Warning: Tropes and Archetypes Crossing, Authenticity checked (and I will talk about my books, again! You can even win one…)
Hello, I’m Lou Sylvre and before I start spouting off about literary things, I want to say thanks to my host, Anne Barwell, who posts thoughtful and thought-provoking blogs here, and whose gentle authority I admire both in her blogs and her novels and stories.
Would that I could write like Anne does—but of course that would not be authentic, even if I knew everything she knew about her subject matter. And therein lies one of the things I want to talk about. I used to read books about how to write better. I found a couple of problems with that, as time went on. One: reading about how to write cannot possibly improve a person’s writing skills. They only way to see improvement is to write. Write period. Write purposefully, and thoughtfully. Write wild and careful prose that means nothing to anybody except you, the writer. Until… it does. Until you end with a story or whatever it is you wanted to write, and it is the kind of thing that readers will recognize as true.
That’s writing authentically—writing from deep within your whole self, mind, body, heart, and—if there is such a thing—spirit. And that is the second part of the problem with how-to books on writing—they tell you to write what you know. In fact, everybody tells a writer to write what they know. Books say it, essays and blog posts say it, other writers, even readers. You do have to know something about your subject matter by the time you set final words on a page. But the proverb “write what you know” implies one should only write about those things the writer is already expert in. I can only say, Stephen King was not an expert in demonic clown things before he wrote It. Tolkien knew a fair bit about the lore of northern Europe, but he knew not one dot about Hobbits and the hearts of female half-elves. Even JK Rowling had never been to Hogwart’s.
‘Write what you know’ is misdirection. What those authors did is write authentically. Wrote not what they knew via fact, but what they knew via heart. One of the things that may have made it easier is the use of archetypes. Most obviously, Wizards are an archetype. We (most of us) have a preconceived, general, fairly non-limiting concept of what “Wizard” represents. And both Tolkien and Rowling used that archetype, especially in Gandalf and Dumbledore. Yet those two characters are not simplified to the point of being stereotypes, and each author takes the archetype and expresses it in several iterations—there’s Gandalf, Radaghast, Saruman. Using the archetype lets the author start with a widely understood basic plan, and develop it outward without having to repeat and rebuild the character from the soles up. So she, or he, can then pay attention to what their personally authentic expression of a Wizard looks, smells, acts, and feels like. That’s why those characters, the Gandalfs, the Sarumans, and the Dumbledores of literature feel to us readers like long-loved friends or deeply-feared foes.
In my Vasquez and James novels… (Oh, come on, I warned you I was going to talk about my own books, right?)… As I was saying, In my Vasquez and James novels, one very obvious archetype I’ve used would normally be called the hero. That’s right, Luki Vasquez might be a Hero (capital H). He’s strong, skilled, he takes out the bad guys, and his entire identity centers on being a protector. In fact, in Finding Jackie (released this month), Luki and his lover—now husband—Sonny James have a bit of a showdown about this very thing. Here’s just a little bit, coming on the tail of Luki’s unilateral decision to sign back on as a federal agent with ATFE:
“Sonny, I don’t understand.” (Luki) put his big, strong hand on the small of Sonny’s back and leaned in as if planning to say more.
Usually, that hand on his back made Sonny feel good, loved, protected, needed, wanted. Now it made him feel really antsy and more pissed than he already was. “Take your hand off me!”
From the look on Luki’s face, Sonny might have just gut-stabbed him. All he said was, “The fuck!”
“When were you going to tell me?” That would have to be called an outburst, Sonny knew, because he wasn’t nearly quiet enough for a private argument in public. Not only that, but he could feel his anger creep onto his face, his eyes narrowing, his top lip curling, a scowl for all the world to see—especially Luki.
Luki was quiet long enough for Sonny to find it hard to hold that expression, but he persevered. Finally, Luki spoke very quietly. “Why are you scowling at me, and tell you about what?”
“This,” Sonny said, his voice finally flat. He smacked the flat of his hand against Luki’s chest, where, inside the vest pocket, Sonny’s new husband had hidden his old badge.
Nothing more was said, at Luki’s request or possibly command, until they’d left the restaurant, taken the cab ride, and turned on some lights in their ultra-modern suite at the Monaco.
