Today’s story is some killer noir.
The Murder of Elrod Jameson
[Dark] [Mystery] [Sci-Fi] [Human] • 234,343 words
[Note: This story contains scenes of blood and gore, sexuality, and a depiction of rape.]
Elrod Jameson: a resident of SteelPoint Level Six, Bridgeport, Connecticut. A minor, pointless, and irrelevant man… who witnessed something he was not supposed to.
Narrowly avoiding his own murder, he desperately searches for help. When no living being will help him, he turns to the next best thing: a pony.
FROM THE CURATORS: This week’s feature — and its content warnings — might seem a little unusual for a My Little Pony fanfiction site. And indeed it is, in Horizon’s words, “a shining example of how to write ponyfic that strays nearly as far from the show as possible while the MLP content remains front and center.” But for those willing to stray from the light-hearted tone of the show, Elrod offers a unique journey. “The author has very carefully constructed this bizarre world of sci-fi trappings, mutant humans and world-ruling corporations so that by the end, if ponies don’t make sense for the world, they at least make sense for the story,” Present Perfect said in his nomination. “What lies within this twisting labyrinth is lush, depressing scenery; a twisting mystery involving genetics, corporate protection and a worldwide bounty; and plenty of surprises.”
Indeed, the novel quickly inspired comparisons outside of our equine niche. “In the cadence of its writing it reminds me of some of the best classic sci-fi,” Horizon said, while AugieDog adding: “It reminds me of Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon novels or Jeff Noon’s Vurt series in a lot of ways.” However, Present Perfect said, it’s got plenty to offer to pony fans: “You could not sand the edges off this and rebrand it as something original. It deserves to be evaluated as fanfiction.” That wasn’t a unanimous opinion — with AugieDog noting, “I’ll disagree with Pres and say that this could be turned into a non-Pony novel pretty easily” — but our consensus was, as Horizon put it, “it deserves special mention for the subtle, logical, compelling way that it works in its pony content.”
The strengths of the story were enough to send it to a feature despite curator reservations. “Not gonna lie, after reading chapter 16’s explicit on-screen rape, I put this one down for a week,” Horizon said. “But there is more than enough here to justify sitting through that (and the book’s ongoing need for editing). Elrod‘s at its best assembling its vision of a noir, dystopian future world. This also does an excellent job with the pacing of its mysteries and world reveals … the overall picture fit together extremely satisfyingly.” And the story won over some doubters. “If I’d just run across this on my own, I would’ve quit before the end of the first chapter,” AugieDog said. “But by the last line of that first chapter, I was completely and totally hooked. ‘Cause this is an incredible example of just plain ol’ storytelling. A lot of it comes from the author’s deft use of hard-boiled detective tropes, and there’s a real narrative voice here once things start firing on all cylinders.”
And that wasn’t all. “The characters are doubtless the strongest part,” Present Perfect said to quick agreement. “Elrod is an enigma wrapped in a mystery, and figuring him out was really rewarding. Twilight has a great deal of depth to her; important, since she’s actually the main character. There’s the other Twilight — it makes sense in context — who on her introduction is a breath of fresh air, and whose arc provides a lighter counterpoint to the grim and gritty main story.” Horizon agreed: “Morgana (Twilight) and Elrod are largely overshadowed in their own story by a vibrant supporting cast, and the book wisely realizes this and rolls with it. You could remove the entirety of Book 3 — the other Twilight’s arc — without impacting the A plot in the slightest, but if you did, you’d rip out the beating heart of the story.”
Ultimately, that added up to a package that was more than the sum of its parts. “This is what I would call a hidden gem,” Present Perfect said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what else Unwhole Hole has come up with, because the expansiveness of this world is in many ways astounding.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Unwhole Hole discusses mocking bridges, furniture stains, and aquarium power trips.
Give us the standard biography.
I was born. I did some stuff. Then I died. Although I suppose the last one has not happened quite yet.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
It stems partially from the amusing irony of assigning the concept of wholeness to a destructive process, as in, digging a hole. What is a hole that is not whole? It is not deep enough. Just like a politician, the only way to dig myself out of a hole is to dig it deeper. Additionally, one of my ultimate goals is to live in a hole (but stay close to my kind, because they understand what burns in my mind). Or perhaps a particularly dreary and smelly swamp. I like dark, damp, warm places, which holes generally are (and swamps also are). This is essentially where the name derives from.
Who’s your favorite pony?
