Do Writers Make Good Spies?

Those of you who know my work already know that I’m a writer and an investigator. And yes, in some circles, I’m considered a spy.

No – I don’t work for the CIA (although I wouldn’t be surprised if they ask for my help one of these days). But I have been known to use my spying skills to snoop out the characters and stories that lurk around my neighborhood just waiting to be turned into scintillating fiction.

I’ve discovered that the techniques that help spies sniff out crucial bits of intelligence can also help writers locate fascinating stories. So button up your trench coat and lower your dark shades; it’s time for GILDA’S GUIDE TO EAVESDROPPING AND WRITING!

1.    Always be curious. At the moment, your neighborhood may seem to be full of nothing but homework assignments, overcooked vegetables and Monday-morning blahs. But I assure you, it also containshidden mysteries. Who lives in that house with the overgrown garden down the street? Why does that elderly gentleman always walk his dog at midnight? Is there any truth to that ghost story about that stall in the girls’ bathroom? Clues abound around your home and at your school. Being a writer begins with simply being curious and paying attention at all times.

2.    Use all of your senses. NOTICE DETAILS. Spies are trained to remember tiny details: we notice the man wearing a baseball cap who stands waiting for a bus, the parked pick-up truck that sits at the curb, the mother and child who stroll down the street. We take a mental picture, memorizing information as detailed as license plate numbers when necessary.  In this way, the spy is more likely to recognize potential danger when that same man turns up in different parts of the city (“Am I being trailed?” we ask ourselves). Usually the answer is “No, you’re being paranoid.” Still, we pay attention.

3. Become a better listener. You can’t be a good spy if you didn’t even hear what the person sitting across from you just said. And it’s pretty hard to write believable dialogue in your stories if you never listen to the way people actually talk.

On that note, I shall now provide you with a little assignment — YOUR FIRST MISSION AS A WRITER AND SPY:

1. Go to the nearest coffee shop or McDonald’s. Take a friend with you for company if you want; just make sure it’s someone who won’t distract you from your mission.     If you choose, you may wear a disguise. I personally prefer disguises that include a blond wig and high heels. But don’t forget that your goal is to gather information while blending in with the crowd. Dark sunglasses, a hat, and an oversized coat or jacket provide a decent disguise in a pinch.

2. Order a hot chocolate, a milkshake or a triple espresso (the choice depends on your age, location, and “cover identity”). Find a seat in some secluded corner. Surround yourself with some boring-looking textbooks (subjects like Chemistry Today or The History of Lint will do nicely). People will assume that you’re studying or doing homework instead of eavesdropping on their conversations and taking notes.

3. Put on your listening ears and do your best to take notes on the dialogue you hear at the next table. Practice capturing the voices of the speakers on paper. For example, here’s part of a conversation I just overheard:

WOMAN:       “You’re welcome to stay in my house ‘til you’re back on your feet. I just don’t like the negativity.”

MAN:             “What negativity?”

WOMAN:       “Too much complaining. Too much whining.”

MAN:             “It’s not my fault. It’s the economy.”

WOMAN      “You got yourself into this mess.”

MAN            “This isn’t my fault.”

As I pretend to study my chemistry textbook, I’m curious about these two people. How do they know each other? Are they friends? Former husband and wife? Brother and sister? How did the man fall on hard times? Will the woman let him move into her house? I may never learn the true answers, but you can be sure that I will invent my own answers through fiction.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start spying and writing! And if anyone accuses you of loitering or eavesdropping, just explain that you’re a working writer. But don’t tell them I sent you; I’ll deny everything.

Until next time, this is your partner in writing and spying signing off!


PSYCHIC INVESTIGATOR                                                           

Calling all writers and spies! Don’t miss the Spy Fiction Writing Workshop for Kids at the International Spy Museum on June 5, 2010! Meet the author of the Gilda Joyce mysteries! We’ll learn the art of disguise and the art of beginning a novel. Contact the spy museum at  Also remember that the paperback edition of GILDA JOYCE: THE DEAD DROP will be published on May 27th! See the EVENTS link on

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10 Responses to “Do Writers Make Good Spies?”

  1. Panda Says:

    I like your blog Gilda. Wow. You should work for the FBI. :-) You rock Gilda!

  2. Aishah Says:

    Hey Gilda! I found out about you @:!

  3. Niky Says:

    First the books and then this amazing blog….im SOOOO addicted!

  4. Maddz Says:

    Such a cool blog! I’ve been waiting for this for ages! Love the Gilda Joyce books!!!

  5. lucy Says:

    Gilda Joyce is more real than a lot of people i know . When i meet someone who likes Gilda I know they’re a kindred spirit :)

  6. Theresa La Pham Says:

    Gilda Joyce rocks!Your always so cheery and awesome!Peace,L8ER!!!
    See ya,
    Teri :)

  7. Devin Raguso Says:

    This is a fantastic write-up – thank you so substantially for sharing!

  8. Teaching Quality Discussion Says:

    Thank you very much for your post! I am very interested in your points.

  9. Lizzie Says:

    Gilda Rocks!!!! Especially since I thought I was the only teenage girl with a typewriter!!!! I’m totally jealous of her job in D.C. though…. my parents still haven’t taken me yet!!!

  10. isabelle Says:

    sooooo feal just like you, lizzie!! i, also have a tipewrighter. their sooo cool, right? ;)

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