Friday, August 9, 2013

darf's A Single Step

You never really know what little events in your past, maybe even ones you've forgotten, have shaped you into the person you are today.

[Slice of Life] • 5,800 words
Twilight accidentally steps on a snail. This makes her sad. As the years go on, several other things happen.

Hit the break for a chat with darf and a link to A Single Step out on the ponynet. Don't forget to grab your own ebook copy over at the Downloads page!

Where do you live?

an undisclosed location in North America.

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

i work with computers for about eight hours a day. it’s fairly brain-numbing, but it helps me stay logged into Fimfiction 24/7. also, i’m going to school for writing stuff.

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

i got pointed to it by 4chan at some point or another. i watched the whole first season in one go, so i guess you could say i was taken with it the moment i saw it.

Do you have a favorite episode?

“Party of One” is the only real answer to this question, but i like “The Best Night Ever” for all the broken misery it threw our favorite pones into, “Applebuck Season” for the ridiculous gags, and “A Canterlot Wedding” because it gave us changelings. i hate almost everything else about that episode, but changelings alone were worth it.

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)?

i guess since background characters don’t have any personality in the show itself, i’d have to say it’s a tie between Twilight, who’s neurotic and easy to write about (because i’m probably just about as intellectually self-obsessed as she is), and Ponka Pie, because she’s squishy.

fandom/background pones: my love of Lyra is no secret. i would that pony so hard.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

i was writing a greentext in the My Little Pony General thread (MLPG) on /co/ and mashed my hand on the first sound that came to mind for the name field. the rest is history, i guess.

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

i’ve won some local writing stuff and shared poems and other writing to folks, but never been published properly—aiming for that next. i started writing when i was really young, but didn’t start taking it seriously until i got into the show.

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

every time i’m not writing, i feel bad for not writing. so, that, i guess. i enjoy reading when i can find the time, fanfiction or otherwise, and i play a few instruments (poorly).

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

i’m going to pull an Amit and abuse this section because i have too much to say.

my favorite writer in the fandom has been obvious for a long time, and is no secret. i think Appleloosan Psychiatrist is one of the most beautiful souls to ever bless the earth. i love every story AP has written, even the ones that wouldn’t normally tickle my fancy, because i can feel something real underneath all the words. people who have never experienced this feeling will have no idea what i’m talking about, but there’s a quality to AP’s writing that’s more earnest than anything i can think of reading in recent memory. there’s someone behind those words wanting to make them have meaning, and it reminds me so much of myself, of the essence of humanity trying to scream into the darkness and be heard, to give meaning to existence and to themselves and everything else. AP has a romantic sense of literature that’s a breath of fresh air in an increasingly modernist world of prose, and it is my sincere and utmost hope that we’ll one day see AP’s voice given the credit it deserves, moving on to real fiction or just somewhere to express the things we all think but never say. i could write volumes more about this, but as a summary, that will probably do. (oh, and AP’s clop is also spectacularly unf as well.)

i’ve recently stumbled into Fiddlebottoms’ writing and fallen in love with it for much the same reason that i appreciate AP’s stuff. when i read What if Socks Didn’t Work Orally?, i had to come back to it a few times to realize what it was that hooked me so much. the answer is that Fiddlebottoms was digging into an untapped part of the human mind that is there for everyone, and more pronounced in people who appreciate the value of the world. he captured, in a single story, the essence of unanswered questions; of wondering to ourselves what meaning there is in life, and, if we’re the main characters of our own novel, why aren’t things more fantastical? he encapsulated fever-dreams of worth, and the bizarre sensation of waking up every day and staring through a glowing window into a universe of other people wondering exactly the same thing—and all of this on top of a veneer of fear, and failing identity, and never knowing, with only ourselves to judge whether we’re sane or not. this is all in one story, and ALL of his stories do this to an extent—they ask the questions we all have but never express, and i think that’s something wonderful. the fact that he often does this through subject matter that many feel would find unsettling or horrifying is just the icing on the cake. i would like to give him a big hug some day.

Bad Horse is a writer’s writer, and i think i have some obligation to mention him if only for the way he talks about his craft. Mortality Report is a story that still sticks with me, so simple but so meaningful. his other stuff is probably okay too. i mostly just look forward to his blog posts.

horizon has a down-to-earth, straightforward approach to everything he does, and a wonderful way with words as a vessel and tool more than just a spewing of the soul. his poetry is also pretty damn good. i wish he’d write more (and edit my stories faster when i ask him).

