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KrazyTheFox
Group Admin

Come one, come all, and gather 'round for the announcement of the winners of the fifth AppleDash contest! The long wait is over!

We had a staggering 17 entries this time with a whole lot of first-time entrants, as well as the return of some seasoned veterans. In all, you all wrote 205,267 words (the longest entry being 30,005) over 57 chapters. That's seriously impressive!

The judges all had a very hard time picking out the winners, but we've finally managed to narrow it down to our favorites. If you thought the last contest was close, this was even closer.

So, without further ado, the winners:

KrazyTheFox
Group Admin
KrazyTheFox
Group Admin

In second place:

Titanium Jack by HapHazred

KrazyTheFox
Group Admin

Finally, we have, in first place:



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Spectrum of Gray by Novel-Idea

KrazyTheFox
Group Admin

Congratulations, everyone, on a super successful contest! I'll be contacting the winners shortly to organize prizes. As for everyone else, watch this spot. We'll have some honorable mentions to, um, mention soon (as well as some thoughts/commentary on the winners)!

Tchernobog
Group Admin

I think I was the driving force behind the prompt, this time around. While I love me some fluff and sappy stories, I've thought for a while that AppleDash can have some great fics that are somewhat more serious. And few things are more serious in ship fics than second chances.

Enter these entries, and whooo boy. :pinkiecrazy:

To be honest, there are too many I'd like to claim as honorable mentions. Some made me laugh (you know who you are), some made me wat (you know who you are too :derpyderp1: ) and some made me wish we had more than three sets of prizes. Honestly, I liked every entry, and that doesn't always happen in every contest!

My vote for Honorable Mention however goes to:

The Hanging Hat by Snowybee.

I'll be quite frank, I'm not even sure I can describe why, either. It's just... that desperate struggle for Applejack to understand, that desperate fight for that second chance, as brief as it was... It struck a chord. I don't really have any experience in my life that this reminded me of, but still it struck something. Hence I felt it deserved my honorable mention.

Onto the winners!

General Amnesty

God damn. A lot of times, I dont feel eloquent enough to explain what I'm thinking. Or I don't even know what I'm thinking and thus can't really explain it. General Amnesty, and in fact, all three winners and the honorable mention left me feeling this way.

Discovering the New World Order, and Rainbow's desperate desire to change things, no matter the cost... More than any of the other stories, this kept me at the edge of my seat. Despite the whole theme of the contest, I truly did not know for sure what Rainbow would decide. Well done, Cynewulf.

Titanium Jack

So, HapHazred. When are you going to assault Hasbro's HQ, and hold them at gunpoint to get them to animate this story?
Because I loved this. I really, really loved this. As soon as I finished reading it, despite being one of the first entries to be submitted, I knew this was a ranker. This alternate world that changed itself around TJ... I want to know more. I want to see it. Please, if some artist is reading, make fanart of this!

I know I'm not really saying much about the story , but I don't *have* much to say except that I loved everything about it. The setting, the take on the characters... the second chance might be my only criticism, being not quite what you'd hope for or expect, but I won't go into detail as to not spoil the story for all. Check it our yourself!

Spectrum of Gray

I... I can't really comment on this one. Again, this has to do with experience in my life. I want to say that in some form, I'm lucky enough that I've never encountered the situation this depicts. On the other hand that's mostly because I've never really gotten that far in a relationship in the first place, but that's a different matter.

What I can say is that I am unable to appreciate the story as much as I know I should. It is amazing. And the emotions and feelings at play are so strong, so real, that it annoys me that I can't really empathize with them more. Despite this, the story's strength shone through so much that it got its well deserved first place. With me hoping I never encounter this situation. :raritydespair:


Apologies to everyone who expects more from this commentary. As I said, I don't feel like I can accurately really write out my thoughts as well as I should. But congratulations to the winners, and thanks to all the participants!

Om nom nom, taking up some space for thoughts soon.

3 8 ***108*** WEEKS LATER EDIT:

Goodness me oh my. After entirely too much faffing about, it looks like this old debt has finally come due. Luckily it’s one I’m happy to pay! I had a good bit of my reviews from way back when in 2017 already written up, so I’m going to include what there is, annotated here in the current Year of Our Lord 2019. It’s like the second edition of a well-loved novel, except there was no first edition and nobody cares anymore. Twice the reviews! Double the content! It almost makes up for the two years it took for me to get around to this! (Narrator: It did not.)

