welcomes as our guest former Metropolitan Opera Orchestra violinist Erica Miner who now enjoys a multi-faceted career as an award-winning author, screenwriter, arts writer and lecturer.

Erica studied violin with Boston Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Joseph Silverstein at Boston University, where she graduated cum laude; the New England Conservatory of Music; and the Tanglewood Music Center, summer home of the Boston Symphony, where she performed with such celebrated conductors as Leonard Bernstein.

Erica went on to perform with the prestigious Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for twenty-one years, a high-pressured milieu but the pinnacle of her field, where she worked closely with numerous luminaries of the opera world.

When injuries from a car accident spelled the end of her musical career, Erica drew upon her lifelong love of writing for inspiration and studied screenwriting in Los Angeles with screenplay gurus Linda  Seger and Ken Rotcop.

Erica’s screenplay awards include such recognized competitions as Santa Fe, WinFemme and the Writer’s Digest. Her debut novel, TRAVELS WITH MY LOVERS, won the Fiction Prize in the Direct from the Author Book Awards.

She then published the first novel in her FOUREVER FRIENDS series chronicling four teenage girls’ bonding through classical music in the volatile 60s. Her suspense thriller MURDER IN THE PIT, a novel of assassination and intrigue at the Metropolitan Opera, has won rave reviews across the board. DEATH BY OPERA, her Santa Fe Opera sequel to MURDER IN THE PIT, is due for release in May 2018.

Erica regularly presents for the Osher Lifelong Living Institute at the University of California San Diego and for the Creative Retirement Institute at Edmonds Community College in the greater Seattle area. Her lectures, seminars and workshops have received kudos on both coasts and as a top-rated special lecturer for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

She has presented frequently for the Wagner Societies in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Her lecture topics include“21 Years at the Met: How I Learned to Love the ‘Ring,’” “Wagner and Bernstein: Parallels and Contrasts,” “Journaling: The Write Way to Write Fiction,” “Solving the Mystery of Mystery Writing,”

Opera Meets Hollywood,” and numerous others

Norm: Good day Erica and thanks for participating in our interview.

Erica: It’s my pleasure, Norm. I’m usually the one conducting interviews with artists and musicians, so it’s a nice change to be the interviewee!

What has been your greatest challenge (professionally) that you’ve overcome in getting to where you’re at today?

Erica: Self-reinvention is always a challenge, and that is what’s been necessary for me to become an author, having spent most of my life as a musician. In order to do that, I’ve had to think way outside the box and adjust my perspective to that of an observer of life, creating my own material, rather than that of a performer, interpreting the fruits of other people’s creativity. That said, each aspect of this creativity feeds the other, so it’s all good.

Norm: What do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far in your various careers?

Erica: As a musician, my greatest success has been to perform as a violinist with the Metropolitan Opera. That was definitely a pinnacle, a recognized level of achievement for a professional musician. It was an amazing experience to perform with the likes of Luciano Pavarotti, Plàcido Domingo, Beverly Sills and countless other luminaries of the opera world, to observe them first hand and be a part of their consummate artistry.

Performing as the Met Orchestra in Carnegie Hall was another high point. As an author, being recognized for my novels has been a sign of success that’s ongoing as I attract more readers and “fans” of my writing, who eagerly anticipate my works to come. In my journalistic endeavors, I feel successful in that various people in the arts world are reaching out to me with requests for interviews. As a lecturer, I’ve presented for some highly recognized venues for classical music and opera aficionados; I consider it a great success for me to have been able to share my knowledge and experiences with those who are so “in tune” with the world of opera.

Norm: How many times in your career have you experienced rejection? How did they shape you?

Erica: There’s no way I could count the times I’ve been rejected, both in my musical and writing endeavors. In fact, there have been many parallels in my journeys in both careers. As a musician, I did countless auditions for orchestra jobs, and experienced many rejections along the way until I became a member of the Met Opera Orchestra.

As a screenwriter and author, I’ve had the same experience. You learn to be sanguine about these rejections as you accumulate them. It helps to have someone support you and believe in you, but most importantly you have to believe in what you’re doing, to passionately wish to share your artistry with the world. Each rejection spurs you forward, to do everything you can to improve your craft and keep moving toward your goal.

Norm: How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?

Erica: I started writing before I started playing the violin. In grade school, at about age seven, I was placed in an afters school program for Creative Writing. I’m not sure what motivated it, but I guess one of my teachers must have seen a spark in me for that. Of course it was a long time ago, but I still remember loving the whole process: of dreaming up characters and plots, weaving them together, and most of all, telling stories.

That love has always stayed with me. Even when I was working at the Met, I tried to keep writing and took writing courses whenever I could fit them in. What keeps me going is that I have so many stories I still want to tell, and a finite amount of time in which to tell them. That is the motivation that continues to spur me on.

