Engage in a little back talk with today’s featured story.
[Slice of Life] • 4,675 words
Lotus is a professional masseuse. She sees the pony below the skin, and tends to coax just as much out of their mouths as their muscles. Late one day, she gives three very different massages to three close friends, all of whom mention a name she isn’t familiar with: Applejack.
FROM THE CURATORS: While the main attraction of this story is its unique storytelling method, what first earned it its nomination was the way it hearkened back to core pony principles. “One of the things that drew me to MLP when I saw the first two episodes back in 2011 was the way our various heroines all had jobs that they both enjoyed and were actually good at,” AugieDog said. “This story gives us another pony in town who fits that description, and adds in a wonderful narrative conceit: Lotus chooses to speak only with her hooves while she’s giving massages at the spa, but that doesn’t stop the commentary that runs through her head.” Horizon fell in love with that conceit: “This is a gem of a story, and the narrative gimmick is wielded as expertly as Lotus wields her massages.”
Several of us commented favorably on the tactility at the core of the story. “The use of literal body language gives the conversations a remarkable depth, and the asymmetric conversations are a joy to read,” Horizon said. Meanwhile, Present Perfect found it to work on multiple levels. “What I think makes this work is the symbolism of the confessing during the massages,” Present Perfect said. “I also particularly love how Fluttershy’s muscles have character; I mean, each of the four tribal representatives is shown to have different muscle issues, but her muscles hide like she does. It’s a great little touch.” And the way that those different interactions revealed character came in for praise, too. “The scenes that the author used felt very natural and were well explored — in particular the idea that Fluttershy only mentions she has a date, but not with whom,” Soge said.
Finally, Apple Knots shows off the author’s finesse with a skill that’s normally invisible. “I remember this one from the February 2015 Writeoff Association competition,” Horizon said. “I liked the original version with reservations, all of which were addressed by the editing process. The way that this has grown is nearly as commendable as the finished product.” AugieDog agreed: “Reading the final version on FimFiction, I can see that the author took everyone’s comments to heart … I’m a huge fan of the revision process in writing, and this shows the revision process done well.”
Read on for our author interview, in which BlazzingInferno discusses telephone fires, fun silences, and liberating compressors from backhoes.
Give us the standard biography.
I’ve always wanted to be two things: an engineer and a storyteller. I picked up on the engineering bit as a kid, by way of owning several cubic feet of Legos. I remember leafing through toy catalogs and being floored by the new Lego sets, not because of what the instructions would guide you to build, but because of some new kind of part that the set included. I didn’t care about building a sports car, but I did want its fully functional gear shift. I didn’t care about building a backhoe, but I absolutely needed its pneumatic compressor pump and air storage tank.
Writing didn’t exactly come later, but it did come as a surprise. My handwriting has always been terrible. I remember writing out elaborate stories for class assignments, the teacher asking me to help decipher the words, and being unable to read them myself. Things got better once I learned how to type. I started writing fan fiction in middle school, eventually moved on to writing original novel-length stuff… and here I am writing fan fiction again. The difference is that my middle school writings were born out of frustration with the source material, and what I write now is in celebration of it. MLP:FiM doesn’t need my odd little takes on its various characters, but I can’t deny how fun writing them is.
These days, I’m an engineer by day and a writer by night. Those aren’t just jobs or hobbies, they’re part of me. When I talk to people who share one of those two interests, I invariably end up talking shop. Some engineers unwind by watching basketball. I unwind by building robots and writing stories. Various life events have put most of the robot building on hold, which means I’m in full-throttle writing mode nearly all the time.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
My recollection is a tad hazy on this one. I grew up during a dark time when the internet was primarily delivered via dial-up modem. At some point my family purchased a shiny new 56k modem that was branded ‘fire’ or ‘fireball’ in some way that now escapes me. That modem was my first real opportunity to browse the web, and when it came time to pick an online username I wanted something that summed up how fast that internet connection felt. Oh, how times change… As for the extra z, take note that this was also the dark time before I owned a word processor with spellcheck. By the time I realized the mistake (while writing a story that prompted me to actually use the word ‘blazing’ on its own), the double z stuck. Besides, z’s are cool.
Who’s your favorite pony?
My knee-jerk answer is Twilight Sparkle, particularly in season one. I can easily identify with an introverted bookworm that loves learning and feels as socially insecure. I also have an affinity for Spike, since he’s often the 7th wheel and seems fated to have his wants and interests swept aside. That feels so much like being the only person in a room that just wants to talk about math or storytelling.
Still, if I’m going to be honest, the answer is whatever pony I’m currently writing about. At times that’s been Twilight, Rarity, Octavia, original characters… and Lotus Blossom, of course. When I focus on a protagonist, even if it’s a character that I have nearly nothing in common with, I get more and more emotionally attached the deeper I go into their head. I still let bad things happen to them, but I do enjoy giving them happy endings.
What’s your favorite episode?
I love so many different episodes for so many different reasons. I might have to go with “Winter Wrap-Up,” since I think that’s the episode that truly cemented my interest in the show and crowned Twilight as my go-to favorite pony. That song is also dangerously catchy.
I also have to call out “The Best Night Ever.” I’m still amazed at how deftly the spotlight moved from character to character, not to mention how endeared I was to each of them by that point in the series.
What do you get from the show?
Smiles. The show is a stress-free zone for me, which is scarce when you have a demanding job and small kids. Despite how interesting it’d be to have the show take our favorite characters through more ‘mature’ story arcs and stages of life, I love the joy-filled, seemingly timeless nature of their on-screen adventures. Did I mention that I also like happy endings?