I’ll make annotations in green. Now, to hop in our time machine...

Well, that took (E/N: much (E/N: much)) longer than necessary! Sorry to our winning authors for making y’all wait on thoughts, because your stories certainly made me think enough that you deserve some words in return.

I’ll start off like 6170159 did: my honorable mention. While there were more than a few stories that made me laugh or tear up or think, there was only one story that I ranked among my top three that wasn’t represented in our group of victors. And that story was

Next Time by Oroboro.
To kick my thoughts on this story off, I’d like to start by quoting in full my judging notes I took while reading it:

EqG, I think? aj and dash meet as kids, and then lose touch
kids hanging out chapter was nearly perfect. texting was excellent. I'm a lil sad
teens!! gays!!
FUCK SUNSER SHIMMER
lol nvm timeskip
college-aged depression ouch relatable
college kids!!! gays!!!
...well. that got mature quickly
good shit.

I did this for every story, to capture my thoughts in the moment as I had them and to give myself an easy way to remember my favorite (and least-favorite) parts of all the entries.

As you can see, this was a story that made me Feel Things. Oroboro brought me thoroughly along for the ride with AJ and Dash with each of the vignette chapters. I loved the characterizations of kid Dash and AJ, especially Dash’s emotions surrounding the guitar and the feelings she works through when AJ starts to play, but the real highlight of the first chapter for me was the texting section. I’m a sucker for good uses of digital communication in fiction, because I (like many of us here on Fimfiction, I’m sure) spent my formative years in middle school and high school talking to my friends online via text. Oroboro captures AJ and Dash perfectly in this alternate medium, and this excellence of craft extends effortlessly through the sucker punch of Applejack leaving Rainbow waiting for a response to her increasingly distraught texts. That one hurt to read.

The teenage chapter was solid, and Dash’s junkyard van hangout was beautiful. My notes make it obvious, though, what the real high point of the chapter was for me emotionally:

FUCK SUNSER SHIMMER

No, “SUNSER” is not a typo. Well, it was originally, but it’s a typo I have accurately replicated across the change in formats, not one introduced at this later stage in my reviewing process. That is to say, I went from extremely invested in the budding wonderful thing happening between our two girls to commensurately consumed by rage at Fucking Sunset Shimmer, ruiner of lives but Applejack’s, Rainbow Dash’s, and also my life in particular. Now of course we all love Sunset, and Amber Spark has made at least me love Bitchy Pre-Redemption Sunset a great deal, but good lord did Oroboro make me hate her so much in that moment.

(What’s interesting to me, reading this fic again, is that this actually WASN’T the biggest moment of the fic this time around. The description of the sensation Dash experiences when she learns that Applejack’s parents have passed is spot on to the point of discomfort, and I think that was the biggest feeling this story captured for me.)

Then we see “lol nvm timeskip,” and I think the corresponding beginning of the third chapter is probably the weakest moment of the fic for me. I was so ready to see more of Sunset, I wanted a resolution, but instead we of course got another timeskip because that’s the point of this story. And the third chapter is wonderful too, but I felt very inept in that moment because this thing I cared so much about wasn’t important any more.

(I think this is part of what changes this story a lot on the re-read, because when you know from the start how it’s going to go you get attached to different things. The series-of-vignettes idea flows much more smoothly when you’re expecting it, and I think it actually works really well and is almost under-explored in what we see.)

But I shan’t dwell too much on that, because good stories about college kids suddenly seem scarce now that I’m a college kid looking for specifically that, and the last chapter of Next Time is a good story about college kids. Just good honest living. Though I’ll admit that by the time things started getting steamy I had totally forgotten that this was one of our mature entries and was quite surprised when we went from steamy to explicit, which was rather amusing after all was said and done. :twilightblush:

So, there you have it: my honorable mention for this competition. Now time to get into the meat of things, with

General Amnesty by Cynewulf.
I’m not going to quote my judging notes for any other story, because none of the others have notes that work quite as well outside the context of my brain, but suffice it to say that General Amnesty was really good and left me feeling like I had just walked out of some piece of arthouse theater or something similarly thought-provoking.

