Interview with Kathleen Bolton, part 2

I’m thrilled to continue WU’s 100th interview today with WU co-mama Kathleen Bolton. Kath had a great opportunity with Working Partners last year to write for a new series, took the opportunity, and won the job. CONFESSIONS OF A FIRST DAUGHTER, a fast-paced YA treat, was released just last week. I loved the book, but as you know I’m biased; here’s what others have had to say:

Fun and breezy. – Kirkus Reviews

I really enjoyed this book and it was easy to get into. …I would definitely recommend this book to anyone ages 15 and older! -By the Book Reviews

If you missed part 1 of my interview with Kath, click HERE, then come back. Today we’ll dish about character development, how a pantser adjusts to working with a storyline, and more!

Part 2: Interview with Kathleen Bolton

Before I get to the first question, let’s post an excerpt from chapter 1. Your protagonist, Morgan Abbott, has just delivered a speech to the entire high school, making it up on the fly after her nemesis–the evil Brittany Whittaker–stole her platform. She wants to become class president, and she was so well prepared–note cards in her pocket, safety pins around her loose-fitting skirt, shorts underneath just in case. Now she’s waiting to see how her hastily stated words were received. And she’s nervous.

It was so quiet, you could hear the air conditioner hum. For one awful second, I thought I might have bored them into a coma. Then Hannah punched the air and started clapping, and a groundswell of applause rose and filled the auditorium. Soon everyone was standing. Well, except for Brittany’s pink witches cabal. They looked like they were about to retch up the toadstools they’d had for lunch. I saw Brittany wrinkle her nose as if she’d stepped in dog poo.

I felt a flush creep up my cheeks. Maybe I had pulled this off after all.

I reclipped the microphone, then picked up my useless notecards and shoved them hard into the waistband of my skirt.

Big mistake.

The notecards went in and the pink I’d used to hold up my skirt popped open, stabbing me in my waist. I clutched my side, trying to hold back a wail of pain, but at the same time I noticed that I’d started peeing notecards. They dribbled to my feet, where I promptly slipped on them. As I went down, I grabbed for the podium, which left my skirt free to puddle around my ankles…and it did just that, while the glass of water on the podium tipped over onto the front of my blouse.

Applause turned to laughter.

“Classic Abbott!” someone yelled.

Great. Leave it to me to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.

Q: Morgan Abbott is a pretty funny character, as are her cohorts. How well developed were each of these characters when you received your assignment from WP?

KB: I’d received a two or three sentence prompt on the characters. All I knew was that 17-year-old Morgan Abbott was the president’s daughter, she looks just like her, and has a penchant for screw-ups. I took cues for the rest of her character from her milieu: she was in the Drama club, so I made her a bit of a drama queen; she’d been around politicians her whole life so she had a sophisticated understanding of politics and the way adults operate. Once I had Morgan set, I bent the characters around her in opposition so there’d be some personality conflicts: her best friend is a no-nonsense fashionista, her boyfriend is somewhat of a famewhore, her mother, the president, is meticulous and organized, and Morgan is anything but. The most fun I had was with Morgan’s new love interest, Max Jackson, her Secret Service agent. He’s a bit of a nerd – Einstein with a gun. He was a lot of fun to bring to life.

Q: In what other ways were you able to put your personal stamp on Confessions? How was Kathleen Bolton involved in the telling of this story?

KB: I’d created many of the minor characters as well. I’d get a prompt like, “her guidance counselor tells her she needs to get her grades up.” So I needed to create a guidance counselor for that conversation. However, a guidance counselor is a sort of a throwaway character, so I needed something memorable without taking up a lot of lines, because the page count was pretty tight. I learned that that was something I excelled at. I was also careful to include diversity in the cast of characters, because that’s an American high school – a melting pot. The research into how Washington D.C. operates, the political dialogue, the jokes, that was all me. But I had a great storyline to work from, which allowed me to relax about the narrative and concentrate on the fun.

Q: As a proclaimed pantser, what sort of adjustments did you have to make to your mindset in order to tackle the highly plotted Confessions? And did you have to change your physical schedule at all?

KB: Working from a storyline was a totally new experience for me. As was a hard deadline. I didn’t have any time for doubts, for ‘what if I do this?’ I just had to get on with the writing. One of the strengths is that it keeps your mind in the story, because you don’t have the luxury of taking an extended break. You have to keep moving forward. Luckily, I’d had years of discipline and habit to stand me in good stead. I get up in the morning, I write before going to the day job. On the other hand, one morning session of writing wasn’t going to cut it, especially for book two when the stuff with my mom set me behind. I had to start writing in the evening as well, which heretofore had not been my strong suit. Luckily I learned that I can write under any conditions.

