Welcome! We’re excited to celebrate the book release of one of our very own members—Hillary Homzie’s The Hot List published by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin M!X launched March 8!
Spring is the perfect pub date for The Hot List because the weather is starting to heat up and that means summer is around the corner. We think this book is so fun (secret lists, crushes, crazy boys named Squid, and a bet) and will resonate so strongly with tweens (cafeteria real estate changes, bff heartbreak and maybe some healing), that we’re recommending it as a beach bring-along. Booklist said that The Hot List “captures the angst of young teen friendships and fragile identities.”
From the jacket flap:
Sophie Fanuchi and Maddie Chen have always been BFFs. Then Maddie starts hanging out with Nia Tate—CEO of the popular girls (a.k.a. the “pops”) and daughter of Sophie’s father’s new girlfriend. Soon it seems like Nia has replaced Sophie in the bestie category—and Sophie can feel Maddie slipping away.
As Sophie and Maddie’s friendship continues to unravel, Sophie impulsively makes a bet with Nia. The Mission? Get Squid Rodriguez, perhaps the geekiest, un-Hot-List-worthy boy at Travis, on the list in one month. Can Sophie turn this nottie into a hottie and win back her friendship with Maddie?
Welcome to From the Mixed-Up Files, Hillary! Why did you decide to make this story for middle grade readers?
A couple of years ago, a sixth grader told me about a mysterious hot list, as in a list of all the hottest kids in the sixth grade, that was kept up in the girl’s bathroom. Somehow the students knew about the list and managed to secretly maintain it, even when the custodial staff would wipe it away. I felt like, yes, I can grow that situation into a book, if I can figure out why a girl would start a Hot List. I wanted there to be a deeper reason than because she was thinking about who’s cute in seventh grade. And I discovered it was because Sophie, my protagonist, felt as if she needed to do something cool and exciting in order to reel in her best friend Maddie, who was drifting away and beginning to explore new friendships.
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?
…in the pit of my stomach I knew it was bad. Like wearing-pajamas-to-class-to-start-a-new-fashion-trend bad. I mean, what was I thinking?—announcing to the world who was hot and who wasn’t. That might have been text-bloggy material for someone like Nia and her crew, but I should’ve known better—those lists were meant to be secret. Instead, I ignored the flip-floppy, squeezy-icky feeling inside and kept on writing. “Guard the door,” I whispered to Maddie. At least I had the sense to be paranoid about someone catching me. What I should’ve been paying attention to who was about to be leaving my life for good.
I found Sophie’s voice by interviewing her and asking her questions. I let her speak for herself. When I tried to impose a voice it didn’t work. At one point, I tried to make her more of a fashionista. A little more attitude-y. But that wasn’t Sophie. She’s smart, athletic, but doesn’t like to be the center of attention, which becomes a real problem.
Why did you choose the setting of your story?
In my last book for tween girls, THINGS ARE GONNA GET UGLY (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin M!X, 2009), I set the novel in Menlo Park, CA because that’s where I lived when I was 13, the same age as Taffeta Smith, my protagonist. In THE HOT LIST, I wanted to set the novel some place different but some place that I had a connection to. I was born in Denver, so I decided I would find a town in Colorado. At first, I was going to set THE HOT LIST in Denver but I decided that Sophie wasn’t an urban dweller. I looked around Denver and, ultimately, decided on Boulder because it was a college town. I grew up in Charlotesville, Va., another college town and it felt familiar to me.
Who is the editor of this book? How many rounds of revision did you make? What was the most illuminating part of the revision process for you?
I was double lucky as I had an editing duo–Liesa Abrams, Executive Editor, Simon & Schuster/Aladdin M!X Books and Alyson Heller, assistant editor, Simon & Schuster/ Aladdin M!X. There was one major revision, for which I’m grateful. I had gone a little off course, giving too much play to a secondary character, Squid. Okay, a lot off course. Liesa and Alyson steered me back to a shore. I refocused on the friendship between Sophie and Maddie as the emotional core of the novel. It’s a much better book because of that. After my big revision, they asked only for small line changes, which made my day. Week. Okay, maybe a year. The most illuminating part of the revision process for me was to remember that a book is ultimately about a character and her relationships. That having a cool hook/premise is not enough. We need to care about the protagonist’s emotional journey, even when the book is intended to be a fun, yet resonant romp.
Was there a teacher or librarian in your childhood who inspired or empowered you to be a writer?
Two actually. My second grade teacher Mrs. McCrone wrote a letter to me. And in that letter, she said, “You are a writer.” I had always been an avid reader, but from that moment on, I thought of myself as a writer. Then when my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Casey, wrote in my middle school yearbook that I was a future writer. Well, after that the author bug wouldn’t let go. I definitely blame Mrs. McCrone and Mrs. Casey for encouraging me.
Thank you, Hillary, and we know you’re having a wonderful Book Release Month!
Readers, we hope you enjoyed the interview!
If you’d like to a chance to win a copy of Hillary’s new book, make sure you post in the comments section. Tweets and Facebook and Blog posts earn you more entries. The winner will be announced Tuesday!
Hillary has been celebrating the launch of her newest book FOR SEVERAL WEEKS and today she’s taking the party here so leave questions; she’ll answer, and let’s have some fun!
And for those who want to see more, here’s the very fun book trailer.
Don’t forget to check out The Hot List at IndieBound or your favorite bookstore.
Enjoy Hillary’s great website, which is also full of helpful writer advice, and don’t forget to check out her school visit page so you can learn how Hillary can visit your school!
Hillary Homzie is the author of the tween novels, The Hot List (S&S 2011) and Things Are Gonna Get Ugly (S&S 2009), as well as the comedic chapter book series Alien Clones From Outer Space (S&S), which is being made into an animated television series. During the summers, Hillary teaches in the graduate program in children’s writing at Hollins University. She’s a master teacher and loves to visit schools and speak at conferences, libraries and festivals. A former sketch comedy performer in NYC, Hillary currently lives with her family in Northern California.