Please welcome my friend Misa Ramirez. For a short time, we were in the same critique group here in Sacramento. We have a lot in common! Five kids, lived in Elk Grove (she moved to Texas!), and a love of writing. I was very lucky to read her debut novel, LIVING THE VIDA LOLA, a terrific mystery and fun romantic mystery set in Sacramento. It was also the book she was working on while in our crit group! How fun is that? Please welcome Misa!
I’m a minimal plotter. I get a nugget of an idea and run with it, seeing where it takes me and my story.
This is true whether I’m writing my Lola Cruz Mysteries, my new Magical Dressmaking Mystery series, or my romantic suspenses (A Deadly Curse, available now, or A Deadly Sacrifice, coming in May). My ideas usually stem from something I’ve read, heard about , or have in my memory banks. From there, it develops, often requiring research to flesh it out.
This was especially true when it came to writing A Deadly Curse. It’s based on the legend of la Llorona. As an aside, I’d written this book in its current form, but because of my other mysteries, I thought about restructuring it to be more of a mystery with a little quirk. I discussed it with Alex Sokoloff when we were at a retreat in South Carolina, and boy, oh boy, she did not like the light treatment of the legend of la Llorona! I remember feeling like I’d been scolded for not taking a legend seriously, when in fact I had already taken it very seriously and written about it. But she was right, ad I went back to the original book, tightening it and making it even darker, respecting the legend(s) and all they represent. It was definitely the right decision. Gracias, Alex, for sending me back to my original manuscript!
Back to La Llorona. My husband, Carlos, grew up hearing the story. His parents, tias, and tios, and every other adult around, would tell the kids the story. Their purpose? To frighten them enough so they wouldn’t wander off alone. La Llorona was the Mexican boogyman.
I first learned about the legend of the crying woman after I met Carlos (we’ve now been married 20 years and have five children, so la Llorona has been part of my consciousness for a long time). We’d go camping with his brothers and sisters and their spouses, sit around the campfire, and invariably, the stories would begin. Before long, a low, haunting sound would float through the air. La Llorona. It was as if the ghost was right there, her wails coming from the banks of the river through the trees.
It didn’t take long to figure out that it was my husband making the haunting sounds, but the legend itself was spooky and stayed with me from the first time I heard the story. A woman kills her children by drowning them in the river. After she realizes what she’s done, she drowns herself. Legend has it that the woman has been haunting riverbanks ever since, looking for her children. Kids are warned to stay away from the rivers so la Llorona doesn’t steel them, thinking they are hers.
When I began plotting A Deadly Curse, I needed to learn more about la Llorona. Why did she drown her children? That, I figured, would inspire my plot. Little did I know that the legend of la Llorona was far more complex than I’d ever imagined.
What I learned was that there are actually four different stories behind the legend. My husband’s family knew only one of them. Everyone I’ve talked to since then has only known one, or possibly two different versions. No one has known all four of the stories.
The woman in each story was called something different:
La Ramera (the harlot)
La Bruja (the witch)
La Virgin (the virgin)
La Sirena (the siren)
Needless to say, learning about the four different stories set my plot in a new direction. The knowledge created new opportunities and obstacles for my characters, and I couldn’t have done a better job if I’d painstakingly plotted. Research opens doors for me, taking my stories in fascinating directions I couldn’t have created if I’d tried. The uncertainty and reveals during the process makes writing that much more interesting, albeit nerve-wracking, for me. I always have a roadmap, so I know where I’m going to end up, but f I don’t always know the exact route I’ll take to get there. And if I don’t know exactly where the story is going, I can’t leave an subconscious trail of breadcrumbs for the reader.
In my opinion, a great book is most often the result of clever and tight plotting, combined with discoveries made by the author during his/her writing process.
As readers, do you find some books to have too clear a path to follow and does that spoil the read? Conversely, do you find that some books ramble, going in too many directions, leaving you wondering if there was a roadmap at all?
Misa Ramirez, who also writes under the pseudonym Melissa Bourbon, can be found online at: