Gilda Joyce Jennifer Allison's Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator mystery series chronicles the adventures of teen writer and sleuth Gilda Joyce. In her blog, Gilda shares some hard-won advice for writers of all ages!




A Taste for Adventure and Mystery: Meet Reader-of-the-Month Claire Charvet!

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013
Claire Charvet loves mysteries and historical fiction.

5th-Grader Claire Charvet loves mysteries and historical fiction.

If, like me, you’re feeling just a teensy bit weary of February’s glowering gray skies and biting winds, you might need something to look forward to at this time of year. Good news! Ms. Claire Charvet, our wonderful new “reader-of-the-month,” is a brilliant fifth grader with an infectiously sunny outlook and some fantastic reading suggestions to share with you. So curl up on the couch and let’s pretend we’re all gathered around a crackling fireplace wearing our coziest slippers and bathrobes. We have no thoughts of unfinished book reports, looming math quizzes, or Valentine’s Day angst: we have only our stack of lovely books recommended by an adventure-seeker, world traveler, and book-lover after my own heart – Claire Charvet!

GILDA: Can you describe yourself as a reader? What makes you really love a book?

CLAIRE: I read everything that I can get my hands on and I read at all times possible. Lately, I’ve liked spooky novels and historical fiction.  I like a book that has a lot of depth to it and a good plot, and I like it when there are kids around my age as characters. I have read all of the Gilda Joyce books – multiple times – and also listened to them on tape!

GILDA: Do you have a favorite book in the Gilda Joyce series?

CLAIRE:  I love them all but I think my favorite one is The Ghost Sonata. I love that it takes place in England, because I love to travel…. Last summer, my family and I traveled through France and Iceland together. I also think that Wendy Choy is my favorite character in the series; she’s so musical. I also like that the plot of The Ghost Sonata is unique; I like that it’s different all the other books I’ve read.

GILDA: What have you read lately that you’d like to recommend to fellow Gilda Joyce fans?

CLAIRE: Definitely! My current recommendations are: Wonder by R. J. Palacio, Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz, Luv Ya Bunches by Lauren Myracle, The Fourth Stall by Christopher Rylander, and Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm. I’m also a big fan of graphic novels like The Golden Twine: Cat’s Cradle by Jo Rioux, Drama by Raina Telgemeier, and The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon. And of course I’m waiting for the next Gilda Joyce!!!

GILDA: You and me both, Claire! Some outstanding reading suggestions, indeed! And what else do you do for fun besides reading?

CLAIRE: When I’m not reading, I play piano and clarinet, swim, play basketball, and dance (Irish, ballet and modern).  My favorite subjects are language and literature, social studies, and art.

GILDA: Thank you, Claire, for inspiring us with your love of travel, adventure, and great books!

Gilda Joyce: Children’s Union Rep.!

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Gilda Joyce is a self-appointed "Children's Union" representative.

If you follow the news, you’re probably aware that the public school teachers in one of my favorite cities recently went on strike. And since the children of the fine city of Chicago (and let’s face it, the entire nation) are sorely lacking their own union representative, I am happy to volunteer my services as Gilda Joyce: Children’s Union Representative.

I put forward an important item of the Children’s Union of America position as follows:

First, let up with so many standardized tests already. I guess we agree with the teachers on that one.

Thank you. Now that you don’t have to funnel so much cash into the educational testing company pipeline, you might be able to rehire the school librarian who got laid off (assuming she was the sort of librarian who teaches actual research skills and connects readers with books, and not the type who just notices kids when they’re talking too loud or chewing gum while keeping the really good books locked up in her own private stash). Look, I’m not naming names, but you ladies know who you are. We at the Children’s Union do not believe that seniority necessarily implies expertise, although they certainly can go hand-in-hand.

People who argue for slashing public school district budgets might not be aware that principals across the nation have to choose between keeping the new kindergarten teacher, stuffing more than thirty little kids into a classroom, or letting the school librarian go. Guess who often gets the axe? That’s right, the librarian.

Now, while you’re rehiring that librarian, how about getting some actual books back into the school? Yes, we know there will be iPads for every kid in our school “very soon,” and that a room filled with books about science and history and art and yes, even picture books is just so passé. But just try giving the average kindergartener an iPad and see how long it takes before it gets broken. Just watch the average teenager give up on researching a topic for her paper when the evidence she needs can’t be found in the first ten hits of a Google search. That’s where that “old-fashioned,” school librarian comes in – to teach kids how to explore their personal interests in books and how to actually tell the difference between a blog written by an eleven year old and an article in the New York Times.

In the humble opinion of this Children’s Union Representative, the average American has no clue that the school librarian is becoming an endangered species these days – at exactly the time he or she is most needed to prepare kids to navigate the so-called “information age.”

