You’ll grow to love today’s story.
Essenza di Amore
[Adventure] [Drama] [Alternate Universe] • 53,665 words
Orphaned as a filly, a young pegasus named Kaviyayu is raised by an adoptive Earth pony family in a secluded, peaceful village. When a strange unicorn drops by the village, Kaviyayu and the other foals are captivated by her tales of the world, as well as her various spells and illusions for their amusement. But there’s something about the way she doesn’t speak of her own family … how she never removes her traveller’s cloak … how she seems to take a very strong interest in Kaviyayu …
Who is this mysterious mare, what does she seek, and just what is so special about that pendant she wears?
This is the tale of how a seemingly ordinary filly rose to become both a princess and a beacon of love to ponies all over Equestria.
FROM THE CURATORS: It’s common to find fanfic that expands on the show, but sometimes if you want to explore the lives of the ponies we know and love, you have to find stories willing to dig deeper. “I knew G. M. Berrow had established Cadance’s ascension story in one of the chapter books, but I had no idea canon was so scant until I read Essenza di Amore’s author’s notes,” FanOfMostEverything said. “This story does so much with so little, taking those few lines and turning them into a living, breathing little society.” That was what first brought it to our attention, but hardly its only praiseworthy element. “Cerulean Voice did a great work expanding Cadance’s origin story from the G. M. Berrow book here,” Soge said in his nomination, “weaving a touching coming-of-age story, with fascinating elements of worldbuilding, and a cast of likable and dynamic characters.”
In the characterization department, the entire cast was worthy of mention. “Cadance’s heroic feats feel both suitably epic and entirely appropriate for her, and Prismia’s arc feels plucked right from the show,” FanOfMostEverything said, and Soge agreed: “It also features a sympathethic villain whose arc feels distinctively pony.” In an earlier review, Present Perfect extended that praise more broadly: “The author was able to create a world separate from Equestria at large that still jibes with ‘Crystal Heart Spell’, and that’s no small feat, given that you’ll find names like ‘Kaviyayu’ here. The writing is excellent, multiple characters get first-person scenes with distinct voices, and the plot is overall interesting and exciting.”
On top of that, as Soge said, “the thematic elements are also very well executed, giving the story enough heft to elevate the material.” That exemplary solidity of theme was at the core of AugieDog’s feature-sealing vote: “What really struck me here was how the whole piece is grounded in the importance of storytelling,” he said. “The whole village gathers around the fire in the evening to exchange stories; Prismia first appears to them disguised as a storyteller; Cadance’s father stands before the village bonfire to tell the story of how Cadance came to them; Celestia tells them stories when she arrives after Cadance’s ascension; the final chapter begins with Cadance telling Twilight the story of how she became a princess. … Even as the characters are becoming enmeshed into this big epic story, they’re telling each other older stories, and the resolution is about turning the page on a story someone’s been telling herself for years. It’s a really nice structural element.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Cerulean Voice discusses pronking skunks, forgotten forests, and equine dietary changes.
Give us the standard biography.
A true 90’s kid through and through, I was born as the decade was, to a world which would soon see a massive upheaval of technological advancement (and most importantly, the rise of some of the greatest cartoons and consoles of all time!). I grew up in the city of Darwin, Australia from age 3, which is about as backwater and remote as you can possibly make a capital city, and didn’t really begin to do anything of substance with my life until I moved to Perth when I was 20.
Throughout school, I’d more oft-than-not be found in the library than the playground; I smashed through many of my favourite book series again and again before hitting double digits, such as Animorphs, Rowan of Rin, Star Wars: X-Wing, and too many Goosebumps books to remember.
It was at an extremely low point in my life as a 21-year-old that a dear friend introduced me to Friendship is Magic via the episode Griffon the Brush-off. Not in any mood to argue at the time, I found Pinkie’s Pepe-le-Pew-esque antics nostalgically charming, and before I left my friend’s house (the next morning!) I had watched half of Season 1. I’d elaborate further, but this interview would run as long as my fics if I did; suffice to say I’ve been smitten with the show and most aspects of the fandom ever since.
Nowadays I’m 28, living in Brisbane, running my own business, taking care of my twin almost-4-year-old sons (one of whom has autism), cranking out the mileage with Pokémon Go, and somehow still finding time to check in on people every so often. I’ve retired from writing fanfiction without regret, although I should probably find the time to read more. I miss it.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I love metal music, and I had long fantasised about becoming a singer for a heavy band (my favourite singers consist of Mark Jansen of Epica, Matt Tuck of Bullet For My Valentine, and Mark Hunter of Chimaira). I have blue eyes, and something in my head just mashed those facts together along with a few sudden metaphors that also made themselves home.
