Friday, December 25, 2020

5 Tips for Including Holidays in Fiction

Holidays are an important part of every culture, and as such, can play a meaningful role in your fiction. There are several issues to examine when incorporating holiday traditions into your plot. 

1. Does the holiday function as setting or an essential plot element?

This helps determine how much weight to give the holiday in your descriptions. Does it paint a background for more important characters and events, adding richness to the story? Or is the holiday almost a character itself, perhaps returning with a vengeance throughout the years of an epic novel.

Of course, some holidays are central to the story. Think of Frosty the Snowman or The Polar Express. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a great example of a holiday representing more than simple background to the story.

On the other hand, in The Harry Potter Series, while Halloween and Christmas both appear in almost every book, they add richness, rather than being essential to the plot.

2. Does everyone in your novel celebrate this holiday? 

Is this holiday a local celebration like the Grand Lake Pelican Festival?  Particularly if you are writing a regional tale, including local festivities can add flavor to the novel. Researching them can also spark ideas. 

Keep in mind that not everyone takes part in holidays that are celebrated on a much larger scale, particularly if they originate from a specific religion. Consider how individuals or families might react to the upcoming holiday in your novel. This could be a source of tension or a spur for greater understanding among people who differ in many ways.

3. Is this holiday unique to a culture you are unfamiliar with?

If so, do as much research as possible. Read books that feature that holiday within its native culture. Study up on it through online searches. 

Perhaps most importantly, ask people who regularly celebrate that holiday for details about foods, traditions, and the meaning of the holiday within their family and larger group. This will lend authenticity to the holiday and prevent errors or assumptions that could be offensive.

If you don't know anyone who celebrates the holiday, try searching the name of the holiday on facebook or other social media. You'll likely find groups who'd be happy to answer your questions! 

I tested this with National Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day. Turns out in the USA, it's celebrated on the last Monday of January every year. Who knew? I can think of a few kids who would love to celebrate that!

4. How can you apply holidays to fantasy novels?

With fantasy novels, you have one major question to consider before incorporating holidays. Is this novel set in the real world? If so, then it's logical to include real world holidays, provided the fantasy subculture isn't too isolated. 

If it's set in a totally different world, you still need traditions, including holidays and other commemorations. But it will be up to you to invent them. Consider what types of celebrations would likely emerge within each culture and religion in your fantasy novel. This is a very useful exercise as it will provide greater depth to your cultures. 

Are there celebrations that conflict with each other? What foods, decorations, and other traditions are linked to each holiday? Are they widely celebrated or more regional? Is it difficult to obtain the items needed to celebrate? Are the holidays illegal in some places? If so, why?

5. Questions to ask yourself about holidays you've invented: 

How often is this holiday celebrated? What are its origins? Does this holiday originate in a faith tradition or is it commemorating something else, such as seasons changing, the discovery of light speed travel, the end of a war or freedom from dragon oppression?

It's your holiday. Make it as big, small, serious, or goofy as you like. But also consider the role it plays in your novel. 

Happy Writing and for those who celebrate it - a very Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 14, 2020

Spooky Winter Writing Ideas

Winter is the perfect time to cozy up by a roaring fire and write some truly terrifying tales. Sure, Halloween offers some fun frights, but there's no spookier sensation than being snowed in on a long winter night. So pop some marshmallows in your hot chocolate and settle in for these spine-tingling snippets of winter inspiration.

Here Kitty, Kitty by Bats Langley

Do you know about the Yule Cat? According to Icelandic folklore, this massive feline lurks in the countryside, waiting to viciously devour anyone who hasn't received new clothes by Christmas Eve. Whoever said sweaters and socks make boring gifts better think again. 

Krampus greeting cards

We all know Krampus, the chain-wearing half-goat, half-demon, who hits naughty children with sticks, before stuffing them in his sack to be drowned, eaten or dragged off to Hell. Delightful. Of course, his greeting cards may not cater to everyone's tastes. But winter is the perfect time to give this murderous fellow a modern twist. Why not create your own winter monster to knock Krampus off his hellish throne?

