Today’s story brings a little magic home.
The Pony Who Lived Upstairs
[Drama] [Slice of Life] [Human] • 184,740 words
[Note: This story contains sexual themes.]
What would you do if a pony moved into the apartment upstairs? Would you make an effort to meet her? What would you talk about? And what kind of pony leaves Equestria for Earth in the first place?
This is a series of slice-of-life episodes about a young man who meets a pony in New Jersey. Equestria has made contact with Earth; creations and creators have been sorting things out for a couple of years, and a smattering of ponies are gradually starting to move to Earth. Told though human eyes, here’s the story of one of them.
FROM THE CURATORS: While it’s great to have loud and energetic friends, when it comes to neighbors the best ones are often the most quietly reliable. That was our experience of this story, too — and one that endeared it to us a great deal. “I read it slowly over the course of a month, and it was a comfortable read that consistently left me in an agreeable mood,” Soge said, while in his nomination AugieDog praised it for its quiet depth: “It’s a very ‘slice of life’ story, but the arcs that Ron and Peach travel provide a definite and nicely complicated through-line.” That depth consistently accumulated praise in our commentary. “I love the effortless way that this works through various implications of the two worlds colliding, and the endless surprises that result,” Horizon said. “Peach’s reaction to visiting a ranch stands out in my mind. It felt not only well-researched, but also diligent in the details.”
And while we all found different details to like, we agreed it added up to a solid overall package. “I found it nothing short of astonishing how well the author made the ponies-on-Earth conceit work, and while the philosophizing that goes on during the course of the story sometimes got a little thick for me, the characters carried me through it all quite handily,” AugieDog said. “The humans are very human, and the ponies are equally ponies with a subtly alien outlook that the author conveys really well.” Horizon disagreed on the philosophizing — “for me, that’s what carried the early sections” — while Soge praised both aspects equally: “The characters love partaking in philosophical discussions of the type I tend to despise in fics, which tend to quickly turn into an author soapbox where they keep tilting at strawmen. Instead, not only were the discussions nuanced, they were perfectly in character, and a significant part of the story itself that gave me plenty of food for thought.”
Soge went on to cite that as an example of one of the story’s biggest strengths: its enormously unique approach. “If there is one big thing right to be taken from this fic, it’s how well it manages to make certain despicable tropes work, to the point it seems like the author set a challenge to turn certain things on their heads,” Soge said. “Every time it seems to go for something trite, it manages to turn the concept on its head in clever and inventive ways.” He cited a further scene which executed an easy-to-fail trope unexpectedly well, a scene which Horizon also praised: “I need to single out the chapter after their visit to Radio City Music Hall in particular,” he said. “The way that it handles the multiple levels of conflicting emotions is not only a triumph of unreliable narration, but also walks an ethical tightrope whose navigation is very much to this story’s credit.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Ringcaat discusses forgotten passwords, melodic advancement, and undiscovered secrets.
Give us the standard biography.
I was born in 1980, early enough to make me one of the oldest bronies. I run a library homework help program in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and I tutor online, but I think of writing (especially fantasy and talking animal stories) as my real purpose. I’m unmarried and happy to stay that way. I sing and drum, take long nighttime walks, and do math sometimes for fun.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
“Ringcat” came from a poem I wrote when I was fourteen in which a bulky pantherlike feline strode through a primeval landscape with a tangle of colored ring shapes on its dark brown flank. I used it on the Internet Gaming Zone and added an extra ‘a’ when I forgot my password at one point. I later tried removing the ‘a’, but my bridge-playing friends said they missed it. I’m not especially fond of cats, as animals go, but I haven’t thought of a better all-purpose internet handle yet.
Who’s your favorite pony?
I wrote a whole song to answer that question! But since it wouldn’t be reasonable to include the full text here, I’ll just say that it’s Pinkie Pie. She’s got a perspective on the world that’s fascinating and strange and enough otherworldly enthusiasm to almost make it seem justified. I secretly played her online for some time on the now mostly defunct EquestriaMUCK, along with two other people playing her simultaneously (blame the Mirror Pool). We had a battle rap at one point. :-) It seems to me that if My Little Pony ever needed an Adult Swim spin-off, Pinkie Pie’s Amazing Adventures in the Afterlife would be a good bet!
If you want to see Pinkie featured in a lengthy adventure, check out the sprawling second appendix to my Combinatorics Project — it’s still the written work I’m proudest of.
My main character on EquestriaMUCK was Derpy, who’s a close second. ;-)
What’s your favorite episode?
