The Washington Post

KidsPost interview with author Jennifer Allison

What do you get when you combine a girl who likes to solve mysteries with one who seems to have a connection with the spooky, creepy world of the supernatural? Meet Gilda Joyce, psychic investigator.

Thirteen-year-old Gilda is the funny, slightly funky creation of author Jennifer Allison, who lives in Montgomery County. Gilda has solved five ghostly mysteries so far, including “Gilda Joyce: The Dead Drop,” which takes place at Washington’s International Spy Museum. The newest Gilda book, “The Bones of the Holy,” was published this month. In addition to appealing to kids who like mysteries or ghost stories, the books are also great for planning a vacation: Gilda’s adventures have taken her to California, Florida and England.

KidsPost’s Tracy Grant recently spoke with Allison, 44 and a mother of three, about how she came to create Gilda, the importance of writing and how Gilda has inspired her to never give up.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer when I was young, but I loved reading. . . . I lived in the world of books. I started keeping a journal when I was in sixth grade. When I was in college, I knew I wanted to do a job involving writing. But I didn’t think then that I’d write mysteries.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as a writer?

Being willing to genuinely rewrite. We all like to be done. But I think knowing you’re writing something for a real audience — like the school newspaper — motivates you. It’s different to write something for a real audience than just for a teacher.

Gilda sounds like a very typical 13-year-old girl. How do you work on getting dialogue right?

Dialogue is usually the favorite part of writing these books. Gilda’s voice is so over the top and fun to play with. I can slip really easily into her character. I think having studied music is a big help for writing dialogue. [When writing dialogue, you think] not just which words but the rhythm of the words.

Gilda’s dad has died, and Mom works full time. Plus, she has an older brother. Why do you give her so much to deal with?

I think the stories that meant the most to me when I was a kid were about kids who had to overcome something. She seems real because she is a real person who experiences real emotions. Kids experience the whole range of emotions that adults feel. Gilda uses writing as something that helps her cope and solve problems. . . . It’s great to have some kind of passion in your life [it] that you can turn to. Kids who read this series like that Gilda finds ways to make herself feel better.

What advice do you have for kids who would like to be writers?

I’d like kids to know that we need writers. We need people who can communicate. Some readers have commented that a lot of Gilda’s adventures are started by a letter she has written. Writing can make things happen. It can open doors. . . . It’s good for kids to know that being curious about different areas is a good thing for a writer.

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