Thursday, November 9, 2017

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Sybrina Durant, Author

Sybrina Durant, Author
Sybrina Durant created THE BLUE UNICORN’S JOURNEY TO OSM, targeted at teens, but to be enjoyed by all ages. She thought of the concept almost 40 years ago, and completed her vision recently with an illustrated book that includes unicorns with “personality and depth” and a story that is an “action-packed adventure,” according to reviewers. Durant’s unicorns also display humor, an attribute that Durant believes is critical in our human lives.

She is currently working on a full novel of THE BLUE UNICORN’S JOURNEY TO OSM and also plans to publish a glossary about the characters, places, and things she created in the world of her book. She lives in Texas, and when she’s not writing books, she likes to write songs.

Don’t miss an excerpt from the book following the interview. 

Q: What inspired you to write about a blue unicorn? Why choose a unicorn?

Sybrina Durant: Nearly 40 years ago, when I first conceived of the idea for THE BLUE UNICORN’S JOURNEY TO OSM  I had read a lot of fantasy books which completely mesmerized me.  The ones which really stood out to me were books like “Watership Down” by Richard Adams (which was about a rabbit warren with members who thought and acted like humans), “Dragonriders of Pern” by Anne McCaffrey (with dragons which could speak to humans telepathically), “The Oz” books by L. Frank Baum (with the talking lion, talking monkeys, talking chickens and more), “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll (with the talking white rabbit and the Cheshire cat) and oh so many others. 

I was fascinated by the idea, throughout all of the different stories, that animals could be reasoning creatures - that they could love and war and exist as communities within themselves or with humans.  But I was especially influenced by the unicorns from Phaze in Piers Anthony’s “Apprentice Adept Series”.  Those unicorns ranged in a multitude of colors and were as intelligent as humans.  They were musical and magical, too.  I was also enamored with the word play in Piers Anthony’s writing style.  He would take ordinary words and give them completely different but clever meanings.  I wanted to try my hand at that style of writing so I set about developing the metal-horned unicorn tribe from Unimaise. 

Each would have a different metal horn with coat, mane and tail colors derived somehow from the properties of the metal.  For instance, since burning copper has green flames, the copper-horned unicorn is green.  The unicorns would each have a different magic power somehow associated with the properties of their metal.  Since copper was once used exclusively for water pipes because it was thought to keep water flowing through it clean, the copper-horned unicorn’s magic power is to purify water.  That’s the theme I tried to stick with in developing all of the characters but I had to use a lot of poetic license at times.  Only one unicorn would be different.  He would have no metal and no magic.  The story is about the blue unicorn’s quest to save his tribe despite his overwhelming “disabilities”. 

After intense research in dictionaries, encyclopedias and real library books, I ended up with index cards for each unicorn and all of the other characters that I wanted to feature in the story.  I wrote a very long outline and summary and even drew a detailed map of the land of MarBryn.  After typing up about 50 pages of the story, I just came to a screeching halt and didn’t start up again until a couple of years ago.  Life just got in the way.

Q: Who are your target readers for THE BLUE UNICORN’S JOURNEY TO OSM?
Is this a book for children, young adults, adults? Reviewers say that, “This book transcends age groups.” Do you agree?   

Sybrina Durant: Originally, this book was going to be an adult fantasy but after becoming acquainted with the amazingly talented Sudipta Dasgupta, I decided I wanted this to be an illustrated book that could appeal to a younger audience.  I had nearly finished the novel by the time he approached me about doing the illustrations.  In order to best present his artwork, I realized that I was going to have to minimize the amount of pages and enlarge the page sizes.   I went through the very tedious process of reducing the story text so that each chapter would fit into just two pages which would precede a picture spreading across two pages.  The best reading experience is definitely the print version but it is available in all ebook formats also. In addition to reducing the word count, I also simplified a lot of the text but I left in many concepts that (in some people’s opinions) placed the book beyond the middle grade age group. 

Since many parents wish to protect their children from subjects like war and death as long as possible I decided to rate this book for teens and up.  I have tried to write an appealing story for all ages to enjoy but I think it is up to each reader, no matter what their age might be, to decide for themselves about whether it reaches out to them or not. 

Q: Did you write THE BLUE UNICORN’S JOURNEY TO OSM strictly to entertain? Or did you intend, as one reviewer says, to write a book “with deeper meanings and themes?”

