A Conversation With: Gayle Bartos-Pool
May 10, 2014
Author, author mentor, artist, Sisters in Crime(SinC) board member, and much, much more! (did I mention one time private detective?)
Today, I’m visiting with Gayle Bartos-Pool.[i] Gayle was there at the very first writer’s panel I was lucky enough to be included in. It was a SinC event, and consequently an author-friendly and supportive group. Nonetheless, all I could think about were all the questions I wouldn’t be able to answer, all the stupid things I might say, how I’d be late, how I’d forget my books, my character’s names, I know, I know…To put it less dramatically, I had the jitters. BUT there was Gayle, holding my emotional-hand throughout.
As an aside, the older I get, the choosier I get about my friends—real friends, not Facebook nomenclature—and I count Gayle among them. Oh yeah, I also think she’s a darned good writer!
So, I’m very pleased we’re finally having a conversation. If one goes to Google and types in your name, one of the first featured URL links shows tons of great pictures of you interfacing with other authors, https://tinyurl.com/l6763tq , which leads me to my first question which is sappy sounding, but I really am interested. How does it feel (from organizing, setting up, moderating, participating) knowing so many people in the writing community? I ask because I’ve been amazed, more than once, at all the connections and friends you have. For sure, I’ve benefited from your “event organizational skills” on several occasions, and your introductions and inclusions into the LA writing community. And are there any highlights from all those events you can’t forget?
Madeline, first let me thank you for inviting me on your blog. I have gotten to know quite a few new writers just by reading your interviews and I have actually bought books based on those interviews. All the authors have been different, but very interesting.
And I guess that segues into your first question. I really took the job of Speakers Bureau Director for Sisters-in-Crime seriously. I looked up every member of the organization that had an Internet presence and wrote mini biographies of everybody so I knew what type of books they wrote. Then I went to local libraries in Los Angeles and presented our program. I could give them panels on funny mysteries, Noir books, mysteries with cooking (lots of detectives, amateur and professional, eat a lot in their books), mysteries set in far off places and even sassy sleuths.
I did 80 panels over three years and had an absolute ball. Mostly this showed me there are all kinds of mysteries out there and that authors have an awful lot in common. We are a fairly small lot even though half the population thinks he or she can write a book.
I learned a great deal from listening to the writers on those panels. I think I actually sat on only two or three. I usually introduced them and sat down, letting them do their thing.
But what I wanted to do in that job was to get new writers and even some with a book or two in print, but who hadn’t done many personal appearances, out there in front of an audience. I wanted to let them know they could do this and that it was actually fun and not terrifying. I saw writers blossom in front of my eyes. That made the time I spent well worth it. And to top it off, I bought a lot of books and got to meet some really fine writers. It was totally win-win.
Well, all I can say is all that hard work paid off, and I continually thank-my-lucky-stars I was on the receiving end! Besides the SinC panels, reading through your bio—just love going back over all the things you’ve done (so nice talking to yet another multifaceted author), you’ve been a newspaper reporter (including page layout!), detective, draftsman, bookstore, doll-house store, stocks and bonds… Feel free to expound on any of your past lives. I must say, detective and doll house tickled my fancy. I have developing in my mind a half-baked theory about “variety of occupations and richness” of writing—but I’ll keep that to myself for now. So many questions pop into my mind, like Who buys doll houses? What does a detective do in the real-world? When movie stars aren’t popping in needing help (smile) Or maybe movie stars do pop-in regularly?
I have a college education. Unfortunately, that and two dollars will buy you a cup of coffee. But I didn’t want to be a doctor, or God forbid, a lawyer or politician. All I ever wanted to be was a writer.
I got bored (or maybe exasperated) with college after my second year and took a year off. I worked that summer and into the fall as a newspaper reporter. I was the only reporter on this small town weekly paper.
The world was upside down at the time. It was 1969. The Prague Spring happened, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, Sadam Hussein came to power, and so did Yasir Arafat. There was the Tet Offensive in Vietnam and the Black Power movement started in America.
I got restless. I wanted to do something. I was 21. I was too young to join the Sheriff’s Department in Memphis and a Navy recruiter said I would be better off finishing my education and then go into the navy later as an officer. Somehow he knew I wasn’t the type to take orders well.
Then I saw the ad for a private detective job. I went down to the firm’s office and they hired me. You asked what does a P.I. do. Since I was always undercover, I had to play the part of a worker in these factories or businesses. I worked mostly in other states, so I lived out of a suitcase. Without my books and a small black and white television, I would have really died of boredom.
But my job was to basically spy on people to see if they were stealing or in one case, if they wanted a union in their shop. You would be amazed how much people will tell you when they don’t know who they are talking to.
But I have to say, I learned far more than I ever wanted to know about these people. Maybe that was why after the year, I went back to college.
As for miniatures, I guess we all have to exercise our brains in various ways. I use one set of tools to write and I make miniatures and doll houses with another set. As for who buys them, mostly adults. The fabulous miniatures we sold in the shop weren’t made for five year olds. Some of the doll houses and miniature rooms I have seen were museum quality. I was, and still am, in awe of these master craftsmen.
