Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Halloween Decorating with the Mistress of Mystery

Mystery author GB Pool has some creepy moments in her books. They are after all murder  mysteries. But that's nothing compared to the thrills and chills that come about when you put Gayle in the Halloween mood. I asked her about her decorating prowess, and here's what she had to say.

When did you first start decorating for Holidays? How did these extravaganza's come about?

            When I first moved to California and lived in a cute duplex apartment, I decorated my place for the holidays. I made my own Valentine decorations and Christmas and Easter ornaments. I discovered Solvang north of Los Angeles and drove up there on my birthday and bought a few Christmas decorations.
            Then I started working for Miniature World, a terrific dollhouse shop in Montrose and became a complete holiday junkie, I mean a mainliner. Kay Kelley, who owned the shop, had a separate holiday room that we filled with Easter, then Christmas items. Kay and I would go to the wholesale mart downtown and shopped for the store. We would be drunk on shopping before we left, we’d buy a ton of things for the store, but we would sell down to the walls by the end of the season.
            I could buy things at wholesale prices, and I did, thus becoming a real junkie.
Kay and I would go to the Rose Bowl and browse. I started my Christmas collection there finding dozens of Santas at a dollar or two each. When the prices started to get ridiculous, I stopped going, but by then I had over 1500 Santas.
Years later, the collection of Santas alone grew to over 3500. I added Halloween, Easter, Fourth of July and a few St. Patrick’s Day things along the way.
It is a happy addiction.

As a military kid, you moved about. Did your mom or family decorate for the holidays?

            We lived on Okinawa and in France for a total of five and a half years. We took nothing but clothes and a few necessities to Okinawa, so the decorations were whatever we made in school. My brother was 10-11; I was 6-7.
In France, we had a tree every year, but no ornaments. I strung popcorn and cranberries for decorations. While in Germany on a shopping tour, I bought my first Santa. It has an intricately made cloth face and rustic felt outfit.

Store-bought or homemade?

            I am a craft person. I like to make things. When I see something gorgeous in a catalog that sells for $250- $350, I think what my husband would do if I bought it. Once I get the picture of the blood and bruises out of my mind, I make the thing myself. I might nickel and dime Richard to death, and he doesn’t say boo, but I really can’t see paying that kind of money for something I don’t need. I never sell these items, but I do enjoy seeing how close I can get to the original. Since I have no instructions on how to make the things I see in magazines or catalogs, I have to start from scratch and design it from the bottom up, so my only aid is the original picture.
In art class in college, my teacher had us copy master drawings. I always got A’s because I could copy anything. It’s just something I can do.
            I have created things strictly on my own. The Santa Castle and the figures from Bearnard’s Christmas, a holiday story I wrote, are all my own. The Gingerbread House was made from a kit, but I turned it into a gumdrop encrusted delight through my own imagination.

Where do you get your ideas?

            Sometimes when I create something strictly out of the blue, I get a brainstorm. Something pops into my head and I have to do it right then. It’s like I see the thing form right in front of me. I see the steps and follow them to completion.
            I got the idea for the Santa Castle when I worked for Miniature World. I had the idea for a Christmas story about a Polar Bear who works for Santa. I sketched the castle on a large piece of paper. In this case, I didn’t build it right away.
            The store closed and I found other work. Years later I decided to write the story, which I did. Then I thought I better build the castle. I pulled out the drawing and that brainstorming thing happened. I had the walls up in about a week. It took a little longer to decorate the interior and facade, but all in all, it came together very fast. I made the characters for the story and photographed the entire thing.
            Now that there are Kindles in color, I just might publish the story myself with pictures. They look great.

Do you go all-out for most holidays or a select few?

