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Don’t have second thoughts about reading today’s story.

Ten Seconds
[Tragedy] • 4,033 words

There’s been an accident, in the desert…

Based on Robert Calvert’s 1972 poem Ten Seconds of Forever.

FROM THE CURATORS: Poetry-phobes take heart — despite the story description, there’s nothing but prose here.  That doesn’t mean, however, that the story’s afraid to take chances.  “Here’s a lovely little experiment, based on a poem, that finds an intriguing way to tell the story of a life and how it led to tragedy,” Present Perfect said.  “The poem, I should mention, provides the structure of the story, but reading it first isn’t necessary — the author’s note explains everything.”  That re-envisioning was an impressive one.  “It’s great to see someone take a piece of poetry and use it as a springboard this way, without being too slavishly devoted to a literal, one-for-one retelling,” Chris said. “This really does stand on its own.”

The success of this unusual piece was primarily due to the power of the prose — something that virtually all of us commented on.  “It is a very well written fic, full of nice turns of phrase and some fantastic imagery,” Soge said, and Chris agreed: “The snapshots are well-chosen, and the imagery is evocative; this combination left me engaged by the construction itself.”  That let the emotions of the piece shine brightly through, AugieDog said: “Even though the story ends literally in the same place as it began, in getting to know the characters, my emotional involvement grew to an extent that surprised me.”

Our appreciation extended down to the little touches.  “It’s an appropriate use of the ‘tragedy’ tag, too, something about which I’ve been known to get a little blustery,” AugieDog said.  And working on so many levels, from the big down to the small, added up to an exemplary piece.  “There’s so much beauty in here — #5 in particular — that it’s easy to forget within each individual moment that the story is framed within the literal wreckage of a crash,” Horizon said.  “The overall effect is properly haunting.”

Read on for our author interview, in which OleGrayMane discusses telegram delivery, paper tapes, and face-down drooling.


 

Give us the standard biography.

I am fifty-five years old, male, with glasses and a beard. My weight is appropriate for someone six inches taller than I am. For my entire life I have lived no more than five miles from the hospital where I was born. This year my wife and I will have been married for thirty years. We have one son.

I grew up reading old science fiction, although books of all kinds were available to me since my mother was a librarian. My father was a public school teacher. Economically we were middle class. Then the oil crisis came, and we weren’t.

My childhood was typical for the era. I loved NASA and the space program. When “Star Trek” went into syndication on our local UHF station, I fell in love with it. I wanted to be Mr. Spock. Several years later PBS got Monty Python, the exposure to which left me permanently twisted.

In elementary and middle school they placed me in accelerated classes, which did me little good. When grouped with other smart kids, I was very nearly the worst, regardless of the subject. From fifth grade on, I hated school and often got in trouble.

Because school was a problem, I enrolled in a trade school. There I learned television repair, vacuum tube technology, and a smidgen of digital electronics, just 7400 circuits. They had a Digiac 3080 with core memory and punched paper tape on which I learned to program in hand-assembled machine language. From there I got a bachelor’s degree in computer and information science. I was fortunate, for a state scholarship covered my education’s cost. I presume they thought they’d get the money back in taxes within a few years, and they did.

Of my immediate family, I consider myself the village idiot, as I am the only one who doesn’t hold an advanced degree. My younger brother, my only sibling, is a primary care physician. He has five kids from his first marriage and another two tagalongs from his second. All but one are girls.

I hesitate to say I have a career, only sequential and vaguely related jobs, all involving software development. My longest job was nine and a half years, the shortest twenty months. At the present I am employed by the Very Large & Evil Corporation and work in cyber security. Despite this exciting moniker, it is boring, equivalent to the guy who checks your ID when you enter a bar. If I had to do it all over again, I would be a plumber. At least there everyone recognizes you work with crap.

I’ve watched cartoons from a young age, beginning in the 60s with the classic Looney Tunes, “Speed Racer,” and “Kimba the White Lion.” Although I’ve watched a fair bit of anime, they are mainstream ones like “Cowboy Bebop” and “Ghost in the Shell.” Also the Studio Ghibli movies. Seldom do I watch TV or movies with real, live actors. I see real people with problems all day long.

