Today’s story is a hell of a tale.
Nine Days Down
[Dark] [Adventure] • 136,069 words
Sometimes it’s fun to play the damsel in distress. Princess Celestia knows this better than most. Usually it works out fine. Really, she could have escaped at any time, but Twilight and her friends have been so effective in the past that this time, Celestia may have let things get out of hoof. It was all fun and games until she got unceremoniously tossed into Tartarus. Even then, it wouldn’t have been so bad; she’s a goddess, after all. But alas, Tartarus is not Equestria, and Celestia is not all she could be when trapped there. Even worse, it appears that she didn’t get thrown into The Pit alone.
Now, a mostly-mortal Celestia and her faithful student must traverse the wilds of Tartarus, the fabled prison of all the things that were deemed too monstrous, too disturbing, too outright dangerous for world they know. Surely an exit will present itself …
FROM THE CURATORS: Stories about the underworld have a lengthy pedigree — and if this one is any indication, it’s easy to see why. “This is an emotional rollercoaster full of fascinating scenes and characters, and I’m glad Cold in Gardez put up a blogpost praising it,” Chris said in his nomination. “I made it through the first chapter almost entirely on the strength of CiG’s recommendation. But man, once we get into Twilight’s head, the story really comes into its own. The author does wonderful things with a variety of folklores, and makes Tartarus a complicated, terrifying entity in its own right.” AugieDog was equally impressed with the mythology: “Taking a bunch of the Greek and Roman ideas about Tartarus — heck, there’s even more than a little of Dante’s Inferno happening here — the author goes all out to fit the Equestria we know from the show into a larger and scarier cosmos that Celestia and Luna have done everything they can to keep at bay.”
It was more than the mythology which turned our heads, though. “All the characters shine — I’ll even go out on a limb and say that this story contains the Warrior Luna to end all Warrior Lunas,” AugieDog said. “And I’ll also make special mention of how well the author understands the essence of Twilight Sparkle. I mean, she not only has a perfect moment of epiphany at the story’s climax, but in the chapters following, because she is Twilight Sparkle, she starts rethinking and second-guessing everything about that epiphany.” Soge, for his part, appreciated the way the story truly dug into those characters: “Even the most gratuitous of the fight scenes feel full of purpose, showing Twilight what being a Princess would entail in this reality, and the ethical imperatives of the decisions that seem to be forced on her. Of course, everything culminates in her epiphany, which is portrayed amazingly well.”
Overall, there was enough here to impress us that it even overcame some of our curators’ natural dislikes. “If I’m recommending a fic with Twilestia stuff, that should tell you just how much the rest of the fic wowed me,” Chris said. Soge summed it up: “Setting the Twilestia aside, this fic is a real treat, a tour-de-force of worldbuilding and characterization with an amazing, singular focus — a picture of a legacy which Twilight, as a Goddess, would inherit, and how she managed to embrace it in her own terms.”
Read on for our author interview, in which JoeShogun discusses planetary deities, piled princesses, and an hour of doubt.
Give us the standard biography.
I began as what I believe is known in the fandom as a ‘moderate.’ I started watching MLP for Science! That is, to figure out what the fuss was about. Then I badgered a friend into watching it too, and, in return, he tricked me into reading fanfics. Then he started writing, and the plague spread to me. I have no particular writing experience in fiction, and no idea why I started within this particular setting, but here we are.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Like so many things about this, I have no idea. Probably some kind of brain misfire.
Who’s your favorite pony?
If I must choose, Twilight Sparkle. Specifically, crazy Twilight Sparkle, as she has been responsible for some of my favorite episodes. But I don’t have to choose, so I’m going to answer with imagery.
Luna and Celly are great on the occasion that they deign to show up, and Cadance shall ever have my affection for the episode where she wanted more adventure out of life.
Also Trixie. And Starlight. Etc, etc.
What’s your favorite episode?
There’s just so many! Why must you demand I choose!?
“Lesson Zero” is still a strong contender, even after all these years. “Luna Eclipsed” is another. “Hearts and Hooves Day” is a classic, and not just for its delightfully self-aware warning against the dangers of shipping.
But seriously, there’s so many good ones it seems like an exercise in futility to choose a favorite. I disdain this question!
What do you get from the show?
The idea that there is always a better way to solve problems. Grimdark is so prevalent in fiction (and life) that it’s nice to have something out there telling people that being nice might actually be the better option. There are lots of shows that try, but this one actually manages to make a convincing argument for it.
What do you want from life?
Dude, you could have warned me things were gonna get heavy.
Happiness sounds trite, but it’s so much harder to achieve than people tend to think that it seems like a reasonable goal. I want to have good friends and a beer and a dog and not be plagued by doubts 24/7. An hour of doubts a day, tops. I suppose I’d also like to be better at art and writing and whatnot, and maybe make a living at it.
Why do you write?
