Friday, August 31, 2012

Book Review #12: The Last Unicorn

This month's Animal Fantasy Book Review is Peter S. Beagle's classic novel, The Last Unicorn.  Equine novels are near and dear to my heart, as you could probably guess from my horse-themed manuscript, The Beast of Bannock.  Ordinarily, I discuss recent animal fantasies in my book review feature, but classics undoubtedly have their place in today's reading population, too.  Just as students study Steinbeck and Salinger in the classroom, there is much to be learned from classic animal fantasy works.  It's good for writers to know what's selling in today's market, but it's equally important to know what books played a part in shaping the genre.  If you aren't familiar with The Last Unicorn yourself, here's the summary from Goodread's website:   

The unicorn discovers that she is the last unicorn in the world, and sets off to find the others. She meets Schmendrick the Magician--whose magic seldom works, and never as he intended--when he rescues her from Mommy Fortuna's Midnight Carnival, where only some of the mythical beasts displayed are illusions. They are joined by Molly Grue, who believes in legends despite her experiences with a Robin Hood wannabe and his un-merry men. Ahead wait King Haggard and his Red Bull, who banished unicorns from the land.

I will start off by noting that I have never seen the animated version of The Last Unicorn, so I came into this book with no expectations or prior knowledge of the story.  (Heck, I didn't even know the movie was originally a book until I saw it on Goodreads!)  I am happy to say the book is an enchanting read, and one that you won't soon forget.  The characters are varied and deep, the plot magical, and the unicorn as bewitching and aloof as I imagine one might be in real life.  (Wouldn't you be aloof, too, if you were the most beautiful, immortal creature in the world?)  What I admire most about this book, though, is the writing itself as well as how Beagle balances the characters in the story.

Told from the third-person perspective, The Last Unicorn switches mainly between the titular, unnamed unicorn, the magician Schmendreck, and their companion Molly Grue's point of views.  Each sees the world differently, giving their separate flavors to the story.  The two main human characters are affected by the unicorn in their own ways, bringing the equine character to life in a way she couldn't do on her own.  As I mentioned above, the unicorn is aloof, and it can be hard to feel close to an emotionally-distant character you don't know very well.  But the respect, awe, jealousy, despair and other raw emotions that the unicorn brings out in Molly and Schmendrick make you root for the equine and her quest--as well as the large part the humans play in it.  And for all her beauty and grace, the unicorn is genuinely pitiable, as Beagle presents from the very first line: "The unicorn lived in the lilac wood, and she lived all alone."  She tugs at your heartstrings before you even find out just how alone she really is.  Beagle could have chosen just the unicorn or the magician to tell this tale, but I think it is only with the twining of all the characters' viewpoints that the full story can truly shine.

The best part about this book, though, is the gorgeous writing.  I can honestly say this is probably the most beautiful book I have ever read.  Every page has thought-provoking metaphors, unique smiles, and breathtaking, lyrical word choices.  I was constantly re-reading paragraphs, savoring phrases and wallowing in the images.  At one point, the villainous King Haggard shouts at the unicorn, "What's the matter with your eyes? They are full of green leaves, crowded with trees and streams and small animals...I want to know why there are fox cubs in her eyes."  Leaves and trees and fox cubs in someone's eyes?  I have never thought to describe a character's eyes like that!  But it is a stunning image that stayed with me long after I read that passage.  The entire book is just like that, with writing so beautiful your heart will sigh and ache with every page.

If you love reading classic fantasy literature or have an affinity for equine stories, then this book is definitely for you.  And if you are a lover of words themselves, then you owe it to yourself to read this beautiful book.  By reading The Last Unicorn, you'll see how different it is from the current fantasy books that are being published for modern young readers, but you'll also find common threads that still make it a meaningful book today.  I don't think you'll be disappointed, and it may just inspire you to write a little more poetically.

To the best of my research, Peter Beagle does not have an author website, but there is plenty of information about him and his other works on the web.  If you read The Last Unicorn, do let me know.  I'd love to hear what you think!

Happy reading!  :) 

Note: Summary is from Goodreads and the jacket art image is from

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

COSCBWI August 2012: Query Letters

This month's COSCBWI meeting was all about query letters.  Led by our Assistant Regional Advisor, Andrea Hall, and yours truly, we first had a discussion on query letters do's and dont's, as well as formatting and standard guidelines.   We then critiqued members' query letters as a group, giving constructive feedback for each volunteer.

A quick Google search will bring you tons of pages on the basics of query letter writing, so I won't go into that here.  Instead, here are some tips we discussed for you to consider once you have your ideas on paper:

-Be professional.  You want to present yourself and your book in the very best light possible.

-Have some buddies read it for errors.  You definitely don't want to send out a letter with typos!