So it was par for the course for a Cynewulf story, in other words. :raritywink:

But really, what else could be the outcome when an author like Cyne decides that she’s going to write the story “Rainbow Dash is Gavrilo Princip and was gonna start Equestrian World War I, except Applejack stops her with the power of decades-old enduring Adult Love”?

The first feature of General Amnesty that became apparent to me was the odd narrative voice, at least compared to a majority of our entries. This was an AppleDash contest, of course, and Rainbow Dash and Applejack are fairly distinctive voices that people write in fairly distinctive ways most of the time. Cyne’s Dash is much more poetical than the norm, which was disconcerting for me in ways both good and bad. It made it harder to think about her as Rainbow Dash, but at the same time Amnesty is not a story about a pony anything like the Rainbow Dash we know and love, nor is it set in a world anything like the Equestria we know. Dash in Amnesty is older and harder and much more mature, so if anything it’s fitting that she be captured in the way Cyne chose to write her. It was just part of what contributed to the distinct and distinctly unusual pathos of the story for me—like I said, both good and bad.

Then, of course, we have the philosophy. Good stuff about states and government from Malachite (for whom Cyne’s prose works a good bit better for me), but for me the main event is, naturally, the last chapter. Applejack’s argument to Dash about the nature of violence and its effects on the world was excellently crafted, putting big ideas and thoughts into the right words so that Applejack can say it all in an impactful and character-rich way. AJ’s big line is the cherry on top of an excellent slow burn:

“It was never just you and him, just like it weren’t never just you an’ me. There are so many ponies in this world, and other things besides us, and it’s never, ever just a one on one. You get me? You throw that thing, and in a moment you’ll get two or three but tomorrow and tomorrow you’re lookin’ at a whole harvest of dead folks.I’ve been tryin’ to tell you, but you can’t let it go that they hurt you and I get it. I get it. I’m tryin’ to get it. You never had to do this. Ever.

Cyne’s real victory in Amnesty, to me, is wedding an extraordinarily big decision from Rainbow Dash that concerns the entire world to a comparatively tiny one about whether she listens to Applejack or not. The tension of is Rainbow Dash going to start the cycle of violence all over again is basically the same question as is Rainbow Dash going to betray Applejack and end their relationship, and for a political thriller shipfic short story that’s basically everything you could ask for.

(Also, I love the author’s note on the first chapter. There’s not much more for me to say about this one; I think Past Me captured it pretty well. Some of the hardest punches of this story fell slightly softer having felt them before, but it’s still extremely solid overall. And that author’s note made me laugh a second time.)

Anyway, our second-place fic is a similar outlier in tone and characterization, but it also does excellent and intriguing things; that story is, of course,

Titanium Jack by HapHazred.
I’ll be honest: Titanium Jack was not among my top 3. We had many, many excellent entries, and Titanium just didn’t work for me in particular quite as well as some of the others. But that being said, it’s no mystery to me in the slightest why my fellow judges elected it to the winning position it holds. HapHazred has something really special here, something that I’m honestly wishing to see more of in pony fiction: compelling superhero stories that do it right. (Of course, “do it right” here is my own personal standard for what makes superhero stories good, but the point stands.)

The first and most obvious feature of Titanium Jack is the setting: everything’s weird and different, and not in any of the ways that canon can most obviously let us hand-wave. Applejack is a superhero? In Manehattan? Dash lives where? The story starts with framing, but not in the sense that it is being contextualized as something we already understand; rather, HapHazred is putting the story in our face and saying, “I’m about to show you something new. Get it?”

It is this dedication to the new that permeates the first chapter; only natural, given that Titanium Jack rests a great weight on the power of its worldbuilding. This new Applejack must be characterized at the same time, and in the same words, as this new world is characterized. It is this characterization, in my opinion, that is HapHazred’s greatest success. Despite the sort of objectively info-dumpy nature of the conversation between Twilight and Applejack at the halfway point of chapter one, it doesn’t feel like an info-dump, because we learn so much about our ponies at the same time. Intertwining Applejack with the world she inhabits makes introductions go better than smoothly—not only does this approach neatly dodge the potential issues of throwing an entire setting at the reader in the first few thousand words, it even goes the extra mile of building up a sense not just of who Applejack is—important to character-driven fiction—but also of what she is capable of, what her power level is—important to the super hero story.

