Today’s story will bring a touch of warmth to any metaphorical winter.
[Drama] • 18,539 words
Hearth’s Warming Eve is supposed to be a happy event — Cadance knows this, but all she ever feels is lonely. Now, with Shining Armor gone and a freak snowstorm battering her kingdom, it’s up to Cadance to salvage the holiday and teach her crystal ponies to care for one another.
A story about finding your family, on the coldest night of the year.
FROM THE CURATORS: When Chris first reviewed this story several years ago, he wrote, “I was planning to suggest to the other Royal Canterlot Library guys that we feature it … but when I went to write up the proposal, I realized the story was written by Bradel, who’s part of the RCL, and ineligible for featuring.”
But now, after three years “in harness” as it were, Bradel is stepping down from his post as a curator around here. We’re sad to see him go, of course, but it does mean we can feature what Soge called “a Hearths’ Warming story, but it’s also so much more.”
“It not only paints a terrific picture of Cadance on three distinctly important days in her life,” AugieDog said, “but it also gives us a nicely realized glimpse of Twilight as a filly and a wonderful picture of the Crystal Empire still emerging from the nightmare of Sombra.” “Emotional without piling on dramatic excesses” was how Chris put it, with Soge calling it “timeless” and adding “I loved every second of it.” Present Perfect noted how the story is “about Cadence suddenly being thrust into things and having to grapple with not quite fitting in: a family, a horn, a kingdom” and ended by saying it was “the kind of emotional Cadence story I enjoy reading.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Bradel discusses recorded carols, DISEMBARKING PONIES, and IRL Mary Sues.
Give us the standard biography.
I firmly believe that we are defined by the stories we tell ourselves. A life is created through a series of choices—and the choices we have access to are inherently bound by the stories we tell ourselves about what is and isn’t possible, what does and doesn’t have value. We each have our own story, and it behooves us to make it a good one.
…and I may be doing a bad job of that.
My name is Fletcher G.W. Christensen, and I am a Mary Sue.
People give me grief for how many degrees I have. I’ve been in school—learning, teaching, or both—every year since 1985. Routine conversations with my parents regularly devolve into everyone looking up more information on the internet so we can discuss topics in greater depth. People in ivory towers look at me and think I’m out of touch with the real world. As this interview gets published, I’m in the process of moving to take up a new job as an assistant professor of statistics, beginning next calendar years. (Let’s start with the unreasonable over-education.)
I am also, as far as I’m aware, the luckiest person in the world. As far as my perceptions go, events in my life resolve the way I want them to with a stunning degree of regularity. Possibly, this is the product of hard work, skill, and talent on my part—but I prefer to believe that I’m also stupidly lucky.
I am a world traveler. I’m from the US, but I’ve lived in France, Japan, and New Zealand. Yes, I’ve trained (extensively) with masters from two different Japanese sword schools. I am trilingual.
When I’m not busy working on my dissertation, people pay me money to live in their houses, eat their food, and play with their dogs. Oh, did I mention that animals love me?
In addition to being a respected writer, I’m also an accomplished photographer. I’m not quite as good at acting or singing, but I’ve done plenty of both. I expect to start taking dance lessons next year.
I have great friends, and a wonderful relationship with my parents. Women love spending time with me, because I make them laugh. I have no student loan debt.
If you think I sound insufferable, you’re probably right. When I set out to craft the story of my life, I turned it into a hack job where the protagonist is unrealistic and poorly developed. At least I can take some small comfort in how awesome and overpowered I am.
 Four, expected to be five in November: a B.A. in mathematics, a B.Sc. in psychology, a Pg.Dip. in Japanese language and society, and an M.A. (soon also Ph.D.) in statistics.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I’m curious how far I can abbreviate this story and still make it intelligible.
So back in the mid-2000s, when I lived in Japan, I developed an internet handle that was a play on the meaning of my real name. Unfortunately, once I’d learned a sufficient amount of Japanese, I figured out that my made-up cool-sounding Japanese word was superseded by a real Japanese word with the meaning I’d wanted, but that you won’t find in any English-to-Japanese dictionary. I only stumbled into it after I got to the point where I could read the actual Japanese-to-Japanese dictionary.
Anyway, there’s a part of me that loathes made-up and misused words, so when I found myself getting into the pony fandom and needed a penname, I decided to look for something new. It probably took me about a day to come up with Bradel Bound — but between the native pony sound to it, the Stan Lee style alliteration, and the writerliness, I fell in love with it as a handle.
