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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Company at Vastine's....Welcome Lou Sylvre!

Happy Easter, everybody!

Today's special...not only because it is Easter but because I've got a Lou Sylvre in the house! Not only is Ms. Sylvre one of my favorite authors---just ask her, I gush an awful lot over her work---but she's a dear friend! 

Her upcoming release, Because of Jade, which will be the final installment in the beloved Vasquez and James series, is a semi-sweet event for me and for all the fans of this series. I've grown to love all her characters, grown to relish her rich prose, and it's kind of sad seeing this saga come to an end. I just know, though, that it will be as beautiful as the rest of the stories have been and the comfort will be in knowing she's going to have lots more new characters and their stories coming up for us to fall head over heels for. 

Oh! Feast your eyes, please, on this set of fabulous covers for the existing books in the Vasquez and James series...

So now that I've done my customary fan-girling (Ms. Sylvre is most patient with me and my gushing), let me turn the house over to her. 

Oh, and....psst....yes, there's a chance for a prize! Check out after the visit for details!

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Hi! I’m Lou Sylvre, and I hope you’ll bear with me. I’m going to hold forth, or wax poetic, or just ramble about one of my favorite types of fictional ( and real-life) character: The Uncle. (Capital U, yeah). Before I get any further, let me take a moment to thank Vastine Bondurant for the opportunity to write my graffiti all over her beautiful blog. Gracias, Vastine!

I write uncles. Everywhere, including the Vasquez and James series. There’s Melvern and Kaholo, and of course Sonny James and Luki Vasquez. I’d like to explain why uncles are so important in my books, lest you think I’m just obsessed, or repetitive. And to me, it matters what we write and read in fiction, some things more than others. I subscribe to the notion that if a person wants facts, they read non-fiction, but if they want the truth, fiction is where they’re more likely to find it. The whys of that are for another time; right now, the truth about uncles... (Or at least some of it.)

For me, an uncle represents something special, something invaluable and irreplaceable in the any life. Before I explain that mindset, let me assure you that I am aware there are plenty of bad uncles. In fact, my father had 19 brothers and sisters, and though I only ever met a few uncles, the ones I met were alcoholic and not all that wonderful, even the one of whom I was fond as a young child. Another important qualifier, some of the best uncles aren’t related by blood or birth, but by choice. Some men take on this role in a person’s life out of generosity, wisdom, a sense of responsibility, and a loving heart, and that’s more than enough to qualify as ‘real’ uncles. You probably know people like that in ‘real life,’ but a wonderful example in a novel is in Rhys Ford’s  Sinners series—Donal, the retired Irish cop who is dad to a bunch of boys, uncle to Sionn, and gathers into his heart all the ‘strays’ they collectively bring into the family.

Now, on to the whys and wherefores.

In some cultures, uncles (and aunts, too, yes, though that’s a little different) play a role at least as important in a child’s life as a parent—often more important, even. I could digress into the scholarly to substantiate this statement, but I won’t bore you in that fashion. (If you want to know, ask! J) Suffice it to say that in some societies and kinship systems, whereas a parent is charged with providing and basic discipline, an uncle is a teacher, a friend. He will hold you to what is right, but his guidance is by example and by walking and working and playing alongside his nephew (or niece). He is a protector as well, though often the fulfillment of that role is quiet, a carefully interjected word on your behalf.

That’s the kind of uncle I believe in, the kind of uncle the world really, really needs.

Here’s an example of how Luki’s uncle, Kaholo, stepped into that role once. This is from Finding Jackie, but it’s an incident from Luki’s youth, at age 18, when he’d been assaulted and, if you can believe it, very nearly raped. (Peli is Luki’s dad.)

Peli and Kaholo were both up when Luki walked in the door that night, so Johnny must have called ahead. Peli was furious, and he asked pretty much the same thing Johnny had asked—why he would put himself in such a situation. Luki really wanted to cry now, out of frustration and weariness and anger. But the truth wanted out, and so he said it again. “I get lonely.”