Norm: What has been the best part about being published and did you read any special books on how to write?

Erica: For me, the best part of being published is to be able to share my stories with avid readers, who are so appreciative of what I have to offer. Though I do admit it does my heart good to see my books out there, whether in bookstores or online, as a reminder of my good fortune in being able to call myself a published author.

As for special books on how to write, the list is long. I’ve always sought out reference books on whatever kind of writing I may be doing, in order to inform and enhance my own craft. If you look at the lineup of books on my shelves, you’ll see such titles as The Screenwriter’s Problem Solver,

On Writing Well, Creating Unforgettable Characters, Beginnings, Middles and Ends, How to Write Killer Fiction, 20 Master Plots, The Writer’s Journey, Writing the Modern Mystery, The Comic Toolbox – the list goes on and on. I also trolled the internet for essays, blogs and other resources to learn about the craft of writing. That doesn’t take into account the writings of other authors who have inspired me; Agatha Christie is a major one.

Norm: Are you a plot or character writer and what helps you focus when you write?

Erica: That is a really good question. The debate about character vs plot is classic and ongoing. I’ve always tended to be character oriented, both in my fiction and my screenwriting. I feel that if you don’t care about the characters, even the most cleverly constructed plot means very little. But there’s no doubt at all in my mind that character and plot are equally important considerations in writing and creating fiction. This especially holds true in the mystery genre, where the plotting has to be as tight as a drum in order to convince the reader that the story is believable and compelling.

Norm: What do you want your work to do? Amuse people? Provoke thinking?

Erica: For me, first and foremost, a story should entertain. This probably harkens back to my roots as a musician, where our most important function is to provide an entertaining experience for an audience. But I also feel that I’d like to give readers food for thought, to give them the opportunity to learn something through their reading. So the answer is, both to amuse people and make them think. When I first started lecturing, I was taught that I should think in terms of what was called “Edu-tainment” – to both teach and entertain your audience. I feel the same way about my writing. Reading should be thought-provoking, but also immensely enjoyable.

Norm: What advice can you give aspiring writers that you wished you had received, or that you wished you would have listened to?

Erica: When I first started out, and went to writing conferences and seminars, I was told to expect the process of becoming successful to take a very long time. I was totally in denial about that; I was in a big hurry to hit it big. Now I realize just how wise that advice was. So to aspiring writers, I would say, don’t be in a rush, take your time to hone your craft and learn as much as you can about every part of the process. Expect rejections as inevitable, put them under your belt, and keep going. Don’t write in a vacuum; the outside world is an important aspect of your creativity. Be willing to put yourself out there and share your work in every way you can. And one last point, offered by the guru of promotion, Dan Poynter (read his books!): Writing is 5% writing and 95% promotion. Writers these days must also be savvy business persons. We all want to CREATE, but if nobody reads our books, much of that effort is for naught.

Norm: What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?

Erica: Self-doubt is normal and natural. Even the world’s most recognized, successful writers have had their share of moments when they’ve wondered if it’s worth the effort to go on. I truly believe there is a book in everyone; we all have stories, and for the most part they’re all fascinating and worth sharing. If you have stories to share and you have a deep desire to share them, then that is all the reason you need to keep on writing them.

I am a passionate advocate of journaling and have written and lectured about it for many years. If you need to gain perspective on the viability of your writing, start putting it down in a journal. You can then choose what you would like to share and what you want to keep for yourself. Meanwhile, reach out to other writers. There are an infinite number of writers’ support groups on social media that you can connect with and ask for support from. Join a writers’ group so you can bounce ideas off other writers. Those groups are great resources, both for support and for finding a mentor who can offer you encouragement and motivation. Most of all, KEEP GOING. That is my mantra.

Norm: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing and do you have a specific writing style? As a follow up, is your work improvisational or do you have a set plan?

Erica: Aside from my unique, fortunate educational opportunity in grade school (see above), I would say my environment influenced my writing in more ways than one. First, because my parents were immigrants and came from large families, there were countless stories being told at home all the time as I was growing up. I think that’s one reason why I myself love telling them so much. Also, though he never became professional, my father was a gifted writer and accumulated quite a body of work, every word of which I read with interest and admiration.

There’s no question that he was a big influence on me in that regard. My own writing style tends to be very conversational; people say reading my writing is very much like having a conversation with me. And I do love to converse! My work tends to be organized and planned, especially when it comes to mystery (see below).

Even my first novel, TRAVELS WITH MY LOVERS, though it seems quite spontaneous, was written and organized based on my journals. My first screenplay was mostly improvisational, and I really got stuck in several places. Subsequent ones have been based on detailed outlines. Now I never write anything lengthy without spending months on creating an outline. I research and take notes about every aspect of the plot, setting and characters. Once that is complete, I “allow” myself to start writing.

