Thursday, September 17, 2009

Book Review, Author Interview and Giveaway: Things are Gonna Get Ugly by Hillary Homzie

Before her radical reinvention, Taffeta, leader of Cambria Middle School's popular clique, used to be a nerd named Ernestine who liked reading about unicorns and getting good grades (the horror!). When Taffeta is caught cheating, her teacher gives her the option of making a fresh start. Little does Taffeta know that it involves a reverse transformation back into how Ernestine would be if Taffeta had never existed.

And then things get ugly...

Taffeta is one of those characters that is so annoyingly self obsessed you actually wish her ill, so that makes reading about her transformation to a social zero all the more satisfying. Of course this a novel about redemption and true friendship so obviously Taffeta learns her lesson having to slum it as poor nerdy Ernestine. As predictable as the book may be, it still feels fresh and fun thanks to the breezy prose and an interesting mix of supporting characters. Tweens whose families are feeling the crunch of the current economic crisis will also identify with Taffeta's attempts to deal with her economically downgraded life.

THINGS ARE GONNA GET UGLY is out now in paperback. Watch the book trailer and find out more about the book at the author's website.

Author Hillary Homzie also answered some of my questions!

How did you come up with the character of Ernestine/Taffeta?
I came up with Ernestine/Taffeta while I was taking a class on fairy tales at Hollins University Graduate Program in Children's Literature. The professor, J.D. Stahl, asked the fiction writers taking the class to adapt a fairy tale. I chose King Thrush Beard, one of my favorite stories, which is about a spoiled princess who harshly mocks every suitor who comes through the palace doors. When the king marries her off to the next beggar who raps on the castle gates, the princess's life is utterly transformed and she learns to work hard and be appreciative. I wanted to a create a contemporary young teenager who encounters an equivalent reversal of fortune, and show how this transformation actually helps her to re-align her priorities. In Taffeta's case, her life changes economically, physically and socially.

Did you create a character profile with stuff that didn't make the book?
I have a tendency not to create classic character profiles, where you list traits. Instead, I love to interview my characters and ask them directly about their life, habits, likes and dislikes. Perhaps, this is because in a former life, I was a journalist and so interviewing feels natural to me. I will do this multiple times and find out all kinds of information that doesn't end up in the book.

My characters get very opinionated and will ocassionally tell me to stop bugging them. It makes me feel like their parent. For example, Taffeta really loves dogs and during lunch at school she once rescued a stray dog and found a home for him to adopted into by standing in front of Petco with him. What was left in the book about her love for canines was how much she misses her dog who has passed away.

Another character trait is that Taffeta thinks she wants to be the person who comes up with names for new cosmetic products. I think there is one place in the book where she mentions this. In actuality, she's come up with dozens of names for lip glosses, such as autumn bliss.

What advice would you give to parents and their tween/teen children who are struggling with the economic downturn?
When I wrote Things Are Gonna Get Ugly I truly didn't have a crystal ball but now it sure feels like it. Taffeta like so many tweens/teens and their parents are dealing with a shrunken economy, which translates into big changes. I know that this is something that my family is personally facing.

I would say that, although having parents who are losing a job or having to cut out lots of spending can feel painful, it's also an opportunity to re-assess what is really important. Instead of buying plastic baggies, you can pack your lunch in sandwich boxes. Instead of going somewhere far away you and your family can get creative and plan a staycation. Consider cutting out cable bills and instituting family read at night or renting videos from your local library.

It's also a great opportunity to learn about compassion. If you're losing your house, and moving to an apartment I know that it is not easy but still there are those who have no roof over their heads. Now is the time to visit a soup kitchen and feed the hungry.

You still be the life of the party and not be Ms. Money Bags. I have a friend who doesn't have a lot of money but she's one of the most popular people that I know. She's always having parties at her house--she just does potluck and doesn't try to impress anyone. In some ways, when you're broke you no longer have anything to lose because you've lost it all. You don't need to impress anyone and this allows you to be yourself. This is the time to re-evaluate. Who are you? What do you really want and then go for it!

