A Plague of Unicorns, book review, Ghostly Evidence, Jane Yolen, Kelly Milner Halls, San Francisco Book Review

A Plague of Unicorns by Jane Yolen — Review, Author Interview, and Giveaway

Thought for the Day:

“Fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us dragons exist,
but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”
~ G.K. Chesterton ~

Gifts for My Writer Friends:

Through the Tollbooth has a GREAT post on Creating Character Contradictions you can find HERE. This is one of the best posts I’ve read in a long time. 

Writers Helping Writers have a guest post by M. J. Bush that should not be missed. Click HERE to find out How to Keep Your Story Moving and Your Character Believable. 

I am becoming a big fan of Fiction University. This post is about how to use adverbs. Yes, how to use them. I know what Stephen King says, but click HEREfor an interesting take. 
Last week, I offered a copy of Kelly Milner Hall‘s wonderful book, Ghostly Evidence. This week’s winner is Nancy! (Ahem. Not nancywrtr. Sorry.) WooHoo! Congratulations, Nancy. I will get this out to you this week. If you aren’t Nancy, stick around. I have another great giveaway this week. 
When I saw some months ago that Jane Yolen had a new book,  A Plague of Unicorns, coming out, I lurked around the San Francisco Book Review until I got my hands on it. Then I asked if I could interview the author and do a featured review. I got the go ahead, and when I contacted Jane Yolen, she most graciously agreed. Here is that review and interview. Enjoy!

Young James has the most incredible curiosity, asking questions all day long of anyone whom he can convince to pause for a moment or two. He is neither disobedient nor disrespectful to his mother, Duchess Ann, or his Uncle Archibald, nor is he a bad big brother to baby Bruce nor an annoying little brother to sister Alexandria, but the questions are unending. All his tutors have resigned unceremoniously save Cumber, nicknamed “Cumbersome” by Alexandria, although “Tiresome” might have been more apropos. Perhaps if his father hadn’t been gone for so long, James would be more settled. When his ninth birthday comes around, Uncle Archibald announces it is time for James to be sent to live with the monks at Cranford Abbey and finish his education. It is three days ride away, and James is sure he will miss his home and family terribly.
When James arrives at the Abbey, he discovers the monks are all in a dither because they are being plagued by unicorns that eat their golden apples. These are not just any apples, but special golden apples for which the abbot has a cider recipe he believes will make enough money to save the crumbling abbey. You see, it is a very poor abbey. Abbot Aelian has tried to hire heroes to get rid of the unicorns, but to no avail. Is it possible that young James of Castle Callander is the hero for whom Abbot Aelian has been waiting?
Jane Yolen has written an absolutely enchanting story for the young middle-grade crowd. Both boys and girls will be charmed by the characters,

Jane Yolen

especially young James Callander, his sweet sister Alexandria, and the young oblates at the abbey. The story, set in a make-believe medieval village, will be of great interest to youngsters (and the rest of us who have sense enough to borrow this from the kids) as they lose themselves into a story of people a long, long time ago that is so different from the world they live in. This is the kind of fantasy all young people will like. There is little that is fantastical except the unicorns. This opens the readership up to everyone, not just those kids who are hooked on fantasy, yet enough to engage the fantasy readers. James is the perfect kind of protagonist for middle-grade readers. He is smart, curious, has a good heart, and perseveres through some very difficult times. In other words, he is a great role model for the younger set. There are plenty of funny moments and enough intrigue to keep kids turning the pages. Jane Yolen’s writing, of course, is absolutely lyrical and paints pictures in the minds of readers. That said, the beautiful cover art by John Rowe will draw young readers in, and the interior illustrations by Tom McGrath are a wonderful addition to the story, a story which is compelling and fun. This is a perfect book for holiday gift-giving or really for any time of the year.  


And now for the interview.
RH: Your newest book has elements of fantasy, but I wouldn’t call it a fantasy. It is set long ago, but not in a very definite time or place. What kind of research or other preparation did you need to do for writing A Plague of Unicorns?

JY: I have had a lifetime interest in the legends and lore of unicorns so-though I topped it up a bit for this novel–I didn’t have to research that much. I did do some research on medieval monasteries, apple varieties, and the like.

RH: What is your favorite thing about A Plague of Unicorns?

JY: The relationship between James and his sister Alexandria (named after my oldest granddaughter, Glendon Alexandria Callan-Piatt.) as well as the moment James first sees the misty passage of the unicorns on his way to the abbey.

RH: How long did you work on this book? What was your journey to its publication? (I hesitate to ask this, but sometimes I am very surprised in this business.) Did you have any trouble finding a home for it? In other words, do you ever suffer rejection at this point in your career?

JY: Last week I had a rejection for a book of silly one-line poems written with ex-children’s poet laureate J. Patrick Lewis. The week before I had three picture books of my own rejected. So yes, I still get rejected.

As to PLAGUE OF UNICORNS, it was first written for and published in a much shortened form as a short story called “An Infestation of Unicorns” in my collection HERE THERE BE UNICORNS in 1994. Fast forward about 18 years and I met the novel editor for Zonderkidz at the Texas Library Assn’s yearly meeting. She expressed great interest in publishing me as she was a fan of mine. However, I am not a Christian writer, so I wondered aloud what I could produce for them, suddenly remembered the unicorn story set in an abbey, sent it to them as a proposal for a novel, and they said yes. So in this particular instance, no rejections. But that’s quite unusual on such a long journey.

