Hello Mixed-Up Filers!
Today, I am pleased to welcome to our site, a friend of mine, Kim Ventrella, who is also a fellow member of the Spooky Middle Grade Authors. Her book, Hello, Future Me, came out last week from Scholastic Press.
JR: Hi, Kim and thanks for joining us today!
KV: Thanks, Jonathan! I’m super excited to be here!
JR: First off, I was fortunate enough to get an advanced copy of Hello, Future Me, and really enjoyed it. As I like to tell people, it had heart, humor, and Big Foot, which is basically all the ingredients you need for a great book. For those who aren’t yet familiar with it, can you tell us a little bit about it and where the idea for this story came from?
KV: Awww, thanks so much Jonathan! Sending you a bucketful of hearts and baby unicorns J Here’s a bit about the story: June Day is a problem-solver. Some people might call her a busybody, but that’s okay. Just look at all the couples she’s helped find love! So when June learns her parents are getting divorced, she’s determined to use her matchmaking skills to get them together again. While brainstorming ideas on her new secondhand laptop—purchased from a mysterious store in town called The Shop of Last Resort—June gets a strange IM from someone named JuniePie28 . . . someone who claims to be an older version of June messaging her from the future.
At first, she assumes it’s a prank. But JuniePie28 knows too much about her life to be a fraud, and future June warns her against interfering. But she can’t just sit around and watch her parents’ marriage dissolve, not when there’s a magical shop in town that could be the answer to all her problems! Will June prove her older self wrong and stop the divorce? Or will she have to accept that there are some things in life she can’t fix?
JR: No, you never accept that! 🙂 You tackle a delicate subject with a lot of humor and heart. How difficult was it to get the proper balance when writing this?
KV: Hope and humor are so important in MG, and I always strive to achieve that perfect balance. It was extra fun in this story, since there’s such a light tone and so many quirky details to balance the heavier stuff. I do it all through trial and error. I wrote two completely different versions of this story, both with a more serious, somber tone. They each had elements I loved, but this version by far has the most humor and the wildest magic.
JR: Don’t know the other versions, but I agree that this one has plenty of both. Big Foot plays a role in the story, which grabbed me, since I love everything about Big Foot. How long have you been fascinated by the legend, and what about it has appealed to you?
KV: I too love all things mysterious, especially bigfoot. With bigfoot, you have this delicious possibility that he or she is really out there, hiding deep in the woods, waiting to be discovered. Bigfoot reminds me there are still places left in the world to explore. In fact, did you know that scientists are discovering new animals every year? In 2018 alone, London’s Natural History Museum described 272 new species! I love how bigfoot toes this line between fantasy and reality, which is the same thing I like to do in my books.
Tanglewood Crossing, the quirky small town where June lives, is totally obsessed with bigfoot, since they are the (fictional) bigfoot capital of the world. You can go on daily bigfoot tours, buy literal bigfoot hats, attend the bigfoot ball. The possibilities are endless!
JR: Prior to this, your other books were spooky-themed. What made you veer course for this book, and do you have a preference?
KV: Ooooh, I do love spooky. There is one spooky element in Hello, Future Me, i.e. the owner of the mysterious magic shop that pops up in town. Let’s just say, the magical items might be cheap, but you could still pay a price!
It was really fun to explore my lighter side in this book though, especially with June’s voice and humor. Her voice is basically the way I talk in my head, so I really enjoyed letting loose and getting quirky with it.
JR: Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey getting to this point?
KV: And where to begin? In sixth grade, I wrote a picture book about five adults who form a club to deal with their grief, called The Wednesday Mourning Club. I guess it all started there. I had completely forgotten that book existed until well after my first two books were published. Skeleton Tree and Bone Hollow also deal with grief, as does my upcoming book, The Secret Life of Sam, all from different angles. Skeleton Tree looks at what leads up to losing a loved one, Bone Hollow goes at it from Death’s perspective and Sam tackles the aftermath. It’s so interesting to me that the thread for all this started back in sixth grade. It goes to show that kids are yearning for ways to understand these difficult topics, and also that some big questions stick with us our entire lives and will always beg further exploration.
JR: I need to read The Wednesday Mourning Club! How about getting an agent?