And in case you think that a weekly opportunity to check out a book from the school library is a frivolous, “extracurricular” activity, consider conclusions of recent research linking access to books and reading for enjoyment with educational success regardless of socio-economic status.

Look, I’ve had a few great teachers and more than my share of so-so teachers. Luckily, I’ve always had my stack of favorite books to keep me reading and thinking even during the most pointless school days.

Lots of kids aren’t so lucky. We at the Children’s Union support our teachers, but we know that we’ll never guarantee that they will all be great. Let’s at least keep those books and librarians around, so that kids like me have a chance to find their own way to the books that are sometimes our best teachers.

–Gilda Joyce: Children’s Union Rep.

What Color Is Your Writing Hat?

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Writers wear two different hats.

Now that summer is over, I’m getting my hats ready for the new school year.

I’m not talking about the vintage hats in my collection of unsubtle disguises. I’m not talking about the lumberjack hat I begrudgingly wear when I venture out into the frigid Michigan winter. I’m talking about my writing hats.

We writers wear at least two hats at all times, whether we know it or not. The first is the hat of the creative writer – the generator of new material. My writing hat is always blue.

Why blue? Because scientists have discovered that exposure to the color blue encourages creative thinking – the generation of the brilliant, zany, surprising, and sometimes merely ridiculous new ideas that make writing interesting. (You can read more about the impact of color on the brain in Science Magazine, where the study was first published in 2009.) Blue is the color of oceans and skies – the color of summer. Just try not to relax when you think of the color blue. Now put on your attractive blue writing hat and pour yourself a glass of lemonade. As you write, allow your mind to soar across the landscape of your ideas. Your work will be messy and rough, but you are discovering your territory and collecting the raw materials for your story.

Of course, the blue WRITER hat is always too easy-going when it comes to the brutal thrashing needed to get a story published or marked with a shiny “A” by your English teacher. “This is such a super-fun story, Gilda!” my blue WRITER hat seems to say. “The only thing that could make it more fun might be another witch and a few more pink rabbits. Oh, and some grape bubble gum. I think it adding a subplot about grape bubble gum makes sense in this report about the American Civil War. Don’t stop to edit, Gilda, because you’re fine just as you are. Go for it, girl! Woo hoo!!”

If I don’t force myself to tear off my blue WRITER hat, I end up with red pen all over my work from annoyed hand of my English teacher.

And guess what color those scientists linked with enhanced attention to detail? That’s right! The color of stop signs, fire engines, grumpy teachers, and cheap valentines is also beloved by editors. I wear my red hat when I’m switching from my dreamy, inventive role to my opposite role – the persnickety EDITOR dressed in a tweed jacket and flat loafers.

My friends know that wearing the red EDITOR hat doesn’t come easily to me. Why? Because the editor’s job is to shine a flashlight on hidden, festering problems and then do the grimy work of fixing what isn’t working. This means that I have to read through some of my favorite sentences with a very grumpy, unfriendly attitude. My red hat forces me to ask myself annoying questions: “Does this paragraph really work?” “Does this sentence belong here?” “What are you really trying to say?” How could this be improved?” “Did you check whether grape bubblegum was even invented during the nineteenth century?”

The bottom line: wearing the editor hat can be a big pain in the you-know-what, but it’s as crucial to the success of my writing as chocolate is to the success of my much-loved banana-and-peanut butter sandwiches.

So both the blue WRITER hat and the red EDITOR hat are necessary. The trick is to avoid wearing both hats at the same time. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but if you’ve ever suffered from writer’s block, you should keep your two writer’s hats in separate rooms of the house.

Writer’s block happens when we wear the stern, nagging red hat while simultaneously trying to tell a delightful, surprising story that nobody has ever heard before.  If you’re at the beginning of anything, put on your blue hat because the red one will make you way too tense. Getting started almost always benefits from the breezy attitude of the blue hat. If you wear the red hat while trying to explore your ideas, you might start biting your fingernails and chewing up paper instead of writing on it. “Whoa! Slow down there, girl!” says the red hat. “Fix that! Get out of there immediately! Cut out this rubbish! This makes no sense! What a lot of rot!” Sometimes the red hat gets so mean that I stop and yell back at her: “Listen, Miss Irritating Red Hat. I’m not writing ANYTHING until you shut your pie-hole!”

If you experience an outburst of this nature, you should gently put away your red hat and retrieve your relaxing blue CREATIVE WRITING hat. Just take your time, follow your ideas, let the first draft plop out onto the page in all its formless, ugly glory.

