Shachza’s “Insecurities”

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

insecuritiesInsecurities
[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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Corejo’s “Only, Only, Only You”

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Take a poetic excursion through the mind of Nightmare Moon with today’s story.

only-only-only-youOnly, Only, Only You
[Romance] [Sad] • 1,594 words

Come closer here—my heart, my host.
Come closer.  Hear my heart, my host,

Is only staid with presence close.
If love’s a potion, ample dose.

My night-ful bride, I need your boon.
My baleful bride, I need you soon:

For what’s eclipsed by half a moon?

FROM THE CURATORS: If it seems like we disproportionately feature poetry relative to how rare it is in the fandom, it’s only because we keep stumbling across poems that are really, really good.  This was laudable not only in its construction — “The mouthfeel of this piece in lines like ‘nightshade-wound chrysanthemum’ is exquisite, and it uses its repetitions and its breaks from verse to solid effect,” Horizon said — but also in its storytelling: “It tells a riveting tale, recasting the story of Luna and Nightmare Moon as a love story,” Present Perfect said.  “The characters and plot fit the poem form well, and I love how strong the sense of yearning and desire is.”

But what impressed us all the most was the mastery of language on display.  “The words are obviously carefully chosen,” Present Perfect said.  “There’s some great wordplay, like the ‘here/hear’ in the otherwise identical couplet that appears in the description.”  Chris found another example to praise: “I think the moment I realized I was in for a treat was the couplet ‘To slither, snake, in shadow form, / To recollect, inveigle—mourn—’,” he said.  “I’m on board with anyone who can use ‘inveigle‘ in a coherent sentence, especially while holding to the rhythm of the line.”  And Horizon agreed: “This is a piece which isn’t afraid to deploy ten-dollar words with rapier precision.  Seriously, look up ‘Lacuna’ the first time the poem uses it: this isn’t just a pet name for Luna, it’s a direct statement on the relationship.”

Despite the deep linguistic delving, though, “this remains shockingly readable as it flows through a story of need and betrayal and loss,” as Horizon put it.  “Nightmare Moon’s anguish is palpable, even as the piece makes very clear who the villain is here.”  And that makes this remarkable on another level, Chris said: “The content is a fresh twist on the oldest story in the fandom, which is increasingly hard to do six seasons in … but, as Corejo shows here, by no means impossible.” That it managed to do so while impressing even our poetry connoisseurs was what sealed this story’s feature.  “I will admit to being a giant poetry grouch who clings to strict ideas about rhyme and rhythm and imagery,” AugieDog said.  “To find a piece like this one that picks a meter and keeps to it, that picks a rhyme scheme and keeps to it, that paints some wonderful pictures with words and sounds and all, that’s the sort of thing that makes me very, very happy.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Corejo discusses rabbit errors, fluff-ectomies, and the fine line between hugboxers and skimmers.
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Rambling Writer’s “Cant”

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Today’s story lines up some quality entertainment.

cantCant
[Horror] • 2,353 words

There’s an old book that’s falling apart. Twilight wants to copy it down to preserve it. But it needs to be as accurate and precise as possible, to preserve the state of the original. That shouldn’t be too hard. After all, it’s not like the text will change whenever she looks away.

Right?

FROM THE CURATORS: For a story solo-tagged [Horror], we found Cant to be unusually — and pleasantly — light reading.  “This was a fun little fic,” Chris said, and AugieDog had a similar reaction: “This is a horror story the way ‘Lesson Zero’ is a horror story … I usually find horror stories to be, well, too horrific, but this is just exactly how horror stories should go in the Pony universe.”

But make no mistake, this uses its tag effectively and subtly.  “The way it progresses to horror is as insidious as it is natural,” Present Perfect said.  “And this particular brand of quiet, obsessive horror is the sort of thing I’ve previously only seen at the SCP Foundation.”  For Soge, that quiet horror built up over time.  “My gut reaction was that it felt a bit too low key,” Soge said, “but after a few days I can safely say that it is one of those stories that is memorable in all the right ways. … I wound up reading it again, in search of all those bits of wrongness in the text.”

