It’s June and that means it’s time for another year of Pride Month spotlights! I’m so excited to spotlight Hazel Hill Is Gonna Win This One by Maggie Horne and share the interview with the author!
Welcome Maggie! Thank you for allowing me to interview you! Can you start off by introducing yourself?
Of course! So, I’m Maggie Horne, a gay writing gay books for gays of all ages. Specifically, I’m the author of Hazel Hill is Gonna Win This One, a contemporary middle grade novel about friendship and finding your voice. I live near Ottawa in Canada with my wife, son, and dogs, and by day I work in digital marketing. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram at @MaggieHasHornes.
How would you describe Hazel Hill Is Gonna Win This One in one sentence?
“When she learns girls are being sexually harrassed at her school, loner Hazel teams up with her nemesis to take down their school’s golden boy.”
Can you introduce us to the main character(s) of Hazel Hill Is Gonna Win This One?
The main character of Hazel Hill is Gonna Win This One is, predictably, 12-year-old Hazel Hill. At the start of the book, Hazel’s a bit of a loner – she claims she’s too busy for friends, because she needs to focus on winning her school’s public speaking competition. Last year, she mis-pronounced a word, and it was the single most embarrassing moment of her life. This year, she’s absolutely determined to take home the win, and, according to her, friends would just get in the way of that. In her own words, “I’m not shy, I’m just busy.” The only person she talks to regularly is popular boy Tyler Harris, but that’s only because she has the misfortune of being seated beside him in home room.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Ella Quinn and Riley! Ella Quinn is Hazel’s “nemesis,” the girl who beat her in last year’s speech competition, Riley’s best friend, and Tyler’s ex-girlfriend. Hazel’s pretty sure she knows everything about Ella Quinn and Riley from Tyler – they’re boy-crazy, screechy, popular girls who Hazel would hate hanging out with. (Of course, that’s very extremely not the case!)
What representation will readers find in Hazel Hill Is Gonna Win This One?
Hazel is a lesbian, but she uses the word “gay” on-page to describe herself. One thing I wanted to be extremely conscious of from the beginning was that Hazel never falters in how she sees herself – she doesn’t know where she’s headed or who to trust or what kind of person she wants to be, yet, but she knows who she is on a deep-down level. That was so important to me, because I feel like a lot of kids at Hazel’s age, myself included, had that inherent knowledge of who they were but didn’t have the words, tools, freedom, or safety to articulate it. That’s not to say that identities can’t be fluid or shift over time, of course! But I wanted to write a character that knew exactly what she was about right in that moment, and never has that questioned by anyone else.
Do you know from the beginning how your books will end or do you let your characters decide their journey?
HAZEL HILL has this big, cinematic climax that I had pictured from the very beginning, so I was definitely writing to reach that specific moment. I usually have a broad synopsis that I write from, and then I roughly outline chapters 10 or so at a time as I go. In general, I have a beginning and an end in mind, but the path between the two changes a lot between drafts.
Do you have a favorite scene, moment, or quote from the book?
Ooh. I think it’s a tie! First, I love that cinematic climax I just talked about, but I can’t go into too much detail about that because it’s obviously a massive spoiler! Second, though, there’s a scene after Hazel has a conversation with her parents that leaves her feeling really frustrated and like she’s not being heard, and right after that she goes to her new friend Riley’s house to hash things out. I just love that scene because to me, that’s when Hazel really comes into her own and starts to trust that she can have this life, with these friends who are genuinely there for her. I think it’s really sweet! Plus, I loved writing the way Hazel and Riley’s friendship unfolds into something that might be a bit different and surprising for both of them.
What is something readers will find in Hazel Hill Is Gonna Win This One that they may not realize based on the synopsis?
I think that, at its core, Hazel is a friendship story more than anything. Sure, the main plot is that Hazel’s trying to stop harassment at her school, but through the process of that I feel like the underlying plot is that she goes from this grumpy “I’m not like other girls” girl to someone who feels totally loved, accepted, and celebrated by her new friends.
What’s something you hope readers will take away from Hazel Hill Is Gonna Win This One?
Most of all, I hope they don’t feel like I’ve just sat them down and tried to teach them a lesson. I remember always hating that when I was middle-grade-age! Everyone always thought they knew better than me and it drove me nuts. Beyond that, though, I do very sincerely hope that if anyone who reads Hazel recognizes Tyler’s pattern of harassment and intimidation in someone in their own life, the book helps them do something to stop that.
What are three books you would recommend if someone enjoyed Hazel Hill Is Gonna Win This One?
Fun!! Okay, first of all, ALMOST FLYING by Jake Maia Arlow. When I first read it, I was endlessly texting Jake about how much I loved it and how much it felt like ALMOST FLYING and HAZEL HILL IS GONNA WIN THIS ONE were spiritual twins.
DREW LECLAIR GETS A CLUE by fellow Clarion author Katryn Bury was such a balm for me. I saw a lot of myself in Drew and I would have been OBSESSED with this book when I was 12. (I’m not far off as a grown-up!)
GROW UP, TAHLIA WILKINS! By Karina Evans was everything I love about middle grade. I feel like Tahlia and Hazel are similar in a lot of ways, and the book is full of so much genuine heart and fun.
What’s next for you? Anything you can share?
Yes! My next Middle Grade novel, NOAH FRYE GETS CRUSHED, will be out with Clarion Books in Winter 2024. It’s about 12-year-old Noah, who starts to worry that she’ll get left behind now that all of her friends have crushes on boys, so she tries to teach herself how to have a crush. Turns out, though, that she might have had a crush on someone all along – they just weren’t a boy. NOAH isn’t a sequel to HAZEL, but I think it’s a really fitting follow-up. Where Hazel is making these new friends in her book, Noah is really concerned with keeping her friends in hers. The book really explores how your relationships with even your best friends can shift and evolve as you all grow.
ABOUT THE BOOK
A funny, feminist, and queer contemporary middle grade debut that follows twelve-year-old loner Hazel Hill, who, after one of her classmates is harassed online, devises a plan to catch the school’s golden boy in the act.
Seventh-grader Hazel Hill is too busy for friends. No, really. She needs to focus on beating her nemesis, the gorgeous and smart Ella Quinn, in order to win the school-wide speech competition after last year’s embarrassing hyperbole/hyperbowl mishap that cost her first place. But when Hazel discovers Ella is being harassed by popular golden boy, Tyler Harris, she has to choose between winning and doing the right thing. No one would believe that a nice boy like Tyler would harass and intimidate a nice girl like Ella, but Hazel knows the truth—and she’s determined to prove it.
In this deeply relatable, surprisingly humorous, and wonderfully empowering middle grade about friendship, finding your voice, and standing up for what you believe in, sometimes you have to lose in order to win.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maggie Horne is a writer and editor who grew up near Toronto, Canada. She studied at Oxford Brookes University, where she obtained both a BA in Publishing Media and a wife, which was a pretty good deal. She now lives outside of Ottawa with her family. Her writing has been featured in Catapult and on Medium’s Mental Health and LGBTQ pages. Her first novel, HAZEL HILL IS GONNA WIN THIS ONE, is an Indies Introduce Summer/Fall 2022 Selection out October 18th, 2022. Her second middle grade novel, NOAH FRYE GETS CRUSHED, will release Winter 2024.