In today’s story, chart a course for Epic Island as you sail through the Adorable Archipelago.

pipsqueak-journalPipsqueak the Valiant’s Adventure Journal!
[Slice of Life] • 38,554 words

Pirates, swordfighting, buried treasure and hidden treachery — you don’t need these to live the adventurous life.

FROM THE CURATORS: The story’s description plays a bit coy: you certainly don’t need world-spanning travels and high-seas swashbuckling for the adventurous life, but this delivers on them regardless.  “I want to tell you story: I had to set PtVAJ! aside when I was only four chapters into it,” Horizon said.  “When I returned to my RCL reading and realized that I had more Pipsqueak ahead, my face immediately brightened, and I clicked through to the next chapter like greeting an old friend.  It immediately rewarded me with not only a pitch-perfect scene of the trials of Ponyville bureaucracy, but then a scene of Twilight Sparkle, Princess Luna, and epic badass Mayor Mare launching a frontal assault on a pirate ship, and escalated further from there.”

But even when the events of the story are lower-key, there’s a lot to appreciate here.  “I love the early chapters for the narrative voice and the succession of foals doing adorable things,” Present Perfect said.  “Mayor Mare’s backstory is fascinating, Pip’s voicing is perfect, and the fact that he’s able to convey so much through a child’s POV is what put Casca on my radar.”  Horizon also appreciated the voicing: “Pipsqueak has that perfect Dickensian edge of rapier-sharp authorial satire underlaying adorable childish innocence.”  And AugieDog praised the way that the story unfolded: “Of the many fine things on display here, what’s impressing me the most is the structure of the thing — the way that little details in the first chapters, details that seem to exist only to add color to a scene, slowly develop into major plot points.”

It was that slow unfolding which sealed the deal of the story’s feature.  “It really morphs as the story goes along, but the narrative straying from Pip himself is more than made up for by the fact that Mayor Mare is an equally marvelous protagonist, and walking through their various encounters in overseas Maretopia is like rounding random corners in a goblin market and glancing through the stalls,” Horizon said.  “This story is about adventure, about striking off into the unknown with no idea what you’re going to find, and its core is that joy and surprise of discovery.”  Present Perfect summarized in glowing terms: “It’s brilliantly told.  This has always been one of my absolute favorite stories in the fandom, hands down.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Casca discusses mayoral juxtaposition, Cadence coincidences, and the repainting of mental walls.

Give us the standard biography.

Hi there! I’m Casca, a 20-ish fresh graduate with a chemical engineering degree. I’ve worn a number of ponyfic hats, ranging from /fic/ reviewer, EqD prereader, and most recently Seattle’s Angels member, but nowadays I just log in and read blogposts.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

Originally on Fanfiction.net, I was Cascadence, an amalgam of “Cascading Cadence”, since I was really into piano at the time. On the forums, I would introduce myself as Casca for short. When I came over, it seemed good to keep it that way. I’ve never read Berzerk; that’s a complete coincidence.

Who’s your favorite pony?

Fluttershy is moe, but a close second is Rarity because she got some good episodes lately and her voice adds just a bit more colour to the show. Discord’s not a pony and I’m totally not cheating by mentioning him here.

What’s your favorite episode?

Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000. This and The Return of Harmony introduced powerful elements that, as a writer, I couldn’t wait to play with.

What do you get from the show?

It’s a fun way to spend a little under half an hour. What really makes the show valuable to me is that it’s the gateway that brought me to /fic/ and the ponyfic community at large.

What do you want from life?

A job in this economic climate would be a great start. ;_; The absolute ideal would be to save enough to live off investments, and spend the rest of my days writing and working with charities, but if were that easy everybody would be doing it.

Why do you write?

This is a tough question.

I started “writing” when I was a kid to emulate the feeling of Playstation games. Then it was to engage fantasies and ideas — it was my secret-no-so-secret thing that only I did amongst my peers. Then it was to change the world — that if I could just somehow impact enough people, there would be a shift of some sort … Now, it’s because of some misplaced pride, that the ideas in my pile are worth manifesting, and that it’d be a shame if I didn’t.

Writing has always been about being someone more, extending my identity, and it’s always had a small element of hubris at its core. It’s not really a noble answer, but it’s mine.

What advice do you have for the authors out there?

I’ll try and keep it to two hopefully useful points.

1) Writing descriptions is overrated. You’ve probably come across adages like “Avoid talking heads syndrome”, “Show, don’t tell”, which spread during the glory days of the Equestria Daily editorial, and I admit with full apologies that my solution to this — and advice to others I edited for — was “describe more”. “Paint a picture,” I’d say, “show me more of this world because there’s space. Squeeze more out of your words and captivate me!”

But I wasn’t captivated by lengthy passages of scenery, and after analyzing stories I enjoyed, I realized that it’s precisely space that does the captivating.

If I mention a warehouse, you likely already have a vision pop up in your head. Sure, your warehouse isn’t my warehouse, but it doesn’t need to be — all I need is that you’re thinking about a warehouse. You’re already invested and now all I have to do is move your mental camera around to where the good stuff is happening. But if I start ordering repaints of the walls, and for props to be moved around, you lose focus of the action, and, more detrimentally, the atmosphere.

