Today’s feature is a little different — in celebration of a full year of author spotlights, we’re turning the lens onto the RCL itself! When we announced the Ask Us Anything last week, dozens of questions flooded in from community members, ranging from the serious (how do we choose our features?) to the silly (fight a duck-sized horse or a horse-sized duck?) to the literary (how many prereaders should look at a story?). After subjecting over 50 authors to our interviews, fair’s fair — we rolled up our sleeves and answered them all.
Read on for our responses, in which we discuss guilty pleasures, salivating zebras, and Sturgeon’s Law. (As well as milking a question or two for puns.)
(Note: Bradel was unavailable for this AMA. Other curators — Chris, Horizon, JohnPerry, and Present Perfect — have been identified by their initials.)
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned from being part of the RCL?
C: I learned that I’m quite possibly the least hard-hearted reviewer on the team! And all this time, I thought I was right properly cruel…
JP: Probably how varied the tastes of this group are. We all have very high standards, but we all look for really different things out of the stories we read. I think each of us has been in the position of nominating a story that the rest of us looked at and went “…Really?” In the end, what it means is that if a story was good enough to pass muster with the majority of us, you know it’s gotta be doing something right.
PP: Juggling multiple evaluation standards is easier than I would have thought.
Have you ever nominated a trollfic?
PP: I’m pretty sure all the trollfic nominations came from me.
H: I’d like to note that’s “all,” plural. Don’t worry, we forgive you, even if our eyes never will heal.
Pick a background pony to become an alicorn. What unexpected topic are they the princess of?
PP: Carrot Top is Princess of Potatoes, to her eternal grief.
C: I was gonna come up with one… but I really like PP’s. I’m gonna go with that, I think.
What fic is your guilty pleasure?
PP: Guilty pleasure? Fallout: Equestria springs immediately to mind, though that’s more a love/hate relationship.
C: Equestria Hockey League. It’s not a particularly well-written story, and it’s pretty much the definition of an excuse plot, but I’ll forgive a lot for a story featuring Trixie as Sean Avery.
H: gale-wind’s old “Equine Sexual History” series. … Hey, don’t give me that look. Ponifying the research behind the Kinsey Reports pushes all the right buttons.
JP: Beating the Heat by Andrew Joshua Talon. It’s so stupid and insane that it’s amazing.
Is there a story one of the other curators wrote that you’d nominate if it were eligible?
C: I found Bradel’s Three Nights really moving.
JP: Oh, that’s easy. Chris’ Letters from a Senior to a Junior Changeling. I’d nominate that in a heartbeat.
H: Benman’s Mortal and Chris’ The Purloined Pony are both already in the Pony Fiction Vault, so my next choices are Chris’ Wyrmlysan and John’s The Wreck.
PP: Melt and Thou Goddess by horizon, and Chris’s Going Up, he said without hesitation.
What changes have you observed in the writing community over the past year? Do you feel the community has improved or worsened? –Pav Fiera
JP: I wouldn’t necessarily put it in terms of better or worse… in fact, honestly, I feel like the community remains pretty recognizable to what I saw a year ago. Some writers have become less active, newer ones have become more prominent, bandwagons still pass through town and new trends replace old ones; the circle of life goes on.
But in terms of the overall quality of stories and number of good writers, I think that remains relatively high (certainly compared to the early years of the fandom). The two big writing contests this summer showed off a lot of talent, it was great to see Blueshift return to form this year after his absence, and in rising newcomers like Estee you find this really interesting and increasingly prominent voice in the community. The names have changed a bit, but the quality is pretty much the same as it was a year ago, if not better.
I think the biggest shift I’ve noticed in the past year has been the tone. There’s more of a… bluntness, I suppose, that readers and authors are willing to demonstrate. As the fandom matures, I think people are increasingly willing to test the boundaries of what is acceptable. And I don’t think this trend has been confined to the past year, either, but I really started to notice it this past year. I see more AVGN-style reviews of stories now and risqué stories have increasingly become part of the norm. For better or for worse, you have a lot more voices in the community now, and they’re all trying to be heard over the din.
H: I’m impressed by the explosion of reviewers (plug: the excellent City of Doors maintains a master list, which is how I discovered 2/3 of them), and by the way the community has come together around some high-profile contests and produced some exquisite writing in the process.
PP: There seems to be more of everything. And while we keep losing long-time, big-name authors to the ravages of burnout, it seems there are always more coming in to take their places.
What sort of stories have you guys rarely seen (if at all) that you’d like to see more of? –RazgrizS57
H: Mysteries — aside from some Sherlock Holmes crossovers, they’re pretty thin on the ground.
PP: Noir, mystery or otherwise. I know there’s a very well-known one still ongoing, but it doesn’t seem like too many people write the genre.
JP: Non-adventure Daring Do stories. I’ve only come across a couple, but I’m having insanely good luck with them so far. Please send more.
How long does it typically take you guys to decide upon which stories to feature? –RazgrizS57
JP: Honestly, it varies pretty significantly. Word count and familiarity with the story have a fair amount to do with how quickly we get to something, plus simple luck given how many of us are online at once. I think the quickest time we passed a story was 6 hours, 37 minutes, but usually they take upwards of several days.
C: If it’s a story that some or all of us have already read, it can take a day or less, as all that’s needed is some skimming to refresh your memory and make sure you didn’t miss anything when you first read it. Stories that are new to all of us take longer, especially if they’re long fics themselves.
