Happy October!! If you love pumpkin, I have got an amazing thing for you, a pumpkin spice BOOK! I am so excited to have Author Hillary Homzie, one of our very own MUF-ers to interview today.
Her new book is called
It is the first middle grade novel in the new Swirl series by Sky Pony Press
Here are some great reviews for this fantastic new book:
“No one understands the tangled emotions of middle-school crushes better than Hillary Homzie. I have a serious crush on Pumpkin Spice Secrets!” — Claudia Mills, author of Zero Tolerance and Write This Down
“Sweet, smart, and entertaining, Pumpkin Spice Secrets is sure to appeal to tween readers!” — Barbara Dee, author of Star-Crossed and Halfway Normal
“Homzie laces key ingredients in her latest middle school story: empathy topped with a froth of fun!” — Candice Ransom, author of Rebel McKenzie
“[F]rothy and sweet enough that tween readers will drink it right up.” — School Library Journal
Hillary, thank you for joining us today. Our readers are so excited to learn more about you, your writing process, and this book in particular:
Why do you like writing for middle grade readers?
For various reasons, I remember vividly what it is like to be a tween. One might argue it’s because I’m emotionally stuck, and that might very well be true. I write to my younger self, reinventing my own history. Socially, once I hit about nine, my social skills left the premises. It’s taken me a long time to learn the basics. And maybe because I had to work so hard at how to interact with peers, I remember that period so well.
What was your favorite part about writing this book?
In Pumpkin Spice Secrets, Seventh grader Maddie Campbell is not the alpha in the friendship. Her best friend, Jana Patel, is much more confident and athletic and activated. Maddie is the reasonable friend. The one who keeps her feelings in check and others tell their problems to. Not the one that other kids whirl around. And, honestly, in many ways that’s been me socially. While I was usually the leader creatively in my friendships (I might be the one to make up the story that we would act out), in other ways, I was that kid just waiting for the invitation versus creating the event to invite others to. Yet others often confessed stuff to me because I appeared so grounded and thoughtful. I don’t think it’s atypical for authors to be the observers versus the doers. But, usually, nobody wants to read about the observers. But in this book, I did tackle a character who usually plays second fiddle socially, the listener, and that just felt very true to my own experience. Learning to not just observe and be proactive socially is something I’m still working on!
Can you share an excerpt from the book that gives us a flavor of your character’s voice? How did you find your character’s voice?
With my frappé in my hand, I race to our table to intercept the women before they sit down.
And then somehow I don’t see the boy walking in front of me to stand at the back of the line.
And then somehow I slam my plastic cup right up against him.
And then somehow the lid flips off my iced pumpkin spice frappé and it all spills onto his shirt. I mean all of it. The whipped cream, the caramel swirls, the sprinkles and the icy rest of it.
The boy jerks back and lets out a groan of surprise. His voice is surprisingly deep.
“Uh oh! Spill!” cries somebody. Chairs scrape against the floor. I can feel eyes on me.
“Sorry. Sorry. Sorry,” I say, at first not looking up.
And then I do. And I wish that I hadn’t because the boy looking at me is cute. Really cute. Like if he were a yearbook picture, I would stare at it all day. His eyes are sky blue. His teeth are whipped-cream white. He’s got a swirl of curly reddish-brown hair on his forehead that’s shaggy but still not messy, almost windblown or something. He’s got these adorable dimples and his eyes look extra alive somehow. Freckles dust his nose.
I think I’m saying something like, “I’ll get. Napkin. Now.” But I’m not really sure.
“It’s fine, seriously,” says the boy. A staff person comes over and hands him a rag, and says she’ll be back with a mop.
“I actually need to cool off,” says the boy, waving his hand in front of his face like a fan. “Just got back from practice. It was really hot.”
He’s just too cute. I worry that he might be a mirage or a figment of my imagination. That I might have inhaled too much sugar. But of course I really haven’t had any of my frappé yet, since it’s dripping off this boy.
But I do know that I’m scrambling for the napkins. There’s a stack of brown ones on a service counter to the left. They’re in my fist and I almost embarrass myself further by starting to wipe the pumpkin-colored swirly sludge off his shirt, but I stop myself in time.
I try not to show any sign of distress, even though I feel so stupid right now. Breathe, I tell myself. Breathe. Among my friends I’m the calm one. The reasonable one. The one you can talk to and who won’t blab.
In order to find Maddie’s voice I just dove into my own inner insecurity. The one who overthinks and idiotically assumes everyone is looking at her.
Do you do research for your books? If so, can you tell something about your research process?
Yes, I always do some research. In Pumpkin Spice Secrets, Maddie, who hates public speaking (in this way, we’re different as I rather enjoy it) must participate in a debate in her social studies class. I had to research debates, and specifically what the requirements of a seventh grade social studies team project might look like. For that, I jumped online and read lots of teacher blogs. I also watched YouTube videos of actual middle schoolers debating. This book had a very tight deadline, so I didn’t have time to actually attend some debates in person, but YouTube was my friend!
How long was it from the first glimmer of a story idea to your book launch day?
Okay, believe it or not—8 months
Do you have any interesting stories to share about how this book came about or things you encountered while writing it?
Well, I think I’ll elaborate on the quick turnaround time. The folks at Sky Pony approached me to write the first book in their new Swirl Line for tween girls in February of 2017. I was excited to be able to launch a brand new imprint and eagerly said yes! By early March, I wrote the first five chapters. Luckily, I had been thinking abut this character, someone who was public speaking phobic, for quite some time, so I had an idea of how to write her. By April 13, I was done with the first draft. By the end of April, I was done with second draft and by May 11, I was returning the copyedit, and then, on October 17, my book was officially launched. So, yes, Pumpkin Spice Secret had a fast pass to publication! That’s a good problem, honestly, although not without a little bit of pressure.
Which of your four middle grade books is your favorite? Why?
That’s a really tough question! In addition to Pumpkin Spice Secrets, I’ve written Things Are Gonna Get Ugly, The Hot List, and Queen of Likes. I also have a chapter book series, Alien Clones From Outer Space. And I can’t choose a favorite among them. My grandmother had five children and she used to say she couldn’t pick her most beloved child. She said it would be like picking out a favorite finger. However, that being said, there’s nothing more exciting than introducing your new baby to the world, and that baby would definitely be Pumpkin Spice Secrets!
Can you give us a hint about the next book you are working on?
I’m working on a character-driven chapter book series that will debut in September of 2018. I’m super excited about it because the main character is exuberant, brave and troublemaking. She’s pretty much the opposite of me as a little kid, and it was fun to write about so different from msyelf. Although it’s contemporary realistic fiction, I think in some ways it’s wish fulfillment.
I wish I could have been less afraid, even if it meant making more mistakes. As a helicopter parents (who’s trying to reform), I think we all need to embrace mistakes, and I’d recommend that parents read the parenting book, Blessings of a Skinned Knee. I’m just tired of beating myself for being flawed—so much better to see each mess-up as a learning experience. It’s the make lemonade theory of life! I’m trying to get used to drinking lemonade on a regular basis.
Jen, thanks so much for interviewing me. It’s definitely not a lemonade day. It’s a sweet and happy occasion to be interviewed during the launch of a new book. It’s definitely a pumpkin spice day!