DungeonMiner’s “A Little Chat”

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We’d just like to say a few words about today’s story.

A Little Chat
[Slice of Life] • 2,008 words

Sunset was enjoying her day, going through school as she was expected to do, when she’s suddenly called to the Principal’s office.

Confused, but with little choice in the matter, she answers, heading to Celestia’s office. There, she finds the Principal sitting, wanting to have a chat.

Sunset was not prepared for anything like this.

FROM THE CURATORS: “Stories about how various characters work things out after their respective redemptions are a staple of the fandom,” AugieDog said in our discussion, and one nice thing about Equestria Girls is that it lets authors explore redemption from a different angle than the pony side of the show.  “With Sunset and Starlight,” AugieDog continued, “I’ve always felt that Sunset is the more traditionally ‘heroic’ of the two … she’s more self-reflective, more critical of herself, more likely to stop and weigh her present actions against what she did in the past, and that quality gives her overall struggle toward the light a very different feeling from Starlight’s.”  That was one of the factors drawing Present Perfect to the story, as he said in his nomination: “I’ll never get tired of fics centered around her redemption, or the concept of self-forgiveness, and this hits all the right notes.”

One of those was deft handling of a reveal that worked with or without the benefit of surprise.  “The twist is likely the kind of thing an experienced reader will see coming, but it isn’t the point,” Present Perfect said.  “The effect that reveal has on Sunset is what makes this story.”  Soge agreed: “Predictable as it was, the execution of the reveal was great. It never leaned too heavily into it being this huge mystery, while not giving so many clues to give Sunset an idiot ball.”  As FanOfMostEverything noted, that made the story all the more satisfying: “That reaction at the end is more than earned.”

The story was rounded out by exemplary character work.  “I appreciate how it fleshes out Sunset’s background in a believable way that the show can’t really touch,” FanOfMostEverything said.  “It also presents the sheer quantity of baggage she has regarding the princess in heart-rending detail.”  And that offered plenty of food for thought, AugieDog said: “I also like how the story shifts the ground under Sunset’s rationale for remaining in the human world. Before this, she’s only stayed out of fear of returning to Equestria. After this, she needs to make a choice. That’s always a nice place to leave a character.”

Read on for our author interview, in which DungeonMiner discusses publisher hoops, spy keys, and winning overlords.
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Beige Monkfish’s “A Tale of a Mountain Clan”

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Today’s story is a cold fable with a warm heart.

A Tale of a Mountain Clan
[Drama] • 2,472 words

This is a tale passed down for generations, a tale of an age before there was peace between the Griffons and the Equestrians.

FROM THE CURATORS: Our own exposure to this historical fable nearly started with a blast from the past — “[former curator] Chris contacted me wanting to get this one looked at,” Present Perfect said — but Soge beat him to the punch.  “This type of mythological story telling is my weakness,” he said in his nomination.  “It is a great origin story for Gryphon-Pony relations, featuring a strong allegory, clever writing, and the kind of world building that always makes this type of story special. After all, legends are not only about what is being said, but also about what it means for a culture that a specific story has lasted this long.”

The story quickly picked up broad support.  “Right off the bat, the narrative voicing is strong and confident, and that holds for the entire piece,” RBDash47 said.  “The setup of this little slice of the ancient world is perfect, no more or less than what the story needed, and we get just enough to tie it into show canon so we know it’s a look at how the windigoes affected other races.”  And Present Perfect had similar praise: “The strengths of this story are the way it’s told ⁠— it’s quite clearly an ancient fable being relayed to us by a storyteller ⁠— and the twist at the end.”

Most of our discussion about it (as well as this week’s interview!) strayed into spoiler territory, but that ending was unanimously appreciated.  “The prose felt rough, but the ending 100% redeems this,” Horizon said.  “The author’s choice gives this a pony-via-Brothers-Grimm feel, aligning perfectly with its portrayal of both races while still feeling compatible with canon’s far gentler relationship.”  Present Perfect said that “staying true to the griffon’s character makes for a far more memorable story than it otherwise could have been,” and RBDash47 agreed: “I was very impressed that the author didn’t try to fast-track the griffon’s character arc.”