I would be Cerulean Voice, the blue-eyed and blue-maned Earth pony with a voice that could mirror clear skies and twinkling oceans. The sky and the ocean share the capabilities of alternating between serenely calm and inconsolably furious, up and down, blue to black and blue again, or, like the way Spencer Sotelo of Periphery has been described, “Up like an angel and down like a wounded ox.” Such is my OC’s vocal range.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Fluttershy. She more than any other character in the show is the one I can truly empathise with. She represents to me everything that humans should strive to be: kind above all else, not only to themselves and others of their own species but to all living things. Fluttershy was my inspiration to become a vegetarian, something I have not regretted in six years. She’s also the cutest character in the show, in my opinion.
What’s your favorite episode?
In the beginning, I would have said either Griffon the Brush-off or Sonic Rainboom. After 2012, I would have said A Canterlot Wedding. Post-April 2014 and only until very recently I would have said Twilight’s Kingdom … but now I can definitively say without a doubt, Shadow Play. I love how it’s a culmination of seven seasons worth of events, MacGuffins, reformations, and idol worship. Although I truly love the show as a whole, I have an affinity for the darker, more story-driven episodes as opposed to the Slice of Life-type character growth ones; Shadow Play ticked every single box I’ve ever had for an ideal episode and then some I didn’t even know I needed!
What do you get from the show?
I get constant reminders that we should strive to be the best we can be as people, to each other and to ourselves. I admit it’s very hit and miss by the nature of writing staff rotations, but generally I get this from most episodes even when the execution could have been better. I particularly like it when characters are made to choose between what is right and what is easy, or need a good smack upside the head to see how they may be unwittingly hurting or endangering others or themselves. There’s so many parallels to real life and we can learn so much from it. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve watched an episode and thought, I’ve been there before.
I think with a show like this it’s important to just watch it with the intent of enjoying it, not necessarily the intent to pick it to pieces from the get-go. That’s what second/other subsequent watches are for.
What do you want from life?
I want a house of my own to share with my current girlfriend and kids, a car with no mechanical problems, and the ability to comfortably stay on top of bills. Nothing fancy — no mansions or supercars or elaborate man-cave — just peace of mind knowing that I’ve worked hard to stay on top of things. With my business forging ahead in a very positive direction, I feel this goal is in sight within a few years, then I’ll focus on helping other family members and eventually, larger charity work.
Why do you write?
At first I was enamoured by a particular album called Neverbloom by one of my favourite bands: Perth-based, melodic deathcore geniuses Make Them Suffer. The themes of Neverbloom deal with origins, love, betrayal, loss, corruption, and decay, all under an encompassing metaphor of a forest that was once beautiful and vibrant but is now hollow, dark, and forgotten. With every subsequent listen, the ideas took shape in my head that Neverbloom might as well serve as an origin/fall-from-grace story of Ponykind and the Everfree Forest, similar in theme to the Book of Genesis. I smashed out the ideas, hit publish, and expected maybe a small amount of attention, which is exactly what I got. I was happy with my work, and thought I was done for good, as I’ve never been a very creative person and had no more intentions of continuing this spur-of-the-moment short-lived hobby.
What I didn’t expect was for the floodgates to open. I got a thirst for the audience, and started on more and more projects from different sources of inspiration. I started out writing for myself, because at the time I had a few things going wrong in life and I had never found something so cathartic. I’d never been particularly good at anything beyond video games before, so to see people actively telling me they enjoyed my work and wanted more gave me the will to write for them as well as myself.
The best comments are easily the ones where people say that reading my stories helped them with a certain aspect of their own life, or inspired them to begin/continue their own writing journey. I’ve always loved to help people, so even thinking about some of them now makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.
Sadly, I don’t write anymore. There’s just too much going on in my life to concentrate for longer than a few minutes at a time, with noisy 3-year-old boys and a job/other people who need my attention. I’m so glad I did though, if only for a short time.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Don’t be afraid to portray an outlandish concept with a niche audience, so long as you think you can do it well. Fear not the criticism of others because everything they say is an opportunity to grow and learn. Be open to editors and suggestions, because you are not perfect and you never will be. Not one person on Earth can say they wrote a brilliant story without some help or input from another, and those who might say such things are liars.
What was it about Cadance’s origin story in G.M. Berrow’s book — other than how short it is — that made you want to enlarge it?
