Local author Melissa Bourbon Ramirez sees mysteries in everyday life
Mystery novelist on her adventures into authorship.
From a young age, Melissa Bourbon Ramirez had loved reading and writing. Her passion continued into her college years when she elected to study English. However, after bad grades and a nasty comment from an instructor, she was turned off from the art and began working toward a career in teaching.
After teaching middle and high school English for several years and having two kids, Ramirez decided to take a break.
“I started writing for my sanity,” Ramirez said with a laugh. “It was something to keep my mind off of kids and diapers.”
Eventually, writing became a bit more than a hobby, and Ramirez would spend Monday nights at Starbucks with a friend, practicing writing. As they’d work through prompts, Ramirez created a character called Lola.
Lola is Mexican in heritage, and constantly pushing back against the patriarchal normalcies of her family — the character and her family grew and grew in Ramirez’s mind.
Ramirez knew she wanted to tell a story about Lola, and so came the Lola Cruz Mysteries, which began with “Living La Vida Lola.”
Lola is a novice private investigator in Sacramento, California, and finds herself in the throes of mystery through the series of books. As of right now, three Lola Cruz Mysteries have been written, with two more on the way.
Lola, however, isn’t Ramirez’s only character — not even close. Ramirez also has books series called The Bread Shop Mysteries (under the penname Winnie Archer — an amalgam of her grandmothers’ names) and The Magical Dress Making Mystery series. Both series, as well as the Lola Cruz Mysteries, qualify as “cozy mysteries,” a term referring to series of mystery novels involving sleuths, quirky recurring characters, trails of clues and a satisfying conclusion.
“I read all kinds of Agatha Christie novels as a kid,” Ramirez said. “I read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys … I’ve always loved mystery.”
While mystery leeches into all of Ramirez’s novels, another recurring theme is female relationships.
“There’s a strong female community in my family,” Ramirez said. “Mystery is just the vehicle.”
Ramirez cites her relationship with her daughter, mother and grandmothers as providing inspiration and foundation for the relationships that she writes into her books.
She works hard for the money
Some authors can only manage to write one book at a time, but Ramirez takes her work a step further, working on several at once. She’s finished the fourth Lola book and is working on the fifth, all while working on her other series.
“I have a daily word count to accomplish, and I know when the due dates are so I have it mapped out on a calendar …” Ramirez said. “If I hit 2,000 words in a day and I still have time, I’ll work on the other book.”
Ramirez has also penned a children’s book, a non-fiction book for authors on marketing and a novel of Disney ABC as a companion to a television show, due out this year.
Perhaps her most intriguing project, however, is a standalone women’s fiction novel. The story will involve a young, undocumented worker figuring out how to survive after her family is deported. The novel is still in the early stages and isn’t attached to a publisher—or even written—yet, but it’s a passion project of Ramirez’s.
You’re the inspiration
With so many mystery novels under her belt, where does Ramirez come up with her content? The answer is simple: everywhere.
“All mysteries are rooted in real life in one way or another,” said Ramirez. “It’s like ‘Law & Order,’ where there’s something real and you kind of mix it all together.”
Ramirez cites a news story about funeral homeowners selling body parts as a real-life event that has inspired and influenced her work.
Even the standalone novel she’s working on — breaking from her cozy mystery-mold — has elements of real stories involved, including the villains, who she calls “diabolical.”
“In some ways, it’s cathartic,” Ramirez said of writing based on her experiences.
While her daughter, Sophia, 18, has yet to read any of the Lola Cruz Mysteries, the goal of the character, in Ramirez’s mind, was to create a character that her daughter could relate to and find a connection with. Much like Sophia, Lola is a young woman, half-white, half-Mexican and very proud of her heritage and her ability to stand up for herself.
Arts & Entertainment Editor Nate Day can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2932.