Oh, I suppose the writerliness might not be obvious to the casual observer. Bradel-binding is a type of bookbinding, also called German Case binding. It’s named for a Frenchman, Alexis-Pierre Bradel, which means it should probably be pronounced with a short ‘a’ and a stressed second syllable. But it’s my name, dammit, and I pronounce it with a long ‘a’ and a stressed first syllable.
 I have just checked Jim Breen’s WWWJDIC and… proven myself completely wrong. Damn you, Jim Breen! Where were you in 2004!?
 Okay, I don’t always loathe made-up words.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Sunset Shimmer. Suck it, haters.
What’s your favorite episode?
I consider this an impossible choice. There are way too many awesome episodes of this series. I don’t think the later seasons get enough love, though, so I’m going to go with “The Saddle Row Review” from Season 6. It manages to show off both flaws and talents for each of the Mane Six, and it does it while tossing in a couple new-to-the-series comedy tropes. It encapsulates a lot of what I love best about the show — though, sadly, no Daniel Ingram songs.
What do you get from the show?
In a word: hope.
I was aware of pony for about a year before I started watching it. I was pretty sure I’d like it, but it wasn’t high on my priorities list for a while. Then, in January 2013, I found myself reading the final book in one of my favorite novel series, and sweet Celestia it was depressing. Favorite characters dying, other favorites making their final bows. I came out of that book emotionally bankrupt. I needed something fun, happy. Joyful. And I knew exactly where to look.
Week after week, My Little Pony brings me back to what’s good in the world. It’s like a blanket and a warm cup of apple cider on a snowy winter night. When I sit down with an episode of pony, I know that in half an hour the world’s going to be a better, brighter, friendlier place. That means a lot to me.
What do you want from life?
I was going to do the Conan joke, but Karazor already did it back in 2014!
So I guess I have to do the honesty thing, don’t I? Okay. For myself, I want my dream job: professor of statistics and professional writer. I want a family: a spouse I love, who shares my interests and values; and kids I can indoctrinate with Bayesian epistemology, genre literature, and My Little Pony. I want a long life, packed to bursting with friendship and magic, love and adventure, happiness and hope.
But I’ve got that anti-Randian altruistic bone in my body, too. And perhaps more than anything, I want the perpetuation and advancement of the human project. I want a world with more freedom than we have today — freedom from and freedom to. I want our species to dwell among the stars. I want the betterment of all mankind.
I guess if I wanted to be extra pithy — and when has that ever gone wrong — I’d imagine a bit of dialogue like the following.
GHOSTOFHERACLITUS: Bradel, what is best in life?
BRADELBOUND: To love your enemies, see them forgiven before you, and hear the exaltations of their women.
(Somehow, that sounds significantly less catchy than the original.)
Why do you write?
For whatever reason, I find this question much harder than any other in this interview. Maybe that’s because I haven’t done a lot of writing lately (excepting academic stuff), but I don’t think that’s the reason.
The truth is, I don’t fully understand why I write — and maybe that’s why it has come in fits and starts over the years. I love stories, that’s one part, but it’s easier to enjoy a story by reading someone else’s work than writing your own. I love artistry; but same thing, there’s always a book at my bedside that’ll do a better job artistically than I can do at present. I love making other people happy — but there are often easier ways to do that than by writing stories.
When I write stories, I think the simplest explanation is that I do it for the same reason other people climb mountains, or run marathons. I do it for a sense of personal accomplishment. I do it to know that this is a thing I can do.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Care about your characters. Care about your plot.
Care about grammar. Care about pacing. Care about the intricacies of narrative POV. Care about sentence structure. Care about engendering surprise. Care about themes. Care about finding a story’s moral center. Care about background research. Care about challenging your reader.
If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Care enough to do it well.
What inspired “Three Nights”?
Loneliness. I’ve been living in southern California for the last five years, the whole time I’ve been in the pony fandom, and we don’t get winter down here. I love winter, and I miss it. (Thank God I’m moving — like right now, actually, as this interview gets published.)
Around November of 2013, I found myself ruminating a lot on loneliness, especially as it pertained to the pony fandom. I felt like a lot of people in the pony community (especially back in the halcyon days of 2013) were a bit detached from society, sometimes even from our own families. I’ve been blessed in my life to have parents and friends I’m deeply connected to, but I know a lot of people aren’t so lucky.
From its inception, “Three Nights” was a story about creating families and communities. I wanted to write a story for everyone who’s ever felt alone on Christmas. Holidays can be especially tough, when you don’t have anyone to share them with, or when you don’t feel a real connection to the people around you. With the sole exception of Twilight and Shining Armor, every biological relationship depicted in this story is at least mildly dysfunctional. Sometimes, that’s the story of our lives — but family doesn’t have to mean just those people who share our chromosomes.
