Our recent “Correct the Record” contest asked readers to help us choose authors whose previously spotlighted stories weren’t the best showcase of their writing strengths. Fitting, then, that today’s feature is about a romance being forgotten.
[Drama] [Romance] • 59,897 words
Rainbow Dash can’t wait for her first date with Applejack; they always have an awesome time hanging out, and a relationship just means there are even more physical activities they can try together. So when the dumb zap apple harvest postpones their date, she decides it’s the zap apples that are going to have to change their plans. Equestria should know by now that wild, ancient magic is no match for Rainbow Dash, especially when she might get laid.
Everything is going according to plan, until she crashes. Or, rather, until she wakes up after crashing and fifteen years have gone by. Fifteen years during which she seems to have been a very busy pony.
Now Rainbow Dash has to adjust to a life she never thought she wanted, and figure out if she’ll ever get to live the life that brought her here.
FROM THE CURATORS: The case for correction here was both simple and compelling. “[Previous feature] Of Cottages and Cloud Houses … does not reflect bookplayer’s claim to fame:
shipping romance,” Catalysts Cradle said in Lost Time’s nomination. “This is a really well planned and well executed story that touches on a lot of deeper themes absent from many other ship fics.” Our curators quickly agreed. “All I can say is, our audience has great taste,” Horizon said, amid superlatives like AugieDog’s: “This beat a story of mine in a contest and is also one of my favorite pony stories ever written.”
The main element driving our appreciation was the story’s novel approach to its central romance. “In a lot of ways, Lost Time takes the idea of ‘Alien Shipping Syndrome’ and turns it inside out,” AugieDog said, “throwing Dash into what seems to her to be a sudden relationship with AJ and then not only showing us how that relationship developed but showing us the characters as they are now beginning to develop a new relationship.” Horizon also commented on that multi-layered approach: “What’s remarkable about this is that it’s three stories in one — the romance with displaced Dash, the relationship drama with older Dash’s family, and the character drama of displaced Dash’s lost 15 years — all of which work both individually and together.” And Present Perfect praised the core maturity: “This is, as I put it to myself, a very ‘grown-up’ fic,” he said. “It’s very focused on the minutiae of a relationship, the meaning of marriage, the full weight of responsibility that having kids requires of a person. You just do not see people writing fanfics about that, and it’s the reason I love this as much as I do.”
The icing on this romance’s cake was exemplary character work. “Dash is really marvelously used in the central role, contrasting her self-centered approach to daily life with her core loyalty, and naturally building a compelling drama out of that tension,” Horizon said. “And the children are fantastic supporting characters — whip-smart without being written as tiny adults. Trying to maneuver around them adds an extra layer of complexity to the relationship difficulties. The dinner-without-vegetables scene in particular sticks out in my mind as heartbreaking.” But equally compelling was the work put into the plot: “On a story level, too, everything dovetails so very nicely,” AugieDog said. “The revelations in the last chapter are the best sort of revelations because I didn’t at all see them coming, but looking back, I can see them all making perfect sense.” It all added up to a story deserving of its accolades, as Present Perfect said: “This is really just one of the absolute best fics I’ve read, period.”
Read on for our (all-new!) author interview, in which bookplayer discusses prompt tag, sizzles sold, and Star Wars rejections.
Introduce yourself to readers who didn’t see your last interview.
Around FiMfiction I’m a writer and shipper (AppleDash and TwiJack mostly) and general Applejack fangirl who distributes writing advice on her blog. I’ve been around fandom for five years, and been on panels at three BronyCons (with a fourth one coming up!)
In the real world I’m a writer/beekeeper/stay-at-home mom with a husband and an almost three-year-old daughter named Trixie (technically Beatrix, in case she wants to be a lawyer or something.)
Since your last feature, you’ve also published an original fiction novel. What has that process taught you?
Well, it taught me that publishing a book is like publishing your first fanfic, except fewer people will comment.
Really, it made me sympathize with published authors and value the experiences I’ve had here at FiMfiction even more. There’s so much you don’t control when working with a publisher, and while I was lucky in many ways, it’s nerve-wracking having things out of your hands. There’s also so much less feedback; people don’t usually comment on a book, and there’s no thumbs up or down. I know about how many I’ve sold, but I have no idea how many of those copies ever got read, or if most people liked them.
