After love, loss. After loss, picking up the pieces. After picking up the pieces, what then? Today’s story digs beneath Carrot Top’s surface for an answer.
Shoots and Roots
[Drama] [Sad] [Slice of Life] • 6,366 words
Time alone can’t heal all wounds for Carrot Top. Sometimes life simply goes on in the worst and best possible ways.
FROM THE CURATORS: The Royal Canterlot Library’s job is to spotlight the fandom’s best, which leads to a lot of reading from established, well-known authors — so it’s always a great feeling when we get to play hipsters and feature a little-known writer with obvious talent. When Present Perfect noticed in the story’s author’s note that Shoots and Roots was Bachiavellian’s “first real attempt at writing fiction,” the discovery was accompanied by a cheerful expletive. “It’s been ages since I read a story this good and saw that at the end,” he said. “I haven’t been this excited about a story suggestion since That’s All.”
We found Shoots and Roots exemplary in its “unusually mature take on its core tragedy,” as Horizon put it. Chris, in his nomination of the story, explained: “It hits the sweet spot between sad and hopeful. This could easily have been yet another ‘ooh, look at this pony, her life sucks, now feel bad for her,’ but despite Carrot Top getting dealt a tragic hand by life, the story is ultimately about acceptance, growth, and how we can move on without forgetting.” It’s also about the relationships that strengthen her, as Present Perfect pointed out: “It’s nice to see a story not leave all the emotional bang for the end. I was left reeling by Derpy’s generous understanding — I get really emotional when ponies are good goddamn friends to each other.”
Ultimately, those friendships make Shoots and Roots’ Slice-of-Life take on MLP a joy to read despite the tragedy. “This is one of those stories that takes something the fandom enjoys doing and makes it real,” Present Perfect said. “What [the Pony Fiction Vault-featured] The Archer and the Smith did for Lyra and hands, this does for Carrot Top, Derpy and Dinky.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Bachiavellian discusses Portal music, helpful mistakes, and recipe-swapping.
Give us the standard biography.
Hello! I’m a college student studying biology with the hopes of going into the biomedical engineering field once I’ve gotten a couple of degrees under my belt. Other than that, there’s not much to say. I guess just I’m not old enough for many interesting things to have happened to me yet.
A few years ago, I stumbled upon the show while browsing an internet forum and decided to give it a shot. I liked it, and I got caught up shortly after the finale of the second season. At the time, I was a casual consumer of fanfiction, so without thinking about it much I decided to check out the scene. Soon I found myself reading some of the more popular fics of the time, which included “Twilight’s List” by kits and Warren Hutch’s “Earth and Sky.” I was pretty impressed by the general quality of the stories I was finding, but I wasn’t exactly blown away yet.
That changed when I found Jetfire’s “It’s Dangerous Business” and Device Heretic’s “Eternal”, both of which knocked me flat on my rear with how amazingly well-written they were. From then, I started looking into the fan community in earnest. As a result, I ended up reading fanfictions quite a bit more. And now, a few years later, here I am writing some too.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
It actually comes from the video game Portal 2. I played it back when it first came out and was absolutely enamored by the writing and voice acting. In fact, its characters are still among the most memorable I’ve seen. I’m normally not a big fan of puzzles/brain teasers, but the story-telling and the humor really sold it for me.
There’s this one particular section that stuck out to me, where as a part of one of the jokes, the game played a tweaked version of Bach’s “Little Prelude in C Minor” as background music. I happened to be working through a book of Bach’s Inventions, Sinfonias, and Preludes at the time, so I recognized the piece and got a quite the kick out of it. Later when I took a peek at the game’s soundtrack, I found that this song was titled “Machiavellian Bach.” On the spot, I thought of the pun and had a little chuckle with myself.
I honestly don’t know why it’s stuck with me for so long or why I couldn’t help thinking of it while creating my Fimfiction userpage. I kinda just shrugged my shoulders and went with it.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Within the Mane 6, it’s a tossup between Twilight Sparkle and Rarity. They’re both just really fun to watch, especially in the episodes where they start coming apart at the seams a little. I’m constantly surprised by how well Tara Strong and Tabitha St. Germain give voice to upset characters, both humorously and in more serious situations. I also feel that the writers consistently do an excellent job with these two characters in particular.
Outside of the Mane 6, I’ll have to pick Princess Celestia. She’s just such an interesting character — a nigh-immortal, benevolent ruler who raises the sun. And she’s got a sly, playful sense of humor on top of it all. There’s just so much potential with what can be done with her.
What’s your favorite episode?
Since I’m pretty sure “all of the second season” isn’t exactly a proper answer, I’m going to have to go with “May the Best Pet Win.” It’s a great showcase of Rainbow Dash’s and Fluttershy’s personalities and how they bounce off of one another when they’re both feeling happy and confident. Plenty of good jokes thrown in there too. And that song. Seriously, they need to go back to doing more Broadway-style setpiece songs. I can’t be the only person who’s been a little disappointed by the musical direction the show’s been taking as of late.
