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“Superb!” “Tops!” Say Critics

breaking-newsBreaking News And Weather
[Comedy] [Slice of Life] • 4,134 words

Rainbow Dash’s first sonic rainboom makes headlines across Equestria. Every reporter is out to cover the story from their own angle. Sometimes they get it partly right.

She’s going down in history. Maybe.

FROM THE CURATORS: We’ve featured epistolatory stories before, but this is something a little different. “It’s literally a series of newspaper front pages from shortly after Rainbow Dash did her first sonic rainboom,” Chris said, “showing a few different perspectives on what happened, and what followed.  The manner of presentation and the quality of execution are something we should showcase.”  We all agreed on that first impression.  “It’s certainly tops as presentations go,” Present Perfect said, and JohnPerry chimed in: “The presentation is superb.”

But despite the visual-arts triumph of its construction, we’re a fanfiction review group, and what earned Breaking News And Weather its feature was the sharp construction of its prose.  “It’s full of subtle and not-so-subtle wit — like the one student in the school paper who disagreed about the rainbow — and a steady eye toward worldbuilding and internal consistency,” Horizon said.  “It says a lot with details, like the less-than-scrupulous fact-checking with ‘Mr Rainbow Dash.’  Even without the newspaper formatting, it holds together as well as anything else we’ve spotlighted.”  JohnPerry also appreciated its depth: “I admired that you get a wider sense of this world beyond the main story.  The Cloudsdale strike made for a surprisingly compelling sub-plot.”

Add to that a clever critique of the news industry’s foibles, and you have a winner.  “The meta references to real-world papers are excellent, and the little details carefully woven in really made this one shine,” JohnPerry said, and Horizon agreed: “There’s a lot of marvelous content in the meta. … As a former newspaper editor, I might be biased, but this is one of my favorite stories on the site.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Pineta discusses blackboard shots, double-edged swords, and getting out of the house.

Give us the standard biography.

Born 1978. I loved reading and writing stories as a kid, but I didn’t like the sort of stories we had to read in English class — too much serious gloomy stuff — so I chose to study science instead. I did a PhD in particle physics and spent the last ten years working on various experiments in several different countries, while watching a lot of cartoons, reading a lot of books, and writing silly stories in my free time. I live in Oxford, England and teach maths and physics to undergrad students.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

It’s an Italian word meaning ‘pine wood’. I took it as a handle while I was living in Italy and I used to work through story ideas in my head while taking walks in the local forest. It seems to fit — it mixes the childish piñata, with the geeky net, π and η, and includes 50% of the letters in ‘pony’.

Who’s your favorite pony?

Twilight Sparkle. Rainbow Dash is also awesome, as are all the mane six really. But Twilight is the academic nerd after my heart. It’s great how we see her develop, starting off as a school know-it-all, but very quickly turning into a much more well-rounded heroine. Like Hermione Granger, but our Twilight never has to play second fiddle to a less-talented boy.

What’s your favorite episode?

I have many, but to pick one, I’ll go for ‘It’s About Time’. It’s nerdy Twilight at her best, and mixes in so much random stuff, such as Cerberus, then ties it up neatly into a causality consistent story. And it has the best blackboard shot in the entire show.

What do you get from the show?

I love it! I’ve always had a weakness for cute, cheerful stories about making friends, as well as more action-packed stuff. I was watching girly cartoons before FiM, and it was really great to then find one of such high quality, clearly produced by a team of writers and animators who really care about their work. And it’s not just me — there’s a whole community of fans out there who I can share this with! Also as a pro-feminist male, I applaud the ‘There are lots of different ways to be a girl’ message of the show, and the way the brony movement further challenges gender norms.

What do you want from life?

Friends, good food, coffee, ice cream, intellectually stimulating challenges, exciting adventures, insight into the mysteries of the universe, and time to play.

Why do you write?

Same reason why children play with toy ponies. It’s fun. It’s also nice to feel that people like what I do and I am giving something to the community, and perhaps sometimes providing a public service in teaching and promoting science. I have learnt so much about communicating ideas to a wide audience from writing pony stories and maybe this will lead on to something else. I’d like to do some more serious science outreach stuff in the future — maybe write a popular science book, or make a short animation on particle physics experiments. If I do, I’m sure everything I’ve learnt from fanfiction will be invaluable.

What advice do you have for the authors out there?