In general, publishing fanfic is much more fun. It also pays about the same. On the other hand, I published a freaking book, so there’s that.
How did your own experiences with family inform Lost Time?
As of last January I’ve been with my husband, between dating and marriage, for fifteen years. That’s the amount of time AJ and Dash have been together in the fic. We’ve both grown and matured in that time, but at the same time we both spend a lot of time feeling like we have no idea what we’re doing, especially since our daughter was born. That was really the core inspiration for the story.
Being in a relationship this long also taught me a lot about the work that goes into building a life with someone and maintaining that life. A lot of the interpersonal conflicts, big and small, that AJ and Dash face are loosely based on things my husband and I have faced and worked through. Like AJ and Dash, often the key has been remembering that we’re best friends, and that we have things in common that we love (in our case, we’re both huge geeks who love to overthink media), and that we’re lucky to have each other around every day.
A lot of the details of interacting with the kids come from my life as well. When I was writing the story, my daughter was just a few months older than Orchard Sky, so how much work a baby that age can be was fresh in my mind (and often in my lap, and on my hip, and climbing on my side table.) A lot of details came from that too, including my take on children’s books; Dash’s unsuccessful attempts to interest Sky in Daring Do’s My First Adventure is based on similar attempts by my husband to interest our daughter in some Little Golden Books retellings of the Star Wars movies.
When it came to the older kids, I’m actually the oldest of four siblings, and two of them are 10 and 12 years younger than me, so we had a very AJ/Apple Bloom or Rarity/Sweetie Belle type relationship. I did a lot of baby-sitting and sort-of-parent standing in, like chaperoning field trips and supervising outings. A lot of the older kids’ behavior, and Dash’s handling of it at first, was based on situations with my younger brothers.
But even more than that, the feelings of being a parent: the conflict of trying to be everything to a little kid while still just wanting a few hours to yourself, the pressure of knowing that sometimes their life might literally depend on you not screwing up even a little bit, and the overwhelming feeling of knowing that you’re this little person’s mommy, the most important person in their world and the person they love unconditionally before they even know what love is … that’s all straight from the heart.
Why have Apple Bloom and Big Mac left the farm?
I almost always headcanon that Apple Bloom is going to leave the farm. I don’t doubt that she loves her family and loves Sweet Apple Acres as her home, but I don’t think she’s tied there emotionally or with responsibilities the way AJ and Mac are.
This was written after she had her cutie mark, so I came up with the idea that the CMC might team up with Princess Luna, letting Luna scout ponies’ dreams for potential cutie mark problems. Obviously the clubhouse would be too small for three adult ponies, so moving to Canterlot seemed like a good chance for the three of them to be someplace more exciting than Ponyville, be closer to Princess Luna, and still be relatively close to Ponyville and their friends and family there.
Headcanon-wise, it’s always more of a toss-up for me whether AJ or Mac will leave the farmhouse. With AJ’s cutie mark, I tend to think that even if Mac got the farmhouse she’d build someplace else on Sweet Apple Acres. But in stories I write about the future it tends to come down to exactly what’s going on at the time.
In Lost Time, the situation was that Mac was getting married to Cheerilee, planning to start a family, and Granny’s health was failing. Cheerilee had her own house in town, so they decided that it would be better for both Granny and for Mac’s new family if he went to live with Cheerilee instead of her moving to the farm. He still works on the farm, it’s no farther than Apple Bloom used to go to school every day, but he left the farmhouse for AJ and the farm will go to whichever young Apple seems interested in taking it over. Which, right now, seems like it’s going to be Cider Splash.
One review of Lost Time mentioned the tragedy if you look at the story from Applejack’s angle. Why did you choose to focus on Rainbow Dash’s journey and leave that in the background?
There are a few reasons that all sort of combine into one big reason. First of all, Dash is always an active protagonist, and this fic gave her tons to do. What AJ was dealing with was much more internal and reactive, so most of the scenes dealing with that would have been reflective and, after a while, kind of redundant. And since it’s a very dark place for her, that could easily have taken the fic towards melodrama, especially with the whiplash to Dash’s perspective.
