Manuel Ramos Interviewed

Manuel Ramos

The Manuel Ramos Interview
By Steven Torres

This interview is in the latest issue of Crimespree (51) which is in the mail as this is typed.

Manuel Ramos is an Edgar Award nominated author of novels and short stories mostly centered in the Denver area. If you haven’t read his books, you have missed out on great stories and some of the smoothest writing in the mystery field. Try Mooney’s Road to Hell if you want a taste of his noir mastery. Try Brown-on-Brown for some of the Luis Montez series. If you want the latest noir masterpiece, look at Desperado. Or, of course, you can find his short story in this issue.

Steven Torres: I loved the Luis Montez series. Is that a done deal now? Or might we see more stories?

Manuel Ramos: Thank you. I love Luis myself, but a while back I decided I had said all I had to say about the guy. He was the main man in five books. More than a 1000 pages (my books are short.) The stories in those books, from THE BALLAD OF ROCKY RUIZ to BROWN-ON-BROWN, dealt with about 10 years of Luis’ life. During that time we went through a lot: beatings, heartbreak, death, rebirth, salvation. We needed a break from one another – or maybe Luis just needed a break from me. But, you know, he’s crept back in. He has a small but important role in my latest, DESPERADO: A MILE HIGH NOIR. I have the feeling that Luis will always be with me and so that means that he likely will end up in more of my fiction. It’s good to have a street-smart lawyer around, right?

DesperadoST: Absolutely. Glad to know Luis is still going to be around, even as you go in new directions. Speaking of which… I acquired it for publication, so I obviously liked your short story, but I don’t think many of your readers know you as a short story writer – it’s not what you’ve concentrated on. What is your take on “Manuel Ramos, Short Story Writer”?

MR: I’ve published almost two dozen short stories – my very first published piece was a short story that I entered in a local fiction contest. The protagonist in that story eventually morphed into Luis Montez, and that short story is at the core of my first novel, The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz. My latest, Desperado, has its genesis in another short story that was published in a collection of Latino crime fiction a few years ago, Hit List, an anthology that has an excellent story by you. My contribution to that collection was entitled “The Skull of Pancho Villa” and it is now chapter 5 in the new book. I dig writing short stories but they are a challenge. Yet, a completed short story is so satisfying and, at least in my case, can often lead to a longer work, or at least get me started in the right direction. And many of my short stories are not crime fiction. One of my best, if I can say that about my own work, is “Fence Busters.” It’s part of a collection of stories by several Colorado writers entitled A Dozen on Denver – stories about Denver that had to include some mention of infamous Larimer Street. That collection was the brainchild of the folks at the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News. The stories ran as a series in the paper to help celebrate the paper’s (and Denver’s) 150th anniversary. So of course, that series and the book that preserves the stories were almost the last thing the paper did before it folded. Great stories in that little book. I’m proud to be included. The story is about Kiko, a young shoe shine boy growing up on Larimer Street back in the 1950s. Jack Kerouac, Willy Mays and Duke Snider somehow make appearances. I had a blast putting that one together.

ST: What can you say about your newest title “Desperado: A Mile High Noir”? Give us the rundown. What will fans find different from past titles? What’s going to be familiar?

MR: Gus Corral is a 100% underachiever. He lives and works in his ex-wife’s second-hand store. His life hasn’t panned out quite like he thought it would. But deep down, maybe too deep, Gus is smart, loyal, and tough if he has to be. So when Artie, an old high school pal, offers him quick money to deal with a young woman that Artie should never have been involved with, Gus is almost too quick to accept the offer. That leads to all kinds of trouble for Gus. The story is played out against the gentrification of Gus’s neighborhood. Denver’s old North Side, almost overnight, has become a hipster’s paradise with new restaurants and bars, high rise condos, and newcomers by the droves. Even a new name: Highlands. Gus sees the other side of the changes and resents what has happened to the old neighborhood, but, really, what can he do about it? Nothing. When Artie’s job turns deadly, Gus becomes the center of attention for cops, cartel thugs, and even some of his shady friends. I think Desperado is a bit tougher and grittier than my Montez books, and because it’s tagged as noir, don’t expect a Hollywood-type ending. On the other hand, if you liked the Montez stories and the vibe I tried to portray that included Luis’ family and friends, then I think you’re going to like Gus and his circle of friends and family. For example, he’s got two sisters, Max and Corrine, who have to save his ass on more than one occasion; and a friend, Jerome, who’s hustler, businessman, ladies’ man, and good to have on your side in an alley fight.

ST: Here’s an impertinent question. I’ve been told (often and loud) that I’d do better in terms of sales if my characters were white, but I can’t imagine that’s true. For one thing, readers aren’t dumb – a good story is a good story. For another thing, Walter Mosley hasn’t done too badly. Have you ever heard the same advice? What’s your take?

MR: I’ve been told that my books are a “hard sell”, which I think is code for the same thing you were told. But, frankly, I don’t sweat that stuff. I write what I write, it is what it is. I respect my readers and I hope they respect me enough to give my writing a chance. If the writing falls short, that’s on me. If someone dismisses my work because it’s “too ethnic” or “too racial” or “too whatever”, then they haven’t really read my work. Their loss.

ST: And it is a great loss. Thank you for submitting to the interrogation.