Alfonso Colasuonno is the co-author of The Book of the Magical Mythical Unicorn, which will be published this year by O Books. He was also the CEO/Cofounder of MyCareerHacker, assisting applicants with their professional job search. A co-founder of Beautiful Losers Magazine, Colasuonno’s own poetry has appeared in Vintage Poetry, The Eunoia Review, The Galway Review, and among other journals. His journey began with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing at Beloit College. In this interview, Colasuonno shares insights on his side hustles, as well as of the process, research, findings, and inspirations that went into writing The Book of the Magical Mythical Unicorn, and “all the gritty work necessary to build a literary career.”
You are the co-author, with Vakasha Brenman, of The Book of the Magical Mythical Unicorn, which is an overview of the mysterious unicorn across time through cultures and faith. How did you get involved in this book’s project? How did you get together with Vakasha Brenman, who has a career of investigating and chronicling what we might call spiritual myths, such as the documentary series Geosophy: An Overview of Earth Mysteries?
In 2012, my girlfriend at the time suggested I visit her energy healer, Stephanie Urdang, because I was having some minor medical challenges. I had never tried anything of the sort, but kept an open mind, and was impressed. Over the years, I continued to visit Stephanie from time to time for “tune ups.” In late 2015, I was dealing with a particularly challenging time professionally. I had been working on an iOS app called Speedboard with Jeffrey Spetalnick, but unfortunately he passed away from cancer before we were able to complete the programming and release it. I was also working as a writer and producer on a media project called Old Forgotten Art Found, which is a global expedition to find and repatriate art that was stolen by the Nazis, but that project was put on temporary hold. It was a tough spot to be in, having to deal with a delay of one project and an end to another project I cared about.
Disheartened, I visited Stephanie and explained my situation. She told me that there was somebody I should meet; it was Vakasha, who had visited Stephanie for a treatment a short time prior. Stephanie gave Vakasha my contact information and after Vakasha reached out, I met her, we discussed the concept [for the book], and I found the idea intriguing. I have long been fascinated with esoteric and mystical topics, but the unicorn was a hole in my knowledge base. I could tell from the first meeting that Vakasha and I would get along, both on a personal and professional level, and that she was committed to doing whatever possible to bring about the book’s success through all parts of the process. We agreed to work together, and from that starting point we’ve not only become partners on The Book of the Magical Mythical Unicorn, but extremely close friends.
I am especially excited to read the story of “The Unicorn in Middle East and The Unicorn in Persia.” I am curious to learn if there are any similarities between the story the Arabic story I read growing up, an animal called Buraq. It was a winged creature that was not quite a horse, but was similar to a horse, a donkey, and a mule. And in the story, Mohammad rode the creature to travel to Jerusalem from Makkah. It is said that the animal was able to leap as far as it could see. So I am especially excited to read that chapter. I wonder what aspects of the Unicorn have been taken from those regions. And whether or not people saw Unicorn as a representation of love, symbol, feeling, beneficial element, or something else.
Vakasha and I realized that one of the biggest limitations of many other unicorn books was that they tended to have a primary focus on European and Judeo-Christian stories about the unicorn. We wanted to scour the globe and all of the spiritual traditions of the world to find information about the unicorn in these cultural contexts.
We were quite excited when we learned of the story of Mohammad traveling on the Buraq in the Qur’an, but ultimately could not conclusively determine if the Buraq was a unicorn because it was not mentioned to have only one horn. We did find some very interesting references to the unicorn in the Middle East and Persia, dating all the way back to the ancient Sumerian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Persian civilizations. From our research, we found that the people of the Middle East and Persia imbued the unicorn with protective qualities, particularly attached to its horn.
Two of my favorite findings in this region of the world were: the Persian legend of Iskandar, otherwise known as Alexander the Great, and his special relationship to his unicorn Bucephalus; and the discovery that in Iraq, even to the present day, there is a variety of Islamic prayer beads known as “tears of the karkadann (unicorn).”
Unicorns seem to hold very personal definitions. The Unicorn first came to me from fairy tales. For me, it’s an animal with magical powers that all princesses have as well. But that idea changed over the years. Now, the Unicorn figure has become more of a state of being, a feeling or mood, even a way of expressing silliness. I have to ask: what is your own idea of a unicorn?
For me, the unicorn represents internal transformation, akin to that of the alchemical processes. The unicorn is often represented with a spiral horn. Just like the unicorn’s horn, we can choose to go up or down the spiral in our own lives, rising to the challenges we face and actualizing our potential, or choosing not to do so. Symbolically, I find the unicorn to represent many things, but for me, what I connect with most about the unicorn is that urge towards continued growth and an embrace of the challenges we will face as we carve out our paths in life.
I suppose this is a more metaphysical question, but the way you describe unicorns as entering the world of the “awakened” through a third dimension makes me want to ask it: do unicorns know they are unicorns? Do you think unicorns know that they themselves are magical, and know of a state of beings we might call not-unicorn? I suppose it seems to me that it’s possible the unicorn figure is as much a cipher, a conduit to our own magical thinking and being, as it is a horse with a horn on its head. (Forgive me if this question is too muddy in its meaning, but I hope its spirit comes through.)
