From the Booking Desk:
Today, BOLOBooks is excited to welcome Joelle Charbonneau to the blog on the launch day of her newest novel. Joelle’s book, The Testing, is her YA debut and has been receiving positive word of mouth. BOLOBooks’ review of The Testing can be found here. And now, a round of virtual applause for Joelle Charbonneau.
BOLOBooks: I know that you have said that you came up with the concept for The Testing after witnessing the stresses placed on children today in relation to SAT scores, entrance essays and auditions. Elaborate a little more on that for our blog readers?
Joelle Charbonneau: Thanks so much for having me as a guest. And yes, The Testing concept did come out of my work with my voice students. For years, I’ve worked closely with my private voice students as they navigate the testing, application and audition process required to be accepted into college. The pressure on our high school students is greater than ever before. The need to be better and brighter than the other applicants has never been more keenly felt. Students are hyper aware that every answer they give could impact the quality of their future. Some of my students handle the pressure better than others and it is never easy to see a student falter. The teacher and parent in me can’t help but be worried that the benchmark of success has risen too high and that soon it will be more than our youth can handle. The writer couldn’t help but wonder how much worse the process could become and what tests a future world might want to institute in order to select the next generation of leaders. And thus The Testing was born.
BOLOBooks: How is the writing approach different when writing a trilogy (essentially a limited-run series) versus working on an open-ended series?
Joelle Charbonneau: I’ve thought about this question a lot as I have alternated between my three different series in the past year and a half. A trilogy is really one large story arc that is broken into three distinct, but connected story questions. In essence, the trilogy only really works if all three pieces are necessary to telling the overall arc. I think this is why book 2 is always one of the hardest for an author to write because it requires the writer to find a compelling way to tell the middle of a large arching storyline. An open-ended series has story questions that continue from book to book, but the main story question – in my case the mystery – is resolved. These are books that are fun to read in order, but will easily stand alone without leaving the reading feeling as if they have missed a chunk of the journey.
BOLOBooks: Not only is this your first Young Adult novel, but it is also quite a bit more serious than your series mysteries. Did you find writing in those two styles (YA and serious) to be challenging?
Joelle Charbonneau: The tone is a bit different. I think it is the actress in me that loves working in more than one tone. It is fun and interesting to slide out of one style designed to be light and funny and slip into another that is darker and hopefully filled with tension. To be honest, I’ve kept the two styles different by varying the fonts with which I write in. The minute I see the font I automatically click into the voice of the story. Strange, but true!
BOLOBooks: I love this font idea. Such a great visual way to keep various tasks differentiated. I can see this working for many people in all types of fields.
Tell us about your process for creating a dystopian future. Did you do the world-building first or did you address things as the need arose during the writing of the first draft?
Joelle Charbonneau: To be honest, I world build as I write the first draft. I never know what the world looks like until I see it through my character’s eyes and live it with them. Once I begin to move them through the world, I begin to see story questions and challenges that I never expected. For my newest project (shhh….it’s a secret!), I am trying to do more world building before jumping into writing a full draft. However, I found that I still needed to write the first chapter before I could understand certain pieces of that world and my heroine.
BOLOBooks: The Testing deals with some heavy themes. Did you or your publisher ever think you should pull back on the reins a bit and maybe not broach any of the topics?
Joelle Charbonneau: I am incredibly lucky to have a publisher that never once blinked at the situations in The Testing Trilogy books. Even luckier still is having an editor that pushes me to explore those themes to their fullest. I am not sure if the subject matter will resonate with everyone, but I am grateful I have had the chance to think through the story questions. It has made me really evaluate how I feel about our educational process and how we as a society are willing to accept the extreme testing we put our youth through.
BOLOBooks: One of the positive trends I have seen during the explosion of YA over the last decade has been the empowering of the female leads. They no longer need a male to come in to rescue them from danger. Cia certainly follows that model. Was this something you thought about when you were creating her?
Joelle Charbonneau: I’m not sure if I made the conscious choice to make Cia someone who didn’t need rescue from danger. Certainly there are times where she needs help. But I did choose to focus on a female lead for this story because I truly feel that we often underestimate the interest young women have in technology and science. When we see a mechanic on television, more often than not the part is played by a man. Unless, of course, there is some shtick about how sexy the girl is and how she couldn’t possibly be a mechanic. (Hello My Cousin Vinnie)
BOLOBooks: The Adults in The Testing world seem to often make the wrong decisions – either because of the lack of options or through malicious intent – and yet, there is a definite connection between Cia and Michal Gallen. How important do you feel a mentor and role-model is in the development of children today?
Joelle Charbonneau: I cannot stress how important I think strong role models and mentors are to our youth. My students thrive when they are given a challenging goal and the firm belief of a mentor that they can achieve the goal. People can accomplish great things, but are more often than not willing to sell themselves short. A strong mentor can encourage and offer constructive criticism, which can push a student with an “I can’t” mentality into one of “I will try.”
BOLOBooks: We have to talk about the romance. Did you feel that this was a necessary element in today’s young adult writing or did that grow organically from the characters themselves?
Joelle Charbonneau: Romances are a part of life. I think that it is hard to develop a story without hints of these no matter what the genre. In young adult books, I think it is even harder. Not because the author feels like they have to have a romance, but because teens who are still exploring and growing in the world naturally explore the connections they form with other teens. Often those connections lead to romance.
BOLOBooks: If forced to choose only one format for all your future reading, which would you choose: Hardback, trade paperback, mass-market paperback, or e-book? And why?
Joelle Charbonneau: Yikes! Tough question. Okay, this sounds silly, but I’d take hardback any day. I love the substantial feel of the book, but more important, I love the jacket because it works fabulously as a bookmark when I have to put the book to the side. Hardbacks also look really nice on my bookshelves. See—I told you my answer was silly!
Thanks for the fabulous interview. I really appreciated how well Ms. Charbonneau addressed a lot of key issues for writers: how to plan a trilogy vs. something more open-ended, world-building, voice, and even how to channel real-life experiences into fiction.
Thanks R. Joelle is so great at sharing what she has learned over her the course of her career. I try to my the blog interviews interesting to both readers and writers, so happy to hear your comment.