Shelf Awareness recently ran an extensive Q&A with the author, Joelle Charbonneau. Check it out below.
What are your thoughts about leadership? The United Commonwealth attracts some tough characters.
I look at the president’s job and think, who would want that job? They look one way when they enter, and another way when they come out four or eight years later. That’s part of the cost of being a leader. Who do you choose? Do you pick the person you like, or the person who would push the button? I was intending to write about the ACTs and SATs. It became so much more to me.
At the heart of the novel is this idea of competition at the peril of one’s peers–do you think that’s what testing encourages?
I know it does. I’ve been doing theater and music since I was a kid. In general, the person who’s the lead isn’t often the most important person in the play. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. In The Testing, a lot of people wouldn’t consider Cia a leading lady. She’d be more of a supporting character. In this case, she’s forced into the spotlight.
Is a real leader someone who’s necessarily [been elected] the president? Or is it the person who questions? You should care when something affects anybody, not just you. Cia does question, and that’s what makes her unusual. She’d like to be a leader because she’d like to make a difference, not because she wants to be the leader.
We sense envy on the part of Cia’s brother, Zeen, as if he would have liked to be eligible for the testing, but no one had come from the Commonwealth to test during his young adulthood.
We get to explore a lot more about why the Testing came about, and why they’ve chosen some of these methods. In book three, I get to bring them all out in the open. The Testing is secret, but there are enough people in Five Lakes to create a conspiracy to keep people out of it. You don’t want to make waves. If something’s working, you don’t need to expose it.
Did you have an outline of all three books? Or do they unfold as you write them? Have you finished a draft of book two?
I never have a clue where I’m going. By page 60 or 70 I take a left turn in Albuquerque and there’s no way back. I had no idea where it was going. Every action that happens propels it along, sometimes in a direction that I’m not sure where it will take it. I’ve finished book two, and it should be in ARC form any day. The series was supposed to be a book a year. Now it’s every six months.
The Testing has been very different from my mysteries. The craft is the same; that I have always in my head. But there are so many more scenes, and it’s complicated. Why did I make a heroine who’s so smart–in science and engineering? I’m studying the mechanics of a bridge!
Cia’s father raises the question of trust. But you also raise the question of whether Cia can trust her father. Will we learn more about that in future books?
The second book takes place in Tosu City. We only get glimpses of what happens in the past. We do get to see some family dynamics. The end of book three should also give the idea that kids go off to college, and home has not changed, but you have. What do you do with that? A lot of that Cia has to work out in her own head. We do see the father a bit in the prequel, a short e-book, available on the series homepage TheTestingTrilogy.com, and soon on other e-retailer websites.
Can you talk about the suicide of Cia’s roommate? That’s the first tragic consequence of the Testing.
The trailer [for the book] included the suicide. It’s something students deal with all the time. They get to college, and they’re only ready to succeed. It’s the first time they’re confronted with the idea that they might fail. We push too hard for people to want to get the A as opposed to just learning. When confronted with the idea that they’re not the best, they fold.
Tell us more about the parallel you see between The Testing and the audition process that your performer-students go through.
Sometimes it’s a question of are you confident enough in your own abilities? I have to warn my students there’s a warm and fuzzy quality to a school, and then there are others where snarkier kids go. They’re always trying to psyche you out. If they can, they will outperform you. I have always wanted to be judged on my own merits. The question is: Are you willing to trust your own abilities, or do you want to bring others down in order to shine brighter, even if it will bring the whole show down?
What else did Shelf Awareness have to say?
There is nothing standardized about this Testing. Charbonneau’s imagination will surprise readers at every turn, including the chilling ending. She wraps things up satisfyingly while still hinting at other revelations to come in books two and three of this planned trilogy.