That’s an interesting question. One can go into a metaphysical conversation about if any creature truly understands the space that it inhabits. Does a cat know it’s a cat? A plant knows that it’s a plant? We all know that we’re human, but we can only define that in opposition to other states of being, so it’s an arbitrary definition at best. However, I do believe unicorns are aware that they are unicorns. While the unicorn is a mysterious creature, to my best understanding, the Creator endowed the unicorn with a special purpose towards helping guide humanity along our individual and collective spiritual progression.
And what a delight is to a chapter called “The Unicorn in India”! Those names are a mouthful: the story of Shanta and Rishyashringa sound a little familiar to me, having heard similar stories from my family growing up. Especially Shanta’s introduction. I am thinking of the story of Shakuntala, a very beautiful, kind and graceful lady who was married to a royal prince, I believe named Dushyanta, and had a son named Bharata. Her story is from Mahabharata. Shanta’s encounter with Rishyashringa and Shakuntala’s encounter with the prince are also somewhat similar. I am not too sure, however, because there are a couple other stories behind Shakuntala. It kind of sounds familiar, but I don’t think that’s the case here. It seems that unicorn stories are customized to suit our own spiritual and storytelling needs?
Before working with Vakasha, my primary understanding of the unicorn was its placement in European—chiefly British—mythology. And even of that I knew little. The research gathering process was a wonderful experience. I had no idea that so many different cultures featured the unicorn in integral aspects of their traditions, histories, and mythologies.
As to whether these stories are geared towards the particular spiritual and storytelling needs of each culture or spiritual practice, the diversity of meanings we found does seem to suggest that. The unicorn is a complex and magical creature, and so it seems natural that different groups would draw from different aspects of their understanding of the unicorn. What was unfortunate is that some of our research showed the unicorn had been misrepresented in certain cultures and spiritual traditions. Vakasha and I tried to minimize this information in our book because it is not our intention to spread misinformation to our readers.
I’m interested in your side hustles—maybe the more proper term is just “hustle.” You were an English major in college, same as me. On one of your websites, The Literary Game, you offer “Guerilla Book Marketing” services, have a podcast called “Embracing the Struggle,” you profile other emerging writers, and offer advice on how to sell your book. Do you find talking with other writers about the business or writing to inform your own writing practice?
That’s a great question. I live my life by Wolfman Jack’s quote, “It would take me three or four lifetimes to do everything I want.” Right now, aside from getting ready to promote The Book of the Magical Mythical Unicorn before its release date (August 28, 2020), I am working as an SAT and ACT tutor servicing Baltimore’s private school community. I also write for Goldleaf, a company that makes gorgeous and informative journals for cannabis patients, growers, and culinary artists and works hard to mainstream cannabis’ image, a cause that I’m a big supporter of because my cousin Darren passed away from cancer and cannabis was the only treatment that provided him relief. Lastly, I am currently promoting a spy thriller that I edited for Aviation Hall of Famer and four-time Reno Air Races Gold Champion, Pete Zaccagnino, called Relevant.
While I’d love to offer guerrilla book marketing services and write more posts on The Literary Game or do more episodes of Embracing the Struggle, those hustles have had to take a backseat for the foreseeable future because of these more fulfilling opportunities. As to talking with other writers about the business aspects, I really enjoy doing so when writers are driven to do whatever it takes to succeed, because there’s nothing more disheartening than writing something and having only a handful of people read your book. A former student of mine, Shawn Hudson, has impressed me so much with his work ethic and embrace of the challenge of marketing his books. I’ve been mentoring him through the process and I love doing so. I’ve also been putting myself out there to help my friends Kelly Llewellyn and Elizabeth Cunningham, two other fantastic emerging writers.
In regards to informing my own writing practice, I enjoy the accountability that comes from providing writing, publishing, and networking advice to other writers. It keeps me motivated and driven to not only write, but to do all the gritty work necessary to build a literary career.
I imagine you have a unicorn-oriented plan for this book as well, assuming life will return to normal?
Hopefully life will return to normal and the COVID-19 situation will become controllable soon. Regardless, Vakasha and I will be doing everything we can to spread the word about our book and the unicorn because we feel confident that this book is not only an interesting read, but has the potential to raise people’s consciousness and attune them more firmly towards their holistic evolution.
Last question: has the idea of the Unicorn changed or evolved in the process of writing this book? Is it the representation of love, symbol, or something else?
The unicorn has many meanings, love for humanity being one of its foremost, but it also has a special destiny towards us today. We hope that you read our book when it comes out at the end of August to learn more!
Marzia Syeda is a senior studying English and writing at The College of Saint Rose. She currently interns at The Northeastern Association of the Blind at Albany. She enjoys listening to spoken word poetry and loves to paint Bob Ross–inspired paintings.
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