Dig into today’s story.
Petunia and the Coelacanth
[Slice of Life] • 2,705 words
Sometimes young Petunia Paleo’s dreams seem impossible.
Good thing dreams are Princess Luna’s specialty.
FROM THE CURATORS: Oddly enough, our first exposure to this sweet, feel-good story was a kerfluffle in our discussion thread. “Ding dang it, PP! I was just finishing up my own recommendation e-mail for this one,” AugieDog said immediately after Present Perfect’s nomination landed. Present shot back, “Obviously, this was a good idea, then,” before Soge quickly greenlighted it: “A good idea it was indeed. This is simply a slam dunk of a story, charming and unpretentious, yet chock full of narrative depths.” Still, the choice of story got some good-natured pushback: “Honestly,” FanOfMostEverything said, “my only regret is that Coffee’s going to get featured for this and not To Serve In Hell.”
There were reasons we found this so eye-catching, though. “Written very much in the style of a children’s story — it practically begins with the words ‘Once upon a time’ — this is just plain charming from top to bottom,” AugieDog said. “And while Petunia’s pint-sized pluck and determination are of course the center of the story, it’s the characterization of her parents that really got to me.” Both those factors were cited repeatedly as exemplary. “Despite being written in that ‘bedtime story’ style, it never seems to forget the presence of older readers, managing to make its style work in favor of establishing both atmosphere and character,” Soge said. “And speaking of character, the characterization work here is amazing. All of the involved pop from the page. And it does all that in its sub-3k word count without ever feeling dense.”
Along the way, we found plenty to surprise and delight us. “The story is filled with clever bits like the logical consequences of publishing a journal that contains Rainbow Dash’s thoughts on meeting the real live Daring Do,” FanOfMostEverything noted. And several of us loved, as RBDash47 put it, “the concept that Luna is concerned with aspirational dreams as well as nighttime ones. This was a very logical continuation from several elements in the show, and a very satisfying one at that.” But in the end, it was Present Perfect’s nomination e-mail which summed our enjoyment up best: “This is a fast-paced story that stuffs a whole ton of childish hopes and dreams into itself, before letting them burst forth in a display of pure positivity.”
Read on for our author interview, in which CoffeeMinion discusses guarded faith, self-compression, and yesterday’s sacrifices.
Give us the standard biography.
Call me Coffee! I’m a thirtysomething (though perilously close to fortysomething) desk jockey currently residing in the American Midwest. My job and education lean toward “computer stuff,” but writing has emerged as an increasing passion over the last fifteen-ish years. Other less-lucrative interests include singing, dancing, computer gaming, miniatures wargaming (with associated painting & modeling), listening to heavy metal, and studying Lutheran theology.
For better or worse, though, the majority of my interests have been on hiatus since my wife and I started having kids about a decade ago. It seems like writing (and the metal) has remained as something I can still do to an extent that feels satisfying, whereas the rest seems to take up bigger blocks of focus-time than I can get at the moment.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I discovered the pony fandom back in early 2015, and I was overwhelmed by its size and level of activity. FimFiction in particular was flabbergasting, as I’d never encountered fanfiction before, and I didn’t expect to fall in love with it.
I was too awestruck to think of a suitable name or avatar, so I eventually resorted to Google Image Searching my daily lifeline in a post-kids world: coffee. And what came back was a “Despicable Me” Minion who was shaking from excessive caffeine consumption.
Who’s your favorite pony?
I am a HUGE fan of Limestone Pie. She’s become a muse to me over these last couple of years, and sometimes I have to actively resist the urge to write her into stories. Part of it is that Limestone and the Pies remind me a lot of my wife and her family; every time we go back to visit her folks & siblings at their family farm, I come away with story ideas.
However, I have to admit that Limestone isn’t my favorite character in MLP — it’s actually Rarity. I dismissed Rarity at first as “just” a frou-frou fashionista, but her performance in Suited For Success blew me away and showed me I’d been too quick to write her off. Since then, I’ve come to see an almost endless range and depth in her character, as well as an impressive capacity to fight her way through adversity.
