cj Sez: We have a guest today! Author Kathleen Kaska is the author of a lighthearted, humorous mystery series—The Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series—set in the early 1950s.
One of the interesting twists of the Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series is that each book is set in a different historic hotel. The 6th mystery, Murder at the Pontchartrain, will be released this summer.
Kathleen graciously agreed to share her answers to some broad-ranging questions about her path to writing mysteries. Welcome, welcome to Lyrical Pens, Kathleen.
When did you realize you first wanted to write? And what or who inspired you to write a series?
I didn’t develop a passion for writing until my late thirties. Once I got my teaching career off the ground and had some spare time, I spent it reading. The more I read, the more I realized I wanted to write, so I joined the Austin Writer’s League, now the Writer’s League of Texas. I took creative writing classes, and I joined a critique group. My first three books were nonfiction mystery trivia books about Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, and Sherlock Holmes.
When I started writing fiction, I planned to write a series because I love reading mystery series. Getting to know the characters is like making new friends.
What do you find to be the most difficult thing about writing a series?
Keeping the material fresh. Sydney gets into a lot of trouble, and I have to be creative in staging new situations for her. I also have to add the right amount of background information in case someone reads the books out of order.
Have you ever indie published?
My books are traditionally published, but I published a short story several years on Amazon. Right now, I’m writing a children’s book with my grand-niece, and once that is completed, I will publish it on Amazon also. I’m having fun with this because it’s something my niece and I can do together. She is six years old and is so talented.
I also wanted to learn the process of self-publishing because I coach many new writers who’ve chosen the indie route, so I needed to be informed.
Where/when do you do most of your writing?
While teaching full-time, I wrote in the morning before school, but my writing schedule changed once I retired. Now I write when the mood hits me.
I write either at my desk or propped up in bed with my laptop.
My husband is first on the list. Not only does he make me laugh, I really like the guy. Am I allowed an entire library? If so, that is second on the list. How about a fully stocked wine cellar?
Is silence golden when you write, or do you like some accompaniment…music, a TV program, some kind of white noise?
When I’m writing at home, I need silence. Sometimes, I listen to music, but only to drown out any noise from outside. Fortunately, my husband is quiet, and we don’t have a TV, so if you walked into our house, it would take a few minutes to realize that someone was even home.
When I need a change of scenery, I go to a coffee shop, and oddly enough, the background noise there doesn’t bother me.
Characters are usually composites of real and imagined people. How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life—from your life in particular?
All my characters come from my imagination. I tried designing or conjuring up characters, but it didn’t work. The same with plots. I’m a pantser. The plot develops as I write, and that’s what makes writing fun. For me, it’s like reading a book; I don’t know what will happen on the next page.
Real settings or fictional towns? Country or city? Ocean or mountains?
|The historic Hotel Pontchartrain|
My Sydney Lockhart mysteries are set in real historic hotels, which I have visited often. So the setting is real. I do a lot of research to find out what happened in each location during the early 1950s to get a feel for how it was back then. Then, I weave some historical facts into the story. Here are two examples; in the first book, Murder at the Arlington (Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas), Al Capone used to have his own room at the hotel, so gangsters played an important role in that book. In Murder at the Galvez, which takes place on Galveston Island, I used an actual controversy surrounding the development of Pelican Island, a small nearby island. I put my own spin on the issue and used it as a possible motive for the murder.
What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
My character, Ruth Echland, is Sydney’s wealthy, spoiled, annoying cousin. She always gets people’s names wrong and uses the wrong word. For example, in Murder at the Menger, instead of saying “bubonic plague,” she said “bluebonnet plague.” She never admits she is wrong and occasionally does it intentionally just to aggravate Sydney. She likes to play the bubble-headed blonde, but she’s really sharp. I’ll share an excerpt from Murder at the Pontchartrain. Ruth has just arrived at the hotel:
Ruth held up the hotel’s brochure, kicked off her heels, and crawled into my bed. “It says Tennessee Williams wrote A Streetcar Named Desire while staying here.”
“Yeah, I heard that.”