H: On the far end, Outside The Reaching Sky took literally seven months to pass (and then two more to get ahold of Karazor). Everyone insisted on reading the prequel story first, and it’s tough to slot 250K words into your schedule.
PP: That’s 0.4 Fallout: Equestrias!
How often are nominations turned down inside your little circle? –RazgrizS57
H: Actually, we’re such nerds that we have a little spreadsheet to track those statistics! We’ve nominated and evaluated 119 stories since we started — out of which 68 passed (52 have been featured; 3 would have been featured but we couldn’t contact the author; 4 are queued for upcoming features; and 9 are duplicates because we interviewed the author for a different story). The remaining 42.9% of stories get judged “good, but not good enough.” Even though we only nominate stories we really think are special, it’s still an uphill climb!
Who’s your favorite character to write/read and why? –Dash The Stampede
PP: I find myself writing Applejack as a main character an awful lot, especially for first-person stories. I always say it’s because she doesn’t have a lot of character on her own, meaning it’s hard to screw her up, but that’s slowly changing. I dunno. I recently wrote a story from Sunset Shimmer’s perspective, and I loved it. Her whole arc of getting over having been the bad guy, trying to learn to be a friend, maybe trying to get her guy back is really compelling, especially when you add in her being the straight woman in a school full of idiots.
JP: I think anyone who has looked at my recent stories can figure out that mine is Daring Do. She’s become my go-to character to talk about myself: someone who has traveled and moved around a lot, who isn’t very anchored to one place or one group, maybe a bit of a loner… It’s funny, I started writing a story built around her loneliness and past regrets, and then we got the episode that showed Daring to be downright hostile to receiving outside help, which fit perfectly with this image I was developing of her.
H: I’ll just say that “best pony” and “pony I like to read about the most” are very different things. And note that Ms. Harshwhinny, despite several speaking roles, is still missing a FIMFiction character tag.
What tags make you cringe when a story comes in? –Dash The Stampede
C: I trust the other reviewers enough that there’s not really any genre that sets off warning bells when it comes in. I’m not a big shipping guy, but if someone else puts up a shipping story, my first thought isn’t “oh great, another one of those.” It’s more “hey, let’s see what’s special about this one!” Generally, if a story gets in, it’s a given that there is something special about it, even if we end up not featuring it.
JP: I have enough trust in my fellow curators that if it’s up for RCL consideration, I’m not worried about what tags it has. In my regular day-to-day explorations of FIMFic, however, the “Human,” “Anthro,” and “Crossover” tags put me on edge.
H: Personally, I find “Slice of Life” a very mixed bag. It tends to be defined by what it isn’t — funny, or sad, or adventuresome, or dark, or romantic, because all of those things have their own tags — rather than what it is, which is “normal ponies doing normal things.” (And let’s face it, normal gets boring after a while.) There are a lot of SoL stories I’ve read and loved, but I have to be pushed into the experience.
PP: I wasn’t going to take my usual jab at Slice of Life, but then horizon covered all the reasons I tend to pan it, so what he said.
Got a favorite genre to read/write? –Dash The Stampede
H: I have a big soft spot for science fiction, especially in my ponyfic. Stories that chew the implications of Big Ideas; about what it means to be sapient, what we’re capable of, what the boundaries of reality are — there’s a lot of fertile ground there, when a setting like Equestria is so different from our daily lives.
PP: Comedy. I write a lot of “random comedy” (it generally is only funny to me) because I enjoy not taking anything seriously ever. Except the Royal Canterlot Library, of course!
JP: Introspective stuff, I think. I’m big on character studies, and this fandom has those in spades.
Wildcard: What was your first favorite on Fimfic? –Dash The Stampede
PP: It was apparently For I Am a Jelly God by Posh, which is a hilarious look at inserting G1 elements into FiM. It certainly wasn’t my first-ever favorite story, though! (Sadly, there’s no record of what was.)
JP: Looks like mine was The Ballad of Twilight Sparkle by Gravekeeper, which I remember being really funny.
H: emkajii’s amazing and long-since-abandoned Equestria: Total War, whose loss I still mourn.
Do you feel that your work with the RCL has improved your own writing? If so, how? –RBDash47
C: Well, it’s certainly meant reading more excellent stories, and exposure to good writing is one of the best ways to improve one’s own. I couldn’t point to any specific thing in one of my stories and say “yes, I did that because of such-and-such from an RCL story or interview,” but I still think it’s been a positive influence.
JP: I wouldn’t say it’s had an influence on my stories, but I think interacting with other interviewers has given me a better sense of what to look for when reading a story, which is awfully helpful for my own reviews.
H: The biggest influence I can specifically name is a lateral one: the RCL introduced me to Present Perfect, and through his signal boosts, to the Writeoff Association. I’ve competed several times there and gotten some excellent feedback that’s helped me revise those stories before official publication. My RCL reading has been diverse and interesting, and all of the stories we feature set excellent examples, but when you’re experienced enough that all the basic tools are already in your toolbox, it’s tougher to put a finger on how any individual story has subtly shaped those tools.
What is your favorite word? Why? –RBDash47
C: “Puissance,” because apparently I love Stephen R. Donaldson and hate WTFHIW (who once commissioned me to write a story, and specifically forbid me from using the word. Absent that restriction, that word would in fact have been in it).
