Interview with Shannon Hitchcock + Giveaway

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome middle-grade author, Shannon Hitchcock, to the Mixed-Up Files to talk about her latest novel, ONE TRUE WAY, which hits bookstores tomorrow, February 27, 2018. But first, here’s a little bit about Shannon and her fabulous novel.

The ALAN Review hailed Shannon Hitchcock as, “A New Voice in Historical Fiction.” She’s the author of the Crystal Kite award-winning novel, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, and a second novel, RUBY LEE & ME, a nominee for the 2017-18 Nebraska Chapter Book Golden Sower Award, Pennsylvania’s Keystone Award, an Iowa Children’s Choice Award, and Japan’s Sakura Medal. ONE TRUE WAY, which received a starred review from KIRKUS REVIEWS, is her third novel.


Welcome to Daniel Boone Middle School in the 1970s, where teachers and coaches must hide who they are, and girls who like girls are forced to question their own choices. Presented in the voice of a premier storyteller, ONE TRUE WAY sheds exquisite light on what it means to be different, while at the same time being wholly true to oneself. Through the lives and influences of two girls, readers come to see that love is love is love. Set against the backdrop of history and politics that surrounded gay rights in the 1970s South, this novel is a thoughtful, eye-opening look at tolerance, acceptance, and change, and will widen the hearts of all readers.


ONE TRUE WAY is about two middle-school girls growing up in the seventies who develop feelings for each other. You mention in the Author’s Note about how you got the idea. Why was it so important to you to write this particular novel?

I grew up in a conservative church that taught homosexuality is a sin. I had never really questioned those teachings until a person I love came out to me. I wrote ONE TRUE WAY to make sense of it all.

All three of your published novels are historical. What is it about that genre that appeals to you?

I grew up on a hundred-acre farm in a family of storytellers. I loved hearing my grandparents and uncles talk about the times before I was born. All of my favorite books were historical too. I loved Little House on the Prairie, Heidi, Caddie Woodlawn, and the biographies of women like Annie Oakley, Nancy Todd Lincoln, Lucretia Mott, and Betsy Ross. I have a theory that the type of books you loved as a child are probably the kind you’d enjoy writing as an adult.

The characters in ONE TRUE WAY are so richly developed. Are any of them based on people you’ve known?

Probably the best example is Reverend Walker. She’s based on my real-life minister, Vicki Walker, who helped with the theological aspects of my book.

I love the period details in the book. Can you tell us about some of the research you had to do?

I started with my yearbook from 1977. I looked at our hairstyles and clothes. I googled songs from 1976 and 77 to fact check my memories. I watched a lot of YouTube clips of Anita Bryant and her Save Our Children campaign. Probably the most important research was reading every LGBTQ themed YA book I could get my hands on. I made note of what content would be appropriate and inappropriate for a MG audience.

In the book, you do a wonderful job with a few characters who have to reconcile their religious teachings with the notion of homosexuality. Can you tell us how you came to formulating those ideas presented?

Three books were invaluable to me: Defrocked: How A Father’s Act of Love Shook the United Methodist Church by Franklyn Schaefer, Crooked Letter i: Coming Out in the South by Connie Griffin, and When Christians Get It Wrong by Adam Hamilton. Once I had formulated my own opinions, I discussed my beliefs with the Reverend Vicki Walker. I knew I was on to something when she said, “You have no idea how many parents have sat where you are, struggling to accept their gay children, and how many children have sat in the same seat, afraid of disappointing their parents.” If ONE TRUE WAY can help those families in any way, I will consider it a success.

For those who would like to read more middle-grade LGBTQ-themed books, do you have any recommendations?

I’ve actually compiled a list which is on my website here.

For more about Shannon and her work, visit her website. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks, Shannon! And thanks for offering a free signed copy of your book to a lucky winner (U.S. and Canada only). To be eligible to win, leave a comment below. I’ll pick a winner at random Wednesday night at 9 p.m. and announce who won on Thursday.

The Art of the Swap Interview and Giveaway

Freaky Friday meets Downton Abbey in this middle grade mystery that features a modern day twelve-year-old switching bodies with a Gilded Age heiress in order to solve a famous art heist.

We are thrilled to have with us today Kristine Asselin and Jen Malone, authors of THE ART OF THE SWAP, which comes out tomorrow. I am gobsmacked to be able to report that Kris, Jen, and Simon & Schuster are giving to one reader of our blog an ENTIRE CLASSROOM OF HARD COVERS of this book! Can you believe that? It’s for classes in the U.S. only, and up to 25 books. To enter, leave a comment with your email address below by 5pm Eastern on Thursday. You can get an additional entry if you tweet about the giveaway (just leave a link to the tweet in your comment). If you aren’t a teacher, you can designate any school for the donation, or Jen and Kristine can suggest a worthy recipient.

What a fun story! Can you share with us the inspiration?

Kris: Thanks so much for having us here at the Mixed Up Files. We are so excited to have this book out in the world. We can’t wait for kids to read it!

