Today’s story is quite a moving experience — just ask Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy.
Of Cottages and Cloud Houses
[Slice of Life] • 4,641 words
When they first moved to Ponyville, Fluttershy moved into an ornate cloud house, and Rainbow Dash moved into an animal infested cottage. As they settle into new lives and meet new ponies, they quickly discover that this isn’t going to work at all.
FROM THE CURATORS: In some ways, this 2012 story shows its age — it’s “a real throwback to the old ‘magic of friendship’ era,” as Bradel put it — but inside is a heartwarming look at the Mane Six’s friendships and relationships which has stood the test of time. “This has held up as an origin story for Rainbow and Fluttershy, even in season 5,” Present Perfect said, and Horizon added: “Like so many of our fandom’s best pieces of headcanon, it explains more about its characters, and makes more intuitive sense, than the show itself.”
One aspect of the story which we singled out for praise again and again was the gripping writing of the main characters’ relationships with their parents. “One of the things I like so much about bookplayer’s stories is that, even more than they’re about romance, her stories are about families, those that you’re born into and those that you choose to become a part of,” AugieDog said. “This story’s got that idea front and center.” As early as the first scene, we were hooked by Of Cottages and Cloud Houses’ family problems. “Fluttershy’s parents are gloriously awful — I can’t remember the last time somebody wrote a passage that provoked me as much as that one, and I don’t even like Fluttershy most of the time,” Bradel said. But they’re not villains, as Chris noted: “This story succeeds because it’s obvious that Fluttershy’s and Dash’s parents are looking out for their kids — they’re just doing so in blinded, myopic ways.”
The other core strength was the powerful and moving way this showed Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash overcoming those issues. “I like how this closes out a lot,” Bradel said. “Rainbow’s letter is good, but Fluttershy’s letter is just awesome — a perfect mix of passive-aggressive and self-confident that stays in character for her but still shows some growth.” Ultimately, Chris noted, it has some important lessons on that topic. “This is a wonderful story about growing up,” he said. “It’s a story about finding your own voice and learning to use it in a meaningful way.”
Read on for our author interview, in which bookplayer discusses steampunk translators, target audiences, and crafting vs. writing.
Give us the standard biography.
“Ya’ know, the shipper with the pen avatar.”
That’s the standard one, but for you guys I can be slightly more informative. I’m a writer/beekeeper/stay-at-home mom to a one-year-old daughter. I have an original fiction novel coming out soonish. I’ve been in MLP fandom about three years and change, and I’m old enough that I watched G1 as a little girl, but not old enough that I remember it well.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
When I came up with it I was in a book-related fandom, and I almost never watch TV, so I expected all of my writing to be in book fandoms: playing with books. Also, I like to think of it as some kind of steampunk text-to-speech translator.
Who’s your favorite pony?
I used to pretend that I had other favorites, but as time has gone on I think there’s no getting around it. I’ve developed a little obsession with Applejack. If I ever was transported to Equestria, there may be restraining orders involved.
What’s your favorite episode?
Overall, I still have to go with Best Night Ever, for showcasing the best mix of comedy, music, and characterization the show’s ever achieved. But as the show has gone on I’ve appreciated some of the “dramatic” (by MLP standards) episodes they’ve done, like Leap of Faith.
What do you get from the show?
I’m a sucker for stories about close groups of friends. Add in that it’s frequently got a lot of character-derived humor and good characterization in general, and it’s something I will not only be entertained by, but want more of.
And that led me to fandom, where I found my own groups of close friends, and tons of casual friends and acquaintances. Those are some pretty cool things for a 22-minute toy commercial.
What do you want from life?
It would be cool to sleep through the night again, someday.
But really, I just want to be there for my daughter.
Why do you write?
Because it’s how you get the stories out. Because people like it when I do. Because I might write something, someday, that helps someone when they need it. Because no one else writes enough of the things I want to read. Because I feel guilty when I watch TV or play video games.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Think about who you’re writing each story for. Think about what you want to get out of it and how you want it to be received. Be honest with yourself about the likely outcome. There’s no wrong story to tell, and no wrong way to tell it, but there are a lot of people who write the wrong story in the wrong way for the outcome they’re hoping for.
What inspired “Of Cottages and Cloud Houses”?
We had a conversation on the AppleDash group socializing thread about whether Rainbow Dash came from a rich family. People brought up her fancy cloud house to say she must have money from somewhere.
But I’ve always felt that she came from a lower- or working-class background; it fits her poor manners, her bravado, and her confrontational attitude, and it fits with the popular narrative of the poor kid with a talent chasing their one shot to make it big. I was explaining this, and happened to mention that Fluttershy seemed more likely to come from money. So I decided to write a story that would explain how Rainbow Dash got her cloud house from Fluttershy.
I don’t remember where I got the idea for Fluttershy’s parents, but Rainbow’s parents are inspired by the parents from The Wonder Years. Jack Arnold has always been one of my favorite examples of parents who care but have no idea how to show it, especially his fights with Kevin’s sister, Karen. (This was written before Games Ponies Play, where we see Rainbow in a flashback with a pegasus stallion with a rainbow mane. Maybe that’s her cool uncle …)
Most of your work focuses on ponies in relationships, but usually, those relationships aren’t parent/child. Did you enjoy playing with that dynamic in this story?