JP: It’s not English, but mine is “homohomonukunukuapua’a.” I love saying it really fast and seeing someone’s perplexed expression. I’m also really partial to good curse words; they’re one of the purest expressions of emotion you can get in a word. Some are sharp, and some you like to let linger on the tongue, savoring like a fine wine… but most importantly, they just feel good to say.
PP: Ooh, going outside English, are we? Then I have to say “mamihlapinatapai”. It’s one of those words you see in “Words We Need in English” articles, and it means “a look shared between two people who are wishing the other would do something neither wants to do”.
H: The mere fact that the word lagom exists makes me want to move to Sweden. It’s a beautiful word for a beautiful concept. Also the German sehnsucht, which C.S. Lewis described as “an inconsolable longing” for “we know not what,” which sometimes feels like the best single-sentence description of the human condition. (And Portuguese saudade, for similar reasons.)
Have any passages from the stories you’ve reviewed stuck with you? –RBDash47
C: I’m pretty sure I could quote most of Spike’s last few lines in The Descendent’s Variables from memory, and they stick with me as a particularly powerful moment. Unfortunately, they also spoil the story pretty completely. Go read it, if you haven’t already (really, why do you think we recommend these?).
H: A collection of mental snapshots, more images than words. Celestia’s final drink in Princess Celestia Hates Tea, the soaring tower of Lost Cities, the narrative parkour of RUN … more amazing moments than can come easily to mind. I go back through our list once in a while to savor them.
If the Crystal Kingdom Limited leaves Ponyville going 60 miles per hour and the Canterlot Express leaves one hour later going 85 miles per hour, how long will it take the Express to catch up with the Limited? –RBDash47
JP: Trick question. The Crystal Kingdom and Canterlot trains serve different routes, so one can’t catch up with the other.
H: Two point fo… *glances up from his math* Dang it!
C: You’re both wrong. The correct answer is, “one commercial break.”
What is your opinion of Trixie? –Xhoral1865
PP: Sethisto can have her when he pries her from my cold, dead hooves.
C: I tend to have a soft spot for ponies whom I’ve written about in my own stories, so I’m rather fond of her, myself.
JP: Never heard of her.
My biggest question is, how exactly do you guys choose the authors/stories? (I mean sure there are plenty of good writers out there, but how do you narrow it down to just one person. And if that writer has multiple stories, how do you choose which one to highlight?) –Tsuguri
PP: The “multiple stories” problem has only come up once, and we literally made a separate spreadsheet listing all the author’s stories (there were a lot), read and vetted them all normally and picked the one that came out on top. But normally, the process relies on one of us seeing something great and nominating it. Chris and I read a lot, John does too; it’s mostly luck of the draw. It’s also worth mentioning that just because we post a particular story, that doesn’t mean it’s the author’s best story, or the only one worth spotlighting, just that it fit our criteria.
H: We’ve only had the one multi-story battle, but several times, one of us has read a nominated story and said, “It wasn’t as good as (other story that author has done),” and then (as PP said) we counter-nominate and let the two duke it out. Only once has a head-to-head story battle ended in a tie (because Obselescence is just that good). And as for how we narrow it down to just one feature per week — at any given time, we’ve got a dozen nominations pending; it just comes down to which ones we approve first.
How has the RCL vision changed over the year? Have you guys shifted gears at all? –psychomotorboat
C: I don’t know if our vision has changed, exactly; we (the original members, anyway) pretty much worked out what we wanted to do before we started. We have had some ongoing discussions, though, particularly about things like how important it is or should be if a story is broadly accessible, or to what degree “this isn’t ‘pony enough’” should weigh in a decision whether or not to feature. We want to find good stories, first and foremost—but the devil’s in the details.
H: I think the vision’s stayed pretty stable, but the division of labor has smoothed out as we’ve gone — and (of course) as the curator roster changes, that subtly shifts the stories we’re exposed to and the standards of “best ponyfic”.
Any plans to feature an already RCL featured author again? We all know there are some authors that have many outstanding works. –psychomotorboat
PP: Yes. We’ve got a couple stories saved up should we ever want to re-feature, but we haven’t quite worked out all the details of when, how, what, etc.
H: Literally by definition, every featured author is capable of writing at least one top-notch fanfic, and very few stop there! We could easily go for another year just refeaturing authors, but erring on the side of new spotlights helps keep the features fresh and helps readers find even more cool stuff. Refeatures will happen at some point, but new authors is our focus.
Among those talented authors how do you pick the story? Or does the specific story and what makes it unique matter more than the authors track record or magnum opus? –psychomotorboat
PP: Occasionally, one of us will suggest a story and someone else will go, “Wait, no, they’ve done better,” and nominate a second or even third piece. There are particular authors we definitely want to feature, but we’ve also already featured a lot of authors whose story was the first of theirs any of us had read.
H: PP’s answer was so good that I stole it to use it up above. :V Typically, though, it’s “This story is RCL material” rather than “This author is RCL material” (with the caveat that authors at that level are likely to have other featureable stories).
What do each of you bring to the table when it comes to:
1.) Story assessment, like your personal literary merit standards
2.) Story hunting – how do you find your suggestions that you share w/ other curators?
3.) Favorite stories – do your predilections for specific genres or characters get in the way of your assessment of the stories merit?
4.) Have your standards changed since starting the RCL?