Sure, “May the Best Pet Win” was pretty predictable, but what episode of MLP isn’t? Personally, I think that it’s part of the show’s charm.
What do you get from the show?
Eh, not all that much actually. It’s a fun way to burn half an hour every once in a while. There’s also a bit of a nostalgia factor in play — it brings me back to the days I’d spend watching cartoons without a care in the world. If a show had continuity, my brother and I used to try to piece together the storyline from the jumbled-up reruns we’d see. I’m guessing that’s where my love of world-building and filling in the blanks comes from.
In the end, I think I like Friendship is Magic for the same reasons why I like any other television show. Solid characters, great writing, great acting, well-written jokes. I think if it weren’t for the community, I probably would have never thought of writing fanfiction for it, the same way I’m not particularly inclined to write fanfiction about any other movies, games, or TV shows I’ve enjoyed. I mean, it takes a special kind of fan-culture to make me want to write a story about a character who’s had like two lines of spoken dialogue total.
What do you want from life?
A million dollars? Lotsa cute little babies? A decent job market when I graduate? I really don’t know. I guess I’m still trying to figure out my life goals at this point. For now, as long as I have good health, friends and family, a little bit of spare time, and an internet connection, I’m content.
Why do you write?
‘Cause it’s fun! I think every human being derives some kind of satisfaction from self-expression, and I suppose I’m no different. For me, writing is a way to take those crazy little inklings of ideas running around in my head and arrange them into an orderly, cohesive piece of work. Straightening it all out into something that other people can consume and enjoy is something I take pleasure in.
From another standpoint, my writing is also a way through which I am trying to improve myself as a person. It’s gratifying to apply what I know about the written word to producing creative endeavors. In the end, I think being able to write eloquently enough to tell moving stories is a nifty trick to have in your belt. And I’m starting to suspect that there’s a part of my subconscious telling the rest of me that even if I fail at everything else I do in life, at the very least, I’m somewhat okay at telling stories about little horses.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
1. Read, read, and read. You’re never going to write well if you don’t know what good writing even looks like. And don’t just read passively. Always be aware of what emotions a passage elicits and how it goes about doing it. Take notes, highlight, and mark some books up.
Reading is also a great way to identify weak points in your own writing. Personally, I have a little trouble varying my vocabulary and sentence structure, probably as a result of growing up in a house where neither parent spoke English as a first language. To fight this, I keep a little notebook where I’ll jot down any interestingly used words and phrases I encounter while reading. Whenever I find myself having trouble writing a particular sentence, I always flip through that notebook first.
If you’re still in school, I highly recommend taking a Comparative Literature class. It’s a really easy way to get exposed to a lot of high-quality books and essays. Not only that, but you also get an educated professional in the room to help you find out exactly how each piece accomplishes its job so well. The whole experience is really just a big cheat sheet for anyone who aspires to write a little.
2. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes — they are your best teachers. There is no easier way to learn to do something right than failing the first time and hearing someone else’s advice. Try to find an editor more experienced than yourself who’s willing to take a pair of scissors to your draft if necessary. Put out a story, learn what people loved and hated, rinse, wash and repeat.
I ditched a whole bucketful of bad ideas while drafting and editing Shoots and Roots, with a lot of help from my editor, Blood Lord. Originally, I planned for the story to be told almost entirely in bland action sentences to give a sense of routine to Carrot Top’s daily activities. Well, that got phased out quick once I realized that the mood of the story wouldn’t be particularly fun to read. Blood Lord helped me scrap some other ideas about weirdly used punctuation and strikethroughs that were simply too alienating to the reader.
In the end, I had to resort to other means of conveying emotion and mood, which ultimately benefited the piece greatly. So don’t be afraid of failure, risks, or mistakes; you never know what good things might come out of them.
3. On the other side of that coin, you should take pride in your work. You owe it to yourself to produce stories to the best of your ability. If you don’t, there’s no way you can learn from the feedback you receive. Make sure everything is as well-polished as it could be, including the pacing, voicing, characters, and (yes) the grammar too.
Edit and edit some more. There can never be too much editing. Only publish when you think you’ve gotten something as good as you can get it. Then, when you hear feedback and criticisms, you’ll know precisely how to apply them to your writing process as a whole.
4. Have fun! Don’t write because you feel obliged. Write for yourself and for your own personal enjoyment, or what’s the point of writing fanfiction at all? Take plenty of breaks and go as quickly or as slowly as you like. Sign up for events or groups, if that’s your thing. Being frustrated or angry shows in your writing, and even unexperienced readers can pick up on a story or parts of a story that seem to have been written for the sake of being written. Fanfiction is a hobby, so if you’re not enjoying yourself, why bother?
What made you decide to “reveal” Palette Blues’ fate so late in the story, as opposed to earlier on?
Well, I wanted the reader to get used to the idea of a Carrot Top who’s already mostly healed. The breakfast scene with Ditzy and Dinky along with most of the sequences done in present tense went to serve this purpose. As I got the reader familiar with the emotional place she is at in the present, there were also hints from the first couple of flashbacks in the story of a Carrot Top who is hurting a lot more. I wanted these to serve to pique reader interest about the whole situation.
