Susan: Another fellow Level Best Books author steps it up on my blog, and what an amazing tale she has to tell about the switch in her life from one career to another. Enjoy!
Years ago, I switched from a career as a violinist at the Metropolitan Opera to one as an author and screenwriter. I didn’t know where that path would take me; But a friend, a seasoned writer, was of the opinion that I would do very well in my new chosen field. “People who are successful in one artistic career,” she counseled me, “Usually are successful in a new and different one.” Whether or not she was right, there’s no question that a) I have learned a great deal more about the craft and marketing of writing than I ever imagined and b) my writing journey has taken some unexpected twists and turns.
Most surprising was that I ended up writing a novel series. Although I have published hundreds of reviews and interviews on multiple arts websites, I’ve always preferred writing fiction over nonfiction. So, writing a novel seemed like heaven to me. Yes, it’s difficult and requires utter devotion, not to mention a detailed knowledge of the craft. But I was convinced I would be happy just to complete one novel. I never dreamed that a suggestion from a fan would transform me into a writer of a series.
Back when I first studied screenwriting and had written my first screenplay (a drama), for my
next script I was seized with the idea of writing a murder mystery that took place at my old
stomping grounds: the Met. Both opera and non-opera fans, I thought, would be intrigued at the
thought of finding out what goes on backstage at that venerable institution. Behind that famous
“Golden Curtain,” and underneath the iconic Austrian crystal chandeliers that rise to the ceiling
before each performance, there is a whole other world of infighting and intrigue among the
thousands of people who work there. During my stint at the Met, I had witnessed any number of
disasters, near-disasters, and nefarious goings-on between these workers, all of them in different
jobs, and often in conflict with each other. Sooner or later, wasn’t one of them bound to kill one
of their cohorts? Why not set a murder mystery at the Met, I thought. That way I could kill off at
least a few of the people who had made my own life miserable—fictionally, of course.
After I had penned the aforementioned novel, one rabidly opera-loving fan suggested I write a
sequel and set it at the Santa Fe Opera. It had never dawned on me to write a sequel, let alone
one that took place somewhere I had never been. But the idea was enticing. Santa Fe Opera has a
unique outdoor setting. It lies between two enigmatic mountain ranges. The atmosphere is one of
mystery. Admirers of my young violinist protagonist Julia would follow her to the wilds of the
desert. If readers wanted a sequel, so be it.
A series was born.
While I was in Santa Fe researching the sequel, a friend from San Francisco Opera asked if I
would be interested in setting my next sequel (at that point I didn’t even know there would be
one) at his company. How could I say no?
But the pandemic squelched the feasibility of the third novel releasing in a print version, at least
with my current publisher. That was daunting to say the least. Nonetheless, good fortune led me to some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten: to get my rights back and find a new publisher who
would guarantee me book releases for the entire series in all formats. Again, I was lucky: I found
the right publisher, who is re-publishing the entire series with new titles, covers, plot point and
A series was reborn—as a new series. Hallelujah!
Aria for Murder, the first in this new series, released in October 2022 and was a finalist in the
2023 Eric Hoffer Book Awards. The sequel, Prelude to Murder, releases this month. The third in
the series is set to release in 2024.
I’m very fond of my protagonist, Julia, who is “loosely” based on myself as a young neophyte in
the Met Orchestra; although, with her inability to resist getting involved in and confronting the
dangers inherent in murder investigations she is far more heroic than I ever could be. I am
delighted that readers are enamored of her, enough to follow her adventures in opera houses from
east coast to west coast and in between. The surprising twists and turns in her third foray into the
world of opera mystery very likely could lead her to new and more surprising adventures in other
opera houses. There is no lack of them, and each one presents a new and exciting milieu in which
Julia can perform, explore, and get into loads of trouble. The series proliferates.
I’m looking forward to that.
Summary of Prelude to Murder
Having survived her entanglement in a murder investigation at the Metropolitan Opera, violinist Julia Kogan and NYPD detective Larry Somers head to the Santa Fe Opera, where Julia has been engaged as concertmaster, or first of the first violinists, for the summer season. Julia is excited but anxious about the high-pressured job and worried about how she will survive in a strange new desert environment.
But these difficulties are minimal compared to the murderous activities that plague the opera
performers onstage and off, as famous singers get picked off left and right, and ghostly
apparitions mysteriously appear. Julia again becomes embroiled in a behind-the-scenes
investigation as she joins forces with steely SFPD detective Stella Peregrine to stop the unseen menace from wreaking further havoc. But this killer is both ruthless and exceedingly cunning, and in the end Julia finds herself in a confrontation from which there seemingly is no escape—until she draws on a self-defense technique taught her by a fight director to save her own life.
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