Lose yourself in today’s story about a boat that’s more than it seems.
[Dark] [Drama] [Mystery] • 13,126 words
A.K. Yearling leads a quiet, peaceful life as a novelist living in Canterlot with her fiancé.
But recently, she has been haunted by dreams of a strange shipwreck, and she doesn’t know why.
FROM THE CURATORS: JohnPerry left the fandom (and the RCL) some time ago, but we weren’t going to let that stop us from featuring The Wreck, given the wide-ranging quality of its tale. “It’s quite an amazing piece, given the intersection of dream, desire, adventure, writer’s block and mystery,” Present Perfect said, while Soge had nothing but praise: “Very creative, amazing imagery, great characterization, and a surreal plot which ties up in the best way possible.”
We had some difficulty, in fact, finding the most praiseworthy part of this tale of A.K. Yearling’s journey of self-discovery. AugieDog thought it was the character deconstruction: “JP’s take on the idea that A.K. Yearling and Daring Do are the same pony is just plain perfectly realized,” he said, “exploring not only which of the two is the original and dominant personality but also which of them would honestly envy the other.” Horizon appreciated the unfolding of the mystery: “The construction here is impressive. For instance, there’s a part of the story which seemed subtly wrong to me until I realized that the wrongness had been foreshadowing an important reveal that caught me off guard.” And Present Perfect appreciated the way it reforged canon: “It proves that Daring Don’t didn’t rob the fandom of its ability to interpret Daring Do to their heart’s content.”
What we agreed on was that — despite its strong opening — this story kept finding ways to up the stakes and close even stronger. “The whole thing kicks into high gear in Chapter 4 and stays gripping till the end,” Horizon said, and Present Perfect added: “The way it unfolds is quite the experience, with a strong, relatable moral at the end.”
Read on for our author interview, in which JohnPerry discusses sympathetic actors, Steven Universe, and suffering feature boxes.
Give us the standard biography.
Every time I think I’m out, you guys pull me back in …
It’s been around half a year since I’ve checked up on the brony fandom, so I don’t know how many newcomers you guys see these days, but for the new people: my name is John Perry and I’m a former brony. Back in the day I wrote some stuff, I proofread a lot more stuff, and I wrote a bit about the fandom at large. I think my main claim to fame was a blog series I did called “John Perry Suffers the Feature Box,” in which I would review all the fics in the feature box on the front page that day. I also got to be a curator for the Royal Canterlot Library (i.e., the lovely group of people who put together interviews such as the one you’re reading right now).
Eventually, I lost interest in pursuing these activities and shifted my focus to my other interests: my work, urban planning, politics, and fantasizing about travel.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Well, strictly speaking, I didn’t come up with it … I was actually wondering if you guys were going to bother asking this question this time around. ;)
I don’t remember why I decided to use my real name when I submitted my first story to Equestria Daily, but once I started I figured I’d better continue in order to maintain a coherent list of my work. I’m guessing it was a matter of expediency at the time; I didn’t have the patience or wit in the moment to come up with a clever handle, and my name is so common that I’m not particularly concerned about someone drawing a link back to me. Plus it undeniably gives me a strong sense of ownership over my work, which back then was very important to me.
And even if I had come up with a brony-specific handle, I’m sure I would have grown to hate it. Back then I probably would have come up with one of the umpteen self-indulgent variations on “one who writes” or “one who utilizes a writing instrument.” Quill Scribbler. Scroll Master. Page Turner. Pony Writer. Pen Stroke.
Who was your favorite pony?
Applejack, though admittedly I say that now more out of reflexive habit than any sort of continuing interest in the show. I think her humility, her work ethic, and her close relationship with her family were all things I strongly identified with.
What was your favorite episode?
The last episode that I made a point of watching was the one where the Cutie Mark Crusaders finally get their cutie marks, so I have no knowledge whatsoever of any episode that has aired since then. Still, Lesson Zero and the one with Weird Al were always my favorites; zany, quick-paced humor always went further for me in the case of this show.
What did you get from the show?
Back when I was a brony, it was what I got from the fandom that mattered more to me than the show, so from that perspective the most important thing I got from the show was that it served as a sort of gateway into this burgeoning, creative, and intensely compelling phenomenon we call the fandom.
