by Sandra Murphy
This week we have a review of Mariachi Murder by D.R. Ransdell along with a fun interview with this Oak Tree Press author. Details at the end of this post on how to win a copy of the book.
Mariachi Murder by D. R. Ransdell
Review by Sandra Murphy
Know anything about mariachi music? You don’t have to for this book to be enjoyable. Andy loves to play mariachi music and he’s good at it. He’s got a regular gig, working for Rolando Diaz. His life is simple, uncomplicated until Roland asks him to keep an eye on Yiolanda. She’s his younger, stunningly beautiful wife who has extra-curricular friends and that makes for an awkward situation. How do you tell the boss his wife is stepping out without losing your job in the process?
Things get even trickier when the current boyfriend is found dead. Somehow, his widow is not all that upset about it. Rolando is in Mexico, visiting his sister so he’s out as a suspect—or is he? There’s Yiolanda herself, a volatile personality. There are the two guys who show up at the restaurant—they scared Yiolanda pretty badly.
Andy ends up taking a little trip to Vegas to check up on Yiolanda’s visit to her sickly mother only to find Mom in fine shape and with no idea Yiolanda is even in Nevada. And there’s another dead body, found just like the one back home. What the heck is going on?
Andy’s look-alike brother can fill in for him with the band when he needs to investigate so that’s a big help. When the two men show up again and identify themselves as cops, Yiolanda is taken to the station for further questioning—except they weren’t cops and there was no trip to the station. How is Andy going to break that news to Rolando?
There’s a lot of information about mariachi bands but it’s seamlessly woven into the storyline so no information dumps to distract from the story itself. The mystery is a good one and although not all of the characters are likable, most are, especially Andy. There are Spanish phrases but they are easily translated even if you don’t know the language. This is a murder mystery first, a music lesson second and a good chance to learn something new overall. I hope it’s just the first in a series—I’d like to see Andy again.
Interview with D.R. Ransdell:
Lorie: How long have you been writing?
D.R.: Since I can remember! But I’ve been trying to write daily since Jan 2000.
Lorie: When did your first novel come out?
Lorie: What was it called?
D.R.: Amirosian Nights. The novel tracks the adventures of a mariachi player who goes to Greece for a summer vacation, gets hooked up with a bouzouki group, and spends the rest of the summer learning Greek songs.
Lorie: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
D.R.: The above book was women’s fiction. In both Amirosian Nights and my new novel, Mariachi Murder, I’ve used my first-hand knowledge of mariachi playing.
Lorie: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
D.R.: I started playing with a mariachi group in Tucson two months after I’d moved there. This was wonderful for me because it was different from classical music, it gave me the chance to speak Spanish, and it was the window on a different world. The protagonist for my murder mystery series came out of those experiences. Mariachi Murder takes place in Southern California because a lot of professional mariachi groups work there. Also, I knew that Andy would be moving soon.
Lorie: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
D.R.: I try to write at the day’s first opportunity. On days I’m teaching, that might not be until 3 p.m. On days that I can choose my own schedule, I write as soon as the coffee kicks in. Otherwise, somehow, the day might just get away from me.
Lorie: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
D.R.: I don’t start with an outline as a general rule. Instead, I get the idea for a scene and then just start writing. After a few days’ writing, though, then I DO try to outline. I want to get a general sense of things. I don’t generally stick to the outline. It becomes a guideline of sorts, but I never feel married to it. The characters really do take over when I’m writing. Sometimes I ask myself: what would happen next?
Lorie: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
D.R.: 10 a.m. to 12 would be good. But there’s a lot more to writing than writing. So, I would write in the morning, and then in the evening I would spend another couple of hours editing. That’s hard work for me. I write very quickly, but then I have to go back and change everything! It’s a time-consuming process, but it seems to be what works.
Lorie: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
D.R.: I’d almost given up! I had to keep thinking about people like John Grisham, whose first book got turned down a bunch of times, or Jack Canfield. He and his partner for the Chicken Soup series got turned down something like 114 times. And now look at them!!!
