Friday, September 24, 2010

Making Dessert from Disaster

Will our dear readers believe today's flubbed attempt to process our guest's post on time was was a deliberate attempt to reenact our theme of mistakes? That the PensFatales dedication to this topic goes above and beyond words? That we don't talk the talk, we talk the talk? Hmmmmm...we think...not.

Luckily our guest today, Joelle Carbonneau, is all too familiar with mistakes judging by the content of her post and the title of her new novel, SKATING AROUND THE LAW, coming out next week (woohoo! Congratulations, Joelle!). From one mistake-maven to another, hopefully she will forgive us!

Thanks for much for the Pens Fatales for inviting me to blog today. It is totally appropriate that I am blogging on Mistakes Week, because – yes – I’m prone to making them. I have the tendency to trip over my own feet when wearing high heels, save documents in places on my computer that guys at MIT would never be able to find and occasionally, I have been known to bake oatmeal cookies with no flour.

Funny about the oatmeal cookie thing. On a good day, I’m a decent cook. However, this time the cookies lost all shape and melted all over the cookie sheet into a big mess. After one look, my inclination was to pitch the whole mess into the garbage can and start over. Only, I am a touch crazy and I took a taste. Yum. I then shoveled the crumbly mess into a bowl and used it to top ice cream. Double yum.

Baking is not the only area in which I’ve found a mistake can turn into an unlikely opportunity. A few years ago, I set aside a manuscript I’d been editing and started writing a totally different kind of book for kicks. It was the most fun I’d ever had writing. Any goofy or strange idea that popped into my head went onto the page. And to top it off, I was writing in a genre I hadn’t studied much.

Everyone always says you should study the genre before you start writing. I used to believe that. Scratch that. I still do. Only, I made a mistake. I didn’t really know the subgenre I was writing in when I started. Heck, I don’t think I’d ever heard the term for the subgenre. Belonging to RWA, I knew all the romance subgenres, but I wasn’t writing a romance. (To tell the truth, I was bad at writing romances….and I tried. Another mistake, but one I learned from.) So instead of knowing what I was writing and making sure that I created a story that fit the expectations of the editors and readers of the genre, I just wrote.

Once I was done writing, I realized I had no idea what I had written. Yes, Skating Around The Law was a mystery, but what kind of mystery? Turns out I wrote a book that follows the cozy mystery guidelines but isn’t really a cozy. Well crap. I’d made a HUGE mistake. Everyone knows that it is easier to get a book published if it falls squarely in one genre. Yes, people blend genres all the time, but editors have a harder time selling those books to their editorial board because they are riskier. Double crap.

And yet, like the flattened oatmeal cookies, I couldn’t bring myself to throw that manuscript into the trash. It didn’t taste so good on ice cream, but I loved it. Turns out my agent and editor did, too. The one thing I’ve learned from the experience is that sometimes mistakes are more than good lessons. Sometimes they are opportunities. You just have to take a step back from the mistake and decide which one it is. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll find your mistake is both. I bet if you think about it, you have a few tasty mistakes out there of your own that I’d love to hear about.


Rachael Herron said...

Oh, boy, doesn't this sound familiar -- I'm great at writing a book and THEN realizing all the mistakes I tromped through it, and then having to go back and clean them up. Thank goodness I love editing! Now, back to that....

Gigi Pandian said...

Congrats on your book coming out! I love it that it worked for you to write the book you wanted to write and have it turn into a great opportunity rather than a mistake :)

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Rachael - yep - I love the revision part just for that reason.

Thanks, Gigi - thanks for the congrats. I'm just lucky it turned out the way it did.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for visiting the Pens!! :) I love your story :) I think sometimes not knowing the rules allows us to be more creative...once we know you're not supposed to do THAT, then it stifles us. Congratulations!!