Settle down, children, and we’ll tell you tonight’s story, of a mystical adventure to a faraway land. Did you brush your teeth before we tucked you in?
In The Place The Wild Horses Sleep
[Adventure] [Human] • 2,814 words
Young Mia is determined to run with wild horses and nothing is going to stop her. Not her mother. Not even a pony with stars in her mane, come to take her away on an adventure …
FROM THE CURATORS: You might have heard of this story a few months ago when it scored third place in Obselescence’s “Most Dangerous Game” contest, turning in strong showings with both the judges and the voters. It easily won over our hearts, too. “Any story that can overcome my initial distrust of the ‘once there was a little girl who wanted to be a pony, and then suddenly Equestria!’ premise deserves to be featured,” Chris said, and Present Perfect was even more effusive: “It’s gorgeous and uplifting. I cannot praise this highly enough.”
One of the factors making it exemplary was its unique bedtime-story narrative voice. “Its language play really works,” Horizon said. “At its best I couldn’t see it on the screen without hearing it read aloud in my head.” For similar reasons, JohnPerry described it as “an utterly fantastic children’s story that has a great Maurice Sendak (may he rest in peace) vibe to it. … The pacing is perfect, the tone and language is very fitting to a children’s tale, and there’s a depth to it that is intriguing.” Chris agreed: “This is a great example of what a children’s story should be — enjoyable to a young listener, but with something to offer the adult reader, and pleasant to read aloud to boot.”
Ultimately, it was the story’s success at that adult-child balancing act that made it so magical — and inspired some curator introspection. “I was recently contemplating what makes children’s stories work, how magic and mysticism simply exist, and how the things that are important to us as children are not the same things that are important to us as adults,” Present Perfect said. “This story embodies all of those things. It’s about appreciating what you have and learning that dreams are only that. In other words, it’s about growing up.”
Read on for our (illustrated!) author interview, in which Lucky Dreams discusses the Ghost of Fanfic Past, having faith in your audience, and a literal embarrassment singularity.
Give us the standard biography.
You mean like this?
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I brought three different blind bags from three different shops and they were all Lucky Dreams. Three little Lucky Dreams, each one Lucky Dreamsier than the last …
It was creepy.
Who’s your favourite pony?
Bill from The Lord of the Rings, because what a trooper!
What’s your favorite episode?
Just one? Sleepless in Ponyville. Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo are two of my favourite characters ever.* I love Rainbow for being so outgoing and adventurous, and I love Scoots because her relationship with Rainbow is so very relatable and ever-so-slightly tragic (I imagine that most readers here have had that one person who we really, really wished would notice us). Oh yeah, and this episode’s all about dreams? Nice.
Also, it helps that Sweetie Belle is absolutely killer in this one.
*I mean, after Maud Pie of course, because how could you not love everything about her?
What do you get from the show?
I’ve learnt more about writing from pony fanfiction than from three years doing English at Uni! And that’s saying a lot ‘cause my third year tutors were heroes.
What do you want from life?
Friendship and happiness, and to finally beat the Yoshi’s Island low score challenge. Which I assume will bring me both happiness and friendship.
Why do you write?
Because there’s nothing more terrifying than putting out something that you’ve poured your heart into, but no greater feeling than other people telling you that they enjoyed it.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Read everything ever written by FILM CRIT HULK, because what a champion.
What kind of challenges does writing children’s literature present?
Why is her bedroom suddenly a train? Because she needed to get to Equestria, so you take the train.
Why is she a horse now? Because she’s loved, and that means she becomes a horse.
Honest to God, I’ve been trying to answer this for daaays, but everything I think of boils down to the same big challenge as in adult lit: trust that your audience gets what you’re saying. Trust they they’ll understand what you’re trying to do without dumbing it down.
So the vocabulary might be simpler, the stories shorter, and there’s certain subjects that you’ll probably want to avoid writing about. What does any of that matter?
It doesn’t matter at all. Not a jot.
Approach kid’s stories the same way as you would approach any story. Have faith that that so long as you can get the audience invested in the characters and/or narrative, then you can get away with pretty much every interesting idea you have. Just ‘cause your audience is seven or eight and can’t tie their own shoelaces yet, doesn’t mean they’re not intelligent readers.
