Hotels and Murders

Interview with author Kathleen Kaska

Murder at the Ponchartrain: New Sidney Lockhart Mystery

“I came to New Orleans to marry my boyfriend/partner Ralph Dixon. Unfortunately, wedding vows were not exchanged. So there’s no ring on my finger. Instead, I’m in the Louisiana swamp spying on the Ku Klux Klan while Dixon’s sitting in jail for a double murder. Back at the Pontchartrain Hotel, my bubble-headed cousin, Ruth, is interrogating the hotel’s chef. My charge, twelve-year-old Lydia LaBeau, is dressed as a voodoo queen, entertaining the locals at Pat O’Brien’s while looking for clues. Ghost detective Rip Thigbee is the only reasonably sane person assisting me on the case.

You probably think I’m making this up, but trust me, it’s just another day in my crazy life. 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.”—Sydney Lockhart, P.I.

Kathleen, this book sounds like another page-turner! Thank you for sharing your writing story with us today.

Tell us about your writing journey and how you started writing mysteries.

I grew up wanting to be a teacher, and that’s what I became. I taught science for twenty-five years, but 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 started writing travel articles and still contribute to Texas Highways magazine now and then. I was a staff writer for an outdoor/fitness magazine and contributed to some science textbooks. When I finally mustered up the courage to write fiction, I took creative writing classes and joined a critique group intending to write a mystery series because that is what I love reading. 

How do you develop your characters? Did you have them formed in your mind before you started, or did they grow on their own as you wrote? 

My characters don’t exactly form in my mind. It’s more like they walk into my life, introduce themselves, and then tell me their stories. All I have to do is write them down.

Tell us a bit about your writing process—do you do a lot of research? 

Being a pantser, I just start writing and see where it takes me, but I also conduct a lot of research on the settings. My Sydney Lockhart mysteries are set in historic hotels in the 1950s. So I dig through old newspapers looking for events that took place in the hotels and their locations.  I look for juicy tidbits and weave them into the plot. 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. Murder at the Galvez, which takes place on Galveston Island, and I used an actual controversy surrounding an island development project. I put my own spin on the issue and used it as a possible motive for the murder. I’m delightfully surprised at what I discover if I dig deep enough.

Do you have a time set aside for writing? 

Before I retired from the classroom, I wrote mainly in the morning and on weekends. Now that my time is my own, I write whenever the mood hits, as soon as my morning coffee kicks in. I write most of the day if I’m butting up against a deadline.

Do you do a lot of rewriting on your books? 

I don’t often have to do many major rewrites. I spend more time tying up loose ends and maybe rearranging a few scenes. I can finished a first draft in a few months, and then spend several more editing and polishing. Because I work on different writing projects simultaneously, I have to reread what I wrote to remind myself where I left off. So in the rereading, I’m naturally editing.

Do you belong to a critique group or beta readers? 

I don’t belong to a critique group right now, but when I first started writing, I belonged to several. And I highly recommend this to any new writer because what I learned from my groups was invaluable.

What would you say the theme or “take away” is from the book? 

In addition to my Sydney Lockhart series, I write the Kate Caraway Animal-Rights Mystery Series. The theme for both series is strong women standing up for their beliefs. I love reading about woman going above and beyond the norm and accomplishing great undertakings and overcoming unbelievable obstacles. In Sydney’s case, she’s struggling to make it in a man’s world as a private detective in the 1950s. Kate Caraway is an animal-rights activist who has a tendency to be hotheaded and impulsive when dealing with animal rights issues. In her determination and strength to right a wrong, she often has to clean up messes she’s caused.

Since my Sydney series is lighthearted and humorous, I like to give my readers a chance to relax and have a good laugh. The characters are zany and entertaining. Since I strongly believe in animal rights, I would like my readers to become aware of some of the issues. I tackle greyhound racing in Run Dog Run, rescuing wild horses in A Two Horse Town, and in my most recent mystery, Eagle Crossing, I touch on what’s involved in operating a wildlife rescue facility. I like to refer to the Kate Caraway series as a mystery series with a cause.

Is there a specific part of the writing process that you find to be the easiest or most difficult for you? 

Writing a novel is easy until I get about three-quarters the way through. That’s when the work starts. It’s like the last few steps in completing a Rubik’s Cube, the end is always the hardest in arranging things just right.

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer, and how did you cope with or overcome that challenge? 

So much to write and so little time. The ideas never stop coming, so I have dozen of writing projects waiting to be finished.

Also, I’m moderately dyslexic, so catching all my errors is a challenge. I depend on beta readers, friends and family, and anyone who’s willing to read my drafts. I’ve had to develop a thick skin and, at the same time, go easy on myself. Whenever I catch a mistake in something published, it’s like a stab in the heart. That—I’m always coping with.

Why do you write, what is it that makes you do it? 

I love writing because I’m creating something from the thoughts and images that flash through my mind. Writing is a craft that doesn’t require the purchase of supplies, or a studio or workshop in which to work. I just get comfortable, open my laptop, and trust the universe that all will flow, and it always does.

What is next? 

Murder at the Pontchartrain, the sixth book in the Sydney Lockhart series, will be out this summer, and I’m working on number seven right now. I’m also putting the final touches on a quirky British mystery and one that is set in my hometown. 

Murder at the Pontchartrain is available for pre-order now at:

Bio and Links to social media:

Kathleen Kaska is the author of the awarding-winning mystery series: the Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series set in the 1950s and the Kate Caraway Animal-Rights Mystery Series. 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 Anthology. 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 find the right publisher.

Contact Kathleen at:

Published in: on March 31, 2023 at 6:00 am  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for having me as a guest on your blog and for giving me an opportunity to talk about my two latest books!

    • You’re welcome! Thanks for being my guest! Best of luck with your new books!

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