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Author Spotlight: Hillary Homzie

Queen of Likes cover

Releases April 5, 2016

Mixed-Up Files contributor Hillary Homzie is joining us today to talk about her latest release, QUEEN OF LIKES. We’re so glad to have her here.

Welcome, Hillary! And here are the questions we have for you…

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

As a child I wanted to be a writer. For as along as I can remember I’ve loved to make up stories. Whether it was let’s pretend with my stuffed animals, or playing with my Barbies, or making my paper dolls (sometimes I’d draw them or, other times, I’d make them from photos of models in the Sears catalogue) or play-acting I was a lost orphan with my best friend Claire in the woods behind our house, stories ruled my world. Sometimes they even got me in trouble. Once my mother gave me an antique china doll with this beautiful wedding dress. The other dolls decided she was much too snobby, and so they all decided to drop her from the top of the staircase. Let’s just say that story didn’t end well!

Oh, my! I can only imagine. So with all that storytelling ability, when did you start writing down your stories?

Hillary, age 7, with sister, Leslie, age 4

Hillary, age 7, with sister, Leslie, age 4

Well, my second grade teacher, Mrs. McCrone, had weekly creative writing assignments, so I definitely enjoyed writing stories then, but I didn’t actually start to write entire novels until I was about 23. It was after I took a children’s writing course up at City University in New York with author and poet Pam Laskin.

What made you write Karma’s story?

Probably because I have a house full of teens (and one tween). And I see how much they are on their phones and how much they anticipate and live for the number of LIKES they get after a post. My older boys sometimes even compete with each other in terms of who gets more LIKES. And I just thought it would be interesting to write about a tween who calculated her sense of self-worth by the number of LIKES on her social media account. And what would happen if that social media account got shut down by parents! Ouch!

Yes that definitely was a big OUCH for Karma, and it would be for most people (including adults) who are tied to their phones. Karma’s parents taking away her cell phone is possibly the worst punishment ever for an online social media diva like she was. Speaking of punishments, what was your worst punishment ever?

I was what my mother-in-law calls a goody-goody. I never really received a punishment. Just maybe a talking to (if my sister and I were fighting) and maybe sent to my room. Even when I got called down the principal’s office in seventh grade, the principal himself only spoke with me for five minutes and didn’t call my parents. He was my swim coach, and he knew that I never got in trouble and figured that the teacher had somehow gotten things wrong.

Hmm… well, I won’t ask you if the teacher really had gotten things wrong. Maybe we should go back to talking about QUEEN OF LIKES. So… how are you and Karma (love that name, BTW!) alike and different?

Hillary with her labradoodle

Hillary with her labradoodle

Karma and I are alike in that, yes, we both live on the West Coast. I live in California, however, and Karma lives in the suburbs of Oregon. We’re both Jewish and attend reform synagogues. We both own giant labradoodles. [That’s interesting! I’m glad you sent a picture so we can see what labradoodles look like.] We both check how many LIKES we get on social media far too much. We are different in that Karma has a little brother (I have one younger sister). She had one event that made her social media popularity blow up. That hasn’t happened to me. My number of followers on Twitter, for example, has been slowly growing but there hasn’t been one blow-up event. Karma lives for her LIKES. I’d like to think that I’m a bit more balanced.

Karma ends up in some embarrassing situations. What was your most embarrassing moment?

Probably when a boy stopped to talk to me, and I had a tampon in my hand that I stupidly pulled out of my purse. Sometimes common sense and Hillary don’t go together.

What was middle school like for you?

Oh, gosh. In each grade, I feel like I was very different. In sixth grade, I was very happy, had close friends and a teacher that I loved, Ms. Casey. My friends were the brainy set, but I was also connected with an assortment of kids.

Hillary, age 13

Hillary, age 13

In seventh grade, my best friend was no longer in my classes, and in my core class, all of the girls were paired up with their besties. My core teacher was an odd duck who refused to be photographed unless it was in profile. She didn’t like me too much, and I once got into a roll-on-the floor fight and was sent to the office. My language arts teacher couldn’t write very well, and I didn’t respect her. It was a very blah year.