After college you traveled through West Africa and had some crazy adventures. Do you still have some wanderlust? Where would you most like to visit?
Yes, I absolutely do! In fact, the summer before last, my family took a three month sabbatical. For half the time, we lived in Barcelona, Spain and for half the time in Toulouse, France. It was absolutely amazing. We did it by exhanging our house in California for houses in Europe so all it cost was the airfare. It was great because we felt like temporary residents as opposed to conventional tourists.

Next up, I'd really love to go to Australia. Last year, we had an exchange student from Tasmania so I have all of these wonderful postcards just beckoning me down under. Also, I have a special fondness for the country since ABC Australia purchased 36 episodes of the animated version of my chapter book series ALIEN CLONES FROM OUTER SPACE!

What's up next for you? Any new projects in the works?
I will have a new book out, THE HOT LIST, which is another tween novel and will also be published by Simon & Schsuter's Mix line. That should be out next year. I also have in the works some older YA projects, as well as middle grade projects that I'm very excited about. The later two involve quite a bit of research, although they are contemporary. It's a blast going out into the field so to speak. I actually did that for THINGS ARE GONNA GET UGLY. In order to write the dance scene, I went to a middle school dance and tried to blend into the walls. Walls with big ears, that is. Being a writer is an excellent job for a professional snoop!

Thanks Hillary!

Hillary has kindly offered a signed copy of her book to 2 lucky readers as part of BBAW. Just leave a comment on this post about the interview to enter. Contest will remain open until September 24th at 11:59 pm and is open internationally! Gain an extra entry by linking to this contest from your blog (sidebar is fine) or social media site.


Unknown said...

I find it so fascinating how some books are almost like crystal balls. The economic downturn is one thing, but I've seen several cases where the books come out just at the perfect time of a current event (The Chosen One felt like that for me). I know that books take years to develop and there's no way to predict it, but it amazes me when that actually happens!

Silvia said...

You were living in Barcelona? Really?
I'm from Barcelona^^

It's magical the way you can feel connected with some characters. Interviewing them seems a funny and nice way to create their profile. It feels more real.

I would love to be entered and I've put a link on my sidebar.


Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I love the idea of interviewing characters and seeing how they present themselves to authors. They all have different ways of making themselves know.

Love your insights on the book Lenore!

jpetroroy said...

I'd love to be entered. I love the fairy tale inspiration.
jpetroroy (at) gmail (dot) com

Readingjunky said...

So cool that this book could offer advice during our tough times.

The title is also great!

Bingo said...

I think it is interesting about how many places she has traveled.

Please enter me.

kdhaney ((AT)) gmail ((DOT)) com

Jonnie (JB) said...

I like how the author really feels like she knows the characters apart from the book.

Donna Gambale said...

I love modern retelling of stories -- especially ones that I'm not familiar with, like King Thrush Beard. And I lived in Australia for a semester in college and never lost my wanderlust either!

This contest is linked on the sidebar of First Novels Club.

firstnovelsclub [at] gmail [dot] com

holdenj said...

I love that she went to a middle school dance to try and blend in to do research for her book! There's somewhere I have no desire to return to! Sounds like a good book.

Kelsey said...

Nice interview. I love learning about authors new projects!


Zibilee said...

I liked this interview, the author sounds really down to earth, and I really like that her story incorporates how rough today's economy can be on teenagers. I think this sounds like a great book, and one my daughter would be interested in reading.

Unknown said...

I'd love to read this. I am a middle school teacher in a town where most of the families, until the past year, have been extremely financially comfortable. Many are being forced to downsize, or cut back on consumerism, and it's almost as emotional for those kids who have not been affected to see what their friends are going through. I'm going to recommend our librarian buy this one.

Misusedinnocence said...

This was a great interview to read. :)

BevE said...