I know we’re here to talk about Petunia and the Coelacanth, but I can hardly mention Rarity without digressing into my Rarity-focused novel that ended a few days before Petunia and the Coelacanth hit FimFiction: To Serve In Hell. To Serve In Hell is pretty much everything that Petunia and the Coelacanth isn’t: long, dark, and full of action and suspense by turns. Yet it aims to capture some of the aspects of Rarity’s character that stand out strongest to me: her keen intelligence and eye for detail, her willingness to throw off her dainty persona and literally fight for her friends, her ability to charm her way into or out of almost any kind of situation, and her overall embodiment of Generosity.
What’s your favorite episode?
Segueing from the last answer: The Cutie Re-Mark (S5E25 & 26), whose Nightmare-Moon-takeover-AU inspired me to spend the next three years working on To Serve In Hell. :-p I suppose The Cutie Re-Mark is technically two episodes; I’ll choose the second one if I have to.
I grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I loved its forays into time travel and the AUs that arose from meddling with time. The TNG episode Yesterday’s Enterprise remains one of my all-time favorite pieces of television — it’s the one where a previous version of the U.S.S. Enterprise is thrown forward in time instead of making a heroic sacrifice during a key historical battle, and we get to see the dark AU that gets created as a result. One thing I particularly loved about The Cutie Re-Mark was how its Zecora possessed a similar timeline-anomaly-awareness to what TNG’s Guinan had in Yesterday’s Enterprise. I decided to put that awareness at the heart of things in To Serve In Hell, even though Zecora wasn’t shown in The Cutie Re-Mark’s Nightmare-verse segment. I also wanted to invoke Yesterday’s Enterprise’s overall theme of characters making deep personal sacrifices to try to undo what was wrong with the timeline, which gave me lots of opportunities to explore Rarity’s character.
What do you get from the show?
Tons of things! It’s an inspiration to write and create. It serves as a focal point for others to produce works of quality that are a joy to behold. It’s reminiscent of shows and other media that were formative for me, yet it’s also fresh and distinct. It’s uplifting and didactic (in a good way), but rarely wooden or trite. It has a cast of colorful, deep, and appealing characters whose stories rarely feel limited despite the usual limitations of children’s media. And it’s the starting point for a legit community that manages to cross over between online and real-world interactions.
What do you want from life?
Maybe … to do right by the things and people I’ve committed to?
Beyond the hobbies and interests that I remember fondly and hope to pick up again someday, I have the more pressing need to maintain close and engaged relationships with my wife and kids, and to try to be a positive presence in their lives. On a good day that can be a lot to balance with work and other day-to-day practicalities. On an average day, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But what I want more than anything is to do right by them over the long haul, and for them to judge that favorably when all’s said and done.
I’d also like to find a better voice for talking about my faith and other deeper aspects of myself and others. I find it’s easy to talk at arbitrary length about surface stuff, but sometimes when I try to go deeper I either end up misstepping, or I just end up being a lot quieter and more guarded than I’d like to be. I’m an introvert by nature, despite how much I’ve tried to push myself to be more “out there.”
Why do you write?
Writing has helped me start to find my voice in life. The writing communities that I’ve been able to participate in have given me a way to practice developing more of an authentic “extroverted-ish” side of myself. Plus, writing helps me work through questions and feelings that are otherwise difficult to process.
Writing has also become an important channel for the creative energy that I’ve struggled to find other viable outlets for. My last decade has sometimes felt like an exercise in compressing myself down into a succession of ever-tinier boxes as I’ve taken on more practical obligations, yet my need for fun creative time has proven frighteningly resilient.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
As much as possible, treat the processes of brainstorming, pitch/outline development, drafting, and editing, as completely separate entities. There will be some inevitable crossover between them, because you might find a story’s path starts to deviate from its pitch/outline as you draft it, and deeper stages of editing might require you to go back and re-draft one part or another. But when you’re drafting, nothing kills progress faster than bogging yourself down with trying to in-line edit that first draft — worry about making it “good” later! And similarly, I’ve found it helps a lot to have a story’s higher-level beats mapped out before I start trying to draft it.
