Behind the Scenes: I Could Not Forgive the Unicorns

Touched By Magic--Baen

It’s first draft mode around here (Nocturne Demon Blade series, book 2!), but I’m still poking away at the Backlist Ebook projects.

<= Bet you’ve guessed what I’m working on now.

Touched by Magic was my third book sold,  and the second to see print.  I had a really, really  clear idea what I wanted to do with this book–and no idea at all of how ambitious it was.

I’m glad, actually, that I just barged right in way back then.  I might not have the temerity, now that I’m more eddie-cated about the craft and about publisher expectations.

Anyway, I’m taking the opportunity to give it a good updating.  (More on that in another blog, I think.)  And since it’s the oldest book file on my system, the conversion process itself is…challenging.  This gives me time to ponder the cover.

Let us take a moment to gaze upon that first cover.

*moment of silence*

I can readily forgive the elaborate dress on my country character–the artist had a known fondness for such things.  I can forgive the dark brown instead of pale blond hair…sometimes such details give way to compositional needs.

I cannot forgive the unicorns.

My unicorns are fearsome beasts. Draft-size, draft-weight.  Magnificent, of course, because I deserve magnificent unicorns.  And the colors?  Clearly described as unusual, but simply as pertains to horses.  Brindle and walnut and sable and merle.

They were not pastel.


Nor were they weenie little ponies. Short-necked, loaded-shouldered, sway-backed, static-haired, girly-assed little ponies.


At the time, this artist’s work generally sold books.  But oh!  So many readers came to me and said, “I almost didn’t pick up this book because of the cover, but I’m really glad I did.  It’s not about pastel unicorns at all.”

It’s really not.

So here I am, about to compose my own cover. I’d sure like to do better!  I have some ideas, but…what do you think?  What would you try to say about this book on the cover?

(Hey, it’s an open book question, so…have a blurb!  Have an excerpt!  Notice what the unicorns are doing, in said excerpt.)

Magic has never been a part of Reandn’s life. Almost gone from Keland when he was born, there is no trace of it left by the time he enters training with the King’s Wolves, the elite force that patrols the king’s lands.

Magic has never been a part of Reandn’s life. Until the people under his care start dying. Until the threat extends to his family, and until he finds himself struggling through disorienting attacks of weakness that turn the very act of going out on patrol into an unacceptable risk. Someone, somewhere, is trying to draw magic back into Keland, and they don’t care what–or who–is destroyed in the process.

But Reandn does.


Six-year-old Rethia woke to wild hoof beats.

Frightened, she pressed herself against the ground. When she gathered the courage to peer up, she could make out only flashing legs and leaping bodies–and all the while, the unmistakable tingle of magic coursed through her body.

Imperceptibly at first, the pounding diminished and the tickling magic intensified. The creatures were leaving–and they weren’t just running away.
They bounded into the air without landing. Disappeared. Vanished in a flash of not-being.

And when there was only one set of hoofbeats left, solid and deliberate and walking toward her, Rethia trembled with the knowledge that she witnessed great magic in a world that was drifting free of such things, and forgot to be afraid of the beast itself.

The hooves stopped in front of her basket, strong round hooves with heavy-boned, clean-lined legs rising from them. Not a horse. She knew that even before she looked up to see the horn.

She pulled herself upright and looked straight into the face of the unicorn, her deep blue gaze unflinching. It was a heavy-boned face, with ridges etched in darkest walnut instead of gleaming highlights, and with odd, icy eyes that abruptly reminded her that unicorns were not Tame. Wild magic, free always, of what man might intend or wish for it. When the beast did not react to her impudence, she lifted a small trembling hand to touch the thick, tangled mane and forelock, so long they brushed her face even as the animal raised its head. It looked around the trampled, abandoned meadow, blew out a huff of air. When it looked back down at her, its icy gaze warmed, catching the blue of her eyes, staining them with the reflection of its walnut features. It dropped its head to again accept her touch.

She had no idea it would be a trade.

About Doranna

My books are SF/F, mystery, paranormal romance, and romantic suspense. My dogs are Beagles, my home is the Southwest, and the horse wants a cookie!
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10 Responses to Behind the Scenes: I Could Not Forgive the Unicorns

  1. Robert says:

    Oh yes! “Wild magic, free always, of what man might intend or wish for it.” In a world that has lost or misplaced its magic, this is definitely not your mamas magic.

    This unicorn is certainly not a pastel creampuff.

    Like the excerpt.

  2. Doranna says:

    LOL! “Not your mama’s magic.” I guess not!

  3. Claire Eamer says:

    Dunno about the cover, since my artistic sense is measured in negative numbers. But I WANT the book. Now! And definitely no girly-assed unicorns should be associated with it.

  4. Doranna says:

    Claire, you *glee* my muse!

  5. Lady Jade says:

    I see big draft-horse size, think Budweiser Beer horse size with a huge, gorgeous, twisted horn that is both beautiful and deadly at the same time. The base of said horn 3-4 inches across, tapering out to 2-2 1/2 feet. Damn I wish I could draw so that I could get this image outta my brain….

  6. Doranna says:

    Lady Jade, I think you’ve just about got it!

    Julie Czerneda gave me an idea…I’m following up on that. Depends on me being able to get just the right photo, though… ;>

  7. BlogPatty says:

    Definitely no girlie assed unicorns. Those wouldn’t even pass for ponies. Did that artist ever actually SEE a horse. Lady Jade’s unicorn impresses me!

  8. Doranna says:

    This artist actually owned a horse, I believe–I can’t remember where I read that. He just seemed to have a certain pattern in his head, immutable and unfortunate.

    Wait till you see the cover for the next one. There’s a horse, and some fun other things. And I am a bad, bad author for saying it out loud, but truly, he should have put my hero’s neck in the *middle* of his shoulders and then I wouldn’t have anything to be appalled about, would I?

  9. Lady Jade says:

    Sooooo….when do we get to see the new unicorn? *still wishes she could draw dammit*

  10. Doranna says:

    Oh, it’ll be a while. I have two versions to try, and for one of them I have to create the photos, which means scrubbing a certain horse clean and using the right light (which means being home at that time), and then seeing if the technique composition I have in mind will work at all.

    The other is more allusional, but has a number of elements to juggle.

    For now, I’m at a convention and…well. Monday morning’s blog will say it all.

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