(RCL NOTE: We’re attempting the hopeless task of choosing the fandom’s Single Best Story™ at a special panel at Bronycon. Help us pick the competitors! Details here. Voting is open until July 13.)
Today’s story comes out of the dark into the spotlight.
[Dark] [Human] • 6,481 words
I was looking forward to the school tour for a really long time! We were going to the beach, and I love the beach. I love the bus trip as well, singing and talking with my friends. But then we drove into a tunnel. I’ve never really liked tunnels, but it’s always been fine because my friends were there. We always try to hold our breath the whole way through the tunnel, which is a lot of fun.
Today, we couldn’t hold our breath the whole way through, because the bus never came out of the tunnel.
FROM THE CURATORS: Fanfiction, by definition, is authors getting inspired by the settings and characters of others’ works. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that sometimes quality fanfiction spawns fanfiction of its own. “Since we’ve featured The Last Pony on Earth, I’ve been going through some of the side stories it spawned, and I feel confident in nominating them on their own merits,” Present Perfect said in his nomination. “This is many things. A story about survival and holding out hope against certain death. An excellent example of journalfic written in a nine-year-old’s voice. And a really good application of the setting and timeframe of the Ponies After People universe.” Soge quickly added that this tale of a bus full of children turning into ponies worked as a standalone: “I only noticed it was related to Last Pony on Earth when it was explicitly mentioned near the end. That didn’t actually impact my enjoyment of the story.”
One of the factors driving that enjoyment was the story’s tight and careful focus. “It’s a very claustrophobic story, with essentially one location until the end,” Present Perfect said, “but the strength of the writer’s voice and the sheer desperation of their situation, on top of the fact that these are mostly kids, is what really sells this.” FanOfMostEverything agreed: “The story does a brilliant job of using the limited space and information given to the protagonist to drive home the claustrophobic atmosphere. The pacing is one of the best parts, gradually ramping up the dread as all the easy solutions fail and the situation worsens.” And Soge appreciated the nuance that provided: “The limited perspective and understanding of Clara is used very well here, the child narrator being the best possible PoV to sell the bleakness of the situation, without actually falling into melodrama.”
But we also praised factors such as the efficient prose. “There are tons of neat details peppered around, and in a very short amount of time it sells the reader very well on the characters, the world, and their predicament,” Soge said. That was even more impressive considering the way the story was framed. “The sheer innocence of the narrative voice is almost painful at times, when the reader sees the severity of Clara’s predicament so much more clearly than she does,” FanOfMostEverything said. “Overall, this was some excellent suspense.”
Read on for our author interview, in which JumpingShinyFrogs discusses sneaky principals, acceptable birds, and story graveyards.
Give us the standard biography.
Well, I guess it’s best to start with basics. I’m a woman, I’m Irish, and I quite literally just turned 21 today. I’m maybe a little too obsessed with scaly things, so I’m currently studying herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians). In addition to loving real animals, I also happen to be partial to a certain game series about hunting them. It’s quite rare these days to find me without a Monster Hunter game in reach, and I’ve recently been writing for that fandom rather than for MLP.
When I was just a very small tadpole, I was obsessed with MLP (the G3 incarnation — and put down those torches and pitchforks, I was only about five!) and had countless pony toys. When I saw people on the internet chattering about ponies, I was first confused and then curious. I first joined the G4 fandom about halfway through Season 3, though I had been watching the show before that. It wasn’t until I saw a few really well put together fan-projects that I realised the fun didn’t have to stop after the credits rolled, and my edgy 15 year-old self dove headlong into the fandom. It was my first real experience with fandom and I treasure every second of it.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
There’s actually a story behind my username, though whether or not it’s an interesting story is a matter for debate. Back when I was in first or second year of secondary school, I had a little bit of an incident involving phones. You see, no one was allowed to bring phones to school, but people snuck them in anyway. One day, the principal decided to be sneaky and walk around with his Bluetooth on to see if he could pick up anyone’s phones. Most people are smart, and leave their Bluetooth off because it eats battery. I was not smart. In fact, I was so not smart that I had not only left my Bluetooth on, but my phone showed up as ‘<my name>’s Phone’.
Naturally, I got caught. Lost my phone for a few weeks and so on. When I got it back, I was extremely paranoid about it happening again. So I asked some friends to help me come up with something else to tag my phone with so I wouldn’t get caught again. One friend picked a verb, the other an adjective, and I applied them to my favourite animal. The end result was JumpingShinyFrogs, which has been my username on everything ever since.
Who’s your favorite pony?
Twilight Sparkle, hands down (though I’m quite partial to Luna as well). Twilight resonates with me because (particularly in the early seasons) she’s almost exactly like me. A love for reading, a lack of interest in social gatherings, some unfortunate insecurities and almost obsessive attention to detail. I found her incredibly relatable when I first started watching, to the point where she’s probably the main reason I got hooked so firmly on the show.
What’s your favorite episode?
Ooh, this is a hard one. It’s probably a tie between “Twilight’s Kingdom” and “The Cutie Map”. Twilight’s Kingdom was a joy to watch, as Twilight struggled with and eventually overcame her doubt. It was also a nice way to wrap up the overarching theme of the season. The Cutie Map is just… horrifying, in some ways, and I love every second of it. Villain-Starlight made for a really interesting character and a genuinely menacing villain. The song and the scene with the propaganda shack still give me chills.