My efforts are far more humble, but while I worked for Miniature World in Montrose, CA, those many years ago, I had an idea for a Santa castle. (I collect Santas.) I drew out the design and several years after that I built the castle and the stable. Then I wrote a Christmas story to go along with it. I ended up making the characters that populated my story and this Christmas I will have Bearnard’s Christmas published in book form. This was something I never thought I would see, but I kept working at it until it came to life. And all because I once worked in a miniature shop.
Wow! Actually, I think it would be interesting talking to all those people undercover. Well at least at first. And the doll house world sounds very interesting. On the writing front, of the three series of yours I’ve read—Johnny, Eddie, and Ginger—you know Johnny’s my favorite. But then Eddie really grabs me too…and Ginger… Okay, I like ‘em all. Could you share whatever insights you’d like on the genesis of your quite memorable characters?
Johnny Casino was easy. I heard him whisper in my ear the opening lines from the very first casebook when I was trying to write a short story to enter in an anthology. The story got in the anthology. People liked Johnny and I thought I better come up with more stories. In that opening I said he was a former P.I. with a past. He just hoped it wouldn’t catch up with him. I also said he was raised in the Mob back in New Jersey. Now I had a backstory I had to flesh out. A former cop I met had told me his father was part of the Greek Mafia and he told me about a book I should read to learn more about the Mob. That was the basis for Johnny’s character.
In the second book Johnny learns something about himself that even I didn’t know until I wrote the story. He and I learned that part together. When I did those author panels for Sisters-in-Crime, many writers said they just got out of the way and let their characters speak. That’s what I did with Johnny.
My other detective, Gin Caulfield, and I share a lot of similarities. We both have a Texan for a husband and her dogs are named Sherlock and Foxtrot. Mine are, too. Our attitudes are the same. But she owns her private detective firm. I didn’t. But then, she’s not a writer. I am.
Her latest mystery, Damning Evidence, has Gin finding a body up at a local dam. She is hired by the prime suspect, but there are a lot of people who could benefit with the dead guy out of the way. Then she realizes there are a lot more bodies. She has to get to the bottom of it, but the bottom can be very deep.
Eddie Buick is the name of a fictional character created by a famous writer who has to find out who killed his family. He gets help from somebody that seems awfully familiar. The man’s name is Eddie Buick. I was going to make Eddie Buick’s Last Case a stand-alone, but as I got down to the last page, I said, wait a minute, I want to see more of him, so I will have another Eddie Buick case in the future.
Yeah, another Eddie Buick on the way! I think the whole concept of Eddie is very creative and captivating. Though as I mentioned in my last question, Johnny Casino is my favorite. What kind of trouble does Johnny get into now in your latest! (I’ve started reading and really enjoying)
In the previous book, The Johnny Casino Casebook 2 – Looking for Johnny Nobody, Johnny gets shot. That’s where book three, Just Shoot Me, starts. Each of the cases in book three feature people trying to bury their past, including Johnny. Some of these cases are longer and maybe even darker than before, but Johnny is finding himself and willing to dig deeper to solve the case.
The first story, “The Lady in the Red Dress,” has Johnny checking into the death of a famous movie star, after all, he’s called Hollywood’s Favorite Detective. Another case, “Tell Yourself It’s Over,” has Johnny and his trusty girl Friday, Gladys, heading down to Mexico, but this is no pleasure trip. The last story in this casebook, “Shoot Me and Set Me Free,” ties up some loose ends from books one and two as well as the first story in book three. I consider the Casebooks one big novel, just written in three parts. And I did leave the door open for more stories.
I’ll be waiting for more Johnny!
Then there’s Sherlock–great picture, and great name. I think you already know, Gayle, I love dogs. How does Sherlock fit into your life and/or writing?
We have four dogs and a bird I found wandering around the backyard. Sherlock and Foxtrot came from the pound. The picture earlier shows how skinny they were when we got them. As Italian Greyhounds, they are still skinny, but not as bad as they were right out of the pound. Watson, (we had to have a Watson to go along with Sherlock) was gotten from Pooch Heaven, a dog rescue place.
As for Candy, she was wandering in the neighborhood and some kids thought she was ours. The second I had her in my arms, I could not let her go. We put up posters in the neighborhood, but I was so glad no one came for her.
I have used four of my previous little darlings, two dogs and two cats, in the Bearnard Christmas story, using pictures of them. The book really was a labor of love about my animals and other animals in the wild. I’m a sucker for a furry face, like you. All of our animals have been foundlings or rescue pets. Somebody has to do that. We volunteered to take them into our house and hearts. Again, win-win.
I will have to add Candy to a story sometime. Watson will join Gin Caulfield in book four along with someone else as a partner in her detective firm.
