Home > NewsRelease > In Conversation With Former Metropolitan Opera Violinist Erica Miner and an Award-Winning Author, Screenwriter, Journalist and Lecturer.
In Conversation With Former Metropolitan Opera Violinist Erica Miner and an Award-Winning Author, Screenwriter, Journalist and Lecturer.
Norm Goldman --  bookpleasures.com Norm Goldman -- bookpleasures.com
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Montreal, QC
Friday, October 16, 2020


Bookpleasures.com welcomes once again former Metropolitan Opera violinist Erica Miner. Erica isan award-winning author, screenwriter, journalist and lecturer. Sheactively contributes to major arts websites and magazines. 

As an opera expert, she isa regular presenter for the Osher Lifelong Living Institute atUniversity of Washington and University of California San Diego,Creative Retirement Institute at Edmonds College (Seattle area) andWagner Societies on both coasts.

Former Metropolitan Operaviolinist Erica Miner is now an award-winning author, screenwriter,journalist and lecturer, who actively contributes to major artswebsites and magazines.

Erica’s debutnovel, Travels with my Lovers, wonthe Fiction Prize in the Direct from the Author Book Awards. Thefirst two novels in her “operatic mystery” series, Murderin the Pit and Death By Opera, chronicleassassination and intrigue at the Met Opera and Santa Fe Opera.

The third novel in theseries, Staged for Murder, which takes place at SanFrancisco Opera, has just been published. 

Norm: Good day Ericaand thanks once again for participating in our interview.

Erica: Always a pleasure,Norm.

Norm: If you couldrelive a moment in your life, which moment would you choose and why?

Erica: I think it was themoment I sat down in the first violin section of the Met OperaOrchestra in the pit for my first rehearsal. It was nerve wrackingbut very exciting.

My anxiety came fromseeing that James Levine was on the podium; for my first time, thatfelt like a trial by fire. But then I looked up at the stage and sawJon Vickers and Martina Arroyo, two of the most famous opera stars ofthe time. Then my apprehension turned to euphoria. 

Norm: How did yourexperience in screenwriting and journalism inform the novel-writingprocess?

Erica: I started writingscreenplays before I had even thought of writing novels. It was myscreenwriting consultant in Los Angeles who encouraged me to trynovel writing after I came up with the idea for Travels with myLovers.

Then I found a number ofelements of screenwriting that helped me create novels: the strictdiscipline of format that screenwriting demands as far as writingvery lean and clean; the practice in honing dialogue that sparkles;creating characters that jump off the page; and perhaps most of all,learning to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

All of these contributedto my ability to translate my training in screenwriting to the novelgenre. Ironically, when I was struggling with my first foray into thevery difficult mystery category, with the screenplay of Murder inthe Pit, I found that writing it first as a novel helped mefigure out the plot so that I could put all the puzzle piecestogether and make the story cohesive.

My journalistic endeavors,writing reviews and interviewing performing artists, gave me theopportunity to explore the personalities of these fascinating peoplefrom the inside out. This provided me enormous insight as to thepsychological and emotional make up of musicians, and especiallyopera singers, which I then was able to translate into creatingfictional characters in my opera mystery novels. And in fiction, Ibelieve the characters are the most important component.

Norm: Do you thinkabout your reading public when you write? Do you imagine a specificreader when you write?

Erica: Definitely both.When I’m writing about an opera house, no matter which one, I thinkabout how opera lovers and aficionados will recognize and relate tothe operas that are being performed in the novel, and to theatmosphere of an opera house with which they might be familiar.

But within that operaworld I’m also trying to create ways in which non-opera loversmight become intrigued with the art form and with the theatres inwhich the novels take place. For instance, after Death by Operawas published, I received feedback from all types of readers. Thosewho had been to Santa Fe Opera became nostalgic and were eager toreturn to it.

Those who had been toSanta Fe but not to the Opera vowed to attend a performance there assoon as possible. And those who had never even been to Santa Feexpressed a desire to get on the next plane to New Mexico.

Norm: How do you dealwith criticism?

Erica: Not well! I thinkit goes back to when I was studying the violin. My father was myfirst teacher and he was relentlessly critical and nitpicking.

Nothing I did was right,and no matter what I did I couldn’t please him. I know it’sbecause he wanted me to be the best, but I think it spoiled meforever as far as taking criticism.

