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Take note of how today’s story tips the scales of storytelling quality.

Octaves
[Slice of Life] • 15,097 words

“I’m going to be famous!”, “I’m going to be the next big thing!”, “I’m going to be a superstar!” Octavia couldn’t even count how many times she’d heard her roommate claim that she was headed for fame and fortune.

But the worst part is, Vinyl might not be wrong. At least, not entirely.

FROM THE CURATORS: Octavia and Vinyl Scratch are MLP fandom’s most classic odd couple, and their relationship is well-trodden ground — which makes it all the more impressive when a story about them makes us sit up and take notice.  “This is Scratchtavia that barely even feels like friendshipping and yet paints a robust picture of their uniquely dysfunctional friendship,” Horizon said in his nomination, and this quickly accumulated accolades such as Present Perfect’s: “It’s the best of JapaneseTeeth’s work, a solid piece of character work with a harsh and poignant look at the world of professional music-making.”  Even Scratchtavia curmudgeon Chris found himself offering a recommendation: “If you asked me to rank all the fics of this one’s ilk, it would come out at the top.  It has a conceptually strong character base … some solid writing and good jokes.  I got a kick out of the endless P.S.es.”

But the story’s most arresting feature was its construction.  “The piece makes some interesting structural choices driven by the album it’s paying homage to,” Horizon explained.  “The bridge chapters are brief, atmospheric and poignant, and despite feeling almost dischordant to the progression of the plot they add depth and tone.”  Present Perfect agreed: “It’s a successful example of albumfic, and the ‘sharp’ chapters are nice, calming experimental bits in the midst of all the friendship and drama.”  That gave it a laid-back style which sat well with us: “I like how the story’s so aggressively ‘slice of life,'” AugieDog said.

The icing on the musical cake here was the superlative character work.  “The author also pulls a lot of character out of small details, which is a nice complement to the overall small-stakes feel of Octavia’s involvement,” Horizon said, and Chris had similar praise: “Vinyl’s cockiness comes across as actual self-confidence coupled with lack of self-awareness, rather than the generic jerkishness which is so common to her portrayals.”  That the story could create such sympathetic portrayals out of such emotional distance was one of its major strengths, AugieDog said: “Vinyl’s usually half-asleep when she’s giving Octavia the run-down on her latest travails. Octavia’s air of essential indifference is so well-presented, the one moment where she pushes it aside to give Vinyl a pep talk almost feels out of character. But both characters are shown to be deeper than they act, and that’s a really nice touch.”

Read on for our author interview, in which JapaneseTeeth discusses white whales, dream theaters, and winged anxiety magnets.


 

Give us the standard biography.

I’m a 29-year-old paraeducator with a Master’s degree in Theology.  Originally from New Jersey, I now reside in Kansas. It’s a long story.  I spend most of my free time doing not-particularly-interesting things like reading, playing video games, or listening to music (as should be obvious, given the the theme of this fic). And writing, obviously.  Writing is fun.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

It’s a bit of an inside joke from middle school. Way back in the day, one of my friends had drawn a goofy-looking doodle of Mr. Incredible that he referred to as “Mr. Incredible with Japanese Teeth.”  For whatever reason I decided to use that as my username while I was creating an account for something (the TV Tropes forum, if I remember right).  If I had known that I’d still be using it over a decade later I probably would’ve gone with something less ridiculous.

Who’s your favorite pony?

Twilight is definitely the best pony, wings or no wings.  Mainly because I can be a bit of an anti-social anxiety magnet and I can definitely relate to her.

What’s your favorite episode?

It really depends on what I’m in the mood for, but “Lesson Zero”, “Sisterhooves Social”, and “Amending Fences” are all up there.

What do you get from the show?

Mainly it’s nice to have an occasional bit of non-cloying cuteness.  There aren’t many shows out there that are unabashedly cutesy and adorable while still being well-written enough to avoid making you cringe.  The fact that it has a really well developed cast with interesting interactions is also nice.

What do you want from life?

Mainly, just peace of mind, being able to enjoy life, and trying to make sure I contribute something good to the world.

Why do you write?

There are two main reasons. The first is that I enjoy the creative process. It’s fun to put together a new situation and see how it plays out.  For the second, I’ll just quote C.S. Lewis:

“I wrote the books I should have liked to read. That’s always been my reason for writing. People won’t write the books I want, so I have to do it for myself.”

What advice do you have for the authors out there?