Then Sonny said, “When were you going to tell me about that, Luki?”
“Later. How much later?”
“As much later as I could manage.”
“Why? We talked about this! We agreed! You knew I didn’t want you to do it! I want you to get yourself away from all that shit. You don’t even need the business. You could sell it and just do whatever for the rest of your life. You’ve already got more than enough money. Fuck. You snuck around….”
Luki wasn’t going to revisit the and what if I asked you not to weave argument. They’d had it before, and it never went anywhere. Instead, when Sonny apparently found himself tongue-tied, he said, “Sonny, we talked, but we didn’t agree. I just dropped the subject. And if you think back, you know that’s true.”
“Fine, whatever. Just tell me why!”
“Sonny, I don’t know! Shit!” The silence that followed hurt Luki, stressed him, and he was pretty sure it was painful for Sonny, too. Finally, Luki tried to begin an explanation, praying that Sonny’s love—because he didn’t doubt for a second that Sonny’s temper was more about love than anger—he prayed that Sonny’s love would let him really hear what Luki wanted to say. “Baby—”
“Don’t call me that!”
“All right! Okay, fine, I won’t touch you, God forbid, and I won’t call you baby—”
“Just please listen, Sonny. You want to know why I signed back on with my fed job—a job, incidentally, I’d done for eighteen years before I quit and started the agency, and eventually met you. I don’t know how to explain why, but I know it was the right thing for me to do. Sonny… I don’t know how to be a husband. I’m trying to find my way, but I find myself doing a lot of shrugging.” He knew then that Sonny was listening, because he almost smiled, the corners of his mouth twitched. So Luki forged ahead, his voice a little softer. “But when I said my vows to you, I promised to keep you safe. I put that in my vows because it is of utmost importance to me that you aren’t hurt, aren’t vulnerable, and because it’s the one thing I know how to do better than anything else.
“I guess that’s why I got the badge, Sonny. Because when you’re trying to keep someone safe, a badge comes in fucking handy.”
Now it so happens Sonny has a very good answer for that little slightly-self-important hero monologue, but I’m not going to give that away.
What I am going to give away is one of the Vasquez and James books. Just stick around to the end and find out how to get your name in the drawing.
Back to Luki the hero now. Here’s the thing, Luki has moved on from being a hero to being a badass, and he’s become a badass with a certain set of characteristics that forms a trope. I’m using that word in one specific meaning: an iteration of an archetype. Using a trope (not a conscious process), I further simplified the steps to arriving at my character, but the character is not simplified. Instead, the trope helps me find a character that lives so fully on the page that he has the power to surprise me. People often ask me, of characters I’ve written, who is my favorite. I confess I’m a bit of a bad mother, because Luki is my favorite. I wish I knew him. I wish, sometimes, that I was him. And his real life in my mind and heart are what compels me to write him as someone you, the reader, can know as well.
That’s my true writer’s confession for now. I hope you will love my characters, because I do.
I also hope you’ll leave a comment below, because if you will tell me the name of one wizard or one hero from any book in the world, I’ll enter you in my drawing for Finding Jackie—paperback if you live in the USA, ebook elsewhere in the world.
Thank you for reading. And Anne, thanks again for hosting me.
Sequel to Delsyn's Blues
Vasquez & James: Book Three
Luki Vasquez and Sonny Bly James finally have their Hawaiian wedding, and it's perfect, almost. But their three-phase honeymoon is riddled with strife. Luki's status as a working badass spells discord for the newlyweds. A former informant from Luki’s days with ATFE brings a troubling message (or is it a warning?) from a Mob hit man. When Luki’s sixteen-year-old nephew, Jackie, is lured into capture and torture by a sadistic killer, the honeymoon is well and truly over.
The couple put aside their differences and focus on the grueling hunt, which takes them from leather bars to dusty desert back roads, and calls on Sonny’s deep compassion as well as Luki’s sharpest skills. Their world threatens to fall apart if they fail, but their love may grow stronger than ever if they succeed in finding Jackie—before it’s too late.
The cover artist is Reese Dante, and the book is 20% off through 5/31 with discount code VJ3FindJack