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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Thanqol’s “Do Not Serve These Ponies”

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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.)

Do not skip today’s story.

Do Not Serve These Ponies
[Comedy] • 21,083 words

Lyra knows the truth. Lyra knows that a shadowy conspiracy dating back to the very dawn of Equestria is responsible for manipulating every major event for the past two thousand years. And Lyra does not care how many museums she has to destroy or how many transdimensional rifts she has to open in her quest to inform the public.

FROM THE CURATORS: Today’s feature is a bit unusual — it’s the first which has gone through two separate rounds of RCL consideration.  “I laugh more when reading Thanqol’s stories than almost any other author’s,” Chris said in his original nomination in 2013. “Thanqol has a real knack for understatement, and for finding a straight pony for every situation. This is my favorite of his that isn’t ineligible.”  At the time, Do Not Serve failed to get through our voting process — but after several years and near-total RCL turnover, it was one of the stories which inspired a debate over how to fairly revisit decisions which new curators disagreed with.  Ultimately, once everyone had weighed in, we added up both old and new scores, and discovered that it had won majority approval.

Primarily, that was because — with the benefit of hindsight — the story’s hilarity survived the test of time.  “I still look back on this story fondly as a mile-a-minute comedy that never wears out its welcome,” Present Perfect said. FanOfMostEverything agreed: “Like Lyra, it throws itself into every insane moment of escalation and has a wonderful time while doing so. It’s just pure fun.”  But, importantly, it also didn’t lack in depth. “It is centered on a very real core of the friendship between Lyra and Bon-Bon, which leaves it grounded just enough to not let the random aspect of the fics simply take over,” Soge said.  It also played with early-season fanon in ways that now seem fascinating.  “There’s a section where Bon-Bon wonders whether Lyra is a secret agent, which is an interesting foreshadowing of Season 5,” Horizon noted, “and some clever extrapolation is made from Lyra’s background in Canterlot.”

No matter how wide-ranging our praise got, however, the story never stopped being funny and quotable.  “It’s peppered with laugh-out-loud lines, imagery, and running gags — the Cone of Shame deserves special mention,” Horizon said.  RBDash47 agreed, while also comparing the prose to one of the great comedic masters: “It seems like every other line has me cracking up (‘Hello,’ said Rainbow Dash. / ‘Ah. And the oppressor shows her true colours. And it’s all of them’). The humor and style strikes me as being Adamsian without actually being a straight lift from Douglas Adams’ work — it’s got that same sense of wry wordplay and expectation subversion.” Ultimately, as Present Perfect said, that made it stand out despite competition from tales both old and new: “This story proves that well-worn fandom tropes like ‘Lyra’s obsessed with humans’ can still be used in original and highly entertaining ways.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Thanqol discusses Shakespeare horror, collateral happiness, and Closing Statement.
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JumpingShinyFrogs’ “School Tour”

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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.)

Today’s story comes out of the dark into the spotlight.

School Tour
[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.
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miss-cyan’s “Now Hiring”

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We’re grateful our job brings us to gems like today’s story.

Now Hiring
[Sad] • 3,602 words

Pear Butter and Bright McIntosh have recently passed. What remains of the Apple Family find themselves in the care of their newest family member. But they can’t do everything to provide for the new foal on their own.

An ad is placed.

A position is filled.

But loss is a thing that affects each individual differently. And new faces can be both a curse and a blessing.

FROM THE CURATORS: There are certain story ideas which just hit you right between the eyes.  “This has about the most perfect set-up of any story I’ve read recently,” AugieDog said in our discussion thread.  “I mean, of course the Apples would need a wet nurse for Apple Bloom! Why has it taken all these years for someone to realize that?”  And it’s always a joy to find a story which capitalizes on an idea so strong.  “This is fantastic, a vivid tale of broken people fixing their lives by coming together at the worst of times,” Soge said in his nomination.  “It really puts all the characters through quite the ordeal, but never stretching credibility, leading to a well-earned ending.”

But even beyond the premise, we found much to impress us — chiefly, the exemplary balancing act the story pulled with its Sad tag.  “The emotional tone here is very carefully handled,” FanOfMostEverything said. “It lets us feel the characters’ despair without making us wallow in it.  There’s enough diversity in the mood to keep it from becoming a slog, whether it’s the attempts at normalcy that feel very true for a mourning family, or intriguing hints of things to come like Rosemary’s first reaction to seeing Apple Bloom.”  Present Perfect agreed.  “The emotional drain of the situation comes through in the writing; never is it forced, and that alone would make this worth reading,” he said.  “But taking the Apples’ greatest loss and turning it into an opportunity to bond with another pony suffering her own loss is a fantastic idea.  We get to see grief from multiple sides, and how it can bring people closer together.”

