Manuel Ramos on his Mile High noir novel and the gentrification of Denver's North Side
Set in the depths of a Denver recession, Manuel Ramos' new novel follows Gus Corral as he gets caught up in a gritty world of warring gangs, murder and a missing religious artifact. Out now on Arte Público Press, Desperado: A Mile High Noir uses the North Side of Denver as the backdrop for a thrilling crime tale.
Manual Ramos, true North Side.
Ramos will discuss and sign his new book at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Broadway Book Mall. In advance of that, we caught up with the local writer and co-founder of La Bloga to talk about Desperado , writing crime fiction and the gentrification of the neighborhood he's lived in for over thirty years.
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Westword: Where did the idea for Desperado come from?
Manuel Ramos: Actually, the main character in the book, a guy named Gus Corral, was the character in a short story I published about three years ago. It was in an anthology of Latino mysteries and the name of that short story was "The Skull of Pancho Villa," and it was about this guy who lives here in the north side of Denver, what is now being called the Highlands or the LoHi neighborhood. He had to deal with this mystery of a relic linked with the skull of Pancho Villa. Anyhow, I found him such an interesting guy that I started expanding his story and fleshed out more of his family and his friends and put him in the middle of the recession that we had over the last couple of years and the changing demographics here in the North Side.
He had lived here all the time and this was his life and he didn't like all the changes and didn't know what he could do about them. But in the middle of that, a guy he hasn't seen since high school calls on him for help [because] he's getting blackmailed. So that's where the mystery starts and the friend gets murdered and Gus is thrown into the middle of trying to resolve that. So that's where the basic idea came from: my short story and observing what was going on in my own neighborhood here.
Can you talk a little bit about the gentrification of the North Side and why you decided to use that as the setting for the book?
Well, because it's what's happening. I've lived here in this neighborhood for more than thirty years, my wife and I have been here for quite a while, and we've seen all kinds of changes happening. And so with a guy like Gus who's younger than I am, he would've also seen these changes and lived through some of them. It's a very human experience, so as background for the book it provides a kind of narrative that I like because there are things going on around him he can't really control. He doesn't like all of the changes but he likes some of them, so it's a very human conflict that affects everybody, good or bad, here in the neighborhood. To me, that's a natural fit for a story that's gonna take place here on the North Side.
Was the process for this novel similar to that of your past work?
There's always some similarities in the way the writing process works for me. For me, the most important things are the characters, of course, and fleshing them out to make sure they're three-dimensional and people will care about them one way or the other even if they're bad people, so that in the book the reader will make some attachment to try to hang with the characters to see what happens. So all that was the same for me in terms of how I worked on the story. It was different because the main guy came from a short story that I'd already written, and actually that short story is now one of the chapters in the book. So that was a bit different. But writing is always something that's going on with me, so I don't think the actual process is that much different from one book to the next -- and certainly what's produced is going to be different.
Continue reading for more from Ramos.