5.) Personal favorite RCL feature so far? –psychomotorboat
PP: For #2, I read fanfic constantly: stuff I’ve randomly added to my read-it-later, stuff from authors I’m following, stuff from friends, stuff that looks funny, and audiobooks I find on YouTube. My motto is “I’ll read it eventually”. As to #3, I think I read a lot more shipfics than anyone else. (Chris likes to joke that we always vote in opposition to one another.) My standards may have actually gotten a little more lax since the RCL started. And my favorite feature — I’m glad someone asked! — is definitely In the Place the Wild Horses Sleep, which we just put up. It is, after all, the story I called “the pinnacle of My Little Pony fanfiction”. Although I think the word I was looking for was “apotheosis”.
C: 1) I typically prefer to let my work speak for itself in matters like this; if you feel like the stories the RCL puts up have literary merit, then great, and if not, I’m at least as much to blame for that as anyone else. 2) When I find something great in my for-fun reading, I’ll always toss it up. Otherwise, if we’re running low on stories, I’ll typically trawl through some older stories I read in the fandom’s earlier days to see if anything there’s worth recommending—or more often, if the author has written something else even better since then. 3) I don’t think so. They affect my recommendations; I recommend more slice-of-life stories than PP, he recommends more shipfics than I do (though I’ve put up a couple!), but when it comes to reading and voting, I think we’re all pretty fair. 4) Not really. It probably helps that I’d been doing my own fanfic reviews for a couple of years by then, so I already had some kind of feel for what I was doing. 5) That is such a grossly unfair question; you wouldn’t ask a man to pick his favorite child, would you?
JP: 1) I think “literary merit” is something of a moot question when it comes to us; we all have strong opinions about ponyfic, so if one of us is nominating something, literary merit is pretty much assumed. But in terms of story assessment, the main things I wind up looking at are the tone, the characterizations, and how the premise is handled. This is the stuff I really care about. 2) Once in a while I toss something up, although PP and Chris definitely nominate the vast majority of stories we read. 3) Nah. It helps that the reviews I do outside the RCL are about reading whatever the feature box throws at me, which kinda forces a certain acceptance of all genres/characters on me. And when it’s us nominating the stories, with our high standards, I’m willing to give any of them a shot. 4) I don’t think so. I have a better sense of what my fellow curators look for in stories, but I don’t think my standards have shifted much. 5) My interview with Lucky Dreams, just because that was really fun to see come together.
For story assessment, I mostly bring my appetite. You’d be surprised the amount of emotion you can draw from a well-crafted story. You didn’t hear that. 2) I’m the quiet one; I don’t nominate much, but I must be doing something right because 9 of my 11 suggestions have been featured. 3) If I have to be honest, maybe so. By the numbers, we tend to feature a larger proportion of Dark/Sad stories relative to how many the fandom writes; I think that’s because it’s a lot easier to make the story compelling and give it weight when the emotional stakes are higher, and I certainly don’t nominate a lot of light/fluffy stuff. However, once a story’s nominated, I work hard to evaluate it on its own merits. 4) The RCL has forced me to read a great variety of stories, and I think that’s made me a little harsher on common ideas and tropes, since fewer ideas get a pass on “this idea is new to me” unless they are genuinely fresh. 5) Lucky Dreams was great, but I have to give shortskirtsandexplosions points for class — when we contacted him to feature The Numbers Don’t Lie, it was his idea to do a dual interview and make certain that theworstwriter got equal billing. And Cloud Wander’s interview was hands down the most delightful to read.
Any plans for putting a file/document together with all the interviews and stories like RBDash47 did with the PFV? –psychomotorboat
C: We’ve had some informal discussions about doing something like this, or putting our own downloads of stories up on our site instead of only linking to the original, but nothing’s come of it yet. Doing those things — well, doing them right — is time-consuming, and we don’t want to prioritize that ahead of reading and featuring new stories. It really makes you appreciate how much work RBD was doing all that time!
H: If anyone’s interested in (and capable of) curating that project, drop one of us a line.
Each of you has read an insane amount of stories. How has the fanfiction community changed from past year to now? –psychomotorboat
C: Sad to say, I think fanfiction’s become much more segregated from the general community over the past year or two. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Equestria Daily isn’t the be-all and end-all of bronydom like it used to be, I think. It’s still a big hub, but it used to be that if you were into ponies, you were pretty much guaranteed to visit EqD at least occasionally—and when you did, you’d see a couple of fanfics floating around with the news and pictures and comics. Now, the fandom has fractured to the point that I think a lot of people never see the fanfic side of the community at all; authors are much more isolated than artists or musicians. On the plus side, the fanfic community is still growing, and I’ve seen several great authors emerge in the last twelve months—including at least a couple whom we’ve featured, who hadn’t written a single word of ponyfiction twelve months prior.
H: Pssh, you say “isolated” like FIMFiction isn’t getting more views than Equestria Daily. It’s just become the gold standard of ponyfiction hosting (though ED is still a good gatekeeper for finding quality stuff — and their recent “Outside Insight” fanfiction competition drew a remarkable caliber of stories). I think you’re right, though, that the community in general is getting more fragmented — there’s the show, the comics, the novels, the fanfics, the fan comics, the PMVs, the original animations, the musicians, the dozens of annual conventions … who can keep up with all that any more? You could level the same complaint at, say, pony music — once upon a time, reading EqD would be enough to hit all the highlights, but there’s such a rich subcommunity there that any site that wants to be authoritative has to focus on that subcommunity specifically. Fanfic’s not an outlier; we’re caught up in the wave.