If you have time for a short vacation before your assignment is due, this is a good time to leave town. If you aren’t so lucky and your paper is due the next day, you should quickly return to your work wearing your red hat. (Note: I personally prefer a plastic fireman’s helmet borrowed from Wendy Choy’s little brother. Accessories include red lipstick, face mask and heavy work boots to achieve a proper editorial mindset.) Once I’m wearing my red hat, it’s time to be brave. “Look Gilda,” my red EDITOR hat always seems to say, “Someone’s got to fix this, and it might as well be you.”

So along with your new notebooks, binders, and pencil cases filled with gumballs and lip gloss, don’t forget to find a couple “writer hats” for the new school year – one red, and the other blue. The next time you have to write a paper, you’ll need both of them!

–Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator

Michael Geisinger is the Gildajoyce.com June/July Reader-of-the-Month!

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Michael Geisinger with Jennifer Allison at the International Spy Museum

When he isn’t writing poetry or spy fiction, you might find Michael Geisinger reading a book (or two, or three), getting ready to attend middle school in the fall, playing the piano, coaching a winning Battle of the Books team, or publishing book reviews for his school’s website. Michael recently completed a top-secret mission at the International Spy Museum’s Spy Fiction Writer’s Workshop, and luckily, he lived to write about his experience. I recently managed to track him down, expose his “cover,” and ask him to share some of his tips for other adventurous young readers and writers.

Check out his summer reading tips; Michael’s passion for literature will inspire you!

Gilda: Michael, how would you describe yourself as a reader? What types of books (fiction and/or nonfiction) usually appeal to you most?

Michael: I love to read and usually am reading 2-3 books at the same time. I enjoy both fiction and nonfiction but fiction is my favorite. I love detective stories and paranormal stories, so when I found the first Gilda Joyce book, it was a dream come true.

Gilda: I’m glad to hear it! How did you get interested in creative writing?

Michael: I have been interested in writing as long as I can remember, and I love to write poetry. In fact, I have always wanted to be a writer. I sometimes think I would like to be a teacher but also still a writer. When I was little and didn’t know how to write, I would dictate stories and poems to my parents.

Gilda: Word on the street is that you recently led your team to victory in a highly competitive “Battle of the Books” competition. What was the key to your success, other than the usual corporal punishment? (haha)

Michael: The Battle of the Books is a competition between seven of the elementary schools in my town. The students on each school team had to compete just to make the team. The competition required the teams to answer questions about the books. The team that answered the most questions correctly won. The books we read are The Mysterious Benedict Society, No Talking, Alvin Ho, The Beloved Dearly, Jackie and Me, and Clementine. The key to our success was to assign one book to each person on the team to really study. The students on my team (I was team captain) all know their books well so we were able to win.

Gilda: You also recently completed a Spy Fiction Writer’s Workshop at the International Spy Museum. Did the workshop give you any ideas for your own writing?

Michael: Yes. For example, I learned that it can be a good idea to put some real traits that people you know like your friends and family have into your characters because that will make your characters more real.

Gilda: You also write book reviews for a school publication. What types of books do you usually review?

Michael: I mostly review fiction. Usually, I review books that I really like so other students may enjoy them too.

Reviews also help me find books. For example, I first discovered the Gilda Joyce series in 4th grade when Mrs. Stern, my school librarian, showed us the first Gilda Joyce book with a review of the book. I found the review so interesting that I had to read the book.
When I wrote my own review of the Gilda Joyce series, I wanted other readers to know that the Gilda Joyce series is great because you can easily relate to the characters, you feel like you are there with Gilda, and the books always have an amazing plot.

Gilda: I salute your good taste, Michael! Do you have a favorite book in the Gilda Joyce series?

Michael: My favorite Gilda Joyce book is Gilda Joyce: The Ghost Sonata. It is my favorite book because I play the piano. I loved the plot twists involving a piano competition.

Gilda: Since you’re a musician, you could probably relate to Wendy’s performance anxiety during the competition in THE GHOST SONATA.

Michael: Definitely. I have played in a few recitals and for my school talent shows over the years. Every time I perform I feel very nervous and have butterflies in my stomach.

Gilda: Let’s hope you don’t have a ritual involving strawberry-scented shampoo, like Wendy did.

Michael: No, nothing like that. No ghosts either.

Gilda: Can you share one or two summer reading suggestions for our readers? What’s on your “can’t-wait-to-read-it” list at the moment?

Michael: One book that I am really looking forward to reading is the last book in the Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley. It’s called The Council of Mirrors. I also can’t wait to read the last book in Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordon.

Gilda: Thanks for the great tips, Michael! Keep reading and writing, and have a great summer!

Alicia Gonzalez is Gilda’s Reader-of-the-Month!

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Alicia Gonzalez drafting ideas for a mystery.