            Depends. It takes two solid weeks to decorate the entire house for Christmas. A few years I didn’t decorate at all. Some years I do every holiday all out. I have skipped a holiday or two. If I have the time, I’ll do all of it. I love seeing everything and still marvel at some of the decorations. Sometimes I look at maybe the 15th box and say, “Oh, God. Not another box.” That’s why I’ll skip a year. But even during the years I skip decorating, I’ll put a small tree up at Christmas. I just have to.

How early do you have to start the process each year?

            My holiday decorating starts at the end of September. I have boxes for the regular household décor which I take down and store in the garage. I collect roosters, so they all go into their boxes and I clear the decks.
            First the Halloween decorations go up in the dining room. It’s the prime decorating room. I do put purple decorations in the bathroom. The Halloween stuff stays up until the first part of November, then they come down and I begin the two-week marathon for Christmas.
            I have one large Victorian tree for the living room decorated with the more old fashioned decorations. There is a metal tree in that room that holds handmade ornaments I did when I first moved to California. I have a small lighted bead tree under a glass dome that goes on the desk.
            I add purple ornaments to the bathroom garland and a tree with purple balls for the counter.
            I put a glass fruit laden garland over the sink in the kitchen and other food related ornaments and chef Santas in the kitchen. There is a small sugar plum tree and bon-bon tree on the refrigerator.
The dining room has an upside down tree totally in Santas; another tree has woodsy animals and Santas; one tree is all gingerbread and glass candy ornaments. A large feather tree has vintage 1940’s ornaments and a smaller feather tree is loaded with mini-ornaments.
The master bedroom has a tall narrow tree all in white ornaments and a smaller tree is decorated with dancing fairies. The Santas in the bedroom are all in white fur.
Those are just the trees.


Halloween. I love the fog!


4th of July

After the holidays, around the beginning of the second week in January, I take down the Christmas things and put out the regular household stuff. It’s nice to see it all back to normal.
            In February I hang Valentine decorations from the dining room chandelier. I put a few St. Patrick things out in March. By Easter, I bring out the white feather Easter tree with wooden ornaments and I decorate the large upside down tree that stays in the dining room with handmade ornaments I made when I first came to California.
            In June I put out the red, white and blue decorations. I have ornaments for the upside down tree and lots of Uncle Sams and flags.
            August brings out the sunflowers. I put a garland around the chandelier and have vases of silk sunflowers for the table and stands.
            Then we are in September when I start all over again. Now you see why I get tired every now and then.

Could we have an example or two of your favorites?
            I like the things I made most of all because I know how much work went into them. Any humble craft person knows they never get paid for the real work they do, but the joy in creating is part of the payment. I’ve made the large Santa Castle and a small Christmas Shoe filled with tiny bear figures and mini furniture that’s so much fun to look at. It’s the detail that gets you. It’s always fun when somebody notices some small thing and points it out. They are sharing the joy. That’s what I like most of all.

Do you ever do craft shows or are these all for your own enjoyment?

            I never do craft first other than to buy. I used to make tiny dressed mice for Miniature World. The mice were mink fur about two inches tall. I’d dress them as Santa and Mrs. Claus, witches, ghosts, cheerleaders in your school colors, and other outfits. I got a dollar each for my work. We sold them for $3. That was a lot of work for a buck, but I paid my rent and insurance, so I guess it was enough.

There are oodles more pictures on Gayle's website, and she's promised to come back at Christmas with a little surprise! I don't know about you, but my decorations are looking pretty lame now. I better get out that 10 year old kit and try to finish my spooky scarecrow this year!

Gayle writes both short stories and novels. Her latest Ginger Caulfield mystery, "Hedge Bet", and her Johnny Casino short story collection are being shopped by her agent. I am fond of Ginger, but I LOVE Johnny, and I can't wait to hold both of them in my hot little hands! To get a taste of her writing, you can find samples on her web site, or you can pick up one of the anthologies she's in: Dying in a Winter Wonderland, Landmarked for Murder, or Little Sisters Volume I. (The first two are available on Kindle.) She will keep busy next year as Sisters in Crime/LA's Treasurer.