Guest Blogger ~ Erica Miner

BRINGING MURDER AND MUSIC TOGETHER

Opera can kill you.

That’s what young violin prodigy Julia Kogan discovers on the night of her debut in the orchestra at the Metropolitan Opera.

Julia is the protagonist in my Opera Mystery novel series. I know her very well. She is my alter ego, my clone: myself at that age, when I first started out as a newbie in the Met Orchestra.

How did a Met Opera violinist morph into a writer of mysteries? The answer lies in a sad story with a happy outcome.

When I was in my twenties, I had the good fortune to be playing in the pit at the Met, where I was privileged to watch and learn from some of the most glittering celebrities ever to grace the opera stage. Rehearsing and performing with the likes of Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo was an almost daily occurrence, and dreamlike in its splendor. Night after night I watched the dazzling Austrian crystal chandeliers rise to the ceiling, heralding another first act curtain about to rise at the world’s most prestigious opera house. It was hard work but rewarding.

Alas, after 21 years of opera spectacles from Mozart to Verdi to Wagner, injuries suffered in a car accident forced me to give up my Met career. What new creative outlet could I replace it with? It was writing that saved me.

I had always written, since I was a kid in grade school and was placed in an after-school program for Creative Writing. That was when I discovered my love for the art: inventing characters and plot lines and weaving them together to tell stories. Even when I was at the Met, I took writing classes whenever I could fit them into my schedule. That passion for telling stories has not faltered. I never expected it would one day become the key to my artistic survival. Nor did I anticipate that the Met itself would be a source of inspiration for future novels.

While I was at the Met, I had learned something surprising about the venerable institution. When I observed the backstage intrigues that went on behind that famous “Golden Curtain,” I found that in every department of the company, from the biggest onstage stars to the orchestra musicians to the stagehands and more, egos and rivalries ruled the day. These people were always at odds with each other. The place was a musical Tower of Babel.

Take the orchestra, for instance. 100 neurotic musicians thrown together in a hole in the ground, with no light and no air, 7 days a week. You see more of these people than your own families. Sooner or later, someone’s going to want to kill someone. And there were some nefarious goings-on as well. True events that would curl your ears.

How could I not write about this place? I let my wicked imagination take over, and before I knew it, I had created my Julia Kogan Opera Mystery series. Book One, Aria for Murder, takes place at the Met, where neophyte Julia becomes entangled in a murder investigation. When she realizes her probing has placed her in danger of becoming the killer’s next victim, she must use every shred of her inner strength to save her own life.

I could never be as brave or as plucky as Julia. But I have gotten limitless vicarious thrills from concocting jeopardy for her as she survives the Met and, in upcoming sequels, finds danger lurking in the dark corners and hidden hallways of other opera houses. The violinist in me continues to provide the background for my novels. But I consider myself doubly blessed to be a violinist who writes.

Erica Miner, the Agatha Christie of the opera world, continues the genre with a wickedly wonderful, brand-new thriller, Aria for Murder. Mystery and opera lovers alike will be fascinated to move beyond the famous “Golden Curtain” and glam atmosphere of the world’s most prestigious opera house to the dark hallways and hidden stairways of a theatre rife with danger and intrigue.

Excitement mounts as the moment arrives for brilliant young violinist Julia Kogan’s debut in the orchestra of the world-renowned Metropolitan Opera. But the high-stakes milieu of this musical mecca is rocked to its core when, during an onstage murder scene, Julia’s mentor, a famous conductor, is assassinated on the podium.

Julia is paralyzed with grief, but when her closest colleague in the orchestra is named chief suspect, Julia is thrown into high gear and teams up with opera-loving NYPD detective Larry Somers to solve the murder. As the investigation escalates, Julia and Larry are shocked to discover that the venerable opera house is rife with a web of secrets, intrigue, and lethal rivalries.

But when Julia finds threatening notes attached to her music and barely misses being crushed by falling scenery, she suddenly realizes she may be the real killer’s next victim. Then she is forced to act to save her own life—before it’s too late.

Buy links: https://www.amazon.com/Aria-Murder-Julia-Kogan-Mystery/dp/1685121985/

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/aria-for-murder-erica-miner/1142495216?ean=9781685121983

Erica Miner is the award-winning author of the Julia Kogan Opera Mystery series. Aria for Murder, her recent release from Level Best Books, has garnered 5-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

https://www.ericaminer.com

https://www.facebook.com/erica.miner1/

https://twitter.com/EmwrtrErica

https://www.instagram.com/emwriter3/

Guest Blogger ~ Darcie Wilde

            IDEAS & INSPIRATIONS

            I am a Jane Austen fangirl.  