Did you plan out the increasing size and complexity of the chapters, or did the story just grow that way?
<cough> Yeah, I totally planned that one. Totally. <cough>
I did know, early on, that the chapters were going to get longer as I progressed. What I didn’t know was how pronounced the difference would be in the end. The first two chapters were always supposed to be soft set-up for the third.
That foal chapter, though… I like my writing experiments, and I had a blast telling a story from the perspective of someone who had very limited understanding of the world around her. But it’s not an especially sustainable perspective. It’s cute, but it’s just a glorified writer trick. In hindsight, I feel like it was a little cheap to spend 1500 words building to a character name reveal, too. I’m still too enamoured with the fancy writer trick to wish I’d done this part any other way, though.
The adolescence chapter was what I expected the whole thing to be like: moderate in length, with a manageable amount of detail packed into one chapter.
And the adult chapter just completely got away from me. Halfway through, I think I found myself wishing I could split it into multiple chapters — maybe one per Equestria Rail Service notification — but I’d already tied myself to temporal breaks with the previous chapters, and I really disliked the idea of losing that structural element.
The odd chapter structure is one of those things I really appreciate about writing for fanfiction. I’m not sure if I could get that type of structure to fly, professionally. It still strikes me as deeply weird, even though I don’t know how (or if) I’d change it. But in fanfiction, you can take risks like that and you don’t have to worry too much about how they’re received. I like the story that came out of all this, and I think a lot of readers did too.
How important is revision to your writing process?
I wish it were more important than it is. Every time I do serious revision on a story, every time I try to get help from my friends, the end product comes out better.
“Three Nights” has actually been the high point of my revision process so far. The third chapter, in particular, involved beating my head against the wall a few dozen times trying to figure out how to handle the feedback I was getting from my prereaders. To this day, I remember that Skywriter had ideas about how I could improve the overall narrative, and after two or three months of trying, I just had to give up and accept that I couldn’t find a way to incorporate all of his suggestions and still retain all the important bits of the story I wanted to write.
To some extent, I feel like that should be a “kill your darlings” lesson. I still haven’t really learned how to do take that advice. But I also feel like there’s another lesson — a writer can only tell the story he wants to tell. A good writer will try to tell that story as well as he can, but he can never afford to lose touch with the spark of creativity that brought the story to life in his mind.
What’s the one thing you’d like readers to take away from reading “Three Nights”?
Well, okay, other things too. But I need to drop that plug in here somewhere, and I already said a lot of my spiel about family, community, and friendship. Nadnerb did the cover art for this story, as well as a lot of concept sketches, and he’s done so many other things for me over the years. And all he’s ever asked is that I finish Bell, Book, & Candle. Getting to work with him has been amazing.
And really, in microcosm, that is what I’d like readers to take away from “Three Nights”. I mean, not that Nadnerb is amazing (although he is), but that friendship is exactly as awesome as My Little Pony depicts it to be. This story never would have happened without my friends, without the whole community of the pony fandom. At the end of the day, “Three Nights” is a love poem to you guys. You’re all my ACT III SCENE 5 — PONIES DISEMBARKING FROM A TRAIN.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I think everybody knows I’ve been pretty dialed back on the fandom front for the last year or two. That’s mostly a combination of finishing my PhD, having a romantic life, and just a general loss of those feelings of novelty that made me so excited about the pony fandom back in the day. But I’m very much still around, and I swear I’m going to start writing again one of these days.
Anyway, the point of me saying that isn’t to do the whole sad-sack thing — it’s because sometimes, when you start to fall away, things slip through the cracks. One of my favorite parts of “Three Nights” has always been Cadance’s Carol. I could only fit a verse of it into the story proper without dragging down the pacing, but I loved it so much I had to stick the completed thing in an appendix at the end of the story. I tried my best to sing it, but my best involved a computer mic, an old Ford Taurus, an abandoned parking lot, and the Witching Hour. And while I’m not the worst singer out there, I’m certainly not the best either.
Well, about half a year ago, a fellow by the name of Lunae Lumen posted a comment on “Three Nights”. He’d taken a stab at recording the song himself, and he did a much better job than I ever could have. I meant to blog about it, and to my continuing shame I still haven’t — or at least I haven’t, as of writing my answer to this question.
Time to change that. If you enjoyed this story, I strongly encourage you to listen to Lunae Lumen’s rendition of the carol. This is one of my favorite things I’ve written, and to hear someone do it justice sent me over the moon. I really think the pony fandom needs more Hearths’ Warming carols.