The shadow of royalty is long, and today’s story shines a light on one of the ponies who never expected to find herself there.
The Old Gray Mare
[Slice of Life] • 5,134 words
Ever since Twilight came to town, Mayor Mare’s position as leader of Ponyville has been slipping. With her destiny overshadowed by the new princess on the block, it’s time for the old gray mare to move on.
FROM THE CURATORS: “The Old Gray Mare is one of the best Mayor Mare fics I’ve ever read,” Present Perfect said, and broad agreement on that sentiment sent this story sailing through our selection process.
While the central characterization was certainly strong — “this story fleshes out a minor character in a believable and compelling way,” Chris said, and Present Perfect praised how it “balanced her emotional state between wistful longing and bitterness” — what made the story so exemplary was its look at the world around her. “The slow build of seeing just what she’s meant for the town was really wonderful, especially given that she’s usually a bit of an empty suit where the show is concerned,” Bradel said. Chris added, “The story shows some real thought about how Ponyville has developed, and what having a crew like the Mane Six around does to a community.”
It also wasn’t afraid to have its protagonist extrapolate those effects out to their logical conclusions, and act accordingly. “While it did get a bit overly sentimental at times, I gotta hand it to this story for sticking to its guns,” JohnPerry said. “I appreciate it when a story like this gives a character a weighty decision, and then has them carry it through.” We all agreed on the impact that created. “The mayor’s choices … made for much stronger writing, and a legitimate pay-off at the end,” Bradel said, and Present Perfect summed it up: “I found the ending intensely emotional without being manipulative.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Thornwing discusses posterity, joke prompts, and the definition of a town.
Give us the standard biography.
As Fluttershy said, “I’m just a little, old baby kitty. Rawr!”
Honestly, I’m 38, married coming up on sixteen years, and have two wonderful kids. I work in IT, handing the datacenter operations for a midsized and rapidly growing SaaS company. My whole life revolves around computers and all things geek.
I joined the herd pretty quickly after investigating a pony screensaver image on a co-worker’s computer back in December 2013. The flood of ponies hit, and I swam through every episode, movie, and documentary released up until s4 ep5 where I settled into the normal flow. A month after the s4 finale, I had the crazy idea to write a story. I hadn’t written anything like that since college, fifteen plus years prior. In about a week, I wrote a horrible, script format, piece of whatever that was, and submitted it straight to EqD. I got the form letter rejection straight away. Then I found fimfiction.net. Yes, that is the order in which things happened. I revised the entire story so I could pass moderation, at least, and tossed it up here because I was curious what others thought about it. I also made a silly Alicorn avatar to go with it.
I’ve learned a lot since then, and I’ve made a number of new friends. That first story became a trilogy (which I promise to finish the last couple chapters of as soon as I can without screwing it all up). Then I got involved in Twilight’s Library and The Writeoff Association. I write, preread, proofread, edit, and generally comment a lot more than I ever dreamed I ever would. All the credit for anything good that I write can circle right back to the community here on fimfiction. That’s why I love this fandom! This is the show in action (at least if you leave the mature filter on)!
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Ten years ago, another lifetime in internet years, I played WoW. Those were dark years, playing five accounts at once and wasting all my time farming and raiding just to have the level cap raised with the next new expansion. About a year into playing, I still couldn’t quite decide what class I wanted to play, so I went with the druid so I could fill any role. It took me far too long to come up with an adequate name when I created the character, but when I did, it stuck. Ever since then, I’ve been using Thornwing as my avatar name. When I changed my terrible original avatar on fimfic, I latched on to the manticore seeing as ‘Thornwing’ felt like a perfect name for the big ol’ kitty.
Who’s your favorite pony?
I strongly identify with Twilight, and to an extended degree, Celestia. The dynamic of Twilight’s relationship with Celestia, and the overall path of her life, resonates with my own. Hitting the season three finale, after plowing through every episode up to that point, left me in tears. I was amazed that a show had taken the main character and actually allowed her to grow and develop over time. Celestia, as a pseudo-parent to Twilight, also gives me a link to tie into my relationship with my own daughter. It’s a scary thing, being a parent, watching your children grow and hoping that you’ve given them everything they need to make it in the world.
What’s your favorite episode?
I have three favorites, for… reasons.
Magical Mystery Cure – because of the culmination of three seasons of the show rolling up into a beautiful climax. Celestia’s Ballad really gets me in the feels. This show has a heart, unlike so much other trash that litters the entertainment landscape.
Pinkie’s Pride – because it’s an amazing example of how guest stars, music, and great writing can all come together and still make a wonderful episode. The music in the show was the first thing that really drew me in and Daniel Ingram and company do an amazing job that you never expect to see come out of a cartoon show (barring a multimillion dollar Disney production).
