The Middle Grade Mafia is always happy to be shine the spotlight on debut authors and today we are excited to bring you Kamilla Benko, author of THE UNICORN QUEST. Please visit her Twitter page to congratulate her and wish her book a Happy Book Birthday! To purchase a copy of this wonderful book, click here

Middle Grade Mafia: What was the inspiration for this book?

Kamilla Benko: There were many inspirations! After I saw the Unicorn Tapestries at the MET’s Cloisters, I knew I wanted to write about a world with unicorn hunts, but I was also very much inspired by some of my favorite childhood books. When I was seven years old, I began to read Jahnna N. Malcolm’s The Jewel Kingdom chapter book series. It’s a story about four sisters who each rule their own realm, and are assisted by magical objects and animal advisors. The Emerald Princess’s advisor was a unicorn called Arden, and so in honor of the first fantasy series I fell in love with, I named my fantasy world Arden.

The magic system of Arden was inspired by The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, as that was the first time I learned about Michelangelo and his quote, “I saw the angel in the stone, and carved until I set it free.” I wanted to write a story that acknowledged art is its own, true magic, and about characters who could all see the potential of a slab of stone, a spool of thread, a copper wire or a seed.

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention, Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic series, where magic is done with metal, thread, plants…and weather! As a kid, I always wondered why she chose weather, which didn’t seem to fit with the other three, and I would play around with other options. Since I had a rock collection at that time—and loved Jewel Kingdom!— I thought stone would have been a natural fit. (Later, Tamora Pierce did write about more kinds of craft magic in the sequels, which made me very happy!)

MGM: What is your writing process?

KB: My writing process varies a lot! I studied journalism in college, and one of my teachers said to learn how to write everywhere and anytime, from a cozy coffee shop to a car in the parking lot. I’ve tried not to get too attached to any one writing space or schedule, and can now write practically anywhere. I work a full time job as a children’s book editor, so this ability has helped me meet my deadlines! I always work off of an outline, and if I get writer’s block, I like to go on walks or look at pictures on Pinterest. I find images always inspire me.

MGM: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received regarding writing?

KB: My favorite quote on writing was said by Shannon Hale, who said that a first draft is just putting sand into a bucket so that later you can make castles. A blank page is the most terrifying thing. There are so many directions a story can go! So many places to veer off the path! Giving yourself permission to write a messy, imperfect draft is the kindest, most helpful thing you can do for yourself.

MGM: Every kid wishes they had a secret doorway to a magical land. Growing up, what places would you visit? And now that you are “grown up,” where would you go now?

KB: To be honest, my childhood places are still the same places I would like to visit as a grown-up! The wonder of Narnia and Hogwarts has never faded for me, and I would still like a passport to Bayern, Frell, Tortall, Emelan, Lyra’s Oxford, Chrestomanci’s mansion … and Jewel Kingdom, of course!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Kamilla spent most of her childhood climbing into wardrobes, trying to step through mirrors, and plotting to run away to an art museum. Now, she visits other worlds as a children’s book editor. Originally from Indiana, she currently lives in New York with her bookshelves, teapot, and hiking boots.

ABOUT THE BOOK – Claire Martinson still worries about her older sister Sophie, who battled a mysterious illness last year. But things are back to normal as they move into Windermere Manor… until the sisters climb a strange ladder in a fireplace and enter the magical land of Arden.

There, they find a world in turmoil. The four guilds of magic no longer trust each other. The beloved unicorns have gone, and terrible wraiths roam freely. Scared, the girls return home. But when Sophie vanishes, it will take all of Claire’s courage to climb back up the ladder, find her sister, and uncover the unicorns’ greatest secret. Click here to buy now!