Rinnaul’s “No One Goes There”


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As Nightmare Night approaches, don’t forget to get some subtle scares from today’s story.

no-one-goes-thereNo One Goes There
[Dark] [Horror] • 2,483 words

A broad, clear path runs through a deep wood on the far side of Ponyville.

No one goes there.

Four young colts want to know why.

FROM THE CURATORS: FIMFiction.net has a few tags that we at the RCL don’t track in our story summaries, so there’s one exceptional thing about this week’s feature that isn’t reflected above — it’s a horror fic rated “E” for Everyone.  And while (like any dark story) parents might want to review this before sharing with children, No One Goes There does a remarkable job of subtly selling those conflicting tags.  “It’s your classic ‘kids go into spooky woods’ story, but what makes it so effective is that you might not even notice anything’s wrong until well after the bad things start happening,” Present Perfect said.  “It completely undersells its horror, leaving the fridge horror strong by the ending.”

Both that light touch and the story’s tight focus earned curator praise.  “Bravo to Rinnaul for keeping this tight and bare,” Chris said.  “Just like the best horror movies don’t show you too much, often the best horror stories are understated and light on explication.”  And despite that apparent simplicity, this still served up some surprises.  “I have to praise the elegant way it snuck the twist past me,” Horizon said.  “It actually took me until the light went out to realize what was going on, even though on second read the story wasn’t being dishonest about the action in the slightest.  And when the horseshoe dropped, everything fell together so tightly.”

That tight construction was a recurring theme in our discussion — there were so many elements that came together to enhance the effect.  “Damn fine work with the atmosphere,” Soge said.  “This is a truly unsettling fic, all the more impressive given how little actually happens.”  That was due to its fine balance, Horizon said: “While the colts’ light slice-of-lifey banter might seem like padding, it’s crucial to construct the facade, and it feels neither sparse nor boring nor drawn-out.”  Ultimately, as Present Perfect put it, “I have come to the conclusion that Rinnaul is a name worth paying attention to, and this story shows why.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Rinnaul discusses curator research, crucial tones, and Amtgard personas.
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Glimmervoid’s “At the Mountains of Discord”


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Today’s story delves into Secrets Ponies Weren’t Meant To Know.

mountains-of-discordAt the Mountains of Discord
[Adventure] [Crossover] [Dark] • 40,699 words

North of bountiful Equestria and beyond the Crystal Empire lies an icy land of cryptic mystery. Its inner reaches have never been explored, but a Canterlot University expedition is set to change this. The plan is simple: penetrate the unknown depths of the Uncharted North and discover its most hidden secrets.

It’s a noble undertaking, but a dark cloud looms on the horizon. Princess Luna’s dreams have revealed a great but shadowy threat. To minimise the danger, Princess Celestia requests that her most loyal student, Twilight Sparkle, join the expedition and keep everypony safe. With the aid of her number one assistant, Spike, and mailmare Derpy Hooves, Twilight will attempt to do exactly that.

FROM THE CURATORS: “Somehow, Lovecraft crossovers seem to become a small but integral part of every fandom,” Chris said when introducing this story to us.  “I never was particularly enamored of Lovecraft’s writing … this, however, is very nice.”  It didn’t take long for us to agree.  “I was pretty much sold on this one by the end of the first chapter,” Horizon said. “Strong worldbuilding is so crucial to an adventure that shows us the world beyond Equestria, and this has that in spades — not just in translating Lovecraft to Equestria, but in all the original material that reconciles and expands the two.”

That was best exemplified by this story’s attention to detail, Horizon said: “‘The Stormwalds.’ ‘Svalbarding.’ ‘Aeolipyle’ as the airship name — it was the word used to describe the Greek world’s first steam engine, and Aeolus was the god of the wind. Oh, man, so much care has gone into this.” But it wasn’t just the mythology that drew us in.  “Even beyond that, it’s the hints of essential Equestrianity,” Chris said, “from big stuff like the use of magic to tiny asides like ‘feathers sounded against coat, that uniquely pegasus sound that spoke to their dual natures’ to everything about Derpy in this story.”  And while the Lovecraftian prose was a challenge for some of us, AugieDog thought it fit the story well: “It’s got a great narrative voice, the way it mixes the Twilight we know from the show with those hapless first-person narrators who inhabit most of Lovecraft’s stuff.”