Also, one of the best ways to reduce your anxiety over releasing a story is to get pre-reader feedback on it!
What inspired “Petunia and the Coelacanth”?
Pure and simple: our oldest child was learning about coelacanths in school at one point and asked me to write a story about them. I struggled with the request for a while before realizing that Petunia (and/or Daring Do) gave me a way to write it in MLP.
But as I got down to writing it, I found it changing focus from a true “children’s story” into more of a self-admonishment to be gentle with my kids’ dreams. They’re young enough that they change their minds constantly about almost everything, except for when they really dig their heels in about stuff that doesn’t seem to matter! It’s so easy to get tired and frustrated and not listen when they really need it. But ultimately, doing the work to maintain strong relationships with them matters way more than whether I end up needing a libation by the end of a given day.
How important was it to you to maintain an “all ages fairy tale” tone in the story?
“All ages” was essential, given the intended audience. But the “fairy tale”-ness was more a consequence of the structure that emerged as I was framing it up and starting to write it. And all I can really say there is that I was going on gut instinct and feeling when I invoked the rule-of-three for the obstacles that Petunia faced, rather than any kind of experience or expertise in writing children’s literature.
tl;dr: sometimes you make it when you fake it! :-p
What is it about writing contests that seem to attract you?
Competition, camaraderie, and feedback are the main things.
As the song says, I don’t get around much anymore. Part of that is just parenthood; part of it is how skilled (or not) I am at finagling free time away to do stuff. I deeply miss getting to go out and do things with friends in realspace, even though I’m introverted enough that I can more-or-less survive with just a computer and an Internet connection. But then a lot of “mainstream” online stuff seems pretty daunting to me … I’m not quick enough to be much of a gamer anymore, and I kind of hate the posturing about how awesome people’s lives are that happens on a lot of social media. I often don’t know how to get more real in a way that makes sense on Facebook or whatever.
Writing contests — and especially the Writeoffs — scratch some of that itch for doing shared activities among friends, yet they also fit into the boundaries of when and where I can get free time these days. They also give me motivation to keep pushing to improve my skills. It’s HARD sitting down and brainstorming, drafting, and editing a new complete story from scratch in a short period of time — much less to produce one that’s any good! But I find it rewarding to keep pushing myself to get sharper and quicker.
An essential part of that process is feedback, though; just cranking stuff out quickly is of little value on its own. One great thing about contests is that you’ll usually get detailed feedback from at least the judges — and Writeoffs are even better in that regard.
When you’re not working from a contest prompt, what does it take for an idea to grab you?
Bits of ideas grab me all the time! Sometimes a song lyric will stick out in my head, a piece of art on EqD/DA will strike me as needing to have something written about it, or the show itself will offer a brief glimpse of a promising side character. I keep things pretty loose when I’m ingesting inspiration, so it’s not uncommon for me to have a title, a picture, or a feeling, long before I even have characters or a plot. I keep a huge slush-pile of these fragmentary ideas in a Google doc, and every so often I’ll sit down and spend “writing time” trawling through it with the goal of developing one or more high-level pitches for what an actual story behind a given fragment would look like.
Of course, not every idea fragment turns out to be something that I can develop a complete pitch/outline from. Sometimes I’ll try mashing various fragments together to see if I can get a story to cohere. I did that with Zephyr and the Real Girl, which started with a gorgeous piece of art that had absolutely nothing to do with an off-the-wall ship that I thought would be fun to try.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’d like to thank the
academy RCL for including Petunia and the Coelacanth!
Thank you to all of FimFiction for being a great place to post and read pony stories. Horizon and Pascoite, thank you guys for being big parts of what inspired me to take this whole horse thing seriously enough to start writing in the first place. OnionPie, thank you for taking me seriously back when there wasn’t much of a reason to do so. RogerDodger, thank you for running the Writeoff site. Vivid and Sunny, thank you for helping make cons happen! MisterNick and Soufriere, thank you guys for being you. And last but DEFINITELY not least, a huge thank you to Moosetasm for three-plus years of being the wind beneath my horse-wings — I truly couldn’t do what I do without you, man.