Announcing our April/May reader of the month: ten-year-old Alicia Gonzalez! Be sure to keep reading for some fabulous suggestions to add to your book list!

So who is Alicia Gonzalez, and why did I pick her? Well, Alicia is just like many other smart girls you might meet: she studies hard and pursues lots of extracurricular activities like soccer and girl scouts. You would never guess that a year and a half ago, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor that has required repeated courses of chemotherapy. In fact, if you had a conversation with her she probably wouldn’t even mention it; she would probably tell you about a play she’s writing, or a party she’s planning for her friends.

Alicia’s determination to pursue her dreams despite adversity has inspired everyone who knows her. And like many readers of this blog, she finds inspiration and strength through connections with good friends, good books, and from the creative process.

GILDA JOYCE: Alicia, you’ve been through some extreme mental and physical challenges during the past couple years, and you’ve set an amazing example of courage and determination to get through a difficult time. What has been hardest about this experience, and what helps you cope?

ALICIA: I think the hardest part has been missing some school and other activities.  My family and friends have been immensely supportive and that has helped me a lot.

GJ: Are there any books that you have found particularly inspiring, comforting, or helpful?

AG: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper is one book that I have found very inspiring.  It shows that people with disabilities can make as big an impact as anyone on the lives of others.

GJ: Any other favorites you love that you can recommend to other readers?

AG: Books I’ve really enjoyed:  Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, So B It by Sarah Weeks, The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding, 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass, and of course the Gilda Joyce series!

GJ: What do you love most about your favorite books?

AG: All of these books feature an admirably brave female protagonist.

GJ: Thanks for such good suggestions! You’re a writer as well as a reader. What types of stories (or other genres) do you like to write? What do you enjoy most about the writing process?

AG: I really enjoy writing poetry because there really is no wrong way to do it.  That’s why I also enjoy the drafting stage of a writing project where I know that if I make a mistake I can always fix it.

GJ: I know exactly what you mean. All the same, Olympic athletes have been known to collapse from exhaustion when asked to write a short essay or story, yet you recently chose to have a creative writing workshop. Did anyone at Make-A-Wish explain that Disney World was another possible option? Do you ever find writing tiring or difficult – or is it mostly fun?

AG: What?! Someone should have told me about the Disney option!  (haha)  I usually have fun while writing, but often I get writer’s block when presented with the task of writing an essay.

GJ: A little bird told me that you recently started writing a mystery. Can you tell us anything about it, or any other writing goals?

AG: My mystery is still a work-in-progress, but I have just completed another project:  I co-wrote a play called Stand Up, Speak Out with my friend Caroline for our Girl Scout troop.  We all performed it for our leaders and parents in mid-March.

GJ: I look forward to reading (or maybe watching!) your literary works in the future, Alicia. Your courageous approach to life and your dedication to the craft of writing is an inspiration!

Read about Alicia’s Make-A-Wish Foundation-sponsored book party and mystery-writing workshop in Bethesda Magazine:

http://www.bethesdamagazine.com/Bethesda-Magazine/March-April-2012/Make-A-Wish-helps-10-year-old-aspiring-writers-wish-come-true/

Why Re-read a Favorite Book?

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Jennifer Allison and "reader extraordinaire" Kaleigh Young

Once again, more than thousands hundreds seven readers have been left wondering what happened to me. And once again, I can only explain that if you knew you would run to your bedroom and hide under your mattress for the rest of the week. Luckily, I’m keeping my own life to myself, and tactfully turning my attention to the media’s favorite means of avoiding the craft of writing – the “interview with an expert.”

In that spirit, today marks the launch of a new feature on the GILDA JOYCE website – Our “Gilda Joyce Reader-of-the-Month” (or possibly “Reader-of-the-year” or “decade” depending on how long it takes me to find my way back to this blog once I sign off).

Today I am honored to feature 5th grader Kaleigh Young, who is a GILDA JOYCE reader extraordinaire and an aspiring writer!

GJ: So Kaleigh, tell us why you are featured as our first GILDA JOYCE reader-of-the-month.

K: I have read all of the Gilda Joyce books 5 times.

GJ: Did you say FIVE times for each book?

K: Yes! I especially like to reread my favorite – The Ladies of the Lake and The Bones of the Holy. I also listen to them on audio books.

GJ: What makes you want to re-read a favorite book? Do you notice different details at the second (or third, or fifth!) reading? Why go back and experience the same story again?

K: I think that by rereading you can see more details and enjoy the descriptive writing over and over again. I can read my favorite parts knowing what is going to happen next, and sometimes by pretending that I don’t know.

GJ: I think re-reading shows that you’re sensitive to language – not just what happens in the story.

K: Yes.