“I wonder which room he stayed in.”
“The concierge could probably tell you.”
“Why would any playwright name a streetcar Desire as part of the title?”
“Go see the play.”
“He could have named it Streetcar Named New Orleans or Streetcar Named Louisiana.”
“Ruth! He named it Desire after the street in New Orleans named Desire.”
“Why would anyone name a street Desire? What’s wrong with Oak Street or Elm Street, or Main Street?”
“I can’t answer that, Ruth. But you must admit that the title A Streetcar Named Main doesn’t have the same ring. It’s flat. Something named Desire has a sultry, maybe passionate or erotic feel.”
“Hmmm, now that I think about it, why would anyone name a child Tennessee?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he was born in Tennessee.”
“Thank goodness he wasn’t born in Massachusetts.”
Tell us about Murder at the Pontchartrain . . . where you got the idea and how you came up with the hotel and the title. (Coming up with a title is a real challenge for me.)
Book number five, Murder at the Menger, occurs in San Antonio and New Orleans. I added New Orleans as a location because the story involves horseracing, and in the 50s, Texas didn’t allow horseracing. While researching the book in New Orleans, I fell in love with the city and its culture. I looked at a few historic hotels there and decided on the Pontchartrain for book number six. I love its history and atmosphere; it just seemed to fit.
Any last thoughts?
My husband and I love to travel and always look for historic hotels in which to stay. I have two criteria for selecting hotels for my books: they had to operate in the early 50s and are still in operation today. I’m always on the lookout for these inspirational gems, so if your readers have any suggestions for a future hotel I can use, I’d love to hear them. (cj Sez: You heard her, folks: Send in those suggestions. Maybe you’ll be the inspiration for her next book.)
Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series set in the 1950s and the Kate Caraway Animal-Rights Mystery Series. Her first two Lockhart mysteries, Murder at the Arlington and Murder at the Luther, were selected as bonus books for the Pulpwood Queen Book Group, the country’s largest book group. She also writes mystery trivia, including The Sherlock Holmes Quiz Book. Her Holmes short story, “The Adventure at Old Basingstoke,” appears in Sherlock Holmes of Baking Street. She founded The Dogs in the Nighttime, the Sherlock Holmes Society of Anacortes, Washington, a scion of The Baker Street Irregulars.
Visit her website to read her humorous blog, “Growing Up Catholic in a Small Texas Town,” because sometimes you just have to laugh.
Kathleen is the owner of Metaphor Writing Coach. She coaches new and emerging writers and helps them discover their unique voices, and guides them as they learn the craft of writing and the art of storytelling. Kathleen also edits manuscripts and advises writers on how to look for the right publisher.
Contact Kathleen at:
is available for pre-sale from the publisher and will be available at your favorite bookstore, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Bookshop.org. (Pontchartrain pre-sale link click here.)
And here's a bonus...Kathleen’s protagonist, Sydney Lockhart, is leaving some intriguing clues and invites you into the book:
“I had good intentions. I always do.
My boyfriend/partner, Ralph Dixon, and I eloped—again—with the plan to tie the knot in New Orleans. Instead, Dixon’s sitting in jail for a double murder. I’m sitting in a Louisiana swamp, spying on the Ku Klux Klan with Rip Thigbee, a ghost detective. My bubble-headed cousin Ruth is interrogating the hotel’s chef. My twelve-year-old charge, Lydia LaBeau, dressed as a voodoo queen, is entertaining the locals at Pat O’Brien’s.
These are just some of the people I hang out with. They’re all slightly unhinged and extremely odd.
I’m Sydney Lockhart. I solve murders. Most of which I’m the primary suspect.
So mix yourself a Hurricane and join me in the Big Easy for another historic hotel murder case.”
cj Sez: Thank you, Kathleen (and Sydney). We really appreciate your sharing these behind-the-scene tidbits. Lyrical Pens wishes you best-selling author sales and rave reviews for Murder at the Pontchartrain . . . and all of the stories in your series.
That’s it for today’s post. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same. Raising prayers for your health and safety.
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