A couple of different things:

  1. Read.  You don’t have to analyze in depth or whatever, just make note of what types of things you enjoy and why you enjoyed them.  Same for the things you don’t like as much. Sort of “Oh, that’s a nice description” or “Eh, not a fan of that plot twist.”

  2. Write.  Like, just go and write it.  Don’t worry about trying to get it perfect on the first try. If the first draft sucks, that’s fine.  Just take note of what needs to be improved. A bad draft can be made better. If you don’t write a draft at all, obviously you’re not going to get anywhere.

  3. Don’t worry about trying to make everybody happy. Nobody has ever written a story that everybody likes. Everybody likes different things.  Write the type of story that you enjoy writing.

  4. Consider criticism. You shouldn’t listen to all of it, and you shouldn’t ignore it.  But you need to at least take it into account and think over whether or not you think that it could help you improve.

What inspired Octaves?

It’s hard to say what the specifics are, since most of the various aspects of the fic (Octavia and Vinyl being roommates, Vinyl dealing with the downsides of being famous, a fic themed off of a music album) have been floating around in my idea pool for so long I barely remember where they came from.  At some point I realized that all of those ideas could really go together.  I think the main catalyst for everything coming together was picking Octavarium as the album to base the fic on.  It’s kind of a concept album in that all of the tracks are meant to build on the same themes, but there’s no real story to the album, which meant that I had a framework to work with, but I could come up with my own plotline. (If anybody is interested, there’s an overview of the album’s various themes here.)

The other main factor in deciding to write this one was how my last major ongoing fic (specifically this one) turned out.  When I wrote it, I didn’t really have any concrete plan beyond the basic concept and as a result it ballooned out and ultimately ended up being longer than Moby-Dick.  After that, I decided that the next multipart fic I worked on would have a much tighter outline and faster pacing.  Having the story be based on an existing work provided a framework to build on rather than just throwing in everything I came up with.

In short, my previous major project was very much an improvisational effort, whereas this one was actually under control the whole time.  Also, one of my friends really likes Vinyl and Octavia and wanted to see me write a fic about them. Since I had the ideas floating around already, I decided to go for it.

Do you have any experience reviewing music?

I listen to quite a bit of music, but I haven’t really done any reviews of anything.  I don’t even read reviews that often; I’d rather come to my own conclusions about what I listen to.  That’s a big part of the reason why I tapped Meta Four, who has way more knowledge of music criticism than I do, to serve as guest writer to do the actual quotes for the reviews in the fic. That and it gives me an excuse to give him a shout out, since he’s a great writer.

That said, while I’m here, I will recommend listening to Octavarium — if not for the fic, because it’s just a really great collection of music. Granted, it’s not exactly the most accessible type of music, but for Prog Metal it’s actually not too hard to get into.  I’d also recommend looking into Dream Theater’s other stuff, particularly Images and Words, Awake, and Scenes from a Memory (which is a story-driven concept album).

Tell us about the “sharp” chapters. How did you go about interpreting the instrumental tracks on Octavarium into written words?

It took me a while to decide how to handle those. The actual chapters weren’t too bad because they had lyrics to go by, whereas the instrumental sections obviously don’t.  Eventually I decided that they should ultimately serve the same sort of function that they do on the album, namely serving as interludes between the songs.  In story form, it meant changing perspective to briefly see the story from Vinyl’s side before switching back to Octavia for the rest of the story.

How do you think Octavia would deal with achieving the same level of success Vinyl does?

The main difference is that Octavia is probably even more of a pure “do it for the Art” type of person than Vinyl is. Vinyl obviously wants to create good music first and foremost, but she also loves being in the spotlight and all the adulation it brings her.  Octavia probably wouldn’t care so much for any personal attention, and would probably be a bit annoyed that everyone is paying attention to her rather than the music.  And she’d probably be a little creeped out if her fans were as … devoted as Vinyl’s.  That’s not what she wants out of her career.  She’d probably just do her best to ignore it and focus on making sure her musicianship doesn’t suffer.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just going to give shout outs to Meta Four, War877, and the rest of the TVT pony fanfic thread for helping proofread and generally bounce ideas off of, and to Marston241, who was also a great sounding board for ideas and whose enthusiasm for Vinyltavia encouraged me to actually stick to my schedule and get the chapters out in a reasonable time frame.

Also, Meta Four wrote a spinoff fic that was loosely inspired by this story.  If you’re into music, give it a read.

I give my thanks to PresentPerfect and the RCL for giving me the opportunity to do this interview.

And thanks to everybody who read/liked/commented on this story, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much I enjoyed writing it.

You can read Octaves 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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