That mixing, in fact, was what we unanimously agreed to be the biggest strength.  “This shines when it expands beyond its inspiration, and makes itself its own,” Chris said. “This is no mere ponification, and the way this story uses the Elder Ones, and how it reveals more about them and their creations, is deliciously enticing.” Horizon agreed: “Its commentary on the relationship between ponies and Elder Ones is really remarkable — and it does some fascinating things as a fusion of two messages about the nature of reality that by all rights should be incompatible.” In summary, as AugieDog put it, that fusion was exemplary: “That the author manages to combine Lovecraft and Pony without either completely destroying the other is just this side of sorcery.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Glimmervoid discusses occult computers, Roman sacrifices, and the flowing rivers of fandom.

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The 24th Pegasus’ “Daring Doodle Donkey”



Dig into a famous archaeologist’s past with today’s story.

daring-doodle-donkeyDaring Doodle Donkey
[Adventure] • 13,637 words

Cranky Doodle Donkey has spent years searching Equestria for that special jenny he lost at the Grand Galloping Gala. He’s been to cities far and wide, and searched from the peaks of the tallest mountains to the floors of the lowest valleys. He’s seen it all, or so he claims. The roads are his and his alone, and the solitude is something he’s simply grown used to.

Until one night, he discovers a filly hiding in a snowy hollow, scared, alone, and freezing to death …

FROM THE CURATORS: In some ways, this story is exactly what it appears to be: a world-spanning, decades-long adventure about two restless wanderers drawn together by fate.  But Daring Doodle Donkey is both simpler than that, and much deeper than that.  “This is almost less a story than an explanation — a look at how to assemble a particularly unlikely but not implausible bit of headcanon,” Chris said.  “Stories like that are usually awful because they exist for no other purpose than to justify whatever ‘clever’ idea they’ve dreamed up.  But this fic exceeds its fellows by not only explaining its premise, but by actually investing in it.”

That gentler, more reflective approach was something we all appreciated.  “The 24th Pegasus isn’t afraid to dive into low-key, low-stakes scenes, despite the Adventure tag this fic carries, and the result is a story in which Cranky and Daring exist as more than just tools to push forward an author’s agenda,” Chris said, and Present Perfect agreed: “For all that this has the trappings of a world-spanning adventure, it’s really just a story about an adoptive family, how they grow apart and together again over a long span of time.  Really remarkable stuff.”  AugieDog, too, was impressed by that more personal focus.  “I’ve always had a soft spot for stories that show how characters who are unlikely to even meet on the show could interact,” he said.  “This is very much a character piece focused on the influence the two have on each other and how they each fit into the other’s lives, and on that level, it works quite well.  A fun story all around.”

That combined with strong prose to seal this story’s feature.  “The descriptions in this are both vivid and economical,” Horizon said, “both in the sense of place they inspire and in the passage of time.”  Present Perfect was also caught by the story’s imagery — “in particular, that early scene where Cranky nearly falls to his death and has to take a few moments to process still being alive,” he said.  “The writing in this story is top-notch, and one of the main draws.”

Read on for our author interview, in which The 24th Pegasus discusses unexplored ruins, sunscreen boops, and marshmallow death lasers.
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Hoopy McGee’s “The Cutie Mark Allocation Agency”


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Today’s story will leave its mark on you.

cutie-mark-allocationThe Cutie Mark Allocation Agency
[Comedy] [Random] • 35,789 words

‘Unseen and unheard: They must never know’.

That’s the motto of the CMAA, the Cutie Mark Allocation Agency. Nopony knows who they are or what they do, but they’re vital to the workings of Equestrian society.

This is the story of two of these unsung heroes of the pony world, who selflessly sacrifice their time and energy for those blasted mysterious cutie marks that the ponies seem to like so much.