I think what AJ is going through almost comes across better through the little touches: looking at the photo albums when Dash comes home, starting to give her own opinion on Dash rejoining the Wonderbolts and then cutting herself off, her mood shifts between when she’s remembering her life with Dash and when she’s confronted by the reality of what’s happened. It makes her strength that much more impressive when Dash does recognize what she’s been going through.
Is there any music which influenced this story, or which serves as your “writing soundtrack” more generally?
I use music in a kind of different way when writing. I don’t listen to music when I write — in fact, I get distracted easily, so I prefer silence. But music is important to my writing because I don’t have much time for actual writing, so having a song that really focuses a specific part of the story for me keeps me thinking about it while I’m driving to the grocery store.
The theme song of Lost Time, especially the climax, is “I’m Still Here” by John Rzeznik (from the movie Treasure Planet).
The rest of my track list (more or less, I’m working from memory because I’ve changed computers since then and never bothered to back up that playlist) was:
“When I Grow Up” – Garbage (Prewriting and the first chapters).
“Strangers Like Me” – Phil Collins (Tarzan) (The chapters with the kids).
“Rest Stop” and “Bed of Lies” – Matchbox Twenty (The relationship problems between Dash and AJ).
“Complicated” – Poi Dog Pondering.
“It Takes Two” – Into the Woods and “Better Than I Used to Be” – Tim McGraw (Dash and AJ’s date).
“I’m Still Here” – John Rzeznik (The climax).
“These are the Days” – 10,000 Maniacs (The last parts of the last chapter).
Are there any more stories you plan to tell in this continuity? If not, what’s the juiciest side story you wish you could further explore?
I still don’t plan on writing anything more (well, maybe some fluffy little scenes, but no stories). But there are definitely a few I wish would just sort of magically appear on my account, fully written.
One is the story of how Cider Splash gets her cutie mark. It involves beating Flim and Flam at their own game — albeit in a more Apple way. No dishonesty involved, but it’s Cider’s instinct to “sell the sizzle, not the steak” as they say in advertising. Still, it’s enough to make AJ apprehensive even though she has to admit that Cider didn’t do anything wrong.
That kind of leads into a larger idea I wish I could explore, about Cider taking over more duties around the farm as AJ gets older. Cider would have very, very different ideas about how things should run, while still loving Sweet Apple Acres with all of her heart. That would be rough for AJ to deal with. I also like the kind of symbolism there that Cider is AJ’s daughter, and an Apple through and through, but she’s also a pegasus.
And, of course, the true sequel would be — spoilers! — Rainbow Dash (regaining some of her memories, including some from a very dark time she and AJ went through, and having to process what happened there while also truly understanding that their relationship was never perfect). AJ implied that they’d weathered some serious emotional storms before, and I have some ideas for what those were.
What’s your history with the AppleDash group whose contest this was written for?
I’m co-founder of the group, with DbzOrDie, and it might be my biggest contribution to fandom.
About five years ago, when I published my first fic, I met DbzOrDie. At the time, most of the shipping groups out there were basically places for people to dump fics, and people weren’t always honest about how much of the ship they had in them, not to mention that many of them were downright unreadable. DbzOrDie came to me with the idea of starting a new AppleDash group that would promise at least basic quality control and moderation to make sure the fics were actually AppleDash. I suggested that, if we were moderating this thing, we should do it up right and actually use the forum side of the group for discussion, recs, and a picture thread.
It wasn’t long before Tchernobog joined us as the third admin and the “Main Socializing Thread” was born. For years that thread was active as a place to talk ponies and whatever else was going on. It got to the point where people who didn’t even ship AppleDash were joining to chat, and I made some of my best friends and cemented even more friendships there. It’s died down now — Skype and Discord kind of took up that place for a lot of people — but the group still has some of the most active discussion of any shipping group. It really cemented the community, and paved the way for contests (like the one Lost Time was written for) and several different group collabs over the years.
The group also served as an inspiration/template for other shipping groups as well. One night, as a lark, I started a minific game of prompt tag, where people wrote a minific based on a one-word prompt and then left a word for the next person. The rules I wrote up for it at 2 AM one morning became the rules for similar games in a bunch of other shipping groups, often verbatim, with “AppleDash” replaced with their ship of choice.
