Hillary Homzie, a Communications professor at Sonoma State Univeristy, has had a passion for writing from a young age. Homzie can recall two instances where her teachers acknowledged her talent. In second grade, her teacher wrote on one of her papers that she was a writer. Then in her seventh grade yearbook another teacher signed, to a future writer. “Those comments really stick with you,” said Homzie. She went on to write for her high school newspaper and became the editor. Homzie then continued writing for her college newspaper at the University of Virginia. She graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in Communications and has worked in fields like radio, journalism, and others.
Her three books being published this year are: “Apple Pie Promises” coming out in October, “Ellie May on April Fool’s Day”, and “Ellie May on President’s Day”, both coming out in December. The Ellie May series are geared towards transitional readers like elementary students while “Apple Pie Promises” is written more for middle school readers.
“Apple Pie Promises” is about Lily, a middle school girl who when her mother takes a fellowship in Morocco, she has to move in with her dad, step mom, and step sisters who she runs into trouble with. Having divorced parents, Homize knows what it feels like to be introduced to a new family. Homzie’s experience was as a teenager, but in “Apple Pie Promises” Lily goes through her situation as a seventh grader. “I had to put myself (figuratively) in middle school,” said Homzie. “Apple Pie Promises” also gave Homzie the chance to explore her African heritage. Her father is Algerian, so having Lily’s mother go to Morocco required Homzie to research the culture and the experiences the mother would encounter and write about.
The “Ellie May” books were a manuscript Homzie had written about 10 years ago and decided to polish it up. It started out as 18 pages and her editor helped her turn it into a 50 page manuscript. Her advice on writing is to always finish your work. She says it is easy to be 10 pages into one project then come up with a new idea and want to start writing about that. One aspect of the “Ellie May” books that was important to Homzie was to have a main character that was racially ambiguous. While there is much more diversity in children’s books now, there is still not enough.
Writing in the voice of a younger child is difficult for anyone, but having three children helped Homzie get into the head of her character. Ellie May is her own character and not based off any real person, but Homzie says she sees the similarity in the character and her middle son. She said that it’s easy to understand her character because she understands her son. In Ellie May on President’s Day, there is a chapter about a school dance. Generations are always changing so Homzie got permission to attend a middle school dance and see just how different middle school life is now.
When asked about the lesson she wants the readers to take away her response was, “To teach them the importance of honesty and leadership in a way that is developmentally appropriate,” said Homzie. “It is important for them to know how to ask for what they want and need in a compassionate way.” While Ellie May is an exuberant, not-afraid to ask character, she does it in a way that hurts others. Homzie explained that she was more like Lily, who is not vocal about what she needs. People lose their civility when asking and taking without compassion is encouraged, so Homzie wants her books to teach the opposite.
Her book signing takes place on Oct. 7 at Napa Book Mine in Napa, California. It will be an apple pie judging contest and book signing.