FROM THE CURATORS: In the hands of many authors, this story’s core idea — that a band of snipers targets foals and fillies with Cutie Mark guns — would have become a brief and forgettable one-shot, but it doesn’t take long for this story to transcend its roots.  “There’s nothing I love so much as watching an author take a crackfic idea seriously, plant the seed, and then have something beautiful blossom from that,” Horizon said, and as soon as we’re introduced to the gnome Glummwriggle and his employer and coworkers, that beauty is apparent.  “The cast is probably best described as ‘David the Gnome meets Office Space‘ (a thoroughly intuitive pairing, I think you’ll agree),” Chris said, “and Hoopy’s knack for observational comedy and asides in general shines in that setting.”

There were plenty of other things to appreciate, as Present Perfect noted. “This story is a lot of fun,” he said.  “It’s quirky, it’s whimsical, it’s charming, and I really enjoyed reading it. The stakes are always clear, the pacing is quick and smooth, and the idea behind it is so goofy, yet plays out in a perfectly serious way.”  Horizon similarly appreciated the crispness of the storytelling — “the pacing here was dynamic; I never felt that nothing was going on” — while Chris was enchanted by the comedic twists of the prose: “My notes on the story are pretty much just a bunch of funny lines that I highlighted.”

Even the bit parts contributed to the story with outsized flair and memorability.  “Shadeswell is a perfect example of everything this story gets right, a smart blend of ridiculous, serious, and self-subversive,” Horizon said, and AugieDog offered an insightful suggestion as to why: “What I liked most about this story was its deft use of so many cliches.  Too many authors use them as shortcuts to avoid doing any creative thinking. So when an author actually uses cliches in a creative fashion, it always gets a grin out of me.  Knowing when to undercut a cliche is important — such as with Shadeswell — but it’s also important to let some cliches play out, and the author does both to good comedic effect throughout.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Hoopy McGee discusses Shyamalan subversions, Tirek tea parties, and garden gag gifts.

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Oroboro’s “Starlight Glimmer and Sunset Shimmer Are Dead”


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I’m stuck inside today’s story, trying to find a way out.  (Please send help.)

starlight-sunset-are-deadStarlight Glimmer and Sunset Shimmer Are Dead
[Comedy] [Crossover] [Random] • 3,837 words

Two magical prodigies cast in Twilight’s shadow stumble about in somepony else’s story and try to find meaning in their lives.

An affectionate parody of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Which is in itself an absurdist and existentialist parody of Hamlet.

FROM THE CURATORS: With many of our featured authors, we face a difficult choice of which of their RCL-quality stories to spotlight — and in this case, we decided that good things come in small packages.  “I’ve been trying for months now to work up a pitch for either of Oroboro’s 100,000+ word epics, The Heart of an Author or Fractured Sunlight, but this story displays all the author’s positives without making anyone take a week off to read it,” AugieDog said.

Chief among those positives was Oroboro’s way with words.  “My favorite part of this is how the dialogue changes when it stops being ‘their story’,” Present Perfect said.  “Everyone talks like an overblown stage actor; it’s quirky and marvelous and just a fascinating way to show what’s going on.”  That deft touch extended from the small touches to some larger ones.  “This story certainly chooses its fourth-wall breaks well, and every one of them got a grin out of me,” Horizon said.  “The narrator judging the story with ‘Then she galloped off to save her marefriend or whatever’ was a great blend of subtle and satirical.  And I love that it effortlessly shifts back and forth from that sort of hilarity to sober discussions of stories and our role in them.”