GJ:  You have said that THE LADIES OF THE LAKE and THE BONES OF THE HOLY are your favorite GILDA JOYCE books. Why these two?

K: I like The Bones of the Holy because it takes place in one of my favorite cities to visit, St. Augustine, Florida. I like how the ghost stories in the book remind me of the ghost tours that I have gone on in St. Augustine while visiting there. I like Ladies of the Lake because I feel like that is one of the most descriptive books. For example, the part when the girl is stumbling through the woods blindfolded…. I can almost feel how cold and uncomfortable she was.

GJ: How have the Gilda Joyce mysteries and other favorite books inspired you in your own life?

K: The Gilda Joyce series has inspired me in my own life in many ways. One of them being, as soon as I read my first book I immediately wanted a typewriter and to be a psychic investigator! I got my typewriter for Christmas and I still use it often today for my writing. I feel like I can express my ideas better on a typewriter than on a computer. I also rarely by department-store clothes anymore; most of my clothes come from vintage clothing shops.

GJ: Kaleigh, I applaud both your fashion sense and your writing methods.

K: Thank you!

GJ: Can you suggest some other books that Gilda Joyce fans like you might enjoy?

K: I would have to recommend Jerry Spinelli (Stargirl) and Sharon Creech (Ruby Holler). They are my other two favorite authors (But don’t tell Jennifer Allison that I have other favorites!)

GJ: It’s just between you and me, Kaleigh. Thanks so much for sharing some sources of inspiration for us today; I’ll look forward to reading one of your novels in the future!

K: I hope so!

How to Dress Like Gilda Joyce (or: How to Shop in Your Own Closet)

Monday, October 31st, 2011

A Gilda Joyce fan in costume

Finally, my favorite holiday of the year has arrived! This year, I’m thinking of dressing up as my best friend Wendy Choy (partly just to annoy her) or my neighbor, Mrs. Frickle. (And yes, Mrs. Frickle still owns that pink wig!) I’m leaning toward Mrs. Frickle for obvious reasons.

Some inspired readers have emailed me wondering how they can create their own Gilda Joyce costume. To them, I say: congratulations on picking one of the most fun and flexible costumes you can find!

As you probably know, I am a sleuth of many styles. In fact, a Gilda Joyce spy-girl costume is truly a “dress-up-at-the-last-minute-and-still-look-fabulous” solution for those of us who need to “shop in our own closets.”

HOW TO DRESS UP LIKE GILDA JOYCE:

1. A must: cat’s-eye sunglasses (you can find these at lots of party stores or costume stores)

2. A wig of some kind (kind of messy-looking is best, although I like ALL wigs)

3. Long strand of fake pearls or other inexpensive costume jewelry

4. A reporter’s notebook and pen and/or pair of binoculars as a prop.

5. Fancy shoes with heels (but make sure you can walk!)

6. Something with leopard print if you can find it, or some other flamboyant accessory, like a colorful scarf.

7. A vintage dress if you can find one — or something that resembles an old evening gown that you found in someone’s attic. A tip: Gilda readers know that I love to make discoveries in unexpected places. When looking for a Gilda Joyce costume, you might make some great “finds” in your grandma’s closet as well as at vintage clothing stores and costume stores.

8. Some red lipstick, fake fingernails, and/or false eyelashes if you want to be Gilda-in-disguise.

9. Finally, be sure to take along one of your favorite Gilda Joyce mysteries so that when people ask you, “Who are you supposed to be?” you can pull out your book and point to the cover! :)

Finally, and don’t forget to send me a picture once you’re wearing your costume! I can’t wait to see it!

Happy haunting!

Love,

Gilda Joyce

AT LAST! How to Get Published – part 2 – An Interview with Eric Kahn Gale, who shares the slightly unconventional path he followed to publish his wonderful first novel!

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Eric Kahn Gale has just landed a book deal for his great first novel, THE BULLY BOOK!

GILDA: How would you describe your first novel, THE BULLY BOOK, to new readers?

ERIC: When you’re submitting a book to publishers, you get very good at summarizing your book; in order to get editors interested I had to get my summary down to 7 sentences:

In The Bully Book, there’s a book that teaches kids “how to be a bully” – a book that’s about to ruin Eric Haskins life. Upon entering 5th grade, he is mercilessly tormented by a group of boys who turn the entire class against him. Eric learns of a conspiracy theory about “The Bully Book,” a manual that has been passed down from 5th grader to 5th grader throughout the years, teaching how to be the coolest kid in school. The lynchpin of the system is the selection of “the Grunt,” — one kid to be “lowest of the low.” Eric investigates the mystery behind the Bully Book: like a detective, he follows a paper trail and seeks out older Grunts, hoping to discover why he was chosen to be the victim of bullying. If he can discover why he’s the Grunt, maybe he can change himself and escape from his terrible fate.