The origin story: About four years ago, I was visiting Newport, Rhode Island, with my family. My daughter and my husband and I have always really enjoyed historical properties, and we tour them as often as we can. On this particular trip, we were on a guided tour and the tour guide pointed to a mysterious door as we walked by and said, “that’s the caretaker’s apartment.”

I turned to my daughter. “Wouldn’t it be cool to live here and take care of all of this?”

She replied, “That would be a great story, mom. You should write that.”

When I got home, I did a bit of research and found out that The Elms (the house in our story) had a real life caretaker who raised his daughter in the house. He’s still there, in fact. His name is Harold Matthews. I was immediately intrigued.

About a year later, Jen and I were carpooling to SCBWI New Jersey and got to talking about our works-in-progress. When I mentioned this middle grade idea of a caretaker’s daughter, we began to brainstorm. Through the course of our drive, it became this amazing dual voice, Freaky Friday, time travel story that we absolutely had to write together.

I love getting to see what it is like for girls from two different centuries, living in the same house. What kind of research did you do for the book? 

Jen: Kristine had a lot more experience doing research since she also writes nonfiction titles for the school/library market, but my fiction research to date had been more along the lines of “Where are all the penny press machines in NYC?” and “How much paper mache would it take to build a 50-foot hedgehog float,” so this was a new and welcome challenge for me. The best was our in-person research—we made visits to The Elms together and solo, and spent an amazing day trailing the caretaker, Harold Mathews, into spots not normally accessible to the public and listening to him speak about his adventures as a single dad raising his young daughter in the converted servant quarters-turned-caretaker apartment. That was magical insight we couldn’t have gotten from any textbook (though we relied on those plenty as well). Most fascinating to me was a mysterious opening ¾ of the way up a wall between the furnace rooms and the coal tunnel (pictured here). Harold told us they once filmed a Victoria’s Secret commercial in this space, but that in the 30-plus years he’s managed the property he’d never once investigated that space. Kris and I were dying to pull a ladder right up to it! Alas… he didn’t offer.

Kris: The Elms was a private home until the early 1960s when the Newport Preservation Society saved it from the wrecking ball and turned it into a museum. It’s still hard for me to believe that someone actually lived in the house, it’s so huge. It truly has its own story! It was one of the first properties saved from destruction by the Preservation Society—and today it looks a lot like it did in the early 1900s.

You can visit The Elms and tour it–so if you’re ever in Newport, you can actually see the places in the house where Hannah and Maggie live!

You two have created a fabulous Educators’ Guide for Art of the Swap that is Common Core-aligned for grades 4-7 and includes special activities for Women’s History Month. Can you tell us some about what you’ve included?

Jen: Thank you! Maggie’s character arc was always focused on the differences between how girls are treated in her time (1905) versus in Hannah’s modern day, but after participating in the Women’s March last year, we revised the manuscript to make some big changes to Hannah’s character arc that allow her to realize there are still many strides to be made in the fight for true equality. We’re hopeful the book can be a springboard to classroom conversation about this! Our Educator’s Guide offers several discussion points on this topic, as well as focused activities, such as a timeline of events in the women’s rights movement between the two time periods highlighted in the story. 

My daughter and I are in a book club together, and so I was thrilled to see the Activities Guide for Troops, Book Clubs, and Organizations, as well. What are some of those activities, and why did you decide to create that guide?

Jen: Both Kristine and I are moms to young girls (my daughter is eleven and Kristine’s is fifteen). As we took a deeper dive into feminism with this book, we were also doing the same in our personal lives. We wanted SWAP to be a starting point for discussions on equality, but we also hoped those discussions would lead to action. We created this Activities Guide for Young Activists to offer a script for ways tweens and teens could turn awareness into activism. We have a series of experiments kids can conduct to see where imbalances still present. For example, one has them watching commercials and tallying lines of dialogue and examining the roles in which women were cast. Did you know the average girl has seen 77,546 ads by the time she turns twelve and only 5% of those ads feature women without a man present? Men speak seven times as often as women in commercials and are 62% more likely to be shown in an intelligent role, such as doctor or scientist. From this awareness-building, we offer suggestions for concrete action steps to bring about change—with the idea that girls (and any boy allies who want to join in!) can do most of them in a fun group setting and benefit from that bonding time too. I think every author wants their stories to put more good into the world, even if that’s by simply offering a few hours of escape to our readers, but this book’s subject matter, coupled with our passion for the topic, really made us want to go bigger here! We’re including a sample exercise from the guide below, and it’s available for download on our author sites and on We’d love to contribute to the movement!

Can you describe the process of writing collaboratively? How did you share ideas and writing?

Kris: First and foremost, we were (and are!) both super excited about this story. Our love for our characters and the themes in the book really drove the process. Once we realized we were actually going to do this, we started by brainstorming most of the plot in one sitting back in August of 2015. We created a very detailed outline which included almost every detail of the plot. This was important because each of us were writing a different voice and character arc, so we needed to have an outline to keep us on track. Can you tell which girl each of us wrote?

