Today’s story lets us hear some voices from Equestria’s past.
A New Age
[Dark] [Drama] • 14,963 words
In the closing days of the Pre-Classical Era, at the dawn of the rule of the Royal Pony Sisters, the devastation of Discord’s cruelty hits hard and leaves an open wound. As the young and inexperienced Princesses Celestia and Luna struggle to keep the peace, powerful figures in all three Pony tribes bridle at the upstart Alicorns who so quickly and easily claimed power…
FROM THE CURATORS: Epistolary stories present a number of unique problems to a writer, but sometimes confining the narrative to letters written by the characters is the best approach to take. And when Soge praised this story for “managing to showcase a variety of points of view from a number of very distinctive characters, all of which have great voicing and believable motivations,” the rest of us had to agree.
“Absolutely necessary from a storytelling perspective,” Chris said, while Present Perfect called attention to “the variety of media… the stories told, the multiple crumbling tragedies” and called the whole piece “unspeakably awesome.”
“The characters are perfectly voiced throughout,” AugieDog noted with Chris calling them “sometimes petty, sometimes poignant, but invariably fascinating.” “The way that the author weaves in and out of show canon, while simultaneously doing a ton of world building was particularly masterful,” Soge concluded. “But what really clinched the nomination for me is how, from so many disparate parts, a full narrative emerges.”
Read on for our author interview, in which SaddlesoapOpera discusses fictional vacuums, plausible reliability, and the earthy aspects of earth ponies.
Give us the standard biography.
I am a Canadian raised by highly educated parents and I grew up in a home with more books than literally any other type of object. I spent way too long in University, but I finished everything I started. I work in a field where I use my language skills a lot, which helps keep my fiction writing sharp.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
No big mystery — I just sat down and mulled over assorted equine puns until I found one that suited my often drama-filled storytelling style. The same brainstorming session led to the creation of a good friend’s moniker as well: Pen Palomino.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Definitely a tricky question, but all things considered I will go with Twilight Sparkle. Although I think everyone sees elements of themselves in the majority of the Ponies, Twilight’s life and times, disposition, likes and dislikes, and penchant for overthinking and anxiety resonate a lot with me.
What’s your favorite episode?
My answer to this has changed more than once over the years, but at this point I’d have to say Amending Fences. It’s the first time we see Twilight just plain screw up with terrible results, not by being frantic or overusing magic or the like, but simply by being careless and preoccupied. It’s all shockingly mundane and grounded — no monster attacks, no evil spells, just a lonely Unicorn who Twilight heedlessly left broken inside, and a wrenching exploration of how painful and difficult and humbling it can be to face that kind of wrong and struggle to fix things. The explosive rant from Moondancer and the emotional conclusion are the icing on a wonderful, wonderful cake.
What do you get from the show?
Happiness. I have said elsewhere that far too many shows these days revel in being too cool to feel good. They mock and sneer and knock everything down, and they may make you laugh, but they never make you smile. Friendship is Magic makes me smile, and with all the cynical, world-weary vitriol getting tossed about, it’s really important to see a positive show that neither talks down nor comes across as naive.
What do you want from life?
Enough money not to worry about it, enough wisdom to recognize what things and people are truly the most important to me, and enough time to enjoy them.
Why do you write?
It’s a combination of things, from working out my own baggage, to building on what I see in the world (or what worlds like FiM show me), to seeking approval, to simply loving language. I’d say that I’ve tried to stop and can’t, but that’s a lie. I’ve never tried to stop.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
READ. Read other fics, re-read your own, read professional published works, read newspapers. Devour the written word in all its forms. Reading is a workout for the muscles of writing, and the more you read the more you will come to recognize common mistakes, missteps, cliches, and other pitfalls. A writer who doesn’t read is like a chef who lives on nothing but thin porridge.
What inspired “A New Age”?
More than anything else, it was fiction abhorring a vacuum. The ancient times of Ponies are almost entirely empty in canon, with only teasing little details. Even digging into semi-canonical sources like the Journal of the Two Sisters only offers vague hints. There was a great big hole, so I decided to plug it up with a story. After that, the format was a personal challenge — I’d never done an epistolary work before.
Talk about the challenges of telling an epistolary story.
Not unlike “shaky-cam” films, it can be hard to remain plausible sometimes. It’s a struggle to convey action and keep things vivid and immediate, while remembering that somepony was sitting somewhere and faithfully writing it all down each time. A lot of the entries are scattered, meandering, or speckled with crossed out errors to help create a feeling of immediacy. The “dialogue” format of characters addressing their diaries like conversation partners was a huge help at times, as were unexpected points of view, like Clover’s mother or Smart Cookie.
And speaking of challenges, talk about writing a story that’s almost entirely original characters.
It was tricky to be sure. I suspect that the bulk of OCs was what led to the somewhat lukewarm early readership for the story. But I wasn’t working in a void — there were the Sisters, and Star Swirl, and the Hearth’s Warming gang, and they all provided groundwork from which I could build the others. Hurricane and the other Spartan-esque Pegasi established the style for Northwind, for example. Once the characters had a world to live in, their voices and traits came pretty easily.
What are the doctrines of the Old Way? What can you tell us about creating a religion?
I drew on a blend of Old-World and Pagan faiths for the style of Brome’s religion, which really shows in her authorial voice. Her formal, ritualized delivery is Wiccan in some places, and Classical Mythology in others. I wanted to capture the, well, earthy aspects of Earth Ponies. Fertility, agriculture, family, and the life-cycle were all sacred. All of that was very Pagan, as was the idea of worshipping in the nude. The “Thrice-Blessed” concept is drawn directly from the Maiden/Mother/Crone concept, seen in ancient Greek, Norse, and even Egyptian mythology. I wanted the initial faith to seem like a primeval mystery-cult, which slowly became more gentle and civilized as Brome experienced her trials, tribulations, and revelations.
The conspirators are an obvious choice, but what went into choosing who else to include in this story?
It was usually just necessity, in the form of what you might call “camera-work”. When I needed an angle or perspective that the main cast couldn’t offer, I “zoomed out” to servants, associates, friends, family, bystanders, and so forth. They helped to reveal — or conceal — things to help shape the rhythm of the plot in ways that the core characters couldn’t, and kept the story fresh with new voices and attitudes.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I found writing in an entirely new format a fascinating experience, and I recommend it to others. Don’t just go weird for the sake of weird, but if you’ve never tried changing person or tense or perspective, or writing in a different genre than you’re used to, give it a try. It tickles the brain in fun ways, and who knows — you might discover a new favourite.