Friday, October 11, 2013

RBDash47's Pony Fiction Vault

It's been a wild ride.

[Adventure] • 3,781,500 words
A ponyfic enthusiast attempts to collect the best and most influential fan fiction in the fandom – but runs out of time.

Hit the break for way, way too many words from me, answering my own questions and those posed to me from some of the fandom's readers and authors. If you'd like to keep up with what I get up to from here on out, hop over to FIMFic and follow me!

Where do you live?

I live in a small town in North Carolina with my girlfriend, who goes by Filly Blanks when she pops her head up in the fandom. I'm originally from California; it's a lot different out here, but I like it a lot.

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

I work full-time as a junior software developer and technical writer. I also recently returned to school full-time to get my Bachelor's.

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

I ran across some pony mashup videos – the first two were the Starcraft II trailer and the 300 trailer. This must have been on /b/, but I'm not sure... at the time I very rarely visited /b/, finding myself 'burned out' on the constant content-less ridiculousness there. I found more, and showed them to Filly, and we figured we'd see what the show itself was like. I was hooked after the two-parter pilot.

I very much wish I could pinpoint the day I discovered the show like others can with chatlogs or forum posts or what-have-you, but the best I can do is some reverse-engineering based on episode air dates. When I first discovered FiM, only 23 episodes had aired, so that would be sometime between April 15th and April 22nd of 2011. By the time we'd watched those 23 episodes, the last three had aired, so we watched those too.

It was a bit of a letdown finding the show right as the season ended, getting two weeks or so of solid undiluted pony and then nothing. I rewatched them, of course, but also went online looking for fanfiction – as in previous fandoms, when I ran out of source material, I went to see what fans had created, to continue experiencing the new universe I found myself fascinated by. I was pretty disappointed at what I found, to be honest. I'd been spoiled by fandoms like Harry Potter, where you had dozens or hundreds of fanfiction sites. Back then, FiM didn't have any. The closest thing was Equestria Daily, that linked out to random Google Docs, deviantArt, and FF.net stories. So I set up the Pony Fiction Archive, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Do you have a favorite episode?

I've thought about this for a long time – not in the least because I've asked every author I featured the same question – and I think I can say with confidence that Luna Eclipsed is my favorite episode. In fact I would argue it was the perfect episode, if not for Rarity's absence. It has fun music, excellent humor, several shots of ponies dancing (I love seeing the ponies walking and dancing, something about the fluid movement of the unusual body type fascinates me), everypony in costume, callbacks to the series pilot in the form of Luna herself and Rainbow Dash's costume (which was particularly exciting! What a perfect scary costume for Rainbow), Zecora in an expanded in-town role, and an unusual new character model in the form of Pipsqueak.

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)?

Wouldn't it be funny if it wasn't Rainbow Dash? My handle's based on her, my avatars around the internet all feature her... but no, it's definitely Rainbow Dash. I love her character design, her voice, her attitude. Her cutie mark is badass and also unique in that all the rest of the Mane 6 have multi-piece cutie marks. My answer would not change based on the fandom; I love some of the things fandom's come up with for her, and enjoy writing her in my own fics.

Do make note of an interesting distinction – while she may be my favorite character, I am not much like her, nor do I think we would particularly get along in any way. I myself am most like, and suspect I would most enjoy spending time with, Twilight Sparkle. (Which drives the girlfriend crazy because Twilight's her least favorite character!)

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

I actually wish I'd come up with a better one, but I'm so involved now I don't want to change it, since everyone knows me as RBDash47. (Sure is a pain to introduce myself at cons, though! "Hi, I'm Arr Bee Dash Forty-Seven! Just call me... uh...")

Rainbow Dash is my favorite character, so that's all that is, and 47 is a reference to the other great fandom in my life, Star Trek. I was a Trekkie long, long before anything else.

It was originally supposed to be RBD47, but that handle was already taken on Twitter, so I had to scramble for a different one.

