Oh my goodness: I love Dana Middleton‘s post today and its reminder that stories do indeed chose us! I’m sure many of us can relate to Dana’s story of wanting to wiggle out of being tagged “it,” and, like me, you will admire how Dana turned her desire to run into a connection with her unlikely character. Read on to find out more about her newest novel, Not a Unicorn (Chronicle Books) and then hop over to my Instagram channel to listen to a replay of my conversation with her!
Not a Unicorn (Chronicle Books) is about a girl named Jewel who has a unicorn horn on her head.
That’s what I thought, too, when this character arrived in my mind one day. I tried to shoo her away because I had no idea how to write about a girl like her. And, as with so many passing ideas, I thought she might do just that … pass. But she didn’t. She pitched a tent and stayed.
Jewel was weird. I won’t deny that’s what I thought. She was also impossible. Nobody has a unicorn horn on their head. But then I started thinking, what if somebody did? What if an eighth grader did? What if a girl who grew up in a small town that I could recognize did? What if she had a grandmother who she had to share a bedroom with? What if she wanted to travel the world but felt like she couldn’t because of, you know, the horn? What if she was obsessed with getting her horn taken off? What if … what if … what if …
The ‘what if’ gets me every time.
But then I was struck with a fear I didn’t anticipate. Would I seem too weird if I chose to write about someone like her? It was a very middle school thought for a grown writer, but I had it all the same. That’s when I realized I had something in common with Jewel. I didn’t want to look weird either! So … what if a middle grade writer is too scared of appearing weird because of the weird idea in her head and then … writes it anyway?
So I began. The more time I spent with Jewel and her friends, the more I understood the desire that most of us have in middle school. It goes something like: If I could only change this part of me or this part of my experience, then I’d be like everyone else and everything would be okay.
How deeply we want to belong. For me, Jewel’s horn became the metaphor for that thing you absolutely can’t abide but have to learn to accept anyway. It’s a reminder that you can’t always get what you want but instead you get what you need. And that sometimes your weirdness, your obstacle, your horn, can turn out to be your superpower.
“What’s your unicorn horn?” is the question I think we can all ask ourselves. What would we change if we could? How can we accept what feels unacceptable?
Obviously, these questions aren’t just for middle schoolers. They’re for all of us. I felt like I had to write this book for young readers, many of whom I believe will relate to Jewel’s story in their own unique ways. But ultimately, I had to write it for myself. Jewel has given me permission to be a little weirder and a little more seen.
Turns out the more I fought for Jewel, the more I realized I was fighting for myself.
Dana Middleton is a middle grade author of contemporary novels for young readers who enjoy a dash of fantasy and mystery. Her latest book, Not a Unicorn, is from Chronicle Books. She is also the author of The Infinity Year of Avalon James (a Young Hoosier Book Award nominee and Oregon Battle of the Books selection), and Open If You Dare.Dana grew up in Georgia, but lives in Los Angeles with her British husband. You can visit her online at danamiddletonbooks.com.