Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Joelle Charbonneau skates into a mystery series

S-h-h-h-h. Joelle Charbonneau’s our guest today, and, no, I’m not keeping it secret that’s she’s our guest on Five Scribes (that makes me happy). I’m keeping it secret that she has multiple personality disorder. You see, there’s no way she can be this talented and have so many projects in store without having a serious screw loose. Today, I’m interviewing her about Skating over the Line, Book two in her Rebecca Robbins roller skating mystery series from St. Martin’s/Minotaur. We won’t mention the series coming out from Berkley, Joelle’s Murder for Choir Series, or the fact that her agent’s shopping around a Y.A, or that she’s also written a thriller…. Or, that she’s a fabulous singer, piano and voice instructor. No. Let’s just humor her and talk about Skating Over the Line. It’ll be easy for me, because I really enjoyed this book. Please welcome the very lovely Joelle Charbonneau.

D.B.: Hi, Joelle. We’re now into book two of your roller skating rink series, Skating Over the Line. To help readers catch up, when we last left Rebecca Robbins, her mother had passed away and Rebecca’d inherited her mother’s beloved rink. Rebecca, who lives in Chicago has no interest in owning a roller skate rink. That was her mother’s dream. But a dead body in the girl’s restroom of the rink plants Rebecca squarely in Indian Falls, Illinois for a while. After Rebecca solves that murder in SKATING AROUND THE LAW, it’s a couple months later, she’s still trying to sell the rink, when SKATING OVER THE LINE wheels onto the scene. Have I got it right so far?

J.C.: Hi Donnell! Thanks so much for having me here. I am honored.

Yeah – poor Rebecca still hasn’t managed to sell the rink in the two months that have passed. But she is trying desperately to keep her sanity and crossing her fingers and toes (and maybe her eyes) while waiting for her Realtor to call.

D.B.: This book is near and dear to you for several reasons. Your mother (pictured here) was a champion roller skater. Tell us about growing up in that world and the events that led up to you writing this skating series.

J.C.: My mother had retired from competitive skating long before I was born. However, she taught skaters to spin, leap and land on their feet all through my childhood. (Note – I was never very good at landing on my feet!) Going to the roller skating rink was something I thought everyone did.

Funny enough, even though skating was a part of our family life, it took an outside force to make me look to roller skating for inspiration. A couple of years ago, I was sitting with some friends at a writing conference. One of my friends started talking about my theater career and asked if my parents were performers. I replied, “No, but my mother is a world champion roller skater.” Had I hit them over the head with a wet fish, I doubt they could have been any more surprised. The silence was deafening. However, after a few moments, an agent sitting at our table said, “You should write a roller skating book.” I laughed. I mean, who would write a roller skating novel? But somewhere in the back of my mind the idea took root. Ten days later I e-mailed the agent and told her I’d written the first chapter of SKATING AROUND THE LAW.

D.B.: Rebecca Robbins is a fantastic character. She is the reluctant heroine at best. And she’s living in a place, that although she’s determined to leave, I suspect she really would be happy calling it home. She’s there with her quirky grandfather, Pop, who has the 74-year-old chick magnet down in the nursing home; Rebecca has herself a love interest the very appealing and hot veterinarian, Dr. Lionel Franklin, and a whole cast of zany characters who keep life interesting. The story starts out with a stolen vehicle, and Pop and the nursing home ensemble, are so impressed with Rebecca’s crime-solving in SKATING AROUND THE LAW, Pop assures everyone that Rebecca can do it again, much to Rebecca’s and Deputy Sean’s displeasure.

This set up amazed me, Joelle, because as a mystery writer myself, I kept turning the pages, awaiting a dead body. But, nope, no dead body appeared, just hook after hook and hysterical happenings and dialogue that kept me reading. The dead body appears on page 204. That was amazing to me. Tell us why you set up the book this way, and was there any discussion about a murder happening so late in the book?

J.C.: Ha! I know most mysteries are about dead bodies, which often amazes me. Especially when the setting is a small town. It’s hard to believe that everyone doesn’t pack up and move outside of the town’s city limits after a couple of books with that kind of body count. I know I would. When writing this book, I specifically wanted to write a mystery that didn’t revolve around a dead body. There are lots of mysteries in the world that are less gruesome than murder and more compelling than where socks disappear to when they go into the dryer. (Although, I admit that one has me stumped!) I wanted to see if I could make a non-murderous scenario just as engaging as one with a high body count. I’m lucky my editor let me get away with it, but I have a feeling she would have cracked the whip if she hadn’t liked the outcome. And, I will admit there has been a request that I bump one of the natives off a little faster in the next one – which I am delighted to do.

