Trillium Sisters Interview & 2 Book Giveaway

I’m thrilled to welcome Laura Brown and Elly Kramer to the Mixed-Up Files to celebrate their upcoming release of two exciting new chapter books: Trillium Sisters 1: The Triplets Get Charmed and Trillium Sisters 2: Bestie Day. They’re illustrated by Sarah Mensinga and will be published by Pixel+Ink on June 1, 2021.

Three sisters discover that they and their pets have superpowers they can use to protect the world around them in this fantastical new chapter book series about family, friendship, and environmental responsibility perfect for fans of Mia Mayhem and The Wish Fairy.

This is such an amazing concept for a series. How did you come up with the idea?

Laura: It was originally inspired when I was on a family ski trip in Colorado. I was alone on a slope when I found myself by a gorgeous stand of Douglas Firs. The setting was so beautiful, I just had to stop. I began to imagine what it might be like to live in that beautiful spot, surrounded by nature! Who might live there and how? I couldn’t stop thinking about it. When I got home, I called  Elly and we built the world and characters from there.

Elly:  So, we had the setting. We knew where the stories would take place but had to figure out who the stories would be about. I had always wanted to tell a story featuring families. While they all look different, it’s something that every reader can relate to. And as someone who has an incredibly special relationship with my sister, the idea of writing about sisters popped into my head. (And in case he’s reading this, I love my brother very much, too. Trillium Brothers is next!) 


What inspired the two of you to co-write the Trillium Sister series?

Elly: Laura and I had worked together in children’s television for years and we had recently co-written some scripts for a show on Nick Jr. We loved the collaboration and realized we had some ideas of our own. That sparked the partnership. We both wanted to do something that empowered girls to be the heroes of their own stories. We call that modern princess magic.

Laura: It was also important to us that there were strong boys/men beside these strong girls. That’s why the family is headed by a single, nurturing dad and there’s a little brother who has his own unique gifts. 


What are some of the pros and cons of co-writing, and do you have tips for anyone who is considering working with a co-writer?

Laura: I think co-writing was natural for us given that we came from television. We’ve both been part of writer’s rooms where story ideas are workshopped with lots of different people at once. It’s loads of fun to create stories collaboratively – it’s almost like playing pretend when you’re little! My favorite part of co-writing is taking an idea in an unexpected direction when the other brain gets involved. Elly and I call this  “yes anding” each other!

Elly: What I love about our co-writing process is that we get each other unstuck. If I’m unsure where a chapter is going or if Laura wants the dialogue punched up, we turn to each other.  In terms of co-writing tips, I’d say figure out what you are each best at and lean into your strengths. No one has to do it all.

Laura: Yes, and pick a partner who has different strengths than you do so you each bring unique qualities to the team. Then, talk, talk, talk! You don’t want anything left unsaid when you’re writing together.

Elly: And don’t over use semi- colons! Apparently I used them way too much! 


LOL. It’s easy to see how well you work together. It sounds like such a fun way to write, brainstorm, and revise.

How have your backgrounds and lived experiences helped with your new chapter book series?

Elly: Having worked in television, I was used to thinking about all of the elements that go into telling stories. Things like, knowing who your audience is. How to think about world building and character development. There are some practical things that are different between developing for television and books, but ultimately you want your audience to fall in love with what you’ve created and to keep coming back for more.

Laura: The older I get, the more I love and respect nature. So few kids today have the opportunity to spend a day in the woods! My passion for the natural world really shaped the book. In terms of career, I’m an educational psychologist and I’ve spent years running focus groups with young children, exploring how they react to stories. That gives me a strong understanding of what engages children and what they understand at different ages. 


What surprised you the most while writing these books?

Laura: How easy it was to get lost in the stories! I love the world so much that sometimes I’d write an entire scene only to realize it wasn’t going to work. I had done it because I wanted to explore that part of Trillium Mountain! Of course, that doesn’t mean the writing was always easy. It wasn’t, but that’s when it was essential to have a partner and a great editor. Bethany Buck helped us in so many ways, but one thing that stands out is what she taught us about pacing the reveal of new information over the course of the series. 

Elly: To see how these girls have come alive off the page! We put mood boards together while we were developing the books. Everything from their clothing, to their rooms, to what kind of music they would listen to. We compiled images of what we envisioned they would look like before they were designed. My niece recently was looking through my phone and saw an image of a young girl. She said, “That looks like Giselle!” and it was a piece of inspiration I had pulled for Giselle. To see and feel how dimensionalized these girls have become, even though they’re not animated, has been incredible. 

