How far do you go for somepony who needs your help but doesn’t want it? Today’s story peels back the foliage for a compelling glimpse at a disturbing family.
[Dark] [Slice-of-Life] • 8,661 words
In a yard, all alone, a pony whiles away the time caring for the lawn and the roses. Roseluck can understand that, to a point. And she’s determined to help.
FROM THE CURATORS: Although we had a vigorous debate over whether this story’s unflinching look at a psychologically abused child was in the spirit of the show, there was one thing which we unanimously agreed: In Bloom is “well-written and powerful,” to use Chris’ words. Present Perfect went further: “In Bloom has got everything I love about stories in general.” And Benman dug into what makes this story such an exemplar of high-quality writing: “This does an excellent job with exposition. Pasco has a knack for picking out small details to hit the reader right between the eyes with the full weight of what’s going on.“
Ultimately, this is a story about pony — and its collision with a far grimmer mindset. “Friendship is a key theme here,” Bradel said, and Benman agreed: “This is not a nice story, but it has nice things in it, and the brightness stands out against the darker backdrop.”
Read on for our interview, in which Pascoite discusses collecting rocks, child-rearing, and comprehending rules.
Give us the standard biography.
Nothing too interesting. I’m 38 and an aerospace engineer. Married, have one son. My friends and family know I write stories, but not what they’re about. I have too many hobbies: baseball, mineral collecting, archery, writing classical music, and of course MLP fanfiction.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
As I said, one of my hobbies is collecting minerals. In order to keep things from getting out of hand, I’ve had to specialize, and I chose copper minerals, since a lot of them are pretty blues and greens. But the interesting ones with simpler names were already taken as gmail addresses, so I chose a non-copper one I’ve always liked for its great yellow and orange color. The avatar I use is a photo of the one sitting in my cabinet.
Who’s your favorite pony?
I like Rarity best. I find her to be the most interesting, because she has the most competing interests, and having a contradictory personality makes her the most realistic to me. The only ways she really plays to her stereotype are her flair for being dramatic and the fact that she’s only had romantic interest in characters who were famous. Here’s a character type that would normally exert mental cruelty on all around her, and yet she uses her knowledge to her friends’ benefit instead, often at her own expense. Applejack’s a close second for me, since I’m probably like her more than any other. I appreciate her “cut to the chase” mentality and down-to-earth perspective, but most people don’t want practicality in their fantasy world.
What’s your favorite episode?
I love “Winter Wrap Up” because it does three things very right. First, it’s about someone trying to fit in, and who hasn’t been there? It’s a great story about Twilight finding her place while trying to honor a tradition that doesn’t value her obvious talents. She understands why and wants to respect that, then eventually finds a way to contribute. The second is that the music was great. It’s a very catchy tune. And the third is that the song isn’t incidental. It’s integrated into the plot and ends up telling a significant part of the story. I much prefer that to a song that’s tacked in for the sake of having one and that could be removed without changing my understanding of events.
What do you get from the show?
Pretty much the same thing as everyone else, I’d imagine. It’s a nice bit of escapism to a world where magic exists and everyone finds happiness in the unique contributions they make to society. Plus, it’s just plain adorable. Cartoons have such a different appeal now than they did when I was little, though. They do such a good job of putting in jokes and material that a wide audience will find enjoyable. When I look back at cartoons that I watched when I was very young, I loved them because it was exciting to see the toys I played with come alive. But if I watch one now, they’re just awful. The plots were paper-thin and nonsensical, designed only to push more merchandise out the door. The first cartoon I remember that actually took the time to present a good story was probably Batman: The Animated Series, and since then, there’s really been more attention focused on making the cartoon itself good. It doesn’t hurt that MLP is also a gentle reminder of the behavior that we might ideally wish to emulate.
What do you want from life?
I guess just to make a difference to at least a few people. Isn’t that what anyone wants? The odds against someone being memorable in a hundred years are pretty huge, but if you affect just a few people in a positive way, and they affect others, and so on, then you’ve had a big influence, even if people don’t realize it. I just hope I’ve been a good enough person that a few people here and there look up to me.
Why do you write?
Just as a creative outlet. I had no intention of writing fanfiction when I started watching the show, but I found a couple that I enjoyed, so I thought I’d give it a try. But I have no illusions that this will be anything more than a hobby. I already have a career, after all. I doubt I’ll write anymore after MLP goes away. But it’s been fun to get my thoughts down on paper and watch a nice story take shape, particularly since I was taking a break from writing music anyway.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
There are a lot of rules, guidelines, and sayings about writing, and there is some value in most of them. Don’t just follow those things. Understand them. On the one hand, a writer may get hung up on proper usage of commas, and on the other, he may throw caution to the wind and say that how he uses commas won’t affect the quality of the story. The point is to understand why those comma rules and guidelines are there, why they aid in communicating thoughts to the reader. If you understand that, then you can make an informed decision about breaking those rules, either because it doesn’t harm the story or because it can actually enhance communication. But falling back on the argument that stuffy old rules don’t matter is avoiding the issue instead of transcending it. Likewise with things like Vonnegut’s rules, Twain’s rules, uses of different perspectives in narration, even spelling. This applies even in self-reference of the familiar “know the rules before breaking them.” Understand why that rule works. If you understand a rule, then you’re breaking it for effect, not out of ignorance and being forced to take whatever baggage comes with that. And when you consistently follow rules and break them in effective ways, the reader can tell, and it buys you that much more credibility that they’re not just mistakes, which can make him interpret your writing in new ways.