I think I lead a rather mundane life. Ponies and writing stories about them amounts to the most interesting things I do.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

I just looked in the mirror and added an ‘e’ to what I saw. That is to say, I am old and have gray hair, lots of unruly gray hair. My family says I resemble Jerry Garcia in his later years. As for handles, you see, it’s always been about the mane.

Except for when my son was small, and he used my hair and beard as grab points, I’ve had shoulder length hair that refused to be tamed. My friends and I rode motorcycles in the 80s — we were a ‘Born to be Mild’ gang for certain. Wearing a helmet made matters worse, and I picked up the nickname Cutter from the Toecutter in “Mad Max.” Go look at his hair.

I continued to use Cutter during the early 90s on Amiga BBSes. Upon coming to the MLP fandom it seemed inappropriate to identify with a violent and disturbing character, so I picked this name.

Who’s your favorite pony?

I was initially enamored of Fluttershy since her shyness matched my own. Without a doubt I like Twilight — her early, snarky incarnation the best. I relate to and respect Applejack as the hardworking and serious pony she is, but one who still manages to have fun.

But I am a Rarity devotee. In the location where I am writing this, I have thirty-one figures or images of Rarity. I counted six more upstairs. I plan on acquiring more. Why this unhealthy fascination with a character many accuse of being superficial, vain, and the worst possible thing in a girly cartoon?

Perhaps it is because she has a complex and flawed personality. If Applejack is the perfect pony, then Rarity is her antithesis. She’s creative, genteel, effusive, and generally good-natured. There’s an intrinsic kindness in Rarity, as well as that generosity thing. But she can be self-centered, arrogant and pretentious, and suffers bouts of self-doubt. Most of all, she’s ambitious. Rarity makes mistakes, both big and small, in the process of reaching her goals, losing sight of her friends and her personal and creative integrity. In many ways, she’s a mess, but without flaws, I would not find her interesting.

Often her foibles are exaggerated for comic effect, which results in a two-dimensional portrayal. She appears callous. When her internal conflicts are explored, she’s redeemed.

Tabitha St. Germain’s voice acting really brings the character to life. Amongst a wonderful voice cast, I sometimes think her contributions are overshadowed.

Visually, I think Rarity’s got a terrific design. Most ponies do, but with the bold colors of that swooping mane and her beguiling eyes, she’s gorgeous.

No apologies. I’m a child of the 60s and 70s. Falling in love with a white unicorn is mandatory.

What’s your favorite episode?

A difficult question! Last fall my son Bluebook and I tried to rank episodes. We sought the ones best expressing their themes, those having the best storytelling, the most heart, or the best animation. When in doubt, we rewatched. How excruciating to watch a favorite episode and down rank it for the tiniest reason. Picking a top ten or twenty was hard enough, but selecting the ultimate MLP episode felt impossible. Nevertheless, I won’t punt here and say they are all too good to make a choice.

A personal favorite is “Baby Cakes” since it was the first episode I watched. It is special to me, but it’s not the best, so I have to move on. Now, before I get accused of anything, I want to say that while I tend to admire season one and two episodes the most, there’s been astounding ones in the post-Faust era: “Sleepless in Ponyville,” “Amending Fences,” and “Filli Vanilli” amongst them.

But if it came down to a single episode, I would say “Family Appreciation Day.” Magical zap apples, the timberwolves, and Filthy ‘I prefer’ Rich are introduced here. Diamond Tiara engages in psychological warfare and ponies in bunny suits hop about. There’s a sleeping and slobbering Sweetie Bell and a marionette Granny Smith. The episode contains classic cartoon problem-solving, which must be done in threes, and a sepia-tone montage accompanying a story so engaging, Silver Spoon applauds. Stakes are low and kid relatable, and in the end, Granny gets a hug and Diamond Tiara her comeuppance. A Cindy Morrow masterpiece.

Also, Scootaloo dresses in the cutest imaginable uniform and delivers a telegram. What the heck else could you want?

