When Magic Happens
by Kathleen Kaska
Magic in my writing often comes in the form of coincidences; those serendipitous things I believe are much more than happenstance. Some are small affirmations that I’m on the right track, like when I decided to set one of my mysteries in southwest Montana. The story is about a rancher’s attempt to save a herd of wild horses. I later found out this very area is home to one of the largest wild horse population in the country. What an affirmation that was!
Another time, my husband and I were exploring the back roads around Hot Spring, Arkansas when we made the wrong turn back to town and had gotten lost. The road wound us deep into the woods, and while my husband attempted to get us out, I went into deep contemplation of a murder plot I was having trouble with. Suddenly, I spotted an algae-covered pond and the brain cells began gyrating. By the time we’d reached the end of the road, the entire plot was laid out before me as if I had been watching a movie. I looked up at the road sign as we turned onto the highway. I got chills when I noticed we’d been traveling on a road named Murder’s Row.
The most recent magical moment happened a few weeks ago. My frustration level over my current Sydney Lockhart mystery had become so high, I felt like deleting the entire 80,000-word manuscript and starting over. Instead, I decided to give my brain a break and relive our 2009 vacation to Maine. It was one of those trips where we had no plans, no reservations, and no schedule. One afternoon we drove into the tiny town of Kingfield, and seeing the old Herbert Grand Hotel, we stopped in. (By the way, historic hotels are where my Lockhart mysteries are set.) It was off-season, and the owner gave us a tour and recommended his best room, a suite with a fireplace and baloney overlooking Main Street and the Carrabassett River. But what caught my eye, was the picture hanging over the bed, it was of a beautiful redheaded girl holding an envelope and smiling (By the way Sydney has red hair, too). I called her "Little Sydney" because I imagined this is what Sydney Lockhart looked like when she was young. I told my husband that the message in the envelope was for me, and one day I would find out what that message was.
At the time, I’d set my current story at the historic Excelsior Hotel in Jefferson, Texas because I wanted to include a ghost element in the subplot and the Excelsior is known for its numerous resident ghosts. But, I soon discovered that the Driskill in Austin, Texas (Sydney’s home and mine for twenty-five years) was considered the most haunted hotel in the state. So mystery number four became Murder at the Driskill instead of Murder at the Excelsior. Well, the ghost thing wasn't working out and I was having a difficult time finishing this book. I began to wonder if I’d made the right decision to switch venues. To break the block, I decided to do a little more research into the ghost thing. I found this news story and YouTube video about ghosts at the Driskill, and in watching that video, the message in the little girl’s envelope was revealed.
The murder in my book takes place on the fifth floor in the Yellow Rose Suite. A portion of the video “coincidently” was shot on the fifth floor. As the camera panned on the Yellow Rose Suite, I noticed hanging on the wall right next to the room was that very same painting that hung over our bed in the Herbert Grand Hotelin Maine.
The story goes the painting is of the little girl was Samantha Houston who died at the Driskill Hotel in 1887 when she tumbled down the stairs chasing her ball. Her spirit had remained on the fifth floor since that time and she is often seen and heard bouncing her ball and giggling. The message in the envelope?—“don’t ditch the ghost.” I got busy writing and soon the plot problems disappeared and the book’s draft is completed. One big coincidence; I think not.
Incidentally, the painting is not really that of Samantha Houston, although it makes a great story for the hotel’s promotional literature. The painting is entitled Love Letters by artist Charles Trevor Garland. If you’d like to see the video, here’s the link: http://www.kvue.com/news/Special-Assignment-History-and-hauntings-of-the-Driskill-Hotel-174483061.html
Look for Murder at the Driskill early next year.
Thanks, Karla, for having me as a guest on Armchair Publishing.
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