Got a treat for you today, Deb Ball readers! Joelle Charbonneau is with us! Joelle Charbonneau has performed in opera and musical theatre productions across Chicagoland. She now teaches private voice lessons and is the author of the New York Times bestselling THE TESTING trilogy (THE TESTING, INDEPENDENT STUDY and GRADUATION DAY) as well as two mystery series: The Rebecca Robbins mysteries (Minotaur Books) and the Glee Club mysteries (Berkley). Her YA books have appeared on the Indie Next List, on the YALSA Top 10 books for 2014 as well as the YALSA Quick Picks for reluctant readers. Paramount optioned THE TESTING as the project is currently in development.
You’ve written mysteries, but your current focus is young adult. How do you approach books in each genre differently? Or do you?
To be honest, I don’t approach young adult any different than I do adult. The most important thing is to tell a story that I am compelled by and hopefully the reader will be, too. And strange, but true, I technically didn’t realize that my first young adult novel was young adult because it was my most intense and violent book yet. Turns out almost anything that happens in adult books is possible in young adult, which makes it such an interesting category to write in.
Do you miss your mystery series characters yet? They rollerskate! And sing in choir!
I do miss my mystery series characters. They are so much fun and some day I hope to go back and revisit Rebecca and company in Indian Falls. I have the opening of #5 in my head and kind of want a chance to write it. But I think that will wait a while longer. There is another idea that is nagging at me a bit harder, which I’m really excited by!
Of course, The Testing seems to be your breakout book, so there’s no looking back now. How did The Testing come to you? Where did the idea come from? Did you know from the beginning that it would be a trilogy?
The Testing‘s publication has been such an amazing experience. It’s hard to believe how much has changed for my career since writing it. The idea actually came out of my work as a voice teacher. I deal with teens all the time as they go through the college admittance process. One student was having a particularly hard day during the waiting-to-hear-from-colleges period, and when we discussed how stressful the process was, she worried that it would become worse. I, of course, said that it couldn’t get any more stressful, but after I said that I wondered what would be worse and more stressful. Suddenly, the idea for The Testing was born and I couldn’t put the idea to the side. I wanted to write it. While writing that first book, I realized that the story I wanted to tell was bigger than just the one book, and when I thought about the themes I wanted to cover, I knew it would be three … if someone liked book one enough to publish it. I’m lucky that everyone at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt was just as excited by the three themes as I was!
You wrote HOW many books in 18 months? How did you stay focused? What drafting tips can you spare us?
Well … I didn’t really intend to write five books in 18 months. But once The Testing sold and my publisher asked if we could shift the publication schedule so all three books came out in a calendar year, I decided to see if I could make that happen. Deadlines are great motivators. So is my lack of ability to outline. While outlining might make the process easier in some ways, I find that not outlining keeps the reader in me motivated. I want to know what happens next and can’t wait to sit down at the keyboard and find out.
And I think the only drafting tip I have that works for me is “write every day.” When I’m drafting I have to write every single day. Keeping the story moving forward on the page is incredibly important for me. I find that I gain momentum in my writing when I write every day. When I have to skip a day it becomes harder to come up with what happens next.
The Testing is being made into a film—that’s so exciting! Can you tell us a little about the experience of selling film rights and any interaction you’ve had with the film project so far?
Well, The Testing has been optioned for a film. Right now it is in the development stage, which is when they work on a script, look for producers and directors and other talent that might be interested in the project and do lots of other Hollywood things. I know there are several actors who have talked to Paramount about the project. Without seeing a script or hearing them read, I have no idea how they’ll portray the characters or if they’ll ultimately become “attached” to the project. I love Hollywood lingo! Really, the process is mostly waiting around to get news about what they are doing and what they are thinking about the movie potential. Not all that exciting in the day-to-day moments, but really thrilling to think about. Fingers crossed Paramount decides to move the project from development to production. That’s when the real excitement begins.
You have a new major project on the horizon. Can you tell us a bit about it, and let us know how soon we’ll see it on the shelves?
I always have to have a project to work on or I go stir crazy. Nuts, but true! And I just finished writing and editing through a manuscript that is currently titled N.E.E.D. Hopefully, my agent will tell me that it is on the right track, help me tweak it a bit, and I’ll then turn it in to my editor in the next few weeks. The book is a young adult thriller set in a small town in Wisconsin. It involves an elite social networking site that invites teens to say what they think they need and offers them a chance to obtain what they’ve asked for. Only there is a difference between a want and a need, and students eventually learn that sometimes the price for what they want can sometimes be too high to pay. The book explores the world of social media and the unrealistic quality of it that allows people to sometimes shift the line on what behavior is acceptable, and also what people are willing to do when they think no one is watching or can learn who they are.
You’re a trained vocal performer. What song do you love to sing most? Where do you fall on this whole Frozen “Let It Go” thing? Tired of it, or just let it go? Or do little boys not sing it as incessantly as little girls?
Ha! My son sings “Let It Go” all the time. In fact, I have found that EVERYONE sings it. The first thing students ask me during school visit Q&As is for me to sing for them. More often than not we end up doing a “Let It Go” sing-a-long. I love singing just about everything, but music theater songs—especially songs from Les Miserable, The King and I or The Secret Garden tend to be my favorites. But give me just about any song and I’ll be happy to sing along.
Fess up: What song do you always sing along with?
GIVEAWAY! Comment on this post by noon EST on Friday, June 27th, to enter the giveaway for a Joelle Charbonneau title of your choice. Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries—just mention that you did so in your comments. We’ll choose and contact the winner on Friday. Good luck!
A full list of Joelle’s titles:
The Rebecca Robbins books: SKATING AROUND THE LAW, SKATING OVER THE LINE, SKATING ON THE EDGE, SKATING UNDER THE WIRE
The Glee Club Series: MURDER FOR CHOIR, END ME A TENOR, A CHORUS LINEUP
The Testing Trilogy: THE TESTING, INDEPENDENT STUDY, GRADUATION DAY