Q: What was it like for you, working with not only one editor but two—one with Working Partners and another with Harper Teen? Was everyone on the same page once the story was submitted? How were conflicts, if any, resolved?

KB: It was another learning experience. Basically it’s writing by committee, but somehow it works. I revised the first draft to incorporate the editorial suggestions from the WP editors. Then they ship it off to Harper’s, where the editor there has editorial suggestions, which I’d then incorporate. Since we are writing these so quickly, it helps to get multiple eyes on the project and catch dumb mistakes like time inconsistencies and so forth. Sometimes there’d be a random spot where we all disagreed on something, but we’d work it out. We all want the project to succeed.

Q: Yours was a two-book deal with WP. What is the status of the second book? What can you tell us about it?

KB: WP sold two books in the First Daughter line to Harper Teen, and I just delivered revisions on that book. The second adventure takes place in London. Without giving too much away, it involves the royal family, more angst in the romance department for Morgan, and another situation where Morgan has to save the day.

Q: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned on this publishing journey?

KB: I’ve learned to trust my writer’s voice and my craft. After doing this for so long, I instinctively know the best way to enter and exit a scene, set up a passage of dialogue with beats and tags, avoid cluttering up a passage with unessential words. I just have to get out of my own way and let it unfold.

Q: What’s the best writerly advice you’ve ever received? What advice would you give other writers – specifically those interested in working for a book packager like WP?

KB: The best advice I’d gotten comes from dear Vicky Holmes, who once said, “Get it written now, then worry about getting it ‘right’ later.” Most of the time, it was ‘right’ the first time. Once you have a workable draft, you can fix anything. Just get that initial draft done, and then you can wordsmith to your heart’s content later.

Writers who are interested in working with book packagers have to be solid in their craft, able to implement someone else’s vision, and write in multiple voice styles. Also, they have to be able to work with an aggressive deadline and be flexible enough to pick the project back up if the editorial team needs another round of revisions.

Q: What was the easiest part of this project for you? The most difficult?

KB: The easiest part of CONFESSIONS was understanding Morgan’s character. She arrived in my head fully formed. The hardest part – and this will sound like I’m a diva – was letting go of some of my jokes and lines of dialogue. They were funny to me . . . and no one else!

Q: What was the most surprising discovery to come out of working on Confessions? How, if at all, did working on this project affect your other writings and your process?

KB: The most surprising thing for me was discovering I have a natural writer’s voice for YA novels. Basically the exposition is the way I speak in my every day life (I’m immature, I recognize!) with a smattering of my tween-aged daughter and her posse’s lingo thrown in.

As far as my adult work, I’m not gonna lie, it has affected it. For one thing, getting pulled out of a wip and thrown into another one means shifting gears, plugging back into a different writerly voice, and so forth. Then I have to shift back. But it’s so worth it. So, so worth it.

Q: What’s next for you?

KB: Right now I’m waiting to hear back on another WP project I provided a sample for. In the meantime, it’s back to my own work for now. The writing never ends. Nor should it.

I couldn’t agree more.

Readers, you can learn more about how to purchase Kathleen’s debut novel, Confessions of a First Daughter, at the HarperCollins website HERE. Thanks for sharing this 100th interview with me, Kath! I still say that we couldn’t have planned that better if we’d tried.


About Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was named a Best Book of 2014 by Library Journal and BookRiot. Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, sold to Random House in a two-book deal in 2008, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books, and was a Target Breakout Book. She's never been published with a lit magazine, but LOST's Carlton Cuse liked her Twitter haiku best and that made her pretty happy.


  1. says

    Happy hundredth interview! Loved this one… very informative about how writing for a book packager works, and that’s a huge service to those of us who know nothing about that corner of the market. Congrats on the launch, Kathleen!

  2. says

    This is weird, but I have yet to go to a bookstore to see it on a shelf! I’ve been like a crazed woman these days . . . but this weekend, I will go (secretly I hope it’s SOLD OUT)

  3. says

    Congratulations on the 100th interview.
    Thank you Kathleen Bolton for the great interview.
    I’ve read great things about CONFESSIONS OF A FIRST DAUGHTER.
    It is on my ToBeRead list.
    All the best,