ERICA MINER – Bringing Murder and Music Together

Former Metropolitan Opera violinist Erica Miner is an award-winning 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.

Based in the Pacific Northwest, 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, set at the Metropolitan Opera, published by Level Best Books in October 2022, is the first in her Julia Kogan Opera Mystery series. The sequel, Prelude to Murder, which takes place at the Santa Fe Opera, is due for release in September 2023. The third book in the series, set at San Francisco Opera, will follow in 2024.

PRELUDE TO MURDER follows the further adventures of young violinist Julia Kogan, who leaves her home base, the Metropolitan Opera, for a guest appearance with the Santa Fe Opera. Teaming with a Shakespeare-quoting detective, Julia finds enough ambition, intrigue, and jealous wrangling behind the scenes to ensure plenty of suspects when murder takes center stage.

A Note From the Author: In my 21 years as a violinist at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, I witnessed deadly accidents, suicides, onstage fatalities, and other nefarious goings-on behind the scenes that far surpassed what took place onstage. What occurs behind that “Golden Curtain” can be as startlingly dramatic as any opera plot. The potential for murder and mayhem at an opera house is virtually limitless.
I was convinced both opera lovers and mystery novel aficionados would be fascinated by an insider’s view of the egos, rivalries and jealousies that make an opera house tick. With the help of my wicked writer’s imagination, I tossed my unsuspecting violinist protagonist into the fray: my “Opera Mystery” series was born.

I was convinced both opera lovers and mystery novel aficionados would be fascinated by an insider’s view of the egos, rivalries, and astonishing behavior of individuals who made the opera house tick. I discovered that the potential for murder and mayhem at an opera house is virtually limitless: it’s always “dark and stormy” at the Metropolitan Opera. Thus, with the help of my wicked writer’s imagination, I tossed my unsuspecting young violinist protagonist into the fray, and voilà: my Julia Kogan “Opera Mystery” series was born.

What brought you to writing? I actually started writing before I started playing the violin. In grade school, I was placed in an after-school program for Creative Writing. I loved the whole process, creating characters and plots and weaving them together to tell stories. My love of writing began at that time and has kept going throughout my adult life. Even when I was performing at the Met Opera, I took writing classes whenever I could fit them into my schedule. After I left the Met, I went back to my lifelong love of writing as my creative outlet. I still love telling stories!

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I feel most comfortable and productive writing on my desktop Mac in my office. I have everything I need within reach and within sight. In front of me are shelves holding my favorite screenplays, musical scores, books on writing, copies of my own books, photos of beloved family members, and even stuffies—a minion and a Brünnhilde Teddy bear—to keep me company and inspire me to make up great stories. When I’m stuck or need to contemplate for a moment, I look around at my familiar accoutrements, and I’m motivated to keep going. What I can’t abide in the way of distractions is noise: music, outdoor landscaping, and such. That is the worst distraction for me.

What are you currently working on? The third book in my Opera Mystery series is due for release in September 2024. Meanwhile, I will keep my musical writing muse active by reviewing performances in my local Seattle concert halls and opera houses.

How do you come up with character names? Creating character names is one of my favorite parts of writing a novel. Often I am inspired to use names of close relatives and friends who have made a deep impression on me, some of them since childhood, who have similar traits to those of my characters.

Do you base any of your characters on real people? In my Opera Mystery novels, I’m always tempted to base my characters on people I’ve worked with at the Met Opera, whether in the orchestra, onstage, or backstage. I like to combine the characteristics of different colleagues into one character, though sometimes I have based a character wholly on a real person.

What kind of research do you do? I have had extensive training in musicological research, so I do exhaustive studies to ensure I have a historical basis, both for the operas I include in my plots, the opera houses where they are performed, and the cities in which they are located. The history of opera, its composers, and its performances are absolutely fascinating. I delve into the composers’ lives, how and why they wrote a particular opera, the singers who have performed those works since the beginning, and all kinds of other fascinating facts. Then I weave it all into my stories.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? So far, I’ve used real locations. The first in the series took place at my home base, the Metropolitan Opera in New York. After being there for 21 years, I knew the place inside out, and it seemed the logical and perfect place to set my first Opera Mystery. When one reader suggested I set a sequel at Santa Fe Opera, I jumped on it. No other major opera company performs in the middle of the desert of New Mexico. After that, various opera companies asked if I would consider writing mysteries taking place at their opera houses. There are so many amazing opera venues and so many wonderful theatres from which to choose, all of them having their own unique characteristics. So, for the time being, I’m more than happy to place my stories in real locations. It would be fun at some point, however, to fabricate my own opera house in a made-up location, too.