Has it become harder to find stories up to your standards? Do you foresee the “well” of quality stories for you to find and feature running dry? Or has the community continued to grow stronger? –psychomotorboat
PP: Every time I look at our queue and start to lament a lack of entries, I find four or five stories all in a row to nominate.
JP: If anything, it’s become harder to keep up with all the amazing stuff we’re seeing these days.
And finally, what happens if a curator goes rogue? Like evil evil –psychomotorboat
H: I keep trying, but it turns out the Evil League of Evil internal promotion process is really hard.
PP: We scramble the Royal Canterlot Library Tactical Assault Teams.
H: Yeah, don’t remind me, I’m still cleaning confetti out of my pieproof vest.
JP: You’re talking about a group that brought on a guy who made a name for himself reading clop in the feature box (hello!). We’re already a bunch of rogues.
What was it that got you hooked into the fandom in the first place? Friend recommending? Random scrolling online? What was the single thing that got you into it? –chaos2012
PP: The show, of course. Finding out that a whole ton of other people liked this magic horse cartoon was really liberating. I think I hooked myself, deciding that I would not only participate, but contribute in the only way I really could (i.e., writing).
C: I blame the internet. People kept posting reaction images until I got curious enough to see where they were all coming from, and here we are.
JP: Someone I knew on the internet told me about it, and I went, “Eh, why not?” I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into.
H: A friend was bugging me to run an online game of 4th Edition D&D, which I had a low opinion of due to its strong focus on combat. I said, “Sure, but only if I can cross it over with the most anti-D&D setting possible” (naturally, My Little Pony). Then I actually started thinking about how it would work, because it was an interesting challenge. Then I watched the show, and too late, I was hooked.
How do you get chosen for interviews? *cough* –chaos2012
H: The single most important thing, of course, is “write good stories” — but a close second is “get involved in the community”. Listening to editors and editing for others will both improve your writing. Reading/reviewing/commenting helps you learn from others’ mistakes, and
steal pick up great techniques for your own stories. Competitions force you to push your boundaries and reading your competitors’ stories exposes you to a lot of new ideas at once. And I can’t overstate the benefit of word-of-mouth — both giving and receiving. 80% of my pleasure reading these days is from following a personal recommendation, since that has a much better track record for me than the featurebox; and when I follow someone because I get good story recs or feedback or discussion from them, I end up reading their stories too.
PP: As an aside, remember to give your editors lots and lots of thanks whenever your story is mentioned or you’ll give someone a complex!
How do you choose the stories/authors for interviews? –acmincorporated
C: First, one of us has to become aware of the story (see the question above for more information on how to do that). Then, if they think that story is worth posting, they’ll link it to the rest of us with some comments highlighting why they think it’s RCL-worthy. Then the rest of us get a chance to read it, debate its merits, and if we collectively approve of it, we put together an interview and track down the author.
H: Don’t forget that we have a thread in our FIMFiction group where you can give us reading suggestions for stories that you really enjoyed! I think about 20% of our features have started out with a story suggested there.
What is your name? –Razalon The Lizardman
PP: Razalon the Lizardman.
JP: Just Perfect.
H: Hang on, I know this one. *checks cheat sheet*
What is your quest? –Razalon The Lizardman
PP: I still need to unlock the Polaroid so I can reach the Chest. :(
C: To have fun and learn something in the process!
JP: To make myself… not bored.
H: To do such a bad job denying that I’m a changeling that nobody ever suspects my true secret.
What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen zebrican swallow? –Razalon The Lizardman
H: Blue! No — yelloooooooooooooooooowwww…
PP: Equestrian or— dammit.
C: Trick question! Zebras salivate just like ponies do, so their swallows are waterborne, not airborne.
Of all the writers on Fimfiction, what are the top four you think would be good additions to the show’s writing staff? –Razalon The Lizardman
JP: Four? I would have trouble coming up with one. There’s a lot of great writers in this fandom, but a lot of them aren’t really suited for childrens’ entertainment. And I think even fewer could handle the demands writing for a television show would entail. I know I would crack within a minute under that kind of pressure. I could name some authors who write excellent childrens’ stories, but I don’t know if they’d be comfortable writing for television.
C: I really have no idea; writing for a show and writing for readers are two very different skills, and while I’m sure a great author could be a good show writer, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’d be the best choice.
PP: Chris is absolutely right. A lot of authors can do “show-style” fics well, but there’s a huge difference between “writing story” and “writing TV show script”. So I’d have to know how good an author is at doing that before I could really answer.
H: I’d love to see Skywriter work with the IDW comics team, though. He already professionally writes for comics.
What was your favorite interview? –Titanium Dragon
PP: To read? It would have to be either short skirts or Lucky Dreams. It’s great when authors turn out to be characters as much as those they write. To write, well, I can’t remember which all I did, but I was rather pleased with myself after doing “The Art of the Dress” or “Expectations”. I like being able to show off my English degree. :B
JP: I haven’t done a whole lot of interviews yet, but Lucky Dreams was an absolute blast to interview. I’m going to remember that one for a while.