GILDA: Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for this story and your writing process?

ERIC: I was bullied pretty severely in 5th grade, and I always wanted to write about it but hesitated because I felt it would be too boring. It would just be a regular story about a kid. There was no “big concept” to make it dramatic.

Writing about yourself can be great, it’s probably where you have the most to say, but there’s a trap there because you don’t have much perspective on what you’re writing, you’re too close to it.

Listening to an episode of the radio show “This American Life” gave me the Big Concept that I needed. The episode was about “The Cruelty of Children” and in the first piece, a 2nd grader told the interviewer that he’d seen his bully with a book that taught you how to be mean to people. The interviewer was surprised that such a book could exist and asked the kids teacher and librarian about it. They both said the book was probably in the kid’s imagination.

Yeah, I thought listening to the story, that kind of book could never be published; it would be something that kids made and passed around amongst themselves. The Bully Book.

Holy crap. I pulled off my headphones, got off the street and immediately went into the nearest Starbucks. I wrote out the first paragraph of “The Bully Book” on my iPhone. It was the story of me in 5th grade but my bullies had this mysterious book.

Later that night, I talked out the entire outline with a good friend of mine. It was in that conversation that we discovered the book would be a mystery novel and crafted the twist ending.

If this sounds like one of those fairy-tale stories of a great idea coming right out of the blue—it totally is. But you need to keep in mind that I then spent the next year or so writing it. And it went through a lot more changes during that process.

GILDA: I understand you have a background in the performing arts. How has this helped you as a writer?

ERIC: The main thing I learned from writing movies and plays is how to keep things tight. In screenplay writing, “formula” is not seen as a bad thing; it’s considered an achievement to make an original and exciting story that is still tight, structured, and hits all the “beats.” (You can find countless books on screenwriting structure; my favorite is Save the Cat)

The culture of novel writing is considerably more “loose,” but most published writers still pay incredible attention to story structure. It’s just a question of perspective.

GILDA: You found a literary agent to represent you through the usual process [find more info about how to contact literary agents below], but your path to publication took an unusual turn: when your agent shopped around your novel, publishers initially failed to snap up THE BULLY BOOK. Many writers would have given up at that point, but you thought “outside the box”; you generated an e-book audience independently, and then landed a book contract with traditional publisher. Some of us are still hiding our brilliant manuscripts in the back of our closets and hoping to be discovered by virtue of our fashion sense alone (not naming any names, but we know who we are). Can you share with us exactly how you succeeded?

ERIC: My literary agent and I sent the book out to 8 publishers in the first round, and over the course of 2 painful months, they all rejected the book. They were kind about it and most professed to liking the book themselves. They often said they were on the fence about it because the book seemed too dark or mean for a young audience.

Years previous, I had read Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent book Blink, where he analyzes the way people make decisions. In one chapter, he describes experiments that demonstrated people’s difficulty deciding what someone else would like. Often, the act of deciding whether another person would like something altered your own view of it. Gladwell was referring to focus groups advertisers would use, but I had a feeling something similar was happening with The Bully Book.

So before we decided to send it out to a second round of 8 eight editors, I decided to put the book up for sale online.

I’m not sure this is for everyone. I’m lucky because some of my best friends have an insanely popular youtube channel that they graciously allowed me to sell my book through. The Bully Book (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPvgXKX9Szo)

We got some impressive sales data and a lot of really nice blogging/twittering from readers that we sent out with the next round of publishers. Half of the editors didn’t even have time to read the manuscript before we had 2 publishing houses making offers.

GILDA: Backing up a bit, what advice would you have for young writers who have a finished manuscript and feel they are ready to get published, but don’t know how to go about it? What should I (ahem, I mean *they*) do first?

ERIC: The first thing you should do is try to take a few writing workshops – ideally with a published author. My workshop with Jennifer Allison at the University of Michigan turned out to be really helpful to me in navigating the publishing process, for example.

GILDA: Never heard of her.

ERIC: You should check her books out; you’d probably like them.

GILDA: Will do.

ERIC: The next thing is to try to get a literary agent. There are a ton of books on how to do this; just ask your librarian if you need help.

GILDA: Other than wearing stiletto heels, what is the key to confidence as a writer? In other words, how did you know that you had a book on your hands that was worth investing so much of your time in even after being told “NO!”

ERIC: Since deciding that I wanted to be a writer 7 years ago, I’ve had 4 of what I consider to be Good ideas. I’ve had a lot of Bad ideas. But in those 7 years just 4 were good.

For each idea, I’ve had prophetic and, borderline maniacal, faith that:

1. This was something I COULD write.
2. This was something I WOULD write.
3. This would be a SUCCESS.

GILDA: Sounds like my approach to becoming a psychic investigator.

