It’s hard to know how to categorize today’s feature. An action-packed spy thriller? A Blueblood/Rainbow Dash (?!) shipfic? A smart deconstruction of the James Bond archetype? It’s all of these and more.
In Their Highnesses’ Clandestine Corps
[Adventure] [Romance] • 28,733 words
Prince Blueblood dislikes being secret agent Double-O-Zeta, but since no pony does it better, the princesses won’t let him quit. Trailing the mad unicorn Green Briar to Ponyville, though, Blueblood runs into Rainbow Dash, already investigating the odd new pony in the area. She resents this jerkwad of a prince suddenly butting in, and when circumstances force the two to work together, the unexpected feelings they arouse in each other might prove more dangerous than anything Green Briar has planned.
FROM THE CURATORS: This story was an easy choice — there was so much in it to appreciate that our biggest debate during the nomination process was what its strongest feature was. We never did agree:
“I love that the author finds a way to make Blueblood so enjoyable as a protagonist right from the start, without sacrificing his salient points of characterization,” Chris said. “The way he grows through the story feels far more natural than your run-of-the-mill redemption fic.”
“Wow, Zecora paraphrasing a Pinkie Promise. That takes talent,” Present Perfect said.
“Pinkie’s one of the hardest characters in the fandom to write well, and here she is done exquisitely as a cameo role, just as an offhanded little bonus,” Horizon said. “And every moment of the Luna vs. Blueblood scene was a thing of beauty.”
Read on for our interview, in which AugieDog discusses how to sell unusual shipping pairs, psychoanalyzes Discord, and outlines the difference between professional writing and fanfiction.
Give us the standard biography.
I like to think of myself as one of the world’s oldest bronies—I mean, I was in college when the original Pony series was being broadcast, and I’ve still got the VHS tapes full of episodes I recorded off the TV to prove it!
It was in college, too, that I started getting serious about my writing, and during the course of the 1990s, I had short stories printed in magazines like Asimov’s Science Fiction and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy as well as the Writers of the Future anthology, and my novel The Blood Jaguar was published by Tor Books: check my Author Central page at Amazon.com for more info on those. During the current millennium, I’ve sold a series of stories about Cluny the Sorceress Squirrel to the Sword and Sorceress anthology, written reviews for the Strange Horizons webzine—including one related to the subject at hand—and updated my poorly-drawn webcomic, Daily Grind, five days a week as part of a webcomic contest with a prize of more than $1,000 for the person who keeps webcomicking the longest—after eight-and-a-half years, there’s only three of us left!
Other than that, I’ve spent the last 25 or so years working at the local library, singing and playing guitar at the local Catholic church, and hosting a Sunday afternoon radio program at the local university. You could say I like to keep busy.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
When I first Googled the word “Equestria” near the end of January, 2011, to see if any websites might be talking about this new Pony cartoon I’d been watching, I found Equestria Daily. And everyone there was posting either anonymously or with a pseudonym. I’d never really participated in chat rooms or the whole forum culture of the internet, so I didn’t have a pseudonym of my own. But I did have an internet handle I’d made up for a character in a series of stories I was never able to sell—Gus Lancer was the character, and his online name was AugieDog. I’d even gone so far as to give him an e-mail address, so I used that e-mail to register with Blogger and Google Docs and submitted my first stories to EqD under that name in February of 2011.
I then decided that the character Gus would be a brony, wrote a story about it, and sold it to Kazka Press’s “Bronies” anthology last year. So that worked out, too!
Who’s your favorite pony?
The thing that struck me while watching season 1 was the way each of the six main characters were actual characters. They were people with strengths and flaws both open and hidden, and they were so wonderfully rounded that they all worked just as well as protagonists as they did as antagonists: Rarity vs. Applejack in “Look Before You Sleep”; Applejack vs. Rainbow Dash in “Fall Weather Friends”; Rainbow Dash vs. Rarity in “Sonic Rainboom”; et cetera.
This richness of the characters more than anything else sparked the fanfiction bug in me, and I tend to think of whichever character I’m writing about at the moment as my favorite.
That being said, Fluttershy’s personality matches mine almost completely, reticent and stammering as I am. So if I can only pick one, I’ll go with her.
What’s your favorite episode?
Considering how generally disliked the episode seems to be, I hope no one minds me taking several paragraphs to explain why “Keep Calm and Flutter On” hovers at the top of my list.
See, back in December, 2011, two princess-related events–“Hearth’s Warming Eve” revealing that Celestia and Luna were nowhere in sight at the founding of Equestria, and the first word of Cadance’s existence trickling out of Hasbro HQ–inspired me to write a story called “The Birth of Harmony.”
