The Unicorn Question

From the archive...

We were just arriving home from the park, when my daughter sprung the question. She was on her bike. I was on foot. It was a beautiful day, though overcast, and the park had been muddy, and she was a little tired from the bike ride home. She'd been quiet the last half-block. I blamed it on muscle fatigue. It turns out she was mulling the nature of reality.

"Can we go to the jungle and see unicorns?" she asked. She said it casually, as if she were asking to go to the zoo and see elephants. 

My daughter is approaching 4, and we expect these big questions every now and again. We'd watched "The Adventures of Robin Hood" with Errol Flynn and had an exhaustive discussion as to why Prince John could be a bad guy when he seemed so nice. ("But he's a prince," she kept saying, "and happy.")


But I was not prepared for The Unicorn Question.


I decided to attempt a sidestep.


"Unicorns don't live in the jungle," I said.


My daughter pushed her bike up the grass hill to our yard. "Where do they live?" she asked.


This stumped me. "Um, meadows?" I said.


She turned back and squinted at me, clearly dubious. "Meadows?"


"The old English countryside?" I guessed.


She wasn't buying it. "Where do unicorns really live?" she asked.


I had to come clean. "In a magic land," I said.


She frowned. "Can we go there?"


I forced a big excited, fake smile. "That's the great thing about magic lands, you can go any time you want, because they exist in your imagination," I said.


She stood in the yard, her pink bike helmet strapped under her chin, and looked at me the way she sometimes looks at her father. "Are unicorns real?" she asked.


There it was.


What was I supposed to do? Lie? It was a direct question. "They're imaginary," I said, immediately feeling like a jerk.


"Like dinosaurs?" she asked.


"Dinosaurs used to be real," I said. "They lived a long, long time ago. Unicorns are made up."


Her mouth tightened for a moment, and then she turned back toward the house and started to walk her bike toward the porch. "OK," she said.


I felt like a monster. I had destroyed her belief in unicorns. I was a unicorn murderer. I imagined piles of unicorn carcasses, their horns snapped off, their white coats matted with blood.


We went inside and sat down with my husband.


"I don't see the moon," my daughter said to him. (It was mid-afternoon, and the sky was entirely blanketed with clouds.)


"It's on the other side of the world," my husband said.


"No it's not," she said. She peered out the French doors to the backyard. "It's out there." In her defense, we had seen the moon in the daytime sky a few weeks earlier.


"It's too cloudy," I said.


"It's on the other side of the world," my husband said again. Sometimes he thinks we ignore him.


She craned her neck so she could see more sky. "I can't find it," my daughter said.


"Trust me," my husband said.


My daughter crossed her arms. "I want to see the moon," she said.


My husband reached for her toy phone, which was sitting on the coffee table.


"Hello?" he said into it. "Is this the moon?" He paused. "Where are you now?" He listened and nodded and then looked over at our daughter. "Oh, the other side of the world?" He paused. "Would you mind telling my daughter that?" He held the phone out to her. "The moon wants to talk to you," he said.


She took the phone and held it to her ear. "Hello, Moon," she said. She listened for a moment. "OK," she said. "I understand. Goodbye." She lowered the phone and turned back to my husband. "The moon says that it is half up today," she said. "And that you are wrong."


Her imagination was intact, unicorn massacre notwithstanding.

Good Luck

My daughter is 3 1/2 and an only child, so I spend a lot of time trying to keep her busy. This requires coming up with a lot of activities, and my suggestions are fast and furious. 

Why don't you draw a tree! Do a puzzle! Build a fort! Every idea has an exclamation mark.

If I Gatling gun enough ideas, one will hit, and my daughter will go off happily with an activity.


Sometimes she just wants to crawl on me.

We were in the front yard this past week, after a long walk. I had walked. She had been in the stroller. We/I had walked a very long way to a bike store, which had been closed, and then back home, up a slight incline that I had barely noticed on the way to the bike store, but became K2 on the way back up pushing a 35-pound kid.

So we were in the front yard. Because I was too tired to haul the stroller up the front-porch steps. "Let's rest," I suggested, collapsing on the bottom step.

But my daughter had not walked, and didn't need to rest. She wanted to throw her body as hard as she could against mine.

"Why don't you run around with the dog?" I suggested.

"I don't want to," she said.

"Why don't you run up and down the hill?" I said. Our yard slopes down to the sidewalk. This would wear her out for sure.

