Guest Blogger-Kathleen Kaska

Truth in Fiction
Readers often ask me if my mysteries are based on real-life crimes and circumstances. My answer is that my imagination provides what I need for my plots, so using actual cases is not necessary. However, there are several elements in the stories that are based on fact.

For my Sydney Lockhart Mysteries, set in historic hotels in the 1950s, I research what the hotels were like back then: the menu items and prices, the cost of a room and its décor. I search for old photos and articles of the hotels. In Murder at the Arlington, I describe what the restaurants, bars, bathhouses, and tourist’s sight were like seventy years ago. In Murder at the Luther (the Luther Hotel in Palacios, Texas) I drew on the colorful history of this once-thriving little town on the Texas coast. President and Lady Bird Johnson were regulars at the Luther Hotel back when LBJ was a Texas state senator. During WWII, Camp Hulen, located nearby, housed almost 15,000 personnel and interred thousands of German prisoners. The government brought in celebrities like Guy Lombardo, Rita Hayworth, Shirley Temple, and Carol Lombard to entertain. I wove these facts into the story. The same is true for Murder at the Galvez (Galveston) and Murder at the Driskill (Austin).

I don’t use people I know as models for my characters, but I do use strangers that grab my attention. Once I witnessed a domestic dispute while driving through the countryside. A wild-haired woman dressed, in orange T-shirt and pink tights, was throwing pine cones and profanity at her retreating husband, a fellow who looked as if he’d suffered years of spousal abuse. She told him if he got drunk and forgot to pick up the kids at school again (This couple had kids?), she was going to shoot him. Alas, Paula Steiner, was born and she’ll make her debut in my third Kate Caraway mystery, Eagle Crossing, which will be released in a little more than a year.

I also give my own feelings, experiences, and passions to my main characters. In my latest Kate Caraway animal-rights mystery, A Two Horse Town, Kate experiences a couple of hair-raising moments when she is traveling along a steep switchback mountain road. Her fear of heights is based on my own acrophobic experiences.

However, some writers fictionalize the truth, creating an even better story. Think of it this way: reading about an actual crime, adventure, heartwarming story, or heroic gesture in a magazine article, newspaper, or blog is captivating, but the readers are only provided limited points of view. A fiction writer can take a situation and delve deeper into telling the story, using multiple points of view, a compelling background, and a wide range of other emotions like suspense, thrill, fear, humor, something a reporter or writer of nonfiction might not do.

For instance, the Gothic novel, Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier, is a story of jealously, misunderstanding, heartache, and tragedy wrapped up in one of the best mysteries ever written. Du Maurier loosely based the story’s origin on her own suspicions that her husband, Lieutenant General Frederick “Tommy” Browning, was still attracted to the striking woman he’d once been engaged to. Du Maurier also admitted that she and Browning had not been faithful to one another during their marriage. The couple’s infidelity was also used in the novel. Max De Winter and his first wife, Rebeca, (deceased) had cheated on one another, and De Winter’s his second wife’s jealously intensified as he became withdrawn and secretive, filling the story with tension strong enough to snap one’s nerves.

I’ve also read the excellent biography, Manderley Forever: A Biography of Daphne du Maurier. Author Tatiana de Rosnay’s book has received raved reviews, but it was Rebecca, the fictional account of an obsessively jealous and fearful wife, that sold almost three million copies. I’m not as bold as Du Marnier to use my private life in a story—but then she’s sold a lot more books than me. So maybe I’ll rethink this.

front coverBlurb:
With her coffee-guzzling dogs and a welcome mat that starts at the business end of a shotgun, Ida Springfield weathers all the challenges life hands her. Until the local government gets the idea to build a dam to help the ranchers, a dam that would dry up the water on her ranch and destroy the habitat for the herd of mustangs living there. After further alienating the “goofballs at town hall,” Ida lets go of her pride and accepts the help of animal rights activist Kate Caraway. Kate feels a need to escape life in Chicago after so many years in her beloved Africa. She’s eager to get to Montana and find some peace from rural surroundings. After tumbling down a mountain, finding a body, and getting warned off by the mayor, Kate understands why her husband wants her to come home. But Kate can’t leave without saving the mustangs and helping the 82-year-old woman and her mentally challenged twin sister stand up to the town bigwigs. To do that, she has to find out who killed Ida’s estranged son and why town officials believe her great-grandson committed the crime.

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Bio:
161118_003 small 2Kathleen Kaska is the author two awarding-winning mystery series: the Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series set in the 1950s and the Classic Triviography Mystery Series, which includes The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book. A Two Horse Town, Kathleen’s second mystery in the new Kate Caraway animal-rights series, was released in December 2018. She is also a writer and marketing director for Cave Art Press. Her collection of blog posts was released in September 2017 under the title, Do You Have a Catharsis Handy? Five-Minute Writing Tips.