The premise of In Bloom is sadly not far removed from events that have actually occurred. What could drive a parent to imprison and terrorize their own child?
There are a number of reasons I can think of, but I don’t know enough about psychology to say these are properly described or exhaustive. I could see a parent being resentful of the child, perhaps because the other parent, who was the primary caregiver, has left or died, or the child was unwanted in the first place. Maybe the parent associates the child with some painful event or memory. I have seen one case personally, though not anywhere near this serious, where the child wasn’t “brainwashed” like Two, but endured mental and emotional stress from a parent due to pressure from additional family members, and that’s really how I envision the mother here acting: she learned the behavior from her own parents, and even if she’s not so deluded as to think it’s right (note how she didn’t argue her innocence when she was arrested), she still sees it as some form of keeping order. Even Two thinks of it as some better way of living—he scoffs at ponies for going out in the street, not taking care of their property, or eating outside, because that all fits with how he relates to his mother. They consider themselves aristocratic, and with the large private yard they have, they’re likely well off, but she inherited the wealth or married into it, so she always feels like she has to act the part. By cutting him off from the world, she’s also made him utterly dependent on her, so he can’t even conceive of a life without her or why he would want it.
There are certainly people out there that would also mistreat their children simply because they don’t have enough of a conscience. In many cases, it probably stems from some trauma on the parent’s part, but sorting how much blame that parent deserves is a tricky question. I tend to think that can at least lead to a greater understanding of how to prevent abuse, but it doesn’t absolve anything.
As a side note, I refer to Two as male here, since that’s my interpretation of him, but the story itself never mentions Two’s gender. The reader is free to see that as a female character.
At what point does helping a person who doesn’t know they’re in trouble justify disturbing their happiness?
That’s a really tricky question, because it takes the assumption on your part that you know what’s better. It would also take such a familiarity with the situation that you’d know whether leaving things alone was really the victim’s best chance at happiness. There’s a huge gray area in deciding whether that person’s treatment is merely distasteful or crosses the line to harmful. Two’s mother hasn’t physically harmed him, and I don’t think she’d make him stay outside overnight during the winter, for instance, because she recognizes that as detrimental to his health, though it’s debatable as to whether she’d do that out of real concern for him or because that’s the obvious thing to avoid for calling outside attention to the situation. Say a child has a perfectly lovely home life otherwise, but is being raised in a racist environment. It’s easy to say that’s morally deficient, but is that worth removing the child from that home? It really takes someone who’s well-educated in dealing with these scenarios to decide whether the victim can find some new form of happiness or whether the harm is so egregious that it’s worth sacrificing that happiness. Sometimes, nobody wins.
How did you keep Two’s voicing and worldview consistent during writing?
Note that in answers to a few of these questions, I’ve said things about Two’s mother that didn’t come out in the story. Keeping a consistent voice and worldview is a process that applies to any character, not just Two. The author needs to know more about the character than he intends to use in the story. That knowledge seeps into the writing in unexpected ways and makes that character feel that much more real. It’s intuitively clear when a writer tacks on details because he’s making up the character as he goes along, versus having those details flow naturally from his mental picture of the character. Then, it’s just a matter of adopting that character’s personality and deciding what he thinks about his situation and how he responds to it. All the work is done before the writing begins. That doesn’t mean a character is set in stone. There are certainly times he might undergo a change or the writer might want to revise him, but that requires revisiting how he’s been portrayed so far to ensure it still makes sense. The more complete a picture you develop up front about your character, the less work you’ll have later.
What happened to One?
My vision of him is that he’s doing fine somewhere, but he still has a skewed sense of how he and his brother were treated, since he never tried to get help for Two. He even resents Two for siding with their mother, so returns Two’s sentiment that he’s getting what he deserves, at least at the time he left. Since then, he’s simply decided it doesn’t concern him anymore. He keeps mostly to himself, partly because everyone can tell something’s a little off about him.
Any parenting advice?
Jeez, I’m the wrong person to ask. My son’s three, and I just don’t relate well to that age. I’m more looking forward to a couple of years down the road, when he’ll be less of an unfocused wrecking ball. I guess what’s surprised me most is how strong and durable kids are. And they copy absolutely everything you do, so you have to be someone you want them to be. You really have to decide what’s important to you and what you can let slide, because kids will challenge you on everything.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
You can read In Bloom at FIMFiction.net.