Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Good Time to Laugh, or Why I Write Funny Stuff in Dark Places by Lou Sylvre

Hi, I’m Lou Sylvre, and I’m celebrating the recent release of  book four in the Vasquez and James suspense/romance series from Dreamspinner Press. I’ve posted a lot of blogs recently, mostly pretty light in nature. In the Vasquez and James books, I write about some nasty, scary, serious stuff.

Villains: kidnappers, rapists, torturers, and in Saving Sonny James, a narcissistic killer who is trying to steal Luki’s beloved husband, Sonny—or else steal Sonny’s life.

Illnesses: in Delsyn’s Blues, Von Willebrand’s—a clotting disorder like hemophilia; in Yes, lung cancer; in Saving Sonny James PTSD and it’s almost ubiquitous concomitant, depression. All of these—the mental no less than the physical—are vicious, deadly things. Yet my characters love. They talk of banal things at dangerous moments. They laugh. I have taken a bit of flak for this. (No really!)

But, to begin, as a writer, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking ahead about what my characters say or why they say it. If Luki teases, it comes out of his nature and the nature of the moment. To be honest, though, perhaps it’s my nature. Linda Ellerbee—a woman who like so many others has suffered life threatening illness and who knows what other terrifying monsters in life, said: “A good time to laugh is anytime you can.”Abraham Lincoln said: With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die.”

Yes! These quotes seem to me to strike the nail square on its head. There’s never a wrong time to laugh, and laughter becomes more necessary as pressures grow heavier. But I wasn't sure I could answer the question why. Why does laughing help when you're scared, or angry, or sad? Then I found this quote from Clarence Darrow (of all people): “If you lose the power to laugh, you lose the power to think.” Intense anger, fear, panic, despair, grief—these emotions are necessary, but especially in the extreme they can cripple our ability to solve the problem, to see the light at the end of the dark tunnel, or to get ourselves and our loved ones away to safety.

So, yeah. I tend to have comic relief or at least a lighthearted break in the midst of pain, grief, and even terror. And the ability to laugh is something I admire most about Luki and Sonny and some of the other characters that appear in Vasquez and James. (Okay, I admit it; I admire my characters…) I think probably how it actually works for each and every person is likely unique, as is everything else about us. I want to share a few moments from the lives of the Vasquez-James men, hoping to show you how I think it works for them—a couple of brief passages from earlier books, and then a slightly longer one from Saving Sonny James, just released a week ago.

From book one, Loving Luki Vasquez, this is one of my favorite bits in any of the books. The two men have just had a night of incredible lovemaking, followed by a horrible confrontation, and then it just went quiet. Sonny tells Luki:

 “Just go, Luki. This is my house and I want you out of it.”
Luki whispered, “Sonny.”
“Open the windows on your way out,” Sonny said. This place smells like you.”
“Sonny,” Luki said, and silently he begged. Look at me, please. See me.
But Sonny didn't look at him, just walked out and let the screen door slam behind him. Luki stared after him, numb…
Until he saw Sonny drive past the door and the kitchen window in a teeny Honda Civic that must have been the first one ever made, white paint splotched with rust, two little mirrors mounted near the front of the fenders. The car sat so low that Luki could see inside, how long-legged Sonny had to drive with his knees on either side of the steering wheel, which might explain why he was having such a hard time shifting. The little car putted away with Sonny looking like he would burst its seams, and Luki couldn't help himself.
He laughed. He laughed hard, uncontrollably, from somewhere deep in his gut. He laughed like he never had—at least that he remembered. He laughed like his life depended on it, and maybe it did.
And this one from Delsyn’s Blues. Sonny is trying to cope with his grief over losing his nephew Delsyn, and trying to explain his actions:

“Luki, it was like… it hurt, but the pain was all I had of him to ward the end. Stupid, I know, but I couldn't share it.” He didn't know what else to say, so after a moment’s silence, he added, “But I love you. And will you watch Delsyn’s DVD with me? Want some Rocky Road?”
Luki sent him an almost-smile, nodded. “Sure. But hamburgers first. I’ll make ‘em. You have to have something solid in your stomach before the shortbread.”
“You and your hamburgers,” Sonny said. “And I didn't say anything about shortbread.”
“I need hamburgers to keep my strength up. You've got crumbs in your beard.”
“I don’t have a beard.”
“I know, but if you did, there would be shortbread crumbs in it.”
And here’s the excerpt from the new Dreamspinner Press release, book four of the suspense series, Saving Sonny James. Sonny is here trying to convince Luki to go to Paris with him, but Luki is stuck deep in the hell of PTSD, and he refuses. Sonny uses his own brand of humor, but when Luki can’t make Sonny understand, he makes him laugh.