"I don't want to," she said.

I glanced out at the yard, blotchy brown in parts, green in others. Most of the actual grass had dried to a crunchy straw, but the clover in the yard seemed to be thriving.

Which gave me an idea. "Why don't you look for a four-leaf clover?" I said. This would keep her busy for hours. I spent my childhood looking for a four-leaf clover, searching every yard, every sidewalk crack, every park, carefully picking through 10 billion three-leaf ones. And it was only in this moment, with my daughter, that I realized that my mother had come up with that activity because I was 3 1/2, and an only child, and she wanted to keep me busy.

I never did find a four-leaf clover, but some of my favorite memories are of lying in the grass, trying.

"What's a four-leaf clover?" my daughter asked.

I showed her a three-leaf clover. "Look for one with four leaves. They're very special, and if you find one, it's good luck."

"OK," she said. She surveyed the yard, and pointed to a nearby clump of green. "I think I'll go search that clover family over there," she said.

I leaned back on the steps and looked up at the sky, enjoying the sun on my face and the peace and quiet of an occupied small child.

My daughter tapped me on the shoulder.

"I found one," she said.

It had been a few minutes. I smiled to myself. I remembered that. Thinking I'd found one, only to have an adult point out that one of the leaves was just folded over. "You want one with four leaves," I reminded her gently, "not three."

"It does have four leaves," she said.

She held the clover out to me. I examined it. It had four leaves. I had spent a million hours looking for a four-leaf clover as a kid and my daughter had found one in three minutes.

I counted them again.

One. Two. Three. Four.

"You have got to be kidding me," I said.

"Do you want me to find another one?" my daughter asked.

I looked from her back to the clover and to her again. "Do you know what this means?" I asked her. "How rare this is? This is incredible."

She placed her hand sweetly on my arm. "Mom," she said. "You can have it."

And she ran downhill to the sidewalk and back up again.

Career Goals

Okay.  A quick story.

My daughter, Eliza, announced, at age 8, that she was going to grow up to be a television “show runner." (I didn't know what a show runner was until I was 30, but she has had a different life experience than I did.) 

Hitherto “show runner," Eliza's professional goal had been to open a restaurant called "The Unicorn Cafe." Just for context.

She is now a freshman in high school. (Whatever that means, during quarantine.) Last semester she had a required class - on life skills.  When my mother took it, it was called "home ec." When I took it, it was all about how to balance a checkbook. These days, it's about how to manage social media and get into college. 

Eliza had an assignment. She was supposed to write about her career goals.  The assignment specifically asked students to outline two professional aspirations. Then present them to the class.

Eliza could only come up with the one.

Show runner.

We live in Portland, Oregon. So show runner is not at the front of everybody's minds.  The teacher reminded Eliza of the assignment. Eliza is an A-student; she always does the assignment. So this was a conundrum for her.  Because it seemed entirely unnecessary.  Eliza explained that she didn't need to come up with a second option, because she knew what she wanted to do, for a fact.  

Her teacher, patient as a Buddha, suggested that Eliza might come up with a Plan B, you know, just in case the whole television show runner thing didn't work out, ultimately.

Eliza gave it some thought.  

A Plan B?

A fallback. If all else failed. 

Basically her version of digging ditches?

I guess I could be a "television executive," she said.   


You Reading This, Be Ready

By William Stafford

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this 
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

Survival poem #17 by Marty McConnell


because this is what you do. get up.

blame the liquor for the heaviness. call in late

to work. go to the couch because the bed

is too empty. watch people scream about love

on Jerry Springer. count the ways

it could be worse. it could be last week

when the missing got so big

you wrote him a letter

and sent it. it could be yesterday, no work

to go to, whole day looming.

it could be last month

or the month before, when you still

thought maybe. still carried plans

around with you like talismans.

you could have kissed him last night.

could have gone home with him, given in,

cried after, softly, face to the wall, his heavy arm

around you, hand on your stomach, rubbing.

shower. remember your body. water

hotter than you can stand. sit

on the shower floor. the word

devastated ringing the tub. buildings

collapsed into themselves. ribs

caving toward the spine. recite

the strongest poem you know. a spell

against the lonely that gets you

in crowds and on three hours’ sleep.

wonder where the gods are now.

get up. because death is not

an alternative. because this is what you do.

air like soup, move. door, hallway, room.

pants, socks, shoes. sweater. coat. cold.

wish you were a bird. remember you

are not you, now. you are you

a year from now. how does that

woman walk? she is not sick or sad.

doesn’t even remember today.

has been to Europe. what song

is she humming? now. right now.

that’s it.