My next, major violinteacher was critical, but he also told me what I was doing well,which helped a great deal. But by then I had been sensitized to beingfaulted for my shortcomings.

That experience with mydad, who ironically also was a writer, crossed over when I turned towriting as my creative outlet. Whenever someone finds fault with mywriting, my father’s voice of disapproval nags at me. Rejection issomething writers learn to deal with; criticism is a differentanimal.

Norm: Does the linebetween truth and fiction sometimes become blurred for you?

Erica: I must admit itdoes in certain instances, especially when I’m writing about Julia,the violinist protagonist of the series. She is based on myself andmy own experiences when I was a young performer at the Met, andthough I try to maintain a separation between the two of us,sometimes she inevitably reflects my own personality quirks: both myweaknesses and my strengths.

Then, too, I have to tryreally hard not to base certain other characters too closely on realpeople I know. That goes for my actual experiences at the Met aswell. 

Norm: How do you choosethe names of your characters?

Erica: Usually they justcome to me—as my book titles do—though I confess that certaincharacters’ names come from people that I know or have known. Inthe case of Julia, I decided to name her after the young daughter ofmy best friend at the Met.

Another major characterwas named after my brother. Sometimes if a character is based on anacquaintance or relative with a foreign name, I do a search for namesof that nationality that appeal to me. Overall, naming my charactersis one of the most fun aspects of writing fiction.

Norm: Are you everlonely when you write? If so, how do you deal with it?

Erica: I’m never lonelywhen I write, because I have my characters to keep me company. Theyare always talking to me, even to the point of demanding what theywant me to have them do and which other characters they want tointeract with.

I know it sounds a bitcrazy, but as many other writers have claimed, characters often tendto do what they themselves decide they want to do. I create them, butlike children they take on personalities of their own and go off anddo their own thing. I am fascinated watching and listening to them. Ieven talk to them at times. Okay, now you know. A writer’s crazyconfession.

Norm: Please tell usabout your latest novel,  Staged for Murder?

Erica: Ah. That one cameabout in a special way. I have a long history with the City by theBay and with San Francisco Opera. I first visited San Francisco withmy ex-husband when our son was an infant, and I fell in love with thecity. Years later, my ex introduced me to the Opera and the WarMemorial Opera House when he was assistant to the company’s greatimpresario Kurt Herbert Adler.

I was always veryimpressed with the opera house and with Adler; even after my ex and Isplit I would go back and spend tons of time in the city, especiallyafter my son, as an adult, decided to live there. Cut to after Murderin the Pit.

I was in Santa Feresearching Death by Opera and got together with a friend whowas Dramaturg of San Francisco Opera. He suggested setting the nextsequel there, and I thought it was a perfect fit, given myexperiences with the company. I decided to make my life difficult bybasing the whole novel on Wagner’s famous Ring, which was ratherchallenging: the four operas in the cycle add up to about seventeenhours of music and trying to cover all that in a novel involved aserious amount of work.

The company had justrevived the iconic Francesca Zambello production of the Ring, so itwas timely; and after all I do spend inordinate amounts of timelecturing for Wagner Societies all over the country. I made severaltrips to the city to research the book and had the help of myDramaturg friend, who introduced me to the venue itself and to thepeople who run the company who could provide the insights andbackground I needed.

In the story, Julia isengaged to replace the regular concertmaster, who is recovering frominjuries from a car accident. Part of the puzzle is, was that reallyan accident? Then trouble starts brewing when murder turns to mayhem.Julia gets embroiled in the investigation and becomes a killer’starget. I don’t want to give too much away about what happens next!

Norm: Whichcharacter in this novel was the easiest to write? Most difficult?  

Erica: Julia is always theeasiest to write, since she is my alter ego. I was never in the kindof trouble she gets in, but when it comes to handling the foibles oflife at the opera house, I’ve certainly had my share. Her viewsdefinitely reflect my own views, she is very close to my physicaltype, and most of all she loves music with her whole heart and soul.

For me in this novel, infact in all my novels of this genre, the antagonist is the mostdifficult to write. I’m a pacifist at heart, and it’s tough forme to put myself into the mind of a killer. However, this is possiblythe most important element of the story; the perpetrator is oftenthought of as the core of a mystery. So, I have to try to evoke myinner villain, as it were, and draw upon what one reader called my“wicked imagination” to create a monster of epic proportions toheighten the drama of the story and escalate it to a level that isfrightening enough to keep the reader turning the pages.

