Did you know? SleeplessBrony will be a panelist at the Canterlot Gardens fanfiction panel I'm moderating Sunday morning at 9:30! You should totally come by to see him and the other great authors on the panel.
We now return you to your regularly-scheduled interview post.
Originally posted to the Vault on 5/18/12.
Yes, you read that right. Today we welcome the Vault's first explicit story. I usually use this space to give a brief glimpse into why I might have selected any given story for inclusion here, but in this case I had a little more to say, so I said it over here. If you're confused about the appearance of a clopfic in the Vault, please mosey on over to that Vault post, and do check out the interview below as well.
[Shipping] • 138,800 words
Twilight Sparkle has a crush on Luna, but the Princess insists that Twilight learn some things about love and romance before they can make a date.
Hit the break for a very lengthy, very enjoyable interview with SleeplessBrony, and links to Romance Reports at FIMFic and the PFA. As always, carefully hand-crafted ebooks can be found at the Vault's Downloads page!
(ETA: If you've read Romance Reports in the past and have been thinking about a re-read, now's the time! SleeplessBrony has recently completed a thorough overhaul/polish.
Where do you live?
United States. Sorry, you aren't getting any more than that.
What kind of work do you do? (i.e. are you a student, do you have a career/day job, etc)
I do have a day job. Currently a student as well, though.
How did you discover My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic? When did you realize you were a fan of the show?
I've lurked on the Cracked.com forums for a long time (really cool place, by the way.) Back before they banned ponies, there was a really active thread talking about the show. Of course, I kept seeing it pop up elsewhere on the Internet, too - memes and macros and such. I got intrigued and gave it a shot, expecting something kind of silly to make fun of.
I was floored by the opening sequence - the tapestry-style art and the mythology stuff was really cool, much more interesting than anything I had expected. I'll admit I was kind of skeptical after that for a bit - I wasn't quite sure what to make of the show, but I kept watching. And then Pinkie Pie started singing.
Now, I'm a jaded twenty-something, so I almost stopped right there. I looked over to the person I was watching with and almost literally said, "Oh god, songs. Tell me she isn't singing."
And then Twilight said, in her best Sparkle sarcasm voice, "Tell me she's not."
Been a fan ever since.
Do you have a favorite episode?
I really don't know. There are plenty of strong episodes, in a variety of different categories. I've always hated questions like these. I'm afraid I'm incapable of doing anything more than generalizing and naming a few possible choices. Or more than a few.
Jeez, I've just gone and looked at a list of all episodes. I was going to name a few names, but how? Seriously, I could list reasons why every single episode through Dragonshy to Suited For Success is my favorite. Don't believe me?
Dragonshy - The first big epic Mane Six quest episode after the pilot, and a good showing for Fluttershy with some much-needed development for her. And hey, the mane six fought a dragon. They fought a goddamned dragon.
Look Before You Sleep - The complete opposite of the previous episode, amazing in a totally different way. Bottle-episode character interaction focus. Great play between Rarity and Applejack, of course, defining a lot of their characters moving forward. And adorkable Twilight.
Bridle Gossip - Zecora! Silly curses! Racism analogies! The song! Pure television magic.
Swarm of the Century - "We'll just build an exact replica of Ponyville right over there. We have exactly a minute!"
Winter Wrap Up - The song. Also, neat world-building.
Call of the Cutie - I don't care what people say, I like the CMCs. Although I do think Season Two was a bit overly focused on them. Still, this was a great episode, more world-building plus puberty metaphors. I know it probably sounds silly, but Apple Bloom's quest to find herself strikes a bit close to home at times. I joke sometimes that I'm still crusading.
Fall Weather Friends - The Top Gun of MLP.
Suited For Success - Again, the song. But also a brilliant episode. Really turned me around on Rarity, who I am sad to say I wasn't a big fan of at first.
And I only stop there because of Feeling Pinkie Keen, too - it picks up right away again with Sonic Rainboom.
That was right about when I started watching the show, actually. The first episode I ever saw as an actual new episode, not catching up on YouTube, was Over a Barrel. Boy, what a disappointment that was. Possibly the only episode I actively dislike, although I won't ramble on about that.
Who is your favorite character based purely on the canon of the show itself? Would your answer change if you considered the fandom in its entirety (i.e. art, fanfiction, memes, etc)?
Another tough one. I like to joke that all of the mane six are, in fact, "best pony," although if I was really pressed I think I would have to grudgingly and sheepishly name Twilight Sparkle.
