The Delights of Becoming a Musical Mystery Series by Erica Miner

In my 21 years as a violinist with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, I discovered a number of things. First, opera can kill you. An opera theatre is the perfect environment for mischief, mayhem, and murder. In opera, what happens away from the stage can be more dramatic than what happens on the stage. And opera stories are among the bloodiest, most violent ever written. What better way to bring murder and music together than in the mystery fiction genre? Based on my years of experience at the Met, I can give readers an insider’s view of the conflicts between the thousands of people working backstage, and their murderous thoughts about each other. 

I was thinking along those lines as I wrote Aria for Murder, the story of gifted young Met Opera violinist Julia Kogan. Much like me when I first started out at the Met, Julia is a starry-eyed neophyte who is thrilled beyond belief to be making her debut in the orchestra of the world’s most prestigious opera house on opening night. Little does Julia know something terrible is about to happen. Soon, she finds herself entangled in a murder investigation and ends up the target of a ruthless killer. 

 Julia is intrepid, smart, and courageous (the beauty of fiction is that you can create a character like yourself but with characteristics you only wish you had). Readers asked for a sequel. One fan’s request was specific: write a sequel and set it at the Santa Fe Opera.

Why Santa Fe? For starters, the company and its setting are unique. The only opera company in the US that performs exclusively in the summer at a contemporary, architecturally distinctive outdoor theatre in the middle of the desert, they have a history of premiering more new operas than any other company. Opera lovers come from all over the world to attend their season year after year.

This was a golden opportunity for me to create Book Two, Prelude to Murder, in which I send poor, unsuspecting Julia into yet another precarious situation. Right away, she’s a fish out of water: a New York City gal dropped into the middle of the New Mexican desert, at an outdoor theatre set between two mysterious mountain ranges—one of which is called “Blood of Christ”—in a city that has more ghosts than any other place in the US. What could possibly go wrong?

 No sooner does Julia arrive in Santa Fe than operatic chaos ensues, and she becomes involved in yet another murder investigation. But this time she’s not only pursued by a killer but by the ghosts and spooks that haunt the theatre and everywhere else in Santa Fe. Julia does not like ghosts. Which means, of course, that she encounters more than one.

Thus, I became the writer of a series with a protagonist who has wide appeal and constantly surprises me with her penchant for getting in and out of hot water. It was an absolute blast to get Julia up that musical tree and find ways to get her back down again. While I was researching Prelude to Murder, my work garnered the attention of the dramaturg at San Francisco Opera. Guess where the next sequel takes place?

When I started putting the opera mystery concept into play, it never occurred to me that it had series potential. Now I’m delighting in its limitless capacity to expand. I can set a book in any one of several opera houses from Seattle to Paris to Sydney, Australia. The possibilities are enticing.

Bringing murder and music together fictionally has been a wild, wonderful ride so far. Who knows where this will lead me from here? But most of all I believe that the only thing better than a great story is a great story with music. And being able to share insider information about the behind-the-scenes chaos that takes place at an opera house is one of the most fun rides I have ever experienced. 

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Award-winning Seattle-based author, lecturer and arts journalist Erica Miner believes opera theatres are perfect places for creating fictional mischief! Drawing on her 21 years as a violinist at the famed Metropolitan Opera, Erica’s fanciful plot fabrications reveal the dark side of the fascinating world of opera in her Julia Kogan Opera Mystery series (Level Best Books): Aria for Murder (2022), finalist in the 2023 CIBA and Eric Hoffer Book Awards; Prelude to Murder (2023) (‘A skillfully written whodunit of operatic proportions’--Kirkus Reviews); and Book 3, title TBA to release in Oct. 2024. Erica’s debut novel, Travels with My Lovers, won the Fiction Prize in the Direct from the Author Book Awards. 

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