Writing What I Know: The Mariachi Mystery

D.R. RansdellD.R. Ransdell lives in Tucson, Arizona where she can enjoy good swimming weather most of the year. She loves to travel, so exotic locations are often a feature in her writing. She plays the violin in a mariachi band, which led to Mariachi Murder and a mariachi protagonist named Andy Veracruz. Andy’s second adventure takes him to Greece; Island Casualty will come out in May 2014. D.R. lives with several lively cats who give her plenty of reasons to procrastinate. So far the felines have brought in plenty of dead lizards, but no dead bodies—yet.

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I’d always read that you should write what you know. That thought had been rolling around in my head for years. In the meantime, I always loved mystery novels. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise to me that when a scene for a mystery novel popped into my head, the protagonist was a mariachi player. He was performing at his regular restaurant, which meant he was standing on a small stage watching out over the rest of the room. He saw something he shouldn’t have: his boss’s wife being very friendly with one of the regular customers. He tries to put the image out of his head, but it’s too late. Instead of ignoring the information, he keeps thinking about it. And he keeps thinking about Yiolanda. No wonder he can’t stay out of trouble!

Island CasualtyAndy’s habits of observation are one set of factors I was able to make use of in Mariachi Murder. Mariachi players have an occupational hazard in that customers tend to ask for the same songs. I know this for a fact. I’ve played in a mariachi for the last twenty-some years. When customers ask for “El rey” or “Guantanamera,” I don’t always manage to concentrate. Instead my fingers keep playing while my mind drifts. I might be thinking about the cute guy who walked in. I might notice the waiter flirting with the hostess. I might be thinking, “Wow, that shrimp dinner looks pretty tasty.”

Making my protagonist a musician gave me interesting advantages. Musicians are often night owls. They finish playing late at night and then they can’t sleep right away because they’re too revved up. This gives them another great opportunity to observe things—often things they shouldn’t observe. And it makes them poor candidates for dating. This is one of Andy’s many issues. His would-be girlfriend gets irritated that he’s always busy at night. She might like to go on a real date, but he’s tied up in the music business.

For Andy this is the perfect excuse. He doesn’t want a serious girlfriend, so he uses his music schedule as an excuse. He always has someplace he has to be, so he can’t go to the romantic comedy or the dance or the dinner. Instead he’s always performing music. There’s a reason for this. No matter what other choices are available, he’d rather be playing.

This is exactly the same for me. I used to ask for nights off to attend this social function or that concert, but inevitably I would spend the whole evening wondering how things were going back at the restaurant. Finally I got smart enough to realize that the Mariachi Murderbest drama, the best show, the best entertainment was always created by what we did ourselves on stage. That doesn’t mean we were terrific musicians. It simply means that there was always a lot going on at the restaurant. Liaisons were established. Deals were made. Lovers were disappointed. It was fascinating.

When I give talks about the novel, interesting questions come up. Why make my protagonist a guy? Because in the groups I’ve played with, it’s usually me against four of them. After years of playing mariachi music, I feel that I have a handle on how my music buddies think. They think about women, mostly. They think about beautiful women especially. This makes them vulnerable.

That’s not at all good for them, but it’s perfect for murder mysteries. In fact my buddies give me so much material without even trying to that there’s no way I can ever keep up. Better yet, even though I warn them I’m a writer, they keep sharing their exploits. I couldn’t ask for a richer writing environment. No wonder I can’t always concentrate on the music!

For more about Mariachi Murder, please visit: http://www.dr-ransdell.com



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