January 19, 2014

Watch Out for the Musicians and Arizona Author D.R. Ransdell

Readers have asked how I got started writing Mariachi Murder.  The truth is that I didn’t sit down and decide to write a novel about a mariachi player who gets involved in a murder story. Andy came to me while I was doing something mundane—painting the house. Have you noticed? When you paint the house yourself, it’s very big. When you’re trying to find a place to put all your stuff, it’s very small. Those are the laws of physics! 

Perhaps because I was bored with painting (this was the second coat), the first scene of the novel came to me. Andy saw something. Something maybe he shouldn’t have. That’s the thing with mariachi players. They don’t play from written music. Everything is by memory. When I started playing in a mariachi myself, I found this situation extremely challenging. But there’s a pay-off. While we’re performing, we have plenty of time to look around.

Naturally we spend a lot of time interacting with the customers who come to hear us play or the participants at a party.  But we also have plenty of time to notice things. We can tell if someone starts crying when we play “Amor eterno,” “Eternal Love.” Usually that means they just lost someone important. We can tell if they’re celebrating a birthday because they ask for “Las maƱanitas,” the traditional Mexican birthday song.

But we also notice other stuff. Couples who are unhappy with one another. Women who are bored. Men who are looking around for something else. Such people would be surprised that we’re paying attention to them because they aren’t paying the slightest amount of attention to us. Their mistake.

For my companions, these observations are merely a source of gossip. Did you see the lady who always comes in with her husband come in with that other guy? Did you notice that man with the wedding ring flirting with those young girls? Because the musicians get tired of playing the same request songs over and over, they’re happy to have something new to focus on.

For me it’s a bit different. It’s research. On good nights, I used to get home from the restaurant and write notes about what I saw. I didn’t have a mystery series planned at that time. I didn’t have anything planned. I just knew I might be able to use the information later on. So when the scene with Andy came to me while I was painting, I wasn’t surprised, but I was ready to take action. I took a break, sat down, and wrote out the whole first chapter. (Later that became a second chapter, but that’s a different story.) I vowed to write daily until I finished.

With rare exception, I did just that. But the more I wrote about Andy, the more I drew on my own experiences, not of murder victims, but of what it’s like to play in a music group night after night, noticing things whether you want to or not. For a mystery writer, there could hardly be a better environment.

After Mariachi Murder, Andy’s going to wish he weren’t so observant. He might even have to turn to classical music to keep out of trouble!

So, when you go to hear mariachi music, just remember to watch out for the musicians. They’ll be watching you.    

As a Thank-You for stopping by, D.R. Ransdell offers a Mariachi CD...comment for your chance to win! 

Youtube: http://goo.gl/2Ks05F   


  1. Hi, DR,
    Your post was fantastic. Living in NJ, we don't have much of a chance to hear real mariachi music. Playing in a mariachi band in AZ must be a wonderful accompaniment to writing. Your books about Andy sound great...I'll have to check them out!

  2. What a great way to people watch and gather ideas for your writing. Plus, you get to play music.

    Best wishes,

  3. I'm also from Arizona, and believe me when I say I'll be keeping an eye on Mariachi players from now on. :) Terrific post and this sounds like a wonderful story.
    Marja McGraw

  4. Like you, I often get ideas for writing when I'm doing mundane chores. A mariachi band player is a great idea for a detective! Congrats.

  5. We also have this music here in the San Diego area...being so close to the border. I would love to have a CD to play whenever I wanted. Thanks for the opportunity to win one. Would love to read your story as I grew up in AZ and went to college there.

  6. Excellent source for your mysteries! What a fun post!

  7. Love it. And the culprits don't even suspect you're watching. Got to check out the book.

  8. A few of the places we regularly visit for Mexican food have Mariachi bands on weekend nights. Usually we ask them to not play at our table so we can talk and enjoy them from a distance. But sometimes I'll ask them to play something THEY enjoy playing, just to give them a break from having to play the "Frito-bandito" song yet again! We've been gifted with some very expressive and beautiful music that way. It make the food taste better to hear authentic music while you eat and drink. And mariachi music is so very expressive of emotions, be they happy, sad, in love, or mourning the loss of love.

    I've never been to Arizona. My Scottish father used to love to vacation there. He'd wear a cowboy had and boots and pretend he was the star in the Zane Grey books he used to read when he was a kid.

  9. Love the way you describe turning people watching into stories. People watching is such a necessary part of writing. I used to live in Arizona, for 8 years, and wish to add some of those characters I witnessed in somr of my stories. However, I believe I should spend more time in wonderful Arizona just renewing my knowledge, also re-learning Spanish. Very nice post!

  10. Many thanks for your kind comments! Indeed, it IS fun to play in a group that allows me to work on writing at the same time I'm playing! Playing music is a little like teaching--every time you think you've seen everything, you see something more unusual such as the time we started playing for a wedding mass and wound up playing for a baptism at the same time! It's also amusing so many of you have connections to Arizona!

  11. Good morning. Wonderful post. I am also from AZ. Grew up in Phx and now live rurally outside of Kingman. No mariachi players in this town.

  12. Your book sounds interesting.
    I usually hear mariachi musica when I go to certain Mexican food restaurants here in Arizona. A lot of it can be heard on Cinco de Mayo

  13. Thanks, Penny! It's so cool that so many people have ties to Arizona! I really enjoy living here. It beats that Polar Vortex (where I was when visiting family last month) all to pieces!

  14. I love the title, where can I get this book? I live in Virginia so I can't probably just run to a bookstore

  15. Sabrina, thanks for asking! The book is available from Amazon, Alibris, etc. Your local bookstore could probably order it. I think my website page gives all the online links:


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