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An Interview with Erica Miner, author of Prelude to Murder

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Award-winning Seattle-based author Erica Miner balances her reviews and interviews of real-world musical artists with her fanciful plot fabrications that reveal the dark side of the fascinating world of opera. Erica believes that opera theatres are the perfect places for creating fictional mischief!

Drawing on her 21 years as a violinist at the world-renowned Metropolitan Opera, Erica guides her readers through a dramatized version of the opera world in her Julia Kogan Opera Mystery series. Aria for Murder, the first in the series, published by Level Best Books in 2022, was a finalist in the 2023 Eric Hoffer Book Awards. The book introduces intrepid young violinist Julia as she becomes entangled in a murder investigation at the Met. The sequel, Prelude to Murder, released in September 2023, which takes Julia to the Santa Fe Opera for more operatic murder and mayhem, received a glowing report from Kirkus Reviews. The third book, due for release in 2024, takes place at the San Francisco Opera.

Erica’s debut novel, Travels with My Lovers, won the Fiction Prize in the Direct from the Author Book Awards. Her screenplays have won awards in the WinFemme, Santa Fe, and Writers Digest competitions.

Erica has presented writing lectures at the Write on the Sound, Fields End, and Los Angeles Writers Conferences. Most recently, she was a panelist at the 2023 Bouchercon “Murder at the Marina” Writers Conference in San Diego, where she also gave a solo “Author Spotlight” on “Bringing Murder and Music Together.”

As a music lecturer, Erica has presented for the Seattle Symphony; the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at University of California and University of Washington; and Wagner Societies in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, North Carolina, and Sydney, Australia.

When she’s not writing or lecturing, Erica spends time admiring the beauty of the Pacific Northwest with her French husband, her daughter, her grandkids, and their respective pooches.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

In grade school, at age 7 or 8, I was placed in an after-school program for Creative Writing. The teacher was a marvelous, benevolent uncle of a man who instilled in me a deep love for writing and helped me discover the beauty of creating characters and plot lines and weaving them all together to tell stories. That was when my lifelong passion for writing was created. It has remained with me ever since. Agatha Christie is my mystery writer idol. As a female writer, I’ve been highly influenced by her astonishing body of work. Imagine my thrill when a major opera singer who’s read my Opera Mystery series called me “The Agatha Christie of Opera.”

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

Though writing was my first love, I soon began to study the violin, which took precedence over all of my other interests, including writing. I became a professional violinist while I was still in college in Boston, then I moved to New York City and auditioned for the orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera. I was accepted into the first violin section and performed there for 21 years, working with some of the most famous singers and conductors of the time: such luminaries as Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, and Leonard Bernstein. However, I never lost my passion for writing, and even while at the Met I took writing classes whenever I could fit them into my schedule. What readers might not know is that I was forced to give up the violin due to injuries suffered in a car accident. But I returned to my lifelong love of writing as my creative outlet, and I’ve been writing full time ever since.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

It started with the title of the first book in my Opera Mystery series, Aria for Murder. Deciding on that title took quite a while, but once chosen, it didn’t take long before a musical/operatic theme for the series began to emerge. My publisher, Level Best Books, helped me pick out the title Prelude to Murder for book two fairly quickly. The title for book three, which will release in 2024, follows closely on that theme.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

There’s nothing quite like seeing your own book cover for the first time. It visually embodies all the hard work that goes into creating a story from the empty computer screen to the finished product. I have received generous positive feedback from readers about both book covers in the series so far, designed by my publisher, especially for the cover of Prelude to Murder, with its cascading musical notes that seem to flow from the opera singer’s bountiful long hair. Holding the book in my hands, whether for the first time or the hundredth time, is for me one of the great pleasures in my life as a writer, especially when I read from it during book events and presentations.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

That’s easy—opera, of course! Specific operas are woven into the plots of all of the books in the series. The soundtrack for Prelude to Murder would contain some of the most compelling arias and ensembles from such well-known operas as Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, and Richard Strauss’s Salome. These operas were carefully chosen for the book because of their high drama—and frankly, murderous violence—providing the perfect background for the operatic chaos that takes place behind the scenes at the opera. Art imitates life and vice versa. What goes on behind the scenes can be even more dramatic than what occurs onstage!

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

The main reason I write my opera-based mysteries is to give readers an insider’s view of the inner workings of an opera house, something that most audiences know little about: the conflicts between the thousands of people who work backstage to create this unique art form called opera. I would like readers to have a sense of those warring egos, jealousies and rivalries that are distinctively operatic. My perfect reader would be either a mystery lover open to learning about what makes opera tick, or an opera aficionado who loves mysteries. Both of these together would be ideal.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

To me, nothing is more gratifying than knowing that readers are enjoying the read. I am fortunate to have received some wonderful comments from my readers, which inspires me to continue creating these stories for which they have shown their deep appreciation.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

Currently I am hard at work on book three of the Opera Mystery series, which takes place at San Francisco Opera. I’m especially excited about this third book, since that particular opera house and the vibrant city in which it is located are possibly two of the most intriguing settings for operatic murder and mayhem. In addition, I’m always working on developing whatever opera lectures are coming up for me next. These presentations are a wonderful way for me to share my experience from, and knowledge of, the opera world: its history, settings, and performers. And of course the research I do to prepare these lectures also provides me with inspiration for the next book!

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