Many of us might like to forget our middle school years. Local writer Hillary Homzie is embracing her inner 13-year-old, warts and all.
Homzie, author of five other books, recently debuted her newest novel “The Hot List.”
Written for “tween” readers (ages 9 to 13), “The Hot List” is a story about two “BFFs” (best friends forever) named Sophie Fanuchi and Maddie Chen who get wrapped up in a so-called “hot list” of students written on the back of a bathroom stall door at their middle school.
The book was inspired by a real-life incident, Homzie said.
“I did hear from a tween about a hot list that was at her school, written in permanent marker on the back of a bathroom door,” she said. The idea stuck with her.
“I started to come up with a character that has to deal with a hot list, but what if she created it herself?” Homzie said. As Sophie and Maddie and a cast of other characters deal with the hot list, “What do they learn about this idea about ranking and friendship and who they are?”
The author said it took her about a year to write the book, including one major revision involving a secondary character.
“I had gone off course,” Homzie admitted. “The most important thing to girls this age are their friendships,” she said. Refocusing the story on Sophie and Maddie’s relationship and how it evolved made the book better in the end, she said.
“This book is intended to be fun, entertaining, recreational reading. At the same time, I was able to go a little deeper emotionally because of the focus on that friendship,” Homzie said.
Besides her own middle school memories, Homzie has three children, ages 6 to 14, from whom to draw observations. She also visits middle schools to observe real-life tween behavior.
“My job as an author is to reflect back what is happening,” Homzie said. “I don’t want to be heavy-handed about it. I want the kids to read about it and figure out for themselves what they think.”
“Middle school is a transition for the kids, for parents, teachers, everybody,” she noted. “It’s very natural for kids to create these lists, whether in their heads or on a door.”
“A poet once said, ‘Books can be mirrors and windows.’ Kids want to see a reflection of what they are experiencing but also they need a window to see the possibilities,” Homzie said.
Is it possible to make a living as a writer of tween or children’s books?
Yes, but it’s not easy, Homzie said. “You can if you are producing a couple of books a year, or you produce one book a year and you do school visits regularly and get speaker fees.”
“The trick is you have to promote yourself,” she said. “Twenty years ago, you just needed to write books and now you need a website and a blog and Twitter.”
Homzie’s website is hillaryhomzie.com.
Homzie said her next book is a novel about tween girls and social media.
“I’m also working on a young adult novel set in the future. It’s very idea-driven with a romance as well.”