(I did, in fact, leave off writing right in the middle of this review. So enough annotations, and everything from here on is me now.)

If there are weaknesses in Titanium Jack, they’re found mostly in the plot, for me. There is too much to be done and too few words to do it in. When it manages to do two things at once, it shines. However, I’m not sure it always manages to do two things at once. The fight with Captain Cobalt, while fun, is probably the low point of the fic for me, because I think it’s mostly just a fight. Aside from maybe giving us reason to believe that no, really, Twilight will lose if she fights TJ, there’s a lot in there that distracts from the goal of showing us who TJ and Rainbow are in this world. (It’s still a really cool fight, though, and I do really like Cobalt as a character. Unfortunately I just don’t think the form factor of this story was right to capitalize on his strengths.)

“Bad” fight aside (and I’m probably nitpicking), while TJ is cool and all (and she is very cool), Rainbow Dash is the part of this fic that shines the most for me. She’s so close to being our Rainbow Dash, but then she says something that sounds like it’s coming out of the mouth of one of our other winning RDs in General Amnesty or Spectrum of Gray. Her perspective on the timeline reset is fascinating to me, and even if it is just a teensy bit on the nose, I love her fight with TJ at the end. (Punching the scars, man! Punching the scars!)

Even if one detail or another didn’t work for me, I can’t say that Titanium Jack, as a whole, didn’t. But to my honest surprise, the story that packed the most punch of the second time through was, without a doubt,

Spectrum of Gray by Amber Spark
Good golly, this story.

It kicked my ass the first time around, and it kicked my ass the second time around. I can’t say I found it utterly without flaw—some of the direct references to events from the show were trotted out with a little too much of a wink for my taste, for example—but I don’t have to, because that barely even matters compared to the heights this story reaches in its greatest moments of achievement. Can we just go down the list?

We start with setting up the Twilight/Sunset relationship, which comes across as maybe a touch unnecessary or even self-indulgent (given our author :heart:) for all of five seconds before it becomes clear that this information is extremely relevant. Twilight being single versus being in a new-ish relationship versus having the same kind of relationship experience as Applejack and Rainbow Dash is three completely different stories, which becomes apparent almost immediately in some of the most uncomfortable moments of chapter one as Rainbow attacks Twilight, using her comparative lack of experience as ammunition. I don’t know how this scene plays out in the other two versions of this story, but I don’t need to, because this one is so good.

And that sort of gets at what makes the whole thing so good: it just doesn’t stop. With a single exception, we open every door in sight and peer in at whatever horrible thought or feeling or thing someone has done is inside. Applejack and Rainbow are both absolutely wretched, and we don’t shy away from what people can say and do when they’re feeling wretched. We walk through all the ugly thoughts both ponies have had about themselves and about others, and question every assumption, which in my experience is where all the real damage can happen. “Do they love me or hate me?” is not nearly as frightening a question as “Do they even care?” Even if our characters don’t quite reach that nadir, they’re all very aware of the threat of it, the direction they could be heading.

The one thing the story is never willing to consider that Applejack and Rainbow Dash won’t make it through in the end (even if AJ and RD don’t know it themselves). In a way this story almost works better given the context of the contest; since “they end up together” was one of the rules we know that the ending Amber shows, while not utterly overt, unambiguously depicts a world where Applejack and Rainbow Dash will overcome the ways they’ve drifted apart. The certainty we feel from knowing the context of the story lets us empathize directly with the certainty Granny Smith has from experience, which is an excellent metafictional twist.

And oh, Granny, Granny Smith, Amber you work wonders. She’s almost, like, too powerful? I think maybe if everyone had grandmothers this powerful the world just wouldn’t have most problems. But beyond her excellent wisdom is the style of her chapter, which oozes twang but somehow never drowns in it. The quality of the narration in chapter four is almost impenetrable to me; I’m genuinely not sure what makes it work so well, but work it does. The deft and constant shifts between a more objective narrator and thoughts clearly tinged by Granny’s perspective are almost undetectable, but they thread a consistent rhythm through the whole chapter that leaves us with a very clear picture of Granny’s thoughts without disconnecting us from the rest of the world. Despite the perspective changes in the narration across the chapters, there’s a sense of unity that ties the whole story together.