ENDORSEMENTS:

“Erica Miner has created a world few people know or have access to. A mystery with music beyond the words on the page. If all music aspires to the human voice, this author has found hers from the start.” Gabriel Valjan, Agatha & Anthony nominated author of the Shane Cleary Mystery series

“Erica Miner is the Agatha Christie of the opera world.” – Richard Stilwell, international opera star

“Prelude to Murder is a tantalizing peek behind the curtain of the world-renowned Santa Fe Opera. There’s plenty of mayhem on the bill, sumptuous history, and metaphysical frights set against bloody arias and deadly recitativo.”
-James W. Ziskin, Anthony, Barry, and Macavity Award-winning author

How do our readers contact you?
Web site: https://www.ericaminer.com
Email ‘ eminer5472@gmail.com

SOCIAL MEDIA HANDLES:
https://www.facebook.com/erica.miner1
https://twitter.com/EmwrtrErica
https://www.instagram.com/emwriter3/

BUY LINKS:
[These are for currently available Aria for Murder. Will send links for Prelude to Murder when available]
Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/Aria-Murder-Julia-Kogan-Mystery/dp/1685121985/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Barnes & Nobel – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/aria-for-murder-erica-miner/1142495216?ean=9781685121983
Third Place Books – https://www.thirdplacebooks.com/book/9781685121983

GROUPS I BELONG TO:
Sisters in Crime
Pacific Northwest Writers Association
International Thriller Writers
EPIC Group Writers

2 Comments

  1. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    I have always enjoyed your interviews, Erica, and this one is no different. Your responses to George’s questions really highlight your expertise and unique abilities to capture, and then create from, what you secretly share with us is the wild-ride world of behind-the-scenes opera.

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    Interesting interview, Erica. I must admit, I was astounded by your account of the things you’ve seen behind the curtain. Aside from the Phantom of the Opera, I never thought of the place as being a hot bed of crime and misfortune. You seem like a exceptionally bright and talented person. Do you write music as well? Good luck.

    Reply

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VALERIE J. BROOKS – Author of the Femmes-Noir Angeline Porter Trilogy

Valerie J. Brooks is a multi-award-winning author of femmes-noir thrillers where the women are badass and take center stage. The first in the Angeline Porter Trilogy Revenge in 3 Parts, was a finalist for the Nancy Pearl Book Award. NYTimes bestselling author Kevin O’Brien called her second novel Tainted Times 2 “… a real nail-biter from the first page to the last.”

 

Valerie is a member of Sisters in Crime and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. She teaches workshops and classes on writing noir and creating plot twists.

1 Last Betrayal A former criminal defense attorney receives an alarming text and races in desperation to Florida only to find a ransacked apartment, a poisoned dog, and a missing half-sister.

Let me tell you a story – When I was sixteen, I worked as a New England Tel & Tel switchboard operator. Back then, this was a prime job for someone my age, but it could also be boring, sitting there, waiting for lights that indicated a call.

One day, I connected a call from a Laconia phone booth to a Massachusetts number. I asked the caller to deposit the correct amount of change for the three-minute call, connected the two numbers, and closed the switch. I went on to other calls.

After three minutes were up, I went back to the call. As I did with all calls made from a phone booth, I pulled back the switch to listen in on the call so I could break in during a lull in the conversation without the caller knowing.

What I heard felt so dangerous that I couldn’t talk. The man from the Boston number was setting up a hit with the man in the phone booth. I wish I could remember the conversation, but I did understand that the Boston man gave instructions to the man in the phone booth to kill someone who lived in Belknap Acres, a ritzy, gated residential area that was rumored to have an armed guard at the gate.

I wrote down the two phone numbers and the name of the Boston man associated with the number. I wrote down the few specifics I was able to hear. The conversation was short.

After they hung up and I disconnected the line, I questioned what I heard. Was I imagining it? Was it a joke? But I’d heard too many rumors about Belknap Acres and what went on there, who lived there, why there was an armed guard. I had no idea who was supposed to be killed, but I did have an address.

I had to work a little longer before I could signal the switchboard foreman that I needed to speak with her. We went into her office, and I told her about what I had heard.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t do anything about this,” she said. “You know we’re not allowed to listen in on calls, and we would have to explain how we heard this information.”

I knew the rules but thought this situation would be different. Someone was going to get killed.

All afternoon, I worried about the call. The hit was planned for that evening. I decided to tell my parents when I got home. They were strict with us kids about living by the rules, but I figured they wouldn’t care that I listened in, not for something like this, and Dad often talked about how corrupt Massachusetts was.

Right away, my mom called the FBI. We figured that someone would take the info over the phone, and that would be that.

