While signing up for The Children’s Book Academy’s Middle Grade e-course, so I could share what I learn with you down the road, I checked out Hillary Homzie’s published books. When I saw her latest book QUEEN OF LIKES, I asked her if she would like to do a book giveaway and she agreed.
All you have to do to get in the running is to leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you did to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you. Check back to discover the winner.
A tween social media queen is forced to give up her phone and learn that there’s more to life than likes in this M!X novel from the author of The Hot List.
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?
The real story behind Queen of Likes:
The journey for my middle grade novel, Queen of Likes, starts with me completely messing up. I don’t mean messing up literally, although frankly I could always clean up my desk, or metaphysically because, despite the unstoppable challenges, I enjoy existing on this planet. I mean as someone who thought of herself as a writer.
Let’s jump back quite a bit in time, about 20 years. I was very pregnant with my first son who is now a sophomore in college. I’d left my job post at Pennsylvania Hospital where I was working in the marketing department and was home for the last two months of my pregnancy supposedly writing.
My husband toiled long hours as a young corporate lawyer in Philadelphia and left home early and returned home very late. I found myself, well, lonely. I hadn’t grown up in Philly and didn’t really know that many people at the time. I wanted to have some company while I was eating breakfast. So I watched the Today Show. Then I started to watch Regis & Kathy Lee and then I found myself watching The Montel Williams Show. Then the soap opera that came after The Montel Williams Show, then sometimes the soap that after that one, until I was easily watching four hours of daytime television and sometimes more. I was home to write and be happily pregnant.
Uh huh. That’s what I told myself.
I didn’t want to admit it, but you are what you do. I was a consumer of daytime television.
So fast-forward in time. We move from Philadelphia to Northern California, buy our first house and I have the opportunity to change my ways. I decide to create a media-free environment, which would be more conducive to writing. This becomes especially important, as I have just nabbed a six-book contract from a major publisher with intense monthly deadlines. So I say no to cable. The Panasonic sits in our living room merely as furniture, since we can only get in one very scrambled and fuzzy channel.
Saying no to television (for eight years) was the best thing I could have done for my writing career. At the time, I just couldn’t handle the temptation.
Fast-forward to a few years ago and I have cable as well as streaming services. I’m quite reformed and have trained myself to only watch something on the weekend. I haven’t been tempted by daytime television programming one bit.
Here’s where the Queen of Likes really comes in. I thought if I had so many issues controlling myself from watching too much daytime TV, what is it like for kids who have so many media choices—everything from YouTube to Netflix to social media. There’s just a lot of out there!
And what would it be like for a kid today who’s completely plugged in and then gets cut off from all media? That was the original idea for the book. In fact, the original title was Karma Cooper, Unplugged. It was going to be about a seventh grader who’s forced to forgo all forms of media, how she struggles with it, and how she grows and changes.
My agent at the time encouraged me to remember that relationships are the central core of story and that, perhaps, the narrative would not be so much about media itself but how someone’s relationships would change once she didn’t have it.
So the novel evolved into a friendship story about an old best friend coming back into the life of my main character, Karma Cooper. Suddenly the media piece took much more of a backseat. I sent sample chapters off to the editor of my previous book, The Hot List. She really liked the chapters, but she was currently editing a book with a very similar friendship premise and wanted me to refocus on a girl whose media was taken away and find a new friendship story line.
So I did.
I also decided that I wanted to narrow down my focus and concentrate specifically on social media. I was watching how social media was affecting (positively and negatively) my own teens and tween. I thought what if Karma was very successful with social media, yet had previously been someone who had been more socially awkward until she had gotten her followers? And what if her parents take away her phone and cut off her social media account because of some transgression?
Yes, I thought—that’s it!
I decided to have Karma consumed by the number of likes she gets versus considering what she really likes. She was posting in order to get likes versus to truly express herself. Having her social media account taken away forces Karma to truly figure out what she likes (it turns out to be photography as well as an interest in working her local historical society).
So I turned in the manuscript, my editor loved it and voila—The Queen of Likes was officially born.
By the way, I don’t want to give the impression that I am anti-technology. That’s not it at all. Right now I’m writing this history of Queen of Likes using the voice recognition software on my iPhone. I have two active Facebook accounts– my personal account and my author account. I’m active on Twitter, I blog for the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. I teach online for the Children’s Book Academy (I’m inserting a shameless plug for our awesome Middle Grade Mastery course, which starts in April, and uses technology, like webinars and private Facebook groups in a marvelous way). I also teach in the Children’s Literature & Writing MFA program at Hollins University where I use the Moodle platform to share information with my graduate students, so I am far from technology adverse. In fact, I embrace it.
However, I try to remind myself to use technology as a means to express my most authentic self in a kind and compassionate way. I hope it’s never about seeking approval.
So that is how The Queen of Likes evolved into a book. I would write—I hope you like my story, but, alas, that would be all about me, hoping to generate likes/approval.
Instead I’m going to let you know how much I enjoyed trying to be truthful and honest about my process, and hope that it helps you on your journey as a reader and writer.
Kathy, thank you so much for having me here today!
Hillary is the author of the tween novel, QUEEN OF LIKES (Simon & Schuster/M!X, 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, 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. Her new chapter book series about the antics of first grader ELLIE MAY will be out in the Spring of 2018 from Charlesbridge. Additionally, PUMPKIN SPICE SECRETS (Sky Pony Press), a new novel for tween girls, debuts Fall 2017. 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, where she currently teaches. In addition, she teaches Middle Grade Mastery and the Chapter Book Alchemist, interactive e-courses, for the Children’s Book Academy.
Hillary found her start in comedy performing sketch Off-Broadway (Playwrights Horizons, Synchronicity Space, 55 Grove Street, Manhattan Punchline, The Boston Comedy Club and Schecky’s Big Fat Cantina with Sarah Silverman) with HA! Comedy Duo and Rubber Feet, and was a Heideman Playwrighting Award Finalist for play, The Juice of It. She has also written for many publications, including Dance Magazine, New York Newsday and Parent’s Express, and has reviewed books for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Children’s Literature.
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 an associate visiting professor of creative writing at Hollins University Graduate Program in Children’s Literature, and has lectured on comedy and children’s writing at conferences and schools across the United States. She has also been privately coaching both published authors and aspiring authors for nine years, several of whom have achieved publishing success with major national accolades She loves to speak at schools and literature festivals.
Visit her on the web at:
Below are the links to help you do your research the course if you are writing or want to write middle grade books.
Link to the online interactive Middle Grade Mastery Class http://www.childrensbookacademy.com/middle-grade-mastery.html
(April 3-May 1)
Link to The Andrea Davis Pinkney Merit Scholarships for Middle Grade Mastery http://www.childrensbookacademy.com/andrea-davis-pinkney-middle-grade-mastery-scholarship.html (available through March 20)
Thank you Hillary for sharing your book and journey with us and offering a copy of Queen of Likes to one lucky winner. I look forward to getting to know you during the course.