It's my pleasure to introduce Gayle Bartos-Pool!
"The Johnny Casino Casebook Part 1 - Past Imperfect" is out and ready for reading! First, congratulations!
Thanks, Jackie, for inviting me to your fun blog. I meet a lot of new authors this way.
It's a collection of short stories that fill in Johnny's background for those who aren't familiar with the character. Why did you go the route of short stories instead of a novel?
The first Johnny Casino story was written as a short story. I wrote several more and got one in a Sisters-in-Crime/Los Angeles anthology, LAndmarked for Murder. It got good reviews, so I kept writing him. I knew that Ray Bradbury wrote his Martian Chronicles as a series of short stories and a publisher told him to do something to connect them into a novel form, so I did the same thing. Each book has a central theme.
This first casebook is subtitled Past Imperfect and makes the point that we all have a past. Several characters make repeat appearances in all three books. It’s like a TV series where old characters come back for a guest shot. And even though each story is self-contained, they all tell you something more about Johnny. There is a story from this first book that is further wrapped up in the last book. The Johnny Casino Casebook Series is like a 1000 page novel broken into three separate books.
You also have a short story collection, "From Light to Dark". Are these all Johnny Casino shorts as well?
From Light TO DARK are totally different stories, different characters, different sub-genres that pay homage to Old Hollywood movies, vintage TV shows, and contemporary Noir tales. The mysteries get darker as the stakes get higher, whether for money, fame, lust, power or just pure evil. It starts with the tale of a cool cat who escapes Las Vegas only to find himself down a dark alley looking for trouble, to a troubled cop racing down a sizzling L.A. street looking for a killer…or is he looking for something else? Murder in Hollywood isn’t new, but when the guy playing detective used to play one on TV, you have something new. When you steal something priceless, you better know you’ll pay for it in the end. Consider From Light TO DARK a plate of delicacies, some sweet, some pungent, some dark and rich, some with a bite. Each different.
Your main characters, whether Johnny Casino or PI Ginger Caulfield, have that classic noir feel to them--short sentences and witty, tough dialogue. Who influenced your writing, author or otherwise?
Just like Johnny Casino says about himself in the first book, I grew up watching old movies on a 13-inch black and white television set. I read Mickey Spillane, Raymond Chandler and other detective novels that my mother had in the house. And I’m sure my dad, an Air Force pilot who didn’t mince words or actions, influenced me greatly. My dad always said I could do anything I put my mind to, maybe that’s why I became a real private detective for a while. I never thought that was something I couldn’t do. I give my characters that trait. I don’t read any one author more than another, probably because I don’t want to be influenced by any one style. I have made both Johnny and Gin their own person, not like anyone else. But I did have Johnny train under Gin Caulfield when he started out as a P.I., so maybe he learned things from her. Who knows?
You've given many detailed and entertaining classes on short story writing, and one of my favorite analogies revolves around a road trip. Can you share that with the readers?
I came up with this analogy when I was writing out the prospectus for that first class called “The Anatomy of a Short Story.” I was differentiating a novel from a short story and said that a novel is like taking a world tour when you board a big ship with lots of people (characters) and take all the luggage (character traits, red herrings and bits of business that need explaining) and make stops at 50 different ports-of-call (plot points).
A short story is like taking a Day Trip. Instead of a bus or large car that holds too many people, you take a two-seat roadster. Maybe you can toss somebody in the trunk or strap somebody on the hood, but you are limited in the number of characters you have to describe. As for luggage, you don’t have room for lots of extra baggage, so each character is limited to one or two things that describe him or her.
As for the destination, there is only one. You might have to make a detour like Janet Leigh did in Psycho to the Bates Motel, but that was the whole point of the story…to get to that hotel. One destination.
If writers understand that a short story is the essence of a tale, an hors d’oeuvre with just a taste of the best things on it, no more, no less, they will have a great and satisfying short story.
Do you plan to release a non-fiction book on writing?
I will keep that thought in mind. I love teaching and doing a short book on the essence of the short story might be fun to do.
Okay. I can't talk to you on Halloween without mentioning you amazing craft skills and decorating ability. After Halloween, I know you move into making your home a Winter Wonderland. Could you share some photographs and explain the history behind a few of your decorations?
The witch, ghost and goblin on the mantle are among the first decorations I made for Halloween. I did the pumpkin head guy 35 years ago. The head is carved from a Styrofoam ball and covered with instant papier mache and then painted. I made his outfit out of an old pair of brown velvet pants. The cloth body was just a simple pattern I cut out. I have used it for many of my figures. The ghost is a wooden dowel with wire arms, a pair of china hands, and a Styrofoam ball head. I draped the gauze over those to form the body. The witch is mostly a stuffed central core over a dowel and bits of fabric for her outfit.
The dapper pumpkin head guy with the top hat was something I had seen in a magazine and decided to make myself. The same is true for the Candy Corn Man with the wily grin and red and white stripped stockings. That is papier mache over a wire armature.
The three figures (Bat-boy, Hershey Kisses Cat, and Cheshire Cat) were all done with that instant papier mache over a body of crushed and shaped aluminum foil to give it form without weight. Antique decorations made by cottage industry workers a hundred years ago were probably done much the same way even though they used shredded paper and flour paste glue instead of instant papier mache.
The last photo shows some old fashioned lanterns I made with strips of gauze dipped in plaster of Paris, wrapped around a balloon to give them shape. I added the nose to the clown by covering a small Styrofoam ball. The nose and eyebrows for the Jack-o-Lantern are a small pieces of Styrofoam covered with gauze. When it dried, I popped the balloon and carved an opening at the top and for the eyes and mouth that I designed on my computer, ran off a copy on a shiny piece of paper, and taped the pieces inside the lantern.
What's next for you on the writing front?
The Johnny Casino Casebook 2 – Looking for Johnny Nobody is coming out April 2013. The book jacket blurb: Johnny Casino is an ex-mobster turned private eye. He changed his name to escape his past, but what if his past was a lie?
Hedge Bet, the second Gin Caulfield mystery is also coming out in the summer of 2013. The blurb: Is it a bet on the ponies or a high stakes gamble in the stock market that leads to a death at the racetrack and the return of Ginger Caulfield to her former profession as private investigator?
Thanks again for inviting me. I hope you like what happens to Johnny and Gin in the coming years. They keep me on my toes.