But there were other things I got from the show, most of which had to do with my long-standing love for cartoons in general. I think the main thing Friendship is Magic taught me is that cartoons for girls — and cartoons for little girls, more specifically — didn’t have to be terrible. Even cartoons that serve as vehicles for toy lines don’t have to be deprived of things like decent characterization and compelling storylines, so long as you demand it. And it certainly didn’t hurt that Friendship is Magic had plenty of affirming messages for young women.
Nowadays, other cartoons are scratching that animation-loving itch of mine that FiM once did, primarily Steven Universe. Interestingly, Steven Universe also has a certain feminist bent to it, though it’s quite a bit more nuanced about it than FiM ever was. It also simply has much more interesting relationships and family dynamics developing as the show goes on.
What do you want from life?
Stability, love, and a hope that I can leave behind some sort of positive legacy in the world. Really, that’s what it all comes down to; if I’m to eventually be forgotten, I want to leave something good behind, whether that be through children of my own, artistic work, or some kind of meaningful contribution to a positive political or societal change.
Why do you write?
Primarily to express my ideas and my outlook on the world. Really, there’s not much more to it than that. Whether I’m writing an essay, a review (which is really just a specific kind of essay), or a piece of fiction, the intent is to express something that’s been stewing inside me and contribute something to a larger discussion. In fact, that’s the main reason why I left the fandom, because I didn’t feel like I had anything else meaningful enough to contribute. Basically, I got to say my piece, and then I moved on.
As you can imagine, I’m the kind of arrogant blowhard who loves to make conversations about what I think.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Whether you fully realize it or not, your writing is a piece of you. And there’s a certain risk that comes with putting a piece of yourself out there for the world to see. You open yourself up a little bit, and while it gets a little easier every time you do, it can still be a nerve-wracking experience. It’s easy to say “don’t take criticism personally,” but quite frankly, it’s almost impossible not to. Especially when you feed so much of yourself into your work.
Honestly, this was something I myself forgot over the course of doing fan fiction reviews. There were occasions when I dished out some unnecessarily harsh criticism to people who I didn’t know well enough to know if they could handle it, and then arrogantly claimed it was all in the name of harmless entertainment. It’s easy to get a big head when you’ve surrounded yourself with people who are in on the joke. Looking back on it now, I can only plead forgiveness.
For me, writing as a brony was a growth experience. It takes a certain degree of self-confidence to put yourself out there, and that confidence builds the more you do it. Each time, you become a little more assured of your self, and a little more hardened against what the world throws at you. But it helps a lot if you have some sympathetic actors offering you a hand when you start out, which is something I benefited from. Listen to the advice they give you. Make an honest attempt to learn what works for you and what doesn’t, and then do your best to dismiss the unhelpful stuff.
Ultimately, what this all comes down to is: Be nice to each other. Don’t get discouraged.
What are your thoughts on writer’s block?
The terrible irony of this question is that I’m currently having trouble thinking up a decent answer.
In situations like these, you can do what I just did, which was to skip ahead and answer some of the other questions first before coming back to this one. My main tactic for dealing with writer’s block is to take lots of breaks and find other things to occupy my mind before coming back with a fresh outlook. I write primarily for my own pleasure, so I tend not to stress over how much content I’m producing. If I am stressing over it, then that’s a clear indication to me that I’m doing it wrong and need to drop it for the time being.
This story was inspired by a real-life shipwreck and influenced by an episode of The X-Files. Does it also relate to the fandom uproar over Daring Don’t?
Not really, no. It has much more to do with my characterization of Daring Do in a previous story I wrote, Go West, Young Mare. Incidentally, I remember that I had almost finished Go West when Daring Don’t came out, so there was this real question while I was writing the meat of that story as to whether my interpretation of this character would be upended by the canon. At the time, I shrugged it off because Go West meant too much to me personally for me to stop writing it; there was a lot of my personality and my personal experience that I poured into that story, and to this day it still resonates with me stronger than any of my other stories. It was merely a happy accident that the canon Daring Do happened to line up so neatly with my interpretation of her; nothing in Daring Don’t directly contradicted anything I had written about Daring Do, and in fact the episode affirmed a couple of key ideas I had held about her personality. It was my interpretation of Daring as a lonely, hardened mare who has grown weary of adventure that carried over into The Wreck, only now I had the additional backing of canon to more firmly ground this character in something familiar to my audience.