In eighth grade, I moved for a year to Menlo Park, California, where my dad was a scholar-in-residence at Stanford University. It was hard to be the new eighth grader. Lots of the kids were spoiled, directly aggressive, and even racist. I hated it until halfway through the year when I met an amazing group of girls with whom I’m friends with to this very day. Your greater environment can be icky—but if you have close friends, life is very manageable. At least, it was for me!

Sometimes it’s not easy to make friends when you’re the new kid at school. I’m glad you found friends who helped you feel at home. With all that experience behind you, what advice do you wish you could give to your younger self?

Do what you love to do, and those with similar interests will gravitate towards you. Be friends with the kids who make you feel good and supported, even if they are outsiders. Don’t look at the so-called popular kids and imagine if only you could be them or with them, life would be rosy. During one of my high school reunions, one of those so-called popular girls told me that she wished she was me!

What is one thing you hope readers will take away from your book?

Follow your passions, do what you like. Don’t worry about what others think of you. Don’t live for the approval of others.

What are you working on now? Are there any more Karma books in the works?

I’m a multi-tasker when it comes to writing. I just finished a chapter book, and I’m toggling between a contemporary tween middle grade with a dash of magic and a middle grade science fantasy.

Both of those sound like fun, but since you mentioned fantasy, let’s talk about magic. If you had three wishes, what would you wish for?

That love not hate would bring the world together, the end of racial oppression, world peace.

What wonderful wishes! I hope they all come true. I’m sorry this interview is almost over, but I always like to ask authors one last question, because most of them have lived such fascinating lives. What is something most people don’t know about you?

I used to be a sketch comedian. In my twenties, I performed with the HA! Comedy Duo and Rubber Feet at clubs and theaters all over NYC. I’m a fairly even-keeled person in real life, but up on stage, I can get crazy!

Wow! I’m impressed. No wonder QUEEN OF LIKES is filled with humor. I’m lucky that I had a sneak peek at the book, and I’m sure everyone else will want to buy the book, which is available for preorder now from Aladdin M!X and Amazon. Or you can find it at your local bookstore on April 5, 2016.

ABOUT QUEEN OF LIKES

Karma Cooper is a seventh grader with thousands of followers on SnappyPic. Before Karma became a social media celebrity, she wasn’t part of the in-crowd at Merton Middle School. But thanks to one serendipitous photo, Karma has become a very popular poster on SnappyPic. Besides keeping up with all of her followers, like most kids at MMS, her smartphone—a bejeweled pink number Karma nicknamed Floyd—is like a body part she could never live without.

But after breaking some basic phone rules, Karma’s cruel, cruel parents take Floyd away, and for Karma, her world comes to a screeching halt. Can Karma—who can text, post photos, play soccer, and chew gum all at the same time—learn to go cold turkey and live her life fully unplugged?

ABOUT HILLARY HOMZIE

Hillary is the author of the tween novel, THE HOT LIST (Simon & Schuster/M!X), THINGS ARE GONNA GET UGLY (Simon & Schuster/M!X), a Justice Book-of-the-Month, which was just optioned by Priority Pictures, and the forthcoming QUEEN OF LIKES (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin M!X, April 2016),  as well as the humorous chapter book series, ALIEN CLONES FROM OUTER SPACE (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin), which was developed to become an animated television series and was sold to ABC Australia. Hillary holds a master’s degree in education from Temple University and a master’s of arts degree from Hollins University in children’s literature and writing. Currently, she’s a visiting professor of children’s literature and writing at Hollins University.

Thanks for such a fun interview, Hillary. I’m sure readers would love to know where they can find out more about you.

I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and they can check out my website. On my website, there’s info about school visits and speaking at conferences, which I love doing. (And I’m sure you’re educational as well as entertaining, with your comedy background.)

ABOUT THE BLOG AUTHOR

Laurie J. Edwards is the author of more than 2300 articles and 25 books in print or forthcoming. In addition to being a freelance editor and illustrator, she also writes under the pseudonyms Erin Johnson and Rachel J. Good. She is lucky enough to be in the MFA program for Children’s Writing and Illustrating at Hollins University, where she has the privilege of working with Hillary Homzie.

