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!

Posts tagged ‘arizona’

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.

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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.

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