D.B.: Characterization is definitely one of your gifts. In SKATING OVER THE LINE, Rebecca’s father Stan blows into Indian Falls. Now Stan abandoned Rebecca and her mother when Rebecca was in junior high. The two have serious issues, not that Stan notices. But Rebecca, who now has a contract to sell the rink, is too busy on the car theft case and trying to hire a manager, one of the stipulations for selling her skating business, to deal with her con-artist father.

Oh my gosh, you do quirky characters well. Talk about some of these people and what goes into creating them. Are they total figments of your imagination, do people like this actually exist?

J.C.: Wow! I’m so glad you like the Indian Falls Gang. They are so much fun to write. And if you’ve ever been to a small town you’ll find colorful characters bopping up and down the street. My father grew up in a small town and, from what I can tell, small towns seem to encourage individuality. Let’s face it, if you live in a town of 1000 people you are going to stick out no matter what. And while I haven’t based the people of Indian Falls on any specific individuals, I will admit that the real life characters I’ve met have inspired me to no end.

D.B: As I mentioned we don’t have a murder until much later. That doesn’t mean that events don’t escalate. You do tension and hooks well too. But it’s a mix of characterization, Rebecca’s desperation to sell the rink and get out of town, but her kind-heartedness and love for these people are what drives this book and keeps her conflicted. You have a fantastic plot here. Do you do “what if” scenarios when you plot? Is this an intrinsic gift? What transpires when you get a gleam of an idea to the final process?

J.C.: Okay – I think my face is now the color of my hair. You are just way too nice to me. But, yes, every new book concept starts out with a “what if” moment. What if cars start disappearing around town? What if Rebecca is confronted with her father who hasn’t been part of her life in years? The minute I get that kind of “what if” question running through my head I find myself at the keyboard dying to find the answer. More often than not, I have no idea where the story will end up, but the “what if” question always gives me the beginning. And since I’m a pantser instead of a plotter, I just see where the journey takes me. Following Rebecca to the end of the journey is the fun part!

D.B: Rebecca has a love interest in sexy Dr. Lionel. But then you did a dastardly thing and set up a little sexual tension between Rebecca and Deputy Sean. Lionel wants Rebecca to make a decision and stay in Indian Falls and pursue their relationship. She’s just not sure. That conflict and tension was so good. And then you throw the deputy into the mix. (You almost got an irate phone call over that, because I DO know your phone number.) I must admit this works well for the series. Can you tell us what’s in store for Rebecca and Lionel? Is there a book three and will the Skating series continue?

J.C.: Yep – Dr. Lionel is sexy and ready to settle down and he wants to do it in Indian Falls. That is a huge conflict for Rebecca who is ready to throw her stuff in a suitcase and hit the road the minute the rink sells. But who wouldn’t be tempted by a guy with fabulous green eyes and a pet circus camel? As for Sean, well he isn’t always the nicest guy around, but he does love to hate Rebecca and she can’t help but step on his toes. That kind of relationship is always good for a few sparks;)

As for what is in store for Rebecca and Lionel – well, time will only tell. If Rebecca decides to stay in town, I’d say there’s a good chance Lionel will start pressing for commitment. I’m not sure what Rebecca will say about that, but I can’t wait to find out. There is a book three, SKATING ON THE EDGE, that will feature the rink’s own roller derby team – EstroGenocide. Skating On The Edge will hit shelves around this time next year and I’m hoping readers and my publisher will want the series to continue because I’ve started book four and I’m really excited about it.

D.B.: To say you have found your niche as an author is putting it mildly. What would you say is the single best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received, and then return the favor: What would you say to aspiring authors?

J.C.: It’s really good this interview isn’t being filmed. My blush is growing larger by the moment. I hope I’ve found a niche that works for me. The only way to know is if readers keep turning the pages.

As for writing advice – well the incomparable Susan Elizabeth Phillips gave me the best advice I’ve ever received – join RWA. Specifically, she told me to join Chicago-North and instructed me to attend the meetings. Wow, am I glad I listened to her. Chicago-North is a critique chapter and every meeting taught me something new and fabulous about the craft of writing.

