Jennifer Allison

Jennifer Allison

Bio

I grew up in a small town in Michigan where there wasn’t much for kids to do for fun except ride a bike down a dirt road to the local Dairy Queen, or better yet, to the public library. My two younger brothers and I didn’t have easy access to a swimming pool, movie theater or cable television, but we did have open fields, woods, marshland, old barns, and half-built houses to explore – places that really sparked our imaginations. One of my best friends lived on a sheep farm, and we used to conduct séances in the spooky atmosphere of the barn hayloft near her house (the memory of some of those activities may have influenced Gilda’s fascination with parapsychology and the occult in Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator). I spent long, humid summers reading every book our wonderful local librarian recommended: she had a talent for handing any young person a perfectly selected story.

Throughout junior high and high school, I spent a great deal of time playing the piano (I was one of those odd kids who actually liked piano lessons), and after competing in numerous music competitions, I attended the University of Michigan on a music scholarship. Literature won out over music, however, and I switched my major to English after my freshman year.

After completing a B.A. in English, I edited reference books for an educational publishing company in Detroit for several years, after which I returned to school to complete an M.F.A. in creative writing at American University (Washington, D.C.). After graduate school, I moved to England to work as a healthcare news journalist; I lived in Oxford for about two years, then moved to London to write for an online educational publication. The opportunity to travel and live in a variety of settings certainly furthered my development as a writer. I’ve also held numerous “odd jobs” — piano player in a shopping mall, assembly line worker for General Motors, waitress, preschool teacher — that have helped generate numerous ideas for characters and situations to explore in fiction.

The idea for the story of Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator first emerged while I was living in San Francisco and had recently been laid off from a “dot com” editorial position. With quite a bit of extra time on my hands, I found myself wandering into a store that sold antique typewriters, and walked out with the idea of an eccentric girl who’s fiercely attached to a “magic” typewriter (or a typewriter that she wishes were magic). I knew right away that this typewriter would represent the loss of someone very close – most likely a parent. As the story evolved and I got to know Gilda’s buoyant, life-affirming character, I realized that I wanted to write a story like the ones that had most moved me in my youth – a book that made me laugh while also addressing the reality of grief and loss as a part of life. I was also interested in a theory that people who lose a parent at a young age are sometimes more “driven” and willing to take risks than those who have the security of two parents (while others may respond in a nihilistic sense, by assuming that there’s no point in making a big effort in life since they, too, may die young). In a sense, Gilda and Juliet initially evolved as representations of these two very opposite responses to coping with death.

In the second book in the series, Gilda Joyce and the Ladies of the Lake, I drew upon my experience teaching English literature and creative writing at a Catholic girls’ school. In this novel, Gilda reluctantly agrees to attend an elite private school on scholarship. It isn’t long before she finds herself in the role of investigative reporter for the school newspaper, immersed in a mystery surrounding the drowning death of a student.

While there’s certainly much of myself in Gilda’s character, the Gilda Joyce novels are completely fictional stories. I often conduct research as part of my writing process—reading books about psychic techniques, interviewing people, visiting neighborhoods or buildings that serve as models for setting. Aspects of my own life inevitably find their way into the novels—childhood memories, places I’ve lived, knowledge from work experiences, character quirks loosely based on friends, relatives, and acquaintances.

In addition to developing my own craft, I enjoy visiting schools and conducting workshops designed to inspire reading and creative writing in young people. I live in Maryland, near Washington, DC with my husband Michael and three children—Max and the twins, Marcus and Genevieve.