Flight to the Finish – because I was able to share it with my sister and her daughter, who has Rett Syndrome. I am very grateful that I was able to see the smile on my niece’s face, even though she probably didn’t understand what that episode meant in light of her disability.
What do you get from the show?
I get a clean, well written, positive, inspiring, fun, entertainment vehicle that my whole family can enjoy. I also get the chance to share it with others in a way that they take note of the things I stand for. For a guy like me to watch a show like this, and really like it, I could end up taking a lot of heat. Because it’s such a good show, I have no problem recommending it and encouraging others to see for themselves why an “old guy” would like a “little girl’s show”.
What do you want from life?
I want to see my kids have a better life than me. Growing up, I had a lot of problems to overcome, including the death of my father. I want to be there for my kids and make sure their lives are a little more like I wish mine had been.
Why do you write?
Mainly, because I want to leave something for my kids to remember me by. I also love to see how my writing touches other people. I get such a thrill reading comments that people leave. For good and bad, I’m always amazed that people would take the time to read something that I wrote and then take even more time to let me know what they thought about it.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Find an honest proofreader! Don’t settle for someone that says your writing is perfect. Find someone that will challenge you and give you honest feedback.
Don’t be scared when someone corrects your grammar or spelling. Don’t get offended when people offer their comments. Not every story will impress, and you can’t please everyone. If you can, find a number of people to look over your story and give their comments. You might learn something. I know I have.
What goes into rendering a small town?
Is Ponyville a “small town”? We’ve seen a lot of smaller towns in the show, and only a couple of places seem to be bigger than Ponyville is. I think the point to make here is that Ponyville is the “everytown” of Equestria. It can be just as big or as small as it needs to be to set the scene. One thing that helps keep it small is that everypony seems to know everypony else. It doesn’t really take a Pinkie Pie to do that in a small town. Dirt roads, a town square, a marketplace where ponies gather and share their lives with one another: that’s what defines Ponyville, as opposed to Manehattan or Canterlot.
Actually, this whole story started out as a joke. One of the prompts that was submitted for the Februrary 2015 writeoff was “Red and Black”. I thought that would be a decent joke of a prompt, and much better than the joke prompt we ended up with, but I wasn’t sold on it. I submitted “Royal Pains” as my entry, but I almost tried “Mary and Gary” instead (as in, Mary Sue and Gary Stu). My submission came in second to the troll prompt “Closing Time” (inside joke, you had to be there).
I had originally thought of this story idea having Mayor Mary Mare leave Ponyville to go help her brother, Governor Gary Mare in Manehattan with his re-election campaign, seeing as she wasn’t really needed with Twilight running the show in Ponyville. I wasn’t in that great a mood during the writing weekend—Friday got sucked up in work, Saturday I was sick, and Sunday just happened to work out. I wrote two other stories on Saturday and into Sunday morning before I finally relented on writing the Mayor Mare story. I knocked it out in about three hours without any real editing pass. Like I said, it just happened. I never really intended for anyone to like it. Somehow, people did.
As is my normal tendency with multiple writeoff entries, I took the one that performed the best and finished it. It happened to be this one. I took the feedback I got and tried to fix what I could. It came out pretty decent, all things told.
To answer the original question, I thought the name sounded better with the alliteration. Mayor Mary Mare. The original joke faded into the background and the rest of the story came to the fore.
Why didn’t the Mayor stay, despite the outpouring of support?
That’s the real question. I decided that I didn’t want to go with the obvious ending. It didn’t feel right; it would have cheapened the story. What I need to respond with is this, what happens now? Will she ever come back? That’s a question I’m leaving to the readers for the moment. I like the way the ending isn’t totally clear on the path she takes from here. Just like Twilight, she needs to find a purpose, even if that purpose is sitting right under her nose. Perhaps she will return, but I would hope that doesn’t happen until she’s found the answers she’s looking for.
I want to say that Twilight realized that as well. That’s why she turned it all around and gave the Mayor a proper send off instead of just trying to force her to stay. That Princess wisdom is growing on Twilight.
Do you think Ponyville can remain a “small town” now that it has a castle to go with its princess?
Of course it can! Ponyville isn’t defined by the buildings that make up the town itself, but instead, by the ponies that live there. As long as the ponies themselves work to keep that “small town” feeling, the city could grow as much as it needs to and still be the same place it’s always been.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
This story went far beyond my expectations. Granted, I had really low expectations. I hope it doesn’t come off as being cocky or egotistic, but I didn’t know that I could write something so good. I’m still not quite sure it’s as good as people seem to think it is. I’m amazed by the feedback and the overall positive response. Thank you to everyone that took the time to read or leave a comment. I really appreciate the feedback and hope to learn and grow with your support.