“What?” Peli was leaning over him, his face red. “What? I didn’t hear that—”

That’s when Kaholo’s voice sounded nearby, not loud, but deep and undeniable. “He said he gets lonely, Peli. And of course he does. Leave him alone!” In all Luki’s memory, there had been maybe three times when Kaholo stood up to Peli. They were great friends as well as brothers-in-law, but Peli was the forceful one, and easy-going Kaholo let most things ride. Luki loved his father with all his heart and he knew Peli loved him, but he also knew Peli would never fully accept him. But, even though only Peli’s acceptance seemed important to Luki at the time, somewhere inside he knew Kaholo loved everything there was to love about Luki, bar nothing.

Of course, as the events in Finding Jackie unfold, Luki himself applies all his skills and resources and risks his own life in a desperate attempt to rescue Jackie—his own nephew—from a truly horrible fate.

Sometimes, the person an uncle must protect a nephew from is himself. Like Sonny’s uncle Melvern, during Sonny’s troubled youth. This is from Delsyn’s Blues. In it, Melvern finds a way to protect Sonny from a horrible man named Mack Money, and also from himself. Not with cruelty, with love. And without a doubt it saved Sonny’s life. (Note that Son is Sonny’s formal name, and the elided text has to do with different events.)

The small underground chamber behind the old barn was a relic. When [Sonny] was ten and first came to live with Melvern and Ida, Sonny had a love-hate relationship with it—he loved to hide in it, but he hated the vegetables he had to share the space with. He’d hide things in there from time to time, maybe a toy, a knife once, some magazines with pictures of men—he hid those quite carefully.

But he also remembered that, once, when Melvern had finally stopped trusting that Sonny would quit spending his money on dope, he’d gone to the bank and the tribe and made sure Sonny couldn’t get to his funds. But Sonny’s addiction wouldn’t let a small thing like that stop it and—because he was still a teenager—common sense didn’t stop him from making a deal with the devil himself: Mack Money. He didn’t have to do anything, really. Just show the place to Mack and let him stash some dope until he was ready to move it. The cellar was the perfect spot. Auntie had already died, and Melvern hated rutabagas as much as Sonny did.

Melvern had found out about his deal with Mack—Sonny had never learned how. After making sure the stuff was gone, Melvern warned Money off—which Mel could do because he was a powerful man in many ways. Then he freed up Sonny’s bank accounts and said, “If you insist, Son. If you insist.”
But that night Sonny had gone to his room, already high again and with dope to spare, trusting Mel to take care of Delsyn. But his high was soon blown. Melvern had left him a stack of old papers and legal documents. About Sonny’s mother. About how Mack Money had used her—how she’d let it happen. About the way she’d chosen Mack’s dope over her own pride, her own child, her own life.

But uncles are companions, too. Kids sometimes get to be their sidekicks—and young people usually love that position. Sometimes, though, an uncle goes out of his way to accommodate a child, to go somewhere or do something with them, give them an opportunity to learn, to not be on their own in a new adventure. In another passage from Delsyn’s Blues, at roughly the same troubled time in Sonny’s life, goes a long way to give his young nephew Delsyn what he needs to fulfill his dream. And here, Melvern gets to act a bit of the clown—another role of the ‘uncle.’ J One more thing, this is Luki’s perspective, and he’s learning things about Sonny—like about who Sonny was as an uncle, at a time when he (Luki) had no experience of that role himself.

So far, Delsyn’s DVD contained nothing that Luki expected. What it did contain was a hodge-podge of footage, old and apparently new, of Delsyn, of Sonny, even of Melvern—an entertaining old man who did, indeed, remind him of Kaholo. And thus of his two newfound nephews, who he probably should call. Not now, though. Now he was fascinated watching a younger Sonny teach a shorter Delsyn dance moves to some recorded powwow songs. Luki recognized powwow songs because he’d heard them before when he was still with ATF and his quest for a non-Indian gunrunner took him into such a gathering. The suspect had tried to hide among the crowd, but he’d stuck out like a sore thumb. Not because he wasn’t Native. Because he was nervous.