RH: As writers, we all hear so much about the editing process. Did you have to do a lot of re-writing once A Plague of Unicorns was placed?

JY: Two major rewrites for the editor who then left Zonderkidz and a couple of more minor rewrites for the new editor and the copyeditor.  I think (hope) it got better and stronger with each go-around.

RH: Sometimes you collaborate on writing projects. What do you like most about collaboration? What, if anything, is the downside of collaboration?

JY: Upsides: I get closer to my collaborator than before, whether a friend, an acquaintance, or (as I have often done) one of my kids. Usually, the collaborator brings to the book something they are better at than I am—for example plotting. Or the ability to tell me straight out when something doesn’t work. Downside: I am faster than almost anyone I have ever worked with (well, maybe not Bruce Coville when he is really into a book, but he has a history of procrastination that defeats even my best nagging efforts. And definitely not faster than Pat Lewis, who sends me back revisions or new material before I have even read what he’d sent before!!!). Being faster means I get frustrated when the other person slows me down.

RH: You have received many awards. What has that meant to you? How has it changed things for you in terms of being a writer? Is there one award that is most meaningful to you and why?

JY: This is what I tell children whenever they ask the same thing. Winning an award is—for the moment—lovely. You know that someone loves your poem/story/book. But very quickly the award is old news and you have to dust it, or put it somewhere you don’t trip over it. One of my awards set my good coat on fire. (That’s a long story but true.)

RH: A couple of your books have been banned in various places. I believe one was even burned. Could you talk about how that affected you and your career as a writer?

JY: Being banned (and BRIAR ROSE burned on the steps of the K.C. Board of Education by a hate group) was a momentary hitch, glitch, arrow in the heart. But then I have used it in poems, in speeches, and turned it into a positive. The pinprick of sorrow never quite goes away, but it’s a small thing within the larger fight against censorship and freedom of speech.

RH: With over 360 books published, it would probably be silly for me to ask if you have a favorite, but if you do, what is it and why? You have written in virtually every genre for children. Do you have a favorite genre and why?

JY: It always depends what is happening the day I am asked that question. Certainly in a list of my ten favorites OWL MOON, THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC, HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY GOODNIGHT, and BRIAR ROSE will always appear. But if I have just sold movie rights, or gotten an unexpected check, or seen the first color proofs or cover, or an editor has just taken a new book—THOSE books soar into the Best 10. So it depends.

RH: Your grandfather was a storyteller, your father a journalist and author, and your mother wrote stories. How much of an influence was that on your career choice? In what ways have their stories and writings shaped what you write?

JY: It’s in the DNA My brother is a journalist and has published several children’s books in both Portuguese and English (he lives in Brazil.) All three of my children are published authors as well. I have a cousin who is becoming a well-known travel writer. Other cousins who write different kinds of things—manuals, articles, etc. But I am the only one in the family who has several hundred books out, thousands of poems and stories.

RH: Why do you write for children?

JY: Because I remember the child I was. Because I am good at it. Because my brain is wired that way. Because I win awards. Because the stories just come out that way. Because I am lucky. Because. . .

Of course I also have a half dozen adult novels and even more story and poetry collections for adults, several how-to books about writing for adults. 

But children’s books are where my heart resides.

RH: What were your favorite children’s books when you were growing up?

JY: Anything about King Arthur, dogs, horses, all the Color Fairy Books by Andrew Lang (well, really by his wife, but his name was on the cover), anything by James Thurber, Louisa May Alcott, anything about Oz, a lot of fantasy novels who’s name I now can’t remember, Mary Poppins, Wind in the Willows, The Secret Garden, The Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam (I was allowed to read anything in my parents library as well).

RH: What is the last book you read?

JY: Am reading a Ruth Rendell mystery, just finished reading a Jim Henson biography, rereading a biography of Scottish poet George McKay Brown, John Green’s Fault in Our Stars, a children’s biography of Woody Guthrie, plus the latest HellBoy comic.

RH: Your writing has such a great, natural flow to it. Do you spend a lot of time planning your writing – outlining and such – or is it a much more organic process for you?

JY: Very organic. I call it “flying into the mist.”

RH: What’s next for you?

JY: I have four novels under contract though a major seven hour spinal surgery has slowed me down. Anaethesia brain will keep me befuddled and away from the longer projects for several more months. And I write a poem a day which I send to over 460 subscribers. Which reminds me, I have to get that out now, so. . .TTFN. (Nritish for tata for now!)
RH: Thank you for so generously sharing your time and thoughts. 
I have a gently-read ARC of A Plague of Unicorns to give to one of you. All you need do is have a US address, be a subscriber or follower and tell me that in a comment you leave on this post. If you are reading this in your email, click HERE to go to the blog so you can leave a comment. If you would like extra chances, please spread the word by posting the link on a Tweet, blog post, Facebook, or any other way you like. Let me know what you have done in your comment, and I will put in extra chances for you for each that you do. 


Don’t forget to check out Shannon Messenger’s wonderful blog HERE for many more Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday reviews and giveaways.


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