What did Caballeron dream of?
(Major spoilers to follow, if you haven’t read the story…)
There was a fair amount of forced drama and authorial shortcuts around that particular reveal, but the idea I had was that Caballeron was a former colleague of Daring’s who was infatuated with her. However, Daring never held any interest in him, and in fact grew to see him as nothing more than an annoying obstacle once Caballeron started pursuing a lust for riches. But he never quite lost that fascination for her.
The way the fungus within the shipwreck works is by making its victims live their deepest desires in order to lull them into a state of complacency while the fungus consumes them. Caballeron’s dream was quite straightforward: he lived a life of riches, including the mare he once lusted after: not his brash enemy of Daring Do, but the reserved, studious, and non-threatening A.K. Yearling. Daring, on the other hand, dreamed of being a character she made up, which not only cut out the dominant personality of Daring Do but left so many giant gaps in her knowledge that the dream ultimately collapsed under the weight of its own logic, which is the only reason why Daring was able to wake up. In that moment (and this would be the forced drama I referred to earlier), Caballeron serves as the last voice appealing to Yearling (rather than Daring) and the last clinging remnants of uncertainty as to what’s real and what isn’t.
Strictly speaking, Caballeron didn’t have to be in the story at all, and that’s actually how the first draft of the story was written. I think in that version, Daring/Yearling hears the voice of her lover from the dream in her head, pleading for her to remain as she stumbles through the shipwreck. I thought it would make a lot more sense and be more dramatic if there was an actual physical stallion muttering those words that Daring had to rescue, and then I realized it would have to be someone who knew Daring/Yearling in order for that to make sense, which is where the idea to use Caballeron came in. I kinda like the dichotomy between the two there; he dreamt of her, while she dreamed of a generic romantic stallion for which Caballeron’s body and voice inadvertently served as a stand-in for, like a pillow you’ve been kissing in your sleep. The decision to use Caballeron also inadvertently gave me a much more sensible explanation for why Daring would have been able to find the wreck in the first place, as well as an opportunity to tie the story more firmly to the events of Daring Don’t (and by extension, the wider canon), which all comes up in the epilogue.
You made a name for yourself with “John Perry Suffers the Featured Box”. What inspired you to review fanfics as well as write them?
Going back to what I was saying about why I write, the main pleasure I derive from writing is that it allows me to share my outlook on the world. At a certain point, I realized I simply had more fun writing reviews than writing stories, because I had more to say in that format. So that’s where my focus went. Reviews also allowed me more freedom and space to explicitly comment on the broader community, on trends within the fandom, and on ideas about writing in general, so not only did I get to embody the role of a critic, I also got to play social commentator as well.
Incidentally, you actually learn a lot about writing from reviewing, and vice versa. You make some interesting discoveries when you sit down and consider exactly why a story worked for you or why it didn’t. Something I would occasionally hear back in the day is people expressing a reluctance to review stories because they thought they didn’t know enough to do it. But there’s really no special knowledge required; all it takes is a willingness to be thoughtful and honest.
If anyone reading this is considering doing reviews of their own, here’s my advice to you: be honest — both with yourself and your audience — about what your biases are, and then own it. Don’t hide behind a false front of objectivity, but at the same time don’t cower behind the shield of “everything’s subjective.” If you’ve put real thought into your critique, you should be able to defend it. However, while you should be honest about your biases, you should also make a point of trying to understand whatever you’re critiquing from the perspective of the author’s intent, and then critique it on those terms. The most helpful reviews are the ones that can sit down, think things over for a moment, and then say, “I see what you’re going for here, and this is why you failed/succeeded.” The more you do it, the easier it will come to you.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Just a thanks to all you wonderful RCL guys — former colleagues and new members, all — for reaching out to me and giving me the opportunity to talk about myself for a bit and revisit some good times.