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Today’s story looks in a mirror, darkly.

Friendmaker
[Drama] • 8,589 words

“I am Friendmaker!”

Twilight Sparkle is concerned that she may one day go insanely evil, as with Nightmare Moon or Daybreaker. So, knowing Twilight, do you really think for one moment she’s just going to wait for it to happen?

FROM THE CURATORS: A popular trope in science fiction involves main characters getting a chance to face an “evil” version of themselves, whether through a jaunt to a parallel universe as in Star Trek or a visit to a simulated reality as in TRON Legacy or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Today’s feature uses the magic of My Little Pony to take that conceit to a powerful extreme: rather than coming face-to-face with a vile copy of herself, Twilight deliberately corrupts herself and we get a first-row look at the experience.

“We’re treated to an interesting analysis of what it means to be good, and what could drive people to be the worst that they can be,” said Soge in his nomination, “all through the medium of Twilight discussing that topic with some of the show’s reformed villains.” Horizon was “more than happy to back the nomination up,” and felt that “when Twilight started talking to the friends she’d redeemed, it really fired up.”

“Characterization is the name of the game here, and all involved are written and used very well,” according to Soge, and the other curators agreed. “Discord in particular was quite well done, and his explanation for why he chose friendship was a lovely bonus,” said Horizon. Present Perfect was “impressed by the part-by-part analysis of villainy. Some of the short character pieces, Sunset’s in particular, went in surprising directions.”

Horizon called the story a slow burn, and everyone enjoyed the build to a strong finish. “It all dovetails perfectly into a smart moral, and a real moment of character growth for Twilight,” Soge said, and Present Perfect applauded “the tense standoff at the end” because it “reinforces the theme of how anyone can come to power.” Horizon appreciated its thoughtfulness “in how it presents the Alicorn Amulet’s temptations. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, indeed.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Lets Do This discusses the draw of Derpy, the power of online publishing, and the staying power of pony.

Give us the standard biography.

I’m a middle-aged software developer, working on GUI development tools. In a prior job I was also a tech writer, so I’m comfortable with writing both code and prose… which I’ve been told is somewhat unusual!

I love reading, and visiting used book stores. I need more apartment for my books. My favorite genre is sci-fi, though I lean towards the golden age authors: Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, PKD, and so forth. And also writers like Carroll, Poe, Borges, and particularly Calvino, whose “Cosmicomics” stories helped spark my interest in both science and science fiction.

I’m into Doctor Who, animated movies (particularly the Pixar films), and playing action and fantasy-RPG computer games.

And for fun, I write stories… (big surprise, right?)

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

I gave it a good deal of thought. I wanted something that would be distinctive, and something I wouldn’t find myself regretting if I got as far with this as I have. It also kind of reflects my perspective on what we’re all doing here.

I mean, seriously… if I was only writing these stories for myself, I could just stick them on my hard drive, never show them to anyone, and be perfectly content. But that’s not what we’re here for. We’re taking something we know how to do — write imaginative stories around fictional characters — and we’re sharing that with a group of like-minded fans, in the hopes of connecting with others who share our interests. And at the same time, we’re reading and commenting and upvoting other writers’ work, to let them know they’ve found a community as well. That right there… that’s what we’re here for.

We’re all in this together. As Twilight herself says, when the chips are down: “Let’s do this!”

Who’s your favorite pony?

Twilight Sparkle, no question. I’ve noticed that in movies and shows and books that I really like, there’s generally a main character I can strongly identify with. And Twilight Sparkle, to my total surprise, turned out to be a perfect example. I mean, let’s see: loves reading, check. Lives in a library, check. Card-carrying nerd/geek, check. Makes checklists for everything, check, check, check! (No joke: my packing checklist when I go on a trip runs to pages, plural.) Annnnd… freaks out inconsolably when she thinks she’s forgotten something important? Ohhhh yeah! Been there!

Twilight’s determined, studied, patiently long-suffering approach to everything is pretty much how I am (or would like to be). So it’s kind of natural she’s been a main character in many of the stories I’ve published on FIMFiction — although I have been trying to branch out to other characters, to expand my skills. And Twilight’s a big reason I’m so into this series, even though I came to it relatively late in its run. I honestly never would have guessed a lavender cartoon pony could be such a wonderfully intelligent and entertaining avatar and role-model.

Although let’s be fair, give credit where it’s due: My gateway pony was Derpy. Reading about the origin of the character, I was blown away. She started as basically an animation error, on screen for mere seconds: a pony with crossed eyes. The fanbase noticed this and invented an entire backstory, whole-cloth, for this character. And the show’s creators took that concept and ran with it, giving back to the fans, big time. Reading about that made me think, hmm… yeah, this sounds like the kind of show and fanbase that I’d like to know more about, and maybe be a part of. Annnnd… here we are…

So, I came for Derpy… and I stayed for Twilight. Hey, it happens!

