Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Meet the Author: Kathleen Kaska

I first met Kathleen Kaska via Sisters in Crime and became entranced with her feisty heroine, Sydney Lockhart, a brash, unafraid, and curious new reporter, eager to earn her way in a man's world -- with no easy career paths in the 1950's. 

What inspired you to write the Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series? How did Murder at the Arlington lead to Murder at the Menger?

     I was working on my Kate Caraway Animal-Rights Series at the time, but I was also reading humorous mysteries by Janet Evanovich, Carl Hiaasen, and Elizabeth Peters. Their stories and characters were uplifting and enjoyable, especially after a stressful day of teaching middle school students. After reading dozens of their books, a seed must have been planted in my brain, and Sydney Lockhart sprouted. It happened in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

My husband and I spend Thanksgiving week at the historic Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs every year. On one of those trips, I met Sydney Lockhart while unpacking. She walked out of the bathroom and told me she was not happy because there was a dead man in her bathtub. Then she told me her story. All I had to do was write it down. By the end of that week, I had the basis for the series.

I decided that the Sydney Lockhart series would be set in the 1950s, each one at an actual historic hotel. And every time Sydney checked in, she’d become involved in a murder, usually as a suspect. Since Murder at the Arlington, Sydney and I have written, Murder at the Luther (Palacio, Texas), Murder at the Galvez (Galveston, Texas), Murder at the Driskill (Austin, Texas), and most recently, Murder at the Menger.

Murder at the Menger, just released in June, takes place in the historic Menger Hotel in San Antonio, Texas. From the first book to this one, a lot has happened in Sydney's world, most of which was a surprise until I started writing.

What can you tell us about yourself?  Okay, here goes: Ten things to know about me.

1. I grew up in the small Czech/Catholic town of West in Central Texas.

2. When I started writing my Sydney Lockhart series, I realized I could write humor, not something you’d expect from a shy, quiet, easily intimidated child, which I was.

3. After college graduation, I went to New York City to celebrate and stayed for a year and a half.

4. I realized in my forties that I was moderately dyslexic, which explained a lot.

5. I started running marathons when I turned 60. I’ve chalked up 27 so far. I plan to keep it up until I turn 80.

6. I love birding, which led to the publication of my book, The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story.

7. I’m a Sherlockian—a fancy name for anyone obsessed with reading Sherlock Holmes. Check out my book, The Sherlock Holmes Quiz Book.

8. I have three wonderful, fun, beautiful sisters who inspire me and make me happy to be alive.

9. I have a wonderful husband who does the same thing.

10. I love dogs!

What were the key steps in developing your editing services?

    I was born to be a teacher; writing I had to learn. So at age six, I sat my little sister in front of a blackboard and tried to teach her what I had learned in school that day. Her attention span was short, but she was two years old. I did my best to keep her in her seat. You can guess how that turned out.

    I went on to teach seventh-grade life science for twenty-five years and loved every minute of it—well, almost. Once I started writing, it was only natural that I wanted to share what I learned with others.

    Fast forward—after I retired from the classroom and had published several books, I went to work for a publishing company as their marketing director, but I also edited manuscripts, which I loved doing. Unfortunately, the company closed two years ago because of COVID, so I decided to start my own editing and coaching business, Metaphor Writing Coach. I work with new and published authors, editing and evaluating their manuscripts and other writing projects. The coaching part of my business also involves working with new writers by helping them complete their WIP and, in some cases, find a publisher.

Any surprises? Any lessons learned you’d like to share? 

Two surprises and a lesson:

    Surprise one: Soon after I started my business, I was surprised when a woman contacted me looking for a ghostwriter for her autobiography. Ghostwriting is an entirely different business, requiring a lot of time, which would have taken me away from my writing. Besides, writing someone else's story just doesn't work for me. It’s true, I've written a biography about ornithologist Robert Porter Allen, but his life’s story dealt with saving endangered birds, which is a passion of mine. I told the woman to write her story, and I would edit and evaluate it. I didn’t think I’d hear from her. Then a year later, she called. She’d finished her autobiography—150,000 words. Now, I have a massive project to tackle. 

    Surprise two: Up until a year ago, the subjects of my blog posts were writing and publishing. I never considered writing about my personal life until I had to give a motivational speech on that very topic. I used humor to tell my story, and I was surprised by the overwhelming response I received. Moreover, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed writing about my childhood. That led to a new blog series, “Growing Up Catholic in a Small Texas Town.” I found that a lot of folks can relate to that.

    Lesson: The best lesson I learned was from an agent who told me not to worry about who will publish my book but instead focus on finishing my manuscript. The editing, publishing, and promoting will come later.

How do you approach social media? Any advice to give?

    In this day and time, engaging in social media communication is a must. Publishers expect their authors to use it to promote their books and increase their readership. Even though connecting with folks through social media is fun, it competes with my writing time. Although I’m good at meeting deadlines—thanks to the nuns who taught me at St. Mary’s School—I do experience stressful moments trying to juggle everything. Of course, I wouldn't do it if I didn't love writing and teaching. I just have to prioritize and allow for relaxation and exercise. 

    My social media advice is to select two or three of your favorite social media platforms in which to engage and set aside time every day to be active on them.

How would you describe your reading? Any books to recommend?

    I read for enjoyment, inspiration, and learning. Enjoyable books allow me to relax. Inspirational books help me to continue to write. I learn how to improve my writing by reading books by bestselling authors.

    I also like reading books by other Texas authors. I recently discovered Attica Locke's Darren Mathews Mystery Series set in East Texas. The first is Bluebird, Bluebird, and the second Heaven, My Home—just released. She’s captured the rich, mystical setting of the Piney Woods in Texas. HarperCollins author Taylor Moore’s first Garrett Kohl mystery, Down Range, was published this spring, and his second one is coming out in August. I was so taken by these two authors and their series that I recently wrote an article about them for Mystery & Suspense Magazine.

    Other books I recommend keeping nearby? Anything written by E.B. White and his stepson, Roger Angell, both of whom wrote for The New Yorker magazine. Anyone who wants to learn to write or write better must read these two fabulous authors. I have several of their books, and I reread them often.

What advice would you like to give other writers?

    I always share the advice that the agent gave me about finishing my manuscript. I also advise readers to read, read, read, especially the genre in which they write.

Thank you, Kathleen, for talking with us this month. I was caught up in Sydney Lockhart's world right from the opening scenes of Murder at the Arlington and Murder at the Menger. Maybe because I remember the 1950s pretty well, even as I felt restive from requirements that women wore skirts no shorter than mid-calf, that we must wear gloves when going to town, and we should never interrupt a man when he spoke. Of course, the 1950s did lead to the 1960s, but with these delightful murder mysteries, we get to experience and explore how feisty women achieved their goals, well before women's lib!

Tune in next week to learn a little more about Murder at the Menger.

For more about Kathleen Kaska, visit her website at:


  1. Great interview. I really like that Kathleen's series is set in the 1950's. And thanks for the book recommendations, Kathleen. My late husband was from Texas so I'll try to check them out.

    1. Anonymous7:26 AM

      Hi, Natalie, Thanks for reading the interview. I was raised in the 1950s; a time so much different from today.

  2. Great interview, Kathleen...and good luck with the autobiography evaluation!

  3. Terrific interview. It provides great insight into your writing career.

  4. Thank you, Kathleen, for your thoughtful interview this month. Looking forward to Sydney's next adventures. Not saying I think the 1950s were the very best of decades for women, but Sydney brings back lots of memories of those years. I especially appreciate that she pursues her own goals in her own idiosyncratic way!