Kathleen Kaska portrait

Digging Up a Story: Weaving Fact into Fiction by Kathleen Kaska

Kathleen Kaska PortraitI write two mystery series, one set in the 1950s and one in current times. In plotting the mysteries, I start digging—researching actual events at the time and location of my story’s setting. For example, my upcoming Sydney Lockhart mystery, Murder at the Pontchartrain, is set in New Orleans, a city rich in culture and tradition. And one of those traditions is the religious practice of voodoo. While exploring the French Quarter, I stumbled on Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo and knew I’d have to use this in the story. I didn’t realize then that Marie Laveau was New Orleans’s most powerful voodoo queen to ever reign, a coveted position passed down from one queen to the next and often usurped by a wannabe queen. For more than forty years, Laveau had the ultimate say-so about how voodoo should be practiced. She was born in 1801, a free woman of color. Her father, Charles Lavewu Trudeau, was a white man of French origin, and her mother, Marguerite D’Arcantel a mix of white, black, and Native American ancestry. Her clientele came from all walks of life, wealthy merchants, politicians, people in trouble with the law, but most were white and Creole women. Not only did Laveau believe in, and practice voodoo, she was also a devote Catholic attending Mass every day at St. Louis Cathedral. She was known to meld rituals from both religions in her practice.

Today, the House of Voodoo attracts more tourists than people seeking help and advice. So, what can you buy in the House of Voodoo?

Like any souvenir shop, you can purchase coffee mugs, shot glasses, T-shirts, tarot cards, and books, but you’ll also find amulets, talismans, voodoo dolls, and incantations to ward off evil or bring good luck. One item that caught my attention and ended up in my book was gris gris. These are small bags containing objects such as bones, beads, herbs, roots, coins, or verses. You can also customize your own. However, there are rules you should follow in making a gris gris bag.

The bag should be two by three inches, made of cloth, and small enough to carry in your pocket or worn on a chain or cord around your neck. It must contain an odd number of items between three and thirteen. Next, bless your bag with anointing oil or holy water and recite incantations over it. And finally, breathe on your bag to bring it to life. Gris gris bags can be designed for special purposes, but you must know what you’re doing. Otherwise, you might create one that is too powerful to handle and might backfire on you. 

In Murder at the Pontchartrain, my character Mildred Threadgill visits Frida Mae, the current voodoo queen, to help deal with issues surrounding her dead husband. Unfortunately, Mildred, pushed her voodoo pursuit too far, and things didn’t work out well. To find out more, you’ll have to read the book. It will be out this summer.

Here’s an excerpt from Murder at the Pontchartrain:

Mildred claimed to have had several visits from her dead husband and she wanted Frida Mae to provide a protection potion. When that didn’t work, she returned to the voodoo shop and demanded her money back. Instead of returning her money, Frida Mae talked Mildred into investing in more powerful potions. Frida Mae went on to say that Mildred was convinced her husband was coming back to life. She wanted to make sure he stayed dead because she hated the bastard. She purchased another potion made to pour over Frank’s tomb. She also hired Frida Mae to perform a ritual over it. The event took place about two weeks ago at midnight when the moon was full. The next night Frank made another ghostly appearance and this time he told his widow that he planned to drag her to hell with him.

The practice of voodoo is fascinating, but unlike Marie Laveau, who practiced both voodooism and Catholicism, I’m sticking with the latter. One religion is all I can handle.

I’m now working on book number seven. This one is set in a historic hotel in a German town south of Austin. The hotel is purported to be haunted, and I’m looking forward to what I might dig up this time.

Look for Murder at the Pontchartrain, book six, in the Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series, out this June. For everyone who preorders a copy of Murder at the Pontchartrain, I will give you a sneak preview of all the places Sydney ends up while she’s in the Big Easy. And if you know Sydney, you know she’s not seeing the sights on a streetcar with the other tourists.


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. Her first two Lockhart mysteries, Murder at the Arlington and Murder at the Luther, were selected as bonus books for the Pulpwood Queen Book Group, the country’s largest book group. 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. She is the founder of The Dogs in the Nighttime, the Sherlock Holmes Society of Anacortes, Washington, a scion of The Baker Street Irregulars.

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 look for the right publisher.


5 thoughts on “Digging Up a Story: Weaving Fact into Fiction by Kathleen Kaska”

  1. I’m a big fan of Sydney Lockhart, and Kathleen Kaska. I also am emotionally attached to New Orleans and all the cultural aspects of that city. Murder at the Pontchartrain is right up my alley. Thanks for the interview, Kathleen and Debra.

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