What’s your favorite episode?

While there are some excellent choices (“Ticket Master,” “Luna Eclipsed,” and basically anything with Pinkie being Pinkie), looking back through all eight seasons I think I’d have to pick “Winter Wrap Up.” It’s first-season, when the show had a wide-open field with everything ahead of it. It’s got comedy, a wonderful Broadway-style musical number, and a positive overall message.

And… it’s got Twilight, trying to figure out how to fit in and play her part, when the very thing she feels she’s best at — her magic — doesn’t seem to matter in the slightest. That scene near the end of the song, where Twilight is on the hill, singing “I want to belong… so I must do my best today…”? Yeah… that’s me up there. And it gets me. Every time.

Just as a runner-up (though I know it’s a little polarizing), I also liked MLP: The Movie, flaws and all. I’ve gotten to like Tempest Shadow as a character, and I’ve written multiple stories around her. And any time I’m starting to feel a little down about my skills as a writer, I cue up the Rainbow song, “It’s Time to Be Awesome.” And that charges me right back up again!

What do you get from the show?

I’ve always been into animation, particularly the Pixar series of films. And when I finally decided to give MLP:FIM a try, I was pleasantly amazed. It’s positive, funny, and unexpectedly deep in terms of characters and lore. It knows how and when to be schmaltzy, and also precisely how to reel it back in just before it gets sappy.

It’s among those rare shows (and movies, and books) where I can feel completely comfortable with losing myself in its world for a half-hour or hour at a time, as a way of recharging my batteries and recovering my sanity at the end of the day.

People watch Game of Thrones because Winter is Coming.

And they watch My Little Pony… because tomorrow spring is here…

What do you want from life?

To make connections with other people, just by being who I am and doing what I do, and having that be exactly what’s needed and wanted. To enjoy living, and to help others to do the same. And to get to the end of it all and find out that somehow, amazingly, I managed to get it all right.

And the chocolate chip cookies? They’re a bonus!

Why do you write?

I’ve always told stories to myself, ever since I was young… writing is very much a grownup version of “let’s pretend.” And having read so many books and stories written by others, it one day occurred to me to start writing some of my own down. Though the stories I’ve put up on FIMFiction are my first real foray into publishing online — and it’s been an education, believe me!

Regarding MLP in particular, I was looking for something more to do, after watching the show, reading the comics, playing the online game, and otherwise just willingly diving into the whole fan experience. I came across FIMFiction, which as a site looked really professional, and makes publishing stories a breeze. And I thought, “Hey, writing… I know how to do that!” So I took some ideas I’d gotten out of watching the first two seasons of the show, and turned them into “My Little Student,” and kind of went on from there, based on the feedback I’ve been getting.

And let me tell you, although I’ve submitted stories to print magazines in the past, and I even was a slush-pile reader myself at one point, nothing compares to the feeling of seeing views and comments and likes start to pop up for a published story: getting almost instant feedback on something you’ve worked so hard on, direct from the readers themselves. That is solid gold for a writer: that feeling of connecting with people, turning something you know how to do into something they enjoy experiencing. That’s what makes this all worth while.

What advice do you have for the authors out there?

If this was a diet book, I’d tell you there’s only one way to do it: eat less and exercise more, and if something’s keeping you from doing either one, fix that first.

For writing, it’s similar: read and write. You really don’t learn writing any other way than by doing it. And you don’t learn what makes good writing, and come up with good ideas of what to write, other than by reading good examples. (So short stories and novels, not just blog posts, gang!)

Secondly, get stuff out there. Send it to reviewers and editors, and eventually get it published in some form, so you can see the audience’s reactions, and find out what they’re into and what they’re not. You can sit on the perfect novel for years and get nowhere, or you can put out a number of reasonably good stories and see what gets attention, and learn from that. You can’t make decisions without data, and readers are your source. So grit your teeth and publish as often as you reasonably can!

Third, writing is a balancing act, between the story you want to tell (and feel able to tell), and the story your audience wants to read. You won’t please everyone, but you won’t write your best story unless you’re invested in it as well. So learn from what others say, but don’t take harsh criticism to heart. Just write the story they need to hear, the one that only you can tell them… because otherwise they’ll never find out how much they were missing it.

And lastly, never hold back: always throw everything you have as a writer into every story you write. Make every story count, make it the best you can. Because you never know which story will catch readers’ attention and go big.

And I’m speaking from some experience here: “Friendmaker” is still one of my top-rated stories. And I had no idea it would go viral like it did!

What inspired “Friendmaker”?

I try to come up with an interesting or unusual concept to base a story around, something that has a reasonable chance of not having been done before. In part this is because doing so helps get me charged up to write the story, to explore that idea. And also because hopefully that interest will come across to the readers, and get them engaged in the story to see where it goes.

