by Diana Hockley
& E. Felder (ELF)
This week we have an interview with mystery author Melissa Bourbon & a review of two of her books–one from each of her series–Bare-Naked Lola and A Fitting End. At the end of this post are details on how to win copies of the first 2 books in the Lola series.
Bare-Naked Lola by Melissa Bourbon
Review By Diana Hockley
Melissa Bourbon Ramirez has treated the reader to a hilarious romp in this mystery because, despite the murderous subject matter, Ms. Bourbon Ramirez’ characters are delightfully entertaining.
Lola, a good Latina daughter of a large caring family, is determined to become a good detective and counts on her boss, the enigmatic Manny, to teach her. As well as detecting, she helps out at her family’s restaurant and figures ways to entice the delectable Jack into her bed. Unfortunately, Jack has an unstable ex-wife, Sarah, who frequently abandons her medication and chases after Jack, which somewhat dampens Lola’s spirits.
The novel opens with Lola being co-opted to go incognito with the members of the Royals Courtside Dancers, who support Sacramento’s basketball team. Riven from limb to limb with unaccustomed exercise, Lola finds herself forced to go undercover–strike the word “cover” from that–in a nudist colony to find a murderer. Attempting to keep herself clothed, dodging the well meant efforts of her loving family to assist and trying to keep her boyfriend, Jack from finding out what she is up to, takes all of Lola’s ingenuity.
I think one could describe Bare-Naked Lola as a “cozy” mystery, probably because of the warm, easy way in which it is written. Ms Bourbon Ramirez has done a great job of fleshing out her colorful characters, who are likeable and great fun. The pacing of the plot is excellent in this well-presented story.
A delight to read and highly recommended.
Interview With Melissa Bourbon Ramirez:
Diana: Did you start writing from a young age and are you a dedicated reader?
Melissa: I taught middle school in Roseville, CA and that’s when I began writing in earnest. It was before the big YA craze, so there wasn’t as much available to kids. I still love that book (about time travel and Ellis Island!), but I began having my own kids and tabled the project.
I’m still a dedicated reader, but I do find it harder to get lost in a book these days. It’s difficult to turn off the internal editor and just get sucked away in a story. But I love reading, great stories, and characters I can root for.
Diana: What or where did you find your inspiration for the plot?
Melissa: The first Lola Cruz mystery came after my last child was born. I wanted to write for adults, and Lola was the character that came into my head. I’m usually inspired by bits of news and current events. Pieces come together and a plot is formed!
Diana: How do you plan your books and for how long before you actually start writing?
Melissa: It really depends. I’m on much tighter deadlines these days, so I don’t have as much time to write each novel. I try to brainstorm a full plot (my kids and husband are a great help with this!) and write a synopsis before I start. That becomes the bones of the story. From there, I fill in details as I write. That part comes quite organically.
Diana: What research do you do for your novels?
Melissa: I went to visit a nudist resort for Bare-Naked Lola! Depends on the novel. Some books require more research than others, but the Internet is amazing and I love Google.
Diana: Do you have a schedule for writing?
Melissa: I try to balance my time between my writing contracts and my job as Marketing Director for Entangled Publishing. Summer is definitely more challenging, but during the school year, I take my kids to school, handle urgent work issues, write for several hours, do more Entangled work, then go pick up the kids. If there’s time, I write more in the evening.
That’s in a perfect world, of course. Often it doesn’t actually end up that way!
Diana: Do you set yourself a goal of so many words per day?
Melissa: Ha! See above. I set them, but I don’t often reach them. I am a fits and bursts kind of person, so I will write, write, write and make huge headway, then have days when I don’t write at all.
Diana: How do you go about planning your novels?
Melissa: Like I said, my husband and kids are great helps with plotting. With the Lola Cruz novels, I start with who is going to be murdered and why, then I develop potential suspects. Once I have that information, I can weave each of these plot threads into the discovery as the story unfolds. It’s the same process with my Magical Dressmaking mysteries.
Diana: How do you cope with writer’s block?
Melissa: I have learned to take breaks, even if I can’t afford them! I walk, do yoga, go to Jazzercise (a recent development that I’m really loving!), read, do chores, meet with my critique group.
Diana: Do you have a mentor–someone you can ring up and bleat too if necessary?
Melissa: Good question! I have people I admire and people who’ve been helpful along my journey. At this point, the women in my critique group, as well as some amazing friends in the writing community, are my greatest support. We text, message, email, and call each other all the time.