Marty McConell’s website:

ECCC Cancelled

HEADS UP: Emerald City Comic Con has been cancelled. Like, several days ago, actually. I’m just only now getting around to updating my website. And honestly I don’t remember how to edit my events, so updating in the blog area instead.  #OkayBoomer.  Anyway, if, for some reason, you bought tickets to ECCC and are ONLY NOW hearing about this development - well you should really check your SPAM filter, because you should have gotten an email from ECCC.  Also, you can get a refund!  Google that.  The convention is rescheduling (fingers crossed) for this summer.  We’ll be there, if we can.

Oh! And also! Please - PRETTY PLEASE - pre-order a copy of SPY ISLAND from your local comic book store. (First issue comes out April 1, which sounds like a joke, but isn't.)  Guessing our big SPY ISLAND ECCC launch might be complicated by the lack of an actual ECCC. 

I will look into that whole “editing content” thing. 


POSTPONED - How to Murder Someone for Money if You're a Teen

This workshop has been postponed. We will get it back on the calendar as soon as possible. Check back here or on the Corporeal Writing website ( 

This is cool. I'm teaching a thriller writing workshop at Corporeal Writing in Portland, OR, March 21 and 22nd. It's called How to Murder Someone For Money and it costs $400 a person -- you can learn more if you click on events. But, get this, because the folks at Corporeal are amazing and have funded a scholarship endowment, we're able to offer TWO FULL SCHOLARSHIPS. (Much love to you, Lidia Yuknavitch.)  I've decided to offer these scholarships to high school age writers.  Because I think it's really important, as a young writer, to be taken seriously.  Please pass along to any high school writers you know in the area.  
If you want to know more about the workshop, click here:
Anyone interested in a scholarship can send an email to:

Write "Chelsea Cain Scholarship" (or something similar) in the subject line.

Please answer the following questions.

Hi!  What's your name?
How old are you?
Is this email address the best way to reach you, or is there a better way? 
I'd love to see a sample of your writing.  You can attach it to this email.  It can be anything - a school assignment, a journal entry, a poem, a song, a short story, a really epic DM -- it can be fiction, non-fiction, fan-fiction, existential rants, lists - I just want to see something you wrote that you're proud of - or, if I'm being fancy, of which you are proud.  If you can't decide, send me two things! If it's not typed, take a picture of it and send me that.  Promise me that you won't overthink this.
If you want, in the body of this email, you can tell me something else. Just a few sentences - something you think is important to share about yourself.  
You have already impressed me by the very fact that you are here, that you're applying, that you're interested in talking about big writing ideas. Seriously, you're obviously pretty great.
It's nice to meet you.
We will be in touch by March 11.  
Thank you!
~ Chelsea. 



New project: SPY ISLAND


My new comic book, SPY ISLAND, launches April 1.  That sounds like an April Fool's Day joke, but it's not.  It's going to be four issues.  Published by Dark Horse.  Same creative team as MAN-EATERS.  Produced with my co-creator/co-conspirator, Lia Miternique, + Elise McCall, Rachelle Rosenberg, Joe Caramagna, plus a teen special guest or two.   



Nora Freud (no relation) is stationed on an island in the Bermuda Triangle because obviously it's in the interest of humanity to keep an eye on that shit.   

If she can stay one step ahead of the island’s other spies, super villains, dimensional portals, tourists, and killer mermaids, she might just make it back to the mainland. 


You can pre-order a copy at your local comic book store. If you are not sure if you have a local comic book store, Google “[INSERT THE NAME OF YOUR TOWN] local comic book store.”  Comic book store retailers have to pay for the comic books they order, whether people buy them or not.  So they love pre-orders.  It helps them out a lot.  And it helps us out a lot, too.  


We can’t wait to share this project with you. Seriously. 

P.S. We'll be at Emerald City Comic Con this year (March, 2020).  We'll have advance issues of SPY ISLAND #1 (available nearly a month early!) as well as issues of MAN-EATERS #13 (pub date: March 4).  So THAT'S neat. 


If you're in the Seattle area, come say hi.  

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