Instead, twenty minutes later, two FBI special agents knocked on our door. My parents invited them in. One sat down across from me while the other stood by the door. They wore street clothes, no suits. The agent who asked me questions seemed like anyone I’d run into in town—non-descript shirt and pants, a little overweight, a kind smile. I answered all his questions and gave him the piece of paper that I had saved with all the info. The agent spoke softly and made me feel comfortable, not what I’d pictured from an FBI agent. He thanked me for calling them. I asked him if he’d let us know what happens. He just smiled and said, “No. You won’t find out anything about this unless, for some reason, something happens that the news finds out about.”

He thanked my parents, and they left. We never heard anything else. My dad said they must have been working on a local case, and it could have had to do with the information I gave them.

That was the beginning of my interest in mobs and the FBI.

Now to back up a bit – I’d always loved dark stories, gothic tales of secrets, and writers like Wilkie Collins and Daphne du Maurier. Later I fell in love with Jean Ryss novels. Growing up in New Hampshire added to my interest. As children who were expected to be seen and not heard during adult gatherings, we heard plenty. Families worked hard to be perceived as perfect, but we knew better. Perception is a tricky bit of flimflammery because truth seeps out. And who better to know this than children who seemed to be invisible. Early on, I was aware of what I would later call hypocrisy, but because it didn’t pertain to me at the time, I didn’t explore it until much later when I moved to Oregon and began writing.

My interest in the underbelly of life took full bloom while taking college courses in film noir. I loved the voice, the tropes, and the truthful examination of our culture, lifestyles, and capitalistic drive/greed. For me, noir dispelled the fantasy idea of “happy ever after” and “justice wins.” Perry Mason was a fantasy of good winning over evil. Of course, we need fantasy to escape the hard realities at times, but I just couldn’t write like that or write in black and white. As the brilliant Dennis Lehane says, “I live in the gray.”

Living in the gray when you’re a writer sometimes makes the work harder. How do I give a satisfying ending? What do my characters do that make them fascinating? Usually, my characters are like me, except they push boundaries as I never would. For example, Angeline has killed two mobsters in self-defense. Could I ever do that? I don’t know, but I love her for it.

Being a pantser, I start my thrillers with a setting. I might have an idea about the character, but as in my first of the Angeline Porter Trilogy, I wanted to set my story in Paris. Having been to Paris in 2015 and having taken many notes, Angeline came to life, stepping off the Metro. With the second in the trilogy, the setting had to be New Hampshire, where I grew up. There’s not as much action, but there’s a lot of atmosphere and secrets that Angeline discovers, setting her on a direct path to the third thriller I just finished, 1 Last Betrayal. The secrets lead her to trying to save a sister she never knew she had. Off to Hollywood, Florida, where mobsters ruled back in the day. Its history made me yearn to know more about the setting, which was perfect for the “final showdown” with the mob.

Now I’m immersed in the promoting and launching of the third thriller. I miss my characters. Miss them terribly. I’m tempted to write another Angeline story. “We shall see,” as my Brit mom used to say. One thing I know for sure—I need to start writing again. Whatever the story.

Valerie’s short story prequel to the Angeline Porter trilogy is available for free.
Download it here: “Lake Winnisquam 1982

https://valeriejbrooks.com

https://www.facebook.com/FemmesNoirFiction/

https://www.instagram.com/valeriejbrooksauthor/

https://twitter.com/ValinParis

https://www.pinterest.com/valinparis/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/valeriejbrooks/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmlKViIkOnk&t=30s

https://www.tiktok.com/@valeriebrooksauthor

 

18 Comments

  1. ana

    What a story! That call must have been chilling. Can’t wait to read your books.

    Reply
    • Valerie J. Brooks

      Ana,
      Thanks so much for stopping by! For a 16-year-old is was chilling and exciting. I used to watch PERRY MASON with mom, and I always loved the idea that justice wins out in the end. But as I got older, that went away.
      My books are available on Amazon. Let me know what you think! I love getting fan mail.
      Valerie

      Reply
  2. Valerie J. Brooks

    Thank you, George, for inviting me to your blog.
    Sharing stories like this is the equivalent of sitting around the fire and swapping tales, something we rarely do anymore.
    It was so nice to meet everyone and thanks for your comments.
    Valerie

    Reply
  3. Valerie Brooks

    Thank you, George, for inviting me to your blog.
    Sharing stories like this is the equivalent of sitting around the fire and swapping tales, something we rarely do anymore.
    It was so nice to meet everyone and thanks for your comments.
    Valerie

    Reply
  4. John Schembra

    Wonderful story! What an experience for a 16-year-old to experience! I agree with Mike- you should turn your experience into a novel- It would be a good one. Imagine the adventures the operator could get involved in!

