Because I love music, a lot of musicians end up in my novels. In MARIACHI MURDER, Andy Veracruz is a band leader in Southern California… until he really gets into trouble!

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Piano Battle Yields Happy Audience

Last summer I got to watch two expert pianists. Not only did they play wonderful music, but they had as much fun as we did!

They may have battled it out, but we audience members were the clear winners. Read more on my website:



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Damien Kaplan and Mark Gifford Rock Riverton



Rossini and Verdi Rock the Opera Festival in Oaxaca, Mexico

Last weekend I had the immense pleasure of playing for the opera festival in Oaxaca, Mexico. It came about because orchestra conductor Linus Lerner, Maribel Sánchez, and their cohorts had the grand idea to bring young singers to Oaxaca. Linus and Maribel collected soloists, chorus members, orchestra members, and even dancers to put on a supreme show. Sponsors from SASO helped fund the gala event.

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The soloists were from all over Mexico. They included Jorge Jiménez from Guadalajara singing Ponchielli’s “Cielo y mar” and Gabriel Navarro from Mexico City singing Wagner’s “Abendstern.” We performed 32 pieces altogether, starting with an overture from “La forza del destino.”


We had a wonderful combination of pieces written by composers ranging from Vivaldi to Verdi. Hits included Donizetti’s “Quel guardo il cavaliere” and the Anvil song (Gypsy song) from Il Trovatore. The singers performed in Italian, French, and German. Many of the pieces were solos. Others were duets. In the case of “Si ritrovarla io giuro” the soloist claimed he would find Cinderella while his attendants swore to help him!


We performed our first concert in the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá. The event was free, but seating was limited. When we arrived, there was a line that stretched all the way around the block! We performed for an exceedingly attentive audience who didn’t seem to mind that we had such a long program! Instead they wanted more. After we played the “Brindisi” from La Traviata, they wouldn’t let us go home! We had to perform it again.


We had a chance to perform the concert on Sunday as well, this time at Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de las Nieves. (The priests kindly let us use their church at the last minute.) This was a smaller venue, so it was more intimate. Because the church had wonderful acoustics, opera music went sailing through the streets.


The festival came after a week of long rehearsals for the musicians from the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra from Tucson combined with local musicians. Saturday we had a six-hour rehearsal! But our efforts were well rewarded. We’re already happy about the prospects of coming back again next year.


Naturally, the parties afterwards were pretty good too!


Photos compliments of Jorge Jimenez and Maribel Sanchez

D.R. Ransdell is a Tucson-based novelist. To read about her series featuring a totally different kind of musician, mariachi violinist Andy Veracruz, please see

Andy’s first adventure is titled MARIACHI MURDER.

The City of Nice Celebrates Summer

The town of Nice, France, offers countless attractions. To me the biggest one is always the huge ocean front on the edge of town. There are a few hundred places where you can swim right within the town limits! I can’t help but to love a town where you can swim so peacefully with such little effort.

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But on the eve of summer, the city offered a special soul. Bands played all over the city to help celebrate the change of season. Our hostel owner had tipped us off that there would be lots of live music to enjoy, so we were prepared to look around.

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This we did not have to try hard to do. Not fifty meters from where we’d had a lovely mussel dinner, we came across our first group, a kind of rock band, that was playing to a huge crowd. We couldn’t even get around to the front of the band so instead we went around to the back. This was even better; we could watch the band and the people at the same time!

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I enjoyed one couple in particular. They danced and sang and laughed and kissed one another. They knew the words to most of the songs. They seemed to be reliving their youth while the rock band played 80s tunes. I imagined the man and woman were on a romantic second or third honeymoon. They were having so much fun and they looked so much in love that I could only envy them.

Long after my girlfriend went back to the hotel, I stood watching the band. I enjoyed the various kids that were jumping around and dancing—there was even a lady who was dancing with her dog! (She seemed to enjoy this much more than the dog did.)

Luckily, I finally did move on. I found the most wonderful group playing at the Irish Pub. They called themselves “Le band du soul,” and they too played older music that I was familiar with. They had the crowd completely happy with “Celebration.” There were so many fans I couldn’t get close to the musicians. The six-member group had two vocalists, several guitarists, and a drummer. The lead singer had a kind and expressive face; watching him sing was pleasure enough because he was trying so diligently to please the crowd.

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Then The Soul Band played one of my own favorites, “Sweet Surrender.” For me this was the song that encapsulated the whole night and the whole experience. Who wouldn’t want to surrender to summer while in Nice on holiday? Who wouldn’t want to think that life was full of beautiful possibilities and romantic evenings?