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

I once wrote a fic about Firenze from Harry Potter that I thought was pretty good, but that's long-gone; probably for the best. My Little Pony is the first fandom I've ever really actively participated in, in terms of writing or other activities (like running the Vault and PFA). I read a lot of Pokémon and Harry Potter fanfic back in the day, though.

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

I read a lot, even discounting fanfic – books, online news, online "original content" (fancy name for stuff like /r/AskReddit threads), online articles, webcomics, etc. I have a lot of hobbies and interests and spend a lot of time researching them in various ways. For example, I've recently gotten back into freshwater aquarium-keeping after a 10+ year hiatus, and it's been a lot of fun getting back up to speed on changes and improvements in the industry. The internet is amazing for this – I buy all my live plants online; much cheaper and a much better selection than what I was used to back around 2000.

I watch a lot of Netflix, both TV and movies, and have a pretty respectable BluRay collection going because I'm sort of a low-key movie nut and like rewatching my favorites. So crisp. I also like to play video games; I recently 100%-ed Far Cry 3 on the 360 and need to pick up Blood Dragon to see what everyone's losing their minds over.

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

My favorite published author would probably be Douglas Adams; I've never read anything of his I didn't like. My favorite fanfic author would probably be Cold in Gardez, for his range and ability and generally being a cool person.

Most of my favorite published stories are sci-fi. Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Gould's Jumper (movie? what movie?), Allen's Chronicles of Solace, Allston's Wraith Squadron-focused contributions to the X-Wing series, Stephenson's Snow Crash, Sagan's Contact, Crichton's Jurassic Park (great movie, too!), Priest's The Prestige, and Pratchett's Thief of Time are all books that I'll reread once a year or so. I've found myself alluding to most of them in some way or another while writing PONY Legacy.

My favorite ponyfics are Jetfire's It's a Dangerous Business, Going Out Your Door; AbsoluteAnonymous' The Games We Play; and Horse Voice's The Writing on the Wall. Dangerous Business is a great worldbuilding adventure with excellent character development; The Games We Play is a nail-biting romantic mystery that I literally couldn't put down (I read it in one 12-ish hour sitting); and The Writing on the Wall is a fantastic example of subtle psychological horror. Of course, there are about a hundred more favorites in the Vault.

Outside of ponyfic, I was blown away when I first discovered Ace Sanchez's Pokémon Master like ten years ago. That shit was off the fucking chain compared to the romcom Pokéfics I'd been reading before I ran across it.

The biggest fandom for me in terms of fanfic before bronydom was Harry Potter, and I have three fics that were my all-time favorites from that fandom. And now, since there isn't a Vault for Potterfics, give me some time to dig them up.

Ahem, here we are. First is Lynney's Magic Never Dies. This is what year seven should have been, IMHO. I was thoroughly, thoroughly disappointed in Deathly Hallows, in large part because I'd read so many amazing year seven fanfics like this one beforehand. Paracelsus's Restoring Hope was a very interesting take on a very interesting premise and explored magical portraits a little more. lorien829's Shadow Walks is a super-suspenseful, angsty jump through multiple alternate universes; I'm a sucker for that kind of thing. (Also, H/Hr forever! Epilogue? What epilogue?)

archonix asked, if you were suddenly right back at the start of all this crazy pony stuff, would you do it again? Also, what do you think of donkeys?

All I can think of when I read this question is Patrick Stewart's cut narration from the end of The Nightmare Before Christmas (did I mention I'm kind of a movie nut? I love movie soundtracks too), where Santa asks Jack if he'd do it all over again. (Patrick Stewart, why are you so awesome?) But yes, like Jack, I'd do it all over again. Little changes here and there, perhaps (like a better handle!), but I've had a great time in this fandom and expect I will continue to do so.

Donkeys IRL are fairly cute, and donkeys in My Little Pony are funny because racism!

bookplayer asked, is your personal reading separate from your reading for the Vault? Are there genres or characters that you really gravitate to, or that you don't like that much personally?