Our biggest debate was over how authentic this was to the source that it drew from.  “This does just enough to distinguish itself from R&GAD to be a fresh take on the subject,” Chris said, “but I don’t think this makes any cogent statement about secondary realities or fictional existence the same way the source material does.”  To AugieDog, however, that was a positive: “This takes the idea of the existential metadrama and makes it absolutely Pony,” he said.  “Yes, Starlight and Sunset come to realize that the story they’re in isn’t about them at all, but their reactions to this state of affairs are nicely free of angst, and the ending gives the two more leeway than Rosencrantz and Guildenstern get in the last scene of their play.” And Horizon thought this was best evaluated as its own story rather than as a statement on Stoppard’s play: “Whether or not this is meaningful in the meta, it’s profound in the small and does make a statement in the large.  Like any good crossover, it stakes out ground of its own in between its two sources.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Oroboro discusses normal speaking voices, great lunches, and Japanese-accented orcs.
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AestheticB’s “Twilight Sparkle Gets A Free Salad”


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Today’s story puts over-the-top action on the menu.

free-saladTwilight Sparkle Gets A Free Salad
[Comedy] [Random] • 9,142 words

One beautiful morning, Twilight Sparkle decides she wants a free salad. After a small amount of theft, assault, battery, and arson, she sits down to enjoy what is sure to be the best tasting salad ever.

…Or she would have, if it weren’t for the Equestrian Intelligence Service locking her up as a potential threat to national security. Now, Twilight must escape a maximum security holding facility hidden deep underneath Canterlot. And to do it, she’ll need a paperclip, a spymare catsuit, an escape plan, and an alliance with the dastardly Drakbog, King of Frogs.

FROM THE CURATORS: While some stories achieve greatness because they invite the reader to explore hidden depths, there’s also something to be said for tales that make bold promises up front and then deliver.  Twilight Sparkle Gets A Free Salad — and its protagonist’s destruction of a fast-food restaurant — is firmly in that second camp.  “It’s a perfect exercise in over-the-top ridiculousness,” Present Perfect said.  “It’s one of those few random comedies that really avails itself well of both tags.”  For his part, Chris praised the balance it brought to that extreme approach: “Free Salad is a comedy of hyper-exaggeration, in terms of both characters and overall plot,” he said. “But while this might be an exaggerated setting, it’s a consistently exaggerated one, which lets the reader feel moored in the story even as they’re able to appreciate the absurdities on which it’s founded.”

What makes this story shine is that that exaggeration works.  “It’s about Twilight freaking out in a way that’s actually funny,” Present Perfect said, while Chris praised the range of its silliness: “Even outside of its core humor, there’s a nice blend of other comedy, from cheap shots at academia to visual gags rendered (often surprisingly well) into a written medium.”  Horizon appreciated that too: “Just because a comedy is random doesn’t mean it has to be dumb.  This cracks some remarkably sharp jokes, like The Manager’s academic background and Twilight’s explanation for her martial arts skills.”

And while not everything reinforced that humor, even the parts which didn’t had some pleasant surprises.  “For the most part, the fight scenes don’t contribute to the comedy — though gags like the salad left behind the blast door sneak in around the edges — but they are vivid and clever, especially the gravity manipulation,” Horizon said.  What that added up to, as AugieDog said, was a welcome bit of whimsy: “I did end up skimming the fight scenes, but this sort of smartly-delivered silliness always has a place in my cheese-like brain.”

Read on for our author interview, in which AestheticB discusses pony-filled singularities, justified justification, and melodramatically vomiting sisters.
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Dafaddah’s “Pas de Deux”


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Today’s story explores the dance of love.

pas-de-deuxPas de Deux
[Drama] [Romance] [Slice of Life] • 3,734 words

Fancy Pants and Fleur Dis Lee were made for each-other: the perpetual playcolt and the sultry supermodel. Now, they’ve been going out for over a month. Has she fallen for this stallion? Is he finally ready to settle down? Can true love blossom in the high-pressure world of Canterlot’s social elite?

FROM THE CURATORS: A “pas de deux” is a dance for two people, and Pas de Deux is not only a study of the dance of intimacy between two ponies but also their social dance as they define themselves against the expectations that confine them.  What first caught our eye is that it’s “a good character study of two good characters,” as AugieDog put it, but this also breathes life into an often poorly explored relationship. “I’ve always found FleurPants shipping to be a weak explanation for why they hang around together, but this story shows their relationship is anything but weak,” Present Perfect said.

