I am excited to be participating to this #OwnVoices book tour with so many amazing bloggers. OwnVoices is a chance to showcase authors that write about characters with whom they share a trait that makes them a minority. And even though that is the core point of this theme, for my post I chose a slightly different angle, choosing an indie author who has very little in common with the chosen character, but that still managed to portray him in such a realistic and human way, it shows how authors should not shy away from writing about characters belonging to minorities they are not a part of, if of course it is done with tact, awareness and after extensive research.
This author was interviewed by Sophie at Beware of the Reader (full interview here), who graciously let me use some quotes from the interview to describe this author’s writing process when it comes to getting into the shoes of her characters when they are so different than her.
So, without further ado, let’s reveal who the author is, and which character I’m talking about.
Drum roll, please…
Suanne Laqueur, author of An Exaltation of Larks and A Charm of Finches, and creator of the marvel that is the character of Javier Gil deSoto, aka Javier Landes.
Now, for those of you who don’t know Javier and have not read these books (which you totally should, by the way), let me give you a quick description of the guy: of Dominican origin, Jav starts the story living in Corona with his family, when soon he discovers a possible attraction towards the same sex too, starting a chain reaction of events which will see him alone at a young age and having to make hard choices to survive, becoming a male escort and crippled by his past experience in the discovery of his own feelings. Through heartache, grief, friendship, loss, reconciliation, his passion and talent for writing, brotherhood, family and finally love, his journey is one of pain and discovery, of slow growth into his own skin.
Jav represents so many different minorities, from his being Latino to his sexual orientation, to his profession as a male escort for many years. On top of that, you would believe that his gender too would prove a first obstacle for a female author to portray him in a realistic manner. And yet, Javier is one of most flawlessly written characters I’ve ever read. The author herself talked about the experience of writing from a male POV through different male characters in her interview at Beware of the Reader:
“I have no idea why writing from the male POV comes so much easier to me. When I decided to make TMIL [The Man I Love] from Erik’s perspective, I wasn’t sure I could do it. But within weeks, I’d found his voice and it felt extremely instinctive and natural and right to me. Same with Alex and Jav and Stef and Geno, while writing from Daisy’s or Val’s or Deane’s POV took a lot more conscious effort. I like my female characters, but they are always more challenging for me. I have no idea why.”
The reason why I chose this particular character over the myriad of diverse personalities in the book world is also because of his journey. At the beginning of An Exaltation of Larks, Jav is a teenager, while at the end of a Charm of Finches he is well into his forties, if I am not mistaken. The beauty of his character and these two books, in my opinion, lies in the honor we are granted as readers to be able to follow his life for such a long amount of time, seeing him going through so many phases, all the ugly and the happy, the set-backs and the coming of ages, the desperate moments and the golden moments of peace, intimacy, long lost friendship and the awareness of everything a character had to go through once he finally reaches a secure shore.
In the first book, Laqueur builds the character of Javier like a majestic, broken construction of confusion, strength, insecurities and determination. So masterful in certain regards, and yet so genuine and at times naïve when it comes to exploring new feelings. The single fact that even after everything, he was still able to put himself out there and pursue happiness, despite all the conflict surrounding the situation is a testament to his resilience and his core desire of finding that one person to be loved by.
In the second book, the author took one step further, granting him some well-earned and long-awaited happiness in the shape of a kind soul and therapist named Steffen. A new challenge arose with the beginning of their relationship, which was the portrayal of a relationship between two man:
“In the same way, I started writing Jav and Stef together with the same trepidation—“I’m not going to get this right, I have no idea what I’m doing or what they’re doing, this is going to be awful.” I read MM books and noticed a lot of them tend to fetishize the sex, which I wanted to avoid. I didn’t want to stuff them into behavior because “that’s what a gay man would do.” First of all, these were two bisexual men and second, I knew them better than anyone else. I just needed to let them be themselves.
So I guess that’s the trick: know your characters well enough that no matter the situation or scenario you come up with, you know how they’re going to act and react.”
Jav and Stef’s relationship is such a special one, and Laqueur took the time to describe not just the key moments of it, the firsts, the step forwards, the set backs, but also the ordinary, the everyday. This is what makes characters come to life, when an author lets us peek into their normal, the habits, the quirks, the lazy nights and the good night texts.
I think what I found absolutely amazing about the portrayal that this author did of everything that makes Javier’s diverse is that she went yards beyond the skin-deep mention of his identities. She didn’t just mention his Dominican origins, she threw me into his family, she got me drunk on mamajuana, and had me cursing machismo, and asking myself qué lo qué? She didn’t just tell me that Javier was struggling with his sexuality, she had him experiment and be punished for it, had him renege and ignore his feelings, fall in love and grief loss. Every hard choice, accepting a job, taking the money, giving himself and love another chance… everything was a sum of everything he was and everything he had gone through. No part of his identity was the sole driving force of his character, but rather every single diverse aspect of him just made him into the amazingly complex work of art that a human being is.
To conclude this, I wanted to quote a bit of my review for An Exaltaion of Larks which I think sums up the complexity of this character and these books in general:
An Exaltation of Larks is life, at its rawest, ugliest and happiest. It’s joy, companionship, utter desperation and all the little things that make our days what they are. It’s the details and the huge feelings that accompany us through decades of our lives. It’s the unresolved question in us.
I think this is one of the things I loved the most. The nuances, the multiple shades of love portrayed in this book, and the confusion that was an innate part of some characters. Especially of my favorite character: Jav. His existence is characterized by this confusion regarding his sexuality, but honestly it feels reductive to only talk about sexuality. Jav is such a complex character. A little broken, a little lost, with such a huge heart that he’s so afraid of opening, with good reasons. His struggle tore him apart, ate at him, but it was his life so you could also see the resignation and the moments of “let’s risk it”, “let’s take this chance.” It was inebriating to see him going for what he wanted and, even knowing that things sometimes couldn’t be, it left me with some bittersweet taste in my mouth, of the good kind, when things turned out they way they did. As I said, it’s life.
Now don’t forget to step by the other blogs to see which #OwnVoices they featured!
|October 14||COBB (Tiffany Reisz)||Guest Post|
|October 15||Beware Of The Reader||Morgan from Birthday by Meredith Russo|
|October 16||Foxy Blogs (Susan Fanetti)||Guest Post|
|October 17||Book Babes Unite||The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang|
|October 18||COBB (Helena Hunting)||Guest Post|
|October 21||Red Hot Ink||Javier from An Exaltation of Larks by Suanne Laqueur|
|October 22||COBB (Debra Anastasia)||Guest Post|
|October 23||Foxy Blogs||The Bride Test by Helen Hoang|
|October 24||COBB||To All the Boys I Loved Before by Jenny Han|