Norm: What wereyour goals and intentions in this novel, and how well do you feel youachieved them? 

Erica: I truly believethat opera is larger-than-life, one of the world’s most valuableand beloved art forms. In recent times, our much-honored SupremeCourt Justice, the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, embodied one of thegreatest examples of veneration for opera, its composers, works andperformers.

She reflects the greatlove that so many of us have for opera. Because opera is so unique inits wonders, I wanted, from the very beginning of this novel series,to show my own deep regard for opera by writing about it in a waythat would bring it to people’s attention. That was my originalintent with Staged for Murder.

Then the pandemic hit, andall over the world—but especially in this country—operaperformers are suffering from not being able to express their artbecause of the near impossibility of presenting operas on a stagewith so many people in a theatre which by definition be sparselyattended.

That situation heightenedmy desire to get this novel in the hands of people who willappreciate the importance of opera, remind them that this art formsomehow must survive, and perhaps satisfy their need for a connectionwith opera in these difficult times.

Most of all, I feel a deepconnection with San Francisco Opera and wish to promote them in anyway I can. Not only are they the second most prestigious company inthe country, but they also perform in a stunning Beaux Arts theatrethat I feel must continue to be both revered and preserved so thatwhen this crisis has been overcome, the company will rise from theashes and again be able to offer their invaluable contribution to theopera world.

Norm: What was themost difficult part of writing this novel and what did you enjoymost about writing it?

Erica: Aside from creatinga villain who was believably evil, the most difficult part was torevisit the Ring with all its complexities: studying the libretto ofeach of the four operas, deciding how I was going to connect theirstory lines with the plot of the novel, and choosing which excerptsfrom each libretto with which I was going to begin each chapter. (Inevery novel of the series I start each chapter with a different operaquote; I was glad to discover that my readers really enjoy thatapproach.)

Though I played countlessperformances of the Ring operas, it’s been many years since I’vedone so, and it took a lot of research and mental fortitude tocombine my past experiences with the new-found knowledge I gainedfrom delving deeply into the world of the Ring.

What I enjoyed most wasexpressing my love for the city of San Francisco; in describing itsmultifaceted features and qualities, natural beauty and culturalhaunts, and so much more. And of course, depicting the greatness ofthe San Francisco Opera: its gorgeous venue and fascinating history,as well as the personalities of the people who make the company oneof our very best.

Norm: What do yourplans for future projects include?  

Erica: Now that I’ve“given birth” to this new “baby”, the immediate future is allabout getting the word out—with your wonderful help and that ofothers—and trying to inspire as many people as I can to read thebook.

I have a number of Zoomlectures to give and reviews to write of online streamingperformances. That should be interesting, since it will be a wholedifferent way of doing things from what I’ve done in the past. Asfar as a next sequel, the San Diego Opera has expressed a desire forit to take place there.

Part of my heart is stillin that wonderful city, where I lived for sixteen years, and Imaintain a great relationship with people at SDO—one of whom hastold me, jokingly of course, that he knows where some bodies areburied! We’ll see what happens with that. 

Norm: Where can ourreaders find out more about you and Staged for Murder?

 Erica: The book isnow published in various electronic formats. Readers can find it on AMAZON  and the AppleiBookstore 

It shouldbe available soon at Barnes and Noble online. Also, on my PUBLISHER'S WEBSITE  readers can find my book page with an excerpt from the book.

Andthey can always check my WEBSITE forupdates as to when the print version will be released (hopefullysoon).

Norm: As this interviewcomes to an end, if you could invite three writers, dead or aliveinto your living room, who would they be and why?

Erica: Wow, what a toughquestion. I have so many that I love. I would have to start withCharlotte Brontë. Her novels were among the first I ever read as achild and I’d love to find out more about what she feels on theinside. I’ve long admired Erica Jong and have read everything shehas written. Not only because she is my namesake but because I thinkshe has been such a force in the feminist movement. The third wouldbe Agatha Christie. She is my idol in the mystery genre, and myinspiration. I’m sure we could consume endless pots of tea talkingabout her amazing life and work.

Norm: Thanks once againand good luck with all of your future endeavors.

Erica: Thank you, Norm,for the opportunity to share my work with your readers.

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 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

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