That is a difficult question indeed. I would have to say most likely Lyra. She appeals to me visually because I find her color amusing. Being a background character, she also serves as a good blank for writing. Lyra almost always assumes a high place in any of my stories, including “Elrod”. My opinion of Starlight has been steadily improving, though, because I find the idea of a pony with absurd, god-like power that nobody notices and a tendency toward inadvertent amorality to be hilarious. She is harder to write, though, because her nature is heavily dependent on her situation within the show. In terms of writing, the most fun I have is with Spoiled Rich. I like writing characters who are terrible people, and it is rather easy to make her hateable.
What’s your favorite episode?
It is important to remember that I have not yet seen season 9. Excluding that season, most likely “A Royal Problem”. It’s a fun episode. There were so many funny facial expressions, Starlight using her weird god-like power, adorable Twilight, and of course the introduction of Daybreaker. Daybreaker is possibly the most metal pony (still yet to be determined). I should probably write more concerning her.
I rather like episodes with Celestia and Luna. They just look so huggable.
What do you get from the show?
Amusement. I exist to be amused by my surroundings. Flowers, root beer, moths, shiny rocks, that sort of thing. Also fun cartoons. I actually first discovered the show while trying to find something to watch while cleaning guns one summer’s day. It struck me that although it deals with child-friendly themes, the characters are functionally adults. They have jobs, aspirations, adult relationships, that sort of thing. Further, the show leaves a lot of strange questions unanswered, which is fertile grounds for fanfiction harvesting. As in, the sort of things you shouldn’t ask. As in, how old is Sunset Shimmer? Where did Cadence come from? Does Shining Amor have changeling children? (Is it Ocellus? Or was she at the battle of Canterlot as a dark changeling? Did she get punched? In the face?) Is Celestia hairless? Does she leave greasy stains on her furniture like those weird cats? Does Twilight smell like grapes? Is she scratch-and-sniff? Why do none of the Mane Six have multi-racial parents? Can I eat bread even if it’s mouldy?
I also appreciate the hidden adult jokes. I will not soon forget Starlight and Trixie being followed by an Arabian fellow wearing goggles, or the fact that the trots is apparently a common disease of ponies.
What do you want from life?
A non-trivial quantity of diet root beer.
Why do you write?
Writing is perhaps the only thing in life I actually especially enjoy doing. Everything else is mildly amusing but not really “fun”. The philosophical and practical implications of this are maddening.
Ignoring them, writing allows me to build a world and ask “what if?” By taking a vision of society, breaking something, then following it, we can better understand the thing. As in, what is a pony? What is a human in comparison? Is our nature a product of our world, or are we a product of it? Are they? Hence why science-fiction is appealing to me. I really, really like planning the worlds and how the characters move in it. It makes me feel like a god, which is also how I feel owning aquariums. Which I don’t anymore because the power went to my head.
Further, I am notoriously manipulative (in real life, I am actually somewhat of a jerk). I like sticking my hand in someone’s brain, grabbing hold, and then squeezing their emotions. Sometimes softly, and sometimes until the juice comes out. Admittedly my skill at present is crude, but this skill, ultimately, is what makes a story interesting. I admire both Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft, although both are in a sense polar opposites: Lovecraft built worlds that ask you questions you’re terrified to answer, but King could take a ridiculous, stupid idea and stick his fingers right in your brain and make you terrified.
This ability to control emotions intrigues me, and is the subject of a great deal of my thought. It is this skill I seek to cultivate because it is ultimately the very crux of fiction writing. It is also, as I have been told, one that must be wielded with great care.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Show people something they’ve never seen before. A new world, a new concept, or a new question that nobody has answered yet. At the same time, if you’re writing for this site, keep it pony-centric on canon characters if you can. (This from me is indeed hypocritical, and I never even took the Hypocritic Oath. But even in this story, Elrod is not really meant to be the main character. It’s not really meant to be a story about his personal growth.)
At the same time, avoid excessive exposition. I have come to realize that it’s not necessary. The audience doesn’t really need to know how everything actually works, they just need to see things working. Only explain what you need to. Just keep the mechanisms in mind, though, so everything is consistent. This, I think, creates a sense of depth: the world exists fully (in your mind) but the audience only sees a small fraction and is left to infer the rest. If the rest is consistent, they infer it reliably and it mimics scale. However, considering my low skill level, take this with a large grain of iodized salt to prevent goiter. Nobody wants goiter.
Avoid Mary Sues. Also, if you can, aim for a “Teen” rating at highest. Mature stories are not approachable to general audiences and will not get high reads (sort of). Teen-level things also force you to be more creative. Try writing an epic pony battle where nobody is allowed to die, bleed, or be critically injured. It’s fun. So many ponies got the poke.
Except if it’s a comedy. Then it’s Roger Rabbit rules. You can do anything so long as it’s funny. If it’s a comedy, ignore everything I just said.