Sybrina Durant: I have always been interested in the “science of things”.  I wanted to bring as much of that into the story as I could to make it a learning experience which was both magical and entertaining at the same time.  The further I got into writing the story, it began revealing things to me that I had not anticipated.  That long outline I mentioned earlier was thrown out the window.  I never really referred back to the summary, either.  I redrew a lot of the map and instead of having only one journey line, there are now two.  Some characters who were barely even there before became major players.  They wanted their stories to become prominent and so they are now.  I am very glad that readers have found deeper meanings in the book than they thought they might find when they began reading the story.  I guess if the book has a main theme, it is “You can’t judge a book by its cover.  You must open it to find what’s within.”  That is true for every person, place or thing we come across in our lives. If you give a little of your time and consideration, you will almost always find some reward.

Q: When writing about a unicorn and magic, how do you create believability or credibility? How relevant is consistency in your world-building? What will cause a reader to stop reading? 

Sybrina Durant: This story is a blend of magic and realism.  Everybody’s got to eat and these unicorns especially love eating.  Luckily for them, one of the unicorns, Tinam, has the magical ability to conjure meals from thin air and to even preserve them in tin cans of every shape and size.  Of course, in real life, no meal will ever be magically plucked out of thin air but most readers have the ability to suspend disbelief when it comes to magical creations.  Some might stop reading the book the first time they read about Chef Tinam’s magic power but those readers probably prefer more reality-based books.

I try to be consistent with my world-building by always thinking about the real science behind what might be happening.  For instance, the unicorns in my story have split hooves which they use for picking up things.  Their knees (or elbows) bend in the same way that a human arm bends and moves so they can bring a fork up to their mouth the same way we can.   They can sit on their rumps on stools around a table for a meal the same way we can.  Real horses could never do such things but these are not horses…they are unicorns!  These unicorns also spend a lot of time singing and dancing – even though they are facing complete extinction.  Of course most humans would never be able to cast aside their fears to such an extent that they could immerse themselves in such ridiculous behavior…or could they?  Some readers might have to stop at that, but I hope they don’t.

Q: How do you create characters to engage your readers? What makes a reader care about them? Are you able to use the setting to help develop your characters?

Sybrina Durant: I’ve tried to give each character a personality that is uniquely their own.  And I’ve tried to show individual concerns, grumpiness, sense of humor, cool under pressure and so on, so that as you’re reading you can tell who they are by how they speak and act.  One of the methods I used to give each one a distinctly different personality was to think of a popular actor or actress of the time.  These actors were all part of my index card character development and they were greatly loved by the viewers of the television programs they starred in.  Many of those actors and actresses’ names won’t even be recognizable today to your younger readers.  But here are a few just for fun:  Cornum the Brass Horned Unicorn was based on John Ritter “Jack Tripper on Three’s Company.” Style the Steel Horned Unicorn was based on Jackee Harry who played “Sandra on 227.”  Nix the Nickel Horned Unicorn was Bruce Willis who was starring as “David Addison on Moonlighting.”  Alumna the Aluminum Horned Unicorn was Shelly Long who played “Diane on Cheers” at the time.  I have the entire list and it is interesting to look at it again.  I’d love to know which young people might play the unicorn parts today. 

Q: How relevant is the concept of hero vs villain to tell your story? What are the characteristics of an effective villain?

Sybrina Durant: In my mind, hero vs villain equates to good vs evil.  But just because someone has become a villain, it doesn’t mean that they always were one.  I think an effective villain is one who you can almost have a little sympathy for because you know something about how they were before they became one.  That sympathy can almost make you think there’s hope that they might change back to they way they were but as they do more dastardly things they make you realize that they are far beyond changing.  Sometimes, you have to make a conscious choice to turn away.

Q: How helpful is humor to tell your story or develop your characters?

Sybrina Durant: Have you ever heard the saying, “If I don’t laugh, I’ll cry.”  Humor is the most important thing we have going for us as human beings. It can help us out of the most dire situations.  Right now, as I’m writing this, I am sitting at home surrounded by water on all sides.  Luckily, my neighborhood seems to be an island in an ocean of water surrounding the entire state of Texas. Earlier today, my husband posted on Facebook, “I don’t know what we’re going to do when we run out of paper towels”.  Now, that’s the least of anyone’s worries right now but it got a lot of laughs out of a lot of seriously stressed out people.  Some of the characters in the blue unicorn’s story can look a little silly at times. . .some of the humor might even seem a little juvenile but it is always placed there to relieve some stress.

