The Big Thrill Sits Down to Discuss PRELUDE TO MURDER with Erica Miner
Young, prodigious Metropolitan Opera violinist Julia Kogan, having survived her entanglement in an investigation of her mentor’s murder, and a subsequent violent, life-threatening attack of a ruthless killer, is called upon for a key musical leadership position at the Santa Fe Opera. But at the spectacular outdoor theatre in the shadows of the mysterious New Mexican Sangre de Cristo Mountains, she witnesses yet other operatic murders, both onstage and off. Dark and painful secrets emerge as, ignoring warnings from her colleagues and from Larry, her significant other, Julia plunges into her own investigation of the killing. Ghostly apparitions combine with some of the most bloody and violent operas in the repertoire to make Julia question her own motives for searching for the killer. But this time the threat to her life originates from a source she never would have imagined.
Erica Miner recently spent time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest mystery, PRELUDE TO MURDER.
A novel is such a major undertaking; there’s the writing of it, of course, then you’re spending months and months revising, polishing, and then promoting it. How did you know this was the book you wanted to spend the next couple of years on?
After I wrote the first novel in my series, which was set at the Met Opera, one of my avid readers—a fervent opera fan— asked me about a sequel. When I told him it had not occurred to me, he said I absolutely must write one, and it must take place at the Santa Fe Opera. I immediately got fired up about the idea. The opera company, with its spectacular outdoor theatre situated in the desert between two mysterious mountain ranges, was the ideal setting for a mystery. Santa Fe not only has one of the most fascinating histories of any city in the U.S., but also is purported to have more ghosts than any other city in the country. Sold.
Can you pinpoint a moment or incident that sparked the idea for this book?
When I was a violinist at the Metropolitan Opera, I witnessed a number of nefarious incidents. Not exactly “the stuff dreams are made of,” to quote Shakespeare, but quite the opposite: performers keeling over onstage; people committing suicide by throwing themselves off the top of the balcony; real death threats and more. When it dawned on me that I could use my wicked imagination to embroider some of these stories into a fictional depiction of what could go terribly wrong at an opera house, I was sold on the idea. What better way to kill off the people who made my life miserable?
Were there any particular books, movies, or songs that were knocking around in your head while you were writing this one?
Absolutely. As a musician, there’s always a song in my head. This book is all about opera, all about song. There are four famous operas during which the murders occur. Even before I started writing, I was researching the music—its history, performers past and present—and listening to large sections of the pieces to determine which excerpts would most provide the perfect setting for murder and mayhem. For instance, in the big ensemble scene of Act 2 of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, his adaptation of the Shakespeare, I visualized the massive sword fight that breaks out between Mercutio, Tybalt and Romeo, listened to the music that goes along with it, and pictured the action in my book that would fit with all of it. That held true for the other operas and other murders that happen in the story. In opera, art imitates life and vice versa. What occurs onstage is reflected by what happens away from the stage. There’s no way you can separate music from that.
When you first created your protagonist for this book, did you see an empty space in crime lit that you wanted to fill? What can you share about the inspiration for that character?
Crime novels that take place in a professional musical setting are few and far between. Having lived the life of a musician, and being cognizant of the craziness that goes on behind the scenes, I thought there would be an audience for murder mysteries that take place against this largely unknown background. It turns out there are any number of readers who love both mystery and opera. It seemed natural, then, to create a protagonist who reflected my own experiences: i.e., a young violinist just starting out who is brilliantly talented but knows nothing about the charged atmosphere into which she has been immersed. Julia learns the hard way, caught in the crossfire between colleagues who are constantly in conflict with each other, and eventually thrust into a murder investigation. She resembles me physically and emotionally, but I could never be as brave or heroic. That’s the beauty of fiction: you can create a character with qualities you can only wish you had.
In addition to a great read, what do you hope readers will take away from this story?
I would like readers to be aware of the lives of artists. If you’ve ever been a part of this world, you know how tough it is to be a creative person and try to make a living at it. In a theatre milieu like the Met Opera, with as many as 1,000 people working there, you are going to encounter people with enormous egos who are trying to protect their creativity with a great deal of bravado, who act as if they’re always on a stage. Opera is unique. There’s no other art form like it. It’s larger than life. There’s a saying among artists, “Die liebe brennt,” which loosely translated means, “No love lost.” Everyone is in conflict with everyone else. I’ve found that readers are fascinated with this world and the quirky, sometimes maddening characters found within it, and I’d like them to take away a delicious awareness of it. And most of all, to create some new opera lovers.
What can you share about what you’re working on next?
That would be the next sequel in the series, which takes place at San Francisco Opera. My research for this book has been amazing; the history of this company is absolutely unique, and having toured this elegant old opera house, I found it full of nooks and crannies and dark spaces where dreadful mischief can take place. And then there’s the magnificent city of San Francisco. What better setting for murder and mayhem?
After 21 years as a violinist with the Metropolitan Opera, Erica Miner turned to her lifelong love of writing as her creative outlet. Based in the Pacific Northwest, she is now an award-wining author, screenwriter, arts journalist, and lecturer. Her debut novel, Travels with My Lovers, won the Fiction Prize in the Direct from the Author Book Awards, and her screenplays have won awards in the WinFemme, Santa Fe, and Writers Digest competitions.
Erica continues to balance 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. Aria for Murder, published by Level Best Books in Oct. 2022, the first in her Julia Kogan Opera Mystery series, was a finalist in the 2023 Eric Hoffer Awards. The second in the series, Prelude to Murder, finds the violinist in heaps of trouble in the desert at the Santa Fe Opera. The next sequel, due for release in 2023, takes place at San Francisco Opera.
When she isn’t plumbing the depths of opera houses for murderous mayhem, Erica frequently contributes reviews and interviews for the well-known arts websites BroadwayWorld.com, us.Bachtrack.com, and LAOpus.com. Her writings also have appeared in PNWA Magazine, Vision Magazine, WORD San Diego, Our City Istanbul, and numerous E-zines.
Erica also is a top speaker and lecturer. In the music world, she has presented pre-concert lectures for the Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall; Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of California San Diego and the University of Washington; the Creative Retirement Institute at Edmonds College in the greater Seattle area; and Wagner Societies in Boston, New York, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego, North Carolina, and New South Wales (Sydney, Australia).
As a writer-lecturer, Erica has given workshops for Sisters in Crime; Los Angeles Creative Writing Conference; EPIC Group Writers; Write on the Sound; Fields End Writer’s Community; Savvy Authors; and numerous libraries on the west coast.
To learn more about the author, please visit her website.
PRELUDE TO MURDER with Erica Miner