The Christmas Unicorn by Elf Ahearn Genre: Regency Romantic Fantasy
The greatest gifts aren’t always under the Christmas tree.
Believing herself abandoned by her fiancé in the wilds of Northern Wales, actress Babbie Crispen and her wheelchair-bound son struggle to find shelter on a frigid night before Christmas.
A strange man the locals call the Wicked Scot finds them near death on a snow-covered hillside. He brings them to his castle, a place of both terrifying and wonderful magic so powerful it changes all their lives.
Instead of passing her the smoking draught, which perfumed the air with the delicious scents of cinnamon and clove, he poured some into a miniature Blue Willow cup held by a Chinese doll about eighteen inches high. To Babbie’s astonishment, the figure bowed, and with halting mechanical steps hidden beneath a scarlet robe, came before her and stopped. Bowing with eyes fixed on the ground, the tiny figure proffered the drink.
“What an extraordinary machine,” she exclaimed.
Franny clapped with glee. “Did you ever see the like, Mama? Now, try the brew,” her son said, his voice fevered with excitement.
Chuckling, she pressed the cup to her lips and sipped. Sweet, delicious spices blended in such perfect balance, she couldn’t resist swallowing the contents to the last drop. But the liquid’s heat didn’t travel like most drinks. As if tiny feet raced inside her, the alarming sensation traveled down her arms and legs, tippy tapping out to her fingers and toes. Warmth invaded her chest with purpose—like a conquering army, fighting with microscopic swords to vanquish her icy blood. Pricks and tingles suffused her veins, then whatever miniscule beings were inside her, ascended toward her head.
“What is happening to me? What have you done?”
The man said nothing, only studied her with pale, almost white eyes, as if waiting for his potion to take hold. His eyes changed color. A band of fear tightened her chest.
Her son petted her shin. “Don’t be afraid. It’s good medicine.”
She scarcely heard him. The noise of infinitesimal soldiers marching up her spine, branching into her throat, into her jaw, filling her ears, was too strange. As her fear mounted, they stamped their hot, little boots, and rampaged wholesale through her brain. Her vision dimmed. She floated down, down, down into something soft—like a dozen comforters pillowing her body. And then, quite suddenly, her vison cleared, and her fear vanished. When she refocused on their host, his eyes were brown again and full of kindness.
“She’s feeling better,” Franny said triumphantly. “Mama, this is a magical house. Wait till you see—”
Elf Ahearn was an actress, a journalist, a communications specialist, and the worst mathematician the insurance industry ever experienced. Fortunately, she is now a dedicated kitten mom and the author of “Regency romance with a Gothic twist.” For one brief, shining moment, her first book, A Rogue in Sheep’s Clothing, was #1 in its category on Amazon. Elf lives in New York with her romantic hero and the aforementioned cats. And, in case you were wondering, Elf is her real name… Her parents are interesting people.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
My first book was written in third grade and illustrated by my best friend, Georgette Pillatos. The title is lost to history, but the protagonist was Francis the Talking Mule, a movie star in his coltish years.
In middle school, I pounced on fiction writing assignments. Alas, my spelling was so horrific, my stories came back covered in red ink, a C- prominently displayed in the corner, and at least one note saying, “What is this word?”
While applying for a temp job in New York City, I took a typing test. I clocked 60 words a minute with so many mistakes, the total was -5. Now I know I’m dyslexic, but back then we didn’t have dyslexia as a diagnosis. We had dumb kids, and I was one of them… that is until Apple rolled out the MacIntosh personal computer. I can’t say my writing career began then, but I did collect a small pile of rejection letters.
What was more accessible, yet paid about the same as writing novels, was theatre. I became a not-for-profit actress in NYC for 17 years. A man I married lured me out of the city so I switched to a barely profitable job as a journalist in Connecticut. I loved it. And thanks to a transparent blue iMac, my writing jumped from a garbled mess to an award-winning bag o’ words. Thanks Steve Jobs!
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
Let me premise this by saying I write “Regency romance with a Gothic twist.” That means I indulge in dark, and sometimes gruesome, scenes. On this occasion, however, I was the victim.
We had tickets to a Broadway show in November. The day before that show, I hoisted a heavy flower pot, twisted to put it in the wheelbarrow, and wrenched the heck out of my back. It was so bad, I barely made it into the house before I dropped to my knees, crawled into the living room, and alerted my husband to the situation. Needless to say, he was concerned…about the tickets. (I kid.)
That night, to make sure I was in good shape for our Broadway rendezvous, I took an Aleve, an Ambian, and two, count ‘em, two Tramadol.
Around 6 a.m., I swam out of my drug-induced coma and went to the bathroom. We believe, because I have no memory of what happened next, that when I washed my hands, I passed out. The sink has this fancy dancy canal-like faucet with sharp edges and a savage spout. I must have hit that thing full force, because I woke up on the floor in a ghastly pool of blood. EMTs had to lug me down the stairs on a stretcher because, remember, I couldn’t walk due to my stupid back.