Absolutely. I love playing with family dynamics of all kinds (after all, romantic relationships are what families are usually built on), but parent/child relationships are particularly interesting because so much of who an adult is was shaped by their parents, but not in ways their parents meant to shape them.
In this case, that meant backwards engineering the types of parents who could have produced Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy. In Rainbow’s case there’s clearly a mix of behavior modeled by her father, behavior that’s a rebellion against her father, and probably a bit of purposely rejecting behavior modeled by her mother. In Fluttershy’s case, her behavior is a series of coping mechanisms she learned for dealing with her parents.
But in both cases, I wanted to make it clear that their parents love them, even if they try to show it in entirely the wrong ways. They’re ponies who view life in their own ways, and within those views they’re trying to direct their kids to the best lives they can have. They just can’t see the lives their kids want.
In other fandoms, the majority of fanfiction writers are said to be female, but Pony fandom is famous for being largely male. Have you observed negative effects from this gender gap, or do bronies actually seem to be taking the show’s message to heart?
This is a hard one to answer without getting myself in trouble. But I really want to try.
First, I do want to say that a lot of the fandom takes the show’s messages to heart, even some people who don’t seem to on the surface. Also, Pony fandom is different in some other ways that might also, or in combination, explain some of the differences I’ve seen.
So that being said …
I think Pony fandom has a strong streak of … irreverence that you don’t see as much in female-heavy fandoms. Other fandoms have their memes, troll fics, and R34 intended to shock or disgust, but we seem to make it a large part of our fandom output, and we tend to celebrate it to some extent. It’s hard to tell if that comes from the fandom’s 4Chan roots, or the largely teenaged male demographics, or a combination. And it’s also not something that’s inherently negative; I’m not a fan, but I think the vast majority of it is done in such a way as to be avoidable and not hurt anyone.
There’s also a flip side of that coin. We have a lot of very serious writers in this fandom, and I think that has to do with the male demographic as well, just the older side of it. There’s a pretty hardcore “prestige” subculture here in fanfiction with an interest in analysis, big ideas, and experimental fiction, which is something you don’t usually see from a large fandom of female writers. (Also, there are a lot of hard science-fiction roots showing for what’s pretty clearly a fantasy-based fandom.) These things are also not entirely negatives; I think they tend to result in a higher bar for writing and worldbuilding, and an audience for things that push the envelope. But it can sometimes also contribute to reflecting some larger societal prejudices, like dismissing romance writing as trite and pandering, that other fandoms escape.
Finally, I think that sometimes it becomes clear that a large part of the fandom really, really doesn’t get the target audience of the show, and that can come off badly when what they want conflicts with what’s going to seem good to an audience of little girls. I’m thinking specifically about Twilight becoming a princess, where I had to spend a lot of time explaining to people the princess phenomenon among little girls, what made Twilight different from other kinds of princesses, and why this wasn’t a bad thing for the girls the show was made for. So that dichotomy of a fandom full of guys and a show that should be catering to little girls — in the best possible way — makes for some rough patches.
Anything else I can think of is easily mirrored in other fandoms with the genders flipped, and it’s really important to emphasize that I’ve personally had very few bad experiences that I’d attribute to gender differences between me and the guys around me.
How would you compare the process of writing fanfiction to that of writing stories with your own original characters?
Fanfic is easy to start. One of the most annoying parts of original fiction writing is laying out characters and setting in a way that explains things while getting the reader invested, and with fanfic you almost always have some point of reference and investment from the reader. It’s also easy to keep going writing fanfic, knowing that once you finish you can just publish the story and someone will probably read it. Neither of those things are guaranteed in original fiction.
On the other hand, fanfiction requires some tricks and skills that either never come up or are a lot easier in original fiction; you have to understand characters you didn’t create, give them motivations that match what people know of them, and portray them in a recognizable way. And those characters are in a setting with rules and parts of a timeline in place, so your plot needs to take all of that into account. Even after you’ve developed characters and a setting in original fiction, you can change them, especially the little tweaks that you can’t get away with in fanfiction because they’re too small to be an AU. (Of course, sometimes that’s where fanfic comes from: if I was writing original fiction, Rainbow Dash wouldn’t have an awesome cloud house and I would never have written this fic.)
While neither is easy to do well, I’d say it’s easier to craft original fiction — to create the elements you need to weave themes, ideas, plot, and characters into a coherent whole. It’s easier to write fanfiction — to make yourself type the words, edit, and publish the story. But when something is both crafted and written well it’s just as powerful or entertaining, whether it’s fanfiction or original.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
First, I had some great prereaders on this story, so I need to thank Bad Horse, Church, First_Down, and DbzOrDie. I also need to say that Pinkie’s gag about how she got the invitation on the door of a cloud house is the funniest line in the story, and Bad Horse wrote it. So there’s that.
Second, if you’re interested in finding out more about my original-fiction novel as it gets closer to publication, you can follow me and I promise you’ll hear about it. And if you’re an original fiction writer yourself, or think you might be one day, or like to hang out with them, consider joining The A.K. Yearling Society for Original Fiction, a group for fanfic writers with an interest in writing for publication.