Author Interview: Kim Ventrella
Becoming a full-time children’s book author takes guts and Kim Ventrella proves she has the guts that it takes. Debut author Kim Ventrella discusses her book, Skeleton Tree (Scholastic 2017), and her transition from a librarian to a full-time novelist. Her next book, Bone Hollow, will hit book shelves in Spring 2019.
There are children’s books about monsters and aliens. Why a skeleton?
Skeleton Tree does feature a slightly scary, but mostly adorable skeleton, but it’s more about friendship and family than monsters. The main character is 12-year-old Stanly, who discovers a finger bone in his backyard that grows into a skeleton that only children can see. My hope is that readers will come away from the story with a new perspective on life, death and family. I’m never that great at describing my own books, but one of my favorite authors, Paul Griffin, described it this way: “Like Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, Skeleton Tree upends the myth of the Grim Reaper. Scary, sad, funny and always so, so sweet, Skeleton Tree will haunt me and remind me that life is miraculous when it’s rooted in hope and empathy.”
Skeleton Tree delves into several tough life situations. What was the most difficult scene to write?
Probably the scenes in the end involving Stanly’s father. In the early versions, I had their relationship resolving in a more positive way, but my editor encouraged me to push harder, which led me to a more difficult, but also more impactful conclusion. The fact that Stanly has this extremely distant father who doesn’t respond to his emails or return to solve all of Stanly’s problems, as he’s hoping, became one of the roughest, but also most important parts of the book. My own parents got divorced when I was a baby, and I’ve only met my father once or twice (I can’t remember which). I sent him this letter at some point when I was a child, and he never responded. Like never. That was the memory I was channeling when I wrote the conclusion to Stanly’s relationship with his father, and I have been surprised to hear how much it has resonated with readers, even though it may not be easy to read.
What do you think has influenced you more as an author- your desire to write or working as a public librarian?
More than anything, I think my love of stories has influenced me most as an author. Ever since I was a kid, I have been a huge day dreamer. I absolutely love when a story (whether from a book or TV or a movie) inspires me to create my own stories. I actually became a librarian because of my desire to write and create new worlds of my own. I was pursuing a master’s in French when I attended a writing conference and heard a presentation by two librarians who had published their first book while working in the library. I changed my degree program that same day to Library and Information Studies, and the rest is history.
You recently made the move from writing while holding down a full-time job to a full-time writer. How has your writing schedule changed?
I’ve wanted to be a starving artist since I was little, and so I am loving the self-employed life. Also, while libraries are obviously super awesome and vital to society, I’ve never really been cut out to work for the Man. I love knowing that every second of my day can be directed toward my passions. Overall, I’m super disciplined, but, of course, there are days when I do less productive things, like watch a bazillion back-to-back episodes of Supernatural, but, come on, what would the writing life be if I didn’t make a little room for bromance?
You are so gracious in that you provide free Skype visits for grades 3-7. What question do students ask you the most? What questions do teachers ask you the most?
I love doing Skype visits. A lot of students ask me how I get the ideas for my books, why I wanted to become a writer and if I’ll consider putting them in my next book. I also get a lot of questions about my dog and why I love skeletons so much. Teachers often ask about the revision process and why it’s so important to keep trying even in the face of obstacles.
Your next book is Bone Hollow. Can you tell us a little about it?
I can tell you that the tagline for the back-cover copy is: “Death is only the beginning…” It has a beautiful cover, and one of the main characters is an adorable dog named Ollie. It does not feature the same characters from SKELETON TREE, but it is basically the world’s sneakiest prequel.
If we were to visit you and look at your bookshelf, what genre would we find the most?
Definitely fantasy, though I love all kinds of books. I mean, the Harry Potter section alone…
If you would like to learn more about Kim, visit her website: https://kimventrella.com/ .