Finally coming back to these stories after so long has been a great experience, and a great reminder of how much there is here on Fimfic and how much more is, if we play our cards right, yet to come. A big thanks to Krazy for being my partner in crime while we both put off doing our jobs, to Tcherno for never letting the fire die on the AppleDash Discord and nagging us the whole time, to Bats for laughing about it for like two years straight, and of course to our authors, who made such wonderful art for us to judge. To ten more years!

KrazyTheFox
Group Admin

Originally I was very much against the 'Second Chances' prompt. Not because I thought it wouldn't be good, but because I was afraid of exactly what second chances would entail. Those fears were not unfounded, but I'm very happy to say that I was proven right. :rainbowlaugh: This contest produced some of the hardest-hitting fanfics I've ever read and I couldn't be more proud of all of you. Thank you, Tchernobog, for forcing the prompt down my throat despite my objections and thank you all for writing such a plethora of amazing stories.

Without further ado, my comments:

Honorable Mentions:
Self Help by Tyro
AND
A Friendship Problem by Idsertian

These honorable mentions are a little weird for me. I don't like Equestria Girls. I don't like humanized ponies. I begrudgingly decided to allow humanized/EqG entries into this contest after the other judges sold me on the idea that it wasn't fair to exclude them and sometimes there's some really good stuff that comes out of it. I was still skeptical, but went along with the idea anyway.

As it so happens, I was surprised when I found myself liking both of these stories enough to consider them as runners-up in this contest. I was even more surprised when I couldn't choose between the two. While neither was quite strong enough to place, they have more than earned my honorable mention for getting me to step outside my comfort zone and enjoy it. My hat goes off to both of you!


General Amnesty

If the honorable mentions were weird, this one is doubly so. I found the world presented in this story to be almost entirely unpalatable. Is that a bad thing? Certainly not. That I felt so strongly about the world that Applejack and Rainbow Dash found themselves thrust into is a testament to the skill with which this story was written—I truly felt what the characters did. I found myself heavily empathizing with the decisions Rainbow was forced to make and I still don’t even know if she made the right one in the end.


Titanium Jack

Titanium Jack is just a good, old fashioned, bundle of superhero fun with a dollop of fluffy sweetness and magical lore sprinkled on top. I was captivated by the alternate reality timeline in the story and a totally badass Applejack sealed the deal. I don’t have much to say beyond that, other than I want more. So much more.


Spectrum of Gray

It's rare that a story about pastel-colored mini-horses is able to capture such raw emotion as Novel Idea did and distill it down to words on a page in such a way that none of the original meaning is lost. I've read this story twice now: once for the contest judging itself and once for this review; I honestly don't know if my heart could take another reading of it—it's truly a difficult read. Much like Tchernobog, I suppose I'm lucky enough to have never had the opportunity to experience much of the subject matter of this story, but the parts that struck a chord with me struck hard. While the circumstances are not the same for me as they are for everypony in this story, I was able to find something of myself in every pony in it—whether it was something I've felt, something I've done, something I've experienced, or something I've lost. I imagine the same will hold true for most anyone that reads this. That's not to say that it's all sad. It's far from it, in fact. The sheer multitude of (frequently conflicting) emotions present in this story are what make it real and believable.

Writing this has been difficult, as I really don't want to delve into any specifics and spoil anything. Instead of writing more about this, I simply encourage you to pick it up and experience it for yourself—with a box of tissues at the ready.

6170156
Thank you so much! I'm thrilled you all enjoyed it, especially since it was such a hard story to write. I can't wait to read the others! :heart:

I enjoyed doing this, even though I didn’t place. Now to go and work on getting better again.

:pinkiehappy::ajsmug::rainbowdetermined2:

Congrats everyone!

HapHazred
Group Contributor

6170159

the second chance might be my only criticism, being not quite what you'd hope for or expect

That's actually good you think that, because then it turns the story into a very meta self-commentary that auto-loops into itself in a hilariously ironic manner.

Given that the second chance isn't really the big bacon-bringer, the real second chance is for me. : )

Or maybe I just made that up. Either way, super glad you enjoyed it. I actually thought it might be a bit hit and miss.

