This week’s feature bring us a heartwrenching look at what love truly means when you’re staring in the face of death.
Five Hundred Little Murders
[Sad] [Slice of Life] • 11,285 words
Flitter doesn’t like most ponies. There’s hardly anything in the world Flitter likes, very few which she can even remotely tolerate, and only a couple which she truly loves. Fluttershy is not in the last two categories. Flitter sees Fluttershy as weak, and weakness disgusts her.
But when you’re trying to help someone you love, you’ll look for help in a lot of places — including the cottage of the weakest pony in the world.
And for those willing to listen past their pain, it might be the place where they start to learn what true strength is.
(Curator note: This story is part of a series set in the same continuity, but requires no knowledge of the series.)
FROM THE CURATORS: There’s so much that could be said about this story — the fantastic characterization of the appalling protagonist; the subtle use of unreliable narration; the haunting interpretation of Fluttershy — but we knew that this exemplar of sad fiction deserved inclusion when our collective reaction was simply stunned silence. It passed with the shortest debate we’ve yet seen.
“This will punch you in the f*cking gut if you’ve ever lost a pet,” Horizon said, “but it will hit you 100% legitimately, and then give you a gentle hug and an apology for having done so.”
Present Perfect agreed. “Thank god I’m on a treadmill and can pretend these tears are just sweat.”
Read on for our interview, in which Estee discusses the implications of the Mane Six’s pet ownership, the tradeoffs of writing stories that share continuity, and creative character reinterpretation as an act of vengeance.
Give us the standard biography.
I typically try to remain at least semi-anonymous when I arrive at a new area of the Internet, which means I usually don’t discuss myself in any detail for a long while. I know any attempt to shield privacy in this environment can be just about automatically doomed, but I like to try and enjoy the delusion for as long as I can. So to that degree: I was born, I exist, and my computer sort of functions well enough to let me post something once in a while.
When people persist on inquiring beyond that, I tell them I work in adult entertainment. That usually shuts them up.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
It’s something I’ve used a couple of times before in other areas. That and I may have an unnatural avoidance of overpriced perfume.
Of course, when I carried it over to this fandom, I was completely unaware that there was already another Estee at a different pony writing site who was working on commissioned stories. Fetish tales. Involving — vore. (Look it up. Or if you’re even remotely skittish or underage, don’t.)
We haven’t met or spoken. I have, however, tried to clear up any potential confusion in a blog post. I don’t want any poor innocent defenseless vore writer being confused with me. That unfairly victimized vore writer…
Who’s your favorite pony?
On a typical day for the Mane Cast, the order goes Rarity, Twilight, Fluttershy, Applejack, Pinkie, and Rainbow. First and third switch off every so often. When I’m writing, it’s ‘Whoever isn’t giving me a headache at the time,’ which means Twilight goes all over the place.
What’s your favorite episode?
The rankings shift a lot depending on my mood, but Luna Eclipsed generally leads the pack. Look Before You Sleep is a strong second place — and I occasionally feel there’s no funnier musical moment in the series than the stings in the opening cell, especially when AJ and Rarity have their stare-off followed by the mutual backing away. Gets a grin out of me every time.
What do you get from the show?
In the watching of it: a few laughs, a smile or two, some calm moments, and a chance to relax with something I truly enjoy on days when I really need exactly that.
In the aftermath, when the deeper ideas set in: a whole lot of verbiage and lost sleep.
What do you want from life?
Several million dollars would be nice, but I’m pretty sure the Kickstarter Just For Existing wouldn’t go over too well.
Why do you write?
When it comes to the show itself, I have a — regrettable tendency to chase concepts into dark corners. One of Spider Robinson’s characters confessed to something similar: that just because a logical chain of thought wound up going into alternate dimensions didn’t mean it had to be abandoned. As long as it keeps making sense, you keep following along.
I think some of the fanfic writers out there look at the show as the surface of a very deep ocean: we can see concepts bobbing to the surface — but then they’re submerged under the needs of catering to that primary demographic. And there’s nothing wrong with that: the show has to make money, and keeping the primary focus on the kids is how they manage it and stay on the air. But writing lets us explore some of the rest.
There are also times when I just feel like a story is screaming to get out. I’ll find myself internally viewing a scene that I’d really love to see somewhere — but the only way it’s going to exist is if I make it happen. There’s one scene which has yet to appear in Triptych that was, in a lot of ways, the foundation of the whole thing: the first moment to be storyboarded. The entire story doesn’t exist to reach that scene — but without it, there is no center tale to what I’m very reluctant to call the ‘verse. And wanting to have that scene exist in any degree of ‘real ‘ is what brought me out of the shadows in the first place.
