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.
Wala Abushaar: Where did you get the inspiration to create the Bone Hollow realm?
Kim Ventrella: The world actually started in my first book, SKELETON TREE. Although SKELETON TREE and BONE HOLLOW are stand-alone novels, with different characters and a different feel, they do take place in the same world. My goal with both books was to explore the lighter side of darker themes, focusing on death, the darkest theme of all. I wanted to bring out aspects readers might not be expecting by creating a world in which Death is almost human, at times whimsical, hesitant and even vulnerable.
WA: In the novel the idea is that Death isn’t an ending, but rather a beginning to a journey. Is this a personal belief of yours?
KV: I write worlds I want to live in, not necessary the one that I believe actually exists. I tend to be a deeply cynical person, but in stories, even the darkest, most hopeless moments have meaning. Writing Death as something beautiful helps me come to terms with it in the real world.
WA: Death is usually portrayed as frightening and emotional. Bone Hollow expresses the beauty of death instead of fixating on the grim side of it. Was this done because of your target audience?
KV: Partly, yes. In middle grade, you always leave readers with a sense of hope, no matter the topic. I also chose to focus on hope and beauty, rather than more grim aspects, because I like to create worlds I would want to live in. One of the powerful aspects of fiction is that you can craft worlds and characters that are better, braver and more meaningful than in real life.
WA: The similarities between the living world and Bone Hollow are intriguing, why did you decide to have them share tasks such as eating and sleeping?
KV: BONE HOLLOW is essentially set in the ordinary world, with one fantastical aspect, i.e. the story line involving death. I tend to write more on the side of magical realism as opposed to straight-up fantasy. The main difference being that in magical realism, you generally have a realistic world with a single element of magic. Also, that magical element is often used to highlight or spark an emotional change in the character. It’s a subtle distinction, and I would also describe BONE HOLLOW as contemporary fantasy, but I definitely think it has elements of magical realism.
WA: Is your dog Hera the inspiration for Ollie? Are there any differences between them?
KV: Hera is the inspiration for Ollie, but they have completely different personalities. Ollie is a wiggly, silly, generally carefree dog. Hera is a huge ball of nerves and anxiety. She’s a rescue, and she’s still getting over her fear of dogs, people, flies. Yeah…pretty much everything.
WA: We know about Gabe and Ollie’s favorite mouthwatering dishes, what are you favorite foods?
KV: Ooh, good one. If I could, I would drink black coffee and jasmine tea all day, every day, for the rest of my life.
WA: The grim reaper in pop culture is typically a physical representation of death, which comes and takes your soul. Wynne and Gabe seem to be more like guides and aides to those who have passed or passing. Is the role of grim reaper in Bone Hollow filled by people who just aren’t ready to pass to the other side?
KV: Like you said, in BONE HOLLOW those who take on the role of Death are more like guides than soul reapers. I’ve even heard Wynne and Gabe (and Princy from SKELETON TREE) described as death doulas. I think the role can be filled by a variety of people who come to it for different reasons. Some may not be ready to pass on, others may feel they have a personal mission or even that they owe a debt to a friend. I think a few of those apply in Gabe’s case.
WA: Can we expect a Bone Hollow 2? I’d love to see an expansion on the somewhat purgatory realm.
KV: I don’t know that there will ever be a BONE HOLLOW 2, but if you haven’t read SKELETON TREE yet, I would recommend it (ha, ha, I hear the author is totally awesome :P). It’s set in the same world, but tackles death from a totally different perspective.
WA: What do you hope your readers take away from your novel?
KV: I hope that readers will come away with a new perspective on life or, in this case, death. Like with SKELETON TREE, 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 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.
WA: Horror seems to be your genre of choice, what is your favorite horror novel and why?
KV: Ooh, that’s a tough one. I don’t know that I would describe BONE HOLLOW as horror, more magical realism or fantasy, but it definitely touches on horror-related topics. Along the same lines, I wouldn’t really consider it a horror novel, but I’ll say THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman. More of a supernatural coming-of-age story with horror elements, but still amazing.
WA: Are you currently working on any other projects?KV: Secrets, only secrets. Although I can officially tell you that I have a story appearing in the upcoming New Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark anthology (2020, HarperCollins). Also, I have more books in the works, but those have yet to be announced.