And there was much to appreciate along the way.  “It helps that the characters really pop, which feels like a breath of fresh air in a story like this,” Soge said, while Horizon added: “I’m definitely a fan of how this works in subtle and effective worldbuilding with small details.” All in all, AugieDog said, the tone and theme carried this far: “The story feels wonderfully ‘griffony’ from the opening paragraph all the way through to the end, and it’s got a definite sense of a story being told aloud in a place where shadows flicker across walls that aren’t quite protecting the listeners from the weather.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Beige Monkfish discusses lightning summoning, campfire gravitas, and classic telephones.
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Cillerenda’s “Relevé”

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Today’s story is on point.

relevéRelevé
[Slice of Life] • 1,437 words

Relevé: position in which the dancer rises from any position to on one or both feet on at least demi-pointe, or possibly full pointe

She’s done the simple Rainbooms choreo, the square dancing with her family, the silly free-styles with her friends. But today, Applejack wants to try something a bit different, something she’d never expected to be interested in.

You would think attending Canterlot High would teach her to expect the unexpected.

FROM THE CURATORS: “An important story,” Present Perfect mused. “Not just a story about a tomboy trying to be feminine, this is about Applejack trying to break her own mold.” Soge called it “a delightful tale of societal expectations—both internal and external” in his nomination, and FanOfMostEverything likewise appreciated choosing Applejack as the story’s focal character, because “the fact that it’s so unexpected for her only makes the concept work better.”

“She’s getting out of her comfort zone, doing something that no one would expect her to, because it mystifies, intrigues and delights her. Her own joy when she accomplishes just one tiny bit of what she set out to do is palpable,” Present Perfect went on to say. And that joy, that excitement, is tempered by insecurity—Soge saw right away that “her passion for something which she thinks others will misjudge her for … is instantly relatable for people in all walks of life.”

FanOfMostEverything acknowledged how easy it would have been for this particular conceit to fail, pointing out how “stories that draw on the author’s experiences can sometimes feel both invasive and false to the characters used to replicate those experiences,” but he was happy to find that this work “avoids that entirely.” AugieDog agreed that the author completely sold him on “how Applejack might actually find something in the artistry of ballet that speaks to her” and felt it succeeds as “a nice insight into the character … I always enjoy it when authors have such a good feel for one of the show’s characters that they can take that character to a place the show never would and still have it entirely work.”

A classical ballet can mean hours of dancing, but “Relevé” economizes, distilling its story down into just one movement, and that was all it needed. Soge appreciated that “its core conflict is so well built, and the character work is so precise, that it feels much weightier than its paltry word count would suggest.” FanOfMostEverything felt the same way: “It’s brief, but uses what’s there with incredible efficiency. This is a single dance, not a full recital, but the artistry involved is undeniable.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Cillerenda discusses reading above your grade level, the freedom of artistry, and juxtaposition.

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Darkstarling’s “Tartarus Island”

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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.
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“Ponyfic: There Can Be Only One” winner: Monochromatic’s “The Enchanted Library”

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You won’t want to leave today’s story.

The Enchanted Library
[Romance] [Adventure] [Alt. Universe] • 339,524 words

Everypony enjoys myths and ponytales, even if they know such things aren’t real. Alicorns fighting against a spirit of chaos? An ancient princess trapped in a library under a tree, waiting to be found? Quite enchanting and fantastic tales yes, but nonetheless as fictional as Daring Do and other such stories. At least, that’s what Rarity used to think.

She doesn’t anymore.

FROM THE CURATORS: When we last featured this week’s author, we spotlighted one of her short, high-impact stories while merely name-dropping the longer work which put her on the map.  But readers loved The Enchanted Library so much that they voted it into the running for our effort to find The Fandom’s Best Fanfic™ — and after a tense battle full of upsets and narrow wins, this epic adventure-romance novel emerged victorious.

It was easy to see why it inspired such dedication.  “It is a literary chrysanthemum opening layer upon layer of secrets, inventive worldbuilding, Monochromatic’s signature heartfelt emotional and romantic development, and Rarity being unable to actually tell the truth even if her life depends on it,” FanOfMostEverything said when introducing it to our panel audience.  “It is not just a romance, it’s a romance that shows its work, and a great AU to boot.”  Horizon agreed: “Rarity and Twilight start out as complete strangers, and we get a full-length novel’s worth of words in which they slowly become friends before either one even starts wrestling with deeper feelings.  I honestly don’t think any story has ever sold me on a ship the way that TEL did, and the dynamic between the partners is a source of both joy and tension throughout.”

