They say that politics is like making sausage — and today’s story puts Equestria’s neighbors through the grinder.
[Comedy] [Slice of Life] • 6,851 words
Upon Nightmare Moon’s return, the leaders of other nations gather to discuss the situation.
They’re not especially happy about it.
FROM THE CURATORS: “This might have been the most entertaining story I read in Equestria Daily’s Outside Insight contest, which is saying a lot,” JohnPerry told us when he nominated this story. “The worldbuilding is exquisite, with brilliant little details scattered throughout. The dialogue is superbly written. And even though the ending is a foregone conclusion, it’s an absolute delight. Start to finish, this one is just a whole lot of fun.”
It didn’t take long for us to agree — in fact, Moonlight Palaver set a record for our fastest-approved nomination (at 6 hours, 37 minutes). “I bumped this up my reading list, and I’m glad I did,” Chris said, while Present Perfect found it immediately memorable: “I haven’t read this story since round 2 of the official Outside Insight voting, and I can still remember it perfectly. … There’s always something missing when writers start making their own species, or giving show races nations, but not this time.”
Beyond the marvelous worldbuilding, Moonlight Palaver also distinguished itself as “one of the best examples of non-pony politics I think I’ve ever read,” as Present Perfect put it. Ultimately, the intricate interplay between the personal and the political brought both the politics and the story to life. “This does a great job of showing that greed and habit are the cockroaches of sentience, outlasting even the grandest thermonuclear blasts,” Chris said. “And yet, the fic never loses its essential humor, nor does it trivialize the potential disaster facing the delegates — except, of course, to show how they have trivialized it. It’s funny, it’s clever, and it never lets those two things get in the way of its respect for its characters and the setting.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Carabas discusses ploutering, Perralt, and prompts promoting plausible political pondering.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m a twenty-year-old Scottish undergraduate at the University of Dundee, currently ploutering my way through a Psychology degree. I first heard references to this whole pony malarkey just before entering university, and eventually convinced myself to watch the first few episodes just to see what all the fuss was about. Things inevitably went downhill from there.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
It’s a truncated version of Marquis Carabas, the handle under which I first started writing on Fanfiction.net. That in turn was lifted from a character in Neil Gaiman’s novel Neverwhere. I assume Neil Gaiman in turn lifted it straight from Charles Perrault. It’s a handle with something vaguely resembling a pedigree behind it, if you squint at it in the right light.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Is ‘all of them’ a legitimate cop-out? No? Blast.
It’s a hard call, but Rarity would eventually have to come out on top as my favourite. She’s an artist with a perfectionist streak, a genuinely kind and generous soul who struggles against her own character flaws, and whose inevitable breakdowns are a joy to behold. Nopony else in the show’s main cast lacks for character, but she’s got it in spades.
What’s your favorite episode?
Is ‘all of …’?
Not the most common choice, I appreciate, but Just for Sidekicks appeals greatly to my sense of humour. A character in a crappy situation of their own making and whose every effort to extricate themselves only compounds the craptacularness is something I could watch all day. I’m a good person at heart, honest. It’s just a funny episode, with plenty of good visual humour and well-used background gags.
The opening ceremony scene from Equestria Games puts that episode at a close second for the same reasons.
What do you get from the show?
A half-hour’s weekly entertainment is a pretty good deal in and of itself. A show like Friendship is Magic, with great characters, good storylines, sincerity at its core, respect for its intended audience’s intelligence, and scope for all manner of personal lore and world-building delivers. It contributes towards keeping me happy and sane at the end of the day, and that’s all I’d ask of it.
Oh, and the fan community’s good fun as well.
What do you want from life?
To eventually write as a profession, to live comfortably based upon that, to do whatever good I can by my fellow man, and to eventually die content and loved at the age of a hundred and fifty. Every other desire, like owning a private continent or voyaging to Mars or high-fiving each of my favourite authors, is only ever window-dressing around those basic points.
Why do you write?
In a broader sense? Because it’s what I always wanted to do since I was five. Creating a story and being able to step back and think to yourself, “Hey, yeah, look at this nice thing I made all by myself,” is a great pleasure. Seeing others engage positively with your creation and leave feedback and their own personal experiences with it is on a rough par. This probably goes without saying, but every single like, favourite, and comment is valued. The act of creation is what gets me started, the interaction with readers is what keeps me hooked.
In a fanfiction sense? I want to write professionally one day, and fanfiction provides an excellent training environment for that. Skills like proper use of language, developing story structure, building conflict, and tormenting characters can be improved upon in a relatively friendly and amateur environment, with the stable background and characters from the original fiction in question providing training wheels.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Write, and don’t be afraid to engage with your readership as you do so. Accept positive reviews as a gratifying ego-boost and reason to write more, and don’t forget to appreciate the person behind the profile picture who took the time to express their regard for your work. Accept critical reviews and don’t reflexively turn away from them. We can never be the best and most impartial judge of our own work, and a problem someone else observes can be properly excised from your next story with enough care and effort. Also, don’t forget to to appreciate the person behind the profile picture who took the time to critically engage with your text and articulate what they felt could be improved upon.
