Sunday, March 23, 2014

The quest to become a unicorn

By: Joelle Charbonneau

When I started the first page of my first book, I knew nothing about the craft of writing or about the publishing industry.  I wanted to tell a story.  I wanted to see how the story would end.  The funny thing is that by hitting THE END of that story, a whole new story began.  The story of a unicorn.

I started writing in 2003.  And as I am fond of pointing out, I never took an English class in college.  There was nothing that made me qualified to write a book other than the fact that I sat down at the computer and decided to try.  And wow did I try.  And try.  And try.

Each book racked up dozens of rejections.  During that time, e-publishing through Amazon, B&N and other sources had begun to grow at an amazing rate.  Lots of writers I knew ditched the idea of traditional publishing in order to independently publish their work.  I cheered them on.  Meanwhile, I kept writing.


That question comes up a lot when I talk to writers groups.  Do I think those books were bad?  The first one is.  Trust me on this.  It is BAD!  But the others – I don’t think so.  None of them were bad.  Readers might have enjoyed them, but I’ll never find out if that is true.   I put them to the side because deep in my heart I wasn’t sure I was good enough to be an author. 

I grew up reading any book I could get my hands on.  I loved stories and books and thought authors were different from the people I knew because they had the power to make worlds and characters come alive on the page.  They made me gasp and my heart pound.  They made me sigh and cry.  They were like unicorns.  They weren’t quite of this earth.  They were magic.  

So, perhaps it isn’t strange that I was skeptical that I, who while growing up had never considered being a writer or who had never taken a single creative writing class, could ever write a book that was good enough to be read.  I doubted that I could ever be a unicorn.

Each manuscript taught me something new.  Every day I wrote made me better.  But still I doubted.  Until finally, I found a literary agent who said that she believed in my book.   She believed in me.  

Those words were a kind of magic.  A validation that I might some day be good enough to be an author.  And when that manuscript (my fifth completed novel) sold to St. Martin’s Minotaur, I waited for the magic spell that would make believe I was a unicorn.

The spell never came. 

The first book came out.  It got positive reviews from the trades and found a home with readers who embraced Elwood the Camel and Rebecca Robbins.  And still I waited for the magic.  That moment where I believed I had the right to call myself an author.

I’ve published 9 books since the Fall of 2010.  The 10th will come out on June 17th of this year.  I’ve been nominated for some awards (how did that happen?), have seen my work on the New York Times list (HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?) and have signed thousands of copies of title pages that bear my name.  I always thought those would be the things that made me feel like a real author.  And while I’m grateful for all of them, they were not the magic spell that made me believe I had the right to claim the title as my own.

A little over four years ago, a group of writers asked me if I’d be willing to blog with them.  Many of them were multi-published novelists.  Others had a slew of short fiction or film scripts to their names.  They were all talented and smart and writers I admired.

And they wanted me.  They believed in me.  They still believe in me.

Looking back, I realize that the journey to becoming an author was filled with important milestones and moments.  Some like my first call with my agent or hitting the New York Times list are big, huge, noisy moments.  Others are quiet, like finding the perfect hook to a chapter while sitting in the living room while everyone else in the house is asleep.  And then there are moments like the day that I was asked to join Do Some Damage.  The day where my fellow writers by their request made me realize that even if I didn’t feel like one – I really was a unicorn. 

Or I guess I should say I am a unicorn.  How strange is that?

I am honored and lucky and so thrilled to have this job and to have shared this blog with so many incredibly talented writers for the last 4 years.   And I am humbled by every reader who has given me the most precious gifts you can give – your time and attention.  You have made these past four years on this blog an incredible experience.  And now it is my turn to share that experience with someone else.

It is time for me to step aside.  Although, you won’t get rid of me.  I plan on guest posting whenever I can swing it and I will always consider myself a member of Do Some Damage.  But after four years on Do Some Damage, surrounded by the most amazing and supportive group ever, the time has come for me to give another author a chance to shine. 

And trust me – she is going to shine bright. 

Kristi Belcamino is an incredible unicorn.  Her debut novel, Blessed Are The Dead, will be published on June 10th from Harper Collins.  It’s going to be one heck of a ride. 

The ride on Do Some Damage will start next Sunday with Kristi’s first post.  I hope she enjoys her time with you as much as I have. 

So, I guess I will sign off this last post saying Thank you.  Thank you to the Do Some Damage gang for believing in me.  I hope I have done you proud.  And thank you to each and every reader who has taken time out of your day in order to spend it with me.  You make me believe in magic.  You are the ones who have made me a unicorn.


Malachi Stone said...

Always look forward to your postings, Joelle. Personally I believe your positive attitude has contributed to your phenomenal and deserved success. And for all you other unicorns out there, stay horny, my friends!

Bryon Quertermous said...

I remember when you first joined up and we were putting together that airport anthology. I sent you my story and you sent me yours and I believe I scarred you for life with what I view as a humorous story.

You were a great addition to the team and a huge reason why some of the hardboiled and noir types have begun to respect the cozy genre. So for that alone you deserve great praise and respect. I'm sad to see you go but you did good with your time and I'm proud of you.