 

Meet the Illustrator: Lauren A. Mills

laurenmillsToday we’re lucky to have a behind-the-scenes peek at the work of award-winning author/ illustrator, Lauren A. Mills. Many people know Lauren as a picture book author and illustrator, but Little, Brown just released her first illustrated middle grade novel, Minna’s Patchwork Coat.

Interestingly enough, the idea came from one of her picture books, The Rag Coat. For those unfamiliar with this heart-tugging story, Minna can’t go to school because she has no coat. The town mothers pitch in to quilt her a coat made of rags. When classmates bully and tease her, Minna stands up to them and shows them how they are all connected through her quilted coat.minnacover@72small.

Lauren has agreed to share her process of writing and illustrating the book, which was inspired by the song “Coat of Many Colors,” sung by Emmylou Harris and written by Dolly Parton.

To begin the illustrations, Lauren made preliminary drawings in her sketchbook. “I sketched very small at first (thumbnails sketches which are about 1” by 2”), so I could think and draw ideas quickly. The best designs turn out this way. I then enlarged them on a printer and sent those into Little, Brown for their comments and approval. The two editors, Deirdre Jones and Andrea Spooner, along with the art directors gave me much feedback.”

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ThumbnailSketches
Not all sketches an illustrator turns in are accepted for the final book. Lauren shared this sketch of Minna with an angry man, which the editors rejected because “they thought the scene looked too scary for children.”

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BlueRidgereference

Lauren hiking the Blue Ridge

Once the layouts were approved, Lauren gathered reference materials. She says, “I took over 100 photos and did many thumbnails sketches, but only 50 final drawings ended up in the book. The photographs were taken in Massachusetts, where I live, and in Virginia, where I teach in the summer, and at the West Virginia Coal Mine Exhibition. The school I used as a model for the Rabbit Ridge School is the Nash Hill School, built in 1786 in Williamsburg, Massachusetts.” She even hiked the Blue Ridge Mountains to get pictures of the setting.

OldSchoolHouse

Old Schoolhouse

“My process is to sketch out the thumbnails, then gather the reference to look at, and then I draw from my original thumbnail sketches and the photos, a combination of both.” Here’s Lauren hard at work at her drawing board wearing a scarf she felted. To get herself in the right mood to sketch,  Lauren “listened to lots of bluegrass music and wore clothing similar to what would have been worn during this time period.”

AtTheDrawingBoard

“At times I didn’t have the reference for a certain scene and went only from my sketch. Other reference, besides photographs, included actual items, such as the antique crazy quilt that hangs in our home, dolls, and the vintage-looking clothes.”

Crazy Quilt

Crazy Quilt

Minna&Mama

vintage-look clothes

Vintage-look clothes

Nora&Minna

“The dolls were my daughter’s dolls. She was in college, and it was difficult to wrangle Belini Bear away from her, but he behaved very well during the model session.”

ModelsPosingDrawingFromModelsPosing

Lauren even drew layouts and elevations of the cabin interior and exterior.

LogCabinInteriorDesAnd as a sculptor and dollmaker, she created a lifelike doll of Minna.

Minna doll Lauren made

Minna doll Lauren made

She was lucky enough to find children who looked like the characters she’d envisioned for the book. “Alexandra, the model for Minna, and her actual father posed for Minna and her father. He happened to be a musician and provided a genuine handmade Appalachian banjo for me. Lester, a key character and musician in the story, is also from a musical background.”

MinnaTitleMinna&Papa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other models included adult friends, school children and even live animals – goats, lambs, chickens, sheep. It’s not surprising that goats made their way into the book: Lauren used to raise goats. Once she even helped to deliver one!

MoreModelsPosing

MinnaLesterGoats2

Minna, Lester, and goats

Here’s a quick overview of Lauren taking a sketch from preliminary layout to finished artwork. The illustrations were done in graphite pencil on Arches paper.