What do you get from the show?

Well, it’s complicated — something I find difficult to write about, and I don’t do interpretive dance. Therefore, in the spirit of “Ten Seconds of Forever,” have some random moments.

Surrounded by animals, Fluttershy lays beneath a tree, weeping.
Pinkie Pie sings about her mission in life and the whole town joins in.
In the midst of a disaster, Celestia gives sage advice to her student.
Rainbow Dash takes Scootaloo under her literal wing.
With tears in her eyes, Rarity knowingly reaches out to silence Spike.
Discord’s scheme collapses when he fears losing his first and only friend.
Instead of breaking the piñata, Moondancer breaks her emotional shell.
Coloratura rediscovers herself and sings about mistakes and integrity.
Illuminated by the setting sun, taciturn Macintosh opens up to his little sister.
Two unicorns with tarnished pasts teach Twilight about trust.

I hope that helps.

What do you want from life?

I would like to make a difference. Trite, eh? But yes, some small contribution to make things better, somewhere, somehow, to someone.

While I won’t be pretentious and say I have wisdom at this age, I have perspective. I will likely be dead before most of the Brony fandom reaches my current age, and for you folks, as it did for me, time will blaze by while you are occupied with building lives and careers. Don’t forget to do more than acquire and consume. Don’t shut yourself off from the lives of others. Don’t miss out on the human experience.

I’ve not done my best, and now I’ve little time to make up for it. MLP’s helped, and I got involved by donating blood and doing volunteer work with the local food bank. It’s not much, but something.

Why do you write?

I hope it’s because I have something to say, but I fear it is egotism. Maybe that is the “being read” part of writing.

This is all my son’s fault. In the spring of his junior year — that was 2012 — he had a creative writing project and asked for help. It led both of us to research how you do this storytelling stuff, not just putting words and sentences and paragraphs together. Legos it ain’t.

By the summer, I discovered fanfiction for MLP. Mired in a new, soul-sucking job, I daydreamed about ponies. I got ideas and thought, hey, maybe I could do this.

Writing is also a personal improvement project. My spelling and grammar are terrible, they always have been, and creative writing is a way to address it. I’ve done a lot of self-education, and I got a lot of help.

If I may, I’d like to say what an amazing group of educated people there are in the MLP writing community. So many are willing to donate the most valuable of commodities, time, to someone they’ll never meet. I am amazed and humbled by their abilities and altruism.

What advice do you have for the authors out there?

The advice from everyone is to read, and I agree. It’s brain food. Honestly, except for technical material, I was almost aliterate from 1992 to 2012. Once I started writing, and got rid of cable TV, I’ve read more books in the past two years than in the preceding two decades. Thanks MLP and fan fiction.

Also write. Write anything and everything. Throw lots away. Edit, rewrite, re-edit and repeat. Getting started is hard, so when you get going, don’t stop. A writer writing is like an athlete in training. You’ll get no medals for the training, but there are no medals without it.

Read about writing too. The Elements of Fiction Writing series from Writer’s Digest helped me. And listen. The “Grammar Girl” and “Writing Excuses” podcasts are free, so no, well, excuses.

Recently I finished Stephen King’s On Writing, a memoir sprinkled with advice. King says vocabulary is your most valuable tool — not to slather paragraphs with useless description, but to pick the perfect word that conveys an idea or describes a moment. I’ve realized I have two vocabularies, one for reading and another for writing, and the latter is far weaker. Building a strong writing vocabulary is harder than I imagined.

What was it about the song “Ten Seconds of Forever” that inspired you to turn it into a Pony story?

First, I’d hardly call it a song! It’s more of a spoken-word piece with eerie psychedelic noises in the background, something to enjoy while face down on the floor, lost in the twilight of consciousness, surrounded by a puddle of drool. Not that I have experience in such things.

The story is as much inspired by “Wonderbolts Academy” as the poem. How these equine fighter pilots think and act is revealed, and we discover ponies with egos bigger than Rainbow Dash’s, ones who need to sign up for friendship lessons. And safety lessons.

