As a fairy-tale romance, today’s story shines.
The Lighthouse and the Sea
[Romance] [Slice of Life] • 1,042 words
A short tail of love and lighthouses, seas and sea ponies.
FROM THE CURATORS: Here at the RCL, we’ve featured everything from short-short stories to door-stopping novels — and it’s always a pleasure to find a story that can tell a big tale in a small space. “This is evocative in its succinctness, and uses the reader’s familiarity with fairy-tale conventions to its advantage,” Chris said in his nomination of this Writeoff Association medalist, and that sentiment quickly gathered broad consensus. “It is almost a doodle of a story, utilizing the least amount of detail possible to deliver its premise,” Soge said, and Present Perfect agreed: “We get the bare minimum of words to convey the story, and it never feels like we’re missing out or being shortchanged.”
It was that economy of words — and the emotional depth that went along with it — which drew the most praise from us. “This is a story that shows how to create emotion out of setting and arc,” Chris said. “Rather than trying to smash a bunch of character development into too little space, the author keeps the narrative carefully reserved, leaving the reader to infer the hows and whys from a brief highlighting of thoughts and events.” That was helped by a fine attention to detail, AugieDog said: “The details that the author chooses to include are more guideposts than plot points … I’d almost call it a prose poem that way. Or a lighthouse beam, sweeping over the narrative, picking out certain moments to call to our attention.”
And we found emotional resonance within those moments, from start to finish. “The author’s note laments the ambiguity of the ending, but I thought that was one of its strengths,” Horizon said. “That it’s so gracefully balanced between such different interpretations gives it, if you’ll pardon the pun, a lot of depth.” That effective use of its wordcount added up to an exemplary story, Present Perfect said: “In that tight space, we get that sense of loneliness, so that the romance can be a catharsis. Easy to see why it’s a medal winner!”
Read on for our author interview, in which The Cyan Recluse discusses scientist weaknesses, sturgeon addenda, and silent pigeon-holing.
Give us the standard biography.
Well, let’s see. What can I say while still maintaining my anonymity and air of mystery? I was born and raised on the east coast of the the good old US of A. I suspect that I am far to the left of the age bell curve for the fandom. I grew up an avid reader, loved taking things apart to figure out how they worked, and tended rather heavily towards mad science. So unsurprisingly I attended college and earned bachelor’s degrees in both science and engineering. Despite my advanced age, I am still an avid reader — I still love taking things apart and putting them back together. (I’ve grown better at the latter part over the years!) And as I am currently working at a facility that let’s me play with nuclear material, I guess the Mad Scientist part still holds true as well.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Well, in the days of my youth I used to frequent a chat room dedicated to fans of another animated series. Over the years I made a great many good (and crazy) friends there. The chat room allowed each user to pick a color for their text, and all the regulars had their personal colors. I happened to choose cyan. Now, over the years I’m afraid I’ve become a bit less chatty and sociable online. So when I started getting involved in the MLP fandom, The Cyan Recluse seemed like a simple, expedient, and accurate handle.
Who’s your favorite pony?
It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I suppose I’d have to go with Twilight Sparkle. I suppose adorkable mad scientists are one of my (many) weaknesses.
What’s your favorite episode?
I guess I’d have to say “Putting Your Hoof Down.” Sure, it’s not particularly deep or meaningful or plot significant. But watching Fluttershy act so… non-Fluttershy-like… just cracks me up!
What do you get from the show?
I’ll be honest. While I certainly enjoy the show, it’s the fandom and fanfiction that I love the most.
I can (and do) spend hours surfing through FimFiction, reading all sorts of stories. The variety and quality are truly amazing! I can’t think of another fandom where you can find so many, or so many different types of fics. From the same setting and characters you can find most any genre and concept. Grimdark Lovecraftian horror, fluffy tales of love and romance, sci-fi first contact scenarios, slapstick comedies… So many fans and authors taking the same starting material and molding it into so many different shapes! I love it!
So really, it’s the creativity of the community that captured my attention. And it’s what keeps me here.
What do you want from life?
Wow. Now there’s a question that I wish I had the answer to. When I was younger, I would probably have said success. Doing something to change the world. Using my skill and knowledge to invent or discover something new and unique. As I grew older, I would probably have said wealth and advancement, perhaps a bit of romance. (Fame has never really been on my list… The ‘recluse’ part of my name is well earned.) Now, being a bit older and wiser, I think I’d have to say I want happiness. Too bad I’m not quite old and wise enough to figure out what combination of those earlier goals maximize the last one!
Why do you write?
Because it’s fun! And a good creative outlet. I can’t sing. I can’t dance. And I can barely draw stick figures. But writing is one of the few creative, artistic activities I have even the slightest affinity for.