Get out of the house. Sitting in front of a computer screen is the worst place to get ideas — you end up writing stories about writers suffering from writers’ block. Go for walks, visit museums, art galleries, whatever interests you, hang out in cafés people watching, print off your draft story and edit it while sitting on a park bench.

You also have to pay attention to the mechanics of turning awesome ideas into coherent prose, but there’s so much written about that elsewhere, I don’t have anything to add.

And, if it’s any encouragement for young authors, it seems to get easier as you grow older, even without any focussed effort.

What were the challenges of working with such an unusual story format?

There were a lot of balances to be struck. I wanted each page to look like a real newspaper, but it also had to be readable on screen and contain the information relevant to the plot. I had to pay a lot of attention to the timeline and think about what was happening on each day in the story, and ensure everything was consistent.

I was concerned that the background stories might come across as irrelevant detail, so I tried to tie them together and developed a secondary plot about the Cloudsdale garbage crisis. Then the articles had to fit the style of each paper, which was sometimes a bit awkward. For example, in the final part, I had to think of a reason why the school paper would report the end of the weather factory strike.

There was also the challenge of finding suitable pictures. I compiled a scrapbook folder of over 250 images while working on this project. Sometimes there was a suitable screenshot, but others had to be stitched together. I learnt a lot about image editing. I’m very grateful to all the artists who made their work available, and I hope I remembered to credit everyone.

Finally there was the tedious job of arranging everything in columns. Then if you change one word, you sometimes have to rearrange everything.

What’s the role of the news media on Earth, and on Equestria?

It’s all about stories. We have an ideal that the media should be disseminating information in a fair, honest and accurate way to keep everyone well informed about current affairs. But the reality is that newspapers are run for profit and want to print the hottest stories. If Ponyville Confidential is anything to go by, it is much the same in Equestria.

For scientists, and anyone you wants to be heard, the media is a double-edged sword. We need it to tell everyone how awesome we are, but the papers do have a tendency to miss the point, and sometimes get it completely wrong. When the Large Hadron Collider first turned on in 2008, the favourite story was the bonkers idea that it might create a black hole and destroy the world. You can laugh, but some people really believed this! And everyone missed the stories about the real science. Since then things have improved, as scientists are now more PR aware, and are working more closely with journalists to give them the sort of stories they want without compromising accuracy.

Learning to read newspapers with a healthy scepticism, and recognise when something may not be quite as reported, is a skill which we need to teach children (and a few grown ups may need a reminder). Ponyville Confidential is a good first lesson at this.

How did you choose which newspapers to parody, and how did those choices affect your story content?

I wanted to include a selection of different papers: a tabloid, quality, satirical, local and school paper. And aware that my readers are from all around the world, I picked each template from a different country, and assigned it to a different Equestrian city. I looked for papers with a distinctive style, which could be easily ponified.

Having invented these Equestrian newspapers, I then asked myself: how would they report the sonic rainboom? And what sort of other articles would they publish? The Daily Mare, like the British tabloids, would be obsessed with immigration, antisocial behaviour, celebrity gossip and perceived inequalities in school admissions. The Manehattan Times, like its NY counterpart, would give lots of background detail and coverage of national, international and local issues. What local news could we have from Manehattan? Something on the fashion industry. A quick search on nytimes.com threw up some stories on tax evasion, so I went with that. For the Cloudsdale Courier, I was thinking about what sort of local issues would you get in a city built in the clouds. Such as, what to do with all the garbage? Which matched my Italian template as this is a frequent news story in Naples. The Canterlot Quack was then a useful outlet for all the random stories which would not fit elsewhere.

You’ve written a number of stories and blog posts about scientific topics.  What have you learned about mixing entertainment and education?

I want my writing to be accessible to everyone — not just to those who are already into science. For it to work, it has to genuinely relate to the show. Hardly anyone is going to read a blog post on “Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism”. But lots of fans want to know about the scribbles on Twilight’s pinboard at the end of Rainbow Rocks.

I’ve learnt that you need to really cut out the jargon and write it in simple language which everyone can follow. This is actually quite difficult when you have been trained to think in technical terms. The trick I follow is to look closely at every sentence I write, think “How would Pinkie Pie say that?” and edit accordingly.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you for selecting my story, and a big thank you to all my readers. I’ll finish with a quote from Albert Einstein: “The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.”


You can read Breaking News and Weather at FIMFiction.net. Read more interviews right here at the Royal Canterlot Library, or suggest stories for us to feature at our Fimfiction group.