I thought that by putting the big reveal after we see all of its consequences on Carrot Top, it’d be a lot more emotionally impactful. Readers would also then be able to connect Ditzy and Dinky’s presence in Carrot Top’s life as one of the things that helped her find happiness again. To a certain degree, I also wanted to write the story as if I wasn’t going to go into detail about the accident, just to be able to catch the readers a little off-guard.
I’m definitely glad with the results; I’ve received feedback that makes me believe that the embassy scene is probably the single strongest segment of the story.
What did you do to balance the tragic backdrop with the themes of growth and acceptance, without the former overpowering the latter?
From a very early stage, I realized that the primary themes of the story need to be uplifting, or else it’d just be another sadfic. So despite the tragic backdrop, Shoots and Roots revolves around the ideas of love, healing, and friendship. I think this is its greatest strength — ultimately it’s a story about how somebody draws from the people around her to mend her spirit and find happiness.
One of the ways I was able to balance the conflicting emotions in the story was by giving myself a wide period of time to work with. It takes time for a broken heart to fix itself, so I decided to depict Carrot Top as quite a bit older than most fandom interpretations of her. By doing this, I can show snippets of her entire healing progress without it feeling rushed or forced. We see her at her lowest while she’s floundering in the wake of her loss; we see her when she’s sore, hurt, and angry even years afterwards; and at last we see her in a place where she can see herself becoming content with her life again.
Finally, I also made sure that I gave Carrot Top plenty of things to be happy for. Dinky does a great job of being something of a surrogate daughter for Carrot. She’s curious and energetic, and Carrot can’t help but think of her own childhood whenever she’s with her. I think that she finds it refreshing. Ditzy’s on the other end of that scale; warm, understanding, and even motherly. Despite being so much younger, she’s an anchor for Carrot. Finally Roseluck represents the changes that Carrot Top is going through. She’s young, dynamic, and always talking about something new. I tried to make her seem absolutely invigorating to be around, because this is what she does for Carrot.
So, by focusing the story on the healing process rather than the wound, the story conveys heartwarming, uplifting themes despite the tones of sadness. It was absolutely thrilling to work it all out in my head, and seeing it come together so well has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
On the topic of tragedy: were the emotions in this story inspired by research, personal experience, empathy, or some mix of the above? In other words, how did you make the emotions in this story feel real?
I’ve never experienced the kind of loss Carrot Top has, but I do know some people who have lost close friends and relatives. In the end, though, this story isn’t really based on their experiences or any sort of research. I know it’s dangerous territory to write about highly emotional topics without first-hand experience, so while drafting Shoots and Roots I worked hard to make Carrot Top’s emotions feel relatable and accessible in a way that didn’t diminish their validity.
I ended up doing this by focusing on things that we’ve all felt before: frustration at yourself, helplessness in the face of huge events, yearning for the past and what could have been, guilt over your own emotions. I’m not inventing a new kind of sadness or pain to describe how someone would react to a level of loss that I have no experience with, because if I was wrong, it’d come across as unbelievable at best and offensive at worst.
Instead, I focused on emotions that I know and then allowed Carrot Top “flow into” them by creating situations where it’d be appropriate to feel these emotions. That way, Carrot Top remains relatable to the reader. She isn’t sinking into a depth of melancholia that the readers haven’t experienced for themselves. Carrot Top feels sad, angry, weary, and guilty in entirely appropriate and understandable ways, which makes her hurt seem all the more genuine to the reader.
What do you think Carrot Top and Karlheinz each get out of their letters to one another?
In early drafts of the story, Karlheinz actually only appears in the embassy scene. His expanded involvement in the story was actually a result of input from a helpful EQD prereader, who suggested that a larger role may help strengthen the core themes. I’m glad I followed his advice, because writing the scene with Karlheinz’s letters was actually the most emotional bit of the entire story for me.
I’m a believer that shared pain is a better catalyst for friendship than shared happiness, so I like to think that their letter swapping started as a way to deal with their mutual loss that eventually became the basis of a close friendship. They’re pen pals, in short. In my head, Karlheinz decided to move back to the Isles to be closer to his family, but he and Carrot Top still occasionally visit each other to catch up and swap recipes.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I think I’ve been really lucky to hear some of the amazing things people have had to say about my first story. I’m really flattered to be receiving such high praise for something that I wrote because I was curious about why Carrot Top would put up with living with Ditzy. I’m very happy and grateful to hear that people found Shoots and Roots touching, and I hope to be able to continue to impress.
I want to thank my editors, JohnPerry, who helped me get started on polishing up my work, and Blood Lord, who stuck with me through countless revisions while I submitted the story to EQD.
Thank you, curators of The Royal Canterlot Library, for choosing to feature me. And thank you, reader, for being interested enough to check out this interview.
(Note: JohnPerry recused himself from nomination and voting due to his editing work on the story.)