            I admit, I was not always.  But then, like a whole lot of people I saw the 1995 Pride & Prejudice with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, and I was gone.  Lost.   Yourcallisveryimportanttouspleaseleaveamessage.  Gone.

            Since then, I have read Pride & Prejudice multiple times, along with the other Jane Austen novels.  I’ve also read a lot of Austen’s contemporaries, who were between them busy inventing the modern novel and several literary genres, including Romance and Historical Fiction.  A lot of these books are really bad, but some of them a absolutely fascinating, if you’re a history nerd, which I also am.

            For all I credit Austen and her novels as one of the inspirations for the Useful Woman mysteries, I’d never really leaned into the plots and characters of what has become the most famous of her books.

            But, as we all know,  it is a truth, universally acknowledged that the writer of a series set in England in 1820 must be in want of a plot.  And sooner or later, that writer needs to look to the Great Jane.

            But in 2021, was there another version, or vision, left to write?  Pride & Prejudice has been adapted for every genre, and every character seems to already have their book.

            So, what was I going to do?

            Step One: reread the original.  If you haven’t read Pride & Prejudice, I recommend it.  It’s easy to follow and accessible.  Even better, it’s funny.  It’s sharp.  It’s suspenseful and engaging, even after two hundred years and countless adaptations. 

            Step Two: Get mad at Mr. Bennet.  Mr. Bennet is our Heroine’s father.  This is the guy who failed to save any money for dowries, or do much of anything else, like insist the girls get educated, so they could manage for themselves, or contact his relatives to help them get started in society so they actually had a chance of making decent marriages.  

            Step Three: Develop a sympathy for the three younger Bennet sisters.  These are Mary, Kitty and tragic Lydia.  Realize it must have been hard to be a younger Bennet.  Mom’s a hypochondriac.  Dad’s emotionally unavailable.  You’re constantly being compared to your two oldest sisters, and you know you’re never going to measure up because you’re not that pretty and not that witty and you’ve got no money.  So what are you going to do?

            Step Four:  Hear those oh-so-dangerous words in the back of your head What if…

            What if we had a similar situation, where a ne’re-do-well insinuates himself into a family, and tries to seduce one of the sisters?  What if the sister isn’t just a silly little thing with no idea of what she’s getting into?  What if she’s got a plan?  What if she sees this rogue as rout to getting some money of her own and away from her smothering family and perfect older sister? And what if she had help from a sister…?

            What if this situation landed in my sleuth Rosalind’s lap just before the London social season of 1820?

Darcie Wilde is the bestselling, award-winning, multi-genre author of the Useful Woman mysteries.  Her latest title The Secret of the Lost Pearls is an Editor’s Pick on Amazon and a “Must Read” book for 2022 from USA Today.

This captivating Regency-era mystery inspired by the novels of Jane Austen is perfect for fans of Andrea Penrose, Lauren Willig, and Deanna Raybourn, as readers venture beyond the glittering ballrooms and elegant parties of Regency London to the dark side of the city and its unexpected dangers.

Rosalind Thorne may not have a grand fortune of her own, but she possesses virtues almost as prized by the haut ton: discretion, and a web of connections that enable her to discover just about anything about anyone. Known as a “most useful woman,” Rosalind helps society ladies in need—for a modest fee, of course—and her client roster is steadily increasing.
 
Mrs. Gerald Douglas, née Bethany Hodgeson, presents Rosalind with a particularly delicate predicament. A valuable pearl necklace has gone missing, and Bethany’s husband believes the thief is Nora, Bethany’s disgraced sister. Nora made a scandalous elopement at age sixteen and returned three years later, telling the family that her husband was dead.
 
But as Rosalind begins her investigations, under cover of helping the daughters of the house prepare for their first London season, she realizes that the family harbors even more secrets than scandals. The intrigue swirling around the Douglases includes fraud, forgery, blackmail, and soon, murder. And it will fall to Rosalind, aided by charming Bow Street officer Adam Harkness, to untangle the shocking truth and discover who is a thief—and who is a killer.