EDIT: I actually feel super bad about not reading virtually any of the other entries. I kind of got caught up by accidentally sort of starting a PhD which slightly ate up all my energy. I'll try to read them soon, I promise!

KrazyTheFox
Group Admin

6172461
Soon! I really wanted to re-read the winners and my runner up to do some proper commentary on them... then work struck back. :ajsleepy:

I'll make time over the next day or two. I promise!

KrazyTheFox
Group Admin

6179770
I meant days on the moon. Yeah, that's it! Uhmmm.....

I originally had time off (due to having worked a weekend last weekend) that I was planning on using for re-reading. Instead of extra time off, I ended up working this weekend, too. With any luck, I'll be able to dedicate time to doing this tomorrow. :ajsleepy:

KrazyTheFox
Group Admin

I sincerely apologize for the delay in writing up our thoughts on the runners-up and winners of this contest. Journcy and I have finally added our comments to the posts we originally reserved for that purpose—go check them out!

HapHazred
Group Contributor

Reading through the extended comments be like:

Hap writes story with an retardedly liberal and subversive take on the prompt, doesn't even place for one judge, and has three lines of extended commentary from the last one...

Places second anyway.

*Hap rave noises*

HapHazred
Group Contributor

6170171 Aw man, thinking about all the struggles I had when writing TJ brings me back. Despite not really being a successful story and seems to garner questions regarding its worldbuilding and interest in equal measure, it's one of the stories I've written I think about frequently, as to this day I don't really have answers to many of the conflicting interests I had when writing; try to focus on the AppleDash relationship in the TJ timeline, which also informs the relationship of AppleDash in the alpha time, give focus to the worldbuilding, which was important since it set up the stakes for their relationship but also presented a conflict in of itself, remember that Twilight is there too because this was set in the alternate timeline finale and Twiight was kind of a big deal in that, and also somehow fit that in 20K words that could serve as a reasonable entry to a contest and follow the rules and restrictions associated with that, whilst also subverting the prompt because quite frankly I didn't actually like the prompt that much.

I remember replying to a commenter that I was surprised the story placed at all, especially compared to neater, less worldbuild-y reliant stories that would, I had presumed, keep to the spirit of the prompt far closer. I had an entire blog post dedicated to the various changes the story underwent, many of which were done trying to find 'least-worst' options.

It was kind of a mess to be honest, but I was (and am) very glad that the story was thought of fondly enough to place given the amount of changes and effort to making it work I put in.

KrazyTheFox
Group Admin

7076897
Oddly enough, by trying to subvert the prompt, you did exactly what I love about these contests. You found a creative way to make it your own. For me, the prompt is there to be questioned; it's so cool to see how people twist and bend the prompt into something unexpected. I think you followed the prompt to a "T", just in a different way than most. :ajsmug:

Also going to ping 6179770. It wasn't exactly a few days on the moon—more like a few days on Venus—but it is done!

HapHazred
Group Contributor

7077306 I have been known to sometimes play prompts straight, as I did in the EFNW contests I entered, but for a variety of reasons 'Second Chances' was a struggle for me. A lot of my brainstorming was directed towards trying to somehow find ways for each of the characters to make a big-arse mistake, but also still be likeable, but then if they were likeable, then the other one not being understanding had to be made likeable as well, but on top of all that, there had to be a conflict that I could push up to 11...

For whatever reason, I struggled with that one, so I began looking for alternative interpretations. In contests I do take the prompts quite seriously, since following the spirit of the prompts is part of the challenge and ignoring them in favour of a 'better story' isn't really playing the game, but as a british person, deception, alternative interpretation, and doublespeak are part of my genetic makeup and are fair game. So once an alternative interpretation that I felt still kept with the spirit of redemption and the like felt like the way to go.

6170159
Thanks for the honorable mention, even if it's super late.

Next Time is probably one of my favorite things I've written, and one of my least viewed stories as well, so it's very appreciated.

You're not the first person to find the transition of Sunset ruining everything rather jarring, and in retrospect I probably could've handled it differently. I was never really intending to explore Sunset in this fic, was just using it as an excuse of "why they never actually got together during the events of EQG and beyond, until the last chapter".