KV: On the agent side, I was lucky enough to connect with my awesomely witchy agent, Brianne Johnson of Writers House, based on her Publisher’s Marketplace description. She said she adored dark, macabre MG, and I was hooked. I wrote a lot of completed manuscripts before I ever submitted to an agent, at least seven, and those are forever trunk novels. Since my process is so much about trial and error, and I do tend to write fast, I had no problem tossing those novels on the dumpster fire, but applying the lessons I learned to other projects. As my agent will tell you, I am kind of notorious for being a dumpster-fire writer. I will toss something out so-so quickly if it’s not working. Seeing it through requires major mental gymnastics. If I hadn’t learned how to do that part, i.e. sit with imperfection and mixed emotions, I would have never been able to write professionally.
JR: I’m always amazed at how fast you write your novels. I read on your website, https://kimventrella.com/ , that you used to play the evil clown ‘scare actor’ in a haunted house. I can’t even go into those places because I’m always looking to see who might jump out. Can you tell us what that experience was like? Anyone ever almost slug you for scaring them?
KV: Haha, yes I VERY briefly worked as an evil clown in a haunted house. It was, in a word, exhausting! I never knew how tiring it would be scaring people for like seven hours straight. There was definitely a reason all of my coworkers were sixteen 😛
And no, I never got punched, but…full disclosure…when I was a teenager I punched someone in a haunted house at the same theme park. I feel terrible now, but it was a total gut reaction. Fight or flight. I’m definitely fight J
JR: I don’t know, flight has always worked well for me! You also state that your dog, Hera, is your co-writer. Is it a fifty-fifty split, or does one do the plotting and one the writing? Also, can we please have Hera on to corroborate your answers?
KV: Hera is busy being an adorable, sad potato dog right now, so…but she does corroborate in spirit. She’s my emotional support puppy, and I’m her emotional support human, because we can both be total balls of doubt and anxiety. Fun fact: I wrote my first published book, Skeleton Tree, sitting in her dog bed!
JR: She most definitely is adorable! What’s your writing process like?
KV: A rollercoaster where you’re trying to be chill but really you want to scream. Also there are really fun parts, promise! I adore creating new characters and the worlds they live in, but my process (i.e. trial and error with major doses of self-doubt) can be exhausting sometimes.
JR: What’s your favorite book from childhood?
KV: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
JR: We’re going to have to fight. I have so many problems with that book, but I’ll allow it for you. What’s your favorite childhood movie?
KV: The NeverEnding Story, The Wizard of Oz and also…Rocky Horror 😛 I loved me some Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter.
JR: I love all three, and will stretch your answer to loving Tim Curry in ANYTHING! Now, something people would be surprised to learn about you?
KV: I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kyrgyzstan, and it was an amazing, life-changing experience. I also spent a year living and volunteering at a women’s drug rehabilitation shelter in New Orleans during college. Technically, I was the sole overnight staff person, so at nineteen I was essentially in charge of the entire facility from close of business till the next morning. Should a totally inexperienced college kid have been in charge? Nope, but I definitely learned a lot.
JR: Very commendable work. 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: Don’t fight your writing process, learn to embrace it. No matter how strange and circuitous it may be. People know me for writing fast, but they may not know that I usually do at least two incomplete versions of a story before I start the version I will actually finish. I can’t get a real sense of a story by outlining, so I have to discover the characters, tone, etc. through trial and error.
My other piece of advice would be: Don’t let guilt overwhelm your process. I am big on feeling guilty when I’m not getting in my requisite 2K words a day or whatever it may be. Try to chill out with all that, because otherwise the guilt can become the thing that actually derails the process and kills your motivation.
JR: That is great advice! What are you working on next?
KV: So many things! I have a new MG novel, The Secret Life of Sam, releasing with HarperCollins on September 29, 2020!!! It’s about a boy who gets dragged across the country by his estranged aunt after his dad dies in a car accident. It’s part Big Fish, part Bridge to Terabithia, with my requisite blend of wonder, magic, loss and, most of all, hope.
JR: Can’t wait to read! How can people follow you on social media?
JR: Okay, lastly, two-part question. As I mentioned, we’re in the Spooky MG group together, so can you tell me who your favorite person in that group is, and part two, why it’s me in 20,000 words or more?
KV: Phew, thank goodness you set a reasonable word-count for this, because I will be needing at least 20,000. On that note, I’ve created a separate Google Doc with my essay entitled, “Jonathan Rosen, Author, Friend, Hero for the Ages.” Check it out!
JR: I can already tell that it’s a brilliant masterpiece!
Thanks again to Kim Ventrella, and make sure you go out and get a copy of Hello, Future Me!