(Some people would prefer I’d never witnessed that moment — with me, writing sometimes does feel like watching from a short distance while taking notes — and to them, all I can offer is ‘Sorry?’)
Let’s face it: for me — as with just about everyone else — there’s a small degree of Desperate Attention Whoring in progress. ‘Look at me! Look at what I created! Come on, let’s talk about my work!’ There are creators who can say they don’t care about feedback and public attention. The majority of them are lying. Artists typically seek either approval or a strong-enough rejection that they can convince themselves no one truly understands them and use that for the strength to create their next work. So there’s generally a little thrill when the FIMFic notification light goes red. Also light terror. To write fanfic is to experience the acceptance and rejection of professional work from potentially a thousand virtual publishing houses in a single week. You may be praised, you’re likely going to be bashed, and it all happens very quickly. It’s like putting on a live play and giving the audience extra tomatoes after each act. Imagine putting some writers of the classics in this instant-input environment. We might have lost Jules Verne to the screams of people insisting submarines simply couldn’t work that way.
But with this fandom… I have ideas and stories. I want to share them. And if doing so gets me blasted halfway to Cloudsdale… well, it’s happened before and it’ll happen again. But for now, I still want to put those ideas out there. Maybe I’ll add something to the collected beliefs of the group which will surface again in other places. I might give people a laugh or two. A long thought here and there. Maybe a sentence will stick. It’s hard to say that I want to create something which will last: we’re a young fandom yet, and believing we’ll hang on as long as others — it hasn’t been tested by time. Still… I think part of every writer wants to try.
But really, I just want my own TVTropes reference. Hasn’t happened yet.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
The first thing I’d tell them would be ‘Why are you asking advice from a bottom-tier fanfic writer?’
…look, it’s truthful and it’s accurate: what more could they ask for?
But for those looking to write for the first time…
1. Speak your dialogue out loud. Don’t be afraid to add character voices or at least rough approximations of them. Acting through scenes is fine, but check for witnesses first. If the sentence doesn’t sound right coming off your tongue, it may not work written down either. It’s also a good way to get a feel for the true rhythms of speech: characters pause, hesitate, rush through certain words before placing a hard emphasis on others — and with the Mane Cast, some of those rhythms are, to a large degree, very established. There’s such a thing as Rarity Word Flow and if you can’t hear Rarity speaking the words you’ve given her, you may be in trouble.
2. Respect grammar, enforce spelling, don’t be afraid to sacrifice Standard School-Enforced English to a personal style. This is your story. It should be clear enough to read, but the writing has to come from you, not the outline tree your sixth-grade teacher insisted needed to be used on anything longer than your own name. Creativity can be made to invent structure, but shouldn’t be mandatorily forced into working within one.
3. Remember that readers can have an emotional limit, especially when the darker tones become involved. There’s only so much sheer bleak depression most people can take before they need to turn away from the story for a while. Pace things out.
4. It’s the Internet. There is no such thing as universal acceptance. You showed up and therefore you are going to be hated, trolled, mocked, made into your very own negative meme, and occasionally giffed into oblivion. Be ready for it.
5. You can’t get everyone to see things your way. No matter what you intended, there’s always going to be someone who finds an alternate view — and sometimes? That someone is going to be right. Read all the criticism. Some of it is trolling — again, Internet — but some will be legitimate, and your readers will find things you didn’t spot the first time through.
6. Only edit when you’re fully awake.
I have a lot of trouble with #6.
Why a cat?
There were a few reasons — and as usual with me, some of this is trying to backtrack my own subconscious.
In terms of Flitter’s character within the story, having a cat echoes her pretty well. Cats generally don’t make mistakes — not ones they’ll ever admit to. Watch a cat screw up and the first expression you’ll get from them when it’s over is ‘I meant to do that and you can’t prove otherwise’. They’re often at ease with solitude — or want to give off that impression — and the connections they make tend to be less broad. With some dogs, everyone who gets in the front door is a friend: cats more often demand you prove yourself first. The independence and not openly caring about what anyone else thinks goes well here. But at the same time, they can form bonds. There is love there. Whether that carries over to the owner…
I also wanted a carnivore, one who would travel pretty well — an open, shameless hunter who doesn’t care what anyone watching thinks about the bloodshed. (Again, she reflects her pony rather nicely.) One of the very minor background notes for the connected tales is that ponies don’t necessarily deal well with the idea of killing as means of life support: it’s another means for Flitter to induce discomfort just through having that kind of pet.