In a fandom as big as ours, it’s a lucky few who can point to something that other people have picked up and carried on and say “that was me! I started that!” and while I absolutely share the credit with DbzOrDie, Tchernobog, Timaeus, and KrazyTheFox (our unofficial admin) for making the AppleDash group what it is, I’m very proud to be a part of it.
Because of that, as well as my position as admin and my reputation as a writer, when I heard about Krazy’s contest I knew that if I was going to have a shot at winning fair and square, I needed to give the judges something impressive. That was how I ended up writing 60k words in two months of high enough quality that RCL readers voted for it. As far as I know, this is the first AppleDash to be featured by the Royal Canterlot Library, even if it had to slip in the back door.
When you won the contest, what pony merchandise did you spend your $250 prize on?
I bought my daughter an adorable pony outfit.
Also, as AJ in the fic could probably tell you, when you have a household to keep up it’s not exactly as simple as spending this money on that. While I was writing Lost Time, my dryer broke, so the prize money went to buying a new dryer. But having a windfall for the dryer meant that later I would have money to go to BronyCon, and buy my daughter another adorable pony shirt there.
(To be fair, she already has a small army of ponies of all sizes, and it’s hard for me to have grown-up pony stuff that doesn’t eventually get drafted into the army.)
RCL readers chose this story as one that exemplifies your style. What elements of your “typical” writing does this strongly bring out? Are there any that it doesn’t?
I’m a shipper and romance writer at heart, but my favorite part of a relationship is what happens after the first date. I rarely focus on the warm, fuzzy feelings of crushes or “falling in love.” The real story in a relationship is learning to trust someone else to be your family, to even run parts of your life when you need it, and becoming a someone they can trust to do the same.
Most of what I think people would call my best fics are romances that explore characters building that trust, and Lost Time is a great example. I mentioned in the author’s notes at the end that in many ways it’s the ultimate bookplayer romance, because it ties together so many themes I come back to.
As to ways it doesn’t, the only thing I can really mention is that I only have a few completed long fics. I tend to have good luck with them if I can get the “Complete” tag on them, but I’m … let’s say, lacking in stamina.
If a new bookplayer reader likes this, what should they read next? If they want something a little different, what’s a story you’re proud of that has pushed your boundaries?
Where to go next depends a bit on what they liked about this one. If they were into the drama, Wet Feathers is probably a good choice. It’s not officially the same continuity, but it’s a good look at some of the challenges AJ and Dash might have faced earlier in their relationship, with a much more immature AJ and a slightly more mature Rainbow Dash. Other good (non-AppleDash) choices for romantic drama are The Homesteading and Daring Do and a Place Called Home (my most underrated story, if you ask me. Daring Do/Zecora is not the most popular ship in fandom, because fandom is wrong).
If they liked the more slice-of-life parts with AJ and Dash and the kids, The AppleDash Project will probably be their jam. My first fic on the site, it’s nothing but slice of life scenes of AJ and Dash developing a relationship in between episodes of seasons one and two; lots of bantering as they tackle different aspects of a new romance.
If they’re looking for something different, I do sometimes write things that are not shipping; A Guide to Magic is one I’m proud of. And for some very different shipping, my currently-in-progress fic Sun and Hearth is my most ambitious project yet, detailing a 2000-year relationship between Princess Celestia and a mysteriously-immortal Smart Cookie and the problem arising at present with a hoofful of new immortals around them.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I wrote this fic in about two months, and I couldn’t have done it without my prereaders who were willing to get chapter after chapter read and back to me in a day or two. DbzOrDie, bats, Merc the Jerk, and Bradel deserve a hearty thanks for this. And I want to give a shout out to the folks who picked up some of my proofreading in comments and PM, especially KingMoriarty and the mysterious docontra who hit almost every chapter for me.
Also, a huge thank you to TheJediMasterEd, PresentPerfect, and [person who should know who he is] for awesome reviews that make me want to keep writing.
And, of course, thanks goes to KrazyTheFox for the contest that inspired this, and Catalysts Cradle for nominating me for the “Correct the Record” contest.