Line to Transfer

Line to Transfer

Step 2

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Step 5

Step 6

RabbitAlthough the interior illustrations are in black and white, Lauren painted watercolors of a rabbit and a mockingbird for the book’s jacket flap and back cover. Both of these animals have a special significance in the story, with Rabbit becoming Minna’s “totem.”Mockingbird

To create tMinnaWoodshe cover, Lauren began with an underdrawing. She printed it out, glued it to a board, and covered it with matte medium. Then she painted on top of it with oils, allowing some of the pencil to show through on the trees.

MinnaPortraitIsn’t the final artwork (below) gorgeous?

 

 

 

To see more of Lauren’s beautiful artwork, you can visit her website. Teachers and librarians can click on these links to find out about Lauren’s presentations and educational resources, including a core curriculum guide for Minna’s Patchwork Coat.

Thank you, Lauren, for sharing your wonderful process with us!

About Author/Illustrator Lauren A. Mills

Lauren A. Mills is the award-winning author and illustrator of The Rag Coat and The Goblin Baby, and she has retold and illustrated Thumbelina, Tatterhood and the Hobgoblins, and The Book of Little Folk. She is also the author of Fairy Wings, Fia and the Imp, and The Dog Prince, all of which she co-illustrated with her husband, Dennis Nolan. Her work has been exhibited in galleries and museums across the country, including the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Her stories have been performed by storytellers and actors across the country and on the radio, and The Rag Coat was performed as a ballet by the University of Utah. Mills is a visiting associate professor of drawing in the Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating MFA program at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. She invites you to visit her website.

About the Blog Author

Laurie J. Edwards is also an author and illustrator, who was lucky enough to have Lauren Mills as her drawing professor in the Hollins University MFA program in Children’s Writing and Illustrating. Edwards is the author of more than 2200 articles in magazines and educational databases as well as twenty books in print or forthcoming. Read more about Laurie J. Edwards and her books and art at her blog and website, or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Horses, Horses, and More Horses

Young Whitney on Rocky

Young Whitney on Rocky

For all you horse lovers out there, I’m excited to introduce you to Whitney Sanderson, an author from the Random House Horse Diary series. In addition to the two books she’s written for that series, she has a new release, the first in her Horse Rescue series. Whitney wrote Horse Rescue: Treasure to support Little Brook Farm, a horse rescue center. Whitney will be donating 50% of her royalties to Little Brook Farm. So if you or someone you know is a horse lover, sharing this book will not only make them happy, it will also help save horses. And we’re also offering a chance to win a free copy of Treasure.

Hi, Whitney, and welcome to the Mixed-Up Files. We’re looking forward to learning more about you and about horses.

First of all, what did you dream about becoming when you were young?

Even though I loved horses from a young age, I really wanted to be an FBI agent. I was a big fan of the X-Files. Maybe it’s a sign that there will be a paranormal young adult novel in my future.

When did you start writing?

When I was four or five, I would dictate stories to my older sister, and she would type them for me. I remember the first story was called “Ten Cats” and the second was called “Five Dogs,” so I guess I have been drawn to animal stories from the beginning. I was homeschooled, and when I was around fourteen I took a correspondence course in creative writing designed for high school students.

That was the first time I got feedback from someone other than my friends and parents that I might have potential as a writer. Around that time, I joined an online community called The Young Writer’s Club, which sadly no longer exists. That was hugely influential to my writing—I was able to get feedback on and comment on the work of other aspiring teenage writers across the world. I am still in touch with a few of the friends I made on that site more than a decade ago.

Treasure CoverNEWHow did you come up with the idea for Treasure?

I spent the summer volunteering at Little Brook Farm in 2009. I wanted to use my profession as a writer to help spread the word about the good work they were doing, but I wasn’t sure exactly how. At the time, I was working on a book for the Random House Horse Diaries series, which are all told from the horse’s point of view. From there, I had the idea to make up a story about the life of one of the Little Brook horses, based on the facts that were known. There were so many interesting horses on the farm that it was hard to pick just one, but I ended up settling on Treasure because she was such a sweet mare
who was so valuable to the farm despite being “just” a mixed-breed pony who had been saved from slaughter. I was also able to work in a lot of the other horses’ tales, because in my story the horses can talk to each other.

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Young rider with Treasure at Little Brook Farm

Can you tell us why you’re passionate about the charity you’re supporting with this book?