It’s also a way to share things. Daydreaming, fantasizing, planning and plotting stories in my mind… It’s my favorite way to kill time when things are slow and boring. My head is filled with various characters, situations, and scenarios. Occasionally an idea seems so good and interesting that I really wish I could share it with other people. Writing is the process through which I turn those nebulous ideas in my head into something I can share.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Write for yourself. That’s not to say that you should disregard constructive criticism. Constructive criticism is invaluable when it comes to improving your skill at writing. No, what I mean is to write the type of story you enjoy, and don’t try to chase fame or popularity. Every story I’ve posted, I have hoped will be well received. But none of them were written to pander to a particular audience or trope.
I’ve had some of my stories be wildly popular, and some be more or less ignored. I’m still not sure what separates the ‘successful’ ones from the rest. On the one hand, I suppose that means I don’t really understand my audience. On the other hand, it’s really not that important to me. I enjoyed writing the stories, and I got them out of my head and out into the world. And that in and of itself is a success.
What inspired “The Lighthouse and the Sea”?
Well, the Writeoff competition itself was the obvious inspiration. The prompt was “In Over Your Head,” so the idea of water and drowning came to me pretty quickly. I also decided earlier that for this competition I would try what was, for me, an unusual genre: romance! On top of that, I had just finished (re)reading Georg’s excellent The One Who Got Away, so of course sea ponies were at the forefront of my mind. So I quickly decided that the story would be a romance between an earth pony and a sea pony!
The idea for a lighthouse came from the need for an isolated locale. For such a short story, I wanted to keep the number of characters to a minimum. Somehow I struck upon the idea of a lighthouse keeper in the middle of nowhere. The story just grew from there!
Talk a little about writing stories without dialogue.
Well, I hope I don’t get pigeon-holed as “that author who writes stories with no dialogue,” but for some odd reason my most popular stories seem to have very little or none of it. I think that lacking dialogue gives a story a more fairytale-like feel. It evokes the feeling of a storyteller passing on ancient tales and lore. Events, actions, and situations are described, but the lack of dialogue makes for a simpler story, and more details for the reader to fill in.
In the case of The Lighthouse and the Sea, however, it was more a matter of necessity. Minific rules limit the story to 750 words. A single conversation between two characters can easily eat up half of that. If you want to fit a complete, comprehensible story with multiple scenes into 750 words, you have to cut down to the very bare bones of storytelling. Which leaves very little room for wordy dialogue.
Distilling a complete story down to so few words can be a real challenge. But a fun one!
Would you consider this a story that takes place in the My Little Pony universe or more of a fairy tale ponies tell each other?
I like to think that it’s a real event that occurred in-universe… and possibly became the seed of a fairy tale. Or perhaps even the archetype example of a thing that happens with some degree of regularity? “Mom, Dad, I don’t care what you say about taking over the family business selling silica desiccant! I’m running away to the ocean to marry my seapony love!”
When writing this story, I was actually a little worried that it might not be ‘pony’ enough. After all, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to make it a story about humans. But I think it fits far better into the My Little Pony universe. After all, friendship (and love) are magic there. And certainly that’s magic enough to turn an earth pony into a sea pony, so that he can join his love beneath the waves.
You’re very involved with the writing contests at writeoff.me. How important is that sort of firm deadline and that sort of critique group to your writing process?
For me? Incredibly important.
I am not always the most motivated or ambitious of individuals. I find it very difficult to just sit down and write. I get distracted, and end up reading someone else’s stories instead of working on my own. When I was a student, my greatest motivation for writing was avoiding doing homework. It wasn’t so much an eagerness to write as an excuse to procrastinate.
Once I joined the workforce, I found myself without homework to avoid. And with a lot more time spent at soul-crushing, imagination-sapping tasks. For years I wrote very little. Only a few stories here and there, when an idea or fandom managed to really draw my attention.
So for me, the Writeoffs are a godsend. They’ve gotten me off my butt and writing, and the deadline forces me to spend time on it, as opposed to eternally procrastinating. It also forces me to be more creative, having to come up with ideas that fit this contest’s prompt. (Or creatively figure out a way to twist an existing idea to fit the prompt.)
Don’t get me wrong; the critiques from other authors are invaluable. And having to pinpoint the things you liked/disliked about someone else’s story can help you recognize flaws and issues in your own writing. (Though I admit I have been lax in my own reviewing lately…) But it’s really the hard and fast deadline and motivation of the competition that’s so important to me.
Heck, out of all the stories I’ve written for the Writeoff, only a handful have actually migrated to FimFiction or anywhere else. I’d like to claim that this is because I only post the best of my efforts elsewhere. But the truth is, without a deadline of other impetus, I just never quite get around to polishing, reviewing, and posting most of my work anywhere else.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Sure! I’d like to add an addendum to Sturgeon’s Law. Sturgeon’s Law says that ‘90% of everything is crud.’ While undeniably true (and I’d suggest it may be closer to 95% or even 97% for things on the internet), it is an average. So my addendum is that “95% of everything is crud on average. There are pockets of material with different percentages here and there.”
And based on my addendum, I’d argue that the My Little Pony fandom has an awesome content far higher than 10%. Perhaps even (dare I say it?) 20%? So go out and read stories, view artwork, and enjoy the community! And when you find something you think is awesome, be sure to share some of that 10% with your friends!