If all the story did right was that perfectly-paced and grippingly compelling romance, it still would have been deserving of a feature — but top-notch writing in multiple areas elevated it to a story worthy of being called The Best™.  “The characters are worth mentioning for their color,” Horizon said. “Rarity is a fascinating study in contrast that gets her canon complexity across well. We get to see her flaws front and center, but it never stopped me from caring about her and her quest.”  AugieDog agreed: “The Discord here is a master class in how to write a villain, as is pretty much everything about the adventure, the character building, and the romance.”

And several of us commented on its raw power.  “There are multiple scenes in the story that just ring as perfectly as crystal bells, and there are several scenes where the author types a paragraph that tears down everything that’s come before and kicks it flailing off a cliff she’s quietly and calmly been building in plain sight,” AugieDog said. The fic kept those standards high to the very last word (and its in-progress sequel).  “TEL throws a succession of finely crafted punches, and man, the ending just wrecked me,” Horizon said.  “Wrecked.”

Read on for our (all new!) author interview, in which Monochromatic discusses brain HDMI, Disney destinies, and the good kind of selling out.
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scifipony’s “To Bring Light to Eternal Darkness”

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Today’s story will offer a little “light” reading.

To Bring Light to Eternal Darkness
[Adventure] [Drama] • 34,992 words

In the days before Equestria was even a dream and mares are second-class citizens, a pony with a solar cutie mark, Sunny Daze, decides to help her brother become a mage. She doesn’t realize that she and the sun have an appointment with destiny.

FROM THE CURATORS: Sometimes, it’s impressive how much difference a change of scenery can make.  “In many senses, this is something I read a dozen times before — young Celly is in a bad situation, then she learns how to raise the sun,” Soge said as we discussed this week’s feature.  “But just by replacing the more typical western European fantasy background, with a modern Saudi/Wahhabi inspired one? Bam, so much potential is unlocked.”  And what we found as we dug into our reading was a story which capitalized on that potential tremendously.  “I was blown away by this story from the word go,” Present Perfect said. “This is a really powerful work, a must-read for everyone.”  FanOfMostEverything’s nomination said the story stood out on numerous levels: “It’s not just the characters and world that feel real, but also the society. scifipony presents a strongly regimented culture that provides a fascinating case of an ‘It’s terrible, but it’s mine’-style mental dissonance that resonates throughout Celestia-to-be’s actions.”

We found ourselves repeatedly praising the exemplary handling and realism of the deeper themes the story built up around that society.  “The writing is exceptional, the origin story and world-building are strong and unique, and most important, the message is never lost in minutiae,” Present Perfect said.  “Many writers would, for instance, have told the story of Sunny Daze breaking out from her patriarchial oppression the moment she met a mare from Unicornia, which doesn’t suffer under the propoli and mare-cloaks. And while that story would have cathartic value, it would feel cheap because it would ignore the realities of growing up under a stringent society divided along gender lines.”  Soge agreed: “I don’t feel bad in saying that most explicitly political fiction is garbage — it creates politically-themed obstacles for the characters, leaving them as just a backdrop to the message, and in the process manages to dehumanize all involved on the ‘other side’. ‘To Bring Light…’, instead, belongs to that rare breed that takes inspiration from real-world issues, but keeps the focus tight on the characters, leading to this lived-in world full of interesting scenarios, but without ever making the backdrop the most important thing in the story.”

And the characters were vivid enough to sustain that focus.  “This also got major points from me for its strong portrayal of autism in Summer Daze, especially in the way his sister understands and dotes on him,” Present Perfect said.  “She’s proud of him for being able to interact with others to the extent that he does, she gets his tics, and she doesn’t begrudge him being unable to express himself the way other ponies do.”  That was merely one of the factors which added up to a top-tier story.  “I could go on and on,” Soge said, “about how great the supporting cast is, how good an antagonist Umbra was, or the great world-building and magic system.  This fic is a pure delight.”