“WHY not, Luki?” Sonny had sent Harold on his way quickly and come upstairs while Luki was still finishing his shower. Luki, groggy again after standing a long time with hot drops pelting his skin, sat on the stool afterward, and Sonny dried his hair with a fluffy towel. The two of them barely fit in Margie’s tiny, feminine, neat little bathroom at the same time, but that didn't prevent Sonny from attacking Luki’s head with real vigor. At the same time, he was trying to convince Luki to fly to France with him and Harold. “I’ll make sure you get first class, and I’ll have them tow a giant brick of sugar under the plane so the flight attendant can swoop down and pick up a ton of granules whenever you want coffee.” He felt gratified when Luki laughed—never easy to make that happen, and especially not lately.

“I guess I never told you,” Luki said, and then he pulled Sonny down for a kiss. “But since I met you, sometimes I don’t add the sugar.”

“See! I’m good for you. I've convinced you to fix that bad health habit.”

“Not exactly. Besides my sugar is probably not as bad for me as that flavored chemical creamer is for you! No, the reason I forget the sugar is because everything already tastes sweet when I’m with you.” Anyone else would have probably punctuated that with a cheesy grin, Sonny thought, but Luki just bobbed his eyebrows and it had the same effect. Sonny laughed, hard, which finally resulted in a slow smile from his husband. Luki said, “I love that, you know. When you laugh really hard like that? You sound like Woody Woodpecker.”

With a supreme effort Sonny stopped laughing, or at least almost, put his hands on his hips, and said, “I do not!”

“No really, you do babe. If I can figure out how, I’ll record it on my phone so you can hear yourself.”

Luki kept an almost completely straight face, but Sonny could see the gleam of fun—joy, maybe—in his eyes, and it was like clean water and fresh air, reprieve. Perhaps unfortunately, the feeling overwhelmed him. And tears stung his eyes, though none fell, and his lip twitched, and the whole damn good mood was broken. How could he explain that he was falling apart because he felt so good? “I’m sorry….”

Luki stood up and wrapped his big, strong arms around Sonny, and then pulled him tight against his chest, stroking his back, kissing his hair. “No, baby. I’m sorry. For how I've…. What I've become.”

“I love you, Luki—no matter what. And… just now, you were like you are… usually… with me.”

“Yeah,” Luki said. “Today’s a good day. I haven’t had many lately. They've just been getting worse and worse, and yesterday… I was so scared, baby. How can I make you understand? I’d never want to hurt you, and I didn't have any way to control it! Shit, I didn't even know I was doing it.” He shook his head, punished his lip with his teeth, then very quietly added, “I couldn't stay there, sweetie. If it happened again, if I ever hurt you, that would be worse than dying, worse than anything.”

Sonny felt a surge of anger. He growled, “But if you did die, Luki! Like at that fucking place! Like when that man…. That green-eyed guard you can’t seem to stop worrying over was going to fucking shoot you dead! If you’d died then, Luki….” By now Sonny’s rage had turned into sobs, and he just that moment realized how badly the whole situation was fucking with his own head. “I wouldn't have wanted to live, either. Fuck… Luki. You didn't do anything wrong. Can’t you just… I don’t know.” His flame had spluttered out, and now he sat down on the edge of the bathtub feeling defeated.

He half expected Luki to be pissed that he’d spoken to him—yelled at him—like that. Amazingly, Luki’s humor resurfaced instead, and he sat on Sonny’s knee. He whispered into his ear, “And for Christmas, Santa—or sooner, if you can make the extra trip south—I’d like to get my big-boy badass pants back.”
I believe that if we’re going to take characters into dark places, we need to give them the best survival tools, laughter included. (And then, also, it just makes reading (and writing) more fun.)

Thanks to Cardeno C for offering me this guest spot on CafĂ© Risque. And thanks to all who stopped into read. There’s the blurb here for Saving Sonny James, and the cover, and here’s the link at the Dreamspinner Store: .


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.


  1. Cardeno, thanks so much for giving me room, and presenting my post so beautifully!

  2. I have to agree with you Lou that laughter is indeed the best medicine and that through all the Vasquez and James stories was something that helped the two of them navigate some very painful events. Luki and Sonny are two of my very favourite characters and while the journey so far has induced many tears they have also given me many smiles (and in some cases guffaws) as well.