When fate intervened to prematurely end her distinguished career as a violinist with the Metropolitan Opera, Erica Miner successfully reinvented herself as an award-winning author, screenwriter, arts journalist, and lecturer. As a former dancer-turned-writer, I feel a special kinship with Erica and am so delighted to welcome her to my blog today as she celebrates the publication of ARIA FOR MURDER. Below are her responses to my interview questions, followed by her bio and buy/contact links.
First off, congratulations on the publication this past year of a new version of the first book in your Julia Kagan Opera Mystery series, ARIA FOR MURDER. Can you share with our readers what the novel is about, and what inspired it?
Thank you, Lynn! In ARIA FOR MURDER, excitement mounts as the moment arrives for brilliant young violinist Julia Kogan’s debut in the orchestra of the world-renowned Metropolitan Opera. But the high-stakes milieu of this musical mecca is rocked to its core when, during an onstage murder scene, Julia’s mentor, a famous conductor, is assassinated on the podium. Thrust into the investigation when her closest colleague in the orchestra is named chief suspect, Julia teams up with opera-loving NYPD detective Larry Somers to investigate. In the process, they are shocked to discover the venerable opera house is a veritable web of secrets, intrigue, and lethal rivalries. But all bets are off when Julia suddenly finds herself the real killer’s prime target. The novel is inspired by my personal experience as a violinist with the Met for 21 years, and the many nefarious goings-on that I discovered on that journey.
Your own background as a violinist gives the character of Julia Kogan such authenticity. To what extent is your character’s personality similar to your own?
Very much so! Julia is my alter ego; her character is based on myself when I first started out as a newbie in the world’s most prestigious opera company. She is young, somewhat naïve, sensitive, and totally committed to living up to the perfection expected of all musicians in this stupendous orchestra. But she also discovers an inner strength she never knew she had when she is forced to overcome her sensitivities in order to find out who really killed her beloved mentor and clear the name of her cherished colleague—not to mention save her own life. There is where the similarity ends!
Can you talk a bit about what changes you made to your novel from its original version?
Due to pandemic-related reasons, it was necessary to find a new publisher for my Opera Mysteries. I was fortunate that Level Best Books appreciated the value of setting a mystery in the world of opera and offered me a contract for all three books in the series. They also required me to make substantial changes in the books to differentiate them from their previous versions. They are creating all new covers and I am coming up with new titles, starting with ARIA FOR MURDER for the first book, and went back to the drawing board to make updates and plot changes. I consulted with some of my former Met Opera colleagues to find out what places and procedures had changed in recent years since I left the Met, e.g., how does one pass the security gate (it’s all digitally done now), is that phone booth still located at the stage door, et al. Julia herself became more proactive as a character. Shy as she is, when it comes to supporting her fellow musicians, she puts that aside. For example, she drops everything to play an accompaniment to the Street Violinist playing in front of the Met who’s struggling to earn a dollar. I’ve set up the background of her vertigo early in the story, which foreshadows the dénouement (how it plays out necessitates reading the book, however!) Details like those, and likewise in the sequels to follow, already have intrigued both new readers and those who read the original version of ARIA FOR MURDER. I’m quite pleased with the positive direction in which things are going.
You enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a violinist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Do you mind my asking what led you to your transition to your new career as an award-winning writer and lecturer?
Honestly, I thought I’d be playing at the Met indefinitely. It may be the most demanding schedule of any orchestra in the world, but it’s also an incredible job, performing in that high-stakes milieu with the greatest opera stars on the planet. But that was not to be. One day as I was driving home from rehearsal, another vehicle ran a light and crashed into me. I never totally recovered from the injuries I suffered in that accident, and ultimately it became too difficult to sustain that grueling Met schedule. Thus, I was forced to abandon my professional musical career. It was completely devastating. But realistically I knew I needed a creative outlet, to keep going somehow. I chose writing (see below). Eventually, that led to lecturing; first about my books, and ultimately about opera and writing. I’ve kept at it ever since.
You spent many years studying music and working on your craft and artistry at Boston University, the New England Conservatory of Music, and at Tanglewood. How did you develop your evident craft and artistry as a writer?
I actually began developing my craft way back in grade school, even before I started playing the violin. When I was 7 or 8, I was placed in an after-school program for Creative Writing. I’m not sure why; some teacher must have seen a spark in me. And I don’t remember what I wrote (it was 100 years ago!). But I do remember loving the whole process of creating characters and plots and weaving them together to tell stories. That experience instilled a lifelong love and passion for writing in me. Once I started studying violin, my writing became secondary, but I never lost my passion for it. I journaled all through high school (eventually those journals became the basis for my second novel), and even when I was at the Met, I took writing classes whenever I could fit them into my schedule. When I finally had to give up the violin, I went into high gear with my writing, studying screenwriting in New York and then after moving to California, in Los Angles. I worked intensely with a script consultant who encouraged my ideas for novels. I kept honing my craft, taking writing courses, and exploring different types of writing. I read everything I could from writers who offered advice online and joined writing and critique groups. I sharpened my writing skills by becoming an arts journalist, writing reviews of performances of all kinds for many years. When I started creating my Opera Mystery series, my writing came to a whole new level. In the end, developing one’s craft is all about writing, writing, and more writing.
What similarities and differences do you notice between your career as a violinist and your current writing career?
When I started writing screenplays, one of my writing colleagues told me that in her experience when one excels in one aspect of the arts, one tends to do the same in others. It has to do more with discipline than anything else. Musicians by definition must be very disciplined to succeed at their art. With 40 years of practicing the violin as a background, I was able to use that experience to devote and commit myself to the craft of writing. I also endured plenty of rejection as a violinist trying to make my way in the high-powered musical world of New York. That prepared me for the similar kinds of rejection I’ve had as a writer. But as with my music, I persisted with my writing. I’ve been fortunate to have many people, publishers included, believe in my abilities as a writer.
I know that you do many feature interviews, articles, and talks related to the opera world, in addition to your creative writing. Do you find yourself gravitating more toward your fiction work? Or something else?
I think I’ll always love fiction the most of any writing pursuit. It goes back to my early childhood experiences, loving the process of telling stories. But I also adore giving lectures on opera: rediscovering the music and composers I love, learning new things about them. And I get so much appreciation from my audiences. I also enjoy going to performances and writing reviews to express my admiration for the efforts of artists to give their all on a stage, and doing interviews with them to find out their backgrounds and where their passions lie. It’s all good. I’m very lucky.
Speaking of your fiction, what’s next for you writing-wise?
Level Best Books has me scheduled for the next two sequels to ARIA FOR MURDER: Book #2 in September 2023 and Book #3 in September 2024. So, I have much to look forward to and to work on. Meanwhile, I have reviews of upcoming Seattle Opera and Seattle Symphony performances to write. And lots of blog posts, which I love doing. There’s one more very big project that’s in early planning stages; something I’ve never done before. I’m not nearly ready to reveal the details yet, but it’s quite exciting.
Is there anything else you’d like to add, or wish I’d asked that I didn’t?
Wow, that’s already a lot! Thanks so much for your wonderful questions. I’ve enjoyed answering them!
Former Metropolitan Opera violinist ERICA MINER is now an award-winning author, screenwriter, arts journalist, and lecturer. Her debut novel, Travels with my Lovers, won the Fiction Award in the Direct from the Author Book Awards. Her screenplays have won awards in the Writers Digest, Santa Fe, and WinFemme competitions. A resident of the Pacific Northwest, Erica also lectures on opera and writing on both coasts and internationally.
Buy links for ARIA FOR MURDER: