Hello Mixed-Up Filers!
JR: Today, I’m pleased to welcome Kim Ventrella, whose book, Bone Hollow, is out now from Scholastic Press. I’ve gotten to know Kim through both of us being involved in SpookyMiddleGrade.com, and she is funny and quirky and all the other things you love in an author, so I’m thrilled that all of you will get to meet her now!
Hi, Kim and thanks for joining us today.
KV: Thanks for having me Jonathan!!! Excited to be here and, by the way, you are super quirky and funny as well 😛
JR: Well, that’s true. Er, I mean, awwww, thank you!
JR: I already read Bone Hollow and loved it, but can you tell our readers a little bit about it and the impetus behind writing it?
KV: Sure! At its heart, Bone Hollow is the story of a boy and his dog, but it’s so much more! It also features one ornery chicken, a candlelit cottage in the woods, friendship, mystery and big doses of heart and hope. It’s a stand-alone novel, but one of my goals was to build on the world that I created in my first book, Skeleton Tree.
Here’s a teaser:
In retrospect, it was foolish to save that chicken. On the roof. In the middle of a thunder storm. But what choice did Gabe have? If he hadn’t tried to rescue Ms. Cleo’s precious pet, she would’ve kicked him out. And while Ms. Cleo isn’t a perfect guardian, her house is the only home Gabe knows.
After falling off the roof, Gabe wakes up in a room full of tearful neighbors. To his confusion, they’re all acting strange; almost as if they think he’s dead. But Gabe’s not dead. He feels fine! So why do they insist on holding a funeral? And why does everyone scream in terror when Gabe shows up for his own candlelight vigil?
Scared and bewildered, Gabe flees with his dog, Ollie, the only creature who doesn’t tremble at the sight of him. When a mysterious girl named Wynne offers to let Gabe stay at her cozy cottage in a misty clearing, he gratefully accepts. Yet Wynne disappears from Bone Hollow for long stretches of time, and when a suspicious Gabe follows her, he makes a mind-blowing discovery. Wynne is Death and has been for over a century. Even more shocking . . . she’s convinced that Gabe is destined to replace her.
JR: I read on your website, www.KimVentrella.com, that you lived in Kyrgyzstan for a couple of years, what was that experience like and how has it influenced your writing?
KV: It was amazing!!! Basically, it cracked open my brain and allowed me to see the world and myself in a totally new way. I think that’s partly because I had the opportunity to look back at the U.S. and my old self as an outsider, which granted me a perspective I couldn’t have gained any other way. Also, the hardships of living in a freezing, remote location on a Peace Corps salary, which is equal to the average local salary, pushed me to appreciate the things that are truly important. Returning to the U.S. was very difficult for me. They tell you that it’s going to be a huge adjustment, and, oh boy, it was. But writing helped me find my way, and my favorite character from Skeleton Tree, Miss Francine, is inspired by my time in Kyrgyzstan.
JR: Sounds amazing! On your website, you also describe yourself as weird. I think many authors feel that way at some point, I certainly did, what were you like in school?
KV: Erm, yeah, weird, but I definitely think that weird is a compliment. In middle school, I was totally obsessed with the Beatles and the ‘60s in general. I starred in our school play about this caveman who travels through time, and I randomly added in songs from the musical Hair, because, yeah, why not? I was super goth for about a year in high school, and not the ‘aww, how adorable’ brand of goth. I had this dog harness that I wore on my face with scary make-up, Duck-taped legs, etc. I’m not gonna lie, I looked pretty freaking awesome, but I could not deal with all of the people staring at me constantly in terror 😛 So many stories, but that’ll have to tide you over for the moment.
JR: Well, I know what I’m asking about in our next interview! Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey getting to this point?
KV: I thought about writing for the first time in college. Tried it on and off for years. Received a lot of short story rejections that were like, yeah, we like weird stuff, but this is just disturbing 😛 Joined the Peace Corps, during which time I didn’t really write. Returned to the U.S., got depressed and was like, this publishing thing has to happen now! I wrote five or six complete manuscripts back-to-back in the summer of 2015. The last one was this super creepy MG called Quimby. I queried agents for the first time ever. Got a few rejections, before getting a request from Brianne Johnson, my current agent, to either de-creepify Quimby or submit another MS. I sent her Skeleton Tree, and the rest is history. The main lesson here: never stop writing. I started Skeleton Tree the moment I sent off Quimby, and if I hadn’t, I might have never landed my agent.
JR: Agree totally. Never stop or give up. What’s your writing process like?
KV: It’s different for every book, but I’m coming to realize that it looks kind of like this:
- A) Have amazing idea
- B) Attempt to plan it out
- C) Write a draft that’s totally different from my original plan
- D) Complete draft and cue eureka moment: “Oh, that’s the story I’m trying to tell!”
- D) Re-write the book again from scratch (now that I know what it’s actually about)
JR: That sounds extremely familiar. What’s your favorite book and who’s your favorite author?
KV: Okay, we’re getting to the tough ones. I would have to say J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, because they are truly what inspired me to be a writer and I go back to them year after year. They’re like a magical vacation home in my mind, and I can visit it anytime I want.
JR: I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of rereading Harry Potter. What’s your favorite movie?
KV: Why so many hard questions Jonathan? 😛 I’m terrible at picking favorite movies, because I don’t watch very many. As a kid, I adored The Rocky Horror Picture Show and It. I also enjoyed the new It, and, as far as horror, I’m a fan of Let the Right One In. I was obsessed with Charlie Chaplin when I was younger too, saw all of his films, and I still love a good silent movie.
JR: LOVE Chaplin. Buster Keaton too. What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
KV: I wrote Skeleton Tree while sitting in a dog bed.
JR: Okay, adding that to the list of future questions! What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received and is there any advice you can give to writers looking to break in?
KV: My favorite advice is to focus on impact. Every choice you make should be geared toward having a certain effect on the reader. Once I internalized that idea, the whole writing game changed for me. It’s not about just throwing in cool stuff. You have to know what writing ingredients will achieve your desired impact, and the only way to do that is through practice (and reading).
JR: What are you working on next?
KV: Secrets, only secrets. Although I can say that I have a story appearing in the upcoming New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark anthology (2020, HarperCollins).
JR: Can’t wait for that! How can people follow you on social media?
JR: Now, comes my favorite part! Explain to everyone why I’m your favorite member of the Spooky MG team, in 10,000 words or more.
KV: Jonathan, I would love to, but…spoiler alert…that’s my next book! It’s called Is Jonathan Rosen the Spookiest Author in the Universe?: Yes He Is and Here’s Why!!! (Coming soon to bookstores everywhere…or at least Amazon…maybe…Also check out the sequel: Did I Mention That Jonathan Rosen Is Really Great?: I didn’t? Well, He Totally Is!!!)
JR: Wow! I can’t wait to read that! Pre-ordering now!
JR: Anyway Mixed-Up Filers. that’s all our time for today. I’d like to once again thank Kim Ventrella for joining us, and wish her all the best of luck with Bone Hollow! The rest of you, go get your copies now!