Pics that inspired the sisters. Emmy is sensitive and compassionate. She loves nature and all living things. Clare has big out of the box ideas and loves design and fashion. And Giselle? She lives to move and she’s a confident decision maker. 

I love that your niece was able to look at your inspiration photo for Giselle and recognize her! The inspiration photos for the girls are amazing, and I can’t stop smiling at the inspiration photos for their adorable pets, too. Readers will want their own mini’mals after meeting these cuties.

Inspiration for the pets – Soar the eaglet, Fluffy the wolf pup, Claw the bear cub

Here’s the inspiration for the incredible world they created. What an amazing place to live! It’s an alpine oasis with touches of the fantastical. Where you can drink daisy juice, bring your pet to the Paw Pad for a massage, and find the most exquisite rocks. Trillium flowers hold special meaning for the girls.


Can you share a writing exercise with us?

Laura: One thing I struggle with is getting out of my everyday brain (which has a lot of “to do” lists in it) and into my creative brain. To do that, I go for a walk with my dog, Charley Brown. Then, I go home and “vomit write” for 10 minutes, which means I write whatever pops into my head without worrying if it makes sense.  It’s something I used to do with my daughter when she had trouble coming up with a writing topic for school. There’s often a little gold in all the mess.

Elly: Similar to Laura, I just write at first. I get everything out and then go back to re-read and edit. I’ve also found it incredibly useful to give myself  time and space between each revision. I see things differently the next day than I do after working on a chapter for 4 hours. 


Thanks for the great writing exercise and tips! Fast-drafting without allowing a pesky internal editor to interfere helps me discover so many gems, too. And giving myself time between revisions is a huge help! 

What’s next for both of you?

Laura: I’m working on a picture book and another chapter book series. The picture book is a humorous take on sibling relationships, based loosely on my own kids. They’re grown now and very close but when they were little, I worried it wouldn’t work out that way!  Elly and I are also writing some short stories for an online platform.

Elly: I have some new TV ideas I’ve been working on, but one of the greatest things that have come out of this process has been working with Laura. I am so much better working with someone else. It’s hard for me to come up with ideas in a vacuum. Laura and I are always talking about what we can do next together. I can always tell when she’s been out walking Charley … she usually calls with some great new idea as soon as she gets home from her walk. 


Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers? 

Laura: I want readers to know Trillium Sisters is first and foremost an adventure fantasy. We hope kids get lost in our stories and have fun.  In our opinion, those experiences teach us the most and make passionate readers.

Elly: Nothing to ‘yes and’ there. Perfectly said. 


Thank you so much for stopping by the Mixed-Up Files, Laura and Elly. It was great chatting with you.

Laura and Elly: Thank you! This was trilltastic!


Laura Brown, an early childhood expert, collaborates with organizations to create high quality educational media properties and products. She has written curricula and scripts and served as Content Expert and Research Director for series produced by Nick Jr., Disney Junior, Amazon Kids, DreamWorks Animation Television, PBS Kids, and many others. She is currently Curriculum Director at WarnerMedia Preschool/Cartoonito. A mother of three, she lives in Tenafly, NJ, but in another life, she would happily live in a treehouse in the forest. (Instagram: @laurabrownauthor)


Elly Kramer is currently the VP of Production & Development at Imagine Entertainment in their Kids and Family division and has created and led the development of numerous award-winning and highly-rated TV shows, online games, and innovative apps. As VP of Production and Development with Nickelodeon, she led the development of long and short-form content. She has also produced and developed over thirty-five shorts. Elly is a frequent speaker at film festivals and industry events. She lives in Los Angeles, CA. (Instagram: @ellykramerauthor)


Enter the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win a copy of both Trillium Sisters 1: The Triplets Get Charmed and Trillium Sisters 2: Bestie Day. (U.S. only)

Trillium Sisters 1: The Triplets Get Charmed

Eight-year-old triplets Emmy, Clare, and Giselle are excited to celebrate Founding Day, the day their dad found them and they became a family. The girls want this year’s celebration to be extra special. And Dad has a big surprise—trillium petal charms that he found with the girls.