The Season 3 finale — “Magical Mystery Cure”! My taste in equisodes sometimes isn’t quite in step with the fandom. Lots of fans hated this episode for its rushed pace and the fact that Twilight becomes an alicorn, thus changing the direction of the show forever, but I loved it for being jam-packed with songs, for being really exciting and uplifting, and for the fascinating rotational pattern in which the Mane Six minus Twilight are visited and cured. I respect writers and storyboards who are capable of advancing the plot while characters are singing. M.A. Larson didn’t pitch this episode, but he and the animators really rose to the challenge they were given. Compare “Crusaders of the Lost Mark.”
What do you get from the show?
I have to confess I’ve actually largely moved on from ponies! A couple years ago, I suddenly lost most of my interest in roleplaying as them and got into a couple of video games instead — Undertale and then Night in the Woods. I was happy to finish my novel in progress, though.
So why did I love the show? I loved the amazing content put out by the fandom — PMVs, comics, remarkable fan fiction, fan games, and so forth. It was overwhelming. The show itself is exceptional for a lot of reasons, but for me it was because of the high-quality characters — fun to watch, fun to roleplay as, fun to read and fun to write. I’m currently running an imaginary unscripted game show in my head in which the Mane Six, Spike and the CMC are ten out of 60 contestants, so I guess I’m not totally over them. :)
What do you want from life?
Oh gosh! Kind of personal, yes? I’d love to be a successful fiction author. I’ve submitted short stories and poems to various magazines and journals, but I’ve had nothing published yet except a self-published interactive novel. I need more discipline, really. If I could someday be the sort of person who gets invited to be a Guest of Honor at conventions, that would be terrific. Ideally, my favorite characters would become so famous that they’d have floats in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade — then I’d know I’d won at life. I’d also like to learn a lot more about a lot of things.
Why do you write?
I guess it’s because I have ideas? I feel like most if not all of us have a need to express ourselves, and I sometimes don’t understand how everyone isn’t an artist of some kind. Family and/or religion fill that need for most folks, I guess? But I love expressing my ideas, and having a love of language doesn’t hurt either.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
I don’t think I’d be very qualified to give advice, since I haven’t broken through yet — they could give me advice! Although honestly, I think I’ve had enough advice — I think I just have to put my nose to the grindstone and work. I do like the notion that you have to love what you write — and to expand on that, someone once said that a writer must simultaneously believe their project is the greatest work of genius and the worst pile of dreck ever created by humankind, in order to both cherish and constantly improve it. Seems legit to me. :)
What inspired “The Pony Who Lived Upstairs”?
Hm. I actually don’t quite remember, after all this time! I guess I was hungry for interactions between real people and ponies, just to see how those would go — it seemed like a meaty topic, the assimilation of a whole new world of fantasies. How would any one of us handle it? I’d seen stories of humans traveling to Equestria, but none about ponies on Earth, so I figured I’d give it a try. I’m glad I did, since it feels like it was a transitional exercise between writing fantasy stories and writing about the real world.
The title was inspired by a children’s book called “The Horse Who Lived Upstairs” that I have to confess I’ve never read. But I love the idea of people of different species getting along, and having to cope with the attendant challenges and rewards of doing so.
How challenging did you find it to write pony characters in everyday human settings?
Not too challenging. It was harder just writing about everyday human settings at all. I’ve never been to New Jersey or New York, where my novel was set, so I had to do a lot of web research! Way more than you might expect. The hardest chapter was probably “Murkowski Ranch,” with all the horse stuff I knew nothing about. But having ponies in the real world felt really natural and easy for me. I sometimes paradoxically find stories more believable and relatable when the characters in them are animals than when they’re human.
How did you go about creating all the various original characters who populate this story?
Well, let’s see. Ron was meant to be just a generic young guy living alone, and while I never developed his character a ton, he did get a family and a bit of a background. I guess he’s something of a loser that those close to him can see has the potential to be more than a loser. The way he thinks wound up making him interesting, I think.
Peach almost popped into my head fully formed. It seems like a deep, genuine curiosity is her primary value, followed closely by a profound playfulness, but I didn’t decide that consciously. There’s a little Berry Punch in her, a little of a griffin character of mine, and a little sadness because the world’s magnitude is hard to take in.
The folks at the Turtlewood were there to add richness, so that Peach could meet other ponies who’d made the trip across the portal, for whatever reason. Seaswell’s formative character note is his noodly legs — he can express himself by bending just right, and the rest — his penchant for flying and travel, his simplicity — stemmed from there. Kellydell is from an Ireland-equivalent, but her cosmopolitan attitude is loosely based on someone I know. Jack’s personality is an even closer match for someone I know, though I normalized his speech a bit. Laurie isn’t based on anyone specific, but she’s sort of grown from modern liberal urban values. George Harrison is a traveler at heart (and a ladies’ stallion second) which is what defines him. I didn’t realize at first that he’d be a love interest for Peach, but it just popped out naturally that he had to be. His accent is meant to be a cartoonish exaggeration of the real George Harrison’s Liverpool accent and idiolect, but readers say I didn’t get it quite right. He has a secret that was never revealed, and I would tell it here except that he never revealed it to me, either. o.o
Why did you decide to have Ron and Peach’s relationship follow the path that it takes?