She's a really delightful character. There's the feeling that I could relate to her, of course - you could say that about any of the mane six. And everyone says that about characters they like, so I'll spare you the corny comparisons. On her own though, she's got a great mix of traits - she's sarcastic and smart without being jaded and cynical, which is really refreshing. Most of all, she's got all the main character "party leader" kind of stuff mixed with classic nerd character traits - brilliant combo.
Honorable mention goes to Rarity, for being ridiculously fun to write, among thousands of other reasons.
Oh wait, nevermind. Applejack is the best. She doesn't get enough love in the fandom - somebody has to say it.
Speaking of the fandom, I don't think it's had too much of an effect on my feelings for main characters. But the consistency with which some background characters have been defined, entirely in the fandom, is astonishing to me. I don't think I ever would have given Lyra and Bon-Bon a second thought without all the fandom stuff surrounding them, and now I love them, wholeheartedly. Pretty amazing, that.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
At the time, I was working the night-shift forty hours a week, and going to school during the day. Simple enough.
Have you written in other capacities (other fandoms, professionally, etc)? When did you first start writing?
I've been writing creatively since Middle School, at least. Mostly fan works. I've never actually posted anything before Romance Reports, excepting a few short pieces of Final Fantasy fanfiction, sadly enough.
Professionally, I've spent a lot of time writing. I was actually a teacher for a long while, and specifically a writing tutor for a short while. But that was all very dry stuff, some of it very technical and mostly just boring.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I'm big into fencing. Also a big fan of hiking and camping and all that other outdoorsy stuff. I like to think it offsets the obscene amount of video games I play.
I'm also a big movie nerd, way more than I am a literature nerd. It's probably affected my writing style more than a little - I tend to go dialogue heavy, obviously. And Romance Reports was planned in my head to have a very classic cinema three-act structure.
Who is your favorite author (published or fanfiction)? Do you have a favorite story or novel?
Hmmm. This answer is constantly changing. Let's start with published.
At the moment it's Vonnegut - I'd like to name one of his that stands out, but they really are all amazing. I've never read anything that is so accessible and yet so deep at the same time. He's got this easygoing way of writing that just... I don't know. It's like sitting down and chatting with an incredibly smart person who is also cool about it. You know, they play it off. They make you feel like the smart one.
Speaking of cool smart people, close second would be Carl Sagan and his descendant-in-spirit, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Titans of the mind, those two. If you're going non-fiction, it really doesn't get any better.
Lastly, I owe Stephen King. He draws a lot of flak, much of it deserved, but damned if I didn't spend my teenage years reading as much of his work as I could. I know I've cribbed plenty of style from him (italics? As inner thought dialogue?! Genius!) But seriously, when the man sets his mind to it he can string a reader along with the best of them.
That was plenty pretentious, wasn't it? Let's talk fanfiction, then.
I'm not going to name names too much in the pony fandom - I would feel weird gushing about them when they might end up reading this. And I don't want anyone to feel left out - I'm classically bad at contacting people, and I know there are people that I'm a huge fan of that I've never so much as left a comment for.
However! There was a fanfiction author calling himself DK who wrote various works for Final Fantasy. I never contacted him, or knew anything about him, but he was the one who made fourteen-year old me sit up in his chair and think, "Whoa. This is fanfiction, and it's like... really good. This is like reading a book. Holy shit."
Rock on, DK. Wherever you are.
Stephen King believes that every author has an "ideal reader" - the one person who they write for, the one person whose reactions they care about. Do you have one, and if so, who is it?
Hey, the man himself! I was just talking about him. Anyway, my ideal reader, and I know this sounds silly, is the one person out there who gets it.
Let me explain. I often have head canon that is either vastly at odds with what I tend to see in a fandom, or just wholly non-present. I find myself wondering how nobody else would see it that way, especially when it's an interpretation that seems so obvious to me. Not that there's anything wrong with alternative interpretations, but hey, the Internet is full of all sorts of crazy nonsense. There are entire online communities devoted to obscure fetishes, but not one other person thinks (insert weird theory here)? Sometimes I get worried that I'm straying into the crazy zone, where canon is meaningless and AU high-school crossover dramas are the norm. You know, Zutara stuff.
And then I find it - a lone, wonderful piece of art, or something mentioned in a story. Someone else thinks the same thing! Someone else gets it! We're not alone!
It's always a neat moment. I hope people have felt something like that reading my stuff.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers, or writers who are struggling with their own stories?
