Kathleen Kaska is the author of the award-winning mystery series the Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series and the Kate Caraway Animal-Rights Mystery Series. She also writes mystery trivia, including The Sherlock Holmes Quiz Book. Her short story, “The Adventure at Old Basingstoke,” appears in the Sherlock Holmes of Baking Street anthology. She founded The Dogs in the Nighttime, the Sherlock Holmes Society of Anacortes, Washington, a scion of The Baker Street Irregulars.
My latest book: Murder at the Pontchartrain.
Elevator Pitch: Sharp, sexy PI Sydney Lockhart takes you into the heart of 1953 New Orleans’ French Quarter to find a killer and save her fiancé Dixon from the gallows in Murder at the Pontchartrain.
Do you write in more than one genre? I write two different types of mystery series. The Sydney Lockhart series, set in the 1950s, is lighthearted and humorous. This series came about from my love of traveling. My husband and I search for historic hotels in which to stay. On one trip to the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, our room was not ready, and we had to wait about two hours. My imagination kicked in, and I envisioned a dead body in the bathroom of our room. Then Sydney showed up and told me the story. That was when I discovered I could write humor. So far, there are six books in the series.
Writing a mystery with a social cause resulted in me creating my Kate Caraway Animal-Rights series, which is suspense. The idea for this series came to me when I volunteered for Wildlife Rescue in Austin, Texas.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The hardest part of writing for me happens about two-thirds into the story. I’m a pantser, so when it comes time to tie things together, I must ensure everything works. This involved reading and rereading what I’ve written many times and taking many notes, which is not my favorite thing to do. I equate it to playing three-dimensional chess, but it’s great brain exercise.
What are you currently working on? I just finished a quirky British mystery set on the Cornish Coast. This is my first attempt at writing from multiple points of view. I learned that I can write much faster if I use this technique. It usually takes me eight months to a year to finish a book, but this method allows me to finish the first draft in three months.
Who’s your favorite author? Scott Fitzgerald is my favorite author, and The Great Gatsby is my favorite novel. It’s a story of love, loss, hope, and betrayal. Narrator Nick Carraway’s voice draws in me. It’s as if I was sitting in a room chatting over coffee with him.
How do you come up with character names? I don’t. The characters simply tell me their names. That’s an advantage to being a pantser. And their names always fit their personalities. For example, in Murder at the Arlington, a heavy is named Stanley Muldoon, and a woman who owns a barbeque joint/brothel is known as Hot Momma.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? The subplot in the Sydney Lockhart series involves her relationship with her partner in crime, Ralph Dixon. They are romantically involved but never seem to make it to the altar. In the Kate Caraway series, Kate is dealing with a traumatic experience that occurred in the past, resulting in her having PTSD. This backstory enfolds throughout the series as she attempts to come to terms with her actions that led to the incident.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? I never make it easy on my protagonists. I love tossing obstacles in their paths one minute and saving their butts the next. Some of my antagonists aren’t bad people. They just end up in desperate situations and make terrible decisions. In trying to dig themselves out of a deep hole, they make more mistakes and often become their own worst enemy.
What kind of research do you do? I spend a lot of time at each hotel featured in my Sydney Lockhart series. I also dig into the history of each hotel so I can get an idea of what was happening there in the 1950s. I look for old menus and photos from that decade and peruse old newspapers to see what took place in each town or city where the story is set. I rely on the internet when necessary, especially for maps when I need specific details concerning locales.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? All my settings are real locations. I want my readers to be intrigued by each of the settings and hotels in the Sydney series so that they might visit one day. All the historic hotels featured in the series still exist. I love it when someone tells me they’ve stayed in one of the hotels after reading my book. One nice man read the entirety of Murder at the Arlington while sitting in the Arlington’s lobby. The same is true with the Kate Caraway series. I choose places from my travels with breathtaking scenery, which present vivid images for me to use in the stories. Run Dog Run takes place in the Hill Country west of Austin. A Two Horse Town is set in southwest Montana in the Pryor Mountains, and Eagle Crossing on Lopez Island in the Pacific Northwest.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? My publisher is offering my first Sydney Lockhart mystery, Murder at the Arlington, free on my Medium page. https://medium.com/@kathleenkaska
It is serialized, with one chapter a week coming out. I also write nonfiction. I have a mystery trivia series and a biography about the ornithologist who saved the endangered whooping cranes from extinction.
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