The same was true for the story’s portrayal of its protagonists.  Chris was impressed that they were so relatable despite (or perhaps because of) their upper-class background: “Their concerns are familiar,” he said.  “Here, we see a look at pretensions and the need to hide our true selves in the name of social demands, which is about as universal a conflict as there is — but at the same time, Fancy and Fleur’s richness keeps them far enough removed from reality to explore issues more frankly and directly than suspension of disbelief might otherwise allow.”  And AugieDog was impressed by how they became more than the sum of their parts: “In the stories I’ve read about Fleur, she always seems to be struggling against her inclinations … that’s always a powerful story to tell, and when you add Fancy Pants as the outsider on the inside who triggers this desire in her, you get two characters who see their own missing pieces in each other. I’m a sucker for that sort of thing.”

That was enhanced by the excellent framing of the story, which multiple curators praised. “Setting the scene with Fancy and Fleur before zooming out to resolve it was a good strategy,” Present Perfect said, and Horizon agreed: “Marriage counselors say there are three people in a marriage — the first partner, the second partner, and the two of them together.  This explicitly is structured to show how the relationship benefits all three of those, and it’s much stronger for the decision.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Dafaddah discusses Kirin mothers, vulnerable moments, and the pushing of ships.
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ph00tbag’s “Numberography”


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You can count on today’s story for a rich exploration of Equestrian history.

[Adventure] [Comedy] • 6,896 words

Once upon a time, ponies did not know how to count very far. Clover the Clever tells her two young fillies the story of how her mentor, Starswirl the Bearded, learned the secret of counting from the dragons.

FROM THE CURATORS: It seems wholly appropriate that what turned our heads about a story so steeped in mathematics is how much work it put into the little details.  “The worldbuilding is continuous, effortless, and endlessly surprising,” Horizon said.  “Every time the story turns a corner I stumble across a new, cool tidbit: Clover indirectly earning her nickname due to Discord; pegasus attitudes on how to win battles; Starswirl’s random encounter with the ascetic monkeys.”  Chris appreciated the finer details as well: “I really like the explanation for why ponies count in base ten.”  That wasn’t the only thing Present Perfect marveled at: “It definitely has something to say about the scientific process, at the end of the day, and it’s quite a charming piece.”

And while the luxurious detail attracted us, it was the story’s charm and tone which sealed the deal.  “The legend is a quite pleasant read — told in the manner of a just-so tale, with a much-appreciated vein of humor running through it,” Chris said.  AugieDog also commented on that whimsy.  “I love the goofy sweetness here,” he said.  “I mean, even though we’re smack-dab in the middle of Discord’s reign, the biggest worry ponies seem to have is how to keep reading when day has a tendency to switch over to night without notice. … This story is pony through and through.”

The ponies, too, were memorable.  “Star Swirl the legend is contrasted to Star Swirl the pony, as Clover remembers him, and it’s a lot of fun seeing how the various parties he approaches defy his wish to count higher than eight with simple practicality,” Present Perfect said, and Horizon went further: “Everyone we meet, down to the bit parts, is memorable and fun.  In particular, Filly Luna is super adorbs and the dragon steals her scene.”  Overall, Horizon added, this was an all-around standout work: “Oh my, yes.  Very yes.  I don’t think even the abrupt ending can keep me from following the author immediately.”

Read on for our author interview, in which ph00tbag discusses epiglottal frication, rollercoaster pee, and titular eggcorns.
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Posh’s “Teach Me Goodness”



The quality of today’s story is both moving and instructive.

teach-me-goodness“Teach Me Goodness”
[Slice of Life] • 13,579 words

On the last day of school before summer vacation, Cheerilee informs her students that she’s going to pursue her doctorate in Fillydelphia, and won’t be returning as their teacher in the fall. Her friends and students alike spend her last night in Ponyville bidding farewell and showing their appreciation for her, each in their own unique way.

But one student, in particular, has a hard time coping.