But when the girls’ little brother, Zee, slips into the river while helping them plan a special surprise, something magical happens: The charms are drawn together, forming a glowing flower, and the girls suddenly have superpowers! Channeling their new abilities, they work together to try to save Zee, but will they be able to figure out how to help in time?



 Trillium Sisters 2: Bestie Day

The Trillium Triplets are flying into action!

Wondering if their powers will return, Clare, Emmy, and Giselle throw themselves into preparations for Bestie Day, when everyone in Trillsville celebrates the special people in their lives. The girls are planning to make presents for one another from fallen flower petals. That way, they can enjoy the beauty around them without causing harm.

But at the flower field, instead of finding beautiful blooms, the Trills find a big problem. Two girls from town are cutting so many flowers for their Bestie Day bouquets that the bees can’t get enough nectar. And without the bees, the entire mountain ecosystem could fall apart! When their Trillium powers activate, will the sisters be able to buzz to the rescue?

The winner will be announced on Sunday, May 30. Good luck. 😊


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Ena Jones Interview & Two Giveaways

I’m thrilled to welcome Ena Jones back to the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle-Grade Authors to celebrate the release of her newest novel, SIX FEET BELOW ZERO.

Credit: McCardell Photography

Credit: McCardell Photography

Ena Jones writes contemporary middle-grade fiction (for children ages 8-12). She grew up in Northern Virginia, on the outskirts of Washington, DC, and currently lives in North Carolina. She loves to read a wide variety of books, hole up in her office and write fun stories, take long walks along the ocean, and cook yummy meals for family and friends.

You can find her on her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Here’s a link to the SIX FEET BELOW ZERO Educator’s Guide, courtesy of Holiday House.



What inspired you to write this book—and were there any surprises along the way?

A photo of Marie Jones, the inspiration for the character of Great-Grammy.

SIX FEET BELOW ZERO sprouted from a simple idea. I wanted to explore the question of guardianship, something both parents and kids think about. There’s always a fear: Where will the children end up if something happens to the parents? And will a new guardian have the best interests of the kids at heart? We all know that, from both parent and child perspectives, there are people who are not suited to the role of caregiver. And that’s where I started my “What if .  . .” questions.

The first character that came to me was “Great-Grammy,” who was inspired by my husband’s grandmother. I wanted a person who would find a way to protect the children any way she could, even if she weren’t around to do it herself. My husband’s grandmother was that kind of real-life force.

As for surprises, writing a novel is one long series of them. But the biggest surprise was that I found the courage to write—and finish—the book at all. I tried very hard to talk myself out of it, and even enlisted others to tell me it was a bad idea, mostly because of the role of the freezer. The entire concept seemed absurd for a middle grade novel. But as I wrote more and more scenes, the 10-year-old inside of me kept chuckling. And the heart of the story really meant something to me, so here we are a few years later.


I’m glad you didn’t talk yourself out of writing it! I love the heart of the story–and how it encourages readers to appreciate their families and things they often take for granted. You kept me chuckling throughout the book, too.

I love how fleshed out and unique all your characters are. What pieces of you and your life are in SIX FEET BELOW ZERO?

I’ll go back to my husband’s grandmother here, too. She lived on 10 acres of land just outside of Washington, DC, and we would visit her with our children and have the best time tromping around her property. As I wrote the book, I pictured her, the house, the wildlife and trees, and definitely the hundreds of groundhog holes! Revisiting that time in our lives was the best part of writing this story.

Here’s a photo of  my favorite tree on Marie’s property. Look closely, and you’ll see a swing she put up preparing for one of our visits.



Beginnings are so hard to nail…but yours sucked me in immediately. How did you decide where to start your book? 

The beginnings of books are hard! But they are so important. They’re the gateway into a story, where a reader will either keep going, or think “Meh,” and go on to the next book—or maybe out for ice cream.

I decided to play with a flashback approach. Flashbacks don’t always work, but I knew what I wanted: a compelling and humorous scene to kick off the story and act as a promise to readers about what’s to come. Something that might entice even the most reluctant readers to be curious about Rosie and Baker’s backstory, and all the events, personality-types, and attitudes, that led up to the BIG AWFUL THING that forever changed Rosie and Baker’s lives and ushered them into their “new normal.” 

First I tried an opening that took place at the midpoint of the story, where Rosie and Baker sat in a police station doing their best not to answer questions about their great-grandmother’s whereabouts. But the siblings didn’t know enough about their predicament yet, so that didn’t work.

