Jumpstart 2018 with Education

Face it. Those brain cells need refreshing. They’ve been hard at work on your work-in-progress, and they need a fresh focus so they can rejuvenate.

Our own G.B. Pool will appear at the Glendale Central Library with author Mike Belefer to teach a short story workshop on January 20th.  anatomy-book-cover

If you aren’t in the area, you can find Gayle’s Anatomy of a Short Story Workbook on Amazon.

Hope to see you there!

 

Gayle and Mike

 

 

Say It Isn’t So…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA by G.B. Pool

Okay, I’ll say it. Christmas isn’t just for kids.

They might have all the fun Christmas morning, but it took a lot of effort to make it happen. Santa brings a lot of those toys, but good old mom and dad put a few of them under the tree, too. And then there are the clerks in the stores who sold the toys and the folks in the factories who made some of them. Santa’s elves might make their share, but lots of others work hard all year to design new toys and get them on the shelves.

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And then there are the decorations. Kids make a few cute things in school, but adults make an awful lot of those beautiful things and they put up the tree and string the lights and decorate the outside of the house and bake the cookies and pies and Christmas dinner.

Then lots of adults step back, exhausted after all that work, and spend some time enjoying the holidays, too. And what better way than to watch one of the Christmas classics on TV with the family, though most of the older holiday movies were really made for adults. A kid wouldn’t understand how Jimmy Stewart’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life was taken under the wing of Clarence the Angel and shown what the world would be like without him ever being in it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOr how about A Christmas Carol? Kids might like the Ghost of Christmas Past and Present and maybe even the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, but it will take a while before they understand what the story means on a more adult level.

But that’s the gift these movies and stories are: A gift that keeps on giving as you grow older and start to understand the deeper meaning of each story every time you watch it.

Some modern stories are purely fun with not much meaning lurking anywhere or even any holiday spirit. In fact, many might as well be straight comedies because there is nothing Christmas about them. Even the holiday favorite, A Christmas Story, could just as well been about a boy’s birthday wish to get that Red Ryder BB Gun. Christmas was only in the title.

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Santas Galore

But most of us watch these movies and enjoy the season year after year. We check out the Christmas lights in the neighborhood and write our holiday cards and revel in the aromas of an evergreen tree, baked goods, and the holiday feast.As for me, I have been a collector of Christmas things for some forty years. My collection of Santas is nearing 4000. It takes me two weeks to decorate the house. We put up seventeen trees and those are the ones above 12 inches high. I have doll houses with smaller trees in them, some only a few inches tall, all decorated, so the number is way above that seventeen mark.

 

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Since I like to make things, I have quite a few handcrafted Santas. I have been crafting for years. Other than the fact we are running out of space to house these guys and a few other things that I have made, my imagination leads me into other areas.

What areas you ask? Writing holiday stories, of course. The books include pictures of things that I have made and they also include the True Meaning of Christmas in the stories.

 

santaclaussingerfinalcovercroppedYears ago I worked at Walden Books in the Glendale Galleria. At the beginning of the holiday season the mall had a Santa who sang songs when he wasn’t talking to kids. I moved the Santa to Las Vegas in the book The Santa Claus Singer and made him a lounge singer who gets laid off and who ends up playing Santa at the mall and sings to the customers. He meets a young girl who is need of an operation. He is just the right blood type and he volunteers for the gig. At the same time, he gets a job singing in one of the hot night spots on Christmas Eve. A once in a lifetime opportunity. Only thing is, he promised to visit the young girl that same night. And then his car breaks down…

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The first Christmas book that uses pictures of many of the things I have made is called Bearnard’s Christmas. I got the idea for it when I worked in a miniature shop that sold doll houses. I sketched out a design for a Santa castle, wrote the story, and then built the castle and made the figures to go with the story. It’s about a lady who loves animals and who falls asleep near her Christmas tree only to wake up at the North Pole. She meets a talking Polar bear dressed in a Santa suit. His name is Bearnard. He works for Santa. Some people want to capture him and stuff him and put him in a carnival attraction. They might just get their chance if a miracle doesn’t happen.

the-santa-claus-machine-cover-final-croppedThe newest book is called The Santa Claus Machine. I got the idea from a Christmas card. In order to modernize his image, Santa builds a series of Santa robots that are sent to stores around the world. They are programmed to tell Santa’s stories and record children’s wishes. An unscrupulous sales manager at the largest department store chain in America, along with their computer engineer, kidnap the real Santa and hide him in an ice cave. They reprogram all the Santa Claus Machines to encourage children to ask for more and more toys. When Santa learns about the change, he becomes disheartened and thinks he might have to cancel Christmas.