The dancing on screen was happening at Sonny’s place, in an area of level ground between the house and the car-barn. Melvern sat outside the circle on a foldout lawn chair, advising and scolding: “Dance your style, gentlemen. Dance your style.” And then when a feather—clearly not an eagle feather—fell out of Delsyn’s braids, he said in officious, MC style, “We have an eagle feather down. Eagle feather down. The drum has stopped. Dancers, please stand where you are. Ladies and gentlemen in the stands, if you could rise, please; we’ll get someone out here to pick that up.” They all stopped, laughing.

Sonny’s dance amazed Luki, full of cross-steps, leaning sideways, long legs moving side to side in the midst of a pivot, almost never both feet on the ground on the same time. In the here and now, he looked to the other end of the couch where Sonny lounged in pajamas, scooping up huge tablespoonfuls of Rocky Road out of the carton and then licking it off like a creamy Popsicle. Erotic, much?

“What is that,” Luki asked. “What you’re doing there?”

“What, this?” Sonny held out the half-eaten spoon of ice cream, a blank look accompanying the ice cream on his chin.

Luki smiled, couldn’t help it. “No, sweetie,” he laughed. “That might be fun to talk about some other time, but I meant what you’re doing on the TV.”

“Grass Dancing.”

“That’s all you’re going to tell me?”

Sonny flashed a smile, then looked more thoughtful, formulating his answer. “Well, you know, there’s lots of stories people tell about how it started. Most often, I think, people say that back in the day, the young men danced like this to knock the grass down and trample it so that the people would have a place to gather.” He put his spoon down and pried open the shortbread tin. “Or to get rid of snakes in the grass. Now it’s a dance style people do at powwows, but it helps if you remember that story, imagine yourself knocking down tall grass.”

“You’re good at it?”

“Was. Haven’t danced for a long time.”

“And Delsyn wanted to be like you.”

“Oh, yeah,” Sonny laughed, “at least he thought he did. Later he discovered he was really a Fancy Dancer. Which was very hard on his knees and ankles, but I couldn’t talk him out of it.”

In the next Vasquez and James Romance, Because of Jade, which will be released in a little more than a month (May 23rd!) Luki and Sonny’s role as uncles takes on new meaning. Because when their nephew Josh and his wife, the beloved Ruthie, both die on the same day, their great-niece, Jade, needs them. Here’s a tiny excerpt, a bit of a heartbreaking moment, when Jade has asked about her mommy not coming home, and we watch Uncle Luki in action from Sonny’s point of view. Clearly, Luki has learned well how to be an uncle, and takes it very seriously.

Luki hugged her, then gently but firmly lifted her away from his chest. “Jade, for us to talk you need to sit up and look at me, so I can see that you understand. Okay?”

Jade complied, sitting sideways across his knees in her purple poodle pajamas, the fuzzy poodle tails moving dramatically as she took a deep breath, as if steeling herself. Sonny thought that sometimes she seemed like such a grown-up tiny child. “I think I’m ready, Uncle Luki.”

He chuckled, smiled a gentle smile Sonny had never seen him give anyone else, and shook his head. “Well, I’m not ready, Jade,” he said. “But we’ll do the best we can.” The smile faded, and he glanced at Sonny, then turned to gaze for a second toward the yellow-white California sunlight sparkling off the pool, perhaps gathering courage, or logic and comfort for a five-year-old mind and heart.

“Jade,” he said, looking back at the little girl’s wide-eyed face. “You remember when you came to visit Uncle Sonny and me last year? And you wanted to see Bear?”

She nodded, slow and solemn, and Sonny thought his heart might already be breaking, even if hers wasn’t.

“And I told you then that Bear had died, and I showed you where we buried him, and you planted flowers there for him, right?”

Her voice a thin whisper, Jade said, “You said he couldn’t come back. He wasn’t sleeping, he just wasn’t alive anymore. You said he could never come back.”

Luki nodded, and looking at the lines gathering around his eyes, Sonny once again thought his own heart was splitting. But before Luki could speak, Jade spoke again.

“He was an old man dog, you said! That’s why he had to die! But my daddy isn’t an old man! My mommy’s pretty, and she has my baby brother in her tummy! What about my baby brother?” She seemed angry now, lashing out at Luki. Stupidly, Sonny wanted to rush over and protect his husband from her, especially when he saw the small

“No,” Luki finally said. “No, Jade, they didn’t die because they were old, like Bear. Daddy had an accident and died, and Mommy had a different kind of accident and died too, and when she died, your baby brother died, because he couldn’t live outside her tummy yet.”

