Friday, December 14, 2012

Desperate Writer, Desperate Writing

I'm in the final stages of the final edits of my next book. I've been working over the galleys, giving them the third degree. I add a word here or there, delete others, wipe out commas and italics, injectt a phrase or even a sentence. I forcibly relocate a paragraph and banish a word that's repeated at least once too often. The process sounds so physical, so violent, but appropriate for a book that is tagged "noir." It's been a bloody struggle to get it right, to strain to hit that high note that sits in my head but never quite makes it to the page. This is what writing eventually is, what it always was and always will be. I thought I finished this book a year ago. Ha! And I know that even after it's published I will edit on the fly as I read a passage at a signing. It never stops. I said I was on the "final" edits. Obviously, not. 

The tension mounts because I'm facing a deadline. If we want this book out when the flowers return to Colorado, I need to get on it, like "yesterday" as the editor-in-chief said. I'm a desperate writer stitching together a dark tale about a desperado, a character born on the streets of my neighborhood in North Denver at a time when everything is changing. More tension. Do I understand the changes - at least enough so that my character can respond in a meaningful way?

One thing that is resolved is the cover. The folks at Arte Público found what I think is a perfect image in the work of the renowned Chicano artist Adan Hernández. The piece is entitled "La Sad Girl." If you do nothing else today, go to the artist's link and look at samples of his work. Someone's already said that La Sad Girl is "too noir." I take that as a compliment, but then, can something be "too" noir?

Desperado: A Mile High Noir (Arte Publico Press, March 31, 2013), is a return for me to novel-length crime fiction after a lengthy interlude. My last mystery book was published in 2003. That was Brown-on-Brown (University of New Mexico Press), the final installment of the Luis Móntez saga. I've published crime and detective short fiction since 2003 (and one non-crime novel), but I haven't luxuriated in the book-length caper for many years. 

This book feels right, like this is where I belong. I used to joke that whenever I tried to write non-mystery fiction, I always ended up killing someone by page 50, so why even try to do anything else? I've got to have the hardened, cynical personalities; the lost, scarred survivor who needs to find hope; the tricky plot and unexpected twists. I need an unlikely hero or heroine, and a bitter soul who may rise to the occasion because, well, just because. I need bad guys, really bad people, crooks, thieves, double-crossers, and jaded cops.And I need it all in a world that exists down the street, across the alley, in my 
favorite bar. 

The spark for Desperado came from Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery (Arte Público Press, 2009), a ground-breaking collection of short crime fiction edited by Sarah Cortez and Liz Martínez. My contribution to Hit List was The Skull of Pancho Villa, a story that Publishers Weekly called "a terse, twisty tale." I realized there was much more to say about the main character in the story, Gus Corral, and his family and friends; they had more than one story to tell. The Skull of Pancho Villa grew into Desperado: A Mile High Noir.

A few writers have read the book and given me their blurbs. I'll repeat them here without further comment, except to say that I am extremely grateful for the support I get from fellow writers, readers, and my family. I'll begin with a short review from Michael Nava, the award-winning author of the immensely popular Henry Rios series (and who is also working on a new book after a long absence.)

Manuel Ramos has taken the best elements of classic noir -- the loser anti-hero, urban grittiness, thuggish cops and femme fatales, double and triple crosses -- and updated them for the age of Obama. Gus Corral is a zero, a smart but underachieving Chicano who has missed the brass ring of life. He has been reduced to working in his ex-wife's secondhand shop in the gentrifying Denver neighborhood where he grew up, when Artie Baca, his high school running buddy turned successful realtor, turns up looking for Gus's help to buy off an extortionist. Old ties and the promise of a thousand dollar pay-off get Gus to agree to Artie's plea for help. ... What follows is a ride through the underside of the American Dream .... Money, sex and greed figure prominently in the story but so do class tensions, barrio culture and a multicultural milieu. Ramos handles all of these elements with a deft hand that keeps the story moving and, while avoiding any overt messaging, creates an up-to-the-minute portrait of the new America. I loved this book! 
Michael Nava

Manuel Ramos' brilliant and gripping Desperado features unforgettable characters, a propulsive plot, and the sharpest delineation of the life and geography of north Denver I have ever read. Desperado fully engages the reader from the first page, and I heartily recommend it. 
Diane Mott Davidson, New York Times bestselling author of the Goldy the caterer series

Manuel Ramos’ Gus Corral is a hard luck individual for whom life hasn’t quite panned out like he planned.  But when an old friend is murdered, Gus finds himself on unfamiliar ground where danger comes at him hot and heavy.  He just might get to the truth – if he doesn’t get his head bashed in first.  Desperado: A Mile High Noir is a terrific read.

Gary Phillips, author of Warlord of Willow Ridge

Manuel Ramos captures Denver’s Latino North Side in the same intense way that Walter Mosley depicts black L.A. It’s all here in a gripping dark mystery: the gritty landscape, the racial tension, the conflict between native and newcomer, the violence and gangs and street loyalties as strong as family ties. No outsider could write about North Denver with such feeling and understanding. In Desperado: Mile High Noir, Manuel Ramos creates a startling novel.  
Sandra Dallas, New York Times best-selling author



Alana Noel Voth said...

Very excited to get my hands on this book. Can't wait to say I know you. XO.

P.S. Really appreciate this post, your mindset as you attack edits.

Manuel Ramos said...

Thanks, Alana. Every writer is different, of course, but then we do all have a few things in common. Wishing you the best with your writing and teaching.

Melinda Palacio said...

Looks great!

Adrian said...

That's great, congratulations! I've never read you work, but this novel sounds interesting. I will pick up the e-book version if it is available. -Adrian

Manuel Ramos said...

Thanks, Melinda and Adrian. The book can be ordered but it won't be available until March, 2013.

Anonymous said...

An enjoyable meta-writing piece, Ramos.

Best of luck with sating your desperation,