My own advice? That’s simple. Make writing a habit. Don’t allow yourself the excuse that you don’t have the time to write. No one has the time to write. Trust me. I have a toddler racing around so I know about time limitations. But that being said writers write—even if it is only 100 words a day. By writing every day you are keeping the story alive and kicking around in your head which will make it easier to turn those 100 words into 200, 500 or more.

D.B.: Joelle, it’s been a pleasure. And, Five Scribe readers, I really don’t think she’s crazy, just uber talented. I’m proud to call her my friend (pictured here). Joelle will be giving away a copy of SKATING OVER THE LINE. Questions or comments will enter you to win. (be sure to leave your e-mail where we can find you.) We'll draw the winner on Sept. 30th.

To learn more about Joelle, check out her webpage. can also find her on Facebook and Twitter @jcharbonneau



Donnell said...

Good morning, Joelle, I'm traveling today, but wanted to thank you for the interview and for being Five Scribe's guest. I also want you to know 'em dead (even though you don't believe in dead bodies in a mystery) Ha! with Skating Over the Line.

I'll try to check in off and on but Internet access is spotty!

Terry Odell said...

Put me in the 'a dead body doesn't have to be the focus' camp. Although my books are classified as romantic suspense, I consider them 'mysteries with relationships' and although there's a mystery/crime at the center of the story, I don't have dead bodies as the 'crime to solve' in most of my books.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Theresa said...

Great interview again, Donnell. Nice to meet you, Joelle, and I look forward to reading your books. I'm always intrigued by someone who successfully breaks the "rules". But then, I've always maintained that it's all about a great story. Thanks for sharing!

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Hi Donnell! Thanks so much for having me here today. I hope you are having fun traveling!!!

Terry - Dead bodies are great, but I think there are lots of fun mysteries out there. The two of us should probably form a support group!

Theresa - Rules are meant to be broken - right? (I think my redhead nature might be showing.) I hope Rebecca and her friends give you a couple of laughs!

Jennifer said...

super interview -- thanks for the great questions and candid responses. I'm even extra curious to read SKATING OVER THE LINE now, knowing there's a dead body delay. Those are kind of refreshing!
Best of luck with the book!

Ellis Vidler said...

Joelle and Donnell, what a fun and interesting interview! I love that your mother was a skater. The book sounds like a winner. I'll have to read it.

Mary Marvella said...

Hey, sweetie! You too, little Joelle!

Mama Mary misses her little blogger. You are doing so well, girl. Good interview with Donnell, but she always conducts a great one. I loved skating as a kid and a teen. There were street skates that attached to shoes with toe clamps and a straps (ever heard of a skate key?) and rink skates.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Hi Ellis! Thanks for stopping by:) My mother was and still is (although she might not think so) a fabulous skater. I grew up thinking that everyone spent their days whizzing around a roller rink!

Mary! (I'm waving frantically at you.) Doesn't Donnell do the best interviews? And thanks. I don't know if I'm doing well, but I'm trying my hardest!

Cathy said...

Great interview - and I love that you aren't 'killing off Cobot Cove'. But hmmm, I think both my current WIPs start with a dead body.
Can't wait to read the rest of the skating (and the choir!) series!

Donnell said...

Hi, everyone, thanks for stopping by and Joelle was such a fun interview because everything about her skating series is delightful. I was amazed that she didn't focus on a dead body, although there is one on page 204 if I recall correctly. So here's where I have to point out how talented she is to keep the story going with a simple car theft ring. Very cool!

Marsha said...

Great interview, Donnell. Joelle, you've got a wonderful name. You didn't use this term, but would you classify Skating Over the Line as a Cozy? I've only recently discovered that genre and find them delightful, regardless of where the dead body shows up. :) I'll check out your book for sure. Skating rink parties were big deals when my kids were growing up. I no longer had my old, white shoe skates, but I could still get around the rink without embarrasing the girls. It must have been a fun environment to grow up in, Joelle. Thanks for the post. Marsha

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Hi Marsha - Skating Over The Line and Skating Around The Law are on the edge of the cozy genre. They are set in small towns, are very character driven and don't have the blood or violence on the page. I say I'm on the edge of the genre because most cozies don't have grandfather's quite like Pop:)

E. B. Davis said...

You series sounds like a wonderfully good read, Joelle. I'll have to find your books. As a former ice skater, I'm not sure how I feel about roller skating, but I have a feeling that your mc won't find a buyer anytime soon. (lol) Great interview, Donnell-as usual. Good luck with your book and Joelle's.