Coville began writing as a grade school student in an Oswego County
community near Phoenix, where he grew up surrounded by open space and
engaging books. He left for a period of time to live in New York City,
but returned to upstate after two years. “Most writers should live in
New York for a while,” Coville believes. Living in the city is a rite of
passage for creative minds all over the world, but building a life
permanently in New York City was not what he had in mind.
Coville then held an assortment of jobs ranging from toy making to
grave digging. He was teaching elementary school in Liverpool when his
first book, The Foolish Giant, was published in 1978 by
Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. It was illustrated by his wife,
Katherine Coville, and marked a new chapter in Coville’s life.
Since that breakthrough, Coville has published more than 100 books
with more than 12 million copies in print, primarily through Random
House, Aladdin and Scholastic Press. His expertise as a writer shows in
all of his work, but he is perhaps best known for The Unicorn Chronicles.
These books tell the story of Cara Hunter, a young girl based on and
named after Coville’s only daughter. In the first installment, she
enters the enchanted world of Luster on a mission to deliver a message
to the queen of the unicorns.
Coville’s characters are anything but ordinary. Among his most
popular subjects are aliens, monsters and grade school children. Titles
such as My Little Brother Is a Monster and I Was a Sixth Grade Alien reflect the quirky characters that await his readers.
Today, he writes in a quaint house in the Westcott neighborhood, near
an assembly of vintage shops, ethnic restaurants and teenage hangouts.
His three children, Orion, Cara and Adam, are all grown up, but a
youthful energy fills every room. Upon entering his house, the rich
scent of coffee and a feeling of concentration linger in the air. The
walls have more smooth curves than corners, as though the interior of
the building was carved from soapstone. Even unused in the summer, the
fireplace offers a cheerful welcome. It is easy to picture any of
Coville’s characters coming to life here.
His office is tucked away in an upstairs corner. The walls are lined
with bookshelves whose contents are overflowing, building hills and
valleys on the floor. The entire Harry Potter series has its own
shelf, along with hundreds of other children’s classics. A half-dozen
framed illustrations hang on the wall next to a window, all of which are
originals from his books’ covers. It is a room where one man’s
imagination crosses into reality.
This is where characters are born. A boy named Jeremy becomes best
friends with a dragon. Skulls can talk and they speak only the truth. A
troupe of friendly aliens lands in the middle of one boy’s papier-mache
project. The impossible becomes probable, indeed, highly likely.
Horns of Plenty
No place is this better exemplified than in The Unicorn Chronicles, in which unicorns heal wounds by piercing the skin with their horns. The first volume of the series, Into the Land of the Unicorns,
was published in 1992, ending on a cliffhanger. Readers thirsted for
the next installment, but the subsequent books took longer to write and
became longer in length.
Book two, Song of the Wanderer, came five years later. It, too, had a suspenseful ending. Book three, Dark Whispers,
came out in 2008, after growing to such a length that Coville could not
publish it as one piece. He split the book in two, saving the second
half for a fourth book. Eighteen years after the first book, the wait
ended: The Last Hunt was released June 1.
Stephanie Wrona, an elementary school teacher from Oneonta, recalls
her sentiments regarding the first two unicorn books. “I was in love
with the first one, and waited for what felt like forever to find out
what would happen next. I never felt like such an addict before those
books, needing a story like a drug,” Wrona says. She, like millions of
other loyal fans, attributes her love for reading to Coville.
Wrona’s attitude toward The Unicorn Chronicles mirrors that of
millions of readers across the country. Book review websites were
flooded with messages from excited fans of all ages, buzzing with
anticipation about the fourth book.
Among these reviewers was Janni Lee Simner, who also writes young
adult fiction. On www.goodreads.com she said, “My inner 10-year-old has a
strong thread of unicorn-girl. She and I have both been waiting for the
conclusion of The Unicorn Chronicles for something like 15 years now. We’re not at all disappointed that we waited.”
Her thoughts are echoed on many book vendors’ websites as well.
Parents and children, teachers and students, siblings and friends, all
who read Coville’s work, feel a kinship toward his characters that has
lasted many years.
In the cases of Wrona and Simner, Cara Hunter’s voyage left an
impression that’s held on nearly two decades. “I felt two inches taller
the next day after finishing The Last Hunt, Coville says. “I’d
felt guilty, but knew that I needed to get it out properly.” Written
while traveling through five countries on three continents, finally
coming to a conclusion at 3 a.m. in Bangladesh, The Last Hunt was an unforgettable experience even for Coville himself.
Following this growth spurt and a number of trips to promote The Last Hunt, his next book, Always October,
is in progress. In it, Coville revisits a short story from 1995
entitled “My Little Brother Is a Monster.” He continues to be fascinated
by imaginary creatures with zany personalities.