So, here’s the story about this story.

It was May, and I was on my lunchtime walk in the business park/highway area around work. Hawkwind’s “Space Ritual” was on the iPod. It gets up to “Ten Seconds”, which I’ve heard like a hundred times. I got the CD in the early 90s, when Handyman, the sysop of an Amiga BBS, turned me on to Hawkwind. The piece is melancholy and quiet, a breather between the frenetic songs on the rest of the album. And you don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to understand it’s about dying and regret. Anyway, I hear “a pair of broken shades lying on the tarmac.” Instantaneously, tarmac takes me to flying, flying suggests the Pegasi, shades become goggles, and from there I’m at Wonderbolts. I mentally wrote much of second number two’s part as I completed my walk.

Coincidentally, all this happened near the location where I got the idea for my story Be, although I can’t remember what I was listening to at the time, but it was late summer, when the chicory on the hillside was loaded with grasshoppers, and one hopped on my sleeve and—

Anyway…

To construct the story, I used the poem’s minimalistic thought fragments as writing prompts, adjusting where required, to obliquely paint a picture of the narrator’s life. Death nears, and time and location become jumbled as she drifts in and out of consciousness. She recalls the good and the bad, those she’s loved, her accomplishments, and — my favorite part to write — the life she will not lead.

Writing “Ten Seconds” was challenging and fun. Unfortunately, the fragmentary nature of the story was off-putting to some readers. Without the context of the poem, they found it difficult to piece together. My fault as I didn’t add author’s notes until perhaps a week after publication. I hope the notes now in place clear up any confusion.

Do you find it difficult to incorporate original characters into your fanfiction?

I fear I may have problems working with canon characters at this point. The show’s got a lot of their aspects covered after 6½ seasons, so if I don’t want to err or offend, I feel I need to stick to what’s been presented, expanding upon it only a little. Either that or use the AU tag.

Of late I’ve tended to use the MLP universe more than its characters. Someone else has established a world for me — the rules, the locations, the society, which provides a completed tableau for character creation. I aspire to write wholly original fiction, so creating new characters in these stories is good practice. Original characters and world-building, especially expanding the MLP universe’s history, is, in my mind, akin to writing original fiction. Well, semi-original. It may be the closest I ever get.

Talk a little about how “Ten Seconds” earns its “tragedy” tag.

Hubris. That was a little too little wasn’t it?

Our narrator is not a bad pony, only one caught up in herself. She is good, damn good, and she knows it and wants everypony else to know it. Being young and good and feeling invulnerable is, in my opinion, a dangerous combination. You may be rewarded for it, but the risks are high.

The story is tragic in both meanings of the word. The disaster of second number two is an obvious tragedy: broken bodies in the desert. The final second is the real tragedy, the downfall of our never-to-be Wonderbolt. Attempting to show off her prowess, she persuades her fellow trainees into performing a trick for which they are unprepared. Neither, perhaps, is she. Distracted by their inability to live up to her expectations, she flies them into the ground, killing everypony.

The tragedy is the avoidable loss of life, the senseless loss of potential, brought on by conceit.

Do you see the story fitting somewhere into the show’s chronology?

Not at a specific point, no. Some readers thought the unnamed narrator might be Rainbow Dash or Lightning Dust, but since neither are, it can happen in any era, although I imagined it contemporaneous with season three. With their egos and risk taking, the Wonderbolts must have an incident like this annually, right?

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Yes, lots. A lot of thanks.

Thanks to knighty and Xaquseq and all the other developers who created and continue to expand a highly functional and aesthetically pleasing website.

Thanks to the story approvers of FIMFiction and the pre-readers of Equestria Daily who spend inordinate amounts of time looking through our stories, many of which likely make them want to scream.

Personal thanks to those who’ve pre-read, proofread, edited, or commented on my stories. Thanks for spending your time on me.

And to everyone else, as always, thanks for reading.

You can read Ten Seconds at FIMFiction.net. Read more interviews right here at the Royal Canterlot Library, or suggest stories for us to feature at our Fimfiction group.

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