Friday, October 28, 2016

From Pancho to the Postman to Mitchum to Gus. And Private Eyes and Really Bad Vatos.

Ah, 2016 ... what a long strange trip it's been. And it ain't over yet.  A few days shy of día de los muertos and it's like endless summer here in Colorado.  I won't be surprised if trick-or-treaters show up in shorts and tank tops.  The weather's not the only thing askew, as they say.  In the year of Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize and the Chicago Cubs in the World Series, shouldn't we expect the ... uh ... "unusual" from the national election?   "Winter is coming" might describe the election results if a certain demagogue pulls off his grand illusion. Speaking of, have you listened to Lila Downs' ode to the trumpster?  

On to something more pleasant.

Noir has become a popular topic of conversation. Prime example:  the recent edition of NPR's Alt.Latino program entitled Latino Noir: Private Eyes And Really Bad Vatos. That program features the writing of Carmen Amato, Ernesto Mallo, Myriam Laurini, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, and me. 

I like what program host Felix Contreras and guest Carmen Amato say about the genre (and about my books too, of course.)  For those of you wanting to expand your reading experiences, you won't go wrong if you check out any of the mentioned writers.

And if you listen to the program you not only get a good overview of what Latinos are doing with the mystery story, but also intriguing readings from works of all the authors by Washington, D.C.-based actress and performer Marisa Arbona-Ruiz.  For good measure, Contreras throws in a couple of noirish musical selections including the exceptional Moonlight (Claro de Luna) from the album Nocturne by Charlie Haden and Gonzalo Rubalcaba.  Listen up.

Another example of the emergence of Latino  noir from the shadows:  I've been asked to speak on various college campuses (most recently CSU and UCCS) about my brand of Chicano noir. For these talks I use a visual presentation that traces my writing history, but the fun part, for me, is that the slide show gives me an excuse to use pictures like this one.

Out of the Past, a 1947 classic, is one of my favorite movies -- tough guy Bob Mitchum meets his match in tough gal Jane Greer -- and as the poster says, the plot is a "high powered romance that begins with a double cross and ends in double trouble ... for a guy without a future and a girl with too much past." Man, talk about a Chicano scenario.  Makes me want to watch it tonight.  

I also use covers of books that have influenced me and countless other crime fiction authors.  First, an American masterpiece, The Postman Always Rings Twice by noir icon James M. Cain.  Provocative cover, even more provocative prose in Cain's brutal dissection of the so-called American dream, the American myth. There's a passage in this 1937 publication that reflects on anti-Mexican racism and Mexican self-hate. 

One more cover -- The Burglar by David Goodis, master creator of the down-and-out and sinking fast antihero.  Without reading a page you already know it's not going to end well for the burglar, no matter how many sultry women he shacks up with. "His code: honor.  His destiny:  evil."  Exactly. 

Eventually, my talk includes a photo of one of my high school teachers,  the covers of all of my books, and a plate of huevos rancheros.  Among other things.

I get to showcase the missing Pancho Villa skull legend and the possible connection of the grave-robbing to the Bush family (the ones from Texas), and that allows me to explain how my character Gus Corral turned into an amateur detective since he had to find the missing skull or risk the wrath of his older sister Corrine.  For more on that story, check out Chapter 5 of Desperado:  A Mile High Noir, the precursor to my latest  - My Bad:  A Mile High Noir.

You can guess that I try to entertain with my presentation. But at heart, I'm serious about all this.  Crime fiction is my vehicle for story-telling.  All I want to do is write stories that people will read.  

Here's the prologue to My Bad.

My Bad:  A Mile High Noir 
Arte Público Press, 2016
©Manuel Ramos

The big man waited at the back door of the low ugly building. He stood next to a pickup. The snow was light but it would be heavy in another hour. Grab the money and run.

The double-sized door opened and a bearded man dressed in jeans and a greasy flannel shirt walked out. A cloud of vapor floated from his mouth. “Hey, it’s cold out here,” Eugene Eccles said.

“Yeah, tell me about it. You took your sweet time about opening the damn door.”

“You are Toby King, right?”

“You expecting someone else?”

Eccles thought that Toby King did not look like a Toby King. More like a José or a Juan or a Carlos. Gonzales or Martínez, maybe. Something Mexican. But the customer was always right.

“No. It’s just that usually we load through the front, Mr. King. We don’t often use this back door. Since you said you had a bigger load . . . guess it’s okay. Hope it fits in the unit. How big is your box
of stuff?”

He peered into the truck’s empty bed.

“Uh, where’s your stuff?”

King pulled a gun from the deep pocket of his coat.

“Get back in. Number one forty-three. Now.”

Eccles led the way down the narrow hallway until they stopped at door 143.

“Open it.”

Eccles used the ring of keys hanging from his belt. The door opened with a loud grating noise.

King pushed Eccles into the small room, then smashed him on the side of the head with the gun. Eccles collapsed on the concrete floor. A red line of blood creased the side of his face. King rushed to the box in the middle of the floor. He grabbed the top flaps and tore them open. Something was wrong. The box was too light.

“Where’s the goddamn money?” he shouted at the unconscious Eccles.

King grabbed Eccles under the shoulders and dragged him to the hallway. He closed 143, found the right key on the bleeding man’s key ring and opened 144 across the hall. He pushed Eccles into 144, shut the door and locked Eccles and himself in the dark. 

He didn’t want to, but he had to wait for the lawyer. Goddamn Luis Móntez. He knew something about the money. Why else was he coming to this place? Toby King spit on the wall.

“I’ll have to kill him, too,” he whispered to the man on the floor. He hoped he’d be finished by the time the storm hit.


I'll be reading from and signing copies of My Bad at the Tattered Cover here in Denver (Colfax store) on November 3 at 7:00 p.m.  We're going to have a good time -- absolutely.  Join us for a noirish night.  If you can't attend but still want a signed copy, request an autographed book here:


Manuel Ramos is the author of several novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction books and articles. His collection of short stories, The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories, was a finalist for the 2016 Colorado Book Award. My Bad: A Mile High Noir was published by Arte Público Press in October, 2016.

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