Ever since she was introduced, I loved Cadance. Britt McKillip was a perfect VA choice and she really brought the first true Disney feel to the show in terms of the princesses. I have this habit of rooting for the underdog, and so I thought about how I could create an origin story for her that made her more likeable to the naysayers who may prefer she not exist at all. Lo and behold, I discovered the book where Cadance’s origins were touched upon, but barely had I started reading and it was already over. I felt a little ripped off, to be honest, even though I accepted that Twilight was the main character — not Cadance — and going into further details wouldn’t serve the purpose of the novel.
Reason one: Being my second-favourite character in the show, I challenged myself to dedicate a story to Cadance that could not only be hypothetically in line with both show and novel canon, but also explain how exactly she came to be what she is, what her home life and adoptive family were like, and why we never saw her until the end of season 2. This would be my greatest creative challenge ever, but if I could pull it off I would hopefully have one of those “fandom classics” that people talk about, a la Past Sins or Long Road to Friendship.
Reason two: Prismia, the witch in the novel that Cadance mentioned, intrigued the heck out of me, and I wanted her to be more than simply a plot device for Cadance to discover her destiny. I wanted her to be her own character, one whose background and motivations were much more than what they had been made out to be. For Cadance to have received her cutie mark in love — such a powerful emotion — after merely defeating a witch, surely it must have been a powerful lesson, simultaneously learned from and also taught to an extremely difficult foe.
Why make the concept of storytelling so integral to how the characters relate to each other in “Essenza di Amore”?
Honestly, I just really like the framing device as a whole, and I think Essenza really shows that more than anything else I ever wrote. I feel like telling stories is an easy way to make people feel comfortable around you, especially if you don’t know someone very well. In the case of Prismia, she feeds her own desires by gaining the trust of others, so sharing stories while utilising her gift of illusory magicks for visual aid is a surefire way to get people to like her. With Celestia, her naturally commanding presence guarantees her an audience, and she has so much wisdom to share with her subjects, so why not make it entertaining as well as informative, in-story and out?
You can learn a lot about someone by the stories they tell and how they tell it. It’s also a great way to reveal and exposit things without being so direct in your approach.
With over 12,000 words of “bonus deleted scenes” at the end of the story, would it be safe to say that the revision process is important to your writing?
Absolutely. So rarely can a writer get everything right first time, not just with little nuances like character mannerisms but even with serious plot events. Sometimes — no matter how good, how perfect your ideas may seem to you — they might just not fit with the feel and intent of the story as a whole. Even if they do, even if you feel it’s necessary to explain something or hammer home your overall point, oftentimes it just slows down the pacing. My editors and pre-readers made me acutely aware of this when they said the story didn’t seem to be going in the appropriate direction and I would be better off trying again.
It’s … hard to remove entire chapters worth of content and start again when you thought you had everything down pat, but as harsh as they were, I knew my pre-readers only wanted me to produce the highest possible quality of work. It’s so important not to take things personally when they tell you your work sucks, try again and get it right this time, look here’s how, etc.
At the same time, it’s also important to remember your lessons and how you learned them, so I advise against completely obliterating something creative unless you are certain it is completely pointless and irrelevant to anything. Though I kicked those scenes from the main story, I wanted to show people what the story could have been like had I kept those scenes in. In a way, it’s a homage to my editing and pre-reading team, as if to say, “These guys saved the story and here’s how. It would not be as good without all their help.”
Has working as an editor on other people’s projects changed the way you look at your own writing?
It really has. I always thought I was a better editor than writer for such a long time, but I lived in a society that really doesn’t appreciate being corrected or having their mistakes pointed out to them before I discovered the online world of fanfiction. Suddenly, my ability to point out errors and suggest improvements was in demand instead of being discouraged. As I wrote more stories and my writing skills improved, I grew to appreciate my own editors more and more and even became a better editor by observing how they edited my stories and picked out the issues in my work. After all, how can you claim to be a good editor when you produce sub-par standard work yourself?
It got to the point where I would be reading and re-reading everything I wrote, always going over my work with a fine-toothed comb. Even so, you could be the best editor in the world and still have someone suggest an improvement to your work. In my opinion, an editor’s greatest hope for a writer they serve is that they will reach a point when they no longer require your services, or at the very least, require them far less.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Although I no longer write fanfiction, I will always be so happy that I dabbled in it and not only learned so much more about editing and writing but also made many friends, some of whom I still talk to on a semi-regular basis. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have met a few of my readers, and if I’ve left even a small impression on anyone for the better, that’s the most I can ever ask for. We should all try to leave this world a little better off than when we found it.
(Curator Note: Present Perfect recused himself from this feature due to his prereading work on the story.)