What was the inspiration for Moonlight Palaver?
The whole thing emerged from a mélange of different thoughts I had kicking around in my skull. Part of that was the extended world I’ve been building up for Equestria and the world around it for the last few years. I’ve conceived of various seemingly-plausible political neighbours for Equestria, and what the reader gets in Moonlight Palaver isn’t nearly all of what I’ve come up with for them and the wider world.
When you develop that sort of environment, then you can’t help but begin to wonder how its various entities react to events in the show. In our interconnected world, a hurricane or a plane crash or a disease outbreak in one country can shake the planet. And while I don’t conceive of Equestria’s world having the same technological capacity for interconnectedness, there’s surely going to be some reaction to, for example, the sun refusing to rise one day.
I’d also had fun writing for the prior Most Dangerous Game contest, and had decided to join the next contest that came swimming by. When the Outside Insight contest and its prompt appeared, then whatever strange unconscious alchemy forges vague musings into story ideas happened.
Did the contest prompt serve as a help or a hindrance when you were writing this?
It helped greatly. It seemed to gel perfectly with the aforementioned ponderings on how the other nations in Equestria’s world would react to events in the show, and provided scope for reflection on Equestria’s role in the world. Far from fettering what I wanted to do with the story, it seemed to give me a clear avenue to explore. There was discussion in early reviews about whether it truly met the spirit of the prompt, and while I understand where those concerns come from, I wouldn’t have submitted the story if I didn’t think it ultimately met the prompt’s criterion.
Are there are any tips you can offer to writing good political intrigue?
Politicians are people. What we see of our politicians today is invariably spun by both supporting and hostile media, giving us shallow images rather than the living, breathing people themselves. When you write them working behind closed doors, let characters like any other breath. Give them responsibilities and cares, give them different things to hold dearly and reasons to bounce off one another. Let them hold grudges that they may or may not try to resist for the good of their greater goals. Let them regard others as friends. Let them be irrational. And if all that’s too hard, just let them blow off steam by snarking viciously at each other until their mutual problem solves itself. I speak from experience.
Take any character that’s in a high-stakes political situation. Arm them with a motive and varying relations with the other characters at the table. Let their actions unfold appropriately, and it’s hard to go wrong.
The Capricious Crown of Capra is one of the most inventive characters I’ve seen in a ponyfic in ages. I was wondering if you could talk a little about the backstory behind that character and the inspiration behind it.
The ultimate inspiration probably comes from the rules for creating intelligent items in my dog-eared third edition Dungeons and Dragons handbook. (Best to assume the Crown’s alignment falls towards the more southerly end of the alignment chart.) When you have an object traditionally associated with rulership, a fantastical setting with established powerful magical items, and an excess of nations and a want for rulers to populate them, then there’s only really one logical conclusion.
I also admire alliteration and assonance a little too much for my own good.
With regards to a backstory, the Crown was first forged about two hundred years before the timeframe of the show. Capra at that time was the fractured remnant of a long-gone Capric Empire that had once straddled much of the continent and butted heads with old Equestria. Each different tribe and sub-tribe in Capra — turs, ibexes, goats, musk oxen, and all associated sorts — pulled in different directions for their own gain, and strife and civil war were routine. Amidst this chaos, one idealistic ibex with talents in both magical crafting and not thinking things through decided that what the nation needed was a strong, impartial ruler to restore unity and peace, and to bring back the power and glory of the Capric Empire.
After countless hours of study and hard toil, they succeeded in forging the sentient Crown at the cost of their own life. The Crown was presented by their colleagues as a gift to the ibex chieftain, and was graciously accepted. At this point, it possessed the chieftain, assumed control of the ibex tribe, and started to establish its authority in Capra via warfare. Lots of warfare, that ended up spilling over into neighbouring countries as the Crown sought to reclaim the territories of the old empire. Celestia and Equestria became involved, but too late to stop the Capricious Crown being accepted by the majority of Caprans as their legitimate ruler.
To this day, the Crown maintains a loose grip on Capra that can tighten at a moment’s notice. Nobles and chieftains are permitted to fight and strengthen themselves and their troops via natural selection in peacetime, so long as their actions don’t weaken larger Capric interests and they obey the Crown’s few directives without question. The Crown keeps its own counsel, obeying only the inner inscrutable directives it was built with and which have deteriorated and warped with the passage of time. Nobody else knows the shape of its plans, save that they’re almost certainly horrible for everyone else on the continent.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Listen to more classical music. Be decent to one another. If you genuinely like my cackhanded attempts at worldbuilding and want to see more of the same (along with action, sociopathic protagonists, and unfortunate bodily functions), wander by another story of mine, The Devil’s Details, and let me know what you think. Or if you just want to ask a question or blether, stop by my user page and blether away.
Also, my gratitude to everyone who took the time to check out Moonlight Palaver and like/fave/comment on/[insert appropriate verb here] it. I hope it didn’t disappoint.