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!


Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
Gilda Joyce |The Bones of the Holy | Jennifer Allison


Now that I’ve finally recovered from the New-Year’s-Eve revelry, I’m ready to get serious about my list of New-Year’s resolutions.

What, pray tell, could a young psychic investigator and novelist like me possibly need to improve?

Well, since we’re all friends here, I don’t mind sharing a few items from my ever-expanding list:

1.     Stop eating chocolate chips straight out of the bag.

2.     Time my angst-filled phone calls to my best friend during daylight hours instead of after midnight. (Aren’t you proud of me, Wendy?)

3.     Find more opportunities to wear my new velvet shoes with purple ribbons.

4.   Get a new notebook and keep it with me at all times. In other words, write more!

“But wait a minute, Gilda,” I can hear you saying, “You who have ‘diarrhea of the pen’ couldn’t possibly need to get more writing done!”
While it’s true that I’ve been known to type into the wee hours of the morning, it’s also true that the demands of my careers—not to mention my ever-growing pile of math homework—have a way of cutting into my writing habits these days.

However, it has also recently come to my attention that I have lots of little drab, linty bits of time that could be used to complete a new bestseller (or at least a new submission to the school newspaper) if only I could find a way to roll them into a giant dust-bunny of productivity.

For this reason, I am starting the year with – TA DA! –  a fresh new tiny notebook. It’s ever so cute and is small enough to hide quickly in a pocket if someone catches me scribbling away when I’m supposed to be doing trigonometry.

I usually hate tiny notebooks because they don’t give me room to sprawl and scribble as messily as I want. But my “idea notebook” reminds me that sometimes it’s okay to jot down an short observation, an idea for a story title, or even a little poem instead of a whole novel chapter or even a whole paragraph.

Later, when I finally have time to sit down at my typewriter and concentrate for a few hours, I’ll turn back to my tiny book of ideas for sources of inspiration and details to enhance my stories. If nothing else, I’ll be able to laugh at myself when I come across title ideas like my recent entry: “The Wig that Ate Detroit.”

Bus ride to school?

Perfect time to take notes on the sights, sounds and smells of the early-morning school day.

History class?

Perfect time to jot down that idea for a historical novel.


Great time to jot down that joke your best friend made about the corndogs and record it for posterity.

Commuter lane on the freeway?

Okay, let’s not go too far! Unless your mom or dad is driving, of course; in that case, scribble away!

So let’s get to it! Grab that little ideas notebook (preferably in leopard print or similar) and jot down those ideas whenever you have a minute! Sometimes less adds up to more, so let’s squeeze in time for writing, and stay inspired this year!


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.


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:


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.

Feel Better; Write More!

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Gilda Joyce the Dead Drop by Jennifer AllisonEvery now and then, we writers have what is commonly called a “blue day.” Maybe that story that we pictured becoming a NYT bestseller ended up getting rejected by the school magazine. Maybe that boy we’ve had a crush on for the past year decided he likes the very girl we can’t stand (or vice versa). Maybe something genuinely terrible or simply mortifying has happened, and we’re ready to catch the earliest train out of town. Or maybe we’re simply feeling uninspired and “stuck.”

Here, my dear reader and writer, are some of my favorite tried-and-true tips that will not only help you feel better; they’ll get you writing again!

1. My first suggestion is so simple it sounds ridiculous, but you should get a new writing pen. I personally prefer pens with pink or purple gel ink. Sparkles are good too. Will this magically transform your writing? No, but you’ll suddenly feel better as that sparkly pink ink flows onto the page. Or try using a typewriter for fun if you’re used to writing longhand or using a computer. True– it’s not for everyone, but I swear by it!

2. Treat yourself to a new notebook and decorate it. I just used some babysitting funds to purchase a pink leopard-print notebook that will house the next chapters of my “Penelope Stunn” mystery-in-progress. But I also have a stash of notebooks decorated with my own original book-cover art – stuff I’ve created from collages of magazine photos and even my own cartoons. (On those rare off-days when the words aren’t flowing, you’d be amazed at how proficient I remain at using scissors and glue.)

3. Hit the high road and go exploring.. Now might be a good time to take a walk in a new neighborhood or visit a new museum. It doesn’t really matter where you go so long as it’s unfamiliar. Whenever I visit a new place, I pay more attention to details. Suddenly, I find myself getting new ideas for stories and seeing old stories in a new light.

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Do Writers Make Good Spies?

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

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.

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The Cure for Writer’s Block!

Friday, April 30th, 2010

To be honest, I’ve never really understood people who get “writer’s block” because I have the opposite problem. It’s a problem a colleague of mine charmingly described as “diarrhea of the pen.” (Okay, I’ll admit it was one of my elementary school teachers who came up with this diagnosis. She didn’t like my habit of adding five pages of witty footnotes to help explain the page-long book report I had turned in.)

People like me are always being told to “tighten things up,” reign things in,” and “tone things down,” when it comes to our writing and our wardrobes. We’re always being advised: “Cut back a bit, sweetie; I can’t see where you’re going with all of this. Lose the first 100 pages. Oh, and while you’re at it, you might consider removing that leopard-print jacket – not to mention the dangly earrings, the red lipstick, and the bangles.”

But if you’re the kind of person who has a hard time getting started when you sit down to write your best-selling novel or your book report—one of those types who could use a little mental laxative to get things flowing (sorry! I couldn’t resist the yucky metaphor) – may I suggest my favorite creative medicine?

Hold onto your bonnets, ladies and gents, because it’s going to sound a little old-fashioned. Don’t be shocked….. The solution is – ta da!

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