Also know that this takes time. If you want to see me fat-fingering my way through quasi-teenage angst all the while trying to convince myself that my protagonist is not a Mary Sue, look at my early stuff (actually, don’t, I am jesting with the force of a thousand very small suns). Like eating a whole lemon, it takes practice.
And engage the community. I never did, and it drastically reduced my experience as opposed to the other place I spend a lot of time at.
What inspired “The Murder of Elrod Jameson”?
While I was living in Texas, one day I went for a walk on Pelican Island. It is a largely undeveloped wasteland island out in the Gulf Coast. According to local legend, it is home to a unicorn. It is also known for a preponderance of ground-pickles which, for the record, do not taste like pickles. They taste like salt. Anyway, on this day, an idea occurred to me of me, as an old person, being gifted a sentient, robotic pony by my brother. This can sort of be seen in a flashback within the story. This idea was bolstered when I later saw a full-size robotic Twilight Sparkle for sale at the Galveston Target (why I was in Target I have no idea). That solidified the idea of a “what if”: what if toys were created that had the characteristics of our beloved ponies? As in, if those ponies had to suddenly wake up from their dream of Ponyville and Equestria only to find themselves in a darker, more violent world? How would they react? How would we?
Of course I deemed the idea too boring to explore. Then, later, it occurred to me that I would like to write a noir cyberpunk story (as it was something I had never done). I applied this previous idea to the new one to create an absurd, incongruous situation. I find the idea of absurd premises appeals to me (hence why a Harry Potter/MLP/Ivan Ivanovich crossover exists, somewhere). “Elrod” is basically my idea of a by-the-book noir: a chain-smoking, jaded detective with a peppy assistant as a foil, an unforgiving crime-ridden world, an uneasy relationship with unsavory individuals, an ex lady-of-the-night, a fancy party at some point, a client who is hiding something, and so on. Except with robot ponies, so as to examine the discrepancy between their happy, cheery personalities and a world that hates everything alive.
The setting was based on my own youth. Most cyberpunk is Fluorescent Tokyo. Where I lived, there were endless abandoned brick factories and a ruined economy. So I based it on a rotting, futuristic version of Bridgeport. Which is a real city, in Connecticut. You can go there, but you probably don’t want to.
How much outlining did you do to keep all the parts of the storyline straight?
When I start a story, I only really need to know two things: where it starts, and where it ends. Then it’s just a matter of connecting point A to point B. I never know the middle part when I start — that sort of writes itself. In this case, though, I was writing a semi-mystery (although in all fairness, it’s not a fair-play mystery at all) and I had never done that before. So I had to plan the clues.
I used about a page in a notebook to figure out who was motivating who to do what and the orders things had to go in. In other words, to know the goals and motivation of each faction. Then I just let the story fill itself in.
What is it that attracts you to the darker story tags?
The tag depends on the story. Comedies don’t need dark tags, usually. Horror stories, about half the time, with the most fun to write being those without them. For a noir story, though, I needed to go full-bore with a mature tag. It needs to be dark, gritty and violent to project its message (or, rather, my vision of its message). Dark tags give me the freedom to do what I need to do to make the story work.
I also appreciate incongruity between cute, adorable ponies and a dark world around them. It is absurd in its own right, but I feel it works well as a foil: it shows the purity and innocence of a pony, and the darkness of our own humanity in contrast. That sounds incredibly pretentious (because it is), but it is hard to see what a human really is without creating something inhuman to explore.
Darker content is just a tool for storytelling. It is not an end in itself.
What is it that attracts you to long-form storytelling?
It is my bane. There is a bridge near where I once lived with the word “BREVITY” spraypainted below it. That bridge mocks me. Of my two remaining life-goals, submitting a novel for publishing is one. Yet every time I try to write, it always becomes too long to publish. I spend way too much time building my worlds and trying to give every character a proper arc in the story. It bloats them real bad, like a haggis in the sun.
That’s why I like fanfiction; I can make it as long as I need to tell a story. Telling the story to the level of detail I want takes me way too long. I would like to honestly thank my readers for putting up with it. I understand that it is an area I need to work on.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
As most have noticed, the spelling in “Elrod” is atrocious. I type these out in one draft very rapidly, and I miss things. I run my newer stories through Grammarly with every chapter (especially since LibreOffice’s spell-checker is not that great) when I submit it. It is not so easy to do that in retrospect once the story is uploaded, especially in a context where most words are made up. I don’t expect people to do my editing for me, but if you see errors you want fixed, point them out to me and they will be remediated.
I would also like to thank the Royal Canterlot Library for this interview. I’m not sure what’s going on, but it seems fun. It is a great honor to be allowed to participate in this.
Do not eat tomatoes that grow from violet flowers, and beware that which churps.