If Sonny expected either Luki or Jade to break down in tears once those facts were stated, he was wrong. They looked at each other, quite soberly, and Jade asked, just as if double-checking her facts, “They can’t ever come back?”

“No,” Luki confirmed. “They died. They aren’t alive anymore, and they can never come back.”

Jade nodded. “Oh,” she said.

After a moment, Jade more or less collapsed against Luki’s chest, and his strong arm encircled her as he started to rock the chair in a gentle motion. The shadows outside had grown quite a bit longer before either of them stirred. Jade pushed up into a sitting position, and Luki stopped rocking, looking at her expectantly.

“I’m tired, Uncle Luki. I want to go take my nap.”

“That’s a good idea, little girl that I love. But you didn’t eat anything since your cereal this morning. How about if you have a cup of milk and a cookie before you go to sleep?”



“Not hungry.”

“Yeah, but you know, Uncle Sonny gets really worried about people when they don’t eat.” 

Sonny’s brows shot up, and he made sure Luki caught his oh-no-you-didn’t look.

“Oh, fine,” Jade said, and Sonny was quite sure there was an eye roll attached. She hopped down from Luki’s lap and waited for him. She took his hand once he was standing, but it was clear she wasn’t going anywhere until Sonny was ready too. She took his hand as well and led them to the kitchen where she drank her milk and ate her cookie, swinging her legs from her chair.

“Those cookies,” she said, on her way to her room for a nap. “My mommy made them. My mommy always makes really good cookies.”

So, Luki and Sonny are transformed into a very special kind of uncle, dubbed by Jade, her “daddy-uncles.” And they reap a whole new kind of reward as well. Consider:

Later, while Sonny and Jade lay on the floor in front of the fire, and Sonny read Merry Christmas, Mr. Snowman! over and over, Luki paced. He stopped occasionally to look out the window, and just as the sky began to lighten he saw that snow had begun to fall, big flakes touching down soft as feathers to cover the lumpy, frozen ground near the house.
Luki turned around to share the wonder of snow with his family, but they had at last fallen asleep stretched flat on the floor on their stomachs—Jade because of her injuries and Sonny because of his aching back. Luki shook his head and smiled, surprised at how much he loved them even though he knew. He threw some wood on the fire and banked it and fetched a light but warm down comforter and a pillow from the bedroom. Laying himself down next to them, he covered them all three, let his head fall to the pillow, and found first peace, and then sleep.

Vastine, again, thanks for letting me share my crazy thoughts. And the rest of you, thanks for reading through them. I hope you’ve enjoyed my treatise on the beauty of uncles. (The really neat thing is, we all get to be a little bit uncle-like in someone’s life.)

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Thank you, Lou!

I enjoyed reliving scenes from some of the existing Sonny and Luki saga, as well as a sneak peak into the upcoming Because of Jade. I just have a wonderful feeling that the boys are going to make fabulous uncles! 

Speaking of uncles. For you guys out there, the fans of Ms. Sylvre's---because it's Easter and because Easter is, to so many of us, about family, here's what I'd like. 
Tell me about your uncles. Do you have a favorite uncle? And---hey---as, like Lou says, we all get to be uncles in some way or other, what about a favorite aunt? If you are the aunt or uncle, how about your favorite niece or nephew? We'd love to hear about them. Memories past or current thoughts. 

Share your thoughts, in the comments, and win a chance at a $10.00 Amazon gift card!

Thank you, and see you all later!


Lee Todd said...

great excerpts :)
Lou is a new to me author
my Uncle Allan is a wonderful man.....even at 70 years old he still helps all his family in any way he can

Shorty Chelle said...

Happy Easter. My Uncle Michael was the best. Always smiling and uppbeat. Unfortunately we lost him last year to cancer.

Tracy George said...

Great excerpts I enjoyed reading them.
My favourite Uncle is my Uncle Neville, He is 83 and still thinks he is 30. When I was a young girl I used too go too work with him a lot in the holidays. He's a painter and decorator.
geetracy1170 (at) gmail (dot) com