A CT scan confirmed I’d broken my nose. Once the swelling receded, I thought I’d look like a seasoned boxer. My nose, however, had other plans. Though it jigged slightly to the right, my nose figured out a way to straighten itself. Except for a tiny scar that I have to point out to my friends in order to get a jot of sympathy, you can’t tell I had a gore-filled meeting with the bath mat.
P.S. We lied to Ticketmaster by implying I was displaying Covid symptoms. They let us exchange our tickets for a night in January.
What are some of your pet peeves?
I don’t like pigs as pets. My neighbor used to have one. It was huge, and it learned how to root it’s way out of its pen. The pig would appear like a big, dark indeterminate beast on the hill overlooking my home and watch me weed my garden. Gave me the creeps…
Now, one of my best friends has one: Apollo. He likes pig cookies, so I gave him one and his teeth touched my finger. It gave me the creeps…
Wait, when you asked for “pet peeves,” you didn’t mean pets?
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
The year was 2008. I had a job in the communications department of a waste water consulting company. The world went bankrupt. I got laid off, and my sister told me to write Regency romances because they were her favorite. My first book, A Rogue in Sheep’s Clothing, mercifully sold to a publisher and it became #1 in its genre on Amazon. Probably for all of 10 minutes, but still…
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
Not to sound self-serving, but The Christmas Unicorn would make a brilliant movie. It’s got a beautiful setting, Wales; a struggling heroine, a tragically handicapped child, a wizard, a magical castle, and best of all, a unicorn. I’d watch that flick every one of the 12 days before Christmas.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Oh, this question’s easy—cats—I’d pick cats. My very infrequent newsletter is titled The Writer’s Cat. As I this, my two kittens are sleeping on top of piles of wrapped Christmas presents without bows. I’m afraid to add them for fear they’ll be eaten. My cat Cassie once ate a curling ribbon and it trailed out the other end. Nice image, right? Now imagine me holding one end and gently easing the strand out.
Despite a few mishaps with decorative elements, cats are my muse. They don’t figure prominently in my fiction (though the hero of The Secret Life of Lords is based on a kitty my sister loved), but their presence inspires me.
During the pandemic lockdown, my beloved Sufie died. Life without a cat when you can’t amuse yourself shopping for stuff you don’t need is intolerable, so I went kitty hunting. Unfortunately, everyone else felt the same thing. For the first time in the history of civilization, there were no available kittens. I contacted every shelter in a 100-mile radius, filled out all their forms, volunteered to foster, put the word out on social media, and told all my friends. At long last, a friend of a friend who had a friend who knew someone with kittens contacted me. We raced to the scene and got Jilly and Puck. They are the dual delights of my life.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
Every Christmas, my father told a version of The Christmas Unicorn, which he swears truly happened. The tale transformed the holiday, despite its emphasis on commercialism, into something magical for us. It has never ceased to move me. Twice I attempted to write the book and failed until I changed the location to Wales and the time period to the Regency. Other than that, the book mirrors fairly closely, the story my father recounted.
He was born in 1920, the son of an actress and a newspaper editor. Soon after his birth, an article appeared claiming my grandfather was caught escorting a “redheaded woman” who was not his wife. The result was divorce. Thereafter, my intrepid grandmother raised her child alone, toting him with her as she toured the country via the Vaudeville Circuit. When my father started school, the traveling stopped. They moved to a building in Yonkers, NY and lived in an apartment one floor above a handicapped boy named Francis Crispen.
Back then, Yonkers had a row of mansions lining the Hudson River. One of these magnificent homes was occupied by a man so strange and foreign, children crossed the street rather than chance an encounter. A violent snowstorm, however, brought my father and Francis face to face with this terrifying man, and he changed their lives forever.
How did you come up with the title of the book?
For my previous novels, I went for clever titles: A Rogue in Sheep’s Clothing, The Secret Life of Lords, A Duke in the Rough, and The Baron of Bad Behavior. The Christmas Unicorn was a working title, soon to be dismissed by something more alluring. In my heart, though, I wanted the story to be pure, and purity doesn’t deserve to be buried by adornment.
Fun Facts/Behind the Scenes/Did You Know?'-type tidbits about the author, the book or the writing process of the book.
When I was 14, I smoked cigarettes because I pictured myself in a garret, puffing Winstons as I wrote something F. Scott Fitzgerald would envy. However, cigarettes are gross and garrets are lonely. I hate to be alone. At home it’s not so bad as long as my husband appears for dinner, but extended isolation…nope. It was the combination of personal computers and the fabulous folk I met through Hudson Valley Romance Writers of America that launched my writing career.
Describe your writing style.
First, I write a sentence then I cut every word that’s unnecessary (This sentence is 12 words.).
That sentence formerly read: In the beginning I write a sentence and then I take out every word that isn’t necessary to the meaning of that sentence. 23 words.
The less you make someone read to catch your meaning, the less likely they are to get bored.
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