FROM THE CURATORS: While we recently featured another story about Diamond Tiara connecting with an unexpected mentor, we found ourselves unable to ignore this Writeoff Association gold medalist — and the way it took its premise in a very different direction, focusing on the emotional journeys of Tiara and her teacher.  “This was just a satisfying read full of wistfulness and heart,” Horizon said.  “Cheerilee’s inner conflict is earnest and moving, Diamond Tiara is equally well painted, and the side characters steal the show with their appearances.”  Present Perfect cited one of those as a highlight of the story.  “There is a perfect moment in this, when Rarity gives Cheerilee her parting gift,” he said.  “I say ‘perfect’ because the way the events and Cheerilee’s emotions are described perfectly mirrored my own. The revelation of the gift brought tears to my eyes, and then I had to laugh along with Cheerilee at Rarity’s remark. That’s powerful.”

Along with its solid range of characters, we were impressed by the story’s emotional balance.  “The whole thing is just tear-jerkingly sad, but … I love the humor,” Present Perfect said.  “There’s not much, and it’s very incidental and almost entirely thanks to the CMCs, but it helps keep this from being dour while not overshadowing the serious emotions at play.”  And the story seamlessly demonstrated some rare skills, AugieDog said: “I’m normally a huge perspective ogre, grouchily grousing when authors try to shift between characters during the course of a single story because so many authors fail in that attempt.  But the shift here from Cheerilee to Diamond Tiara is handled in exactly the right way, letting them illuminate each other and bringing out the overall theme.”

“Teach Me Goodness” is also “an example of a really well-done revision,” AugieDog said.  “The original version [which is included as a bonus chapter] is good, but the longer version digs into the material that was only hinted at in the first draft and expands on it to enrich the whole piece.”  Not only was that instructive reading, Horizon said, but it illustrated some daring choices in the editing process: “What impresses me most is that the revision moves the climax, upending the pacing of the entire story — and yet works as well, if not better.  It’s rare to see that pulled off.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Posh discusses mothershuckling, author-eating jackals, and menthol-starved cynics.
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Shachza’s “Insecurities”



Today’s story will reward you for stepping out of your comfort zone.

[Slice of Life] • 12,105 words

Fleur Lumineuse, daughter of Fancy Pants and Fleur de Lis, has made a mistake.  A serious one.  She never intended so much harm but, even with her eyes now open, can she make amends?

Sometimes, what a pony really needs, is somepony else to reach out to them.

FROM THE CURATORS: While one of the great truisms of fanfiction is that no idea is irredeemable, there are some premises which are very, very difficult to sell.  So when a story admits in its author’s note to being “blatant self-insertion and gratuitous wish fulfillment,” and yet turns our heads anyhow, that should be a sign that the author is doing something very, very right.

The core of that, as Horizon put it, was the stark self-awareness on display.  “This is like no other ‘wish fulfillment’ fic I’ve ever seen,” he added.  “It draws boundaries in a way that both respects the female counterpart and reinforces her characterization.”  Present Perfect, meanwhile, was most impressed by how that self-awareness came through in the protagonist.  “Front and center is Hyperic Cable: shy, awkward, socially phobic, possibly autistic,” he said.  “It’s the kind of character portrayal that can only come from personal experience, and the fact that he isn’t the viewpoint character undercuts a lot of the wish-fulfillment angle.”  Chris felt similarly: “The self-insertiness comes through really clearly.  But on the other hand, he’s still a character who’s easy to empathize with.  I felt most of the story feeling really bad for this guy, which is exactly what I was supposed to be doing.”

But while the “nuanced, flawed characters” (as Present Perfect put it) turned our heads, this was exemplary in areas beyond its self-awareness.  “This is an excellent look into anxiety and irrational fears with equally excellent writing,” Present Perfect said, while Soge appreciated that there was an equally solid B-plot: “What really struck me was how Fleur learns to not be such a horrible pony.  She is … an incredibly selfish narcissist, profoundly bigoted, and almost comical in her lack of empathy — and yet she grows a lot during the fic, eventually even trying to see things from his perspective.”  Ultimately, Horizon said, this story became more than the sum of its parts: “The characters here are — through personal experience, good writing, or a combination of the two — both earnestly authentic, and that transforms this into something far beyond its roots.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Shachza discusses dinosaur toys, friendship ironies, and pancakes vs. ponies.
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