I pretty much made it up as I went along. At first it was a story about how humans might relate to ponies, and in general how a creator might relate to its creation. Can you ever be on equal terms with something that sprang out of your mind? I had an inkling some kind of romance might develop, but I didn’t tag the story as a Romance until that had actually happened. They wound up having chemistry too good to ignore.
Around Chapter 11, I got stuck and had to consciously confront the question of whether they would get together or not. Wanting to avoid a simple yes-or-no answer, I decided a fun third option would be to have them get together too hard — and that meant using magic — and thus the idea of throwing a princess into the mix took root. Just as well that the Princess of Love is the least important of the four, because I didn’t want this to be a princess story — just a story about mostly ordinary people who happen to have nifty weird things happen to them.
Having enchanted our heroes almost accidentally in love, I knew they would have to face reality eventually. So I gave them some amazingly good times, then threw cold water on them in the “Grafted” chapter. This gave me an excuse to go to Equestria, and I could hardly resist. I didn’t know that Peach would stay in love with Ron after the spell was unraveled — that was one of those funny gifts your characters give you.
Why didn’t they stay together in the end? A lot of readers were unhappy about that. Genre conventions aside, I don’t feel like a romance should have any obligation to work out — a story is a romance if it focuses on romance, successful or not. But still, why not, given that their chemistry was so good and it would have been so easy to keep them together, or bring them back together after Ron’s visit to Peach’s hometown? Basically, I think it’s because I didn’t want this to be “the story of how I met my wife” — I wanted it to be a story of “the pony I met, and what happened between us.” Peach was an episode in Ron’s life — a major, life-changing, unforgettable episode, but not the alpha and omega. I’m given to understand that most people feel queasy about the idea of physical relations with someone of a different body shape (though I can’t imagine why), so I figured Ron would be typical in that way: he was only into Peach physically because of the spell, even if he was attracted on a personality level before that.
The ending is mostly happy, really — Peach and Ron remain best friends and opportunities have opened all over for them both. That said, I don’t think all pony stories should have to have a happy ending — if you can’t know in advance whether an ending will be happy or sad, how much more striking when it turns out the way it does!
The other reason is that I guess I wanted Peach to end the story unattached. I like that she’s arguably the greatest catch in the novel, but winds up alone at the end … sad in a way, but free to find that partner of her dreams, the fantasy male (who may well not be a pony) that makes the rest of the world worth exploring. Peach may end up happier than everyone else combined, if she finds what she’s looking for, because she has a tremendously deep imagination. But she may not. I wanted to leave that range of possibilities open.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I made a FIMfiction blog post when the story finished inviting people to roleplay with Peach Spark. That petered out pretty quickly, but it’s still an open offer as far as I’m concerned! If you want to talk with the title character of this novel, just strike up a conversation at https://www.fimfiction.net/blog/684860/peach-spark-ready-to-be-your-friend.
You can read my other pony stories here …
My Undertale novel is here …
My Night in the Woods novella …
My interactive fantasy novel … (Play as a four-legged character — that should appeal to you pony fans!)
A pony-themed word game adventure I designed …
The EquestriaMUCK forum, including logs of all the fun times that used to go on there …
And finally, my favorite pony stories are Arddun Lleuad, by Priderage, and Eternal, by device heretic. Check them out. :-)
You can read The Pony Who Lived Upstairs at FIMFiction.net. Read more interviews right here at the Royal Canterlot Library, or suggest stories for us to feature at our Fimfiction group.
Thanks so much for this honor! I’ve never had any work of mine reviewed with such a professional eye. The literary journal criticism made me laugh with joy!
One funny thing–seems like you guys thought I was skirting a lot of pitfalls… ethical tightropes, despicable tropes… it’s flattering, but I’m actually not sure what pitfalls those are! Beyond just human-pony romance, I guess. I read a lot of pony fiction when I was into it, but maybe I didn’t read enough? :) For the record, I wasn’t deliberately setting a challenge for myself to “turn certain things on their heads,” although that is the sort of thing I might do! I once wrote a semi-serious story about a magical beast made of Spam because it seemed like an amusing thing to try.
Glad you enjoyed it!
Re the pitfalls, I ought to point Soge here, since he was the one with the opinions on tropes. For my part, the one that most impressed me was the way it handled mind control, which is VERY easy to write in an ethically skeevy way, but here seemed to explore some of the genuine implications of it. (I sort of stepped around that in the post itself because it felt like that was treading into spoiler territory.)