I labeled the story “canon fodder” on its EqD page since I knew the ideas I put forward in it were doomed to be destroyed by eventual explanations in the show, especially my theory that Discord is actually a manifestation of the collective “id” of all ponies everywhere. He is a spirit of chaos because he is the physical embodiment of Appetite, of Desire, of Covetousness, the drive that causes more disharmony and disorder when exercised improperly than any other aspect of the rational pony mind.
Imagine my surprise, then, to see an episode that seemed to support my theory. When Discord says at the crisis point of “Keep Calm” that he can do whatever he wants, that’s not entirely accurate to my way of thinking. He’s the “id”: he has to do whatever he wants. As a slave to his desires, he can’t stop himself. He literally has no choice but to pursue his every whim to the utmost extent of his powers.
His basic desire is to avoid being turned to stone again, and he decides the best way to do this is to subvert Celestia’s plan and trick Fluttershy into becoming his friend. Her friendship then becomes something that he wants and therefore something he must have, and it’s not until Fluttershy screams “Not your friend!” that he sees the trap she’s ever so gently led him into. Her friendship, once he’s desired it, becomes by definition something he cannot do without, and when she takes that friendship away, he’s caught in friendship’s reciprocal web. He must get her friendship back in any way that he can, and, well, the only way to make a friend, as they say, is to be a friend.
It just fits so sweetly and neatly into my own odd view of the character. The only thing I would’ve changed in the entire episode would’ve been De Lancie’s reading of the line, “Well played, Fluttershy.” I would’ve had him put a bit more growl in it as Discord realizes how she’s tricked him into tricking himself…
What do you get from the show?
The sheer and unadulterated pleasure of watching a well-done story unfold.
And, yes, they aren’t the deepest of stories, but running such rounded characters through what are often fairly typical cartoon situations leads to results that raise more than a few grins more often than not.
What do you want from life?
The standard smart-alecky answers are trickling through my brain right now, such as a certain thick-as-Bavarian-cream accent saying something about crushing one’s enemies and hearing the lamentation of their ponies….
But no. I shall resist and reply that being able to tell odd little stories is about my highest aspiration. As I mentioned in my “standard biography” above, I’ve held the same four enjoyable jobs the past 25 years: two pay me as much money as I’ve needed so far, the third is a completely volunteer gig, and the fourth is writing stories. So I’d hafta say I’m pretty much living the dream at this point.
Why do you write?
I grew up with an older sister and two younger brothers, and for as long as I can remember, we all told stories together, making up characters and sending them off on massive, world-spanning adventures. I’ve just kept doing it ever since, and at as I stagger into sight of the half-century mark in my life’s journey, I can’t imagine not squeezing little adventure yarns out of my head. That other folks also enjoy these things that I put together constantly awes and amazes me.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
My advice has always been: “Don’t listen to my advice!” I tend to start rambling and contradicting myself pretty quickly, and that just gets frustrating for everyone.
Of course, most writing advice that I’ve run my eyes over these past several decades ends up mired in contradiction. More often than not, I’ll find one source saying, “Always do this one particular thing!” while another source says, “Never do this one particular thing!” It’s almost as if no one way of telling a story seems to work for everyone…
So I guess that I’d advise writers to find other authors whose stories work for them, then try to figure out what it is that makes those stories appealing. Of course, it’s likely to be different things for different authors: I sure don’t get the same things outta the works of, say, H. P. Lovecraft and Raymond Chandler, or Margery Sharp and C. J. Cherryh. Moosh it all together with your own particular take on the world, start typing, and see what comes out.
Blueblood seems like an unlikely James Bond. What challenges did you face adapting the iconic superspy to this cast of characters?
Every Pony story I write is an experiment of one sort or another, and this particular story arose from a prompt that came close to including the word “unlikely” in its description. It was a shipping contest, as a matter of fact, that TAW put together back in October, 2012, for stories of more than 10,000 words that would end happily for two or more ponies “in a combination that hasn’t been done to death.”
Since it was a romance contest, my immediate reaction was, “Oh, I can’t enter. I don’t write romance.” But then I remembered my commitment to experimentation, so I started thinking: who could I pair up in a romance/adventure setting? To make things more difficult for myself—because that’s one of the things I enjoy doing with storytelling—I decided to make the romance male/female, and then I began thinking about the few stallions we’d met on the show up to that point. I discarded Big Macintosh as too obvious, then came to Blueblood. And what my brain coughed up was the phrase: “The name’s Blueblood. Prince Blueblood.”
And that was it.
Rainbow Dash fell into place immediately as the pony equivalent of Tracy Draco, the only woman Bond ever loved enough to marry, and since the story where they got married was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, my story became “In Their Highnesses’ Clandestine Corps”.
The rest followed rather naturally—Luna would, of course, have founded the CC before her exile and would now be stepping back into her role as Boss Mare; there would have to be a megalomaniacal unicorn trying to take over the world; Blueblood would have to be beaten down hard and Dash would have to save the day–and I started building it from there. Looking at my notes, it took about four weeks to get three finished acts, and I entered it in the contest.