ERIC: Exactly. Each time I spent a little more or less than a year of my life on the project and each ended up being a success. But it always took an insane amount of time.

My 1st good idea was a play called Marlin and the Jaguar. All my friends loved it, but it didn’t even place in the University of Michigan’s (insanely big money) annual writing contest, The Hopwoods.

The next year, I changed ONE WORD of the manuscript (which implied a different ending) and the play won TOP PRIZE, the most money any play had won in the Hopwood’s history up to that point.

My 2nd good idea was a play that went through several incarnations and only became realized YEARS after the original concept. (There are now plans to stage this play in New York.)

My 3rd good idea was a webseries called Little White Lie my friends and I made with money we’d won in a contest hosted by Disney. We spent our entire senior year of college writing, shooting and editing this monster, and in the end Disney didn’t even put it up on their website. It languished on youtube for 2 years until something else my friends made became popular, (again Starkid) and now the series has millions of views and thousands of fans have bought the sound track.

The 4th good idea was The Bully Book, and you already know that story. So I guess the point is, if you don’t like the idea enough to spend a year working on it and years waiting for it to be successful, you should maybe look for another idea.

GILDA: You’ve said that you like reading the Gilda Joyce mysteries (otherwise I would have gently escorted you to the exit – haha), so I’m guessing that lots of my friends will also enjoy checking out The Bully Book! What other books would you recommend to young readers? Any favorites?

ERIC: I love kid detectives. I wish I had been one. That’s what makes Gilda so cool (aside from being psychic and a writer, of course). There are so many restrictions placed on you when you’re a kid and the world can seem like a closed-off place. I love the way that Gilda dives into the mysteries of the world, (especially of her school in Ladies of the Lake) and takes charge of her own experience.
As far as other great books about kids, Harry Potter is a favorite, as well as A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Graveyard Book, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Thanks for chatting with us, Eric, and sharing your interesting perspective on the writing and publishing process! I’m sure lots of Gilda Joyce readers who are working on their own stories and books will be grateful for the time you took to share this helpful info! We’re all excited to see THE BULLY BOOK in our favorite libraries and bookstores!

P.S. For more information on approaching literary agents and book publishers, we recommend asking the ever-helpful (really! Don’t be scared!) reference librarian at your local library and/or taking a look at the following resources:

\”How to Write a Bad Query Letter\” (article by a young literary agent-in-training)

Literary Marketplace 2011(this directory of literary agents and publishers is available at most public libraries) http://books.infotoday.com/directories/lmp.shtml

Society of Children\’s Book Writers and Illustrators (the children’s book author’s source of information on workshops, conferences, and publishers:

http://www.scbwi.org/

Gilda’s “Up All Night” Famous Chocolate Fudge Cookies!

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Okay, I’ve been gone for a while, and I appreciate the many notes asking whether I fell into a ditch, whether I was hit by a bus, and other gentle and not-so-gentle inquiries as to my whereabouts.

Suffice it to say, ladies and gentlemen, that when you read my next adventure (my fingers are still sore from typing it), those questions will be answered, and you will be AMAZED that I am even still here to type at all. And the answer to one of the above questions is “yes,” by the way. But probably not in the way you’d expect.

How’s that for being vague? Read THE BONES OF THE HOLY on June 10th to find out more….

But on to more important matters. For those of you who are studying for final exams or getting “spring fever,” and just plain tired of doing your homework, I thought I’d offer you something to help you stay perky during the final weeks of the school year.

That’s right, I told you I would post some recipes, and I didn’t lie. It took me a lifetime to get the work done, but I’m finally going to reveal…. TA DA!

Gilda Joyce’s “UP ALL NIGHT” Famous Chocolate Fudge Cookie Recipe
Note: We writers should give credit to our sources, and my “Up All Night” cookies are not solely the result of my own late-night, chocolate-fueled writing sessions. My favorite chocolate cookie recipe is based on a recipe in Craig Common’s wonderful cookbook, The Common Grill Cookbook, which I highly recommend. And hey – if you visit Chelsea, Michigan, make sure to eat at the Common Grill! You’ll no longer believe people when they insist that the words “Michigan” and “yummy” don’t fit in the same sentence!

NOTE: for best results, consume two cookies along with a double latte. Now—get back to that term paper or the last chapter of that novel-in-progress!

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
½ cup unsweetened chocolate
1 2/3 cups brown sugar
2/3 cup butter
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Sift together four, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.

Over medium heat, in bottom half of double boiler, heat 1 inch of water; do not boil. (Set aside.)
Place semisweet chocolate pieces and unsweetened chocolate in top half of double boiler and melt slowly. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. (Set aside.)

