Thursday, July 28, 2011

Keeping a Mystery Fresh by Misa Ramirez

One of the biggest challenges of writing a mystery series is making murder believable--over and over and over again. Sometimes this part of writing causes mayhem in my mind because with a cozy series, which is what my newest release is, the cozy elements must always be front and center. This means: amateur sleuth, small town, community, and a hook (dressmaking/sewing, in my case).

That’s a little bit tough. Murder and death are not uplifting concepts, nor are they something an ordinary person happens upon time after time. The writer doesn’t have the fallback of a professional crime-solver to explain the proximity of murder to the sleuth...or even the explanation of why the sleuth is involved in solving the crime in the first place.

My first mystery series is a hybrid—soft-boiled with romantic elements. Lola Cruz is a smart, sexy Latina PI. Easy to keep her involved in crime solving since it’s her job!

My second series, A Magical Dressmaking Mystery series has a definite lightness to it. It’s not funny the way the Lola Cruz books are, but it’s not dark suspense, either. It’s small town, feel good, and is as much about the community of people as it is about the murder. But the sleuth is a Dressmaker—so how do I keep her involved in murder after murder without the whole thing becoming too far-fetched?

Of course there’s a degree of suspension of disbelief, but I like to be as authentic and realistic as I can in a book’s setup. In a murder mystery, mayhem must reign supreme—it just has to function within the book’s world. In Pleating for Mercy, the first book in A Magical Dressmaking Mystery series, the sleuth is Harlow Cassidy, a fashion designer who’s been away from her hometown of Bliss, Texas for a good long time. But when her great-grandmother, Loretta Mae, passes, and Harlow inherits the old yellow farmhouse off the square (actually, she’s owned it since she was a baby, she just never knew it—there are a whole lot of secrets in Bliss!), she leaves Manhattan and goes home to stay.

She opens Buttons & Bows and her new dressmaking business is born. But mayhem ensues when an old childhood acquaintance shows up needing a wedding dress made, then a dead body is discovered and it’s all a little too close to home for Harlow. Who said small town life was quiet? They’ve never been to Bliss!

Pleating for Mercy comes out on August 2nd. I loved, Loved, LOVED writing this book and can’t wait to get to my computer every day and get back into the world of Harlow, Nana, Tessa (Harlow’s Mama), Will Flores, Loretta Mae (who’s still hanging around the old farmhouse as a ghost), and the town square. It’s become a comfort to me, and truth be told, I’d like to live in Bliss, Texas. If only it existed outside my head and the pages of my books!

Crafting believable killings within a book series is tough, but getting to spend time with Harlow (who’s a descendent of Butch Cassidy and is charmed) is so much fun. I’m getting ready to start book three, a holiday installment, and can’t wait to see how Bliss comes alive for the holidays. Murder and mayhem aside, there’s just something great about cozies and books which have characters you see as friends.

I’d love to hear about some of your favorite books, favorite characters, and favorite book communities. How do your favorite cozy authors handle their sleuths happening upon murder after murder after murder?

Melissa Bourbon, who sometimes answers to her Latina-by-marriage name Misa Ramirez, gave up teaching middle and high school kids in Northern California to write full-time amidst horses and Longhorns in North Texas. She fantasizes about spending summers writing in quaint, cozy locales, has a love/hate relationship with yoga and chocolate, is devoted to her family, and can’t believe she’s lucky enough to be living the life of her dreams.

She is the marketing director at Entangled Publishing, is the author of the Lola Cruz Mystery series with St. Martin’s Minotaur, A Magical Dressmaking Mystery series with NAL, and is the co-author of The Tricked-out Toolbox and two romantic suspense titles to be released in 2012.

Visit Misa at:


The Naked Hero:

Facebook: and

Twitter: and

Killer Characters (on the 22nd of each month):

Entangled Publishing (publisher of my upcoming romantic suspense novels and the 3rd Lola Cruz book, Bare Naked Lola):


Tracey Devlyn said...

Hi Misa,

Thank you so much for joining us on The Thrill Begins. From what you described, I would love to live in Bliss, Texas!


Tracy March said...

Hi Misa!

Nice to see you here again on The Thrill Begins! I agree with your premise that there has to be a degree of suspension of disbelief when it comes to an amateur sleuth coming upon murder after murder.

Thankfully, I think readers of the mystery/thriller genre bring that suspension of disbelief with them yet do, as you mention, look for authenticity and realism in the stories they (we) read.

Bliss sounds blissful!


Unknown said...

Great to see you here again! I agree - it's blissful to melt into the world of characters whom we have created as writers. Ah!

Misa said...

Hi Tracy,

I agree, I wish Bliss existed some place other than my head and that we could relocate there (minus the murders, of course ;) ). Thanks for stopping by!

Misa said...

Thank you for having me today, Tracy! I think it's a fine line between suspension of disbelief and authenticity. Yup, Bliss is blissful, most of the time!

Jodie Renner said...

Hi Misa/Melissa,

I think if you love your characters and enjoy putting them into new situations, that will shine through and readers won't care about the unlikelihood of a dressmaker encountering and solving so many murder mysteries. We all loved Jessica Fletcher and the other regular characters in Murder She Wrote! Of course we all wondered (for a second now and then) how so many murders could occur in a small New England town, but we didn't care, as long as we got to watch another great story!