(Actually, thinking about it, I’m pretty sure I was the only eight year old in my class who couldn’t tie his own laces …)
Hell, if you wanted to, you could even tell a story about a psychotic gun-happy space racoon and his best bud Ent Junior. Go nuts! Go wild and crazy! Go big, huge, small, tiny, and everything in between! Just so long as you treat your audience like the smart awesome peeps that they are as opposed to complete total idiots, then in return they’ll happily accept just about any cool idea you can throw at them.
The challenge, such as it is, is to not underestimate your readers, and to not go in with the rancid mindset of “Yo, they’re just li’l kids/pony fanfic readers/YA fans/sci-fi fans/fantasy, D&D obsessed nerds/Twilight fans/romance fans/any fan of any genre not considered adult enough to count. They’ll eat up any old rubbish. How hard can it be to write for ‘em?”
What was the inspiration for In the Place the Wild Horses Sleep?
I would so love to say that IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT and that it all came to me in a flash, but that wouldn’t be true. It was a dark night. There was a storm. But the storm came two hours too late, by which time I had the ending figured out as well as an outline for the rest of it …
But yeah! Here’s five sources of inspiration.
1. You can tell I adore Where the Wild Things Are. Although I wonder if it was such a good idea to follow the basic storyline so closely? Like, it’s so obviously a tribute that reading it now, I feel it actually takes away from it. Wild Horses needed to be less homage and more its own thing.
2. It sounds so so dumb, but I was desperate to write about doors and beds and lamps and light switches and tiled floors. TV! Socks! The thing I’ve been working on this past year involves animal cubs battling their way through huge landscapes, so, ya know, it was nice to write about normal things for a change. Pyjamas and pillows and carpets. Stuff like that. Person stuff.
3. I’ve been secretly obsessed with the idea of animal transformation ever since playing Donkey Kong Country 2 as a wee lad. It ends up in a lot of what I write…
4. … along with the notion that all good adventures should take place in pyjamas and dressing gowns. Seriously! It happens in, like, 90% of my non-pony stories, and it didn’t even occur to me until I wrote Wild Horses! I’m inclined to blame The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, because I couldn’t possibly tell you how many times I listened to it on repeat on cassette tape when I was little.
5. Mia first appeared in an ill-fated comic from 2005, then later that year in an ill-fated novel, ‘cause I thought writing a novel be less work than making a comic (groan). And make no mistake, that first novel of hers absolutely sucked — mind-bendingly, unimaginably, breath-takingly, prodigiously, Lovecraftianly horrifying in its sheer, all-consuming, monumental omni-badness. Yet it was through creating all that suckage that I accidentally discovered how much I love writing, so at least some good came of it.
Also an accident: Mia’s evolution over the years from lazy half-assed cypher to an actual character. I really miss writing about her – she’s the character who means the most to me, by far – and Obs’ competition was a great excuse to bring her back :-)
Speaking of Obs’ competition (and I think you touched on this earlier), do you think there’s such a thing as a “bad” story concept?
Rain lashes against the windows, but only serves to make you feel even snugger in your nice warm bed. But OH NO, WHAT’S THIS?!
A doorway appears at the end of your bed, a doorway in the air; and out of the doorway steps —
“I am the Ghost of Fanfic Past,” says the intruder, a spirit with fair flowing hair and brilliant blue eyes, “but my friends call me Mary. Mary Sue. Catchy, yeah?”
“Err, I guess?” you say, but Mary Sue hardly seems to hear you. She’s too busy explaining how you must atone for your crimes against fanfiction, and how you will be visited by three more ghosts in the night.
You try to protest. It’s hopeless.
And that’s when a second ghost steps out of the doorway and high-fives Mary Sue.
“I am the Spirit of Intention,” booms the new ghost, flickering through a hundred different forms in the bat of an eye — everything from Spiderman, Onix, Pikachu, a blue pony, and Sonic the Hedgehog. He finally settles on the form of a black and red alicorn, and says, “Lo! We have read your fiction and have found it to be lacking. But never fear! You can be good. You can be great! For you see, there is no story concept bad enough that you can’t spin it into gold, no idea awful enough that you can’t give it a go. It all depends on the intention, the intention behind your work.”