Norm: In your opinion, what makes a good mystery novel?

Erica: I consider mystery the most difficult genre to write successfully. A good mystery novel needs compelling characters that the reader can believe capable of solving a crime, but more importantly the plot needs to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Every piece of the plot has to grow organically out of what came before. If just one piece doesn’t fit, then the entire puzzle is skewed and lacks logic. It all has to make perfect sense. Agatha Christie and Sir Conan Doyle were masters at this kind of plotting and created characters that jumped off the page. If you have these two elements, you have the makings of a great mystery novel.

Norm: In May 2018 you will be coming out with Death by Opera which is the sequel to Murder in the Pit. What would you say is the best reason to recommend someone to read these novels and what served as the primary inspiration for the books?

Erica: First and foremost, these two novels are super entertaining (she said modestly), and are fun, quick reads that keep you turning the page (or so my readers tell me).

Avid mystery readers will really enjoy these books, without question. But they are also geared toward a specialized audience: opera is gaining new fans at an accelerated pace, and opera aficionados will love these two opera-based stories, both of which show an insider’s view of what goes on behind the “golden curtain” of famous opera houses.

My initial inspirations for Murder In The Pit were my experiences as a violinist at the Met Opera. It was such a rich atmosphere, filled with unique, intriguing characters: musicians, singers, actors, dancers, stagehands – an endless well of people and events from which to glean ideas for a well-crafted, somewhat crazy but eminently believable story.

Death By Opera grew from that novel. Fans of Murder have been asking me for a sequel practically since it first came out. They loved the main character – that poor, beleaguered violinist – and wanted more of her misadventures. It was actually one of my readers who led me to believe that Santa Fe Opera could be a fantastic setting for the sequel. It was out of my known comfort zone, but when I visited and got to know the place, its unique ambience and the people who made it tick, it seemed like the obvious choice. Both books show a world that will fascinate and inspire readers. In fact, I now have another opera company that has requested to be the setting for the next sequel. So it looks like it will be a trilogy. Fun!

Norm: What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your books?

Erica: I hope their appetites will be whetted for more opera-based adventures – and that they will believe in the importance of making sure that opera remains an important part of the world’s artistic life.

Norm: Could you tell our readers something about these two novels?

Erica: Murder In The Pit: Sheltered young violinist Julia is traumatized when she witnesses the assassination of her mentor, a famous conductor, on the podium of the Metropolitan Opera. But it is when her best friend Sidney is indicted for the murder that Julia is forced out of her protective shell and into the dark corners and hidden hallways of the world-famous opera house to find the real killer. Then, she not only discovers a hotbed of secrets, intrigue and danger but finds herself in a situation in which she must draw upon all her inner strength to save her own life.

Death By Opera: Having survived her entanglement in a murder plot at the Metropolitan Opera, violinist Julia Kogan finds herself once more in operatic turmoil at the Santa Fe Opera.

In this sequel to Murder In The Pit, Julia and her cohort NYPD detective Larry Somers head to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the opera season at the Santa Fe Opera House, where numerous musicians from the Met Opera perform each summer. Against the breathtaking backdrop of the mystical Sangre de Cristo and Jemez Mountains, where Pueblo Indian spirituality has reigned for a thousand years, and the dramatic, sweeping setting of the elegant contemporary outdoor Santa Fe Opera theater, chaos ensues, as murderous activities plague the performers on stage and off. Faced with a murderer on the loose who threatens the sanctity of the prestigious opera company, Julia and Larry are forced to join forces once again to stop the menace from wreaking further havoc. 

Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your novels?

Erica: MY WEBSITE  has links to my books, as well as to 100s of my published arts articles, plus information on my speaking events and screenplays. There is also an author bio and media kit. Links at the top of the home page will lead you to all of the above. You can also follow me on TWILIGHT TIMES BOOKS

Norm: What is next for Erica Miner?

Erica: I am of course thrilled and excited about the release of Death By Opera, coming up on May 15. A number of coordinated events are already planned and scheduled, including signings and readings at venues in Santa Fe during the opera season this summer. Opera-related activities include lecture series locally in the Seattle area this spring, including a new type of event for me: an opera-based writers’ retreat for Edge of World, a company that creates adventure tours and writer’s retreats. We are going to do an in-depth exploration of Seattle Opera and their upcoming production of Verdi’s Aida. Anyone who is interested in participating can send me an email via my website for more information.

Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your books, but nobody has?

Erica: In all honesty, Norm, you have been so thorough in your questions that I’m completely happy with all that you have already brought up in this interview. It’s been absolutely awesome.

Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors

Erica: Thank you, Norm, for your interest in my work and for giving me the opportunity to reach your many book lovers.