What makes it so rewarding is that there’s just so much the story does right.  “The way it sets up Twilight with a perfectly unexceptional book of would-be occultitude feels right at home in Equestria,” Chris said, and Horizon similarly praised the story’s approach to its protagonist: “It’s marvelous how naturally Cant meshes its horror conceit with Twilight’s character, to the point that it’s able to hide crucial pieces of unreliable narration in plain sight.”  Ultimately, as Present Perfect said, that clean execution elevated it: “This is a tidy piece, sets itself up well, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and has a great bit of foreshadowing at the start that you’ll never even realize is there.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Rambling Writer discusses high-strung wordiness, moral deconstruction, and intrinsic gray.
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JohnPerry’s “The Wreck”

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Lose yourself in today’s story about a boat that’s more than it seems.

the-wreckThe Wreck
[Dark] [Drama] [Mystery] • 13,126 words

A.K. Yearling leads a quiet, peaceful life as a novelist living in Canterlot with her fiancé.

But recently, she has been haunted by dreams of a strange shipwreck, and she doesn’t know why.

FROM THE CURATORS: JohnPerry left the fandom (and the RCL) some time ago, but we weren’t going to let that stop us from featuring The Wreck, given the wide-ranging quality of its tale.  “It’s quite an amazing piece, given the intersection of dream, desire, adventure, writer’s block and mystery,” Present Perfect said, while Soge had nothing but praise: “Very creative, amazing imagery, great characterization, and a surreal plot which ties up in the best way possible.”

We had some difficulty, in fact, finding the most praiseworthy part of this tale of A.K. Yearling’s journey of self-discovery.  AugieDog thought it was the character deconstruction: “JP’s take on the idea that A.K. Yearling and Daring Do are the same pony is just plain perfectly realized,” he said, “exploring not only which of the two is the original and dominant personality but also which of them would honestly envy the other.”  Horizon appreciated the unfolding of the mystery: “The construction here is impressive.  For instance, there’s a part of the story which seemed subtly wrong to me until I realized that the wrongness had been foreshadowing an important reveal that caught me off guard.”  And Present Perfect appreciated the way it reforged canon: “It proves that Daring Don’t didn’t rob the fandom of its ability to interpret Daring Do to their heart’s content.”

What we agreed on was that — despite its strong opening — this story kept finding ways to up the stakes and close even stronger.  “The whole thing kicks into high gear in Chapter 4 and stays gripping till the end,” Horizon said, and Present Perfect added: “The way it unfolds is quite the experience, with a strong, relatable moral at the end.”

Read on for our author interview, in which JohnPerry discusses sympathetic actors, Steven Universe, and suffering feature boxes.
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Between Lines’ “Great and Powerful”

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Today’s story explores a side of Trixie we know all too well, and today’s story explores a side of Trixie we’ve never seen before.

great-and-powerfulGreat and Powerful
[Alternate Universe] [Drama] [Sad] • 3,470 words

With nowhere left to go, the Great and Powerful Trixie finds herself returning to Canterlot, the city she tried to get away from so long ago …

FROM THE CURATORS: Like Trixie herself, there’s a lot more to Great and Powerful than first impressions would indicate.  “This story looks like a typical ‘sad Trixie’ fic at first, as we see her morosely reflecting on her ill fortune and general misery in her old(er) age,” Chris said.  “But a bit less than halfway through, it throws a wrench into the works which caught me totally off guard.”  Present Perfect agreed: “I really want to call this just another Sad Trixie, but I can’t.”  It wasn’t only the twist which impressed us, but also its execution.  “This flows seamlessly between canon and what could easily be an AU, and ends up feeling larger than its word count,” Soge said.