Set mixer to medium speed and cream brown sugar and butter in large mixing bowl for 1 minute. Scrape sides of bowl and continue mixing while adding eggs one at a time, until combined. Add vanilla and beat for 30 seconds. Add melted chocolate and beat for 10 seconds.

Slowly add sifted flour mixture to creamed mixture and continue to beat for 30 seconds. Scrape down sides with rubber spatula.

Drop 2 tablespoons per cookie onto cookie sheet, spaced 2 inches apart, and bake for 15 minutes. Cool.

If you don’t know what to do next, I can’t help you.

Are You Ready to Get Published?

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

From time to time in this blog, I will turn my attention to some of the letters and requests for advice I’ve received. One of the more familiar questions goes something like this:

“Dear Gilda,

I think you’re awesome! More importantly:

HOW DO I GET PUBLISHED?”

To which I respond: “Are you sure you’re READY to be published?”

“Of course I am, Gilda!” you answer. “I have such a cute idea for a novel, and I’ve heard that people like J.K. Rowling and the writer of those Twilight books make millions. I would have no problem spending that cash, Gilda, and I wouldn’t blow it all on Twinkies and lip gloss, either.

The Bones of the Holy will be published in June, 2011.

“So how about it, Gilda?” you say. “When is it going to be MY turn? HOW ABOUT ME?!”

“Fine,” I reply, “I will tell you how to get published, but first you must perform five feats of superhuman strength.”

Just kidding. What I actually tell you is: “Before you think about how to get published, you should first be able to few simple but oh-so-difficult and crucial steps”:

BEFORE SEEKING A PUBLISHER, PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU CAN CHECK OFF THE FOLLOWING ITEMS ON YOUR “TO-DO” LIST:

1. You have finished writing your entire first book (for a novel, this will usually be approximately 200 pages in length or longer).

2. You are aware that most authors do not publish the first draft of their manuscript, and you have faced the gruesome task of revising your own work. (See my previous blog entry on REVISION MADE EASY for tips on revising your work.)

3. You have shown your manuscript to several avid readers (meaning people who actually read entire books for fun) including at least one trustworthy adult who is not related to you. Seek out opinions from young readers, but include people who are not your closest friends. Your friends know they have to love your manuscript; otherwise you’ll stop texting them and sitting next to them in the cafeteria. (Note: see the website www.spillinginkthebook.com for great tips on how to start a writing club.)

4. You are willing to listen to and consider the comments and feedback you receive without storming out of the room or dissolving into tears.  (Believe me, this is harder than it sounds. But you’ll hear even more comments from a real editor, so toughen up and get used to it!)

“But Gilda,” you say, “This is your most depressing blog entry ever. I can’t check off anything on that list yet! Are you saying that I’m not a writer?!”

Of course not. You’re a writer when you actively work at the craft of writing, not merely because you’re published. There’s one thing that we writers all have in common: we write. And every time we start a new book, we’re starting over, from ground zero. In fact, sometimes book number five is even harder than book number one.

“But darn it, Gilda,” you say, stomping your foot, “I REALLY WANT TO GET PUBLISHED RIGHT NOW!”

“Of course you do,” I say, wiping the ink stains from your fingers and the drool from your chin. “But have you ever considered that what you really want—and what you could have right now—is an audience for your writing?”

We writers can be reclusive creatures, and personally, I love knowing that my secret stash of unpublished manuscripts is hiding in my closet, just waiting to be discovered someday. Still, there comes a point when you need to share your stories with other demented individuals. (That was a joke, for those of you who don’t know my sense of humor.)

Some suggestions for finding your audience:

1. Create a website or start a blog to share your writing and that of your friends. We live in an exciting, dynamic, and strange time in the history of publishing, so take advantage of it. (When in history could an “unpublished” writer reach such a large audience so quickly?)

2. Start an after-school or weekend writing club. Sometimes it’s heartwarming to meet with other writers in person –not just online.

3. Try sending chapters of your novel-in-progress to a friend in installments (I once sent my friend Wendy a novel in weekly chapters that kept her laughing all summer.My creative writing teacher hated the book, but Wendy is still begging me to write book #2 in the never-published Penelope Stunn series.)

So keep writing, but until you can check off each item on my handy list, my advice is to focus on finding your audience rather than “getting published.”

“But Gilda—” someone shouts from the back row. “What about those of us who CAN check off every item on that list?” A spitball whisks past my head as I turn to answer.

But just in time, the bell rings.

Sorry folks; another session has ended, and we’re out of time. But tune in to my next blog for yet another answer to the eternal question that has driven brilliant minds to near-insanity:

“HOW DO I GET PUBLISHED?”