-Be sure to follow the agent's guidelines.  Many literary agencies specify what they want included in your letter, as well as attachment preferences, etc., so pay close attention to what they ask of you.

-Try to personalize your letter for each agent you submit to.  If Agent A loves friendship stories, emphasize the relationships in your manuscript.  If Agent B likes humor, emphasize what is funny about it.  You can do this just by tweaking your letter instead of writing a dozen different ones.  (Note: DO NOT lie, though.  Only emphasize what is truly in your story.  If there is no romance plot in your manuscript, don't compare it to Romeo & Juliet.)

-Do include relevant information in your bio section.  If you're a Paleontologist writing a book about dinosaurs, that's a great thing to point out.

-Agents are so busy and receive such a high volume of queries that is isn't in your best interest to submit your manuscript exclusively to any one agent.  (You could wait anywhere from one hour to several months for a response.)  Politely note it is a simultaneous submission, and be sure to let each agent you've queried know if you've received an offer of representation.

-Don't give up!  Querying is a subjective process, and a story one agent doesn't care for may just be the perfect book for another!  :)

Lastly, we went over some helpful query letter websites you can use as resources, including:

And for great information on agents who represent Children's through YA lit, be sure to check out!

You can find out more about our upcoming COSCBWI events at  Registration is also open for our Fall Workshop on October 27 featuring editor Kristin Ostby and author/illustrator Lindsay Ward.  You can register at

Hope to see you at our September meeting!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Embarking On A New Adventure

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been a busy little bee writing my new novel, Pirate Ferret, this summer!  It's all finished now, and I thought this would be a fun time to introduce you to my new fuzzy character, Tentacles!
Tentacles knows he's the best thief ever to sail the seven seas, and his job is to steal treasure for his captain, Vincent Goldbeard.  Like any ferret, he has a weakness for shiny things, snatching up everything he finds.  His favorite treasure is buttons, and he's always searching for just one more to add to his stash.  Unfortunately for his greedy paws, that may just get him into trouble...
Writing Pirate Ferret has been an interesting experience.  Honestly, at first I was reluctant to start a new project.  After all the time and effort I've put into The Beast of Bannock, starting a second project seemed both daunting and wrong--like I was cheating on my old characters.  How could I spend time writing something new when I wasn't ready to give up on my baby?
With lots of encouragement from my writing friends and family--and assurances I wasn't cheating on Bannock--I decided to just give Pirate Ferret a try.  Ferrets have this way of demanding your attention, and Tentacles wouldn't leave my thoughts alone until I got his story on paper.  And you know what?  Now that his story is done, I can't imagine life without him.
I'm not an actual parent, but I'd guess this is what it feels like to have two children.  I don't love one over the other, because they're so different and endearing in their own ways.  What I learned writing Bannock helped me craft Pirate Ferret, and in return, writing Pirate Ferret  has given me some new insight for revising Bannock.  The two books aren't competing; they're benefiting each other.  Plus, it just feels good to have two novels in my writing arsenal--like all my hopes and dreams aren't resting solely on Ellis' poor shoulders (er, withers) anymore.

If you're a one-project writer, I encourage you to pay attention to the other ideas floating around in your head.  There are so many reasons why you might choose to ignore them (and trust me--I completely understand them all), but you may just surprise yourself with how much fun another project can be.

Happy Writing!   :)

Monday, August 13, 2012

WriteOnCon 2012

 Hey everyone!

From August 14-15, there's a FREE online writing conference going on called "WriteOnCon."  If you're a writer (or aspiring writer), you should check it out at here!

The folks at WriteOnCon always have a great lineup of authors, agents, and editors who share their publishing knowledge in posts, vlogs, and live chats.  There are also forums where you can post your work for feedback by peers and "Ninja Agents."  This will be my third year attending and I always have a great time.  :)

Now, head on over and get ready for an avalanche of inspiration and wisdom!

Note: Image is from WriteOnCon's website.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Presenting the New COSCBWI Logo!

A few months ago, the COSCBWI Regional Advisor asked if I'd design a new logo for our group!  After a lot of designing and planning, I'm very happy to share the final product with you.
This is the first time I've ever been asked to do something like this, and it was a lot of fun!  I had a few criteria to follow, including:
-Keep it simple
-Incorporate a kite--the symbol of National SCBWI
-Make it Ohio-oriented
After a lot of sketching and consideration of Ohio's state symbols, I decided to focus on a flying cardinal.  Since our state flag is a fun pennant shape, I thought it would make an ideal kite for the bird to fly, too.  I also decided to go with a light, cartoony look to match the theme of Children's writing and illustrating.
I'm happy to say that our Regional Advisor and Assistant Regional Advisor are both pleased with my design!   And I just learned it's already on the National website as seen here.  (How cool is that?)  I am very grateful for this opportunity and look forward to seeing my design on our chapter website and materials soon!