Little Brook Farm is the nation’s oldest horse rescue, established by Lynn Cross in 1977. They have rescued hundreds of horses, ponies, and other animals. People sometimes think that only sick, lame, or behaviorally difficult horses end up homeless or at slaughter auctions, but that is far from true. The farm has a number of rescued horses who have competed in eventing, dressage, and vaulting competitions. Some of these horses do need special care, but still make wonderful horses for pleasure riding or competition. I think it’s so important that people realize rescues are more than throwaway horses.

I also love that Little Brook Farm offers kids from a city environment the chance to experience farm life on class field trips. Lynn showed me some wonderful letters from people who visited the farm as children and wrote years later to say that one trip changed their lives and motivated them to do well in school or seek out careers working with animals. Horses reconnect us to a part of ourselves and our heritage that is easy to forget in a culture where most of our days are spent inside staring at screens or books. In the end, I believe horses help us as much as we help them.

Whitney, you’ve written other horse books. Can you tell us about those and about the research you did for them?

I have wrGOLDEN SUN jacket copyitten two books for the Random House Horse Diaries chapter book series, which my mother, Ruth Sanderson illustrated. Each book is about a different type of horse at the time when that breed was developed. Golden Sun tells the story of a Native American boy and an Appaloosa horse as they grow up on the western plains together in 1790. My second book in the series, Darcy, is about a Connemara pony working on an Irish farm in 1917.

Even though they are fairly simple stories, they required a lot of historical research. Something as simple as not knowing what the weather would be like at a certain time of year or what kind of tack a horse would be wearing can lead to a lot of frustration—because if you don’t get it right, the copyeditor will call you on it later!

In Golden Sun, I made the mistake of just guessing on some things that ended up not being correct, and then having to do a lot of revisions. With Darcy, I was careful to seek sources for anything I was unsure about. It’s one of the challenges of writing historical fiction. One of the benefits is that you end up learning a lot about topics you’d otherwise know nothing about, like Native American vision quests or farming in rural Ireland.

Can you tell us what you like best about horses? And are any of the books based on horses you’ve owned?

One of my favorite things about horses is how individual their personalities are. My Appaloosa, Thor, has a wise and calm disposition—I like to call him a horse philosopher. Another horse I owned, Gabriel, was kind of an equine Abercrombie model—very cute, a little sulky at times, and loved to be the center of attention. Both Thor and Gabe were actually models for two books in the Horse Diaries series—Golden Sun and Koda.Koda

My mother, Ruth Sanderson, takes really detailed photo reference for each illustration in the books, so she often has to set up scenes with various horses and people in costumes…it can be pretty involved. Thor took it all in stride when a bunch of people dressed in American Indian style clothing showed up at the stable to have their picture taken with him for Golden Sun, but Gabe seemed really excited to be in the quarter horse story, Koda. There was one scene where the girl in the book is sick, lying on the ground, and Koda is trying to get her to wake up. Gabe was really hamming it up, circling around and nuzzling her. I think he missed his calling as a Hollywood star. If they ever make the books into TV episodes, he’d be perfect!

You’ve alThe Black Stallionways loved horses–that’s clear. Did you also read horse stories growing up?

Yes, many of them. I read the Black Stallion books, the Thoroughbred series, and all of the Marguerite Henry books. But by far my favorite was The Saddle Club series by Bonnie Bryant. Until pretty recently you could throw out a random nuMistymber between one and a hundred, and I could tell you the title of that book in the series and describe the plot. When I was around nine, I wrote to Bonnie Bryant and was so excited when she wrote back—I kept the letter on my bulletin board for years. Now I sometimes get letters from readers of Horse Diaries, and it’s so cool to realize that kids are enjoying my books the way I once looked forward to the latest Saddle Club.saddle club

It’s awesome to think that maybe someday the fans of your books might end up as authors themselves. I hope you don’t mind answering a few more questions as I’m sure those eager readers would love to know more about their favorite author.

Where have you lived (or visited) and how has that influenced your work?