And that wasn’t all that curators praised.  “It is backed by some wonderful characterization, powerful drama, and very interesting tidbits of worldbuilding which really help elevate the story,” Soge said.  AugieDog, not normally a fan of perspective leaps, was even impressed by that: “Given the subject matter, I find the uncertain and wandering perspective very effective,” he said.  “The way we don’t get a single character name till we’re a dozen paragraphs into the story makes the opening very distancing, and it just plain fits.  Later, when the POV hops, it’s like the story’s opening up along with the characters. And having the last section be from Apple Bloom’s POV? Just right.”  All in all, as Present Perfect said, “this is a really good use of the show characters, not to mention the Sad tag.”

Read on for our author interview, in which miss-cyan discusses dog yards, Equestrian ladies, and yan seeing.
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Alphacat’s “Brothers and Sisters”

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Today’s story shows us what happens when the day meets the night.

brothers and sistersBrothers and Sisters
[Slice of Life] • 64,160 words

When Princess Luna goes missing, Private Lucky Break knows there’s more at work than a simple breach of court protocol.

For most, Hearth’s Warming is an occasion to celebrate family and friends, a time for reflection and goodwill to all of Equestria’s residents. But for two ponies, their relationship with the holiday is much more complicated.

Lucky, batpony soldier of the Night Guard, is assigned to escort Princess Luna to the grand reopening of her Night Court mere months after her return to Equestria. Everything goes well at first, until a visitor inadvertently offends the princess. Incensed, she cancels court and sends everypony away. However, when Lucky goes to offer comfort to a distraught Luna, she storms out.

Spurred on by an old wound buried deep in his heart, Lucky strives to mend a bond between sisters that feels all too familiar, and find the missing diarch before her grief consumes her.

FROM THE CURATORS: “OC” isn’t a four-letter word, but you’d be forgiven for thinking so, the way some ponyfic aficionados use it. After all, most people reading fan fiction are looking for more quality time with their favorite characters from the show they love, not the random creations of their enthusiastic fellows. But today’s feature shows how that can be an unfair judgment, with an almost-entirely original cast that’s so well formed and integrated with Friendship Is Magic‘s canon world and characters, you can’t help but become invested in their lives. “It feels so grounded in the Equestria we know from the show that I didn’t really realize until after finishing that the only real canon characters are the princesses,” said RBDash47 in his nomination.

The strong character work was a big selling point all around: “This is a story that thrives on the power of its characters,” agreed Present Perfect. “I was drawn in by Celestia’s quiet angst and the furor bubbling just under Luna’s surface. Sticking it out, I was rewarded with a cast of memorable OCs gathered together in relationships in a way I’ve never seen depicted this strongly in fanfiction before.” AugieDog had the same reaction, “echoing the points about the terrific bunch of OCs we get here. Lucky Break could have easily slipped into ‘Marty Stu’ territory, but the author prevents this by using the mechanics of cutie marks in quite a deft fashion.”

The author’s deft handiwork with taking canon elements from the show and running with them extended beyond clever cutie marks. For all their fan love, “batponies” make only a brief appearance in a single episode pulling Luna’s chariot, and ever since there’s been speculation whether or not they represented a fourth tribe of ponies, some clever Nightmare Night costumes for standard-issue pegasi, or something else. “Something I’ve not seen elsewhere,” said RBDash47. “Batponies aren’t a fourth tribe in addition to earth ponies, unicorns, and pegasi, but instead are simply the nocturnal version of pegasi, and we meet the earth pony and unicorn equivalents as well. The overall population of these ‘nyctan’ ponies is small and largely segregated, only recently returned to Equestria and almost exclusively active at night, so I can roll with never seeing them in the show.” Present Perfect appreciated how the author played with the contrast between dayponies and nightponies. “I can’t say I’m in a position to really comment on the nature of racism, at its core, but I felt like the mistrust and fear directed at the nyctan in this story was at the very least true to the setting. For all that this Equestria is a bit more like our world than like the show, this also fit, because there are so many real-world issues tackled head-on throughout it.”

From top to bottom, this is a thoughtful, well-crafted novel, from the big picture—”the story’s structure is ambitious,” pointed out RBDash47, “with half of each chapter taking place in the present and half taking place in the past, allowing us to make inferences about past Lucky from future Lucky and vice-versa”—to the small—”the author even manages to handle the whole ‘new kid gains an instant foe at school’ thing in a way” that didn’t make AugieDog want to gag, “something that’s really hard to do.”

Read on for our author interview, in which Alphacat discusses trusting your intuition, manipulating dualities, and the importance of revision.

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AlexTFish’s “Daring Do: The Opera”

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We’ll make a spirited effort to sing the praises of today’s story.

Daring Do: The Opera
[Mystery] [Slice of Life] • 10,016 words

Diamond Tiara is excited to have a starring role in Autumn Blaze’s new opera. She knows the Opera House isn’t haunted, but if it were, she’d be ready to give any Opera Spirit a stern talking-to.

