Friday, July 20, 2012

Josh Meihaus's My Maker

Stories like this are the reason fan fiction exists, in my opinion. A "character" who got, what, five minutes of screentime (and is in fact an inanimate object) is imbued with a personality, motivation, backstory... it's pretty impressive, the depths fanfic authors plumb.

[Tragedy] • 7,800 words
Everyone has an imaginary friend growing up: a stuffed animal, a companion to guard us when the monsters come knocking and the like. We know them and love them; they mean everything to us. But have we ever stopped to ask what we mean to them?

Hit the break for an interview with Josh, and links to My Maker out on the ponynet. Don't forget you very own ebook copy, available over at the Downloads page!


Where do you live?

I come from the quaint little suburb of Escondido, CA, which is basically San Diego's hat. I live a stone's throw from the big city, but without any of the excitement.

What kind of work do you do? (i.e. are you a student, do you have a career/day job, etc)

At the moment, I'm attending Palomar College in San Marcos. On the side, I work two jobs: I'm a waiter at a cafe here in Escondido, as well as a sales associate at Hollister Co.

How did you discover My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic? When did you realize you were a fan of the show?

Like many bronies, my first exposure to FiM was through Memebase. Around March of last year, I couldn't go a day without seeing a pony photo on the blog, so I looked it up on Wikipedia to see what all the fuss was about.

Looking back, it would be appropriate to use the phrase, "Instant hater, just add Wikipedia." After looking at the series premiere's synopsis and some of the character descriptions, I couldn't help but laugh; I just didn't understand how men could legitimately enjoy something meant for girls.

It took some growing up on my part before I gave the show a shot. After some rather trying times in my life, I became completely different person. When I stumbled upon an Applejack meme last November, I decided I had nothing to lose, so I watched the first episode.

You all know how the story goes: when I judged the show objectively, I realized how blind I had been. I was floored by the quality of the character development, voice acting and writing. After staying up until 5:30 that morning, I watched the entire series in five days. A week after that, I had read through the entirety of both the main page and voting pages of My Little Brony, and well... the rest is history.

Do you have a favorite episode?

I've long believed that for someone to truly become a brony, they need to connect emotionally with one of the characters, so I suppose my favorite is the episode in which that happened. For me, it was Twilight Sparkle in Winter Wrap Up. Since I was homeschooled my entire life, I could definitely relate to the feeling of being alien and trying to find your place in a new environment. The brilliant Winter Wrap Up song also made it an easy pick.

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)?

Also a tough question. Based solely on canon, it would have to be Fluttershy despite our personalities being polar opposites. I suppose I connect with her for the same reason I connect with other introverts: I like people who are quiet and deliberate, yet forceful when necessary. I've also found that introverts tend to be intelligent and insightful people on account of their having so much personal time.

Taking fan-made works into account, though, Pinkie Pie is a close second. After writing a sadfic featuring Pinkie and reading her backstory in the Pony Psychology series, it began to dawn on me that her upbeat persona is just a ruse, spawned from great hardship and insecurity; this really helped me sympathize with her situation and view her personality in a different light.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

Actually, Josh Meihaus is my real name. The reason I chose to use my real name is a story that goes back to taking pride in what I believe. Since the beginning of my life, I've always been a "black sheep." I seem to go against the grain without even trying, and becoming a brony was just the icing on the cake.

When I started being more active in the community, I decided that putting my real name on my work would show that I wasn't afraid of being public about my interest in the series. That's not to say that authors who use pseudonyms are any less proud of being bronies, of course. It's just a personal preference of mine. I also viewed it as a way to illustrate my whimsical and carefree attitude toward using personal information on the internet.

Have you written in other capacities (other fandoms, professionally, etc)? When did you first start writing?

I've been a writer since I was about eight years old. After reading T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, I spent three years working with different genres and styles of poetry. It wasn't until after my twelfth birthday that I started experimenting with prose, though.

By the time I was fifteen, I had written dozens of short stories, most of which are now in the oblivion of lost literature (thank god). Between that time and the period in which I discovered Friendship is Magic, I had started writing several novels, which I'm actually still working on.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

I've done speech and debate for the last five years, and community theater for the last two. When I'm not debating or acting, however, I love blasting my fellow Halo: Reach players on Xbox Live and learning to play any instrument I can get my greedy mitts on.

Who is your favorite author (published or fanfiction)? Do you have a favorite story or novel?

Michael Crichton's Sphere is one of my favorite novels, but my favorite author overall is Dan Brown. I was particularly impressed with his Digital Fortress on account of its unique subject matter. The concept of cryptography as the focal point of a story piqued my interest, and the novel as a whole was superbly written.

And while Stephen King isn't my favorite author, I loved his Misery. The simplistic plot combined with superb character development made for a very interesting read. I also feel like King's style in this novel and my own writing style are very similar.

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?