As much as I love ’em, moving on to a completely different topic. I’ve enjoyed all the wonderful decoration pictures you’ve shared on Facebook. Your miniatures are just beautiful— you do such amazing creations. I just can’t imagine the time, effort, and skills involved. Would you share when and how you started creating? And the what’s involved? I’m guessing they’re all labors of love.
I have collected holiday ornaments and decorations for over forty years. I made many of them myself just because the cost was so high and I knew I could make my own. Working at Miniature World which had a Holiday Room allowed me to make some of these things to sell.
I decorate for Valentine’s, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, 4th of July, Halloween and Christmas. We keep a tree up in the dining room, an upside down tree that is much easier to maneuver around. I allow a few weeks every year to making decorations for at least one holiday. Since my collection has totally gotten out of control, I try to limit how many things I make and am trying to just use up old craft supplies and not buy anything new.
I enjoy making miniature rooms and shadow boxes that can hang on the wall. That saves space. I just have a few more rooms (and space left), so the Victorian bathroom might be the last room I do. I did a 1950’s kitchen a few years ago and it reminds me so much of places we lived when I was a kid. I love detail.
And finally, back to writing, Gayle. I noticed you mentioned another treat on the horizon, Enchanted. Could you elaborate?
Enchanted, The Ring, The Rose, and The Rapier is what I call a YARF: Young Adult Romantic Fantasy. It isn’t Gothic Romance or steamy; it’s just the story of a young girl who thinks she sees a ghost in the magnificent old house her parents have leased in Upstate New York. She talks with him and he says he was an actor on the stage about a hundred years earlier. Nobody believes her and her health starts to fail. Her parents move her away from the house and to another state, but she returns when she is older and she meets the man again. But this time there is danger. You
get to follow both her life and flashbacks of his colorful life until the very different ending. He isn’t what you think.
Both Enchanted and Bearnard’s Christmas will be out later this year. Enchanted in the summer and Bearnard for the Christmas season.
Thanks, Madeline, for the fun questions. It was interesting going back over some of these things. We are the sum of all the things we have done and the people (and pets) we have known. Glad you are one of my friends.
Our conversation was a lot of fun, Gayle. Thanks so much for taking the time, and glad you enjoyed going down memory-lane!
[i] A graduate of Rhodes College in Memphis, Gayle took a year off between her Sophomore and Junior years and worked first as a newspaper reporter for a small Mid-South weekly where she wrote the local articles, laid out the front page, and took the pictures with an old Polaroid camera. About the only thing she didn’t do was deliver the stupid thing every Thursday. This was in the pre-computer, pre-digital camera, pre-Internet era.
Gayle followed that job with a stint as a private detective working for Mark Lipman Service Incorporated out of Memphis. She had assignments in Atlanta, Chicago, and Little Rock. She worked undercover on an assembly line, in a clothing factory, and in a printing company. As her female protagonist in her Ginger Caulfield P.I. series says in the book, “It’s amazing how much people will tell you when they don’t know they’re being questioned.”
Gayle has worked as a draftsman, in a bookstore, made miniatures for a doll house shop, and then spent a decade in a bank learning about stocks and bonds before she “retired” to continue her writing full time. It was that bank experience that led to her writing Hedge Bet, the second book in the “Gin Caulfield P.I. series.” The first book in the series is Media Justice. That story came about after she served on a jury. She writes under the pen name, G.B. Pool.
Her other mystery series is The Johnny Casino Casebook featuring Johnny Casino a retired P.I. with a past. He just hopes it doesn’t catch up with him. There are three books in the series so far.
Gayle has been published in various anthologies over the years. She has her own collection of short stories called From Light to Dark. It is a collection of tales ranging from lighthearted to soul searching. She dedicated it to Ray Bradbury. She met the famous man when she reviewed plays for American Chronicle. Bradbury told the story once about a variety of short science fiction stories he had written. A publisher told him to connect the stories and put them in one book. He did and The Martian Chronicles was born. Gayle did this with her Johnny Casino stories
She also paints, builds miniature doll houses, and makes hand-made Santas and other crafts. Her Christmas stories are filled with photographs of things she made just to illustrate the books.
Gayle’s husband, Richard J. Pool, is the basis for Gin’s husband, Fred, in The Ginger Caulfield P.I. series. They have shared their home with various dogs and cats, all strays, and each one special. Four of them make guest appearances in her first holiday story, Bearnard’s Christmas.
She collects Santas (over 3500), Christmas ornaments, Halloween decorations, Easter items, Fourth of July decorations, roosters, and a few other things, space permitting and husband willing.
She is a member of both Sisters-in-Crime/Los Angeles and Mystery Writers of America. She was on the board of Sisters-in-Crime/LA as their Speakers Bureau Director doing over 80 events. She initiated their workshop program and worked on the last No Crime Unpublished conference sponsored by SinC/LA. She was one of the founding members who brought together Mystery Writers of America and Sisters-in-Crime/LA for their inaugural joint conference called the California Crime Writers Conference in June of 2009. She went back on the board as Treasurer during the 2012-2013 term.