New Jersey YA author Yvonne Ventresca is an active chapter member offering workshops at events as well as appearing regularly at festivals, schools and more. Earlier this year she hosted a NJ SCBWI Social in which participants created vision boards and planned for a productive 2020. Recently, we took a break with Yvonne to catch up on all her latest happenings in the kid lit world…
Yvonne Ventresca is the author of BLACK FLOWERS, WHITE LIES and PANDEMIC (winner of SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Award). In addition to her young adult novels, Yvonne’s other work includes two nonfiction books and several short stories selected for anthologies, including the new middle grade collection, VOYAGERS: THE THIRD GHOST. When she’s not writing, she loves a good ghost story and studies karate in a haunted dojo. You can learn more at YvonneVentresca.com, where she features resources for teen writers.
NJ SCBWI: Congratulations on the recent publication in the VOYAGERS: THE THIRD GHOST Anthology (Dancing Lemur Press, 2020). Tell us a little bit about the anthology as a whole and your story in particular. What inspired you to write it?
YV: Thank you! Each year, the IWSG (Insecure Writers Support Group) runs a short story contest with ten winners published in their annual anthology. The latest features historical stories for middle grade readers. I’m thrilled that my story “The Third Ghost” won the contest and received cover and title honors. Here’s the one-line description: Among the darkened, arson-damaged streets of Hoboken in 1981, Lewis stops to help two ghosts until he realizes his own family is in grave danger.
In terms of inspiration, a few years ago, I took a haunted tour of Grand Central Station as research for my young adult novel, BLACK FLOWERS, WHITE LIES. During that tour, the guide told us a tale about a girl wandering on the tracks and how it wasn’t until after a train station employee escorted her home that he realized she was a ghost. The story intrigued me, and for the VOYAGERS anthology, I thought about a boy meeting a ghost on a spooky autumn night and being the one to walk her home. Because I spent several years living in Hoboken, I envisioned setting the story there and including its historic train terminal.
NJ SCBWI: Over the years you have been published in multiple anthologies. How does this strategy fit into your goals/brand as a YA author? Any tips for fellow writers who might be interested in this avenue into the book world?
YV: I think short stories are a satisfying way to experiment with new ideas. Since my published novels are for a YA audience, trying to write a MG story for this anthology contest was a gratifying challenge. Short stories are also a way to create and submit in between longer projects.
I would suggest reading lots of short stories, because the form does differ from novel-length work and it took me awhile to get the hang of it. For contest opportunities, the IWSG group publishes an annual anthology with changing genres. The upcoming one is science fiction (not kidlit specific, but that doesn’t mean you can’t feature a teen main character, for example). Authors Publish emails a free newsletter that frequently features various anthology opportunities.
NJ SCBWI: In addition to anthologies you are also author to two amazing YA novels, PANDEMIC (Sky Pony Press, 2014)) which was a 2015 SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner and BLACK FLOWERS, WHITE LIES (Sky Pony Press, 2016) which was a 2017 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal Winner! What inspired you to write each of these books and how does our real pandemic compare to the one you imagine in PANDEMIC?
YV: Winning the Crystal Kite for PANDEMIC is one of my proudest professional moments!
There’s nothing like writing about a fictional deadly pandemic and then living through a real one to make you humble. PANDEMIC takes place as a new contagious flu hits the US, and I was inspired by the events surrounding the Swine Flu pandemic of 2009. I definitely did not anticipate the stockpiling of toilet paper. Some things I (unfortunately) got right: exceeding hospital capacity, using refrigerated trucks as morgues, and experiencing limited medical supplies (in my story, it was Tamiflu, not PPE). I never, ever imagined sheltering in place for as long as we have.
For BLACK FLOWERS, WHITE LIES, I explore the idea that strange-goings-on lead the main character, Ella, to believe she might be haunted. The overall concept is that trusting the wrong people can have dire consequences.
NJ SCBWI: Do you have any new projects on the horizon?
YV: I recently completed the first semester of my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts. It’s been inspirational to be a student again, and I’ve been experimenting with a few new stories.
NJ SCBWI: Finally, what top pieces of advice would you give to other members based on your personal experiences?
YV: Commit to writing for the long term. Storytelling skills take time to develop, and persistence is key in this industry. Also, during conferences (remember those?) and other networking opportunities, don’t just focus on meeting editors and agents. Make a point of connecting with other writers and illustrators—you can learn so much from your peers, and those friendships can be a source of inspiration and encouragement throughout your career.