Lorie: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
D.R.: When I did a reading for Amirosian Nights in Bloomington, Illinois (close to where I grew up), my old fifth grade teacher showed up to the reading! When I was in 7th grade, I always thought she was OLD. When she came to the reading, she looked just the same! But I was quite flattered that she’d come to hear me.
Lorie: How did you end up deciding to incorporate mariachi music in this book?
D.R.: For 20 years, I played 4-5 nights a week. The last few years I’ve played less than that (the economy!–now we don’t have a steady job but instead play parties here and there)
Lorie: Future writing goals?
D.R.: Right now I’m working on a new Andy Veracruz mystery. I keep thinking I’m done–and then I have to edit again.
Lorie: Writing heroes?
D.R.: Tolkien is my biggest hero. The world he created is alive in my mind. I’ve read the whole LOTR series at least five times. There are a lot of other authors I like too, but Tolkien is the only one I’ve read so often. My ultimate fantasy would be creating a fantasy myself.
Lorie: What kind of research do you do?
D.R.: I travel a LOT, and that winds up in my books. I think it’s great fun to go to new countries. I’m also interested in language learning. I have a degree to teach Spanish, but since I have Italian relatives, I’ve also working on Italian. I love accents and interesting tidbits about languages. My characters are often foreign. In fact, my next Andy Veracruz mystery takes place in Greece!
Lorie: What do you read?
D.R.: Lately I’ve been reading Murakami. His 1Q84 was fabulous. He also has an interesting biography about the writing life, What We Talk about When We Talk about Running. For mysteries my current favorite is Robert Crais.
Lorie: Favorite TV or movies?
D.R.: I love Person of Interest. I love the idea that all around us, things are happening that we don’t even know about. I love The Mentalist too, but that has more to do with the cute blond than it does the plots!
Lorie: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
D.R.: Years ago I read some advice from Lawrence Block. He said that if you wanted to write a good mystery, you needed to read about 500 first. I’m not sure if I’ve made it to 500, but after I read his advice, I started keeping notes on what I liked about various mysteries. This process has been quite useful.
Lorie: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?
D.R.: E-books are here to stay. They’re very tidy!
Lorie: Do you read e-books yourself?
D.R.: Not yet–but now I have a Kindle. I just don’t have space for enough books. My bookshelves are already full! So having e-books is attractive, even though it’s difficult for me to adapt.
Lorie: Anything you would like to add?
D.R.: One of the keys to writing is being a good observer. And making use of interesting friends. Those people you know who love to talk? Let them talk. You might get some story ideas out of them.
Lorie: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
D.R.: I don’t look Hispanic (I’m not, although I’m half-Italian), so people are always surprised to find out that I play in a mariachi band and speak decent Spanish. What happened is that I went down to Mexico to spend a year working on my Spanish. But I got a job teaching English, fell in love with Durango, and stayed there for 5 years. I loved being in Mexico. Ultimately, the economy chased me back to the States.
Lorie: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Lorie: How do you compete in an overcrowded market?
D.R.: I pray that no other mariachi players start writing murder mysteries! I also try to attract readers by incorporating multi-cultural aspects to my books. I think readers like to learn a little bit when they’re reading. In Mariachi Murder, Andy explains some aspects of mariachi playing that readers wouldn’t necessarily know. He doesn’t go on and on about it, but his expertise gives him an extra flair.
And in terms of marketing, to create a little press, I’ve been working on videos. A couple of friends collaborated on a book trailer with me.
Since I was heading for Europe when the book came out, I asked my brother to help me do a promotional video in Orvieto, Italy:
Finally, since several readers have already been bugging me about when the next book might come out, I created a blog for my character so that people could read about him in the meantime. Andy’s blog: http://www.drransdellmysteries.com/1/post/2013/07/none-of-my-business-notes-from-a-nosy-musician.html
It’s true–Andy is a nosy musician. It gets him intro trouble all the time!
To enter to win a copy of Mariachi Murder, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Mariachi,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 10, 2013. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories, including more fashion related mystery reviews & giveaways in this very issue, in our mystery section.