Q: Reviewers also rave about the illustrations. What can you tell us about them and the artist?  

Sybrina Durant: I am so happy that Sudipta Dasgupta approached me about illustrating this book. He found me in an illustrator/author group on Facebook.  I think some things are just meant to happen the way they do since, as I mentioned earlier, I had never intended for this to become an illustrated book until he came along.  It took us over a year to come up with all of the ideas and final illustrations.  I almost felt like I was writing a movie scene for each illustration.  First I would write out the setting of the scene.  Next, I listed all of the characters in the scene.  Then, I broke down what everyone in the scene was doing.  I would always provide the text of the story for the scene, too.  I spent a lot of time gathering photos of items that I wanted in the scene so that he would have an idea of how to draw them.  Sometimes, I actually changed where I was going with the story because if an illustration I received back from him.  I really enjoyed working with Sudipta (or Steve as he’s known to most Americans) as he is thoughtful, thought-provoking and amazingly creative. 

There are forty-two full-color illustrations in all but we didn’t stop there.  It broke my heart to quickly realize that the cost of the full-color illustrated book was going to be out of the realm of accessibility for most potential readers.  It - is – very - expensive.  So, I commissioned Steve to also create all of the pictures in black and white – in the wood-cut look of old fairy tales -  so that I would have a very inexpensive version of the book to offer for sale.  In fact, it is just 1/3 the price of the full-color book.  It happily has an added bonus of being what I’m calling a “Read and Color” book.  Read a chapter and then color the following illustration – how fun is that?  Steve also did the illustrations for a companion Coloring/Character Description book and for a set of trading cards featuring all of the unicorn characters.  The trading cards and lots of other Unicorn Bling are available at my “Journey To Osm” collection on   

Side Note: There’s also an audio version of the book.  It is narrated by Troy Hudson.  I don’t want to leave him out of all of this.  I never imagined that one person would be able to give voice to so many characters and do it so well  He really makes the story extra fun. . .especially if you read along with Whispersync.

Q: What’s next?

Sybrina Durant: “The Blue Unicorn’s Journey To Osm NOVEL,” of course!  I still plan to offer readers the original expansive version of this story.  It is a few hundred pages longer than this illustrated book and is much more in-depth.  And I’ll also be publishing a humongous glossary that I’m calling “The MarBryn Compendium.”  It’s especially for those people who just can’t get enough information about how the characters, places and things in the land of MarBryn and the world of Unimaise were imagined.  Then, there’s the movie!  OK, so there’s not a movie in the works yet but wouldn’t it be cool?

Q: Tell us something about Sybrina Durant. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Sybrina Durant: I like to write songs as well as books so all of my stories have accompanying songs.  You can hear the songs in the book trailers for this book on Youtube.

When I’m not writing, I’m usually marketing and promoting.  As a self-published author, it is a never ending process but luckily one that I very much love.  This leads me to give very heartfelt thanks to Joyce Strand for sharing space on her amazing blog with me to discuss “The Blue Unicorn’s Journey To Osm.” It’s because of people like her that authors like me have the very rare opportunity to let others know that our books even exist.  With hundreds of books being offered to the public for sale each and every day in the US alone, an interview on a blog like hers means a lot in these times of immense competition for attention in the book world.

About Sybrina Durant

Sybrina is the author of many different types of books.  Some are technical and others are fanciful.  Illustrated books are her favorite.  She believes that you can capture a reader’s attention with a good story but amazing artwork will reel them in and keep them riveted.

“I'm Sybrina. . .. . .Just one of millions of wannabe author/singer/songwriters out there but I hope, after reading or hearing my books and songs, you'll think my contributions to the world have as much value as any other famous artist out there today.

Fame is all in being in the right place at the right time but at least with the internet and venues like this, all of us have opportunities to share our creativity with the world. I'm so happy that I am able to share my works with you. That is awesome!

The books I’ve written span a wide range between illustrated picture books, coloring books and YA novels to technical and how-to books. If you’re so inclined you can read a little bit about the inspiration for each one below."

“The metal horned unicorns are doomed!” That’s what Lauda Lead Horn wailed when she first saw the tribe’s new savior. OK, so his horn was not metal. . .and he did not have a magic power. . .and he was really a puny little runt. But doomed? Were things really that bad? 

Well, things were pretty bad in the land of MarBryn. Magh, an evil sorcerer utilized unicorn horns and hooves to create his magical potions and spells. Those he used, to increase his power and to conquer everyone in his path. All of the unicorns from the Tribe of the Metal Horn were now gone . . . except for twelve survivors. 

