Today’s story might just get you looking over your shoulder.
A Good Filly
[Drama] • 1,099 words
There are rules for surviving in the Crystal Empire. Shining Facet knows them well, and only hopes her daughter can learn quickly. After all, they say that things are different now — but sometimes it takes more than flugelhorns and crystal-berries to heal old wounds.
FROM THE CURATORS: Discussing this story during the nomination process, we were all amazed that we hadn’t featured Orbiting Kettle’s work before: “Clearly an oversight on our part,” Soge said.
About the story in question, Soge went on to call it “dark and messed up in the best possible way.” Present Perfect “was floored by how quickly and easily it slides us into the situation and the mindset of our protagonist,” with AugieDog adding, “the story quietly examines the invisible shackles of paranoia, and the first tiny flickers of hope appear in such a lovely and understated way.”
Our discussion got more personal than it usually does, too. Soge recalled family members “who suffered persecution under the previous military regime in Brazil,” while Chris, calling himself “a man who lives in a low-crime city in a very white state,” found himself thinking of people he knows “whose ‘what to do when you see the police’ lectures from their parents included things that were totally absent from mine: things like ‘hide before they see you,’ ‘don’t tell them your address, just say “around here,”‘ and ‘don’t tell them your real name.'”
That a story of not quite 1,100 words can touch so deeply upon so many worlds of experience while still fitting perfectly into events depicted in a cartoon about colorful talking ponies says a lot about both the source material and the author who put that story together. So read on for our interview where Orbiting Kettle discusses friends, cheese, the end of fear, and the hope of the future.
Give us the standard biography.
I’m a mid-30s guy currently haunting the middle of Germany. Previously I dwelled for about two decades in Italy, where I met my wife (whom I converted to the weird thing with colorful equines too) and where I acquired most of the idiosyncrasies that kind of define a large part of who I am.
Aside from ponies, I have an insatiable thirst for useless and interesting, if not completely accurate, trivia, games, movies, genre fiction(duh) and comics.
Apart from the previous list of slightly stereotypical interests, I harbor a deep love for food and the act of cooking itself. It is one of my major defining traits, and it comes in part from my family and in part from living in southern Europe. For me, the act of preparing and consuming a meal is something deeply social, best done with friends and, if possible, over a very long time. This has lead to a couple of slightly embarrassing moment when I invited people I just met to come over for dinner, which apparently is not something you don’t do here in Germany.
I also have the tendency to ramble whenever I miss the often obvious clues that it’s time to shut up.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
It is kind of a variation on Russel’s teapot, but with me being a bit less refined than porcelain. It also means that, while you can’t disprove my existence, I have to demonstrate that I am.
Basically, it was me trying to be clever.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Depends on the writer, so pretty much everypony sooner or later.
Indolent answer aside, I’m partial to the whole cabal of background characters that try to clearly contain the flood of madness and chaos with common sense and hard work. Ponies (and non-ponies) like Cheerilee, Zecora and Cranky.
What’s your favorite episode?
That’s another tough one, wasn’t this supposed to be something relaxing?
Not sure if it is my all-time favorite, but Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep? ranks highly there. It’s a story that has an epicness and an archaic quality that is fascinating and which, even with all its shortcomings, makes it a splendid episode.
What do you get from the show?
Fun, cute characters, interesting stories and nice songs. I like to think of myself as a storyteller, and the show is a wonderful toybox full of stuff with which to play.
I also admire the work that goes into each episode and how often it doesn’t necessarily chose the easy path.
What do you want from life?
Functional immortality and enough resources to use it to explore the galaxy.
If that isn’t possible, I’ll progressively fall back on a version of happiness and contentment that still is fulfilling. A nice garden, good wine, few worries, friends and cheese. Basically, what Epicurus said.
Why do you write?
Because I have stories I want to tell, and finally I found enough motivation and a receptive audience to tell them. I also have fun doing it.
I began to write fiction really late (like two years ago) and since then I try to manage my time to do it more. I get a kick out of it if people read and like my stories, I feel like I made their life a little bit better. I have no illusion that the things I write will be life altering experiences, but knowing that somebody got five minutes of entertainment or some stimulating idea or some other emotion out of something I have done usually improves my day.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
I fear I can offer only platitudes here. The usual stuff people smarter and more talented than me have already said. Read a lot, read everything, consume stories in every possible format, try to write as often as possible and try to have fun doing it.
On a more practical side, find other people (editors, pre-readers, proof-readers) with whom you work well together and keep them close. They are invaluable.
What inspired “A Good Filly”?
I try to participate, whenever I have time, in the Write-off. A friendly competition with strict word and time limit and a different prompt every time.
In this round the prompt was The Morning After, and I was juggling a few ideas. The Morning after a bad decision? The Morning After a great victory? The Morning After the revolution?
This last one stuck with me and I was reminded of what my best friend once told me. His parents were political refugees who had fled from a dictator. Even if they were safe, it took them years to not stiffen whenever they saw the police. It had been a symbol of fear for such a long time that their instinct was stronger than their reason. A uniform meant danger.
From that, my mind wandered to other stories I’ve heard about other regimes, mainly the DDR, and to how the fall of an oppressive order rarely means the end of fear.
Thinking about how the Crystal Ponies had to feel was almost natural. After all, a Princess came out of the nothing and took the power from the old tyrant. She was prettier and told different things, but she still was the power.
Did it surprise you how easily this sort of real-world, socio-political fear and suspicion fit into the setting of My Little Pony?
Not really. The show is vague enough about the details that we can fill the empty space easily with our experiences and tell stories about ourselves (as in us humans) through them.
If we don’t delve in Xeno-fiction (which is a quite interesting genre in itself) then the stories told are stories about people. Cold in Gardez raised this point often, and he is completely right about it.
When we take away the pretty colors and examine some of the dangers in Equestria we can easily see sources of horror and despair. The fact that the ponies confront these with optimism and friendship and overcome them is one of the reasons I love the setting.
What does the phrase “a good filly” mean to a pony in Shining Facet’s situation?
Everything. It’s her hope for the future, it’s what drives her on, it’s probably all that she has.
Do you see Shining Facet ever really recovering from living under Sombra’s rule?
Depends on what you intend as “really recovering”.
Will she ever be able to completely forget that horrible phase of her life, will the wounds ever heal completely and without scars? No, almost certainly not.
Will she be happy again? Will she be able to live again as a free pony? Yes, she probably will.
There will be fear and distrust, but it will pass. And life will go on.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Heh, only that I never expected to be selected for the RCL when I began to write two years ago. I’m very pleased, honored and a bit embarrassed by it. So, thank you.