I've love to write more stories of a similar vein, someday. And once I finish up my last novel length fimfic, my plan is to start writing original LGBT romance novels so we'll see if that ever pans out.

Edit: Fun fact, I went to a "horseback riding camp" when I was younger, where it was pretty much the same thing Rainbow Dash got in this story. Go stay at someone's farm for a week, eat good food and ride horses.

Tchernobog
Group Admin

7078225
I think ya meant to ping 6170171

6170171
First and foremost, thank you for naming me as Amber Spark. It meant the world to me.

It kicked my ass the first time around, and it kicked my ass the second time around.

I know exactly what you mean. All too well, in fact.

We start with setting up the Twilight/Sunset relationship, which comes across as maybe a touch unnecessary or even self-indulgent (given our author :heart:) for all of five seconds before it becomes clear that this information is extremely relevant.

I burst out laughing at this, because yeah, I can definitely see the first reaction. I'm super glad you recognized that it actually was the entire foundation of Twilight's fears in seeing her best friends marriage fall apart. But the most ironic part of this was that I literally flipped a coin to decide if it would be Rarity or Sunset!

Twilight being single versus being in a new-ish relationship versus having the same kind of relationship experience as Applejack and Rainbow Dash is three completely different stories, which becomes apparent almost immediately in some of the most uncomfortable moments of chapter one as Rainbow attacks Twilight, using her comparative lack of experience as ammunition.

While I think my characters had me in a chokehold at this point and I just wrote what they were saying, you'll come across people who often don't understand the complexities of relationships. And that's usually due to a lack of experience, or maybe just different experiences. I've spoken to many of them, then regretted it as they provide simple solutions or simple encouragements to what is a weighty and complex problem. What Rainbow may have needed here (besides a pressure valve and someone to lash out at instead of herself), was simply for someone to sit next to her, hold her tight and tell them "I'm so sorry." Twilight eventually got there, but there were some major bumps on that road.

And that sort of gets at what makes the whole thing so good: it just doesn’t stop. With a single exception, we open every door in sight and peer in at whatever horrible thought or feeling or thing someone has done is inside.

Joking aside, years of time with therapists often force you to see all the options, even the crazy ones. As for the exception... we'll get to that in a moment.

Applejack and Rainbow are both absolutely wretched, and we don’t shy away from what people can say and do when they’re feeling wretched. We walk through all the ugly thoughts both ponies have had about themselves and about others, and question every assumption, which in my experience is where all the real damage can happen.

You're not wrong. Communication is such a flawed thing, and it's easy to see that communication has totally broken down between these two. They're lost and confused, only guessing at what the other things and feels. And in this state of mind, it's never good. At this point, you can kill a relationship in your head that's very much alive, just because you've given up. These are the points where you need a friend more than ever, someone to help beat down those walls you've built... or at least prevent you from doing something stupid.

“Do they love me or hate me?” is not nearly as frightening a question as “Do they even care?” Even if our characters don’t quite reach that nadir, they’re all very aware of the threat of it, the direction they could be heading.

They are on a one-way speedway heading right there.

The one thing the story is never willing to consider that Applejack and Rainbow Dash won’t make it through in the end (even if AJ and RD don’t know it themselves).

This is for two reasons. The first is my view of Equestria. I see it as a world that's better than the one we live in on Earth. To me, separation and potentially divorce are nearly unheard of in Equestria. We're talking about a world where friendship, harmony and love are physical forces as powerful (if not more so) than gravity and thermodynamics. In a world like that, I think even in situations like this, ponies always have the hope, especially for two ponies as stubborn as AJ and Dash, Honesty and Loyalty. I don't think Dash would ever leave. It's not in her nature. And family is everything to AJ. So the idea that they wouldn't make it would be positively alien to them.

The second reason is that this story was an analog to what I was struggling with at the time (and am still struggling with to an extent). I couldn't personally handle that angle, because it would reflect too much on a bad ending not just for AJ and Dash... but for me.

In a way this story almost works better given the context of the contest; since “they end up together” was one of the rules we know that the ending Amber shows, while not utterly overt, unambiguously depicts a world where Applejack and Rainbow Dash will overcome the ways they’ve drifted apart. The certainty we feel from knowing the context of the story lets us empathize directly with the certainty Granny Smith has from experience, which is an excellent metafictional twist.