Each story is set during the holidays for sure, but each has a deeper meaning: something seen with the heart and the soul.

every-castle-needs-a-dragon-cover-trial-2-croppedAnd I have been working on a new story for next year. The idea came when I bought a Christmas ornament, a small dragon. I found a tiny wreath on the sidewalk while walking one of the dogs and slipped it over the dragon’s head. Then I set him on the roof of the Santa castle and said, “Every Castle Needs a Dragon.” That’s the name of the book. I bet you don’t know that dragons are the protectors of something very precious in the world. If they have the wrong champion, they can go astray and do great damage, but if they are taught well, they do nothing but good. Now someone wants to capture this one particular dragon… You will get to read the rest of the story next Christmas.

Enjoy the coming Holiday Season. See it with your heart and your soul. It costs nothing and gives back so much.

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Biography:

gayle-and-santaA former private detective and once a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool (G.B. Pool) writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She also wrote the SPYGAME Trilogy: The Odd Man, Dry Bones, and Star Power; Caverns, Eddie Buick’s Last Case, The Santa Claus Singer, Bearnard’s Christmas and The Santa Claus Machine. She teaches writing classes: “The Anatomy of a Short Story” (which is also in workbook form), “How to Write Convincing Dialogue” and “How to Write a Killer Opening.” Website: http://www.gbpool.com.

 

 

And So What Do You Bring to the Party?

99be9-gayle51closeupA former private detective and once a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool (G.B. Pool) writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She also wrote the SPYGAME Trilogy, Caverns, Eddie Buick’s Last Case, The Santa Claus Singer, Bearnard’s Christmas and The Santa Claus Machine. She teaches writing classes: “Anatomy of a Short Story” (which is also in book form), “How to Write Convincing Dialogue” and “How to Write a Killer Opening.” Website: http://www.gbpool.com.

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If you are a writer, you do research. If you are a good writer, you do a lot of research. If you are a procrastinator/writer, you do even more research and very little writing. That isn’t good. The least we can do is check out facts to make sure we have has much right as possible. The worst we can do is to put so much in a story that the story gets lost in the endless details.

Any writer knows it is rather embarrassing to write about our hero driving south on a street (in a city where we have obviously never been) only to learn later that the street is one-way going north. It happens. Google Maps makes it a lot easier to find out about streets in towns we have never seen. If all else fails, make up the town and the street and do what you want.

There is technical stuff that some writers drop into their tomes to make it more interesting. Hopefully they check with people who actually know about the activity so they get it right. That research is great. I do a lot of it. Often I learn way more than is necessary for the tale I am telling. I edit out much of the knowledge lest I turn the story into a How To book.

But what about stuff you actually know? When you get to be a certain age, you should have done things in life like have a few jobs or a few hobbies. I have had my share of jobs and lived quite a few places and have hobbies up the wazoo. So, you ask, how have I used my knowledge in my books?

Got a minute?
ralphmbartosprintlarge    My father was in the Air Force. We traveled a lot. I lived on Okinawa and in France as well as in Memphis (near Elvis) and here in California. There were a few other military bases along the way and many of these places turn up in my SPYGAME Trilogy. I used some of my father’s experiences as a pilot during World War II and afterwards, as well as my imagination, to concoct an intriguing set of stories. The first one, The Odd Man, deals mostly with WWII and the Bay of Pigs. I went to a boarding school in France and that place finds a home in book two, Dry Bones. Book three, Star Power, wraps up the trilogy by bringing back characters from books one and two for a climax ending up in Southern California with some Hollywood stars tossed in for fun, though some are positively deadly.

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There is a lot of history plus my own experiences in those books. I actually use a few pictures my mother and I took while living in these places in the book. As one of my characters and I say: “The facts are true. I made up the rest.”