    Reply
    • Valerie Brooks

      Hi John,
      I have thought about that! It would make a great novel AND I wouldn’t have to deal with cell phones!
      Thanks for dropping by,
      Valerie

      Reply
  5. Donnell

    Fantastic story. I call events like this germs. They grow and cultivate. Soon they’re so contagious you develop the writing disease. Great story and well done!

    Reply
    • Valerie Brooks

      Thanks so much, Donnell!
      Isn’t it interesting that these gems sometimes don’t pop up until the mind wants to let them loose? As writers, I think we have a deep well of memories that contribute to our stories.
      Thanks for the kudos!
      Valerie

      Reply
  6. Michael A. Black

    What a neat story. It could be the beginning of a neat novel, especially with the obtuse supervisor. That woman must have been in on it. 😉 Back when there were still payphones, the operators used to routinely listen in when calls were made to police departments or to report an emergency. One time we’d arrested one of the local knucleheads (We called him Big Lip Louie). He went to bond court and was release on his own recognizance,but had to walk back from court. On the way he stopped at a pay phone to call the station and anonymously threatened the arresting officer by name. Louie thought he was being slick calling from the pay phone and then hanging up. The trouble was the operator was listening and she cut in after he’d hung up and gave us the location of the payphone. It was a simple matter of swooping down and checking the area. The incoming calls were all recorded on our end, and Louie had a distinctive voice. We grabbed him and took him back to jail. Best of luck with your new book. It sounds like a real winner.

    Reply
    • Valerie Brooks

      Whoops, something happened and my reply didn’t go through. Let’s try this again.
      Michael,
      Well, they never said small-time criminals were smart. I love the name Big Lip Louie. I’m assuming he had a big lip or was lippy?
      You must have a wealth of stories to tell!
      Thanks for your well wishes!
      Valerie

      Reply
    • Donnell

      Sounds like Mike as nd Valerie dhould co-write a story:)

      Reply
  7. Victoria Weisfeld

    What an interesting launch to your career! If FBI agents had shown up at my front door–even if my mother had called them–I’m sure I would have fainted. Then picked myself up and been mightily curious about what they’d do next. Best of luck with the new book.

    Reply
    • Valerie Brooks

      Hi Victoria!
      The odd thing was I didn’t know my dad had called the FBI. As I knew nothing about whom to report it to, that was a surprise although he did say he’d take care of it.
      What was surprising to me was these FBI agents seemed so “normal” and not of the super hunky variety. But. hey, I was 16!
      Thank you for the best wishes!
      Valerie

      Reply
      • Valerie Brooks

        I still don’t know who actually called the FBI–Mom or Dad. I suspect my Mom as I wrote in the story. But it was a long time ago.
        Recently while at Bouchercon, I told this story when I was on a panel about getting details right. A man in the audience suggested I go through the Freedom of Information process to get the details.
        As a writer, I am curious. But I don’t know yet if I will or not.

        Reply
  8. Marilyn Meredith

    Great post. I was a phone operator once–eaons ago–long distance and sometimes Information. Believe me, we all listened into celebrities conversations,even the supervisors, never anything exciting though. It was a dfferent time. As an information operator we could answer any questions if we knew the answer even how to cook something. What was the weather like? We looked out the window. Whenever I needed a job back then, I became a phone operator.

    Reply
    • Valerie Brooks

      Hi Marilyn,
      Yes, we did listen in, but not very often as we were watched carefully. Although we had celebrities in the area who vacation in the Lakes Region, they didn’t use phone booths. LOL. But those were the days that people made person-to-person calls, collect calls, and some others I can’t remember, and those could be interesting.
      But, wait, I wasn’t supposed to be listening in. Ah, at least you could look out the window. Ours was like a basement. Just artificial light as I recall. And as a 16-year-old, it was boring! Plus, we were given split shifts which really interfered with our social life.
      Thanks for sharing your phone operator experience!
      Valerie

      Reply
  9. Elizabeth Varadan

    Wow that sounds so chilling to have heard a “hit” being planned over the phone. I’m so glad your mom thought of calling the FBI. I haven’t read your books yet but now I want to. (A wonderful aspect of blogs is making discoveries like this.)

    Reply
    • Valerie Brooks

      Hi Elizabeth,
      So sorry to be so late at responding to your comment. Things got a little crazy after I launched 1 LAST BETRAYAL. 🙂
      Thank you for identifying the word I needed to explain how I felt: “chilling.” Yes, it was. My parents were involved in politics and the American Legion both on a state and national level. They were well connected and probably had a number for the FBI.
      They also talked about the corruption in Massachusetts and forbade me to see any boy from that state.
      Let me know how you like my books. I love hearing from readers.
      All best, Valerie

      Reply

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