It occurred to me that we’d seen Luna’s dark side in the pilot story, and Celestia’s in the episode “A Royal Problem”… but now Twilight was an alicorn as well. So… what if Twilight herself went bad? But… we’ve already seen stories about Twilight just destroying Ponyville for no good reason, so Evil Twilight isn’t enough. As the saying goes, one idea is a vignette, two ideas is the beginning of a story. And then I realized… what if bookish, forward-thinking Twilight decided to research the problem, and then come up with a way to test it safely (or as safely as she could)?

And since the Nightmare version of each alicorn is generally an amplification of that pony’s core nature, and Twilight is the Princess of Friendship, then Nightmare Twilight would be…

Friendmaker!

Trust me, I batted around a number of possible names, and that’s the one I went with. But to be fair, I suppose Nightmare Moon would sound ridiculous as a name too. Until you see the Cutie Map episode with the alternate timeline where she’s still around…

Apart from exploring the idea of Twilight to the Nth Degree, the story also provided me an opportunity to write dialogue for characters I was still learning about at the time, like Discord, Trixie, and Starlight, which was a great exercise, and a blast as well.

And I’ll come clean here: at the time, I hadn’t seen any of the Equestria Girls movies, and I had no real handle on Sunset Shimmer as a character. I wrote her scene on the strength of researching her on the Wiki and watching clips on YouTube. Having now watched all the EQG films, I’m still astonished that what I wrote for her holds up so well in retrospect…

Why did Twilight feel the need to destroy the Alicorn Amulet at the end of the story?

I went back and forth on that one. After all, keeping the Amulet around would have been a good potential hook for a sequel. But I also wanted Twilight to have some closure here. I’ve never liked “have your cake and eat it too” endings, which show a character apparently dying and then hey-presto they’re alive again. For an ending to have real strength, it needs to cross a line, with no takebacks.

And at that moment, Twilight is feeling really frightened and hurt, and… let’s face it, betrayed. The very thing she’s best at, the very thing that she thought would protect her, the very thing she feels most proud of about herself… turned right around and bit her. So she’s feeling hurt, and angry, and determined that no one, including herself, will ever be tempted and deceived like that again. And so she destroys the Amulet, grinding it to dust. If only it were that easy in general.

Allow me to toss in a quote from another favorite series, Babylon 5, which sums it up well:

“There are humans for whom the words ‘never again’ carry special meaning…”

– G’Kar, in the episode “And Now For a Word”

Now that you’ve explored three princesses “going Nightmare,” do you have plans for Cadance and Flurry Heart as well?

I would really love to, though it’s been difficult to gauge the reaction of the readership to these stories. They’ve gotten a steady tick of views and likes, and some positive comments, for which I am very grateful. I like Celestia and Luna as characters, so it’s been fun writing stories showing their natures, both positive and not so much. And I could likely come up with an interesting angle for Cadance as well, having written her as a character in my first story, “My Little Student.” But I’m still not quite sure whether there’s a solid audience for these kinds of longer, more serious, darker stories, as opposed to lighter one-shot fare.

So if you’re reading this and you’d like to see more of these kinds of stories (and not just by me, but those of other writers as well) could I ask you to remember to comment on and like them? It’s the only way we authors can know that you’re into what we’re doing, and would like to see more of it!

With the show’s final season now upon us, would you like to see the last remaining villains come to some sort of redemption?

To be honest, I don’t think they have the time in the final season to present a really satisfying redemption arc for any of the remaining villains, even if they decided to start right with premiere episode. It took a couple of seasons for Trixie, Starlight, and especially Discord to really come around. I think it’s probably more effective to give the villains satisfying closure arcs, at least in the context of this series.

If I might redirect the question a bit, I think what really needs to happen now is that we as fanfiction writers need to pick up the torch and start putting some stakes in the ground for how we’ll continue the world of FIM after Season 9 ends. Like, for example, by establishing our own AU timelines that we can carry forward, perhaps working collaboratively, writing linked episodes of our own. In my recent story, “Twilight’s Pirate School,” I essentially rebooted the Friendship School as a flying school, to provide just such a platform for telling stories that the current land-based School makes difficult or impossible to do effectively. And it would be great to see other authors doing the same, creating new timelines and worlds that we can all play around in.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely interested in seeing where the show will go, post Season 9, and I’d be pleased as anyone to find that I get as much out of G5 as I have from G4. But just in case, let’s give ourselves the option of continuing this world that we’ve gotten so much out of, rather than just lamenting its passing. We’re writers (and readers)… we can make this happen.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

My grateful thanks to everyone who’s read and commented (both positive and negative) on the stories I’ve published. It’s entirely because of your feedback that I’ve kept at this, turning out new stories for your enjoyment. And I hope to keep doing so, as we progress through Season 9 and see what G5 has to offer.

Thanks a million, everypony! Let’s do this!

You can read Friendmaker at FIMFiction.net. Read more interviews right here at the Royal Canterlot Library, or suggest stories for us to feature at our Fimfiction group.