Buy Links:

https://www.indiebound.org/search/book?keys=secret+of+the+lost+pearls

https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Pearls-Useful-Woman-Mystery-ebook/dp/B09YLRTWFX

Darcie Wilde is the bestselling, award-winning, multi-genre author of the Useful Woman mysteries.  Her latest title The Secret of the Lost Pearls is an Editor’s Pick on Amazon and a “Must Read” book for 2022 from USA Today.

www.darciewildeauthor.com

Guest Blogger ~ Skye Alexander

A Good Place To Die

The real estate agent’s axiom about the importance of “location, location, location” holds true for me, too, as a mystery writer––usually the setting is the first thing I establish in a novel. The place where a story occurs provides a backdrop for the action and creates ambiance. It also grounds the tale in a time/space framework with a history, culture, and physical features that dictate what can or cannot happen there. A crime that transpires in a seventeenth-century French chateau, for instance, will be different from one that takes place on the mean streets of Al Capone’s Chicago or in a California mining town during the Gold Rush.

Sometimes the setting assumes a life of its own and becomes a character in the story, such as the marsh in Delia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing and the Four Corners in Tony Hillerman’s novels. In some cases, the setting serves as an antagonist, like the Dust Bowl in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and the Parisian flood in Sarah Smith’s Knowledge of Water. The environment challenges the protagonist and either helps or hinders her efforts to solve the crime––or to stay alive.

Much as I enjoy reading about Louise Penny’s fictitious town of Three Pines, Quebec, and Susan Oleksiw’s Hotel Delite in Kovalam, South India, I didn’t want to limit my series to only one setting. Consequently, I created a cast of New York Jazz Age musicians whom wealthy people hire to perform at special events. Each stint takes the entertainers to a different location where they’re presented with a unique set of obstacles and opportunities.

The most recent novel in my Lizzie Crane mystery series, What the Walls Know, is set in a spooky castle in October of 1925. When the musicians accept an invitation to perform at a Halloween party there, they have no idea they’ll be trapped on an isolated peninsula with real-life wizards, witches, ghosts, fortune-tellers––and a murderer. The actual neo-Gothic Hammond Castle in Gloucester, Massachusetts inspired me, and I incorporated its magnificent pipe organ and some other notable features into the story. The oceanside estate of the plumbing magnate Richard Crane prompted the first book in my series, Never Try to Catch a Falling Knife. Two future novels in the series, The Goddess of Shipwrecked Sailors and Running in the Shadows, take place in Salem, Massachusetts. This city’s colorful history offered up intriguing plot elements, including the clipper ship trade and the notorious smuggling tunnels that once ran beneath the old town.

For the sake of authenticity, I physically visit each place mentioned in my novels––every house, store, hotel, restaurant, church, library, museum, park, railway station, and cemetery. If it ever existed and still does, I’ve been there. In Never Try to Catch a Falling Knife, my characters eat lunch at a resort that unfortunately burned down in the 1950s, dashing my hopes for a site visit. Luckily, though, I located an elderly gentleman whose family owned the resort when he was young and he kindly spent an evening recounting the “good old days” with me.

What are some of your favorite story locations? How do you feel they contribute to the tale? Does reading about a particular setting make you want to go there?

What The Walls Know

Halloween 1925, Gloucester, Massachusetts: Jazz singer Lizzie Crane thinks ghosts in a creepy castle are her only worry, until a woman dies of a suspicious heroin overdose and Lizzie becomes a murder suspect––or maybe the next victim.

Buy Links:

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/what-the-walls-know-skye-alexander/1142463455

Skye Alexander is the author of nearly 50 fiction and nonfiction books. Her stories have appeared in anthologies internationally, and her work has been published in more than a dozen languages. In 2003, she cofounded Level Best Books with fellow authors Kate Flora and Susan Oleksiw. The first novel in her Lizzie Crane mystery series, Never Try to Catch a Falling Knife, set in 1925, was published in 2021; the second, What the Walls Know, was released in November 2022. Skye lives in Texas with her black Manx cat Zoe.

Website: www.skyealexander.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/skye.alexander.92

Guest Blogger ~ Angela Greenman

How Books Saved My Life

By most odds, I shouldn’t have been able to achieve much, let alone survive. My childhood was a battlefield that tried to destroy me. There were many enemies—mental illness, domestic violence, and poverty. From childhood into my teens in Chicago, we were so poor that my mother, younger brother and I were homeless for a while. And when we did finally find an apartment, I was relentlessly persecuted by my fears of what life held for me. I lived each moment fearful if we’d be able to pay the rent, or if we’d have milk to drink the next day.

Thank goodness for libraries! I believe books saved my life. They gave me hope. They shared with me stories of other peoples’ lives and how they overcame adversity. I started to believe maybe I had a chance to live differently. I’d stay up all night getting lost in my reading. I read a range of books by such authors as Phyllis Whitney, Agatha Christie, Gertrude Chandler Warner, and Louisa May Alcott.

