Turn to today’s story for some cross-dimensional drama with heart.
It Turns Out They’re Windmills
[Equestria Girls] [Romance] [Comedy] [Drama] • 64,228 words
As Fluttershy’s birthday approaches, she learns two jarring things: not all of her friends are as fine with her new relationship as she had previously thought, and her human counterpart is extremely closeted.
This is a story about queerness, friendship, bunnies, humans who think they’re bunnies, magic explosions, and extremely terrible flirting.
FROM THE CURATORS: When we discuss a story which is posted as a sequel, usually our conversation drifts to whether to feature the series’ first work instead. But in this case, discussion shifted from the original to the sequel once we realized everyone was even more excited about it. “Everything that makes the prequel, I Am Awkward (Yellow), great is amplified fivefold in Windmills,” Present Perfect said in his nomination. “The jokes are further between, but they are adamantly memorable. The pure relationship drama has been replaced by a coming-out story that uses the dual-dimensional setup of Equestria Girls to perhaps its fullest extent. I mean, just the ethics of whether knowing a pony is gay means that you’ll out their human counterpart, alone, makes this worth exploring.”
The number of superlatives in our discussion quickly made the breadth of our appreciation clear. “This knocked it out of the park,” FanOfMostEverything said. “It has everything: Romance, drama, action, comedy, parallel universe shenanigans. … The story passed by in an amazing rush — mine, not the pacing’s — making the plotlines sync together in brilliant, seamless passes from one narrative arc to another.” AugieDog, meanwhile, gushed about the story while assigning it a top score: “The author’s character work is gorgeous,” he said. “There’s a scene in the first chapter where Fluttershy quietly seduces Moondancer that is funny, adorable, and sexy all at the same time, and the jaggedness under the surface of Twilight and Moondancer’s relationship gets completely exposed and explored during an arc that I can only call harrowing. That the author brings in the Equestria Girls characters as well allows the story to explore their similarities and differences in a way I don’t recall seeing before in a fic.”
That was made even more impressive by the number of moving pieces this juggled. “What stands out most, perhaps, is how good J Carp is at writing nuanced characters,” Present Perfect said. “One has to imagine it was already hard enough to write two versions of the same character — and there are a lot of characters in this story — but every canon character has had their motives and personality thoroughly considered in order to drive the narrative. And that’s to say nothing of the one important OC.” All those factors added up to a compelling argument for time-starved readers to dive into the middle. “The only things you need to know,” AugieDog noted, “are that Twilight has hired Moondancer to move to Ponyville so they can study the Everfree forest, and that Moondancer and Fluttershy have fallen quite deeply in love.”
Read on for our author interview, in which J Carp discusses planetary rankings, mumblecore maturity, and superior Carolinas.
Give us the standard biography.
I am a social psychologist trying to stick it out in academia. Right now, I have a postdoc going at a university in the superior Carolina while my wife finishes up her degree.
Before I wrote these stories, I hadn’t written fanfiction for … about fifteen years. (I wrote deconstructionist Sailor Moon horror-comedies, and I actually credit them with helping me make sense of my teenage years.)
(Sailor Mars is the best one.)
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
It’s based on my real name! Won’t say how closely, though.
Who’s your favorite pony?
You know what? Starlight. The big three are Rarity (the funniest), Twilight (the most relatable for me), and Starlight … who’s kind of a nice mix of the first two. I like how her journey to understanding friendship didn’t involve shaving off her darker and weirder aspects … she just got weird friends. I like how she’s heroic and self-centered at the same time. I like how she expands the morals the show can tell … hey, you know, sometimes it’s good to cut corners! I like how she goes big.
What’s your favorite episode?
“Lesson Zero” is still the icon, for me. I’m a sucker for meta-jokes AND for Ren and Stimpy-inspired crazytimes, so that one rings all the right bells. Beyond that, “No Second Prances” and, yeah, “Amending Fences.”
Maybe I just kinda like it when Twilight comes close to being a jerk, I guess.
What do you get from the show?
I mentioned I was into Sailor Moon, so I seem to be able to trace my personal development via cartoons with superpowered, mostly female, merchandisingly distinct casts. For Sailor Moon, there was something my younger self found fascinating about the way the colorful happy magic girls’ world coexisted with the weird darkness that characterized the villains. There would be wacky hijinks about the hunky new boy hanging out at the arcade, and then suddenly they’d cut to this grotesque imagery like something out of David Lynch. It was simple enough for me to get it, but bizarre enough that I wanted to pick it apart and identify all its elements, and that’s what I used my fanfics to do.
MLP gives me something similar, I think. There’s a happy cartoon world, but underneath it is not weirdness, but a bemused, mumblecore-style maturity. I remember being struck that these characters were grown-ups. They’ve gotta be pushing thirty, by this point. They have jobs. Some of them even have day-jobs, because the thing they love to do doesn’t make any money. This isn’t some complex satire of modern life, but there’s an acknowledgement of the complexities and discomforts. It doesn’t sink into either Pollyannaishness or cynicism. And instead of wanting to take it apart, like I’d have wanted as a teenager, I wanted to build on it … see how much weight this comical horse world can bear. That’s not a bad symbol for what it’s like to be a grown-up.
What do you want from life?
Why do you write?
It’s a form of introspection. There’s also an inertia to writing jokes; you just snap into a mindset where you can intuit timing and the wording without effort, and it builds on itself. That’s exciting; it makes me feel like my thoughts can flow like I want them to.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
You probably don’t have to write. I don’t.
