The Ballad of Manuel Ramos

The legal aid attorney returned to his childhood passion—writing—and began winning awards

Published in 2008 Colorado Super Lawyers — April 2008

Growing up in Florence, a small town south of Colorado Springs, Manuel Ramos felt compelled to write.

He’d jot down notes about family and friends and the events happening around him, then race outside for a game of catch or a bike ride. In high school, he wrote about his experiences as a Latino at Harrison High. As an undergraduate at Colorado State University, he enrolled in all of the literature and creative writing courses he could.

“Then I went to law school and it all stopped,” he says. “There simply wasn’t time.”

But after 12 years of being a lawyer, Ramos needed a break. Most of his time was spent with the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Denver (now Colorado Legal Services), a private nonprofit that represents low-income residents, indigents and seniors who can’t afford an attorney. For a change of pace, he signed on as an assembly line worker at ARS, a Denver factory that makes motorcycle solenoids, and there he was able to recharge his creative batteries and rekindle his passion. His co-workers, the working conditions and the dynamics between management and workers provided plenty of material. “Nothing came of it,” he says. “But it was a start.”

When he returned to the Legal Aid Society, the writing came. He entered one of his first efforts, a short story called “White Devils and Cockroaches,” in Westword Magazine’s fiction contest. He didn’t win but “they published it,” he says.

Ramos remained intrigued by the story’s main character, whom he describes as “a burned-out legal aid attorney frustrated with his work because he felt like he wasn’t making any progress.” He continued to expand the character, and eventually, Luis Montez, the protagonist in his first novel, The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz, was born. (While both Montez and his creator have legal aid service in common, Ramos, the director of advocacy for Colorado Legal Services, is adamant when he says, “I’m not Montez,” adding, “I stayed, he left.”)

Published in 1993, Rocky Ruiz was nominated for an Edgar, the most prestigious award in mystery writing, and won the Chicano/Latino Literary Award and the Colorado Book Award.

His second book, The Ballad of Gato Guerrero, picks up where Rocky Ruiz left off. In the space of a decade, three more Luis Montez books hit bookstores. The series follows the character for 10 years, and readers get a sense of the growth and changes occurring in Denver during that time.

Ramos is completing his seventh novel, which he started in 1999. “This one has nothing to do with crime fiction and it’s been a challenge because it’s like starting over,” he says. “I thought it was done a year ago so I had a couple of writer friends look at the manuscript. They sent it back with all kinds of helpful suggestions, so I reworked it again.”

When asked about how it feels to complete yet another novel, Ramos acknowledges, “It’s a relief to know I’m done with the commitment, but it’s also kind of sad. I’ve built a relationship with that book, and now it’s loose and other people are going to be reading it. What am I going to do with my free time?”

Here’s to book number eight.

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