Thanks, Nice Ville, for providing a wonderful, memorable experience.

Four Broads for Broadway


When I signed up for the Arizona Dreamin’ Conference, I had no idea what it might be like. When I saw that the entertainment included The Broad’s Way Musical Performance, I didn’t know what that would be like either. To my surprise, the group consisted of four strong singers who entertained us completely. As Kris Tualla explained the outline of writing a romance novel, the quartet sang songs illustrating the steps along the way. Kris had even written words for a couple of tunes. In the meantime the singers traded off, sometimes singing together, sometimes singing duets, sometimes solos.


More importantly, they were really having fun. My only regret was that I wasn’t up on stage singing with them. (My friend Cookie and I have formed a similar group to cover Italian folk songs.) While the women all sang well, interspersing joking and arm movements along the way, it wasn’t until they sang “I Have a Dream” from Les Misérables that I realized just how talented they were. This piece had been orchestrated by one of the group members. Instead of using a sound track as they did for the other songs, three of them sang harmony while one person carried the melody. They bounced the melody lines back and forth while keeping the difficult harmonies right on track. I was amazed at their ambition and talent. Since I was sitting in the front row, I only hope they realize that the tear I shed at the end of the song was a sign of intense beauty rather than sadness!

In novel writing and especially in romance novel writing, there is often a “black hole” in which it’s certain that the heroine will fail, she’ll never get her man, she’ll languish in a terrible job, and the rest of her life will be horrible. The gals had a perfect song to illustrate this problem. With the help of Kris, they launched into “He Had It Coming” from Chicago. The romance writers and readers in the room howled with laughter. How often have we killed off our own terrible male protagonists? In romance novels this doesn’t happen too often, but perhaps this is why I mostly write mysteries.


After reaching the black hole, however, the gals got us back on track by climbing every mountain and finishing up with the Arizona Dreamin’ Song. (This includes the famous line about all the guys being hot.) The quartet kept us so thoroughly entertained that they might well have stayed another hour or two. Not only did they have repertoire, but they had pizzazz.

After the performance Kris explained the origin of the group. During a winetasting trip they started reminiscing about their younger days, including opportunities they had to sing solos in high school and the tunes that they wanted to sing but never had.

Then they had to ask themselves: Why not starting singing such songs now? What started as a whim and a small performance for some friends has turned into an alternate job for these four strong singers. They’re examples of how the power of song can lift our hearts so that we can soar. They’re also examples of how we need to follow our hearts’ desire—to sing, to dance, to write, to perform.

Contact them at or

To read about my own romance, THAI TWIST:

That Little Symphony, Beethoven’s 9th

Mother’s Day weekend I had the immense pleasure of playing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra. The concert had been announced over a year in advance. In theory I had plenty of time to work up to it. But I had a busy year and other concerts to work on. Suddenly it was April and the BIG ONE was almost upon us. The whole prospect was overwhelming.


In fact we all wondered if Linus were crazy. It wouldn’t be the first time we had wondered this. But as usual, we had to trust in him and in ourselves that we were up to the challenge. The result—a weekend of wonderful, memorable playing. We didn’t play every note right. I left out some notes on purpose. So did many of the other violin players. I suspect the viola and cello and bass players may have been guilty of the same strategies. There were multiple passage that were lightning fast, too fast for me to read the notes, too fast for me handle, too fast for me to practice.


But with Beethoven’s 9th, you can get away with a few missed notes because there are a gazillion of them anyway. So despite guilt over this measure or that measure, I could sit at the edge of my seat—it was important to keep focused—and enjoy.






And there was much to revel in. We had a fifty-member chorus, for one thing, friends from the community and a few from within the orchestra who had been recruited for the performance and who had happily donated their time. We had our conductor, Linus Lerner. We had soloists from Mexico, sweet young singers who had won acclaim the summer before at an opera festival in Oaxaca: Gabriel Navarro, Eloisa Molina, Jorge Jiménez, and Erika Coyote. They kept us entertained. They kept us enthralled. Two of them were fortunate enough to bring their parents along for all three performances. Talk about a fan club!


But the real pleasure came from within. It came from my stand partner, who confessed that he felt privileged for having the chance to play the 9th. By the end of the rehearsal, I had to agree. How many times had I listened to a recording of this symphony? How many times had I heard snips of it here and there? How many times had I heard parodies of the famous “Ode to Joy” from the last movement? But here it was, the whole symphony. And there I was playing it. During the last concert I was thinking: Wow, this is me, playing Beethoven’s 9th. I thought this especially during the tricky Second Movement. And then I lost my place and had to refocus all over again.