But I mentioned my own jobs as being hands-on research for my books. Let me tell you a story. I wrote my three spy novels and tried to get them published many years ago. I wasn’t having any luck. By then I had moved to California, married, and was writing yet another book that didn’t get published until later. My wonderful husband noticed my frustration and said this: “You used to be a private detective. Why don’t you write a detective novel?”

I had been a detective about a dozen years earlier. I actually went undercover in a variety of places looking for bad guys. Maybe…

I started thinking about a detective series. Then I got on a jury. I thought this might be a perfect segue into a plot. The jury thing ended when the case was settled out of court and I went home. Then Richard got on a case. He was to appear the same day the O.J. Simpson jurors were to be picked. He wasn’t in that cattle call, but he saw the media circus downtown with the television cameras and helicopters and reporters. He came back with a vivid view of the proceedings. Then the ad nauseam media coverage ensued.
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But that case wasn’t the first or last to hyperventilate on TV. Experts came out of the woodwork and threw out their “wisdom” and opinion long before a jury was even seated. THAT was going to be my story. What happens when the media orchestrates the justice? My book, Media Justice, was the first in the Ginger Caulfield P.I. series.

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Speaking of jobs, I worked over a decade in a bank dealing with stocks and bonds. That’s where I met Richard. (Do I have to say that was the best job I ever had?) I dealt with millions and millions of dollars daily. Then one day we got free tickets to the Santa Anita Racetrack. Richard and I went. I explored. I found a terrific place to find a body… I combined horse racing and hedge funds and got Hedge Bet out of it.

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The third book in the series was the result of my fellow writer and friend, Jackie Houchin, doing an article about the local dam up here in the Foothills where I live. She took a terrific picture of the dam before the retrofitting took place. It was so ominous. It reeked of mystery. It ended up as the cover shot on Damning Evidence. Jackie wrote a great interview of the guy who lived up at the dam. I knew I was going to use that character someway, somehow. And I did.

caverns-cover-only-updated-smallHere’s another story. When I was on assignment in Chicago as a P.I., I lived in an apartment near Lake Michigan. It was February. A brutal winter. I had to take the subway and a bus to the job at night. I worked from 5 p.m. until 2 in the morning. I survived Chicago. Years later I heard a story from a co-worker in California about a police officer in New York City who ran across something rummaging around in garbage cans down an alley. He shot it. It was a rat. It weighed in at 105 pounds. I moved the rat and his friends to snowy Chicago and I have them eating away the garbage on which a large area of The Windy City was built after the Great Fire. This was near the lake. Huge caverns have been carved out under the condos around the lake. Disaster looms. That book is Caverns.

All of these prior books have a connection to my actual life. But so do my Christmas books. This is where my hobbies come in. I collect Santas. I have around 4000. I have made some, bought many. And I used to work in a miniature store called Miniature World. We sold dollhouses. Ibookcoverpreviewcropped started making my own and making vignettes. I had an idea for a Christmas castle that I designed. I still have the sketch. I decided to write a story to go along with the idea of this castle. Then I decided to build the castle and make the figures that went with the story. Then I published the book. The first one was Bearnard’s Christmas.

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I say first because there is a second book coming out this Christmas called The Santa Claus Machine. I am currently working on the third, Every Castle Needs a Dragon.

Now you might say there is no research in fantasies. Well, I added pictures to these books. I had to have things to photograph that fit the story. My Christmas collection is vast. I have reindeer and animals and sleighs and miniature toys that fit my stories. I must have been saving them just for these books.

The third book needed fairies and a dragon and a miniature diving helmet… I just happened to have this stuff tucked away. I guess I have been researching this story even before I got the idea for it.

But we all have stuff to bring to the party. What do you have in your imagination closet that you can pull out to enhance a character or plot? Maybe there is somebody in the family who influenced you. Or a place you lived that aches to be part of a story. Be an archaeologist of your own life and dig for those relics that will set your story apart. Let the party begin.

What’s a Hundred Years? …by Gayle Bartos-Pool

99be9-gayle51closeupA former private detective and reporter for a small weekly newspaper, G.B.Pool writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She teaches writing classes: “Anatomy of a Short Story,” “How To Write Convincing Dialogue” and “Writing a Killer Opening Line.”