What do you get from the show?
A break, I suppose. My field of study could be renamed ‘Pessimism Studies’ and no one would bat an eye. Every day it feels like there’s some new way in which reptiles, amphibians, and the planet in general are being threatened, and precisely zero new ways in which they can be better protected. The show has always been a nice breather from all the doom and gloom, as well as providing a huge and fascinating world to dream about.
What do you want from life?
A house filled with pets and a job in conservation would both be nice. Particularly if those pets are of the reptilian and amphibious varieties (birds are also acceptable).
Why do you write?
I have an unfortunate tendency to daydream, and it seems my brain always wants me to do it when I really shouldn’t (such as in lectures or during exams). I’ll often find a scene or a phrase repeating over and over in my mind until I finally give in and write it down. Sometimes those daydreams turn into stories. Sometimes they turn into half of a story, which hasty Shiny will happily write down and then realise she has no idea how to finish.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Don’t be like me and start a million different things with no idea how to finish them. Seriously. If nothing else, have an ending in mind before you start. An idea is just that: an idea. You need to figure out its logical conclusion before you can start mapping out how to get there. Otherwise you’ll wind up with graveyards of half-finished stories, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll feel some measure of shame when you look at them, but lack the drive to finish them.
What — other than that one section of the “Ponies After People” guidelines — inspired “School Tour”?
Aside from the PAP forums providing the premise of reappearing in an awful place you couldn’t escape from, the idea of the schoolchildren and the mounting dread came from some of my own experiences on school outings. My schools were never particularly well-equipped (particularly my secondary school — tiny villages in rural Ireland don’t usually have the best funding), and that problem extended to the buses. I couldn’t tell you how many times we had the bus break down on trips. But I always found it odd how no one ever seemed to be concerned by potentially being stranded in a tiny backroad with no phone service and no buildings for miles around.
People would happily talk, play cards, and just generally behave as though we hadn’t just had our creaky old bus give up on us. There was one time where we got stuck for literally hours in the middle of nowhere — and no one cared or showed any measure of concern. Those times, we were fine, because we knew the teachers would figure something out eventually, and they did. I sort of carried that idea to its logical conclusion. The kids trust the teachers to solve the problem… but what happens when they can’t?
As a side note, the tunnel used as the setting for the story is a real tunnel. It’s called the Dublin Port Tunnel, and it’s over 4km long.
How important was it for you to keep the narrator’s voice consistent with her age?
It was probably the hardest part of writing the story, because I kept trying to inject the sort of things that I would say into the narrative. I wanted it to feel authentically like the diary of a scared child, so it wouldn’t have made any sense for her to speak with the same sort of slang and colloquialisms that I do. The simplistic language and sentence structure is part of that. I don’t think the story would have been nearly so impactful if the nine year-old child wrote with the proficiency of a then-17 amateur author.
On that note, I’d like to thank Georg for his help on figuring this part out, though I doubt he remembers it. While I was writing this story, and continually getting stuck on the narrator’s voice, I made a thread asking for advice in the Writer’s Group. Georg’s advice turned out to be the most helpful: what a child tends to focus on what they think is important, not necessarily what is important. I took that idea to heart, and I think the story turned out better for it.
With this being your second “Ponies After People” story, what is it about that AU that attracts you?
I think it’s just the sheer magnitude of it all. There are so many possibilities for characters, settlements, philosophical questions, cultures… I must confess that I’m not too pleased with how my other PAP story was turning out, which is why I sort of lost the spark for it. I thought it was a bit too typical, particularly since the ‘fresh returnees try to survive’ story was not only the premise of the original Last Pony on Earth, but the premise of every second spinoff at the time. School Tour was my attempt to do something new with the setting, to really dig into one of the under-explored implications of the AU. You know, the sort of thing I had wanted to do in the first place.
Do you prefer planning your stories out ahead of time, or would you rather let them develop during the typing process?
It depends on the story. For longer stories, I try to at least bullet point the main beats of the plot, but wing everything in between them. Sometimes stories run away with me and do their own thing, which occasionally results in something better than my original idea. I find that the more tightly I plan, the less likely this is to happen. So, sometimes I just pick point A and point B, and see what happens from there.
School Tour was an interesting case because I actually wrote the story backwards. I got stuck about halfway through and couldn’t figure out how to proceed — so I wrote the ending and then worked my way back from there. It worked out a lot better than I thought it would, and I’ve since used that technique in other stories when I’ve gotten stuck. It doesn’t always work, but it can sometimes offer a refreshing new approach to writing something.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Uhh… quick, gotta think of something meaningful to say. Nope, I got nothing. So instead, I’ll just say that I’m incredibly grateful to have had one of my prattlings featured. I’d always just sort of stared at the RCL features and resigned myself to the idea that nothing I’d write would ever meet that standard, and it makes me happy to know that I’m apparently a bit better than I think I am.
And to those reading, next time you see a bit of trash on the side of the road or floating in a pond, why not try picking it up? Make this amphibian’s life just a little more optimistic.