After a bit of trial and error, I landed on a place further along in the story, at a point when they fully realized the foe they were up against and the stakes involved. And that’s where I found my beginning: Rosie starting an urgent last-chance email to her Aunt Tilly, letting everything the siblings had been through spill out.

And that’s the beginning that stuck.


What type of research did you need to do?

It seemed that I was always researching something. Trees, wills, historic graves, locks, and of course freezers . . . the list was endless. I even researched hairstyles. I needed a good one for Grim Hesper!


I love how you sprinkled humor throughout a book with a serious topic. What tips can you share for blending the two? 

For me, it all comes back to knowing the characters and their relationships with each other. Maybe characters are dealing with a serious or sad situation, but that doesn’t mean they’ve suddenly become other people. They are still themselves!

For instance, in SIX FEET BELOW ZERO, there’s a scene where Rosie and Baker, as they grieve the loss of their great-grandmother, have agreed to come together to do something that seems almost impossible.

The thing is, even in the midst of that difficult scene, they must deal with each other’s quirks and their own shortcomings. There’s a unique opportunity to hit on unspoken truths when feelings let loose under stress, especially between siblings. Who else would you let your guard down with?

Also, normal everyday things continue to happen, that ordinarily wouldn’t be a big deal, but within the serious and sad scenario Rosie and Baker have found themselves in, they get a chuckle.

So I guess that would be my biggest tip for balancing humor within a serious scene or story: When something big, scary, and/or bad, is happening, remember to add your characters’ personalities to the mix, whether those traits are annoying or endearing, and also throw in some evidence that real life hasn’t stopped just because characters are handling (or not handling!) the big, scary, or bad, things.


Thanks so much for those awesome tips! Can you share a writing exercise with us?

A few years ago I was at an SCBWI conference in Florida, and took a full day workshop led by Elizabeth Law, Backlist & Special Projects Editor at Holiday House Books, and Greg Pincus, screenwriter. They spent the day comparing writing stories for children with writing screenplays and developing movie concepts, and it was so much fun!

One of the most memorable parts for me was the segment about “Poster-izing Your Book,” as in movie poster. It’s the line that isn’t a blurb, or synopsis sentence, but that captures the essence of your story in a short sentence or two. It’s what you almost always see on movie posters at the theatre. Do an online image search for “movie posters” and you’ll pull up thousands of examples.

It was at that workshop where I came up with the idea we’re now using to introduce SIX FEET BELOW ZERO: 

A dead body. A missing will. An evil relative. 

The good news is, Great Grammy has a plan. The bad news is, she’s the dead body.

I highly suggest writers use this strategy on the book they’re writing, no matter what stage it’s in. It helps to study as many movie posters as possible, and then get to work. Fill a few notebook pages with words and short phrases that describe your book, and then start to put them together.

Try it. You’ll love it!

And if you ever have the opportunity to take this particular workshop led by Elizabeth and Greg, don’t miss it!


Wow! That sounds like an incredible workshop. I love your exercise! It’s fantastic for writers and I can picture teachers and students poster-izing books and movies and letting others guess what they are. 

Is there anything else you’d like to tell the Mixed-Up Files readers?

I write books that are contemporary, but have a “This would never happen!” vibe. The thing is, I’m basically that kid—my character—when I’m writing. In my world, it not only could happen, it did. I hope readers will connect with the characters in SIX FEET BELOW ZERO, but mostly I hope they enjoy the ride.

I also want to thank Elizabeth Law and Greg Pincus, who graciously allowed me to share the above exercise.


I definitely enjoyed the ride. 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by the Mixed-Up Files again, Ena…and for generously donating a copy of SIX FEET BELOW ZERO, a bookmark and recipe card to two lucky winners. Enter the Rafflecopters below!

A dead body. A missing will. An evil relative. The good news is, Great Grammy has a plan. The bad news is, she’s the dead body.

Rosie and Baker are hiding something. Something big. Their great grandmother made them promise to pretend she’s alive until they find her missing will and get it in the right hands. The will protects the family house from their grandmother, Grim Hesper, who would sell it and ship Rosie and Baker off to separate boarding schools. They’ve already lost their parents and Great Grammy–they can’t lose each other, too.