Given our curators’ different approaches to fiction, however, what was most remarkable about this story was how much overlap there was in what we found praiseworthy.  “It makes good use of intentional repetition, and manages to be almost completely opaque about what actually happened without alienating the reader,” Chris said, and Soge echoed his appreciation of that: “There is something kinda vague, almost mystical in its presentation.”  Another point of agreement was the thoughtful use of MLP’s wider world.  “There are also a few really clever inclusions of minor bits of canon,” Chris said, which Present Perfect appreciated too: “I can’t be down on a story that turns ‘Trixie doesn’t trust wheels’ into an immediate, serious issue,” he said.  “And that salt and pepper metaphor! That’s not the kind of thing you ever see in fanfic.”

Neither was the overall tone of the piece, AugieDog thought.  “The word I want to use is ‘elegiac,’ but not in the modern English sense,” he said.  “In Classical Greek and Roman times, an elegy was more than just a funeral poem … it often dealt with endings, but they could be happy endings, sad endings, satyrical endings, et cetera.  Here, we get two endings, both of them happening at the same time and in the same place but both of them at least a universe apart from each other.  And they’re both wonderfully elegiac, the first in a poetic and sad way and the second in a ‘recalling a life well-lived’ way.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Between Lines discusses Arctic trips, Crackerjack boxes, and Slinky Jengas.
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Protopony350’s “Twilight is Annoyed”

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Twilight stars — reluctantly — in today’s featured story.

twilight-is-annoyedTwilight is Annoyed
[Dark] [Tragedy] • 2,429 words

Twilight has been alone for a long time. She’s not sure how long anymore, but the color of the sun is giving her some ideas.

Twilight stopped dreaming a long time ago, but she is now plagued by visions. Visions of the past. Visions of the worst moments of her life.

Twilight is feeling really annoyed right now.

FROM THE CURATORS: As longtime ponyfic readers, we are always looking for something a little different — so when Present Perfect noted in his nomination that “I can’t say I’ve read a dark fic quite like this before,” the strong execution of this story’s style brought us around to quick agreement on its feature.  “I’ll call it another example of Pony horror done right,” AugieDog opined, while Soge praised its freshness: “It is a clever idea, a more-or-less by-the-books take on ImmorTwilight that still manages to bring something new to the table.”

That novelty was in this story’s memorable depiction of its protagonist.  “I really love how the author chose to represent Twilight, and establish her inner conflict,” Soge said, and Horizon agreed: “The way this pulls off its slow reveal while keeping Twilight broken and unmoored is a big thing right.”  The prose was a major contributor to that.  “What works best is the sentence structure,” Present Perfect said.  “So many begin with ‘Twilight’, which just drives home how alone she is. Her actions are choppy, there’s little in the way of transition from one to the next, which along with her constant repeating of actions sells her fractured and damaged mind.”

Oddly, we found ourselves approaching the story’s laconic, direct style rather differently.  “A little more subtlety would have gone a long way here,” Soge said.  “However, it is a striking, memorable fic, able to convey much through style and atmosphere.”  AugieDog admired its restraint, though: “The way everything’s so tamped-down here — the emotions, the language, the storyline, the grammar — it just all works really well.”  And Chris disagreed with them both: “I say, there’s nothing wrong with hitting the reader over the head with a two-by-four as long as you let them hold the wackin’ stick themselves,” he said.  “Subtle? No. But even as it abandons nuance, it still gives the reader freedom.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Protopony350 discusses breadcrumbs, robot obsessions, and double-necked guitars.

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Bronycon!

Here at the Royal Canterlot Library, we strive to make sure every story we feature gets its time in the sun. That’s why we’re taking this week off. With so many members of the fandom — not to mention more than a few of our curators — at Bronycon for the weekend, we felt whatever story we posted might be overlooked. Rest assured, we’ll be back next week with a brand new feature. Have a fun, safe con weekend, everyone!

Daedalus Aegle’s “Discourse on Fillies”

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Today’s story lays bare two characters united by redemption — with a side of tea.

discourse-on-filliesDiscourse on Fillies
[Drama] [Slice of Life] • 15,532 words

Diamond Tiara always knew that someday she’d be invited to dine with the Princess at the Royal Palace. She didn’t think it would happen like this.