H: As mentioned above: Lucky Dreams was great, but I have to give shortskirtsandexplosions points for class — when we contacted him to feature The Numbers Don’t Lie, it was his idea to do a dual interview and make certain that theworstwriter got equal billing. And Cloud Wander’s interview was hands down the most delightful to read.
What percentage of these stories do you consider to be literature? –Titanium Dragon
JP: Of the ones we feature? All of them.
C: That sounds like a rorschach test if I’ve ever seen one. What is literature? Should we care if a story is “literary,” or should we only worry about quality? Is there a difference? I try not to get caught up in semantics when I can avoid it, personally.
How many really great stories do you think there are in total in the fandom? –Titanium Dragon
PP: Well, we’re closing in on 100,000 published stories on FIMFiction. Let’s say other sites — DeviantArt, Fanfiction.net, EQD pre-Fimfic — contribute another 50,000 stories. By Sturgeon’s law, 15,000 of those aren’t crap. So maybe 1,500 are great. That’s still a lot, go us!
C: If anything, I think PP’s number is probably low. My reading skews toward the not-awful end of the spectrum, it’s true, but I find great ones a lot more than 1% of the time.
JP: Whatever the number, it’s still way more than I’ll ever get around to reading.
How many of Short Skirts and Explosions’ stories are RCL quality? :F –Titanium Dragon
C: Since we’ve already featured one of his stories, it should go without saying that the answer is equal to or greater than one.
Who are your favorite authors in the realm of literature? For those of you who write, which of those authors influence you the most? Any James Joyce fans in your lot? –Compendium of Steve
PP: I’ve never been an authors person, really. I read Dubliners once and hated it, for instance, but I still want to read Finnegan’s Wake. I’m probably influenced most by the fantasy writers I grew up reading, though: Anne McCaffrey, Brian Jacques, Mercedes Lackey. Of course, nowadays I learn more from other fanfic writers than anyone.
C: Fantasy authors have been a big influence on me, JRR Tolkien and Stephen R. Donaldson paramount among them. Kipling and Lang have both had definite influences on my writing outside of the fantasy crowd, and authors like Milorad Pavic have had a big influence on me when it comes to expanding my understanding of what fiction can be.
H: I’m too much of a philistine to appreciate Joyce, but darf’s Alectrona was an interesting attempt to evoke that style, and I really appreciated the blog posts in which darf dissected that story.
JP: I’m gonna level with you guys; I was never much for literature. Even today, when it comes to print-and-bound work, I’m way more interested in non-fiction. As a kid, I wanted to travel, so I collected maps and read travel guides. I would read stuff about art, or science, or how things worked. These days, history and anthropology are my big reading interests outside ponyfic. The real world holds so many wonders that fantasy and sci-fi have never had much appeal to me. Why read about dragons when I could read about dinosaurs? Why read about spaceships when I could read about actual ships? You ever seen that big picture book with all the cutaways of buildings and giant machines, that had the foldout with the diagram of the Queen Mary? I pored over that thing as a kid. That was the kind of stuff I loved.
Even today, writing pony literature, the desire to write it doesn’t come from any love of fantasy, but just because it’s become this handy way to talk about my observations and experiences of the world in a safe place, while having a little fun.
What is your personal writing workflow like? (For example, do you have a specific wordcount goal for how many words you will write each day? Has it been work to make writing a consistent habit, or is it something that comes naturally to you? Do you take the time to do additional drafts for fanfic that you write, if so how much, and what’s your process for editing and rewriting?) –Chinchillax
PP: “Gee, I should write now.” Play video games. Suffer endless spiral of cushing guilt. Write something stupid so I look productive for that month. Repeat.
JP: Setting a word count goal is the best way to ensure I will fail said goal. I always play it by ear; since I consider fan fiction a hobby, I just do it when I feel like it. In fact, my workflow tends to alternate between really active and non-existent. What tends to happen is that I have an idea, and then it’s a race against time as I try to finish the story before I lose interest in pursuing the idea further.
H: Same here; I’ve always been a burst writer. Every other year or so, I push myself into some variant of NaNoWriMo and drop 50,000 words at a stretch. When my muse takes me, I can burn through most of a story in a few sittings. Most of the rest of the time, I’m bleeding sentences onto the page one by one, if I’m writing at all. I really don’t recommend my methods.
How many people do you ask to preread a story you wrote before submission? –Chinchillax
PP: Usually one or two. It depends on what I’ve written and who I get to look at it; I know what folks’ strengths and weaknesses are pretty well now.
JP: Just one or two. These days, it’s usually two.
H: Quantity is far less important than quality. A single prereader who deeply engages is worth ten who toss in occasional comments. That having been said, I try to get exactly enough feedback to get me to take a look at the story from an alternate angle; past a certain point, extra opinions add more noise than signal, because different editors will have conflicting suggestions for what’s strong and weak (and how to fix it).
Which character do you find most difficult to write? –Chinchillax
JP: Discord. Discord, Discord, Discord. His personality is hard to capture; it’s in this strange place between devious, arrogant, and playful, and if you’re even just a little off in any direction it really shows. He also has the same issue as Pinkie Pie where a lot of his cartoony antics in the show are visual-based, which is hard to convey in writing.
PP: Celestia. I’m not good at the “eternal, unflappable mother/chessmaster” thing.
H: The Cutie Mark Crusaders, and children in general. Chessmastering is easy. Innocence is hard.
