Today’s story shines a light on a dark relationship.
[Dark] • 1,659 words
She comes to me at night, sometimes, just when I think I may have fallen asleep. I’ve never known why or how, but in time, I stopped questioning her for the things we share. Call it an unspoken understanding that we have. A symbiosis. A silent accord, there in the dark, and I didn’t press for any more. On one such lonely night, however, I get a little bit bolder.
FROM THE CURATORS: Although dark changeling stories may seem a little passé in our age of rainbow-sherbet antelope-bugs, this brief tale takes that classic darkness and runs with it. “This is a faerie tale, sort of a pony version of ‘Cupid and Psyche’ or even ‘Beauty and the Beast’,” AugieDog said. “But it’s a lot bleaker than either of those … slick and dark and very nicely doom-laden.” Chris had similar praise: “It creates a very effective atmosphere in scant words, before ending on a dark, evocative last line.”
He wasn’t the only one to remark on atmosphere — in fact, that was our most common compliment about the story. “The atmosphere was well realized, the connections to succubi are welcome, and I love how unreliable the narrator is in his feelings for the changeling,” Soge said. Horizon was another voice in that chorus: “Good short fics have to choose one thing to do really well, and this makes the wise decision to focus on atmosphere, building up an effectively tight and tense mood,” he said. “I think that’s exactly why the Chrysalis reveal works, even though that ‘twist’ is obvious going in.”
But it’s not just the atmosphere — this is also packed with excellent prose and voicing. “It’s full of great imagery, and our narrator really gets across that sense of taking pleasure in something so outwardly wrong,” Present Perfect said. Indeed, that unreliable narration prompted the central question raised by the story. “My Queen really gets inside the narrator’s head as it examines his sense of dependence,” Chris said. “It leaves a nice ambiguity as to how much of that is his visitor’s doing … just how much did he gild his own cage?”
Read on for our author interview, in which Bootsy Slickmane discusses plastic trophies, pet commentary, and cobwebbed children.
Give us the standard biography.
Not a whole lot to tell, really. Born to nobody important in an unremarkable place, grew up without many friends and liked it. My mother read a lot of books, and she kept tons of novels and anthologies around. I got involved with a “young authors” program at age seven and somehow wrote the best story out of everyone involved, though it was no huge accomplishment, given that we were all little kids. I still have the little plastic trophy next to my plush dust mite atop a bookshelf. I’d never written fanfiction before, outside of a few tiny, pointless scenes that were done as jokes. I’d stuck to writing original stories, usually gritty science fiction. Wrote the stuff on and off for something like 17 years before getting into fanfics. A better head start than many, I’m sure.
When I first heard the term “brony” and what it meant, my first thought was, “Huh. That’s kinda cool. That’ll probably be me, someday.” About half a year later, in mid-2013, I was working on a post-cyberpunk story and I realized I had accidentally created a character who was almost identical to Rainbow Dash, and this was before I knew anything about the characters aside from their names. Spurred by this realization, I looked deeper into the show through TVTropes. Watching a clip of Rarity whining from A Dog and Pony Show made me decide to give the show a shot, and I was hooked within the day. I dug into the fandom content shortly thereafter. I then started writing fanfics as a way to give back to the community that gave me so much fun stuff to do.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Oh dear. Basically, I was entering the fandom, and I wanted a name that reflected how people tended to view me. Something intuitive, you know? Among my friends, I’m known for always wearing boots and having slicked-back hair (and being the only one in my town to have such hair, apparently). I’m also known for always having knives on me, but I didn’t want a pseudonym that people would perceive as “edgy”. So I took my boots and slick hair and gave it a silly pony spin. Not the most dignified name, but it’s unique; when you put my name into Google, you get almost nothing that isn’t related to me in some way.
Plus, it’s not an uncommon name for pets, so I get to make a special comment anytime there’s a fic that features a pet named “Bootsy”.
Who’s your favorite pony?
That has shifted a whole lot over the last three years. Was once Rainbow, then Pinkie, and then Rarity. If Sunset Shimmer spent any meaningful amount of time as a pony, I’d say her. But these days, I think Applejack is my favorite. She reminds me of myself in a lot of ways. Stable, self-reliant, practical.
What’s your favorite episode?
A Canterlot Wedding, with little hesitation. It has more holes in it than Queen Chrysalis, but I just love the tone of the whole thing. No episode before or since has felt like it. And despite my study into the show before watching, I somehow managed to miss any spoilers relating to the changelings, so it totally blindsided me. It’s one of those cases where it’s a fun enough ride for me to look past all the flaws and enjoy it anyway.
What do you get from the show?
A colorful ride of self-discovery, tapping into parts of myself I was ashamed of and that I had hidden away so long as to be forgotten about almost entirely. I got to dig into my own morose mind and dust the cobwebs off the wacky child I used to be. I got to like myself for the first time I can recall.
Also, I get cute ponies.
What do you want from life?
I’d like for someone to remember me after I die. I can’t really ask for much more than that.
Why do you write?
