This interview marks the 100th interview given here at Writer Unboxed. I think it’s especially cool that the interview is with one of WU’s founding co-mamas, and one of my best buds, Kathleen Bolton!
Kath’s debut novel, published under the pseudonym Cassidy Calloway for HarperTeen, was released just this week. Confessions of a First Daughter is a funny and fast-paced book that showcases Kath’s love of vivacious language, her sharp wit, and her down-to-earth nature–a few of her many strong suits.
I’m beyond thrilled to interview her here, about her fateful opportunity with Working Partners and HarperTeen, writing in a completely new genre, her process and more. Enjoy!
Part 1: Interview with Kathleen Bolton
Q: What do you tell people, when they ask what Confessions of a First Daughter is about?
KB: I tell them it’s a fun bonbon of a story about the wacky misadventures of the President’s daughter. Morgan Abbott is a quasi-celebrity who has to deal with intrusive press, bad grades, mother-daughter conflict (in a fun twist, her mother is the President of the United States, and Morgan looks just like her), and a crush on her Secret Service agent, who is roughly the same age as she is because he’s a prodigy specifically recruited by the Secret Service for her security detail. It’s the sort of book a YA reader can gobble up quickly. Pure entertainment.
Q: Tell us the story behind the story. How did Confessions come to be?
KB: From Writer Unboxed! I’d interviewed the writing duo known as Erin Hunter of the wildly popular WARRIORS series for YA readers because my daughter was so crazy about it. This led me to Victoria Holmes, an editor for Working Partners LTD and the brains behind WARRIORS. She also had a series of books for girls coming out, historical novels about girls and horses, and I interviewed her for this series. I also talked her into being a contributor for WU for a short amount of time before WARRIORS blew up in the marketplace and her life became insane. She’s a real delight, and it was through her that I learned about the book packaging side of publishing. I placed my name in WP’s writers pool for consideration for upcoming projects, and went about my life.
A year or so later, I’d gotten an e-mail from a different editorial team at WP asking if I’d mind trying out for a YA project. I submitted a sample to them. Fortunately they loved it and I was hired to write the line.
Q: Was it hard for you to set aside your prior wip to work on Confessions? How different was your prior wip to Confessions—genre, content, scene length, grit, etc…? And what, if anything, did you do to ensure you’d be able to revisit your prior wip once the Confessions project was completed?
KB: I wouldn’t say it was hard to set aside the project I was working on, but I definitely had to switch gears quickly because I had an aggressive deadline for CONFESSIONS. My own writing style has an edge, and I’d never really had to tone down content or language for younger readers because I write for adults.
So now I had to. I visualized my kid reading the book, and it was through that filter I wrote CONFESSIONS.
After I delivered the first draft to WP, I went back to my own wip, and it was a disorganized mess. I blogged about it. Post-its everywhere, cryptic messages to myself written on scraps of paper. It took me a week to reorient to the story. I wish I could say I learned a lesson when I had to drop everything for Book 2, but I didn’t. :)
Q: Had you ever before tried your hand at a YA story? Was it difficult for you to tackle the genre and the voice for Confessions?
KB: I’ve never written in the YA genre before. Before CONFESSIONS, I’ve never been drawn to that market on an artistic level. My kid is a voracious reader, and I’d thumbed through her books just to make sure they were appropriate for her, but that’s about it. Oh, and I read Harry Potter.
But here’s where life gets funny. To prepare for the WP sample, I read a chapter or two of Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries to get a feel for language, pace and level of humor because the CONFESSIONS book had been pitched as “the West Wing meets Princess Diaries.” I’d also just come back from a trip to Washington D.C. visiting my brother, who has a high-level position in a government agency. So I was familiar with the setting and the atmosphere in D.C. I sat down, and I was cranking out those pages. Swear to god, the writing came so easy, so effortlessly. My years of studying fiction writing and trying to improve my work meant that I was sound in my craft so I didn’t have to worry about active voice, dialogue tags, etc. I could concentrate on how I wanted the story to unfold. The voice for this story came to me instantly—funny, snarky, basically my own personal voice but majorly toned down. I pumped out the three chapter writing sample in a couple of weeks and sent it to them early because deep down I knew that what I’d done was the right way to tell that story, and me endlessly tinkering with the draft would not measurably improve it.
Fortunately I heard back fairly quickly from them. They loved it.
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of this assignment, and how did you overcome it?
KB: The most challenging part was an aggressive deadline. These folks don’t mess around. You get six or eight weeks to deliver a 45,000 word manuscript. Unfortunately for book two, my mother was getting ill and it impacted my deadline. Fortunately, the people at WP are incredibly kind and understanding, and they granted me a couple of extra weeks to finish the draft.
Q: Can you explain what a book packager is, for readers who may not know?
KB: A book packager basically shops high-concept storylines to publishers and sells projects to them to round out their lines. They hire writers to implement their projects. You would not believe how many YA bestsellers come from book packagers. Book packagers also hire writers for adult series like Star Trek or the X Files. It’s a growing segment of publishing, I think, because an editorial team already does the hard work of market research. They can hit breaking trends in fiction quickly, and come up with a marketable platform.
Here’s a link that explains them more fully for people who want to know more: http://www.absolutewrite.com/site/book_packaging.htm
Q: How specific was your assignment from Working Partners? Did you receive a vague idea of how things should unfold, were things boxed pretty tightly in a synopsis, or did your directive fall somewhere in between these two extremes?
KB: I received a completed storyline, which was a detailed synopsis of the story. So I had to put the flesh on the bones. I was able to create the characters, dictate the pace, the voice – everything but the narrative. In the first draft of CONFESSIONS, there was a plot point that didn’t ring true to me, but the editorial team at WP is so fantastic, they treat projects like collaborations, and they took my suggestions on board.
However, I was also hired to implement a vision, so it was my job to tell the story they gave me instead of me taking the story in a different direction. I learned a lot about controlling my tendency to wander off.
Come back next week for part 2 of my interview with Kathleen, when we’ll talk about character development, how a pantser works with (and massages) a storyline, what’s next for her and more!