Chuckfinley is probably the only person on the ponynet who’s as much of a sexual deviant as i am (Cola_Bubble_Gum might give us both a run for our money though), and he shows it in a pretty damn enjoyable way.

there are oodles more talented people whose work and opinions i appreciate, and would love to sit in a room with just to hear them talk... but at the risk of bloating this section further, i’ll move on to non-pone authors.

my love of James Joyce is well-established. i’m certain that if he came back to life, i’d make it my duty to prostrate myself to him, then fellate him, in that order. Ulysses is a contentious novel, but since the moment i even heard that it existed, i was in love with it, and that hasn’t changed as i’ve read and reread it. i feel that the mix of enigmatic construction and mastery of language Joyce brought to his stories is one that no one will parallel any time soon—and, while i don’t think everyone (or anyone, possibly) should attempt to emulate his later, more incomprehensible work, i think everything he did was a landmark in English literature. i will be buried with my copy of Ulysses (scribbled annotations and all).

i have to put an obligatory Terry Pratchett in here, because he was a huge landmark in my love of reading, and i probably wouldn’t be the author i am today if not for his amazing works. that’s not to say i’ve written anything even remotely like him in forever (Quotidian was probably the closest i’ll ever come), but i still remember rereading stuff from the Discworld series to pick me up when i was down.

Hemingway’s conservation of language and profound exemplification of the fact that subtlety is as sharp as any knife have been a great inspiration to me as i’ve gone on in my writing. one day, i’d like to say as much as he did with so little.

while he’s not a writer i’m greatly emulative of, i’ve loved every single Douglas Coupland novel that i’ve read (with the exception of Microserfs). he has a delightfully uncompromising realism in his writing that makes every story so genuine, and by virtue of doing so drags human emotion out of the most mundane scenarios. he also reminds me how everyone hates the world around them, which is a good constant to keep in mind.

i’d be loathe not to mention Chuck Palahniuk. a lot of his writing has rubbed off on me in a good way (including my pseudo-emulation of his short story collection Haunted [seriously do not click on that link don’t say i didn’t warn you]). i’ve been directly inspired by his use of cyclicism, prose refrains/choruses, and just the dark and miserable humanity he writes in. i also feel he’s not at all at home writing happy things, so we have that in common. i don’t do ’happy’.

also, not sure if i’ll be the first person, but i have to have a section for poets too. given my ongoing emulation of his style, William Carlos Williams is high on my list for his realistic minimalism and ability to make the ugly of everyday life beautiful. Pablo Neruda had a way with words that i will never equal, and has made me weep with single sentences. T.S. Eliot falls into the modernist pantheon with my other favorite authors, and perfectly epitomizes the blend of sincerity and disenfranchisement that i feel is truest to life. Yeats holds a special spot in my heart for embedding the craft of rhyme into my psyche. lastly, Shane Koyczan is an inspiration to me on a daily basis, and is probably responsible for more of my tears than anyone else in existence. his voice is a sobbing hug in audio form, and i would very much like to meet him in person one day to try to help him understand even one one-thousandth of how much he’s touched me.

p.s. everyone read this poem by Spencer Madsen
my heart hurts
every time

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?

Appleloosan Psychiatrist far and away fills this slot. though, i’m not sure AP would believe it, given the lack of feedback i’ve gotten as time has gone on. without the person whose opinion i value so much there to tell me what they think of my writing, i’ve felt kind of lost for a while, but i’ve always written for AP, even if my stories have gone unread. AP has the blend of intellectualism and poetics that i’ve always tried to apply to my writing, and hearing i’ve succeeded is all i look for to believe a story is well put-together.

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

write. read. these are both important, and if you do one but not the other, you’re obviously failing in some pretty critical ways. study what other writers do. learn from it. most importantly, if you find a writer you admire, ask them for guidance. the amount of things you can learn about writing in the span of even a month can be mind-boggling, and my own writing is evidence. i’d love to write a series of blog posts about everything i’ve learned over the last year, but the most important thing is that if you write, read, and share your writing, you will be on the path to improvement. set a schedule. write as much as you can. write every day, if possible. and be open to taking criticism. realize you are not your story, and while your story may be close to you, you can always write a new one, or rewrite the one you have.

be prepared to forget everything you think you know about writing on a monthly basis. be prepared to change your style drastically, to reinvent your voice, to practice emulation and minimalism and digression and description and modernism and post-modernism and romanticism and everything else you can think of. the more you try, the more you will be, so take every bit of information you can and absorb it like a sponge. learn, grow, and be confident that your writing deserves to be read. nothing is more upsetting than the age-old ‘writer’s self-deprecation’ stick, and it’s high time we stopped it. if you don’t think your writing is worth reading, make it worth reading, or at least be honest that you’re trying. when you need inspiration, go to the places that inspire you. and most importantly, don’t give up. i have to remind myself of that sometimes... but here i am, so it must be working, sort of.

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

usually i get an idea, sit down at the computer, and vomit it out as fast as possible. i let it sit for a night, clean up typos the day after, and either publish it, or send it to one of my editors. then i post it. in the case of A Single Step, i wrote it one night after the idea popped into my head, because i always write better when the iron is hot.

occasionally, i will enter an idea i feel deserves more care and attention. i’ll sit down, draft out the plot, do some storyboarding, write it over the course of a week or two, edit it three or four times, send it to editors, rewrite sections, and then publish it. invariably, the stories i write this way do far worse than the ones i spew out in an evening. i’m still not sure why that is.

also, as this seems like the appropriate section to do so, i’d like to thank Jake the Army Guy for his tireless efforts cleaning up my horseporn.