I’ve always been the guy cracking off one-liners in conversation, making outlandish suggestions, and setting others up for jokes. I love to entertain people. If I write something and it brightens someone’s day, well, that’s just dandy. I also love to rip the hearts of out my audience and laugh at their emotional anguish, but I don’t do that quite as often.
Also, I just like to string words together. I’ve always had an interest in language, and writing fiction is fun. Sometimes very difficult, but fun.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Don’t be afraid to experiment, to try new genres, themes, and styles. Try it all, for you might stumble upon what you’ve never known you loved. Never stop challenging yourself in your writing. Write in a different genre, write in a different tense, write a story that has no conflict, write a story of a different length than usual, see how many short stories you can write in 24 hours, and so on. Bust out of that comfort zone and experience the thrill of the unknown. It’s one of the ways we grow as writers.
And take breaks from writing, sometimes. You do not want to burn out, trust me.
What inspired “My Queen”?
The succubus. Or rather, the comparisons that some have drawn between succubi and changelings, especially Chrysalis. The specific details of what made me want to write it are long gone, but knowing my own brain, it was probably a thought like, “What if Chrysalis acted like a succubus, kinda? Invading someone’s bedroom to drain them of their love. How might that play out?” It snowballed from there, as usual. It also helped that I didn’t recall anyone else having tackled that particular angle before. I very much like writing things that haven’t been done before, though I keep in mind that it’s often because they’re things nobody wants to read.
Why use the style of a classic fairy tale or ghost story rather than some of the more modern techniques of horror?
I’d say it had something to do with the anthology books I grew up with. Collections of short stories from the mid-20th century that had won various awards. And, of course, I’m sure my interest in H.P. Lovecraft had a lot to do with it. I wanted to write something that reminded me of those older stories, something that felt like a throwback in style, if for no other reason than the fact that I’d never tried to write like that before. These were stories I loved when I was younger, so it was a bit of a nostalgia thing. I love to experiment, too, and it looks like this particular experiment turned out pretty well.
How challenging was it to write a narrator who knows less about what’s going on than the reader does?
I really didn’t find it to be that big a challenge, actually. It wasn’t that different from how I write in general. I almost always lay out a lot of notes on things that certain characters don’t know about. It’s just a matter of keeping the narrator’s perspective in mind. I don’t often work with omniscient narrators who know and tell all. I like to use a narrator who is directly tied to the focus character’s perceptions. If the character doesn’t know something, the narrator won’t mention it. This is merely that concept taken to the logical extreme, where the narrator is the ignorant focus character.
This particular case is a bit different, though, it’s true. The narrator in My Queen doesn’t know anything at all about changelings, but any reader surely understands at least the basics of what they’re going through. I suppose it adds to the tension. It’s a bit like watching someone else obliviously playing with a bomb; we know they could be gone in a second, naught left but a stain on the ground, but they haven’t a clue.
I guess I’ve always been good at getting into the heads of my characters, so something like this comes naturally. I just don’t tell anything they wouldn’t know. It’s kinda fun, in fact. The bigger challenge is keeping my mouth shut about those hidden details I previously laid out when I’m later talking about the story. Quite tempting to spill those beans, it is.
Talk a little about the use of ambiguity in storytelling.
It’s a dangerous thing, like many other elements in writing. When done well, it can spark the imagination and draw the audience in, making them dig deeper and try to puzzle out what’s going on. When done poorly, the audience just comes away confused and dissatisfied, wishing they’d spent their time more wisely. I think the key is to write with a crystal-clear understanding of everything in the story. The characters, their motivations, their histories, everything. If My Queen were told from the perspective of Chrysalis, it’d probably be a novella instead of a short story.
Then you write the story without directly addressing the majority of those details. Give the audience just enough that they can grasp what’s going on in the moment. I feel they should be able to parse out enough to get an image in their mind of the situation, even if that image is fuzzy and the characters are merely black silhouettes. Having a narrator who is themselves kept in the dark (so to speak) really helps with that. Then sprinkle in things that only imply or allude to those things not directly addressed. Subtlety is another key.
Then again, one can get away with not ironing out quite all of the details. There are a few things in My Queen that I never defined in my notes, simply because the specifics are better left entirely to the reader’s imagination. For example, I never decided what exactly happens between the narrator and Chrysalis, outside of the stated and the obvious. One can come to some conclusions based on context, sure, but it’s a detail I don’t need to pin down for myself. That one is up to the reader to decide. And that’s another thing about ambiguity: it lets the audience do a lot of the work, lets their own biases and preferences fill in the gaps, lets it be as personal as the audience allows. And as has been said many, many times over the years, the reader’s own imagination is often far more effective than anything the author might cook up.
I general, I like having some ambiguity here and there. Keeps the intrigue going.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Well, I’d like to thank the library here for their attention, of course. That’s always lovely to get. I’m pleasantly surprised that people seem to like this particular fic. It’s a story that I really wanted to tell, but it took a while for me to figure out exactly how I was going to tell it. It sat unfinished among my documents for over a year. It’s always been one of my favorites among my own works, and such stories usually end up being largely ignored. It’s a nice, fuzzy feeling to see it in a place like this. Thank you for that.
I’ll close by stating that this interview is now longer than the fic it’s tied to. Have a nice day.