As far as nuts and bolts, we had a shared Google Doc in which we wrote the whole story. We would meet (or talk on the phone) periodically to share ideas, but we each wrote our own parts.

Once we had the words in the Doc we could critique each other’s work and then revise. It worked out really well, I think!

We agree! Thanks, Kristine and Jen, for the interview. Now, dear reader, go enter to win all those awesome books!

Kate Hillyer wants to move to an old mansion in Newport, R.I. In the meantime, you can find her in our nation’s capitol, where she reads and writes middle grade, wrangles three kids, and is sure she’s going to start training for that 10k she signed up for any second now. She blogs here and at The Winged Pen, and is a Cybils judge for Poetry. She’s online at and on Twitter as @SuperKate. 









The Unicorn Quest: Some Writing Advice and A Giveaway!


Kamilla Benko spent most of her childhood climbing into wardrobes, trying to step through mirrors, and plotting to run away to an art museum. Now, she visits other worlds as a children’s book editor. Originally from Indiana, she currently lives in New York with her bookshelves, teapot, and hiking boots.

She describes her magical new MG this way:

Claire Martinson still worries about her older sister Sophie, who battled a mysterious illness last year. But things are back to normal as they move into Windermere Manor… until the sisters climb a strange ladder in a fireplace and enter the magical land of Arden. 

There, they find a world in turmoil. The four guilds of magic no longer trust each other. The beloved unicorns have gone, and terrible wraiths roam freely. Scared, the girls return home. But when Sophie vanishes, it will take all of Claire’s courage to climb back up the ladder, find her sister, and uncover the unicorns’ greatest secret.

Kamilla dropped by the MUF to give us a sneak peek into her writing process (spoiler alert: it’s not always easy!)

A fresh page.

A blank expanse with no mistakes, just waiting for your perfect idea to stampede across it, in wild curly cues of insight (or straight backed letters, if you’re typing and not one for cursive.) It’s exciting! It’s exhilarating! And then…

The words don’t come.

My solution had been, for years, to immediately close the blank Word document and go back to watching Downton Abbey with my cat. It was a reasonable enough solution and I learned a lot about the inner workings of a Victorian era high society house, which I’m sure will help me with my writing… some day!

I find myself thinking that the worst part of the blank page is not having no ideas, but having far too many.  It’s imagination in its purest form. And here I am caught with the paradox of choice. It’s the same disorder that causes you to scroll through your Netflix queue for hours at a time wondering why you don’t want to watch a single TV show. It’s because there are thousands of choices and you are suddenly crippled by the choice of having to pick only one (commitment issues, anyone?).

And because this paradox of choice has caused so many smart, talented writers to stop dead in their tracks, I want to share a few ways I worked through the terror of the blank page. These are few tips on how I, for the moment, tackled the infamous conundrum of Writer’s Block while working on my debut novel, The Unicorn Quest.

Tip Number One: Look AWAY!

Don’t turn on Downton Abbey, but do play with your cat. Take a walk, either on the sidewalk or through the mysterious side streets of the internet. Start putting together a Pinterest for each of your projects. Go to a Museum. Get lost on a street you’ve never turned down. Put on some music and go to a park. I’m in New York, so I like to put on some timeless music and wander through Central Park until I can almost forget what year it is. Let yourself be transported by the beauty of what is around you. Make sure to get yourself out of your house or apartment, and find something new.

Tip Number Two: READ!

This should be obvious, but sometimes it’s not. Why would you want to be a writer if you aren’t a voracious reader? I know some authors avoid reading during writing projects, as they are too worried about being influenced by other works. This is not a philosophy I prescribe to. Don’t be a copy cat, obviously, but your brain is unique enough to take in other works and craft your own narratives from those interpretations.

And don’t read just what connects to your book! Read books about politics, history, memoirs. Read about great historical romances and long lost civilizations and explorers discovering new lands – even if you’re writing a contemporary love story set in New York City. I truly believe it is human nature to search for patterns, and your brain will start making new and fascinating connections between disparate sources.

Tip Three: Give yourself permission to FAIL.

I’m going to be upfront with you. You’re going to write a lot of bad stuff. Tons of totally bad, awful, no good writing. And you know who else wrote a lot of bad stuff? J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, probably even William Shakespeare. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received on writing is this: When you first start writing, you will want to quit because your writing won’t be good enough to match your taste. You just have to keep writing until you are good enough to create something you actually like.  

Sometimes, you just need to wade into the blankness of the page and give yourself permission to just be bad. Be cliché and be silly! You’ll find that, magically, gems appear on the page in between. One of the best ways to dive into this is to assign yourself a time to free write. This means writing for 15 minutes straight without ever taking your fingers off the keyboard or lifting your pencil from the page. There’s even an app for this. It lets you set a timer for yourself and if you stop writing, it deletes your previous progress. You have to keep writing! Always remember that things are almost never perfect on the first try.

Thanks, Kamilla! And thanks for offering a free copy of The Unicorn Quest to one lucky winner. To be eligible, please enter a comment below.