Yuki-onna (ゆき女) from the Hyakkai-Zukan by Sawaki Suushi

The Yuki-onna is a spirit or yokai from Japanese folklore, often referred to as the snow woman. She appears on snowy nights, leaving no footprints, and can disappear into mist or a wisp of snow if threatened. Some say this beautiful spirit started life as a woman who perished in the cold. Now she uses her icy breath to kill unsuspecting travelers, lead travelers astray or occasionally suck the life force of weak-willed men. Variations and legends abound, but this powerful figure could certainly inspire a few shivery tales.

Figures of Grýla and her husband on the main street of Akureyri, Iceland

Forget about Krampus. Let's head back to Iceland to meet Gryla, aka the Christmas Witch. This resident of the hinterlands loves to steal misbehaving children to add a little spice to her winter stew. Gryla, which translates loosely to growler, has been described as Iceland's first feminist, doing whatever she wants, including eating her husband on one especially boring winter afternoon. Read more on Smithsonian Mag's website, and let Gryla serve as some gruesome inspiration for you this holiday season.

That's it for our stomach-turning tour of winter terrors. I hope you've found a little inspiration for your next spooky tale, or simply another reason to stay safe by the fire over the long winter months.


KIM VENTRELLA is the author of the middle grade novels The Secret Life of Sam (Fall 2020, HarperCollins), Hello, Future Me (Aug. 2020, Scholastic), Bone Hollow and Skeleton Tree, as well as a contributor to the middle grade horror anthology, Don’t Turn Out the Lights. 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 person 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 or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kimventrella.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Writing Mentors

As 2020 comes to a close, I've been thinking a lot about the people in my life who have mentored me in my writing life.

2020 has been a rough year. 

To get myself through some of the darkest days, I have tried hard to count my blessings.

And in terms of my writing life, those blessings are about the people who've mentored me. 

Some of them know they have, others may suspect they have, and some have no idea, but they have all had a positive impact on my writing life, either through their support, how they inspire me, or by telling me the truth about how things could be better. 

It's important to reflect on those people who've helped us along the way, for it reminds us that we can mentor others in the same way.

So here's my list. I'd love to hear about yours!

My family

My mother and sister and cousins encouraged me to write, even when I forced them to read such amazing books as BlueTop Orphanag. Where is the e? Who knows? I was nine years old!

We need our families to support us on this journey, and the family I was born into, and my current family (a husband and two kids) surely do that for me!


I must have tortured my poor language arts teacher, Mrs. Garnett.

Every day I showed up with a new story, a new poem, a book I wanted to talk to her about.

And every day, she listened patiently, gave me constructive criticism, and told me to keep going.

I did.

Meanwhile, down the hallway, our school librarian, Mrs. Smythe, allowed me to bring way more books home with me than should have been allowed. The town librarian did the same. I was a voracious reader, and tried to write a version of almost every book I read.

The magic of encouragement by someone who isn't your family is invaluable to a budding writer, and Mrs. Garnett was so important to me that I made her a character (with her permission) in my first book, It's a Mystery, Pig Face!

Other Writers

Every book I read influences me in some way.

And the books I love best, inspire me to up my game.

I've been fortunate to get to know many writers over my writing journey and every single one of them has made a huge difference in my writing.

These authors may not know that they've mentored me, but their kindness, and great books, have taught me SO much about writing! This isn't an exhaustive list, but contains some special people who often go above and beyond.

Agents and Editors

How would I describe my agent? She is the VOICE OF REASON. She helps me cull ridiculous ideas and build on those that are worthwhile, all while being stunningly optimistic. Everyone should have such a wonderful being in their writing life!

On the other hand, editors are the voyageurs, the intrepid adventurers who guide you and your book through hostile territories, pushing you onwards until you reach the real essence of the story. Miracle workers, really, they are equal parts Drill Sergeant and Truth-Teller, the kick in the pants you don't want but are lucky to get.

My agent and my editors have taught me so much, and have lead me through the jungle on MANY occasions!



Finally, some of my greatest writing mentors have been the children who read my books.

Their enthusiasm, and their truth-telling, makes me want to improve every day!

My happiest moment is when they come up with a suggestion or question that blows me away. 

They are the giver of ideas, and my inspiration!

Writing often feels like such a solitary pursuit, but when I think of my mentors, I am reminded that every book is lifted up by a whole team of supporters who inspire, guide, cajole, and ultimately celebrate my writing journey.

Oprah Winfrey once said: "A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.”

I wish you the best in 2021 and that you find the hope you need to keep going on YOUR writing journey!