 

 

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Shakespeare died 400 years ago, but we all have read his plays. There is talk now that schools want to stop teaching works by the guys who basically gave us the foundation of our modern literature. I would give you their astute reasoning, but there is no good reason behind it. It’s a stupid idea.

Aristotle, Euripides, Aristophanes, Sophocles… I hope those names aren’t Greek to you (Sorry, that’s a little literary humor.), but these men crafted the basics of writing as we know it. Centuries later we got Shakespeare and Chaucer and Christopher Marlowe, Ibsen, Chekhov and, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and the Bronte Sisters. And list goes on and on.

They make movies based on these books. People still read the classics. Some of the wording is a tad dated, but the stories are still relevant. Romeo and Juliet turned into West Side Story. How many retellings of A Christmas Carol have there been? Good lasts.
Anna Katharine GreenThis takes me to Anna Katharine Green and Mary Roberts Rinehart. These two ladies lived a hundred years ago. Anna Katharine Green wrote her Amelia Butterworth character in 1897, well before Agatha Christie wrote The Murder at the Vicarage (1930) featuring Miss Marple. Christie acknowledges Green as her inspiration. Green also wrote about a young female amateur sleuth, Violet Strange, years before the first Nancy Drew stories hit the bookstore shelves.

Mary Roberts Rinehart

Mary Roberts Rinehart turned out her first mystery, The Man in Lower Ten, in 1906 and The Circular Staircase in 1907, both astonishingly good mystery stories. She references both Edgar Allan Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in that first mystery. She went on to pen her Letitia Carberry stories featuring three old spinsters who have adventures and calamities that are rollickingly funny and dead clever.

SCircular Staircasehe is considered the source for the term: “The butler did it.” She didn’t use that exact phrase, but the butler was the culprit. She even has a series of stories centered around World War I. She was a trained nurse and married a doctor; so much of what she writes has facts behind it. She even served as a war correspondent during World War I in Belgium and toured the front lines, so the visuals are based on things she saw firsthand. Not all her stories are mysteries, but they are all good, solid stories, some even slightly romantic, but nothing even remotely lurid. How refreshing.

AKG Mystery Megapack
I started with the Anna Katherine Green stories. When I first started reading these two ladies, I couldn’t believe they were written a hundred years ago. The writing is fresh, some of the social/political comments could have been written today, and the work is witty, clever, and occasionally deliciously sarcastic. I have to admit, both ladies used a few words that are no longer in the vernacular (look it up), but since I was reading on my Kindle, I could look up the meanings right there and then carry on. But the overall feeling was that I was reading something written yesterday, not a century ago. I was and am still amazed at the contemporary handling of the stories.

The list of literary greats from that time and earlier does contain preponderance of male writers, but that’s just the way it was for quite a few centuries. Health care got better so women weren’t dying during childbirth, household appliances were invented to make domestic life easier, and some women decided they wanted to write… and they did. Women wrote short stories for magazines and even penned a few books. They showed what was possible.

But these two ladies weren’t writing fluff or recipes. In fact, there was a lawsuit against Anna Katharine Green because some fool didn’t believe a woman could write a story with such an accurate legal basis as a plot. Well, the idiot ate his words. Green’s father was a lawyer and the lady knew what she was writing about.

If you can’t find hardback books by these ladies, there are e-book collections of their many stories available at remarkably low prices. Some single stories are free, the work transcribing their books to an e-Book format done by volunteers. God Bless them. Some books are only available for free. (I pay for nearly every book that I read. These tireless workers who provided the works of these great ladies and frankly all writers deserve that we pay for their efforts.) These collections contain both novel-length stories and short stories and novellas.

And something else for you writers, these ladies show how to tell a story with a ton of stuff in them, no repetition, lots of plot, character and setting that will make you reevaluate your own writing. Remember, they did these stories a hundred years ago. They were cutting edge in the mystery genre… some of the first to do this genre, male or female. And their works are good.

As many contemporary books as I have read by men and women, these books are rising to the top as my favorites because they did it first and did it beautifully. Cleanly crafted, lots of stuff happening, lots of great characters. Some of the stories you don’t want to end. That is literary gold.