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Guest Blogger – Kathleen Kaska

The Grand Dame of Mystery Writing

Agatha Christie_mockup02 copyAgatha Christie is regarded as the most popular mystery writer of all times. Since the publication of her first book in 1920, more than one billion copies of her books have been sold worldwide. She wrote her first detective story while working in a dispensary during the First World War. Her sister, Madge, bet Christie that she could not write a mystery in which she gave her readers all the clues to the crime and stump them at the same time. Christie proved Madge wrong, and The Mysterious Affair at Styles was published. Her second book sold twice as many copies as her first, and she found that writing flowed easily for her. In 1926, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, gained her world acclaim. It is one of the most talked about detective stories ever written. Using a technique that had not been used before, many of her colleagues and readers accused her of breaking the mystery-writing rules. In her defense, she stated that rules are made to be broken and if done well, prove effective. Almost ninety years later, the controversy still remains. She’s gone on record to say that this Hercule Poirot mystery was her masterpiece.

But my two favorite Christie mysteries are two of her lesser-known novels. In these two action-packed stories, The Man in the Brown Suit and They Came to Baghdad, Christie ventured away from Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot and drove into light-hearted adventure. She sent her young heroines, Anne Beddingfeld and Victoria Jones, to mysterious locales, exposes them to harrowing danger, and allowed them to live life on the edge.

“I had a firm conviction that, if I went about looking for adventure, adventure would meet me halfway,” Anne Beddingfeld proclaimed. He archaeologist father has decently died. On her own for the first time in her life, Anne is ready for adventure. But her eighty-seven pound legacy would not last long. After a discouraging job interview, Anne was waiting to catch the train home, which put her in the right place at the right time. A man, startled by something, stumbled and fell off the train platform onto the third rail. Another man claiming to be a doctor, examined the body, declared the man dead, and hurried away, dropping a piece of paper with the words, “17.122 Kilmorden Castle,” written on it. Anne retrieved the paper and tried to catch up with the doctor, but he disappeared into the crowd.

Anne was determined to find the man in the brown suit. He obviously was not a doctor, since he examined the victim’s heart by palpating the right side of his body. After a clever bit of detecting, Anne was aboard a ship to South Africa. In Anne’s life there are no coincidences.

A few days later, she was in her cabin, recovering from seasickness when there came a knock on her door. Or to be more exact, an explosion. Her door flew open and a man tumbled inside.

“Save me,” he says. “They’re after me.” Anne shoved him under her bunk and got rid of the nosy stewardess, who was tracking the apparently drunk passenger. However, alcohol was not the reason for his clumsiness. A knife wound and the loss of blood gave cause for the young man’s unsteadiness. As Anne dressed his wound, they exchanged insults and cold stares, along with a bit of shoving. As he felt, she realized that it was him—the man in the brown suit! But he was gone again, and she was left standing with clenched fists and a racing heart. There was no doubt about it. Anne was in love, and she would find him no matter what.

“To Victoria an agreeable world would be one where tigers lurked in the Strand and dangerous bandits infested Tooting.” Victoria Jones, unemployed secretary, flighty female, habitual liar, is the star of They Came to Baghdad. Fired from her job for poking fun at her employer’s wife, Victoria found herself on her favorite park bench, eating a tomato and lettuce sandwich, and contemplating her future with no income. Before her pondering became too serious, however, she noticed a handsome blue-eyed man sitting next to her, and her plans for finding a new job were forgotten. A quick exchange of life stories, a few laughs, and Edward declared he must leave. “I don’t suppose you’ll ever think of me again,” said Edward. “Oh, Hell—I must fly.” Duty called and Edward was off to Baghdad. Victoria decided to follow the young man. Undaunted by the 3,000-mile distance and the mere three pounds to the name, she conned her way to the Middle East and quickly found herself penniless and alone in a strange hotel.

All of a sudden, there is a knock at Victoria’s door. Could it be Edward? Had word reached him that she was in Baghdad? Without hesitation, she opened the door and found a handsome stranger seeking refuge.

“For God’s sake hid me somewhere—quickly,” he pleaded. Victoria, never one to shrug off adventure, shoved him under the bed cover, propped up the pillows and leisurely leaned back while the hotel manager searched the room. Satisfied that the fugitive was not present, the manager left. Victoria pulled back the covers just in time to hear the dying man’s cryptic message. Now she must found Edward, but where should she begin? After all, she didn’t even know his last name.

Following the adventures of these two young women is almost as exciting as following Indiana Jones into the Temple of Doom. The Man in the Brown Suit and They Came to Baghdad are truly two of Agatha Christie’s most delightful mysteries.

 

Kathleen Kaska writes the award-winning Sydney Lockhart mysteries set in the 1950s. She also writes the Classic Triviography Mystery Series, which includes ThIMG11_2661e Agatha Christie Triviography and Quiz Book, The Alfred Hitchcock Triviography and Quiz Book, and The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book. The Alfred Hitchcock and the Sherlock Holmes trivia books are finalists for the 2013 EPIC award in nonfiction. Her nonfiction book, The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story, (University Press of Florida) was released in 2012. Kathleen has a new mystery series, which will debut later in 2016.

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