Read on for our author interview, in which scifipony discusses good gibberish, hayburger messes, and bounty-hunting mothers.
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“Ponyfic: There Can Be Only One” wrap-up

We’re still recovering this week from the fandom’s final Bronycon.  (In some cases literally — a con-crud-ridden Horizon is dragging himself out of bed to write this.)  So in lieu of a Bronycon-week feature, we’d like to talk a little bit about the panel we hosted to find THE FANDOM’S BEST FANFIC™.

We’ve got a full writeup on our royalcanterlotlibrary.net website — including the complete bracket of 16 fics in contention for the title; shout-outs to great fics which we couldn’t fit on the shortlist; and the full results of audience and curator voting.

Our hearty congratulations to Monochromatic’s “The Enchanted Library” for taking the BEST FANFIC title in an upset victory over our #1 seed!  We’ll be running an interview with Monochromatic as soon as possible.

Come see us at Bronycon!

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The run-up to Bronycon has been a mad whirlwind of RCL activity!  Five curators are attending (two for the first time!), and one of us is an official community guest. Several of us are participating in the Golden Oaks Bookstore (as author, author and publisher).  And we’re even running a panel!

Come join the Royal Canterlot Library in the Hall of the Moon from 11:15 AM-12:15 PM Saturday, Aug. 3 for “Ponyfic: There Can Be Only One”! We’ve selected 16 stories from among the fandom’s best of the best — a combination of curators’ favorites and crowd favorites from our community voting — and are going to introduce them to our audience and pit them against each other in a voting bracket to discover MLP’S BEST FANFIC™.  (It’s all in good fun; there’s no way to be objective about a task this big, but it’s an excuse to talk about some really awesome stories.)  Join us and help us determine which author takes home the bragging rights!

Here’s a sneak preview of our bracket — half of our sixteen contenders:

Eakin’s “Hard Reset
shortskirtsandexplosions’ “Background Pony
Monochromatic’s “The Enchanted Library
Horse Voice’s “The Writing on the Wall
Dromicosuchus’s “Mendacity
GaPJaxie’s “Around the World in 81 Days (And Other Problems Caused by Leap Years)
PatchworkPoltergeist’s “The Silver Standard
GhostOfHeraclitus’ “Whom the Princesses Would Destroy…

Look forward to seeing you there!

Eakin’s “The Mare Behind The Mare”

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There’s some impressive work behind today’s story.

The Mare Behind the Mare
[Slice of Life] • 9,688 words

What sort of mare would turn down the chance to help a friend? Twilight’s been there for me so many times in the past, but now she’s a princess with all the new obligations and duties that come with that. The transition… hasn’t been an entirely smooth one. Who better to lend her a helping hoof and show her how one deals with nobles, courts, and politics than moi?

I only hope it doesn’t end up costing one of us our sanity along the way.

FROM THE CURATORS: There are some stories so powerful that it’s always a little shocking to see their author featured for anything else. Hard Reset — one of FIMFiction’s top-10 upvoted stories, and a contender in our upcoming “Ponyfic: There Can Be Only One” Bronycon panel — is one of those. But it’s ineligible for RCL refeature due to its Pony Fiction Vault interview, and Eakin has written no shortage of other strong contenders.

What caught our eye about The Mare Behind The Mare was how effortlessly it demonstrated strength in a very different genre from Eakin’s biggest hit. “It is this delightful mix of comedy and political intrigue, with the kind of sharp-witted prose that really manages to elevate the whole thing,” Soge said.  It even sparked favorable comparisons to an acknowledged master of that genre: “This was supremely funny,” Present Perfect said, “in precisely the way GhostOfHeraclitus’ Civil Service stories are.”  AugieDog felt similarly in his nomination. “It starts from a premise that I’m sure I’ve seen before in Ponyfic: Rarity tutors the new Princess Twilight in the ways of the Royal Court,” he said.  “But even though it doesn’t have a Comedy tag on it, its second chapter takes it off in a a delightfully devious little ‘comedy of manners’ direction that’s reminiscent of GhostOfHeraclitus’ Civil Service stories. (Dotted Line even makes a Ghost-approved off-stage cameo.)”

