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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!

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/

“I WANT A DO-OVER!” GILDA’S GUIDE TO REVISION MADE EASY

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Now that it’s almost time to go back to school, it’s time for me to set aside my cat’s-eye sunglasses, SPF 200 sunscreen, spy stories (both real and imagined), and turn to a writing topic I usually avoid.

Revision.

There, I said it. Now that I see the word sitting there on the page all by itself, I see it’s not such a bad word after all. In fact, it almost sounds pretty.

Still, I avoid it.

Whenever one of my stories doesn’t work out I prefer to simply move on to the next idea—the next journey. To me, what’s interesting and fun about writing is inspiration, discovery, and self-expression. Sometimes I think the best part of writing is that exciting first moment—the moment you wonder WHAT IF…?

What if that guy I’ve been staring at in chemistry class suddenly broke up with his girlfriend and asked me out on a date?

What if I suddenly sprouted wings during my sleep, and when I woke up, I could actually fly?

What if I discovered that I could hear everyone’s thoughts?

What if my best friend and I ran away to join the circus?

Compared to the “what if” stage of the writing process, the revision stage feels like the moment your mom announces that you aren’t allowed to attend the best party of the year. Instead, she hands you a toilet plunger and a broom and tells you to get busy cleaning the bathroom.

But before you stop reading this blog in disgust, I have a secret to share. Unlike cleaning the bathroom, revision actually gets EASIER if you wait a few days, weeks, or months before starting the job. Can you believe it? A case when procrastination actually pays off?

In fact, whenever I’ve just finished writing a fantastic story that I’m dying to share with Wendy and my English teacher, I stop myself. Even though I’m imagining everyone turning cartwheels, congratulating me and slapping me on the back, I remind myself that I could probably improve the story just a teensy bit if I wait a few days and then read it again. So I hide it at the bottom of my sock drawer (where nobody would ever bother to look) and take it out after two whole weeks.

When I re-read the story, I usually still love the characters, but I still find a bunch of things I could improve.

“What are you talking about, Gilda?” I can hear you asking me. “I don’t have two weeks to stick my writing in a sock drawer! My paper on the history of origami is due tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM!!”

In that case, I admit that the revision tips I’m about to share probably won’t help you very much. Instead, you need to read the recipe for “Gilda’s Up-All-Night Chocolate Cookie Surprise,” which I will post as soon as I find myself sitting at the computer at 10:00 PM with an English paper due the next day. Once school starts, you won’t have to wait long to read that one!

But for those two or three of you out there who have NOT waited until the very last minute to do your writing homework—or for those of you who are working on an independent writing project to make your New York publishing debut—do yourself a favor and check out the following GILDA’S GUIDE TO REVISION MADE EASY:

*GILDA’S GUIDE TO REVISION MADE EASY

Remember—your sock drawer is your friend.

I know: you’ve just finished your first novel and you’re so excited, you can’t even sit still. Your grandma loves the old lady character. Your dog can’t stop licking the pages in appreciation of all the popcorn you ate while writing that fifteenth chapter. You have the envelopes addressed—ready to send off to J.K. Rowling’s publisher, the president of the United States, and the Queen of England. In short, you’re sure your story is the best thing since whipped cream in a can.

STOP. Just stick the manuscript in that drawer. Not forever, of course! Just for two weeks. Okay, at least a few days. I promise it will still be there when you go back to look for it (unless, of course, a fire, flood, or snooping relative destroys it).

“But why would you say that, Gilda?” you ask. “Wasn’t it you who encouraged me to write? Nay, and share what I have written?!”

“Because,” I answer, wiping the crumbs of frustration from the corners of your mouth, “you have no emotional distance right now. You’re too close to what you’ve written, and you’re likely to punch anyone who dares to tell you that your baby isn’t perfect. Days from now, when you pull those pages from the drawer and clear away the dust bunnies, you’ll have more mental stability. You’ll either love that story or notice things that could actually be improved.

Two weeks later…. (Imagine that last line narrated in a French accent.)

Okay, now that you’ve had a chance to look over your own work, you’re ready to share it with a trusted friend or teacher. You’re ready to actually consider any constructive comments they give you. (For more information on how to find this elusive, helpful person, see my forthcoming blog entry on “ANGELS AND EDITORS.” And sorry – I haven’t posted that one yet either. Look, I can’t solve ALL your problems in one evening!)

But before handing it off for comments, first read through the story yourself:

Do you see anything that should be clarified?

Did you notice anything that sounded hard to believe?

Are character motivations believable? Is the dialogue colorful or boring?

Now take the plunge—pick a page and start writing: see and experience the work from a renewed perspective. (I personally love to scribble in the margins of my typewritten work, but you might prefer to get a new notebook page.)

That’s right—I said writing.

“But Gilda,” you say, “I just FINISHED writing a whole manuscript. I’m DONE.”

Listen, I know just how you feel when you hear me say you are definitely NOT finished with your work. You feel like Cinderella in the castle. It’s like you just worked your butt off to finish your housework, but instead of throwing a party to celebrate your effort, the world tears down the castle walls with a wrecking ball. You’re standing there with nothing but pieces of broken plaster, a glue stick, a vacuum cleaner, and of course that same old toilet plunger your mom gave you. And of course, you’re wondering how on earth you’re going to clean up this huge mess.

Don’t despair! There’s still hope! This is the moment that separates the A papers from the C-minus papers and the professional writers from the “wanna-be” writers. If you can bite the bullet and dig in to the work, a fairy godmother of inspiration may turn up to illuminate your darkest hour. Now just put aside your tears, seize that inspiration, and push through to the end of your revision.

Repeat the process as needed.

One more tip: a funny thing might happen if you’re actually brave enough to revise your writing. Once you reach the point where your teacher is actually writing an “A” on your paper or the point at which your publisher actually wants to throw a party to celebrate your book, you’ll be happy—but not as happy as you thought you’d be.
Why? Because it’s kind of like saying “great job!” to someone who’s just finished climbing Mount Everest. The journey speaks for itself. At this point, you’ll already take genuine pride in your work no matter what comments you get.

*The author of GILDA’S GUIDE TO REVISION-MADE-EASY does not guarantee results of these habits or claim to consistently adhere to any of the above guidelines.