The siblings kick it into high gear to locate the will, keep their neighbors from prying, and safeguard the house. Rosie has no time to cope with her grief as disasters pop up around every carefully planned corner. She can’t even bring herself to read her last-ever letter from Great Grammy. But the lies get bigger and bigger as Rosie and Baker try to convince everyone that their great grandmother is still around, and they’ll need more than a six-month supply of frozen noodle casserole and mountains of toilet paper once their wicked grandmother shows up!


One copy of SIX FEET BELOW ZERO is open to everyone in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

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One copy of SIX FEET BELOW ZERO will go to a teacher, media specialist or book blogger in the U.S. or Puerto Rico. 

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Winners will be announced on April 15. Good luck everyone!


Interview with Psychotherapist Amy Morin, Author of 13 Things Strong Kids Do

Anyone have a time machine?

For all of us who ever said, “I wish I’d known then, what I know now,” the Mixed Up Files has a special treat. Psychotherapist Amy Morin, LCSW, has put a middle-grade twist on her adult series13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, and 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do—to create 13 Things Strong Kids Do. It presents different scenarios along with constructive activities to help kids start thinking in new ways … and I’m researching ways to send it back in time to my 13-year-old self!

Welcome, Amy!

Sean McCollum: I wish I’d had a book like 13 Things Strong Kids Do when I was in middle school! Its information and exercises might have given me the tools to sidestep some of those self-defeating adolescent mistakes or given me the tools to better handle them. How did the idea for this book come about?

Amy Morin: So many of my adult readers said the same thing—they wished they had been able to learn about mental strength when they were young. So I wanted to write a book that would teach kids how to start building mental strength so they can develop skills and tools that will continue to serve them well throughout their whole lives.

The author as an MGer. 🙂


SMc: Would you be willing to share an anecdote from your own teen years about a time you weren’t “strong,” and how advice from this book might have helped?

AM: Well, many of the stories in my book stem from my own childhood. There were plenty of times I wasn’t strong. One example is when I quit playing the saxophone after one day! I was in the sixth grade and I only went to one lesson before I decided it was going to be too hard for me. I could have used several exercises from the book to help me persist—like creating my own catchphrase or writing myself a kind letter. Those types of things would have helped me drown out all those negative thoughts I had about not being able to do it.

SMc: How might educators and other professionals use this title in their schools and classrooms?

AM: This book gives adults a common language to use with kids. When an educator or a professional asks, “Is that a BLUE thought or a true thought?” it’s a reminder to a child that they can take action to change their own thinking.

Adults can empower kids when they understand the skills and tools kids have at their disposal. Rather than taking responsibility for creating change, professionals can encourage kids to do it on their own with a little guidance.

My hope is that professionals will use the book as a guide so they better understand how to reinforce healthy thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in kids.

SMc: Could you share three “healthy habits” our readers could put to use right now?

AM: Label your feelings. When you name how you’re feeling, like sad or angry, you’ll instantly feel just a little bit better. Research shows labeling our emotions helps our brains make a little more sense of things and it reduces our stress.

Ask yourself if your feelings are a friend or an enemy. Any feeling can be a friend sometimes—even sadness or anger. After all, being sad might help you honor something you lost and being angry might give you courage to speak up for someone else. But, those feelings can be an enemy when they cause you to get into trouble or keep you from having fun in life. If your feeling is a friend, embrace it. If it’s an enemy, take steps to change how you’re feeling.

Change the channel in your brain. When you’re thinking about something that causes you to feel awful—like that mean thing someone said—change the channel in your brain. Dance to some music, sing a song, or read a joke book. That will change the channel in your brain and help you stop thinking about things that cause you to feel bad.

SMc: Do you recall a favorite middle grade book and any life lessons it taught you?

AM: I loved reading Judy Blume’s books. Blubber was my favorite. It helped me see that growing up is tough for everyone and I wasn’t alone in many of the things I was thinking and feeling.

SMc: Do you practice the exercises in this book?

AM: Yes, even though I’m no longer a kid, I find the exercises really helpful! Whether I’m calming my brain and my body when I’m nervous or I’m trying to face my fears one small step at a time, the skills that work for you when you’re young will help you when you’re grown too.

To follow Amy Morin and her life-helping work, check out:

Thanks so much for making to time to speak with us, Amy!

Readers, remember to enter our Rafflecopter raffle for Amy’s book. (This one is for American readers only.)

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