Jill: I loved NOT A UNICORN and I’m excited to learn more about the book and your process! To begin, could you please give us a brief synopsis?
Dana: First of all, thanks so much Jill for being one of my first readers and for doing this interview with me. Your support along the way has meant the world to me!
NOT A UNICORN is the story of 13 year old Jewel Conrad who has a horn on her head that looks very much like a unicorn horn. You might think that looking like a human unicorn would be cool, but Jewel doesn’t feel that way at all. More than anything, she wants to be hornless and “normal.” But there are other forces at play in Jewel’s world that make getting what she wants more complicated than she ever expected. She has to figure out the mystery of her horn which takes her on an unexpected quest to unexpected places. In the end, Jewel’s story becomes one to which we can all relate: learning to love and accept herself as she is.
Jill: This is such a unique concept, can you explain where it came from and why it resonated with you?
Dana: I wish I knew where Jewel came from, but I don’t. She just appeared in my brain one day and would not let go. She simply demanded that I write about her. Honestly, I resisted. I mean how weird would it make me to write a book about a girl with a unicorn horn?! And then I realized that was exactly how Jewel felt. She was scared to let herself be the real weird her in the world. So thanks to Jewel, I’m learning how to do that, too!
Jill: Jewel doesn’t want to have a unicorn horn and will do almost anything to get it removed. Why is this so important to her and what’s so bad about having a unicorn horn from Jewel’s perspective?
Dana: She wants to be like everyone else—just like so many kids in middle school. But for Jewel, she feels like she can never be normal and never live the life she wants when everyone is always staring at her. She thinks getting rid of her horn will solve all her problems. But will it?
Jill: Is it a real unicorn horn?
Dana: You’ll have to read the book to find out!
Jill: An interesting aspect of your book is that it’s a hybrid contemporary fantasy, which is great from a reader’s perspective because it makes it both relatable and escapist. Was it challenging to write a multi-genre book?
Dana: My two previous books were contemporary middle grade with some added magic or mystery, but Jewel’s story was very different from those. So, yes it was challenging. Partially because Jewel was less like me than any main character I had ever written. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED getting to inhabit her skin. I loved getting to know her and discovering the fantasy part of her story along with her. But it was important to me to get that balance right. I wanted this to be about a real girl in a real life who was living an experience that at times crossed the barriers of reality. That fantasy part was new to me as a writer but ultimately extremely fulfilling to get on the page. At this point, it all seems absolutely real and possible to me. Of the books I’ve written, it’s the one that I would most like to step into and experience for myself.
Jill: The characters in your book have very distinct personalities. Do you connect with any of the characters’ stories or traits?
Dana: I think I most connect with Jewel in her desire to belong. That was an acute desire for me at her age and I think it’s a human desire throughout our whole lives. Part of my evolution, as well as Jewel’s, is learning that you can be authentically yourself and still belong. The other characters in this book, especially Jewel’s friends, Nicholas and Mystic, came to me over time. They definitely have distinct personalities, and I think I would have been too intimidated to sit down at a lunch table with them in middle school. But even though they are a bit guarded and tough on the outside, their waters run deep. They were so worth getting to know! And I couldn’t have asked for better companions to go with me and Jewel on this journey.
Jill: Do you have another book you’re working on now?
Dana: Yes! I just finished a mystery with my screenplay writing partner, Kate McLaughlin. This is the first middle grade novel we’ve written together, but not the last, as we hope for it to become the first of a series. It’s contemporary fiction with some fantasy elements, too. Imagine that?
Jill: How can readers find out more about you and your writing?
Dana: You can always find out more about me by reading any of my books because there’s lots of me in them! Also, you can visit my website or follow me on social media:
Thanks so much, Jill, for taking the time to discuss NOT A UNICORN with me today. I can’t wait for it to be out in the world!
Jill Diamond is the author of LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE MURAL MYSTERY and LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE BICENTENNIAL BONANZA. You can find her online at www.jilldiamondbooks.com or @jillinboots on Twitter.
Dana Middleton is the author of THE INFINITY YEAR OF AVALON JAMES and OPEN IF YOU DARE. Her new book, NOT A UNICORN, comes out from Chronicle Books on September 21.