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Kathleen Kaska on Brainstorming With Sydney

If you spend any time looking at the feed to my Facebook page, Anne Louise Bannon – The Fiction Page, you’ll see author Kathleen Kaska offering comments on many of my posts. So, of course, I asked her to do a guest post for me, and she sent the below. Kathleen is not only the author of the Sydney Lockhart series (featured below), but also the Kate Caraway Animal-Rights series.

Opening a book for me is like leaping off a diving board into a deep, rich ocean. Bold statement, I know. But that’s how I feel about the setting of a story. There’s more to a setting than providing you with the location and timeframe. A setting needs to grab and pull you into the story. It needs to create an atmosphere that supports the plot.

Photo of author Kathleen Kaska
Kathleen Kaska

            When I travel, I love staying in historic hotels. These old places have their own lurid, scandalous, endearing, mysterious, and charming stories to tell. But I didn’t plan on using them as settings until this imaginary character walked out of the 1950s and into my hotel room at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

            She said, “I heard you want to write a mystery series.”

            “Who are you?” I said.

            “Just shut up and listen. (She’s sassy and headstrong.) I also heard you like to travel and seek out historic hotels. Here’s an idea. What if you found a dead body in each one? I could help you write the stories. In fact, I would be willing to be a suspect in the murder. All you’d have to do is take me with you and after I solve the cases, ply me with martinis. How does that sound?”

            “I like it,” I said. “But why the 1950s?”

            “Why the fifties? I can’t believe you asked that. Because it was a decade like no other. Pardon the pun, but things were “booming.” More babies than ever were born in this country during that decade, including you. The 1950s gave us Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Brenda Lee, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Drifters, The Platters, The Coasters. And what about television? There’s I Love Lucy, Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, Gunsmoke, and The Twilight Zone. On the big screens were Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Grace Kelly, James Dean, and Elizabeth Taylor.

            We should start with this hotel. Did you know that Al Capone used to have a room in the west corner of the fourth floor facing Central Avenue. He selected that room so he could keep an eye out for cops. This town used to be crawling with mobsters. You’ll have an opportunity to send time at these places when you research their history, which you will weave into the plot.”

            “I like that idea, but you didn’t answer my question. Who are you, my muse?”

            “No, the hotels are your muses. Duh. I am your protagonist. My name is Sydney Lockhart. Are you writing this down?”   

            By the end of my vacation at the Arlington Hotel, I had several chapters of my first Sydney Lockhart mystery Murder at the Arlington.  

            Since then, Sydney and I have traveled to Palacios, a quirky, little town on the Texas coast, where residents can’t sneeze without it making the headlines in the local paper. We stayed in the Luther Hotel, once known as the Texas White House because LBJ did a lot of politicking there. Hence, Murder at the Luther. Then on to Galveston island where in the 1950s gangsters ruled and speakeasies outnumbered churches. I’ve spent so much time at the Galvez Hotel, I’m surprised they haven’t given me my own room.

Cover of Murder at the Pontchartain by Kathleen Kaska

            We traveled to Austin, where Sydney lives and solved a murder of a future gubernatorial candidate that occurred in the Driskill Hotel, then to San Antonio to find out who killed Johnny Pine, a notorious bookie, while he was boozing it up at the Menger Hotel.

            We’ve just returned from New Orleans. Talk about rich settings. Sydney checked into the Pontchartrain Hotel, only to end up in the Honey Creek Swamp where she was almost buried alive, then to the Saint Louis Cemetery to investigate a dead body, and of course the French Quarter and Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo where the nightmare started.       

Look for Murder at the Pontchartrain this summer. It is available for pre-order now at my publisher, Anamcara Press, LLC. If you know of any historic hotels I can write about, I’d love your suggestions.

You can find out more about Kathleen Kaska on her website, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can also buy her other books on her site.

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