(Side note: the Mane Six is interesting here, as we only have two herbivore pets in the group — and you could potentially make an argument on Angel. How does Twilight deal with Owlowiscious having to hunt? Pinkie has the pet which, pound for pound, needs the most meat in the group: how is she arranging that, especially since a toothless alligator can’t be expected to get anything on his own? Look deeper and find stories under the surface…)
Carnie also gave me the chance to let Flitter have some degree of scene with Rarity, and that led to a little moment within it: Rarity acknowledging that she’s aware of her own mortality. To varying degrees — with Rainbow at the bottom of the list — the Bearers realize that any of the missions could lead to fatalities. Rarity’s made plans for the event of her own death: making sure Opal has a new home waiting for her is part of that. Having Rarity truly understand what the risks are might open up other things later on — or not.
And — I know a little about feline diabetes, which made it the regrettably easy choice for the disease. To paraphrase Grant Morrison, every dark event in a writer’s life is potential fuel for works to come — and one of the worst parts is being aware of that. In that sense, you don’t ever want to feel your subconscious taking notes. But it happens, and the best you can hope for is that the honest emotions flow at the time, with the tapping only coming later.
This story is part of a larger continuity you’ve created. How does that affect your writing?
It both helps and hurts it.
Most of the side stories are meant to expand on ideas in Triptych or add to them while opening up my little permutation on Equestria to some degree. 500LM came about because in that story, it’s been noted that of the Mane Cast, Fluttershy is the one who deals with death. Constantly. It’s part and parcel of her job, something she can never fully escape. Over in that tale, she’s already brought a final mercy to two gored woodchucks who’d been attacked by rams within a wild zone. Sometime after that, she was in a debate with Pinkie about whether suicide to escape intolerable, incurable pain could ever be justified. (It makes slightly more sense in context — I hope.) I thought it was time to show where her view comes from. 500LM is largely about dealing with death — for Flitter as Carnie’s companion and for Fluttershy as the section of the natural cycle which her mark says she must confront. Flitter goes through some of the denial stages on camera: Fluttershy is at acceptance and stays there — but there’s a price for that. There’s a heavy emotional toll for being the pony who shows the way, and Fluttershy has been paying it for a long time.
(On a very minor note, I also wanted to take a peek at how she operates with an actual licensed vet in town. The strictly local answer: Sweetbark is a coward, afraid of the darker job aspects on a level Fluttershy trembles, shivers, and cries at — then deals with.)
But to that extent, having the stories be connected helped. Here’s an idea from one and I don’t really have time to fully explore it: let’s bring it over to a different tale. In that sense, each branch off the main trunk is more like a root, feeding the central body — but this one also stood alone fairly well.
But there are times when the links are a detriment. People don’t want to feel as if they’re obligated to read an entire group of works just to make one short story feel complete — and while I’m always trying to get new readers on that central piece, I don’t want people to feel I’m dragging them over and in. I try to make things work by themselves, but I don’t always know if I’m succeeding — and people will still see the sheer story count and shy away, especially given the current word total on the main work.
There’s the issue of referring to ideas and events which readers might not have seen and have no intention of seeking out. That gets awkward fast. I wind up repeating myself in some places and it could bore those who’ve seen it before or infodump on the new arrivals. It’s part of why I put up a glossary in a recent blog post: at least now there’s a reference point — but even that will scare some people off: ‘I have to study for this?’ No, it’s just getting all the terms in one place — but the illusion still frightens.
So it’s a balancing act. They have to work by themselves, and they also have to work together. I note a story’s place on the timeline for those who’ve been through it all — but ideally, it’s just that: this happened first, this happened later, but you don’t need the complete set. It’s been recommended that I say that openly every time — but some part of me does hope a few people will follow the trail.
I still have the freedom to do something completely silly, anything away from the group. I can always say ‘This story is no branch of the tree in any way’. But if I’m truly trying to show my own version of this world… it helps to make those connections. And at the same time, it can hinder.
Why did you choose Flitter for this role?
After I wrote Sonic Rainbigot, I got blasted by one reader — one who also writes. After seeing my own torching, I looked at that person’s story list, then read through some portions. And that’s all I did. No Downvotes Of Vengeance, no counter-comments. Just ‘Well, now I know a little more about what you write and I already know I’ll never change your mind, so that’s the end of it.’ And walked away. But I did notice that writer liked to use Flitter and Cloudchaser.
So… shortly after SR came On The Application… — the speed-dating story. Rarity is forced to run three-minute wind sprints through a few different neighborhoods on The Wrong Side Of The Pickup Tracks. And I sort of wanted her to just have one all-out fight. Somepony she would initially try to be civil with and ultimately wind up in a verbal battle against, that one person who’s lurking in every social setting not only waiting for the chance to ruin your whole night, but longing for the opportunity.
And suddenly, there was Flitter.