Mostly because ridiculous stories inflict themselves on me and the only way to clear my head of them is to type ‘em out. Also, it’s pretty satisfying to look at a full page, even if it’s not very good. Editing can fix that.
As for why I write fan-fic, I guess it just seemed like a good training ground. You have a set world with set characters, and all you have to do is figure out what they would do in whatever situation you come up with. And then change everything to fit your mad vision of how the canon totally should have been.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
One of the best bits of advice I ever got was something to the effect of “Don’t write what you know. Write what you want to read.” Once you really get going on that, you’ll start researching things without having to be forced, just to get better at expressing whatever it is you want to say. Indulge that impulse, by the way. You might have to push yourself at first, and it’ll be rough for a while, but that’s fine. It’ll become a habit soon, and then all you have to do is make time for it.
Also, when you get stuck and can’t think of how to say this line or that phrase, don’t. Just write yourself a note with a summary of what you’re trying to say and skip ahead. Let the scene roll around in your mind for a while. This story took goddamn forever to write, but those big gaps between chapters improved it because I was thinking about it the whole time.
On that note, WRITE AN OUTLINE BEFORE YOU START. Nine Days wanders and wends because I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just sort of wrote things as they came and fleshed them out later. Don’t do that. It’s maddening, and it’s why parts of this story seem a bit disjointed. Compile all your big scenes together, figure out how they work with the themes you want to hammer in, write up a chapter list, and then write your story.
And for Celestia’s sake, find an editor. Letting someone pick apart your darling sucks and hurts and is nerve-wracking, but it makes you better at what you’re trying to do. People often talk about ‘growing a thick skin,’ but I’ve yet to hear anyone explain how to do that. I try to keep in mind that even the best editor ain’t perfect. They can be flat wrong about things, same as me and you.
What inspired “Nine Days Down”?
A lot of stuff. I originally referred to it as ‘Project Grimdark,’ and it was really meant more as an experiment than anything else. Just a way to try some new things. Then it grew into a novel. Oops.
Anyway, most of the setting came from Greco-Roman mythology and the totally kick-ass interpretation of those seen in the Exalted tabletop game. There’s some celtic stuff in there (Nuckalavee, Dullahan), and other odds and ends from Norse and Egyptian mythology. I wanted to work some Voodoo in, too (it’s my favorite mythology, actually), but it never quite fit.
The story itself came from trying to reconcile how crazy dangerous so many of the creatures stomping around the MLP world are against how generally pleasant everything in Equestria itself is. I got the idea that maybe a certain pair of Princesses had decided that life should be more than mere survival, and had worked very hard to kick the world into a better shape, perhaps by tossing its worst elements into Taratarus. And then I wondered what might happen if someone who exemplified those new ideals got thrown in with the old, bad things. This ties back to what I get from the show: Even in a world full of violence and horror, a world that literally drives people to embrace their base instincts, there is still a better way.
Since ancient mythology seldom mentions Tartarus as anything other than a place, how did you come up with the character of Tartarus the deity?
Mostly from Exalted, but once I started looking into it, I found they didn’t come up with that. A lot of the old gods, the really old ones, were places or ideas before they were people. Gaia and Uranus weren’t just a mother and father, they were the Earth and Sky. They were things so great and incomprehensible that they were best expressed in terms usually reserved for landmasses. Or planets. I like that. I think God-things should work in integrally different ways than us mortals, and I tried to bring that out in Tartarus, among others.
Why was it important to the story that Twilight and Celestia develop a romantic relationship?
Uh, heh. Yeah. About that. I was really, really leery of doing that. I eventually fell in favor of it because I wanted to try my hand at this whole shipping thing. I have this worry that it was a bad idea and I only went with it because I kind of like that ship, but anyway …
I think the show provides us with plenty of evidence that Twi has something of a fixation on Celestia, even if it’s entirely innocent. Celestia is so many things to Twilight (friend, mentor, authority figure, object of near-worship, peer, potential rival) that there’s a lot of room for it to go a lot of different ways. And who knows how Celly feels about Twilight?
I thought it worked in this case, more or less, for a few reasons. But mostly because everypony is just about out of their minds at the point when it happens, and sometimes you just need to make out with somebody for a while. It’s refreshing.
Given the way you present them here, do you think Twilight and Tartarus could ever become friends?
Twilight essentially defines herself as the opposite of everything Tartarus is. As for the big T, It has no interest in such things. So probably not. But if anybody can figure out a way to make that magic happen, it’ll be the Princess of Friendship.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Funny story, I’m actually re-editing the whole thing right now. I submitted it to Equestria Daily and got a, uh, verbose reply. Little grammatical stuff, mostly, but my editor raised some good points, and I am currently endeavoring to address them. It’s been cautiously approved though, so that’s cool.
What does this mean for you? It means a bonus chapter, that’s what! It’s still in the works, but it shouldn’t be too long now. Hope y’all are ready for some exposition.