Before the blue unicorn was born, Numen told Alumna, the aluminum-horned oracle, that he had a plan to bring the tribe back home to Unimaise. His prophecy was, “Only the blue unicorn can join with the Moon-Star. Until then, no new unicorns will be born.” Blue was the last unicorn born. Twenty years later, his horn was still covered with a plain blue colored hide. There was not a glint of metal to be seen on it or his hooves. And he still didn’t have any magic. But he was no longer scrawny and he had his wits. Though no one else in the tribe thought he had a chance, Blue felt ready to make Magh pay for his evil deeds. And he went off to do it alone. That was Blue’s first mistake. If the entire tribe was not standing horn-tip to horn-tip at the proper time and the exact place to help usher the Moon-Star Spirit into Blue’s horn, he would die. Then, the rest of the tribe would really be doomed. 

Readers will follow along two journey paths in this book. Blue is joined in his travels by his mentor Gaiso, the Stag and his friend, Girasol the Firebird as they try to find their way across a danger-filled MarBryn to Muzika Woods. The rest of Blue’s tribe is forced to follow another route due to Nix Nickle Horn’s unfortunate incident with a Manticore. Nix, the great unicorn defender must safely lead the way for Ghel, the Golden-Horned unicorn; Silubhra Silver Horn; Cornum the Brass-Horned unicorn; Steel Horned Style; Cuprum the Copper-Horned unicorn; Tin-Horned Tinam; Dr. Zinko; Iown the Iron-Horned unicorn and the others in an action packed adventure to their destination in Muzika Woods. Both journey paths converge there in the Nebulium Circle.


The firebird hovered at the entrance of the canyon watching the three of them. 

Blue was crunching on a rock. He giggled and said something that sounded like “silly bird” to the pendragon and they all laughed.   

It was ridiculous.  Girasol felt completely powerless and her feelings were hurt, too.  She had no idea how she could help them. 

“How can I make them listen to me?” she asked the mountains.  Her normally bright orange flames had become a faint red glow. 

"You can't," a voice which seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time answered.  "I have induced hebephrenia into their feeble minds."

"Who are you and what is heb-phren-whatever you called it?" Girasol flared, melting some of the ice from the nearby rock faces.

"My, aren't you a hot-head?" the voice chuckled at her display of anger.  "I am Yegwa.  They call me the spirit of false springtime.  I have put your friends and the pendragon under a spell which makes them think this is a wonderful place to live."

“Let them go," the firebird demanded, blue-white sparks spouting from her feathered crown. She could not see the spirit and was very frustrated.

"Let them go?  I wouldn't dream of it.  It’s not often I have this much fun," Yegwa said in a voice hungry with anticipation.  "My magic doesn’t seem to work on you though,” she said thoughtfully.  "It must be that hot blood of yours."

"What kind of spirit are you?  How can you enjoy watching your victims freeze or starve to death?" Girasol asked.  "You are so wicked.  I don't know what's worse—you or that evil sorcerer, Magh," she shouted disgustedly.
"Magh?  Sorcerer?  Do tell…he sounds like someone I would like,” Yegwa asked with interest.  “Is he single?”

 “Single?  What?” Girasol blazed.  “Forget about Magh!  I don’t have time for this back and forth with you.”

 “Ooh, well, la-ti-da…aren’t you the peppery dish,” Yegwa said, letting loose a shrill cackle.  “If I had teeth, I’d eat you right up!”

"What about my friends?" the firebird asked again.  She looked around the top of the canyon walls trying to find the owner of the ghostly voice.  

"You're welcome to keep company with them if you wish.  I don't keep anyone imprisoned, you know," Yegwa said, trying to sound sugary sweet.

 “Thanks a lot,” Girasol said sarcastically.  She tapped her head with her right wing, trying to figure out a way to save her friends.  “Hot blood. . .hmmm. . .Warmth. . .that’s it,” she realized.  “If they’re going to snap out of this, they need to be warm!” she thought suddenly. 

They were going to freeze to death if she did not help them soon. She remembered seeing Blue pick up some pepo seeds earlier.  She searched the bag hung across his shoulder and brought one out.  He was so far gone, he did not even notice her.  One seed would give her enough energy for five days.  “In this cold, I might need this and more to keep them warm,” she thought, while chewing the seed. 

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Twitter address @Sybrina_spt

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