What inspired you to write A Single Step?

i was walking with a then-friend one night after it had rained, and they accidentally stepped on a snail. the crunch it made was horrifying, and after i realized what had happened, i felt a huge weight in my chest. i’d been laughing and joking with them just a second earlier, and all of a sudden i was wondering how i could reconcile forgiving them for something they hadn’t even done on purpose. i felt like someone close to me had died. after a few days, i asked myself why i’d reacted to the event so strongly. a few months later, i was getting home from work and the ground was wet, and the idea just popped into my head: what that snail meant, what all life meant, and how other people might feel about that same meaning. i’d just been reading some short stories and the format kind of matched up in my head. a night of writing later and A Single Step was finished.

Did you run into any tough spots or challenges when writing A Single Step?

only that i might be treading too familiar ground. i also had an urge to insert the thoughts accompanying Twilight’s actions in the text, which i eventually settled on avoiding. also, i’m still not sure the opening scene is long enough based on how much its real-life counterpart impacted me... but maybe that’s in service of the story. stepping on a snail is one moment out of a lifetime, and most people would probably forget it after a little while. Twilight probably did.

When you set out to write A Single Step, did you have any specific messages or themes in mind?

definitely, though i’m not sure any of them came through the way i wanted them to. people seem to have taken the story as a dissertation on immortality (as all stories with alicorn Twilight now seem to be), or the cyclical nature of reality, which would tie it a little tighter to The Last Question than intended; i thanked Asimov for his inspiration and for giving me a way to use the ending to iterate the point of the story—the idea that all life can end or begin with something as simple as a crunch—not for setting the ground for me to ask about the boundaries of time and space.

i meant A Single Step to be more about considering the nature of something than presenting a deliberate message. simply put, it’s about life, and what it means. i didn’t attempt to answer that question throughout; Twilight’s progression throughout the story seems callous to some people, but it’s just natural perspective to me. during Celestia’s passing, in the moment Twilight is most vulnerable, when the pain of death is felt the strongest, she reminds us she’s never forgotten for an instant how much life means. the later parts of the story are exactly what they seem: natural happenstance when life has been weighed against itself for an ongoing eternity.

i hoped that, by presenting life in a variety of scenarios, readers might consider the question of what life is inherently. what does it mean to have something alive one moment, and gone the next? how does death affect us? how much are we responsible for the life around us, and what would we do if we had more agency in that life’s construction? the questions are endless, but mostly i just wanted people to think, the same way i did for hours after that snail was gone. maybe Twilight was still thinking about it at the end of her days, which is why she did what she did? someone pointed out that in the story’s first scene, the snail is gone, and at the end of the story, he’s there again, and that makes me very happy.

Where can readers drop you a line?

they can send me a pm through Fimfic, though i usually take a while to get back to those. alternatively, if anyone would like to talk writing, pones, clop, or life in general, they can send me an email at—or add me on Gchat, which i’m on most of the day. i also have a skype account now, which i’ll give out to amiable questioners.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

i’ve been debating saying something secret if i ever got the chance to grace the hallowed halls of the Pony Fiction Vault, but i think i’ve eventually decided it against it. not to say that saying something revelatory would be a good use of this space... i guess i’ll just ask people to look around.

for everyone else: thanks for reading my stuff. i’m immensely happy i’ve been able to contribute to this community in the ways that i have. i have a million things i could say, an assemblage of a milieu of opinions and thoughts about this fandom and the people in it, good and bad and why we write and what we write about and how much bearing any of it it has on anything... but in the end, i’d probably be better off saving those for a personal space. all i will say on the subject that many can have no doubt is near and dear to my heart is that i think people need to reevaluate their standards. the fact that western civilization has a bubble layered overtop ‘mature’ content is a phenomenon that baffles me to this day. writers as a whole play at the act of human emotion and truth with a vocabulary limited in this regard every day, and as a result, cut out a huge chunk of the human experience. i don’t believe in shame, and i wish people could put aside some of their biases when it comes to the medium we all love, as well as recognizing that all writing, regardless of its intent, is worthwhile if it sets a goal and achieves it.

oh yeah. as an addendum: if one more person accuses me of ’bad grammar’ because of my aversion to the shift key, my head might very well explode. call it an ee cummings emulation if you want, but we all have our peculiarities in our online communication. i abhor capital letters—deal with it.

and don’t capitalize the ‘d’ (unless it’s ‘The D’)






  2. Awww, darf! I didn't know you cared. ;P

    Seriously, though, I'd destroy you both in a pervathon.