Because I’m not sufficiently petty for simply downvoting your story just because you didn’t like mine. Because I’m not angry enough to flame you in the Comments section under the false perception that there’s a favor which has to be returned. But apparently my subconscious is exactly vengeful enough to take a non-original character you’re using and put a slightly different spin on her. Go figure.
(Always remember: whether they admit it or not, most writers specialize in revenge. David Gerrold once said that anyone who gets on a writer’s nerves is asking for food poisoning at the very least. Congratulations, now you’re a character. And what can we do with that character? Well, here’s a little list… I deliberately avoid that, but the next step down? Not so much.)
Isn’t honesty fun?
There is another reason beyond that, though — and it goes into that hindrance of having the stories being connected. For the Mane Cast (and to some degree, the Princesses), I’ve always ideally wanted to have the feeling, up through the moment Triptych fully launches for Parts Unknown, that these are events which were going on in the background while you weren’t watching. In that sense, I want readers to feel as if they’re just looking a little deeper into the actual show. And that means the background ponies can be a precious resource, because they’re ponies we don’t really know. I want my version of Rainbow to be one you’d feel you might recognize if it somehow appeared in an actual episode. It’s where she came from. But at the same time, there’s only so far I can take her before she stops being Rainbow at all.
But we don’t really know Flitter, beyond a few words on the back of a trading card. And I can ignore those.
The background ponies offer the chance to personalize any Equestria which the writer is trying to initially keep close to the baseline, establish a little more about where the smaller permutations are. Original characters do the same — but because they’re original, they may not always have the same resonance with a reader. It’s the difference between ‘Let me tell you about this new arrival’ and ‘Let me tell you about this semi-familiar person you only thought you knew.’ It adds an extra stamp to the environment. I don’t think a whole lot of people are looking at my writing and thinking of it as The One Where There’s This Unicorn In A Castle. But for the totality, The One Where Flitter’s An Utter Bitch might be on someone’s mind.
I haven’t had much of a chance to use the background ponies: most side stories have focused elsewhere. But for what is there, I do get to have divergences. This is the setting where Snowflake has spent his whole life overcoming the injury from a birth defect — and it’s the one where just about nopony can stand Flitter. Given the thousands (minimum) of variations out there, I need all the establishing points I can get…
Flitter gets offended when Fluttershy doesn’t fit her idea of what a pegasus should be. Is that meant to be a common stereotype, or is it one more example of Flitter being judgmental?
This gets down to personal perception and the way I’m trying to build this slightly different world.
We know Fluttershy took a lot of teasing and verbal abuse when she was a filly, and that her flying abilities aren’t up to par for a pegasus: the latter produced some of the former. As I’m spinning it, that’s the surface. Her talent is something which doesn’t turn up among pegasi. There are those out there who commune with the flying animals of Equestria, but a general all-around connection with that seeming linkage/dedication to ground is seen as strange — and when you add that to everything else…
So in my little version of Equestria, Fluttershy is often looked at as being off — and that’s at the absolute minimum. Ponyville’s largely gotten used to her, but even some of the resident pegasi there regard her as strange, a warped branch at the absolute fringe of the family tree. Newcomers to town have a harder time with her, and a large number just don’t understand her at all. Some of them are more verbal about it than others, although such should generally avoid being at the cottage when they’re speaking. Or near other Bearers. Or just about anypony whose pet she’s helped.
Flitter’s thoughts and perceptions regarding the Bearers can be cruel. But some of them may be present for a reason. In Fluttershy’s case, Flitter is being more internally open about things which other pegasi have thought in the past, some of which might have been said aloud. She’s being judgmental, but she’s not the first pony to render that verdict. Ponies have to get to know Fluttershy — which isn’t exactly easy when the pony you’re trying to meet frequently treats it as a good chance to test her retreat tactics. And even for the part of Ponyville (outside the Bearers) which does know and fully accepts her… it’s still all very strange to see in a pegasus. It’s just their strange. Flitter isn’t at that point and likely never will be.
And yet one reader asked about the possibility of future Flittershy shipping.
(On a final side note, this version of Ponyville is becoming the place where the off ponies go. The Bearers being in residence creates strangeness and seems to lure in darker things, so who’s going to notice that you’re a little different when there’s an Ursa Minor coming down the street?)
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’ll add four!
1. If you like (or can sort of remotely stand) this, don’t be afraid to seek out the rest at FIMFic. Yes, even the Really Long One. (Be warned that as of this writing, 500LM is my lone Sad work: I typically go Slice Of Life, Comedy, and Adventure.)
2. If we shadows have offended, we’re not the least bit surprised.
3. It’s not always what the writer believes: it is frequently what the writer was thinking about.
4. Send money.
…that could potentially be illegal with fanfic? Fine. Send Amazon gift cards.
(You can read Five Hundred Little Murders on FIMFiction.net.)