That cameo was virtually the only character not singled out for praise. “It’s a pure pleasure to watch Rarity work here,” AugieDog said. “Twilight’s written a bit naïvely throughout, but she steps up at the end to put together all the pieces Rarity’s laid out for her.”  Soge admired the princesses: “It is propped up by some amazing characterization for all involved (I particularly like Celestia hamming it up for the benefit of the court), and a vision of a might-have-been for Twilight getting used to power. Great work all around.” And Present Perfect’s protagonist praise was part of a broader compliment: “Every time I think I fully understand the concept of ‘show, don’t tell,’ a good author like Eakin comes along and shows me how to step up my game,” he said.  “The scene with Rarity talking to the disinterested reporter, turning an off-handed comment into an Equestria-wide panic, was a marvelous linchpin for the entire thing.”

But even more than that, we appreciated the tale’s balancing acts.  “Stories like this need a very delicate balance of idealism and cynicism, and Eakin pulls it off exactly right,” AugieDog said.  Horizon cited another: “The first and second chapters are fantastic in very different ways. While the plotting is indeed tightly written and gorgeous to watch, the extended tea metaphor in Chapter 1 is exquisitely balanced — strong enough to carry the story, but not so strong it drowns out the nuances of the surrounding writing.”  Ultimately, all those factors led to no shortage of enthusiasm for the feature. “This was a very good fic,” Present Perfect said.  “I love watching a plan come together, and I will heartily support the nomination.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Eakin discusses Platonic alicorns, cooking chickens, and butchered quotes.
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Vivid Syntax’s “Not In Bluff Nor Bravado Nor Loneliness”

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(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.)

If your reading is stale, TRY TODAY’S TALE!

Not In Bluff Nor Bravado Nor Loneliness
[Slice of Life] • 7,389 words

Ponies? Yeah, you hear a lot about them growing up in the minotaur homelands, and it isn’t all positive. Actually, almost none of it is positive. They’re different. They’ve got those weird pictures on their flanks and those little prayers they mumble to their princesses. Ponies are gentle, passive. They’re not like us.

See, a minotaur is supposed to act a certain way. You bulk up. You get aggressive. You don’t let anyone else push you around, and you don’t associate with ponies. I’ve heard the same thing my whole life, ever since I was young.

FROM THE CURATORS: Like last week’s feature, this started with an examination of stories we’d overlooked earlier in the fandom — and once it was brought up, we immediately wondered how.  “I saw the thread title,” Present Perfect said, “and went, ‘Didn’t I nominate that years ago?’ I guess I didn’t!”  AugieDog similarly had fond memories: “I was one of maybe eight or nine judges in the contest where this story got an Honorable Mention. That’s why this seems familiar!”  But there was more than nostalgia in FanOfMostEverything’s nomination: “This is an especially interesting story, tackling similar themes on a lot of different levels. It’s about the knee-jerk mainstream reaction to ponies. It’s about toxic masculinity. It’s about stereotypes and prejudice. And the use of Iron Will as a perspective character makes the whole thing work.”

Our praise on that framing was unanimous.  “The decision to approach toxic masculinity along species lines was a good one,” Present Perfect said.  “It makes the topic more approachable and easier to deal with.” AugieDog agreed: “It’s a nicely nuanced view of Iron Will.  Growing up, he feels a kinship with the ponies at school, but since he’s told he shouldn’t, he makes it his life’s mission to change ponies into people that he can feel kinship with.  The only acceptable way for him to be more like ponies is if ponies become more like him, and this inherent paradox drives the story right through to the end.”  And Horizon was impressed by how much was communicated via showing and structure: “With nothing more than a few conversations with authority figures, we’re shown the ways that a bad system harms both its victims and its beneficiaries, and how it can make even well-meaning people excuse its harm.”

If we had one disappointment, it was that later show canon didn’t back up the story’s sympathetic view of one of the show’s antagonists.  “I found Iron Will inherently relatable, and this is a really strong possible backstory for him … before ‘Once Upon a Zeppelin,’ of course,” Present Perfect said.  But even though the show hasn’t been kind to the premise here, we found the writing strong enough to carry this on its own merits.  As FanOfMostEverything said: “The story is meticulously constructed, every moment coming together in the greater scope.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Vivid Syntax discusses Gandhi quotes, goat symbolism, and parental ponycons.
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