Honestly, I thought this story might be disqualified because it doesn't strictly show that they "end up together." Yes, they're together at the end of the story (more or less). I'm pretty sure I asked Tchernobog about this, in fact. I didn't want to show it as a sure thing, because in my mind, it wasn't. The concept of the two stars and Granny's perspective is much more about hope than certainty. But as so many of us know, sometimes, hope is all we need to keep going forward. In truth, the more I look at this, the more I realize I wrote it for myself first before anyone else. I needed that hope. And this victory? It strengthened that hope in a way I never expected. So thank you.

And oh, Granny, Granny Smith, Amber you work wonders. She’s almost, like, too powerful? I think maybe if everyone had grandmothers this powerful the world just wouldn’t have most problems.

I had a pretty good example in my own. A very different kind of epic than Granny, but yeah. Granny became the star in a way I never saw coming. And I remember I really wanted to bring it full circle with a desperate and terrified Twilight drinking tea with this almost stupidly calm Granny... to end with her own melancholy and her own memories, those of her son and daughter-in-law through the stars, and her two beloved granddaughters just a moment later.

But beyond her excellent wisdom is the style of her chapter, which oozes twang but somehow never drowns in it. The quality of the narration in chapter four is almost impenetrable to me; I’m genuinely not sure what makes it work so well, but work it does. The deft and constant shifts between a more objective narrator and thoughts clearly tinged by Granny’s perspective are almost undetectable, but they thread a consistent rhythm through the whole chapter that leaves us with a very clear picture of Granny’s thoughts without disconnecting us from the rest of the world.

This was a massive point of contention for me and some of my editors, I think (or pre-readers, I can't remember which), outright hates the country dialect used in dialogue. Still, I made the call to have it for Granny and not AJ. Extrapolating character voice was really important to me here. I really wanted to capture the character's points of view and often depended on reading it back to myself and going "Can I see Tabitha reading this? Ashleigh? Can I hear it in their voice?" I'm so happy that it worked!

Thank you. Even though it's been so long, this story became a watershed moment for me. Not only did I get the honor of winning this contest, but this story is what eventually what got me into the Royal Canterlot Library. A story driven by the very real events and emotions of my life, translated into a variant of the world of MLP, a vision of "Happily Ever After" on a rocky and broken road, with the hint of hope on the horizon and allies on all sides. I can't think of anything better for me to be known for.

...plus I got my little SunLight thing in there. :twilightsmile:

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It's rare that a story about pastel-colored mini-horses is able to capture such raw emotion as Novel Idea did and distill it down to words on a page in such a way that none of the original meaning is lost.

Is it cheating to write these emotions like this because I knew them to well? :twilightoops:

I've read this story twice now: once for the contest judging itself and once for this review; I honestly don't know if my heart could take another reading of it—it's truly a difficult read.

That I can understand all too well. At a certain point in the editing process, I had to ask people just to stop editing because I couldn't handle going through this so much.

While the circumstances are not the same for me as they are for everypony in this story, I was able to find something of myself in every pony in it—whether it was something I've felt, something I've done, something I've experienced, or something I've lost. I imagine the same will hold true for most anyone that reads this.

And in truth, if I had a true "goal" in this story, it was this. I wanted people to feel this moment, to see this experience and maybe, just maybe, gain just a tiny bit of insight or wisdom so they don't need to suffer through the events. That connection is what I craved, and thank you for telling me I succeeded.

That's not to say that it's all sad. It's far from it, in fact. The sheer multitude of (frequently conflicting) emotions present in this story are what make it real and believable.

Yeah. And hard.

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

Writing this has been difficult, as I really don't want to delve into any specifics and spoil anything. Instead of writing more about this, I simply encourage you to pick it up and experience it for yourself—with a box of tissues at the ready.

:twilightsmile: Thank you. I know it's been forever for a lot of us and many of us have had a lot of life happen since all this first went down, the contest, the stories and everything else. But even after all this time, coming back to what I still consider to be one of my greatest triumphs... well, it's something I needed. Something to encourage me to continue forward with a new passion. And as we're about to enter a new year... can't think of a better time. :pinkiehappy:

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