Descriptions can be used very effectively to show aspects other than scenery — PtVAJ! is a working exercise in it — but scenes in standard work, sans gimmick, don’t usually require more than light touches, and a bit of faith. As always, the caveat is moderation in all, and execution is king, but this doesn’t mean anything substantial.

2) Editors, ideally, show you how your work looks like to everyone other than you. This means if they say, “I don’t like this”, or “I don’t understand”, explaining it in a reply PM isn’t the correct action. You cannot do that to every reader who doesn’t understand that Mr. OC Mysterio is worth keeping for the later payoff, because they’d just leave without even saying anything. At least the editor will show you symptoms, which you must then cure in the story body itself. I mention this because I’ve been on both sides, and it’s always a bit awkward to tell the aspiring author: your justification is cool and all, but if there’s not enough to invest my confidence in, I don’t care.

Similarly, all advice is worth mulling over, especially the ones that sting. Even the facetious stuff, if not simply to consider that it takes all kinds… For example, InquisitorM left some excellent comments on a different story of mine, which I admit, I didn’t think too deeply on — 90 weeks later, here I am saying to you essentially what he said to me. I managed to come around to his philosophy by myself, but if I had been more open-minded, the stuff I wrote since then wouldn’t have the same awkward flaws.

What inspired “Pipsqueak the Valiant’s Adventure Journal!”?

It was written for the first ever Writeoff, with the prompt of “One Way Ticket”. Originally the story was going to be about Pinkie leaving the rock farm to fill the world with parties. When I realized that I couldn’t write Pinkie well at all, I moved on to Ponyville’s newest arrival, Pipsqueak, and that’s how it started.

At the time, Australia was having a massive debate on what to do with refugees. I sympathized strongly with them, even if I had no idea what the optimum solution was; I think Pipsqueak’s circumstances took on some projection from that.

Additionally, I disliked the trend that pilot Pipfics were going — most of them were just dream sequencs of him playing make-believe, which I felt was very unsatisfying to read. So I decided to give him some real adventure, while keeping him as adorable as he is.

Did you plan from the beginning to include the Mayor as a second POV character, or did she come into the story more organically?

There was no reasonable way I could have Pipsqueak out and about in Maretopia without him getting killed. The only way to show the world — and that really is the heart of Volume 2 — while respecting fully the stakes at risk was by adding a more resilient viewpoint. So, yes — definitely organic. It worked out better than I had hoped!

The Mayor is largely a blank slate in the series.  What guided you in creating her character here?

For some reason, when I first saw MM in Winter Wrap-Up, the first thing I thought was that she was probably an alcoholic. Possibly because of the lidded eyes and huskier voice, and because when Ponyville breaks into its scheduled chaos, somepony has to handle the accounts …

Juxtaposition was the principle in practice. If Pipsqueak was something, MM would be that thing realized with a horrible twist. Pipsqueak has but one dream and is absolutely unwavering about it; MM, on the other hand, has already fulfilled hers, yet she still clings on to elements of it. This unwillingness to let go, and resolution thereof, was drawn from personal feelings — during the writing her parts worried me the most, because what if my readers just couldn’t relate?

Honestly, it’s sort of a fluke. She grew on me more as I wrote her; a lot of the things she is serves either plot or underlying themes, and just happens to also be entertaining. She’s very efficient, and it’s nice when your character keeps your story alive on account of being streetwise.

The world outside Equestria as you depict it is a fascinating but scary place.  How did you go about putting together a dystopia that still feels like it could be a part of the Pony cosmos?

I’m glad to hear that it feels like it could still be part of Equestria – that’s very vital in what I tried to do.

I believe that the centre of Equestria is a truly happy place – that, aside from external forces like Chrysalis, there is no crime and conflicts are all low-stakes … because of the alicorns. Cosmic beings whose alignments are as Lawful Good as you can get — there’s no way anything truly threatening could be allowed to exist, let alone tolerated.

What really makes MLP fun to write for me is the access to magic. When you have that much power in an otherwise uncontrolled system, whoever abuses it wins; how they abuse it, and the consequences, are my favourite thing to write. If that’s not the case, then either it’s not much power, or you’re not abusing it enough. It’s not like every pony suddenly becomes a monster without alicorn rule, but just that the few who are have won.

With this in mind, Maretopia [the second continent] is simply my idea of what Equestria would be without the alicorns. They share the same fundamentals, draw from the same pool of elements (no extra alicorns!), including behaviors and the power of friendship virtues. If a character won’t act Equestrian, having them acknowledge Equestrian behavior grounds it in an easier context. With the wealth of background characters and unexplored areas, it’s not too hard to weld ends together to build a coherent, as you put it, cosmos.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Fluttershy may be best pony, but Patchouli is best character.

Thank you for having me!

You can read Pipsqueak the Valiant’s Adventure Journal! at FIMFiction.net. Read more interviews right here at the Royal Canterlot Library, or suggest stories for us to feature at our Fimfiction group.