I was curious how Hillary came up with the name Ernestine/Taffeta, now I know. Sounds like a book that more and more teens will be able to identify with.

Priya said...

Wow, this sounds pretty interesting. Please enter me!


bermudaonion said...

You two should travel together! I'm wondering if Hillary lives in Virginia since she took a class at Hollins. milou2ster(at)

Valorie said...

I think it's vital that parents teach their children how to live responsibly on this earth. I mean, yeah, we can buy and use plastic bags and throw them away, but is that responsible? Definitely not. Great advice!


Anonymous said...

A wonderful interview...would love to read this sweet book...thanks.

karen k

Cherie J said...

Great interview! I can't believe this author had the courage to attend a middle school dance and tried to blend into the walls. I would feel to uncomfortable to try it.

Thanks for the chance to win a copy of what sounds like a great book.


Rhiannon Hart said...

This sounds adorable, count me in!

Asylumgirl said...

Oh the angst of the teenage years, we all just wanted to fit in, even if it made us someone we were not. lol

deidre_durance at hotmail dot com

Rebecca N. said...

I had never heard of King Thrush Beard before this interview. I know a certain teen girl in my life who my be able to benefit from its lesson. Thanks for sharing!

Please enter me into this great giveaway! Thanks!

imsosweepy { at } gmail { dot } com

D Q said...

The fairy tale inspiration intriqued me. I'd love to be entered.

Beleth said...

I'd love to enter to this contest!

battyaboutbats at

Thank you!

Alyssa Kirk said...

Sounds like a fun lady who has fun researching and writing her books. Amazing the timeliness of her work. Nice interview!

Count me in for the contest

Put it in our sidebar at


Simply Stacie said...

Please count me in.

simplystacieblog at gmail dot com

Zombie Girrrl said...

That was excellent advice for surviving the economic downturn. I've rediscovered the wonders of the public library and swap books with friends and family more readily. We also spend a lot more time together since we don't go out as much, and I gotta say, it's not all that bad! ;)
I'd love to be entered for this contest!
I linked you on my sidebar.
zombiegirrrl21 at aol dot com

Lucyinthesky said...

What a wonderful interview! I think exchanges of any kind (houses or having exchange students) are enlightening experiences. Lucky you, Hillary!!

I hope to win this book!

espressogurl at hotmail dot com

Ladytink_534 said...

Honestly, I'm not sure which name she went by is worse... Neat that's based on a fairy tale (and one I hadn't heard of before too!).

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good book for tweeners! I love how she interviews her characters and that they her to leave them alone. At least I'm not the only crazy one that thinks her charcters have a mind of their own :)

foltzsfantasticbooks at

Julie P. said...

Sounds like a book my daughter would love! I found it very interesting that the author actually interviews her characters. I love learning about different authors' creative processes!

Staci said...

Great review...sounds like one that I need to read for sure!

Mariana S said...

A great interview, please count me in!


Mystica said...

Please count me in. Love the fairy tale style!



Debbie F said...

How I wish I could take 3 months off and live in Europe! I can't seem to get out of Maryland!
Book sounds like a great read! Thanks for the giveaway!
dcf_beth at verizon dot net

Gaby317 said...

This sounds like a fun read. I liked how Hillary would "interview the characters" as a way to develop them. Sounds like a great method.

gaby317nyc at gmail dot com

Anonymous said...

Love the interview!

Switching houses with people in other countries is a great idea!!! How lucky she has been to visit all those places!

lelou2 AT ymail DOT com

L said...

Thanks for the advice. A staycation sounds fun =D.


andrea b said...

thanks for the giveaway!


Nancye said...

I think it's interesting that the author develops her characters by interviewing them. What a great idea! That's a great way to get "into" her characters head.

nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

Nancye said...

Tweet! Tweet!

nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

Beth said...

Please enter me. Thanks for the chance.

lizzi0915 at aol dot com

Lenore Appelhans said...

THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED. Winners will be announced shortly.