How has writing pony fanfiction affected your day to day speech? Any funny moments or slip ups? –Chinchillax
C: I did once accidentally ask my sister if she wanted to play a game of Shadows Over Canterlot. She was amused.
H: I have been occasionally heard swearing “Stars damn it!”
What story concept can you not stop reading about you love it so much? –Chinchillax
PP: Anything stupid that lampoons the show or the fandom. Also, right now, anything with Sonata Dusk in it
SHE IS LITERALLY PERFECT YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND
C: …You’re right, I don’t understand.
To the question, though: stories rooted in mythology or folklore. I love the sense of history they bring, and I’ve always felt like the uncertain, just-so, magical nature of those kinds of stories makes them an exceptional fit for the Equestrian setting.
H: Everything’s better with time loops.
What story concept have you read so many times you’ve gotten sick of it? –Chinchillax
JP: Orphan Scootaloo. Although I think we’re starting to get to the point that the backlash to that particular trope is outpacing the trope itself.
PP: Overly-dramatic romance. Especially with Vinyl Scratch and Octavia.
C: Jerk narrators. Not to be confused with snarky comic narrators, who are often also bad but can sometimes be funny, the jerk narrator spends the entire narrative being… well, a jerk. Thinking the worst of everything, and not so much joking about it as being pointlessly crude and generally unpleasant to be around. I’m not sure why this is such a trend in ponyfiction specifically, but I see it a lot in stories that don’t get an RCL recommendation from me.
JP: Oh lord, I forgot about jerk narrators. You know what, I’m with Chris on this one. Orphanloo will be my #2.
Which two characters have the most interesting relationship to read about? –Chinchillax
PP: Spike and Twilight, probably. There’s so much nuance and so many ways you can approach that relationship, it’s almost a limitless well for story ideas.
H: A while back, I called Celestia and Luna’s falling-out and reconciliation “the greatest story that canon will never tell,” and the show hasn’t proven me wrong yet.
Do you believe Sturgeon’s Law is real? –Chinchillax
PP: Well, I did just reference it in an above answer… The more fanfic I read, though, the more I think the actual number is closer to 20%.
C: Not per se. I think that fan content typically doesn’t follow a traditional bell curve; when there’s little or nothing in the way of barriers to entry, you see more material pile up at the lower end of the quality curve than you otherwise might expect. But I don’t think there’s anything magical about the number 10, nor that the specific percentage is consistent across space, time, and content category.
JP: Not really, no. I understand the spirit of the adage, but it always struck me as a rather pessimistic way of looking at the world. Besides, even if it was true, 10% of all pony fanfic is still far, far more pony fanfic than I will ever be able to read. Why would I even want more than 10%?
H: It’s like Moore’s Law or the 80/20 rule: it’s not a mathematical law, it’s an observation of reality. The principle is self-evident and the specific number is somewhere between approximation and self-fulfilling prophecy.
Do your friends and family know how much fanfic you read/write? How did you tell them, or how do you avoid bringing it up? –Chinchillax
PP: Oh yeah. My mom is a long-time writer of X-Files fanfiction, so I get to laugh with her about the tropes inherent in all fandoms.
C: It’s no secret that I like MLP, but my RL friends and family don’t know about the fanfiction specifically. Both of my parents have, at best, a tenuous grasp on the concept of a “fandom,” and are still pretty sure this pony-liking thing is mostly or entirely ironic (it’s not like I’ve tried to mislead them; I just think they can’t quite wrap their heads around the concept). I honestly don’t think I could explain my hobby in a way they’d actually understand if I tried.
JP: My family has a pretty good idea, although for my parents it’s mostly limited to generalities. My younger siblings have a better sense of the insanity that fanfiction often entails.
H: My family knows, and they think it’s cool, but they couldn’t care less about MLP. After I won AugieDog’s contest with Thou Goddess, my mom made me a professionally printed and bound version for my birthday. I’m sort of the literary prodigal son: my father’s published a nonfiction book, my older brother’s published several novels, and I’ve never sold a single story, but my most-read ponefic has gotten more eyeballs than either of them by a factor of 10.
And finally, a portal to Equestria opens up at your local supermarket next to the dairy section, what do you do? –Chinchillax
PP: I would probably start by chucking a small child through to make sure it was safe.
JP: Why the dairy section? Are Equestria’s cows and chickens making a move against our dairy industries?
H: I would invite Cranky Doodle through, and then open all the milk containers and sit in the fridge case with him to have a smoke — just so that, right before he extinguished his cigarette, I could stare at the hot butt of an ass behind the dairy air.
Would you eat an aborted Foetus for one billion pounds? –Superflyingcookie
H: can’t answer, dodging thrown objects
PP: Is this a bad time to mention that I’ve always wanted to try eating human?
JP: I’m American. What am I supposed to do with pounds?
PP: Yeah, a billion pounds of what, exactly? How can you even carry that around?
Would you rather wipe your ass with clingfilm, or sandpaper? –Superflyingcookie
PP: I don’t know what clingfilm is, but it’s probably better than sandpaper.
C: These are the most British troll questions I’ve ever seen…
Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck, or a duck sized horse? –Superflyingcookie
PP: Why would I fight a duck-sized horse when I could cuddle it instead?
JP: Obviously the duck-sized horse. Ducks are dirty, cheating bastards.
