getting his sexual needs met, as demonstrated in this short bit from Delsyn’s Blues (book 2). This paragraph follows a description of how he would engage such random partners simply by letting them know he’d chosen them, then take them to a posh hotel and, after taking certain steps for his safety and theirs…

He fucked them. Though there was some tenderness on his part, it bore no resemblance to lovemaking. He usually granted the man something resembling a smile, which invariably turned the man to putty—though that wasn’t why Luki did it; he wanted Lawrence or William or Ray, or whatever name he’d picked up this time, to understand that his—Luki’s—ice wasn’t because he found him lacking.

The sequence in the book goes on to describe the cool, cool encounter, but it also shows what Luki does when it ends, and the reader gets a glimpse of the softness Luki fears, buried deep in his own heart.

In the first flush of love for Sonny, once he allowed it, the vulnerability was barely detectable, but, well, here’s another little bit from Luki’s own mind, this from Saving Sonny James:

The crux of the matter was that he’d lost himself, pure and simple—lost that fortress of self he’d previously constructed around all his history of need and trauma and—until Sonny—solitude. Luki’s therapist, Dee, had stated her theory that one big reason Luki’s most recent trauma—what she called moral injury—had been able to penetrate his toughened skin was because of Sonny. Luki had removed some stones from his figurative castle’s curtain wall in order to let love from and for Sonny inside; unfortunately, in doing so, he also let in some less desirable things. Fear. Empathy. Horror. Even, on some level, self-loathing.

Luki thought Dee might be right to a point, but he secretly disagreed when she said he had to knock the whole “castle” down and rebuild for his own good, his own well-being. She didn’t understand—at least not yet. Luki had been exactly who Luki Vasquez wanted to be. Sonny had been like dawn piercing deep, dense night, and Luki knew nothing, nobody ever could change Luki’s world like Sonny had. Luki’s heart had never been cold, and he’d never been free of fear. He’d only trained himself to act despite empathy and terror and horror. Yes, maybe Sonny’s arrow to his heart had created a path, or a weak spot. But Luki didn’t want to, and he’d swear he didn’t need to, stop being Luki. All he had to do was find a way to put the horror of the dying green-eyed boy to rest—for Sonny as much as for himself. And maybe for Kaholo, Jackie, Josh. Because he was what he was; simply put, he was their curtain wall. 

That was the self he’d lost—Luki Vasquez the protector, the first and last line of defense. It followed: for Luki Vasquez, getting back his self would require getting back the edge for which he was both famed and feared. That edge had been forged of equal parts reality and illusion, but it defined him in the eyes of others, and even in his own eyes much of the time. So he worked at getting it back.

Yes, Luki is more vulnerable, less confident even after he begins to “get it back.” But what I appreciate about the growth Luki showed me (yes, he showed me) as this story developed is that he is learning to integrate empathy and fear and hope and even to waver in his ability to make decisions, yet still do what needs to be done. In the “suspense” story line, this definitely shows in his finding Sonny and confronting the danger, but the vulnerability also shows–what if he stops the wrong IV pump, or the right one but the wrong thing happens? (How’s that for a teaser?)

To sum up, I think Luki has become more human, and I like him that way. I hope you do, too.

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Luki Vasquez and his still newlywed husband are back home after pulling off a harrowing desert rescue of their teenage nephew Jackie. But the events of the last couple of years have begun to catch up with Luki—loving Sonny James and letting Sonny love him back has left gaps in his emotional armor. In the gunfight that secured Jackie’s rescue, Luki’s bullet killed a young guard, an innocent boy in Luki’s mind. In the grip of PTSD, memories, flashbacks, and nightmares consume him, and he falls into deep, almost vegetative depression.

Sonny devotes his days to helping Luki, putting his own career on hold, even passing up a European tour of galleries and schools—an opportunity that might never come again. But when Luki’s parasomnia turns his nightmares into real-world terror, it breaks the gridlock. Sonny realizes what he’s doing isn’t working, and he says yes to Europe. Enter Harold Breslin, a dangerously intelligent artist’s promoter and embezzler whose obsessive desire for Sonny is exceeded only by his narcissism. When Harold’s plan for Sonny turns poisonous, Luki must break free of PTSD and get to France fit and ready in time to save his husband’s life.

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