Diana: Does someone else check you plot as you go along, or do you keep it a secret until you have finished the first draft? Or finished altogether?
Melissa: I definitely work through plot issues with my critique group. I walk with a fellow writer several times a week and these become mini plot sessions!
Diana: How do you keep track of the characters and what is happening at any given time in the story?
Melissa: I use the comment/note feature of Track Changes, actually. I also have a notebook with information and collage pages to keep track of things. I like to ‘cast’ my books. I pick who I’d like to play my characters in the TV or movie version. That really helps me stay true to my characters.
Diana: If you had a choice–and you may well have–what time of the day do you like to write?
Melissa: Morning. And all day. And into the evening. If I had to choose, it would be morning.
Diana: What are the titles of your other books?
Melissa: In the Lola Cruz Mystery series: Living the Vida Lola, Hasta la Vista, Lola!, Bare-Naked Lola, The Lola Cruz Christmas Story (a holiday novella). In the Magical Dressmaking Mystery Series: Pleating for Mercy, A Fitting End, Deadly Patterns (coming in October). I’m contracted for several more in each series. Also coming up are: Deceiving the Witch Next Door (July), and Sacrifice of Passion (June). These are both shorter romances and super fun!
Diana: Do you have a favorite book-signing or fan mail story which you would like to share?
Melissa: I don’t think I’ve ever had a signing where someone didn’t ask where the bathroom is!
Diana: Future books?
Melissa: There are several more books in each series! I’ll be very busy writing for a good long time.
Diana: What do you like to read? And do you read your own books after some time has passed and think “Oh no, I could have done that better!!!” and gnash your teeth? 🙂
Melissa: I read a lot of upmarket women’s fiction, romantic women’s fiction, and mystery. I do read some of my books after enough time is passed, and usually I’m happily surprised by how much I still love them!
Diana: What do you do other than writing?
Melissa: I spend time with my family, love shopping, yoga, reading, walking…anything but laundry! That is absolutely the bane of my existence.
Diana: Any advice for new writers?
Melissa: I subscribe to the Mark Twain school of thought: The difference between those who succeed and those who fail is that the people who succeed never gave up.
Diana: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next few years?
Melissa: I work in publishing with Entangled, and I see our company as the way of the future. We all have a vested interest in each book, and every employee earns royalties on the books they touch. We have a strong digital arm and that is growing so quickly. The digital revolution definitely represents the direction publishing is moving, although I don’t think print books are going anywhere anytime soon.
Diana: Anything you would like to add?
Melissa: Thank you so much for your time! I’m thrilled you enjoyed Bare-Naked Lola.
A Fitting End by Melissa Bourbon
Review by ELF
A Fitting End by Melissa Bourbon is a cozy mystery featuring Harlow Jane Cassidy, a fashion designer who has left the frenzied New York fashion scene to return to her roots in Bliss, Texas. The transition back to small town life has been facilitated by her great-grandmother’s bequest of the dressmaking shop ‘Buttons and Bows,’ as well as her own burgeoning magic powers that allow her to sew wishes into the beautiful creations that she makes.
The upcoming Margaret Moffette Lea pageant and ball provides a significant opportunity to design and fit appropriate period dresses for the participants, but it also inadvertently embroils Harlow in yet another case of murder. The interconnections among the town’s families and the longstanding feuds and competitions complicate the investigation that Harlow feels compelled to participate in as she tries to protect her family’s secret inheritance which stems back to their connection to the infamous Etta Place (of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fame).
Adding to the complications in her life, her apprentice Grace, daughter of the man who has become important to her heart, has suddenly expressed a desire to join the exclusive ranks of pageant participants. Harlow is going to need her sleuthing skills, help from her friends and family, plus everything bequeathed by her great grandmother, whose spirit is mysteriously still around to help guide her.
An entertaining slice of small town life with delightful references to the regional characteristics that flavor Texas life in this small town. There is a strict code of manners, including requisite hospitality despite one’s feelings towards the guest, and exquisite attire which is contrasted with the rabid competition for superiority among the townspeople, the secret affairs, and the extreme lengths employed by some to ensure there looks.
This tale of murder and the search for motives gives a taste of the intricacies of politics in a town that has inhabitants who have been present for many generations and who disdain relative newcomers, along with the added twist that many of the secrets being kept in this particular town involve magic talents. An enjoyable light read.
To enter to win a copy of the first 2 books in the series–Living the Vida Lola and Hasta la Vista, Lola!, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Lola”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 14, 2012. U.S. residents only.