Would you rather watch porn OF your parents, or watch porn WITH your parents? –Superflyingcookie
PP: I think watching porn with my parents could be a hilarious and rewarding experience.
JP: Why not both?
C: I watched season 1 of Game of Thrones with them; that’s basically the latter, right?
I need this answered for writing purposes: what do you think Sunset’s cutie mark means? –veryveryfluttershy
PP: She’s got kind of a yin-yang thing going on… Maybe duality combined with strength? The sun being a symbol of Celestia, after all.
H: This might help, but I’d also point out that the show’s primary use of the yin-yang symbol has been the duality of night and day, and Sunset Shimmer is etymologically poised at the same balance point between them that Twilight Sparkle is. I think there might be some callout there.
What style of writing would you all mostly agree as “the best” one? And what would the best/easiest writing style be for a writer just starting out like me? (Besides having good grammar, that is.) –Naviskypegasus
JP: Actually, I think the thing we would agree on is there is no single best style of writing. A big part of reviewing literature is being open to different styles and new perspectives. If you’re not, you really cripple yourself as a reviewer. I think the most important thing that Obselescence’s “The Most Dangerous Game” contest this summer showed is that it’s easy to deride a certain genre or trope – until you see someone make it work. It’s the same with writing style.
This is a cliché (and somewhat frustrating to hear, I realize), but whatever works for you is ultimately something you’re going to have to figure out yourself. And the only way you can figure that out is with lots of practice. That’s just the nature of art. All I can really recommend is start out simple, start with something you’re comfortable with, and then work your way up from there.
PP: It’s not so much writing style that matters as ability to craft a story that makes sense. I’ve seen too many fics derailed by, to name an example, unrealistic hospital procedures. No amount of literary writing style will cover up a bad decision in the narrative.
All of your favorite bands and why. –CodeBroviet743
JP: Rubber bands. They’re so versatile and fun to play with!
H: Half A Jam Dog. Their album “High-Altitude Pork Futures” is sublime.
PP: I think my favorite artist is now officially Weird Al Yankovic, and not just because he was in the show. (Does this make me a Weird Al hipster in this fandom?) Third Eye Blind is kind of no more and the Goo Goo Dolls finally disappointed me with their most recent album. The album I consider the best ever is () by Sigur Rós. My favorite online artist is probably Pogo, and if I had to pick one, my favorite brony artist would be… I should probably say Baasik and BlackGryph0n. Their IMmortal album is fantastic. I’m also a long-time fan of Sim Gretina (he and many others I was following before ponies happened!) The “why” is “because I like them a lot, duh”.
H: Seriously though, I go through, like, every genre out there, and I tend to get obsessed with bands that nobody’s heard of. The four CDs that haven’t left my car in years are Old Soul’s self-titled album (this one, not the modern Toronto indie band), The Rasmus’ “Hide From The Sun,” Wolfstone’s “The Half Tail”, and Squirrel Nut Zippers’ “Hot” (omg sellout).
C: I’m a classically trained musician — I don’t listen to very much in the way of bands. Uh… I really like Kansas?
Do any of you read Mario Vargas Llosa? –CodeBroviet743
H: Sadly, I live in the United States, which means that I never even hear about authors like Vargas Llosa until someone from the outside world mentions him and I have to go on a quick google binge.
Favorite fanfictions? –CodeBroviet743
PP: I’ve got a big list on my Fimfic user page. It’s mostly full of literary stuff (“Art of the Dress” or “Expectations”), with some comedies (It’s Always Sunny in Fillydelphia), a crossover I’ve been following since I pre-read it for EQD (My Little Metro) and In the Place Where Wild Horses Sleep. And The Spiderses.
C: It’s a Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door is one of those stories that just worked for me; In Their Highnesses’ Clandestine Corps gave the the closest thing to an OTP I’ve ever had; Memories of Those Friends Who’ve Gone Before Us is still the exemplar I point to when people want to know how to write something show-like for an adult readership and a literary medium. I mean, I could name a couple dozen more stories that I love without having to really think about it, but those three stand out to me as ones that have been not just good stories, but stories that I, personally, connected with.
H: Aside from the obligatory link to my userpage favorites and my bookshelves, I have to single out Eakin’s Hard Reset, simply because I’ve written 70,000 words of love letter to it. I don’t think there’s any bigger praise you can level on a work of fiction than “you inspired me” — and I love everything about how our community has done that with MLP, and how it makes our own works come alive in the process.
Thanks for joining us for this great year in ponyfic! Read our author interviews right here at the Royal Canterlot Library, or suggest stories to feature at our Fimfiction group.
Re: building ebooks, if anyone ever steps forward and seriously wants to do that (it will take anywhere from one hour to a day or two, depending on story length), I would be happy to act as a trainer in my templates and methods.
Errr, that was supposed to say “one hour to a day or two per story”.
I could stand to learn a new technical skill. And I have the time, if it would help. Even my controversial opinions can’t mar a straight-up formatting job :P
You know, I could actually be helpful for a change.
Why does it take so long? What are the time-consuming steps?
“C: I did once accidentally ask my sister if she wanted to play a game of Shadows Over Canterlot.”
I have made that exact slip. Good game. Of course, Battlestar Galactica (plus expansions) is a better boardgame in general, but if you just want the poker-face aspect of ‘Shadows, I sincerely suggest Avalon. If you like that sort of thing, it’ll be the absolute best game that no-one will ever play with you again.