This is going to sound funny, but bear with me.
Don't force yourself too much. If you're having trouble with a particular scene or you just aren't feeling a particular story at the moment, if you're dragging your feet along, struggling to think up what happens next just so you can connect the goddamned dots already, go do something else. Take your mind off it for a bit. You'll come back in much better shape, and your work will show it.
On the other hand, force yourself to write. If you need to take a break from a story or a part, then write something else. You have plenty of ideas, don't you? All straining to get out there. Write one of those. Keep at it, whatever it is, something, so long as the urge to express yourself is being met somehow.
If you're an aspiring writer, this goes double. Write something, already. I know it's hard to find time, I know it's tough work, but those ideas will stay in your head and gnaw at you forever unless you get them out there.
Oh, and take criticism gracefully. Ignore trolls, of course, but when somebody has a point? Thank them. Thank them and go back for more. When somebody likes your work and is honest enough to tear you down a bit, that's when you've struck gold.
What is your typical writing process? (Do you work through multiple drafts, do you have any prereaders/editors, etc?)
First, I take a few months to think about it. No, seriously, I usually do that. I'd been pondering and planning Romance Reports literally for months before I ever typed a word.
After that, I tend to do the wrong thing and bust it out in one draft. Yes, it's bad. I often get stuck on particular parts and write those a few times - my Google Docs menu is full of little scraps of chapters that never saw the light of the Internet - but mostly I type it in one go, give it a day or two and a few re-reads for sprucing up, and call it good.
I never used to work with editors, but I've been warming up to it lately. I often make small changes after posting, taking advice or making corrections given by commentators, but it isn't until recently that I've gone all-out working with someone else. Which is silly, because I know how much of a difference it makes, from teaching and all that.
But seriously, it is the best. Huge thanks to RBDash47 and kits. Both of them have had a wonderful impact on Romance Reports in its final form.
What inspired you to write Romance Reports?
Well, clearly I'm just some kind of big old pervert.
No, really it was a couple of things. One was the fandom's portrayal of Luna back then. Obviously it's changed a bit since Luna Eclipsed aired, but she was often written as shy, meek, socially inept, angsty and reclusive. Not to bag on anyone - I get it, it's a fine way to go with it, but it never really clicked for me.
I mean, this is the Goddess of the Night we're talking about. What did we know about her back then? She went a little crazy and tried to take over Equestria - neat. Kind of badass, but also bad. Obviously has a little streak of darkness, if not quite evil, and some kind of temper. She went bad because she felt unappreciated, so possibly very proud, if not arrogant. She is symbolically, metaphorically the opposite of Celestia. (They are a yin-yang in the opening of the first episode, as well as the obvious night vs. day, light vs. dark, sun vs. moon stuff.) If Celestia is kind, motherly, wholesome and supportive, then what would that make Luna?
So I came to think of her as, at her best, a playful kind of trickster-goddess, and at her worst, a cunning and dangerous queen of darkness. Throw in her very real regret and guilt, however reluctantly she might admit to it, and I thought there was a very interesting character there to work with.
The other big inspiration was the phenomenon of shipping fanfiction in general. Again, not to bag on anyone, but it often portrays a very juvenile vision of love and relationships. I've always wanted a good shipping story that went beyond the big dramatic declaration of love - what happens six months down the line, when all the stomach butterflies have died? What happens when things get real, and the real work and day-to-day of a romantic relationship rears its ugly, wonderful head? What happens when the protagonist realizes that what they thought was true, true love was just hormones and an adolescent crush?
So it occurred to me that you could make a really neat story out of a character learning all that, the hard way, as many of us do. And then... oh hey, look at that. Twilight Sparkle. Smart but naive, socially inexperienced, eager to learn and study the ways of social relationships. Clearly knows nothing about love and romance. But logically, she's going to end up there at some point, right?
All we need now is a catalyst. Celestia would be far too kind, and things would go rather smoothly. No drama there - would make for a sweet, but pretty boring story. Oh... oh hey, Princess Luna. Oh my. Oh my.
And then Romance Reports happened.
Did you run into any tough spots or challenges when writing Romance Reports?
Honestly - and this might sound weird, too - writing the sex.
That was a huge thing to start with. Not the actual writing of it, which turned out to be disturbingly easy, but rather the decision to do it at all. I was going to just fade to black at first, you know, like some kind of normal person. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to be a huge part of the puzzle. How can you write about love while skipping the most emotionally intimate parts? That is the whole point of the story, isn't it? The weird rush of discovery, the jumble of emotions and reactions that comes with opening up that chapter of one's life. There are few things quite like it, and I eventually decided to just take it head-on. In for a penny, and all that.