That was not a problem. I’d practiced enough that I could find my way back. As I did, I thanked David Rife, my violin teacher, for making it do-able. I thanked my fellow musicians, for we were a veritable troupe. I thanked the soloists, and Dorothy Vanek, and Linus Lerner, our fearless leader.


But most of all I thanked, in my heart, every single audience member who came up to me and said, Wow, that was terrific, or Wow, that was great, or Wow, I never heard that symphony live before.


It was a smashingly grand way to end the season. I’m awfully glad I was a part of it.




For a full photo album (including party photos!);



Female Mariachis? Of course!


Last week I had the pleasure to attend Left Coast Crime in Monterey, California. Left Coast is a big mystery conference with participants from all over the country as well as from Canada and Europe. For four days I attended panels. I listened to well-known writers such as Sue Grafton and Cara Black. I heard Louise Penny and William Kent Kreuger. I was there to learn from these writers, emulate them, and be inspired by them.

But of course I had an agenda. I was also there to plug Mariachi Murder. When I moderated a panel on dialogue, I sneaked in some information about my own book. When I had the opportunity to introduce myself at a breakfast for new mystery writers, I explained that after spending twenty-five years in a mariachi, I had a lot of stories. I’d heard confessions. I’d heard marriage proposals. I’d heard murderous wishes of men desperate to be rid of their wives or their mothers-in-law. In short, my experiences had given me plenty of people to kill off in a murder series.

The funny thing was that for the rest of the conference, I got questions about the mariachi thing. “I thought only men played in mariachis,” ten different people said to me. I was astonished at their question. While it was a bit unusual for women to play in mariachis when I started playing in a group in 1987, it wasn’t new even at that time. And now it’s rather commonplace, at least in Arizona and California. (It’s still not commonplace in Mexico. Give the country another thirty years.)
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I was surprised that I needed to set people straight. Some didn’t even seem to believe me. I had to whip out my promotional material in which I’m wearing a traje. Their response was not negative. No one thought women shouldn’t play in such a group; they were simply incredulous that women did so. I got this from men and women of all ages who were from the Midwest or back East.

I was happy to set them straight. I was happy to let them know that most groups are up-to-date in terms of equal opportunity employment. (Not all of them, of course.) But most of all,I got to celebrate the fact that I’m really, really lucky. Not only do I have the opportunity to play for a mariachi, but I even have the chance to write about it.

For more information, please see


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Why I Love Mariachi #2 Classical Differences

I love mariachi music because it’s immediate. When you’re playing for an audience, you’re usually right there next to them. Once in a while you might be on stage, but at any rate, you’re still close by. That makes the music more vibrant, more exciting, more alive. As a performer it’s wonderful because you constantly make eye contact with your audience either to let them know you empathize or that you’re joking or that you’re simply checking in to make their experience the best one possible.

This is in complete contrast to classical music. Last month I had a chance to hear the Tucson Symphony Orchestra concert. Steven Moeckel played John Corigliano’s concerto “The Red Violin,” and because he’s Steven Moeckel, he played it really, really well.


I could see him perfectly because I was sitting in the third row. I couldn’t see the oboes or the trumpets, but I didn’t care. As a violin player, I’m biased. During an orchestra concert, I want to keep my eyes on the violins.

I watched in awe as Steven played harmonics and double stops. He played sustained notes with graceful vibrato and crunched through passages played for effect. Because I happened to be sitting close to him, I could see his expressions and feel his triumph as he crashed through difficult passages that were high and fast and loud.

But as he performed, most of the audience was completely removed from him. (He and the conductor did give a half-hour talk before the performance, however.) The regular concert-goer wouldn’t have left the theatre with any sense of Steven the man behind the violin.

This is a shame. The reason I wanted to hear this concert was not merely because I knew the violin playing would be top-notch or that the symphony members would do a wonderful job with Mahler #5. I wanted to hear Steven in concert because a few years ago when I started back up with the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra, Steven performed with us. I got to meet him and talk to him in person. And that’s how I found out he’s a tremendously nice guy. Never mind that he’s played concerts all over Europe, never mind that he’s been concertmaster of both TSO and the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra. He’s there for all of us.
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As I heard him perform tonight, I was well aware of that. I felt bad for the audience members who only knew about him through the biography in the program and hearing the notes he played on stage. He’s much more than that, but in classical music, the audience is almost always a distant concept. They’re specks of dust on the horizon or drops of rain in a storm. They’re far away.

What I’d really like to see is Steven Moeckel playing up close and personal in a mariachi band. Now that would be worth seeing every night of the week.

For more on mariachi and my new novel MARIACHI MURDER, please visit