I grew up in Ware, Massachusetts, which is a pretty rural town. My family had a Victorian house with an old barn, and when I was about eight years old, my parents fixed it up so we could have horses on the property. It was wonderful to be able to go out and see the horses any time I wanted—although I was homeschooled, so it also probably contributed to my rushing through my work so I could get out to the barn faster. The English lessons mostly stuck because I liked reading and writing, but don’t try to quiz me on algebra!

As far as places I have traveled, I was able to visit Ireland with my mom and sister while I was researching Darcy. Being able to see the landscape and culture where the book was set made it so much easier to come up with authentic descriptions. I met a woman who owned Connemara ponies and ran thDarcy jacket copye local pony club for decades, and we got to take a wonderful ride along the windswept coast of Ireland. The internet can tell you a lot, but there is no substitute for visiting the place you are writing about.

Do you have any advice for anyone who dreams of becoming an author?

If you want to be an author, I would say become comfortable with the whole writing process that comes before publication. I tend to start a lot more projects than I finish, but I always feel a sense of pride when I have a completed manuscript that I have sent out to an agent or publisher, regardless of whether I ultimately sell it. Even if that particular work isn’t accepted, the rejections can teach you a lot about the process, and about what not to do. Even if you don’t sell your first story, or your second, just getting practice with carrying through a project from start to finish will serve you well when you finally hit on something that an editor thinks is gold.

What project(s) are you working on now?

I’m currently working on another Horse Rescue book, this time set at Blue Star Equiculture, a draft horse rescue in Palmer, MA. Another project I have in mind is a young adult series about a group of teenage girls who get into the sport of three-day eventing.

What super power do you wish you had?

The power to overcome writer’s block! Or to really be able to talk to horses instead of just imagining what they might say.

Do you have a funny story about when you were young?

Well, it’s funny in retrospect…Once, when I was about fourteen, I was riding on a trail with my friend on her 12-hand pony, Widget. There was a small tree fallen across the path, about 3 feet high. I jumped it with Thor, but Widget had second thoughts and ended up only half jumping it. So she was literally balanced on the tree on her stomach with her legs dangling above the ground. She couldn’t seem to get the leverage to move either way, and although she was surprisingly calm about it, we were worried she would panic and really injure herself.

I rode back to the barn for help, but my parents weren’t home and no one was around, so I left some incoherent note about Widget being stuck in a tree on the trail. Then I found a hand saw and a container of jellybeans and rode back into the park. People that I passed on the road gave me very strange looks. Fortunately, the hand saw turned out to be unnecessary, since Widget scrambled over the log as soon as she heard the container of jellybeans rattle. My friend and I decided the moral of that story was “always carry jellybeans in your pocket, because you never know when you might need to get a pony out of a tree.”

Thinking about your parents reading your note about a pony being stuck in a tree makes me laugh — now that I know you got her out safely. I’ll have to remember the jellybean trick. I never realized horses liked jellybeans.

What’s one thing you’ve always dreamed of doing?

Someday I’d like to be able to adopt a rescue horse—and I’ll know where to find one when that day comes!

Whitney on Thor

Whitney on Thor

About Whitney Sanderson:

Whitney Sanderson is the author of Horse Rescue: Treasure. 50% of the proceeds from the book will be donated to Little Brook Farm. Whitney is also the author of Horse Diaries: Golden Sun and Horse Diaries: Darcy, both from Random House. You can find out more about Whitney on her website and about how the various horses were photographed and painted on the Horse Diaries blog.

About the Interviewer:

WantedGraceandtheGuiltless_smA lifelong horse-lover, Laurie J. Edwards has an MA from Vermont College and is completing an MFA in Children’s Writing and Illustrating at Hollins University. With more than 2200 articles and a dozen books in print, she is the author of the young adult Western, Grace and the Guiltless (Capstone, 2014), about an orphaned teen whose only friend is her horse. Laurie would love to connect with readers on Facebook and Twitter, or visit her blog.

Treasure CoverNEWTo win a copy of Horse Rescue: Treasure, leave a comment below. Share this post on Facebook and Twitter and let us know for extra chances to win. Winner will be chosen on January 3, 2014.

 

Congratulations to Debbie McLeod, the winner of the free copy of Treasure!