Originally posted at the Vault on 2/27/12.
Today is an author being featured for their second time (which means an abbreviated interview - most answers haven't changed). Thanqol's latest work is a stellar example of why I started the Vault in the first place; in the unlikely event you haven't read it already, make some time to do so.
[Shipping] • 18,300 words
Distance can drive us apart. It can also bring us closer together. After all is said and done, and the ponies have gone their separate ways, the only way they have to keep in touch is through letters.
Hit the title for a second look at Thanqol, and links to Yours Truly on your favorite pony sites. Check out the Vault's Downloads page for copies in the usual ebook formats as well.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
Having reflected on this somewhat since I last answered, I named myself after a failed villain. Why would someone name themselves after a failed villain?
I think it's because in primary school I played a game called 'Super Josh', where a bunch of older kids and I would surround a kindergarten kid and give evil speeches. He'd flail at us with his fists and we'd dramatically fall down. We'd pretend that he was a superhero beating up us ineffective villains.
And it was there I learned that losing is fun. I was never successful any time I'd made a bid to be popular; I was always the slight and weedy kid picked last for gym class. But when I was a villain, I was suddenly a part of the story. It didn't matter that I couldn't win, because I didn't have to - I just had to look good while losing.
I think this is what, in turn, made me an effective GM and got me off on the right foot when I entered the world of PBP gaming, which is where I developed my writing. Losing is fun. The villain who has fun while he's losing is the real winner.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers, or writers who are struggling with their own stories?
Here are three key pieces of advice:
Getting external feedback is a necessary step, especially if you can find people who'll give detailed feedback and not echo chamber praise. There's a fantastic community in the GiantITP Pony threads here.
Research is another huge one - find all the best authors and absorb as much as you can. Submerge yourself in different styles and genres and read with an active, critical mind. Poetry, especially minimalist poetry, is fantastic to study and challenge yourself with. Every word has to be necessary, crystal-perfect, like water dripping from a diamond.
Observation of the world is the one I recommend to everyone. The Marx Brothers are funny. Why? Why are transcripts of their routines only sometimes funny? Why is Terry Pratchett consistently funny with his words? Why do some films of books suck and some books of film work? Work out the limitations of your medium along with its strengths. Be able to recognise when you're accidentally trying to write a movie script. Grab a friend and fence with wooden sticks for ten minutes or so. Listen to how people talk. Question everything, including and especially your own mind.
What inspired you to write Yours Truly?
Back in the early days of the Pony fandom, when 50 star ratings was an impossible out-of-reach number for fanfictions, I had an idea, an image. The image of Rainbow's letter to Fluttershy: What do you want from me? The idea of a sudden snap and the truth tumbling out. The idea of holding that letter in my hand and everything it meant. I could see where the teardrops had smudged the words, where words had been crossed out with harsh, black lines. I formed that letter in my head. But it was a letter without a story, and so I put it aside to come back to when I could do that story justice.
The idea of letters has always been an important one for me. I was in a long distance relationship of my own for three years, which ended when we agreed that it was impossible and promised to go our separate ways, not putting our lives on hold for each other. This story is full of memories, daydreams, and nostalgia.
Did you run into any tough spots or challenges when writing Yours Truly?
Applejack. Goddamn Applejack. This story was not meant to be about her. At no point was it supposed to be about her, right up until I wrote her first letter. And then she stole the entire show. I love it when that happens, though, when my characters tell me I'm being stupid and elbow me aside.
The story flowed pretty naturally once I started to write it, though. It only took about a few hours every few days for two or three weeks to get the entire thing down on paper. I liken my writing process to a thunderstorm; a long, slow buildup of thought and then I write the entire thing in a single stroke.
Editing was difficult, because I got such an amazingly huge amount of advice, a lot of which conflicted with other advice. I had to make some hard decisions about what suggestions I was going to implement and which I was actively going to leave out. I wasn't able to get it perfect for everyone, and that's a shame. But I don't regret it that much - sometimes it's the flaw that makes the piece.
When you set out to write Yours Truly, did you have any specific messages or themes in mind?
Honesty, above all. Honesty is the most fascinating and powerful of all of the Elements, and the one I've spent the most time thinking about.
Distance is the second. It can bring us closer together. I'm a different person on the internet. I'll have long conversations with people, get home, and write them an email which says what I really thought. Those thoughts were there but I couldn't spare the few moments to calm my mind and reflect on them properly. Writing takes away the barriers of context, body language, and puts you almost mind-to-mind in touch with the author.
Distance also drives us apart. Think about that friend you just fell out of contact with. Someone from school you used to know, who you just don't keep up with now that you've graduated. Someone who you used to be able to talk about things with, do things with - now there's that moment when you see them where they pause, trying to remember your name. "Long time, no see". Having to give the executive summary of your life. Parting with a promise to keep in touch that both of you break. Sometimes people just fall out of our lives and we don't know why.
The emergent image was winter. And it wasn't until I started thinking about winter did I really fall in love with Applejack. Winter is the farmer's enemy. They live their lives to fight it, survive it. I didn't know something as simple as a harsh winter was going to be the story's antagonist until I started on that sequence, but it was the perfect choice. It brought the entire story into Applejack's world. It made her the main character in a way she's never been.
Where can readers drop you a line?
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
This above all: To thine own self be true.
Thank you to everyone who read, rated or commented. You're contributing more than you'll ever know. Thank you for letting me share this with you.