A former Rancho Bernardo resident has published his first book, a Christmas-themed novel for children.
Kevin Ronchetto — who writes under the pen name Michael Holiday — said “Mary Cairins and the Reindeer Games” is the first in a planned series about a 12-year-old girl who participates in a perilous competition at the North Pole. The contest is held to crown the next Santa Claus.
He described it as “a wholesome, action-packed adventure that both children and parents will enjoy alike. Think ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ meets ‘The Santa Claus’ meets ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.’”
The target readership is children in middle grades, he said, adding his youngest daughter, Maile, falls in that category as a sixth-grader.
Ronchetto said he wanted to write something different and thought a female Santa would fit that idea. In this case, Santa does more than just distribute presents to children. As the Reindeer Games winner, the new Santa controls the North Pole and the Sands of Time. They are Santa’s secret and with the sands comes control of the world.
Other characters include Jackie Frost — one of Santa’s most trusted aides — and Crystal Frost — her sister that has broken out of prison and is now set on revenge by obtaining Santa’s magic. There is also Rudi Smartbottom, Rudolph’s daughter who has a pink nose.
Ronchetto, 48, now lives in Scripps Ranch. As a small child his family lived in Poway, but he mostly grew up in Rancho Bernardo, graduated from Mt. Carmel High School in 1992 and the University of San Diego in 1997. His interest in writing started at a young age, going back to when he started his fourth grade class’ newsletter at Chaparral Elementary in Poway.
Though he ended up pursing a career in graphic design — something he has done for more than two decades — the desire to write remained, he said.
Following his father’s death from pancreatic cancer in 2001, Ronchetto wrote a novel, an experience he called therapeutic. But then he put it away. When the San Diego Reader held a writing contest 10 years ago, Ronchetto said he considered entering the novel. But a friend he let read it told him it was “horrible.”
In retrospect, Ronchetto said he agreed. The critique spurred him to learn how to write by revising the book about 20 times, including major rewrites based on feedback from writers’ groups he joined.
“I learned the craft on how to get better,” Ronchetto said. “Now I outline (first) so I know the major plot points.”
With the knowledge he gained through that process, Ronchetto said he was ready to write his first children’s book.
But he decided it would be under a pen name that has meaning to him and would be “a little more catchy.” Michael is his middle name and Holiday is based on a unique coincidence for his family’s birthdays. Ronchetto was born on St. Patrick’s Day; his wife, Chantal, has a birthday that sometimes falls on Mother’s Day; their oldest daughter, Madison, was born on Memorial Day; their son, Matt, was born on Easter Sunday; and their youngest daughter, Maile, was born on Columbus Day.
With a novel focused on Christmas, Ronchetto said he realized the sales window for his book is narrow. Getting an agent’s and publisher’s attention is a very competitive process, so he decided the self-publishing route with an editor was best. The cover was designed by Fay Lane, an artist in Canada to whom Ronchetto explained his vision and she brought it to reality.
As for why he chose middle grades as his target audience, Ronchetto said there is a lot out there for teens and little children, but not for the kids who are a little young to read about first loves, vampires and werewolves. He wanted to write an action-adventure story for ages 9 to 12 or 13, plus younger children who are advanced readers.
“It is a book adults will also enjoy reading with kids,” he said.
Ronchetto said he wrote the book in 2019 and worked on its sequel after everything shut down in 2020 due to the pandemic and he got laid off from his job of 19 years.
“I had money saved up, which was a godsend, so I wrote the sequel in two months,” he said, adding it is going through the editing process now. He also worked on a third novel that is unrelated, that has birds as the main character.
As for what he learned from this experience, Ronchetto said, “You gotta have a thick skin. To be a writer, you get criticism. Some can be hard on you.” He added that when multiple people give him a similar comment, he takes that as an indication he must rewrite a scene or couple of chapters.
He also said a writer needs patience and perseverance because the writing and publishing process can take several years. He said through criticism one learns how to write and if they keep at it they can master the craft.
“Mary Cairins and the Reindeer Games” can be purchased through Barnes & Noble for $12.99 (paperback) and $4.99 (ebook). It is also available through other online booksellers, such as Amazon.