But she’s going to sit there and be polite and smile and not be bothered by all the ways this is all wrong. Because that’s what good fillies do, and Diamond Tiara is a good filly now.

Right?

FROM THE CURATORS: This is one of those stories that was turning heads well before it reached our reading queue.  “Having seen no fewer than ten journals in a row signal boosting and praising this story, I knew it was only a matter of time before it ended up here,” Present Perfect noted, as AugieDog pointed out its heavily upvoted suggestion in our story recommendation thread.  And while not all of us appreciated the story equally, we found a story whose ideas were big enough to justify the acclaim.  “The author needs some special sort of commendation for giving us the idea of The Princess by Macavallo, then for making it be the book Diamond Tiara has based her entire life upon, then for making Machiavelli work in an Equestrian context,” AugieDog said.

However, what really turned our heads was the exemplary work on the story’s two main characters.  “This really excels at framing a child’s concerns about the world, but the big thing right is the interplay between Diamond Tiara and Luna, of the tribulations shared by the rich and actual royalty, and of how the scope of their differences varies exponentially,” Present Perfect said.  AugieDog agreed: “The way the author handles these two characters is what’s making me nominate it.”  Even the story’s critics found that powerful.  “I bounced off this story,” Soge said, “but the parallels between Tiara and Luna are interesting, and her view of the world, particularly her comparisons between the rich and the nobles in the context of MLP’s world, are nothing short of fascinating.”

Also held up for acclaim were the story’s heartfelt moments.  “This was angling for my upvote as early as the ‘Feelings are like muscles’ speech, and the little profundities just kept on coming,” Horizon said.  “The dig about uselessness and Luna’s response to it and the very adult handling of DT’s outburst (on both sides) was just amazing.  ‘Trying always counts’ was so on-point I think I accidentally stabbed myself with it.”  That was a consequence of the beautiful framing of the premise, Present Perfect argued: “Two characters in a state of reformation — ‘state’, because reform isn’t something you achieve and then go do something else after — trying to help one another? Brilliant, and a fantastic use of everything we learned in Crusaders of the Lost Mark.”  It all added up, as Horizon said, to a winner: “In between picking the right characters for the discussion, using them faithfully, and teaching me something about Earth history, this succeeds on multiple levels.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Daedalus Aegle discusses radiant inventors, muddy Machiavellis, and the missing directions of Norway.

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PhycoKrusk’s “Anypony for Doomsday?”

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Anypony for a comedy about Twilight Sparkle causing the apocalypse?  Today’s story delivers.

anypony-for-doomsdayAnypony for Doomsday?
[Comedy] [Slice of Life] • 11,613 words

All unicorns build doomsday devices!” Those five words were words that Twilight Sparkle never expected to hear next to each other and in that specific order in a sentence.

King Sombra has returned, and upon discovering that Twilight Sparkle has not even considered building a doomsday device, has given her an ultimatum: Either she builds a device that has the sole purpose of destroying the world, or he starts defacing her books.

The clock is ticking: Will Twilight be able to get in touch with her inner mad science and save her imperiled reading material? More importantly, is she really destined to bring about the end of the world? Are unicorns really nothing more than a cosmic reset button, poised to bring a halt to all existence at a moment’s notice even in the face of past evidence suggesting that they’re not very good at it? Will Twilight succeed where all others have presumably failed? Does she even want to?

Join in as we follow the journey to answer the question on minds the world over: “Anypony for Doomsday?”

FROM THE CURATORS: If there’s anything rarer around here than all of us agreeing, it’s all of us agreeing on comedy — and yet this story scored a unanimous approval for exactly that reason.  “I was laughing from just the description,” Soge said, while AugieDog called the story “just plain full of chocolate-sprinkled giggles.”  Present Perfect upped the ante: “I cannot remember the last time I read a story so serious about being silly.  It’s gleefully goofy, wonderfully wacky, and quite a larf indeed.”

