Spotlight on author and mother, Joelle Charbonneau
BY WENDY ALTSCHULER Special Columnist
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WENDY CITY MOM
the parenting column
Joelle Charbonneau has it all. She is a stay-at-home-mom, a successful writer and producing quality books with a frequency that makes most other authors jealous. Many parents have to choose one or the other: career or full-time parent, but Charbonneau has figured out how to have her cake and eat it. Below is an interview, conducted with Charbonneau on her rise to becoming an author and fulfilling her dreams and ambitions without sacrificing her desires to have a family and be a stellar mother.
When did you decide that you wanted to be a professional writer and what was your first published piece?
I never intended on being a published writer. Although I had always been a voracious reader, I had never even considered writing my own stories. My undergraduate and graduate degrees are in music and theater. After grad school, I started performing around the Chicagoland area at a variety of professional theaters. During the run of a show at Drury Lane Oak Brook, the opening line of a book popped into my head. The line wouldn't go away, so I decided to write it down along with a few other lines after it. Day by day, week-by-week, I typed until after several months I had a completed novel. It was a bad novel; but hey, it was finished. I'd gotten to the end. More important, I actually enjoyed the challenge. So, I decided to take another whack at writing a book, only this time I wanted to write a novel people might want to read. It wasn't until my fifth manuscript that I achieved that goal. Skating Around the Law was my very first published work and I've enjoyed the challenges that have come with writing every since.
How do you balance being a mother and working as a writer?
Good question. I wish I had a good answer. The best answer is that I love being a mother and I love my job. Since writing is a job I can do in the comfort of my living room chair, I am able to raise my son without utilizing daycare facilities. Being a part of his every day growth is a true joy, and I am very aware of how fortunate I am to have a fulfilling career while also being a full-time mom. I am also incredibly lucky that my 4-year-old still takes an afternoon nap, so I always set aside that time to write even when there are other things around me that need time and attention. (Like cleaning bathrooms!) I also write when he goes to sleep at night. That means a lot of late nights for me, but I am willing to take that tradeoff in order to spend time with him when he is awake. I don't always get a lot of rest, but that's okay. There will be time to sleep when he's older.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get published for the first time or for someone who wants to write a book but doesn't know how to get started?
For those who want to write and don't know how to get started, I have two pieces of advice. First-write. Write a short story, a novella or a novel. Then write another. Writing is like anything...it takes practice. The only way to improve is to keep writing. Eventually, your own personal style (or voice) will emerge. Second, all writers need to be readers. Read a lot. Read in the genre you want to write in. If you love a book, read it again and look for all the things that make the story speak to you. Critical reading will help you develop your own storytelling techniques and help you understand genre conventions as well as pacing and character development.
As for advice for those who want to be published-well that's harder. Publishing is in a state of change. There are lots of publishing options available to today's authors which include the traditional model of publishing (signing with a publisher and having them produce the book) as well as the self-published model (doing all the editing, cover art, etc. yourself and putting the book up on sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.) along with everything in between. I suppose my best advice to someone looking to get published for the first time is to think about what your goal is before picking the option that is best for you. The Internet is filled with information about publishing and authors who are more than willing to help you steer clear of the pitfalls they have stumbled into. Take advantage of those resources before deciding which path you wish to pursue for publication. Once you know what your goals are, you'll be able to make the right decisions for your career.
What are the pros and cons of being a writer?
Well, for me the pros are being able to work from home and still pursue a career that utilizes my theatrical training. I am able to shape characters and setting and scenes all from the comfort of my living room and still play with my son. I also find the challenge of creating a story from beginning to end incredibly rewarding and the community of writers is a wonderful one to belong to. Being a part of such a rejection-filled profession isn't the easiest thing to do. Also, while it is rewarding to know that only you can write the story on your computer, it is also scary. You don't have anyone who can help you share the work. Only you can do it. There are nights where I have been certain the page will stay empty and the story will never get finished. There are also nights I get very little sleep as I race toward a deadline. But, for me, the cons never outweigh the pros. I'm very lucky to have my job!
How has being a mother shaped your writing?
I started writing before I became a mom. Since then, I've noticed several changes in my writing. First - anyone reading the Rebecca Robbins books will stumble across mentions of Sesame Street. There might even be a Bert and Ernie reference or two that would never have existed if those characters weren't on my television day in and day out. (I'd almost forgotten how fabulous they are!) Also, I find that my appreciation for parent/child relationships has deepened. Now that I'm experiencing the other side of that pairing, I think my characters have more depth. At least I hope so!
Tell me about your new book; what's it about?
Thanks for asking. It's Native American Summer Days in Indian Falls, and Rebecca Robbins is roped into taking a turn in the Senior Center dunk tank. That is until her rhinestone-studded grandfather needs help setting up his Elvis act. Now Rebecca has to find a replacement and roller derby girl Sherlene-n-Mean is delighted to fit the bill - until she's dunked and ends up dead. Who was the intended victim - the diva derby girl or Rebecca? Aided by her sometimes boyfriend, his pet camel and a trio of determined derby girls, Rebecca has to do what she does best - annoy the cops, dig for answers and try her best to catch a killer before the killer catches her.
To learn more about Charbonneau or her books, visit www.joellecharbonneau.com.