Interview With Jeanell Bolton

Jeanell Bolton~ Interview by Traci Andrighetti

Jeanell Bolton volunteered to be simultaneously an elephant, a high-stepping horse, and a triangle player in her kindergarten end-of-term parade, and she hasn’t slowed down since. Her sense of drama was further enhanced by three years of Baylor Children’s Theater and performances in various school and civic theater productions, some of which she wrote. An award-winning English teacher, she holds a Ph.D. in linguistics, which means not only is she language-mad, but intensely analytical.

Bolton is active in the Austin RWA chapter and the San Gabriel Writer’s League and has been published in poetry, short story, and journalism. Grand Central will publish her dark romance, Kinkaid House, in July 2014.

Congratulations on the sale of your first novel, Kinkaid House! How long did it take to write this novel?

Six weeks, initially. Six months more fleshing out the story from 55.000 to 90,000 words. Six months more of deepening the story under the guidance of my agent, Liza Dawson.

Speaking of your agent, she describes Kinkaid House as “dark romance.” How do you define this subgenre?

As a romance in which the lovers are challenged by deep, dark secrets. In Kinkaid House, Laurel doesn’t want Jase, the bad boy who made good, to know that she, who used to be Bosque Bend’s favorite daughter, is now the town pariah—and why.

What can you tell us about your process for finding an agent? 

When I hoped I had enough contest wins under my belt for credibility, I started querying, mostly blind. It took me a while to compose a really good query letter, but then I started getting requests for partials and fulls. The trick is to keep on querying and not be shy about submitting again, with a different manuscript, of course, to people who have turned you down.

You jokingly refer to yourself as the “Queen of the Contests.” What do you mean by this?

Actually, I think it’s the RWA chapter that’s called me that because they got sick and tired of me standing up at every meeting and announcing yet another final or win. Officially, though, I’m a Contest Diva. In just two years, I placed in 33 contests, winning nine of them. In fact, I often double-finaled, and I won a couple of contests, like New Jersey’s PYHIAB, two years in a row.

Did your success in these contests play a direct role in landing your agent or your publisher, Grand Central?

I think so. Robyn Carr, one of Liza Dawson’s clients, gave me perfect scores in a contest so I quoted her kind words in my query. Perhaps Liza was already predisposed toward my voice–she had requested the full on another manuscript six months earlier–but Kinkaid House itself was what sealed it for her and for Grand Central (which had looked at another one of my manuscripts for six months before passing on it).

What have all these contests taught you about writing romance?

A good story is a good story, whether it’s light or dark, cowboy or returning soldier, paranormal or erotica, historical or sci-fi, or whatever else comes down the pike.

Do you have any advice or tips for romance writers who have been struggling for a number of years to get their work published?

First, volunteer to judge contests, because it helps you evaluate your own writing more objectively.

Second, persevere, because a lot depends upon the market, the phases of the moon, and whether or not the agent/editor has had her morning coffee.

Third, write true to yourself.

Fourth, try the traditional publishing route first. But if that doesn’t work for you, then self-publish. There’s no reason that manuscript has to be stowed away in a closet.

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