But if this fic is serious about its comedy, it’s a special sort of seriousness that toes up to the line of the Random tag.  “This is a purely ridiculous story, one that’s perfectly willing to destroy its own internal consistency, to casually toss aside its very premise, or to unapologetically break the fourth wall,” Chris said.  “But if there’s one thing a cracky fic must absolutely be, it’s consistently funny, and there is precisely zero dead space to be found here.”  Present Perfect seconded that: “This wastes no words not being funny. The running gags (doorbell!) are funny, the sudden status quo changes are funny, the premise is funny, everything’s funny.”  And AugieDog drew comparisons to the classics.  “This made me think of Mark Twain’s line about the weather in New England: ‘In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four-and-twenty hours,'” he said.  “There were so many chuckles per column inch in this story that when I hit something that didn’t work for me, I knew that I just had to keep going to find something that did.”

It wasn’t just the joke density that impressed us, but how many of them landed.  “This fic is golden,” Soge said, “with many different and clever running jokes that always seem to work, like the constant weather openings, the naming conventions, and the editing mistakes.”  Horizon specifically called those out as well: “The jokes about editing mistakes are an example of the comic touch that makes this story exemplary.  The first time I saw one, I disliked it as a cheap fourth-wall cop-out — but it kept pushing on with the gag, and owned it so thoroughly and so creatively it broke through into something hilarious.”

Read on for our author interview, in which PhycoKrusk discusses exciting underwear, deserving joy, and lion/eagle errors.

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Ceffyl Dwr’s “True Bowmance”

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There’s plenty to enjoy about today’s story — but if you suddenly and mysteriously fall in love with its tale, it’s time to run away screaming.

true-bowmanceTrue Bowmance
[Comedy] [Drama] [Slice of Life] • 10,049 words

Coming from a proud family celebrated for their ability at helping ponies fall in love, Archer wants nothing more than to be able to carry on the Cupid tradition.  What helps is that her mother is one of the most successful Cupids to ever walk Equestria.

What helps less is that Archer is possibly the worst.

But that’s not going to stop her from trying.

FROM THE CURATORS: For a story whose main character so consistently fails to touch hearts, this certainly grabbed ours.  Soge, for example, praised the story’s emotional impact and construction: “This is a straight-up adorable, really heartwarming fic, and one I really enjoyed reading.  All the ponies are characterized very well, and are very believable in their actions, without that affecting negatively either the plot or the comedic timing.”  That humor, too, drew its own share of praise.  “The comedy in this story is consistent and engaging, a nice blend of puns, callbacks, and narrative observational humor,” Chris said, and AugieDog agreed: “This is just so appealingly goofy.”

On top of that, True Bowmance was stuffed with sharp ideas that fired up our imaginations.  “It never ceases to amaze me, the stories we can come up for for incidental characters,” Present Perfect said.  “Who comes up with ‘matchmaking earth pony magic’ for someone like Archer?  This is an excellent work of original, on-tone world-building.”  Chris was equally impressed with that for similar reasons: “On that note, isn’t ‘hereditary matchmakers’ just a perfectly Equestrian job?  I mean, it edges creepily up on suggesting that free will is an illusion, but stays firmly on the heartwarming side of that line.”

The cherry on top of this tale’s sundae of matchmaking failures, however, was the exemplary character work.  “Pinkie works wonderfully as both comic relief and moral support,” Present Perfect noted, while Soge enjoyed the main character’s portrayal: “It does the whole ‘oblivious youngster’ thing, a la early-seasons Cutie Mark Crusaders, very well.”  That led to a comment from AugieDog that sent shivers down all of our spines: “The only thing that would’ve made this better would’ve been the Cutie Mark Crusaders trying to help Archer out, but I find myself thinking the town might not have survived that particular meeting.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Ceffyl Dwr discusses kelpie brothers, Bonfleur, and genealogical invasions.
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