Break out from the ordinary with today’s story.

Tartarus Island
[Equestria Girls] • 2,904 words

Once the heir to a Mafia family, now imprisoned for the murder of his brother, Tirek is held on Tartarus Island: the most secure prison in the world. He isn’t concerned. Soon he will escape, and nothing will stand in his way.

FROM THE CURATORS: “One of my favorite moments in fanfiction,” AugieDog said as we discussed this story, “is when I see a story description, smack myself in the forehead, and say, ‘Of course!’ And when the writer turns that terrific idea into a good story, it’s an even better moment.”

And while the central idea here leaps off the page, what elevated this story to a feature — and third place in the Villain Exchange Program contest — went far deeper.  “This fic is a blast, pure and simple, a great send-up to prison escape stories, but also more than that,” Soge said in his nomination.  “It is one those stories which is not afraid to wear its influences on its sleeves — the real-life Alcatraz escape and The Shawshank Redemption being the most obvious ones. But it is through its characterizations, particularly the way it manages to transport Tirek to EQD-land, that it manages to differentiate itself.”

Other curators quickly agreed.  “The transition between its use of historical fact and original fantasy is seamless, which speaks well of both halves,” Horizon said.  Present Perfect went further: “Casting Tirek as a disgraced mob boss is really original. It merges both settings in a natural way. On top of that, the characterization is excellent, not just for our narrator, but for the two main OCs who help plan his escape.”

Along the way, it defied our expectations.  “There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you on your toes, and the final conclusion is as well-executed and surprising as it is expected,” Soge said, while AugieDog quipped, “I think this story might contain the best use of an accordion that I’ve yet seen in a pony fic.”  The overall effect, as Present Perfect said, was captivating: “This one hits the nail on the head.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Darkstarling discusses stick villains, pedestrian parallels, and airborne murmurations.


Give us the standard biography.

Where to start? I’m in my early 30s and still feel like I just got out of college — but with worse knees. Seriously, what’s up with that?

I graduated from college, served in the Peace Corps in South Africa, and tried to study and become a NASA engineer. Turns out I’m not much of an engineer. So I stepped sideways into IT, where I lurk to this day. 

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

Heh, it’s actually a name I picked more or less out of a hat back in college. See, there was this conversation about supervillain personas at the lunch table … you kind of had to be there. But I’ve also always loved starlings. When I was little they would always come in thousands to the pine trees in our backyard, and there’s nothing like watching a murmuration in flight. 

Other favorite birds include Barn Swallows, Ravens, and Red-Winged Blackbirds.

Who’s your favorite pony?

Ooh, really tough question. Especially since it depends on my mood and what take on them I’ve read most recently. But if you twisted my arm I’d say Sunset Shimmer. I’ve got a weakness for reformed villains and l love how she’s artistic while also really smart. And seeing how she’s grown over time has been a delight to see.

If we’re talking about ponies actually living in Equestria, it’s still hard but I’m going to say Starlight Glimmer. She’s brilliant but still flawed, and I like her slow but steady character development into a hero and a good friend. I’m also far too pleased that she can keep up with Twilight. 

What’s your favorite episode?

Another one with tons of contenders … I’m going to go with “Rarity Investigates.” I love genre play, and seeing the characters use their skills and talents in unique ways. And Rarity is another of my favorites anyway, so it’s wins all around. The episode was so much fun.

What do you get from the show?

Hope. Which is incredibly cheesy, but also true. And makes it ironic that some of my best stories revolve around villains and tragedy. But it’s really pleasant to see something that’s positive and cute, even twee at times. And I love how you can get moving emotional storytelling from things that are genuinely silly on the face of them. 

From the fanfiction, which is honestly most of what I follow in the fandom, I get something different. I love seeing the different takes on the world, and all the brilliant ideas people have had. My favorite stories are the ones that make the story more serious, building up the world and making it grounded, while still keeping the same sense of optimism and hope despite that. It’s a good reminder that realistic doesn’t have to be grim. 

What do you want from life?

Conan, what is best in life? 

I’m not very complicated. I want to live with my friends, fall in love, and find a way to make the world a better place. Get to explore a bit. Make a home. Learn things. You know, your basic stuff. 

Why do you write?

I love telling stories, and I love playing with ideas. There’s a whole puzzlebox of thoughts in my head that I want to share with other people. And it’s especially satisfying when intense emotions and characters come out of all that mental play. And there are so many wonderful talented people here, I really enjoy being part of the community.

What advice do you have for the authors out there?

Actually sit down and write! That’s also my biggest flaw, but never mind the hypocrisy. You’ve got ideas, something that fascinates you. Someone else is going to feel that way too. And I suppose that’s my other bit of advice, be confident in your inspiration. Even, or especially, if it seems silly. It’s better to revel in the idea than water it down. At the least, you’ll have more fun.

What inspired “Tartarus Island”?

It started pretty mundane, actually — I wanted to write a story for a villain contest and I’d already done a story about Queen Chrysalis. But I really like Tirek because he can be written much more complex than he appears. And he’s certainly got a great deal of cunning. 

My take on Tirek owes much to Xykon, from Order of the Stick. Xykon has a lecture on the nature of power, and the way brutality can be its own form of elegance, that would resonate really strongly with Tirek. They are otherwise very different but, in terms of their core philosophy, there was a lot to draw on.

What was your process for adapting a character like Tirek to the Equestria Girls setting?

My thoughts are very scattershot and follow odd paths. As I recall it was something like this. 

Tirek is in Tartarus, the basic Tirek story is him escaping, Tartarus is a prison, THE prison, so it has to be Alcatraz. Ooh, I know about an escape from Alcatraz! That had three people…oooh perfect I needed someone for him to betray. What’s he in for? Killed his brother of course, why would he do that? Tirek wants power, something criminal and political. He said his brother was weak. Mob politics revenge killing!

After that it was the much longer process of deciding on his look. You know, the important things…

In more seriousness, when converting Equestria to Pedestria I try to come up with parallels and puns and references. Anything that can help me connect a character to the world. So it’s a process of zooming out and forgetting details, getting down to the skeleton of a character and story structure. And then zooming in again in a different context to see what new flesh we can put on those bones.

How did you go about researching the historical context for this story?

Google is your friend! I already knew there had been a famous escape from Alcatraz, so I used that as a starting point and branched out from there. I wanted a good idea of how the real escape happened so I could simplify it for the purposes of the narrative. I also read a bunch of people’s thoughts on life in prison, which was very helpful as it’s something I knew almost nothing about. It helped that the story was tightly focused, so the research was much less extensive than it has been for other stories I’ve written.

Just in general, I love to learn and I have a ton of trivia kicking around in my head. It gives a big toolbox to work with. And if you don’t know something? Well, they do say it’s not a proper project if you didn’t have to buy a new tool to get it done …

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’ve met the most amazing people through the community here, and seen so many stories that made me laugh or cry or smile till my face hurt. Especially when I’m supposed to be working.

Thank you for getting me through many, many boring hours. And for giving me the inspiration and push to finally start writing things of my own.

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