FROM THE CURATORS: This story was already on several of our radars when it took second place in the Season 9 Bingo Contest — and it didn’t take us long to discover why it did so well.  “The humor’s on point but knows when to get out of the way of the narrative, the mystery is neither too obvious nor impossible, and the story does more with Diamond Tiara than the show ever did,” FanOfMostEverything said in his nomination.  While our praise was wide-ranging, two factors stood out.  “This all comes down to two aspects,” Present Perfect said, “the characters and the twist.”

It was remarkable work on the former which came up most often in our discussion.  “The character work throughout really carries the story,” AugieDog said.  “I especially like the way that, after the twist, the early scenes take on a deeper meaning and lead to the realization that, without noticing or even meaning to, Tiara has had this literally life-changing effect on another character.”  Horizon also admired the protagonist: “The early look at Diamond Tiara’s redemption, especially her conversation with her parents, solidly carries the otherwise slow Chapter 1. (And I’m also a fan of its song lyrics, which is no small thing.)”  And Present Perfect was more broadly impressed: “Diamond Tiara is especially well-written, important since this is really about her. I very much appreciated the exploration of what she has to do as a character post-Lost Mark.  And Autumn Blaze strikes me as one of those characters like Maud Pie that’s going to be hard to write, but AlexTFish handled her blabbermouthing with aplomb.”

But the praise for the story’s central mystery was equally effusive.  “I absolutely did not see the twist coming, and the misdirection it went to justifies a feature by itself,” Horizon said. “The story gets a fantastic amount of mileage out of the things it doesn’t tell you, and the mystery, as FOME says, is very well calibrated.”  Present Perfect agreed: “I was amazed that I could be so right and so wrong about the twist at the same time. The devil was in the details!”  And all of those details pulled together to make the story a joy to read … occasionally, for an unusual version of joy.  Or, as Horizon put it: “I am incapable of voting against a story with such a transcendently awful pun in Chapter 5.”

Read on for our author interview, in which AlexTFish discusses spiky redemption, Magna Cartas, and 400 kinds of trouble.
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OfTheIronwilled’s “Again”

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Today’s story is (a) well worth your attention.

Again
[Dark] [Tragedy] [Human] [Alternate Universe] • 1,792 words

When she was young, Megan rode into Ponyland on the back of a flying pony.

Or not. She doesn’t know anymore.

All she knows is that for the second time, a pegasus has crashed into her well.

FROM THE CURATORS: Sometimes we get two nominations at once for works from the same author — only to find them both passing our feature threshold, creating a dilemma of which one to spotlight.  “As a fan of both G1 and Fluttershy, I get two completely different gut punches for the price of one!” AugieDog quipped in our debate.  He was one of the curators praising the character study of Where All My Layers Can Become Reeds: “The impossible dream of being a part while also being apart rings through every word of the story.” But in a split decision, the multi-generational tragedy of Again won out.

Again conveys a single moment of paralyzing horror fantastically,” FanOfMostEverything said, and the story’s short, brutal effectiveness drew broad praise.  “I love the character work, and the subtle way that it reveals the darkness of the situation,” Soge said, while RBDash47 added: “I did like how no one believing Megan played out; that felt very realistic.”  Horizon’s nomination tried to break down what made it work: “It uses its short length well, swinging in hard with a memorable gut punch of an image, and makes effective use of the generational gap,” he said.  “I think the fridge logic is the most terrifying part of it — there’s no road to the story’s events that doesn’t involve a great deal of implied abuse somewhere.”

If there was a common theme to our dissent on the fic, it was the story’s focus on the heroine of an earlier era.  “I feel it almost qualifies as G1 fanfic,” Present Perfect said, and RBDash47 added: “I wonder if I would enjoy it more if I was more familiar with Gen 1.”  But others saw that as one of the story’s strengths.  “I definitely think the G4 connection is strong enough, but even beyond that, it’s a fantastic allegory for the cost of the fear of seeming immature,” FanOfMostEverything said. “It’s all too easy to let amazing opportunities wilt away because ‘you’re too old,’ ‘that’s not how it’s done,’ so on and so forth.”  It even inspired fond comparisons to former RCL inductees.  “Again poses the question of ‘What if Meghan was the star of Through the Well of Pirene?’,” Present Perfect said, “only to answer it with a resounding, ‘Yeah, no.'”

Read on for our author interview, in which OfTheIronwilled discusses shower blame, piecemaking, and embarrassing edges.
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Everfree Northwest & MythrilMoth

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The RCL is taking a break today, as we often do on the weekend of a major pony con, and Everfree Northwest is in full swing in Seattle, WA! If you happen to be in the area, please report any sightings of FanOfMostEverything, who managed to escape the RCL reading dungeon room long enough to experience the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. We’d really like to get him back.

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