I was constantly nervous about writing Luna, as well. I like my head canon for her, but it is just that - head canon. Especially back then, I had very little backing me up, and I was always paranoid that I might be edging into the aforementioned crazy zone. I'm still not entirely sure I didn't.
Aside from all that, nothing came up that you don't find when writing anything. The cool parts that jump into your head fully-formed need to be connected by something, after all, and it's up to you to make those parts interesting as well.
When you set out to write Romance Reports, did you have any specific messages or themes in mind?
I did, if you'll forgive me for getting all soap-boxy.
The first was the difference between puppy-love crush feelings and real, mature love. Obviously if you're reading this you might not care about spoilers too much, but I'll be on the safe side and just say that the story is basically about that. Twilight, like many people, confuses the two, much to her own ruin. It's unfortunate, but I think everyone learns this lesson the hard way.
That fits in with a larger theme of different types of love. There are many, and in my opinion they're all valid. There's nothing wrong with realizing that yes, you love this person, even if you don't want to be with them forever. Or maybe you just want to have sex with them and would never want to be in a committed relationship - while still caring very deeply for them. These things happen. It's non-traditional, and it probably offends some people to think of it that way, but that is how I think of it.
Lastly, dating your friends is usually a bad idea. I'm not trying to come down on the MLP fandom - every fandom does this. You ship the main characters together. It makes sense - those are the most developed characters, the relationships are there, it just comes together. I gleefully participate as well.
In my experience, though - and I'm speaking very generally, there are exceptions - when a group of friends starts dating internally, things go bad pretty quick. Things can go wrong so easily, and the consequences can be far more than simply some lingering awkwardness. "I don't want to ruin our friendship" has become a bit cliché, but it comes from truth.
And besides, why shrink the world of the story when you can expand it? Bringing in other characters adds new dynamics, breaths of fresh air. And it combats that Star Wars prequel feeling - you know, that awful moment when the fictional world you love starts feeling less like a living, breathing world and more like a poorly-imagined story peopled with the same few characters.
What draws you to writing explicit fiction as opposed to more mainstream fare?
Ha, well, I guess it's just sort of my thing now. I didn't think I would end up here, but here we are.
I've really come to enjoy it, honestly. It's fun to explore that side of characters. There's an old writing exercise that requires the participants to take a line of dialogue, one same line, and modify it to fit a range of different character's voices. It can be as simple as you like - a greeting is perhaps the most simple example. Twilight says, "Hey" or "Hi"; Rarity says, "Good afternoon"; Rainbow Dash says "'Sup?"; while Applejack, of course, says, "Howdy." This may seem minor, but it's really key to a lot of writing - being in touch with a character and their voice.
Take that, and extend it all the way to sex. Suddenly you've got a whole world of new stuff to think about. What would a certain character say the next morning, and how would it change depending on their partner? What do they like, or dislike, and why? How would they go about flirting, or being flirted with? What do they think about when they're alone and bored on a Wednesday night and settling in for a solo session? It's fun to think about, especially for a cast as well-rounded and varied as the Mane Six.
For me, writing sex is much the same as writing action - often, the actual physical actions are the least interesting part. The character interactions and motivations mean everything.
Or maybe I am just some kind of crazy pervert. It's not like I would know, right?
Where can readers drop you a line?
I'm on fimfiction.net and PonyFictionArchive.net as SleeplessBrony. I also have a thread on fimchan, and I check that pretty regularly.
Or you can just go ahead and hit me up at SleeplessBrony@gmail.com.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Mostly I'll just go ahead and apologize to anyone I never responded to, or took forever to respond to, or promised I would read their story but still haven't. I've been getting quite a bit of feedback since I really got going writing, and I was pressed for time to begin with. Real life is, as ever, as I'm sure it is for everyone, something that forces its way into being top priority.
I've got to spread thanks around, as well. Thanks to RBDash47 for the interview and a spot in the Vault, thanks to everyone who's ever left a comment, kind or not, thanks to all the people who run these sites and make the show and make this whole crazy thing that's going on possible. I know this sounds sappy, but it's changed my life quite a bit, in ways I never would have expected.
And thanks to everyone who reads, or writes, or just likes the idea of it.
Love and Tolerance.