That may sound weird in this context, because a lot of people in interviews like this are all, “I write because I have to write!” and I think I know what they mean. But there’s other things to keep in mind, too.
Quick story. After undergrad, I was going to go to Los Angeles and write sitcoms. And I got this amazing opportunity for an internship at a particular show, which soon turned into a PA position. I was be able to spend a lot of time in the writers’ room during every stage of the process, throwing out ideas and punchlines.
And it was a total nightmare. Not because of the people … comedy writers are notoriously nasty, miserable folks, but my coworkers were mostly very supportive. And not because of the work itself … I could write a funny joke. But there was something about the publicness of it that just enervated me. You have to always be “on.” Everything is simultaneously a collaboration and a competition … “don’t worry about pitching bad jokes, but don’t pitch any bad jokes.” You need an aggressiveness or an ambition or a toughness that I totally lacked.
So, after less than a year, I quit and went back home. And for a couple of weeks, I just kinda was like, “Huh, my dream was crushed, I guess.” It was a weird adjustment period. Have I just given up? Is it just, like, over? Time to be old and die, I guess?
I got a job and started working (I was very lucky to have friends and family who could soften the financial blow of moving twice), and I started looking into degree programs for my other college major: psychology. In a couple of years, I applied and got in somewhere. And I realized something weird … I was getting the same rewards from the work there that I’d gotten from screenwriting. It gave me the same little buzz to come up with an experimental design or a research question. I tried to figure out why, and I realized: the thing I loved turned out not to be writing, per se, but rather just coming up with new ways of looking at familiar things … being imaginative. And I was really lucky that I could do that with a million different jobs, and one of them was my research.
So I’m definitely not telling anyone not to write, and I’m not saying any given person doesn’t truly love it for what it is. But there’s a lot that goes in to writing fiction, and you might be surprised about what’s really carrying you away.
What — other than the prequel story, I Am Awkward (Yellow) — inspired It Turns Out They’re Windmills?
As I implied with the last question, I’ve always been more of a TV person than a literature person, so I was probably most inspired by the sitcoms I’ve been watching recently. The Good Place, Brooklyn Nine Nine, Bojack Horseman. Maybe a little GLOW. A dash of Aggretsuko.
Was it a challenge melding a plotline that could’ve come straight from an Equestria Girls film with a theme that the franchise will doubtless never come close to addressing?
I mean, Equestria Girls is just such a weird thing, you know? It might be evil. Is it evil? It’s MLP, except instead of being about how you should emotionally support your friends, it’s about how awesome it is to be a pop star and a social media influencer. But at the same time, I enjoy the formula, because the Villain Of The Week brings a different energy to things every time, and I genuinely DO think it’s a good message how they’re always given a second chance.
Many people are rightly frustrated by how it’s still so hard to even imply queerness on kids’ shows. The MLP folks have made it clear they’d happily put it in there … didn’t Lyra and Bon Bon give one another Valentine’s presents recently? If they could do it, I think it’d fit in really smoothly. I don’t have to work hard to imagine them presenting a moral like, “It’s okay to need a little bit of time to adjust when a friend comes out to you, but your awkwardness isn’t more important than what they’re going through” or “It’s fine and normal to have crushes on your straight friends; just don’t be a martyr about it.”
But as far as Equestria Girls goes, there’s no reason for there not to be queerness on it, but the element that fit there for me was making the villain a BOY. I totally get why they’re pushing the friendship-among-girls message so strongly and exclusively, but if I was writing kids’ TV, that’s a message I’d like to send. The story ends with Weeping Willow becoming friends with Fluttershy, and he’s learned his unreciprocated attraction to her isn’t license to be an asshole. I made it as clear as I could that his platonic friendships with girls (including ones he has found hot at some point) are really enriching to his life and key to his growth. Equestria Girls COULD tell stories like that to kids, I think. Someone should.
Is there a larger significance to all the They Might be Giants references, or is it just that they’re quite a fine band?
Well, first of all, I hate coming up with chapter titles, so it makes it easier if I have a theme. I came up with the story name first and it was just a Don Quixote reference, and then I made the connection to the band while I was writing.
Second, they’re a very … anxious band, I guess. Their songs are about worry and distress and dread. That’s a compliment; I think anxiety is in some ways a positive emotion. It’s the emotion that tells you, “There are important things you can’t see.” And they also have this wide-open perspective I really like; they sing about a huge variety of people in a huge variety of situations, often simultaneously sympathetic and ridiculous. Laughing through the existential angst.
So I mean, hey. I wrote a story about smart, anxious people (ponies) who learn how to adaptively deal with their anxiety instead of letting it block off their ability to pay attention to the needs of others. They Might Be Giants works pretty well as the soundtrack to that.
Finally, I portrayed Moon Dancer as a hipster. It seemed plausible she’d grow into that, from what we know of her, and I liked the tension of Twilight being happy her friend is blossoming while also being vaguely threatened and confused that someone she used to pity juuuust a little has gained social cachet Twilight herself lacks. They Might Be Giants are not known as a hipster band, but they’re college rock; that’s not too far off. (Moon Dancer likes their old stuff.)
Do you have any more adventures planned for your version of our various heroines?
I do have an urge to be fluffier with the main couple. I’m continually nonplussed that they actually work as well as they do. I also found myself in a situation at the end of Windmills where Rarity, Starlight, and Trixie are all both queer and single. That is a beautiful disaster of a dating scene, and it might just be too much fun to avoid writing about them trying to navigate it.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I take it back; Sailor Neptune is the best one.