Big Audio Dynamite
Coville’s passion for storytelling brought him from the fantastical
realms of his books to the world of audio book recording. Nine years
ago, he started Full Cast Audio (FCA). Taking time for this new venture
when his career as an author was flourishing made “bad business sense
but great artistic sense,” Coville notes. Trusting his artistic
instincts proved a wise choice.
FCA is an innovative business that upholds a high standard of
quality. Coville says FCA’s mandate is “to produce unabridged recordings
of fine children’s novels using a full cast rather than a single
reader. Our recordings are always unabridged—the only things deleted
from the text are those attributives (“he said,” “she growled,”) made
unnecessary by having a full complement of actors.”
Coville fondly refers to the process as creating a “symphony of
voices.” His interest in audio books surfaced during a road trip he took
with Cara when she was 14. “We decided to just drive west,” he says.
“We brought some unabridged books on tape to listen to, to fill in the
silence, and found ourselves having great conversations about them when
we would stop for dinner or at rest stops.” The audio spark was ignited.
FCA now boasts nearly 100 titles recorded, with many more to come.
The selection process includes if the book is “family friendly” and
contains enough dialogue so that the “symphony of voices” can take
shape. Books with too few characters, not enough dialogue, or content
that would not befit a 10-year-old’s ears aren’t considered.
Even with these constraints, the company continues to expand its
thriving library of titles, earning numerous awards since its
conception. Among these is One-Handed Catch, by M.J. Auch, which
featured FCA’s youngest cast member, Ryan Sparkes, who was 12 when he
recorded it. The final product won the 2008 Booklist Editor’s Choice
“With Full Cast Audio, I have the luxury of being able to cast for
talent—for the voice itself—rather than the looks. There’s great talent
everywhere,” Coville says. The talent in Syracuse is of particular
interest to him and is readily available at community theaters and
Syracuse Stage took an interest in Coville during the 1995-1996
season. A representative contacted him about developing a production
based on one of his novels. “I replied that not only did I have the
book, I had the script and the songs to go with it,” Coville says. Dragonslayers
was a project that Coville had worked on when he taught fourth grade,
and was ready to go when Syracuse Stage called. Its production was such a
success that a cast album was recorded. The Dragonslayers album is still available for purchase on his website, brucecoville.com.
Local theater proves a useful source of voices for Coville’s work, as
well as a venue for personal entertainment. It was through theater that
Coville met Spencer Murphy, who played roles in several FCA recordings,
including Buddha Boy and The Misfits. The pair met one summer at Salt City Center for the Performing Arts, where Murphy was acting in a production of Falsettos. Murphy’s performance inclined Coville to ask him to audition for the FCA cast pool. The two formed a lasting bond.
A graduate of the SUNY Purchase music department, Murphy describes
his relationship with Coville as a prime example of just how powerfully
the author affects the youth he auditions. “He’s one of the warmest and
most loving people I’ve ever had the great privilege to know,” Murphy
says. “From the moment we met, his patience and kindness were instantly
He regards Coville as an invaluable influence on his life as a
musician, inspired by Coville’s creativity and determination. “We need
more people like Bruce to revitalize the creative scene in Syracuse,”
From books, to musicals, to audio recordings, Coville’s reverence for
storytelling knows no limits. He is frequently called upon to deliver
high school graduation speeches. Among his favorite speech material is a
short story from his book, The Skull of Truth, titled “Do As You
Love.” In it, Do-As-You-Love, who is the youngest and most poorly
behaved of three brothers, is thought of as lazy and plodding. He
advises others to do what makes them happiest, or, “do as you love.”
All three brothers live to an old age, and pass away. However, only
Do-As-You-Love was so fulfilled by his life that he didn’t notice any
difference when he passed from earth into heaven.
This passion is what gives root to all of Coville’s work. Realizing
artistic vision and nurturing creativity are among his top priorities.
For times when this is a difficult task, he keeps a collection of
inspirational notes taped to a cabinet above his office desk.
One scrap of paper bears a quote from Cole Porter: “Courage is freedom.”
Another scrap says: “Just tell the story.”
An index card says: “LIVE!” in heavy black marker.
In this room, surrounded by both his own work and that of others,
fortified by award plaques, original illustrations and fresh coffee,
Coville has crafted entire realms full of magic. His books are saturated
with the excitement of possibility, exploring answers to the question,
“What if?” Following more than three decades of adventure, Coville sees
more to come.
“It seems to me that people regret what they didn’t do more than what
they did do,” Coville says. If so, he will have few regrets.
Jessica Zurell holds a bachelor of fine arts degree from SU’s
College of Visual and Performing Arts. She sculpts, paints, plays the
piano, and has been a fashion model