Interesting question. I don't think I have an "ideal reader," per se, but I think that people who are able to pick up on subtleties will get more out of my writing. My stories always have a "surface message," if you want to call it that. But if you're observant enough to find them, I almost always try to insert easter eggs in my work.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers, or writers who are struggling with their own stories?

I certainly do! First, you can't just write your characters; you need to become them. For example, when writing a particularly emotional section, rather than simply trying to understand the scene as an outside observer, you need to turn your empathy up to eleven. Be the character: be right in that room and experience everything they experience. Become schizophrenic and develop multiple personalities. When writing, be any person (or pony) but yourself. Be the story.

Second, throw out bad ideas. Most of my ideas are so generic, convoluted or outright absurd that I scrap them before I even sit down to write out plot details; only about ten percent of them actually get written. This seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes it's difficult to tell when an idea isn't ideal. If you can't decide whether to keep a concept, ask yourself these questions:

1) Is it unique? If so, do I possess the writing skill to make the story all it can be?

2) If it's not unique (i.e., Human in Equestria), am I bringing enough new material to the table for readers to overlook the cliché plot? For example, Andrew Joshua Talon's Hands is a self-insert Human in Equestria story, but it was well written and contained enough unique elements that the cliche could be overlooked.

3) Once you have a good concept for a story, just write it. When I was learning to draw, a very wise artist told me that you can't fall in love with one part of the artwork. The same applies to writing. What I mean is, don't keep going back and editing the same section over and over without producing new material. If you stop writing when you get to chapter three of Average Joe's Adventures in Equestria because you think it's sub-par, you'll never finish the story. Remember, editing can always be done later, but if you never finish the story because you're afraid it's not perfect, there won't be anything to edit.

What is your typical writing process? (Do you work through multiple drafts, do you have any prereaders/editors, etc?)

Usually, I'll be doing something completely unrelated to ponies or writing. An object will catch my eye, or I'll start thinking about a particular phrase. Before I know it, my brain is on overdrive filling in details and plot devices. I wait a few minutes, and voila! A plot has solidified.

Once I've got a plot, I just sit down and do it. Consistent with the advice I gave above, I'll almost always write a first draft from start to finish without stopping. This usually works out one of two ways: either the draft is so utterly terrible that I toss it without a second glance, or it's shockingly close to what I consider my publishing quality. As a rule, if I scrap and rewrite a draft three times in a row, I put it down and work on another story for a while.

Finally, when I have the draft in hand, I'll give my friend Jordan a jingle and have him tear it to shreds for me. Even though he's never actually written in the FiM community, his insights are quite accurate. In fact, he was the only editor to ever touch My Maker.

What inspired you to write My Maker?

Like most of the stories I've written, My Maker started with the title, which came to me during one of my many periods of energy-drink induced semi-consciousness. After hearing the phrase "meet my maker," I remembered my old stuffed animal, Creamy the Tiger. Looking back on all the adventures we had when I was younger, I started to wonder what it would be like to be in his position: being entirely dependent on my imagination to exist, and fading into nothingness when I was gone.

The story's full plot came crashing together when I remembered Twilight's "come to life spell" from Winter Wrap Up. Realizing that Smarty Pants had never been utilized as a character and the fact that Twilight might unintentionally bring her to life, My Maker was born.

Did you run into any tough spots or challenges when writing My Maker?

Characterization was definitely the biggest issue. I had a very unique, very exciting, and also very hazardous opportunity when I set out to write this story. Since no one had ever written from Smarty Pants' perspective, I basically had free reign over her character. But for that same reason, developing Smarty Pants was like creating an OC. I had to fulfill a reader's expectations of what would come from a doll while working in the characteristics I needed to progress the story. The most obvious difficulty is that Smarty Pants' only purpose in life was to be Twilight's friend; I had to find a way to express the magnitude of Smarty Pants losing her reason for existing.

Twilight's character was also tricky. Since I displayed about fifteen years of her life in only a few thousand words, each of the four sections needed to be perfectly paced. Each new "stage" of her life had to be consistent with the amount of time that had passed, but also needed to leave enough room for the next section. Basically, I had Twilight's filly personality and her adult personality, and I had to fill in the blanks in a logical way.

When you set out to write My Maker, did you have any specific messages or themes in mind?

I think the first message is also the most important: age is just a number. I can't tell you how many times I've been told that because I'm young, my beliefs or feelings mean nothing.

Just like Twilight didn't need to abandon Smarty Pants in order to grow up, age shouldn't determine what we're allowed to do, or who we're allowed to be. And if anyone disagrees with me, they're probably just a stupid kid.

Wait...

The secondary message is a little more vague, and it was all about moving on. The final section was meant to illustrate that life is all about accepting the past. We can look back fondly on our memories and hold them dear, but at some point, we need to open up and give the "new" a chance to make us happy as well.

Where can readers drop you a line?

You can always reach me at Joshuameihaus@gmail.com, or by sending me a private message on FimFiction.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Canvas is best OC, and Crackle is best dragon.

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