When Gayle Martin returned to Phoenix, Arizona, in 1997 to further her career in art, her plans quickly got sidetracked when she learned of the plans to demolish the Ciné Capri, an old and revered movie theatre in town. Her father, W. E. “Bill” Homes, Jr., was the contractor who had built the landmark structure in 1966. A campaign was begun to save the theatre, but it was not to be.
The theatre was razed in 1998, just weeks after her father passed away. The whole experience, however, ignited within Gayle a passion for history and more importantly, for keeping history alive. She commissioned an architectural model of the Ciné Capri in her father’s memory and gifted it to the Arizona Historical Society.
A second-generation Phoenix native, Gayle graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in art and then pursued postgraduate studies at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. Following the devastating earthquake in 1989, she moved to Colorado where she worked for several years as a graphic designer and illustrator, winning numerous prestigious awards.
After she made the move to Phoenix and was inspired by the efforts to preserve her father’s theatre, she discovered a new outlet for her talents.
Since 2002, Gayle has been a featured performer with the Arizona Living History Programs, an organization of her own creation. She has taken audiences on “time travel trips” by performing as historic characters, dressed in period costumes. She has helped entertain and educate schools, universities, associations, convention groups, and corporations. One of her characters is a woman by the name of Elizabeth St. Claire. Through this persona, Gayle becomes “The Old West Storyteller” and shares tales of what is was like in the Arizona Territory, placing a special emphasis on Tombstone and the events surrounding the famous gunfight that occurred near the O.K. Corral.
Gayle is a member of the “Amazing Arizonans” program with the Arizona Historical Society Museum in Tempe, Arizona, and is also a Candidate Member of the Arizona Chapter of the National Speaker’s Association.
What made you want to become a storyteller?
I was going through a series of life changes a number of years ago, and, during that time, began volunteering at a local historical museum. I was leading tours for students, typically fourth and fifth graders, and discovered I really enjoyed it. Young people that age are really excited to learn about people from the past. I observed some of the museum staff using storytelling as a means to explain some of the exhibits as they led their tours. It was a very effective teaching tool.
Was the journey difficult?
Actually, for me, the journey was a lot of fun. The museum offered storytelling workshops, and I took as many as I could. They were a lot of fun too. I discovered I had a natural talent for both storytelling and public speaking that I was not aware of. Also, when I was growing up, I had wanted to be an actress. Now, as a speaker and storyteller, I am, in a sense, living out my dream.
What were some of your favorite stories growing up?
I was a real horse lover when I was growing up, and my favorite stories were classic horse stories like “Black Beauty,” “My Friend Flicka,” and “Misty of Chincoteague.” My family and I also watched a lot of westerns on television, which I enjoyed too. Most TV westerns, like “Bonanza” and “The High Chaparral” were romantic adventure stories; the good guys would always defeat the bad guys, and oftentimes the good guy would get the girl too. The real old west, however, was actually quite different.
Is there a difference between writing a story and telling a story?
Yes. When I am writing a story I can go into more depth, more detail, and more character development. I can say a lot more about who my characters are and what makes them tick. My storytelling programs are historical programs, and they were developed as a means of teaching history, but in a way that is much more interesting and entertaining than reading something out of a textbook.
What is the difference between a fable, a parable, and a fairy tale?
As I recall, a fable is a story written to teach a lesson and there is always a moral at the end of the story. A parable is a story with symbolic meaning, much like a fable, and a fairy tale is pure fantasy.
The ‘Luke and Jenny’ stories include elements of both fables and fairy tales, with some real life history blended in. Luke and Jenny are two fictitious characters who take a magical journey back in time. That is the fairy tale part of my story. The historical events they witness are all actual events, but they also learn some valuable life lessons along the way too. For instance, early in the Tombstone story, they see the accidental shooting of Fred White, the town marshal. This tragic event actually occurred in 1880’s Tombstone. However, there is a discussion afterwards amongst the characters about gun safety, forgiveness, and redemption. This would be the fable part of the story.
If you could be one character in a story who would you be and why?
I would probably want to be the young girl who ends up with the handsome prince and lives happily ever after. That way I’d never have to worry about a mortgage or how I was going to pay the bills. Of course, that’s not reality, and without obstacles in life we wouldn’t grow,
If you could have coffee with one famous storyteller who would it be and why?
George Lucas. He is undoubtedly the best storyteller of modern times. He created an entire fantasy universe in his “Star Wars” series, and we, the public, embraced it fully. He really has a way pulling us into his stories, and while we’re there we get to have an exciting adventure in a totally different time and place. That would make his stories modern day fairy tales.
What inspires you as a storyteller?
In the case of my ‘Luke and Jenny’ books, it’s the history. Real life often is stranger than fiction. It’s such good material to work with.
What advice would you give a storyteller faced with writer’s block?
The first thing I would tell him or her is to relax! The more you get stressed out over it the worse it will get. Take some time off, go do something that you really enjoy doing, and don’t think about it for a little while. Oftentimes the best ideas will pop into your head when you least expect it. I’ve had some really good ideas come to me while I was doing something trivial, like housecleaning.
What stories are you working on presently?
I am currently working on the next installment of my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers. This one is about Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War. It is a more complex story than the Tombstone book, and I’m learning a lot about Billy the Kid as I’m working on it. I hope to have it finished by the end of the year. With any luck it will be out sometime in 2007.
Finally, what advice would you give kids who wish to pursue a career in storytelling?
First you need to find out what it is that you are passionate about, and then you need to learn as much as you can about it. If you are interested in writing stories you will also need to pay attention in your English class. I know all those grammar and punctuation lessons may seem pretty boring, but you will have to learn it if you ever want to become a writer.
If you are interested in storytelling you will need to take some speech and drama classes too. You need to learn how to get up in front of an audience and be comfortable while you’re there.
Being an author, and a public speaker, or storyteller, can be a fun and exciting career, but it takes a lot of hard work and dedication.
Where can kids and parents find out more about your work?
My book has it’s own website. It’s http://www.tombstonebook.com.
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