Action and sci-fi movies, like books, transported me into new places—and I so much wanted to be anywhere other than where I was. I fantasized a lot about being a female James Bond, a strong woman who outwits the enemy and travels the world.

As damaged as my psyche was, instead of letting my childhood be a negative burden, I clung to the inspiring stories in the books that got me through my childhood and teens, and put the pedal-to-the-metal with a single-minded positive focus. I had an intense career where I was able to break through the glass ceiling, engage in discussions on national and international issues, and travel around the world.

One of the great aspects about being an author is that you can share your life’s exciting adventures with readers. In my international thriller, The Child Riddler, my main character, Zoe, is a globe-trotting operative, who travels to some of the fascinating countries I’ve visited in my career. And, I am able to create a character from my fantasy. Like the readers, I get to go on that thrilling ride of discovering what it means to be a female James Bond.

But mostly as a writer, I want to celebrate strong women, because I know how hard it is to be one. I experienced how my mother suffered raising us as a single-parent on her lower wages and all that she went through.

I write too in hopes that other women can take heart from my story and know that they are strong.

THE CHILD RIDDLER

Despite the angry scars she carries from her childhood training, Zoe Lorel has reached a good place in her life. She has her dream job as an elite operative in an international spy agency and found her true love. Her world is mostly perfect—until she is sent to abduct a nine-year-old girl. The girl is the only one who knows the riddle that holds the code to unleash the most lethal weapon on earth—the first ever “invisibility” nanoweapon, a cloaking spider bot.

Zoe’s agency is not the only one after the child. China developed the cloaking bot and will stop at nothing to keep its code secret. While China rapidly hones in on Zoe, her threats grow. Enemies in Austria and Bulgaria reveal the invisibility weapon’s existence to underground arms dealers—now every government and terrorist organization in the world want the nanobot.

From Malta to the Italian Alps to England, Zoe races to save not only the child she has grown to care about, but also herself. Her drug addiction is threatening her engagement to the one person who brings her happiness, yet she needs the agency prescribed pills. They transform her into the icy killer she must be to survive. Can she still be ruthless without the chemicals that suppress her emotions?

Book buy links:
https://www.amazon.com/Child-Riddler-Angela-Greenman/dp/1642473650/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-child-riddler-angela-greenman/1139775262?ean=9781642473650

Angela Greenman is an internationally recognized communications professional. She has been an expert and lecturer with the International Atomic Energy Agency for over a decade, a spokesperson for the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and a press officer for the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, the City’s civil rights department. After traveling to twenty-one countries for work and pleasure, Angela decided to seriously pursue her love of writing. She is a member of the International Thriller Writer’s Debut Authors program.

Links to connect with Angela:
Website: https://www.angelagreenman.com/
https://www.facebook.com/people/Angela-Greenman-Author/100071879436485/
https://twitter.com/AngelaGreenman
https://www.instagram.com/angelsprism/

Happy Holidays!

I hope everyone who reads this blog, writes for this blog, and guests on this blog has had a wonderful year reading all the unique and interesting posts. I know I enjoy each post for different reasons. Some are about how to write a mystery, some are about marketing, and some are about how the writer came up with the story, premise, characters. Some are vignettes about a writer’s life. There is always something interesting to learn from a post at Ladies of Mystery.

Today, as I write this post, I am starting a read through and edit pass before book 10 in the Gabriel Hawke series heads out to my critique partners. By the time you read this, the manuscript will be in the hands of my CPs and I will be fleshing out the next Spotted Pony Casino book.

Even with the holidays, I still have books in my head that want to get out. I have slowed down the last few months which has driven my on time, schedule-to-keep-self crazy! This book that is just now being read by critique partners was (on my white board) to be published by now. Life got in the way and while my disciplined self is kicking my backside for not getting it done on time, my family self is saying, it’s okay. Things happen and you begin to see that hanging out with friends and family are more important than getting that next book out on time.

And that is why, I backed off on my goals for 2023. Next year I have two wonderful trips planned. One with family and one with friends. They will take away a month and a half of writing time. And I plan to do more in-person events, which when you live as far away from where most in-person events happen, I have to add 2 extra days for travel.

I’m taking a marketing class while getting ready for company for Christmas and helping my daughter with a wedding 2 days after Christmas. Yes, life is always interesting!

Have a wonderful Holiday Season and a Healthy Happy New Year! See you in 2023!