I originally started watching the show because my wife introduced our then-only daughter to it via Netflix. I kept hearing about our daughter laughing at some sort of bunny stampede, and finally decided to check it out myself. I’ve always been a fan of a well-told story, regardless of its format, and I love the care and creativity that studios like Pixar put into their work. MLP exceeded all my expectations for programming targeted at little kids. I sat down with my daughter and watched one episode of the show per night, all the way through season three, until we were caught up. I probably watch the show more than her now.
What do you want from life?
I love making people laugh, especially when they don’t expect it. I’m on the quiet side and my sense of humor leans toward deadpan, which works in my favor if I can get someone into a one-on-one conversation. When I can make someone laugh I feel like I’m getting to know them.
I’d love to become one of those (extraordinarily rare) novelists that’s able to live off of their writing, if only so that my family’s well-being isn’t dependent on some big corporation handing me a paycheck regularly. I don’t know if that’ll ever happen, but I’m going to keep writing stories regardless. I have an original fiction novel that I’m going to self-publish as soon as my finances allow.
Why do you write?
- To communicate ideas with people. Some ideas require 10 minutes of one-on-one discussion. Others require 10,000 words. I just want to share a story with you, and writing is how I go about it.
- I love building things, and stories are the most free-form type of expression that I have. The only constraints are my imagination and my command of the written word. If I don’t know how to go about writing an idea, I’ll file it away and work on other things until my skills are polished enough to tackle it.
The question that I don’t have an answer for is why I write so many romance stories.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Writing is a journey, not a destination. There’s always room to improve, and there’s always going to be someone better and/or more successful than you. Those aren’t reasons to quit. Those are reasons to keep at it! Nothing sucks the joy out of writing (or anything, really) faster than doing it for some ulterior motive, be that making money or impressing someone. Write what you want to write because you want to write it, and always be willing to learn while doing so.
Take advice and criticism seriously when it’s offered, but learn how to distill the beneficial parts from the rest. Even though lots of people out there will offer their opinion, none of them can claim to understand your original characters and ideas as well as you can. Take to heart whatever is going to help your craft improve, but don’t let somebody else’s ideas smother your own. If someone hands you a way to improve your dialogue, try it, try it again, and keep trying until you’ve mastered it. If someone doesn’t like the kind of story you’re trying to tell, write another one that you think is better, even if that person is going to like it even less.
Try something new with each story you write. It doesn’t have to be something big like an unfamiliar genre or character. Even if it’s something minuscule, make sure you can look back at your finished story and say “writing that helped me work on X,” because that work will absolutely pay off in the long run.
What inspired “Apple Knots”?
I originally had different plans for this setup. I was going to have the Mane Six come in for massages and recount their versions of some external event, how it’d gotten under their skin, and how they planned on fixing it. Then I realized how fun Lotus was to write and changed tactics.
I fell in love with Lotus’s attitude almost immediately. I’ve been where she is so many times. Her unspoken, unfiltered thoughts were a rare opportunity to ply some darker humor in the lighthearted land of ponies. Her interaction with Applejack is a lot funnier to me than it probably should be.
Do you see what Lotus does as a sort of earth pony magic?
I hadn’t thought of that, but I like the idea! My own experiences with tense muscles have all been closely tied to other forms of stress, and I could see the physical relief Lotus provides, coupled with her professional silence, as an implicit sign that it’s okay to lay any and all emotional burdens at her hooves. Whether or not Lotus would agree with that idea is another matter entirely.
Are the story’s depictions of massage work and of front-line customer service taken from research or from personal experience?
There’s a little bit of both involved. I’ve never held a traditional customer service job, but I’d like to think some of my work experiences have come close. Nothing breeds patience (and heart attacks) like doing Quality Assurance for a big project at a big company and constantly thinking “if I screw this up bad enough, we’re all getting fired.”
Even though I haven’t had a full-on professional massage, having a few painful muscle knots worked out was an eye-opening experience. I still can’t quite comprehend how our own muscles can get into such bad states all on their own, or that it just takes some well-placed kneading to correct it.
How important is editing and revision to your writing process?
Somewhere between ‘very important’ and ‘not important enough.’
I once started writing a novel-length story, only to scrap a key scene in the middle and have to heavily rework everything else. That experience taught me to plan things out from the start. I now begin every project, big or small, with a bullet-point outline that covers all the major and minor plot points from start to finish. Then I move on to the prose, usually by reviewing the last scene I wrote prior to writing the next one. All the while, I’ll refer back to the outline to see how the story is evolving now that I’m committing description and dialogue to digital paper. Sometimes I’ll go back and adjust the outline or just play around with where scenes and ideas go; moving a single list item is a lot easier than moving finished paragraphs.
Throughout that entire process, I’m rereading, reviewing, and reexamining the story in my head. Some of my best ‘writing’ time is when I’m busy with something else entirely. I’ll think of something that I need to change while I’m at work or taking a walk. When that happens, I’ll jot down a quick note and move on to another scene in my mind.
My post-writing editing process is far less polished. For shorter stories like Apple Knots, I’ll cross-examine each and every word to find typos that I’d normally gloss over. For a bigger project, or one that I’m not as confident in, I like to bring in a second set of eyes to catch typos and well as confirm that things like character progression make sense to someone other than me. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some tremendously talented people help me through the editing process on a great number of my stories. Each one of them has helped me hone my skills, and for that I’m incredibly grateful.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks for featuring my story!
Thank you to everyone who’s read something of mine, provided feedback, left a comment, pre-read, edited, or in any other way helped me get as far as I have. I’m a better writer because of all of you, and I hope that I get an opportunity to return the favor.