“Intention?” you say.
The Spirit of Intention winks. “Intention! It’s what turned The Lego Movie from a feature length advert and into a masterwork. It’s what made Friendship is Magic as good as it is — for by rights, it should have been trash!”
You fold your arms. “No offense,” you say, “but it sounds like you’re taking a very complicated controversial issue and reducing it down to a meaningless buzzword. So what if you’re intentions are good, or subversive, or smart? So what if the writing is good? Surely there are ideas out there that are so bad, or so vile, that no amount of brilliant and clever writing could possibly save them? And that makes no mention of peoples’ subjective opinions. We could debate this all night and still not come up with anything close to a definitive answer…”
Mary Sue looks deflated. The Spirit of Intention glares at you in irritation. And through the doorway emerge two more ghosts, one wearing a Hawaiian shirt, the other holding a keg of beer, and both looking like they’re here for the long haul. This ain’t an argument that they’re backing down from in a hurry.
The night gets darker.
The night gets stormier.
“Alright then,” you sigh. “I’ll stick the kettle on, shall I?”
Yeah, I’m not sure I could ever give a real answer to this question. One moment I feel that of course you can make a bad idea work, of courseyou can, and that you just need to approach it in the right way and with the right attitude. But then I think of some of the more truly despicable story ideas that I’ve come across, and it makes me second guess myself.
(Oh wait, this exists? Argument settled, I take everything back.)
(… Actually, on second thought, I would totally watch that.)
You mentioned that you’ve been writing about Mia for a long time now. How has she evolved over that time? Any advice you can offer to beginning authors looking to make their own OCs?
Here’s the first picture that I ever drew of Mia. It is literally the most embarrassing thing in the entire universe. I am literally using literally in its most literal sense.
“This design is fine.”
(WHOA, hold yer horses, what’s that other note in the corner? “Give her a bag?” What?!)
Sorry, side-tracked. “This design is fine,” is the most deluded thing ever written by a human being. More to the point, nine years later and I still don’t think that her design is fine, there’s so much that needs improving about the way I draw her.
The same applies to the way I write her. Much like how extra details have crept into in her clothes, her face, and her hair-spikey-thingni, aspects of her personality have slowly but surely built up over the years, accumulating through every failed novel, every horribly drawn comic, every short story. And they will continue to evolve through her every tantrum and every daydream of horses.
However, unlike what I thought when I was 16, I now realise that there is no rush whatsoever.
HOOM, HM, DON’T BE HASTY.
Sadly, there are no ways to get around the fact that developing characters demands
Practice hard, practice as often as you can and never stop practicing, because there’s always room for improvement. Practice with every fun daft idea you can think of! Drop your characters in, say, a land of talking horses, and see how they react!
DON’T BE HASTY.
DON’T EVER RELY ON SOME QUICK FIX MARY SUE TEST TO MAKE YOUR CHARACTERS INTERESTING because your character can NOT be reduced to a number.
DON’T BE HASTY.
Don’t listen to the people who are so quick and hasty in dismissing every interesting story that happens to feature a Mary Sue that they forget the original Mary Sue story is really, really funny – intentionally funny, it totally works despite conventional wisdom saying it shouldn’t*.
Because the more you practice, and the more time and thought you put into writing, the more you discover there’s more to character than just characters. They don’t exist in isolation. There’s narrative context too, and a million other things besides.
Think things through.
Take your time.
And remember that it’ll be totes worth it when people say they enjoyed your characters :-)
*Think of it this way: Mary Sue is a byword for failed character, yet she’s also the one character that almost every fanfiction author working in every fandom has heard of! And whilst, by herself, she’s probably not a character you’d want to emulate, A Trekkie’s Tale is a great example of what I meant by intention. The author had a specific goal in mind, and achieved it so fantastically well that over 40 years later people are still discussing what she wrote. By any measure of the word, that’s a success.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Someone pls write a story where Bill goes on an awkward date with Maud Pie, I would love you forever X