Today we're presenting an interview with one of our contributors, Kim Ventrella, about her new MG book BONE HOLLOW!
What can you tell us about BONE HOLLOW without giving too much away?
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.
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.
One thing that struck me about your first book, SKELETON TREE, was how it came across as a scary mystery at first, but revealed an emotional resonance by the end. How would you compare the two books?
Readers of BONE HOLLOW should expect much the same! It’s part contemporary fantasy, part mystery, but with a strong emotional core. As a writer, I’m always looking for those moments of emotional catharsis and connection. Part of the fun for me is to take something very light and whimsical, and twist it in such a way that it reveals those deeper layers. It’s about playing with reader expectations, and also about exploring those darker topics while never losing the sense of playfulness and hope.
Where did the idea for BONE HOLLOW come from? Did you come up with this after SKELETON TREE, or was it an idea you've been developing for a longer period of time?
I came up with BONE HOLLOW after I wrote SKELETON TREE, as a way to explore the same theme from a new point of view. Although it is a stand-alone, readers who are familiar with SKELETON TREE will see how BONE HOLLOW plays with and expands on the fantasy world that I created in my first book.
My hope is that readers will come away from these books with a new perspective on life or, in this case, death. In both stories, I’ve tried to create an engaging fantasy world filled with humor, whimsy and many light touches, but I’m also wanting to explore darker topics to show that there can be light and beauty there as well. Loss is one of those things that even very young children encounter, often with the loss of a pet or grandparent, and one of my goals in both books is to help young readers develop a framework for processing their feelings surrounding death that acknowledges the sadness, but also opens the door to hope. BONE HOLLOW expands on this theme, but tackles it from the perspective of Death, rather than the other way around.
Both books have strong supernatural themes to them. I know this is something of an interest of yours. Would you like to be known for writing this type of book, or are you interested in working with other genres at some point?
For me, spooky stories are all about possibility. About discovering a magical world beyond the mundane, and I think this is why I love writing spooky. I am a terrible cynic in real life. I don’t believe in anything fun, like ghosts, magical skeletons or an afterlife, but in fiction I can explore all of those things and create a world in which unlikely possibilities really do happen.
So, yes, I LOVE writing stories featuring magical or supernatural elements, but I’m also very interested in expanding into other genres. Writing stories without fantasy elements is a huge challenge for me, and I’m ready to learn, explore and grow, while never straying too far from my spooky roots. J
When you're writing something you know will be scary, do you have any self-imposed limits on what content you'll include? Were there any ideas you wanted to use in the story that, at some point in the book's development, you were convinced to take out because of content?
Not for BONE HOLLOW or SKELETON TREE, but I am forever being told that my stories are too creepy. Imagine that! I have a very scary short story coming out in the NEW SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK collection releasing in 2020, and I did have to cut some for that--but just one line. The editor, Jonathan Maberry, wrote, “I mean, there are some really gory descriptions, but I would have loved them as a kid.” Best feedback ever, and I was definitely that kid who would say, ‘Bring on the scary!’
That’s one of the great things about scary stories. You can always close the book if it gets to be too much.
How do you see the role of scary stories in middle grade literature?
I think scary stories have a hugely important and positive role to play in middle grade literature, but first I should probably make a distinction. I like to think of SKELETON TREE and BONE HOLLOW as spooky, rather than scary. They certainly have macabre elements, but they fit much more in the arena of magical realism or contemporary fantasy than horror. I love to sprinkle a little spookiness into heartfelt, sometimes sad, stories that focus on characters going through difficult times, but ultimately coming out with a renewed sense of hope in the end.
That being said, scary, spooky and generally creepy stories are so important. They give kids the opportunity to confront and overcome their monsters within the safe space of a book. They grab kids’ interest and have the potential to turn reluctant readers into avid readers. So, so many benefits, but I also think that using a spooky or fantastical story framework can be a great way to ease kids into a discussion of real-life difficult issues. The fantasy world adds distance between the reader and the real-world issue, creating a buffer or safety zone between the reader and difficult topics like death.
KIM VENTRELLA is the author of the middle grade novels Skeleton Tree (2017) and Bone Hollow (2019, Scholastic Press), and she is a contributor to the upcoming New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark anthology (2020, HarperCollins). Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Kim has held a variety of interesting jobs, including children’s librarian, scare actor, Peace Corps volunteer, French instructor and overnight staff at a women’s shelter, but her favorite job title is author. She lives in Oklahoma City with her dog and co-writer, Hera. Find out more at https://kimventrella.com/ or follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram: @KimVentrella.