As always happens in these situations, once I read the other 9 entries, I knew mine wasn’t gonna make the cut, and indeed it neither won nor placed. But I got a lot of good comments from folks during and after the contest and even more comments while reworking it through the two strikes it earned from EqD before it finally got approved. And while I’m a firm believer in the old saying that a piece of creative work isn’t so much finished as it is abandoned, I’m quite happy with how the story came out.
Which James Bond was your biggest influence?
See, this is the part where I squirm in my seat, glance from side to side, and admit that I’ve never really liked James Bond, neither the movies nor the books.
One of my brothers even had a bunch of the books when we were growing up, but I never got more than a few pages into the first of them, Casino Royale. And I’m pretty sure I’ve only seen three of the movies all the way from beginning to end: Dr. No ’cause it’s the first one, In Her Majesty’s Secret Service ’cause Diana Rigg plays Tracy Draco, and Moonraker in the theater when it first came out for reasons that I don’t recall: maybe ’cause I was 14 years old at the time…
Much more of an influence on this story was the British TV series of the 1960s called The Avengers with Patrick McNee and the aforementioned Diana Rigg playing a bemused and bemusing pair of secret agents. Theirs was the repartee I was going for with Dash and Blueblood, in all honesty, since Bond has always struck me as kind of unpleasant and arrogant—which, to answer what you actually asked in the previous question, made me see Blueblood in the part as soon as I thought of it.
What’s the secret to selling an unusual shipping pair such as this story’s BlueDash?
I’ll remind folks that I lost a shipping contest with this very story, so again, my expertise on the matter is open to question.
Still, selling anything in a story is a matter of making it feel right to the reader. “Verisimilitude” is the word I recall picking up from some writing course or other: “the appearance of truth.” It goes hand-in-hand with another writing course term: “willing suspension of disbelief.” Readers, it turns out, are readers ’cause they enjoy reading, so they’re usually willing to meet an author halfway when it comes to the believability of various story elements.
But as Marion Zimmer Bradley used to say in the rejection letters for her magazine, suspension of disbelief does not mean hanging it by the neck until it’s dead. Things hafta make sense in fiction—that’s one of the things that makes it different from reality—and selling an unlikely pairing of characters means setting them up so that each of the characters has something to offer that the other needs.
In this story, I set up Dash as wanting to “grow up,” as feeling that she was ready to take on more responsibility. And I threw Blueblood into a situation where his whole support structure collapses around him, leaving him desperate for something he can cling to. Their needs coincide, and they click together: not a traditional romance, no, but a fun dichotomy to explore, I’ve found.
What role do you think fanfiction plays in the modern science-fiction/fantasy ecology? Has that changed over time?
There does seem to be more overlap recently between fanfiction and profiction, doesn’t there? Not just E.L. James taking the vampires out of her Twilight fanfic and hitting the bestseller lists, but Naomi Novik doing pretty well putting dragons into her Aubrey/Maturin fanfic and Jeffrey Channing Wells, our own Skywriter, getting tapped by Shaenon Garrity to collaborate with her on the Skin Horse comics after he impressed her—and the rest of us reading it—with his fine fanfic for Ms. Garrity’s Narbonic comics.
On the other hand, while it’s a truism that all artists start off imitating other artists—listening to Beethoven’s early works, you can hear what a Mozart fanboy he was—nowadays, a lot of writers don’t seem to feel the need to move on. Fanfiction scratches their creative itch, and even of they can’t make any money off it, that’s perfectly fine. With the web, they can share their work with other, like-minded individuals, and that’s exactly as far as they want to go with it.
All I can say is that I’ve got my own stuff that I work on, and I’ve got my Pony stuff that I work on. They feed each other, I’ve noticed: I’ve learned a few lessons, I like to think, from my Pony experiments and have applied them to my other stories with what I again like to think is some success. But as I’ve said before and will say again, I’m really looking forward to seeing what develops from that massive pool of writers over at FiMFiction whether their stories be Pony or non-Pony.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
My favorite bit of writing advice comes from John Henry Newman—though as a priest who started out Anglican before converting to Roman Catholicism back in the 1840s, I doubt he was concerned with storytelling techniques. Still, in his book Meditations and Devotions, he prayed for the ability to preach without preaching, and I’ve always felt that was a worthwhile skill for writers to cultivate. Tell your story, and trust your readers to pick up on the larger points without bludgeoning them over the head. Take care of the pennies, the cliche says, and the dollars will take care of themselves.
Now I’ve gotta finish this and get back to work. Thanks for asking me in here, folks. I know I’m gonna find some great stories to read on this site!
You can read “In Their Highnesses’ Clandestine Corps” on FIMFiction.net.