That wasn't really a distinction I made while running the Vault. As I've said before, the Vault could really be considered a glorified favorites list. They're all stories I enjoyed in one way or another. Any time I saw a story that looked interesting, I queued it and read it, always in the back of my mind evaluating whether or not I thought it merited an invitation, independently of my own evaluation for whether or not I enjoyed the story.

I will read and enjoy anything as long as it's well-done. I was originally an AppleDash shipper but have come around to TwiDash, so you could say that I'd gravitate in that direction in terms of romance fics, but again, I'll read and enjoy anything that's well-done. It would have never even occurred to me to ship Rarity and Pinkie Pie, but then Donny's Boy came along...

I will say that I've never read a "Random" fic that I've enjoyed. I don't know if it's inherent to the genre, or if I've never read a well-done one, but all of the well-rated ones I've tried are just... dumb. I've got 4chan and Reddit for that kind of thing, you know?

JetstreamGW asked, you mentioned that the most time consuming part of this project was the actual ebook creation. Did you ever consider farming that part out to unpaid helper monkeys? if so, why did you dismiss it?

I did, briefly, but kept coming back to the same problems:

1. It's exacting work, and it would be as much work for me to verify someone else's work being up to my standards as it would be for me to do the work myself.

2. I expect most people aren't aware of this, but I copyedit every* story that goes in the Vault. As I read a story that I think I might include, I keep notes on any errors, inconsistencies, or head-scratchers. Historically, this list has grown with every pass through a story, and generating ebooks results in multiple passes through a story I wouldn't make otherwise (more on that process below). So if I farmed out this work, I'd lose out on a valuable part of the copyediting process. I have a huge backlog of copyedits to work through; I might finally have time to process them now!

* Except Fallout: Equestria. I was under specific orders from kkat to not edit a single character, because it had already gone through its print run and translation into other languages. This grates at the OCD part of me, but there was nothing I could do. I try to not think about it.

Professor Plum asked, what inspired you to start writing?

When I've written ponyfic, it's because I wanted to read what I wrote. As in, the story didn't exist and I wanted to read it, so I had to write it.

I got into MLP at around the same time TRON Legacy had its BluRay/DVD release. I had been enthralled by it in theaters, enjoying it enough to go back multiple times during its theatrical run (tickets are only $5 at my local theater for a matinee). Amazing music, fantastic effects, fascinating ideas that suffered from poor execution writing-wise. So ponies and TRON were in my head at the same time, and I couldn't stop thinking about how badass Dash would look in a lightsuit. When I started fleshing out the ideas for my fic in an outline, no one else had written an MLP/TRON crossover yet. I'm really looking forward to getting back into it.

Old Friends came about because of a discussion I had with Saddlesoap Opera. We were shooting the shi-- er, horseapples on Skype and the conversation came around to the idea of what Granny Smith would say to Death at the end of her long life, if she'd be accepting, etc. I immediately flashed on the main character of Old Friends, and was curious what her reaction to Death would be. I wrote Old Friends to find out.

Dezmo asked, will you remember us?

Of course! But then, I'm not going anywhere.

BR asked, would you approve/sponsor an awards show for the best stories run by a panel from the FIMFic community?

I think that could be pretty cool! I don't know that I could actually sponsor it monetarily, but I'd try to help out however I could.

FearTheShrek asked, have you accepted the glorious Ogrelord Shrek as your lord and savior? Does the ride ever end? Can it end? With all that you know now, if you could relive this experience, would you change anything? With what you know about the fandom now, would you join the ride again? Or would you stay the hell away from anything pony-related?

Well, I can't say that I have. Atheists don't really do much in the way of lords and saviors.

I think all rides end eventually, but then you just get on another ride and keep going. My ride at the Vault is ending, but my ride in the fandom isn't.

I'd change my name, and probably work harder on making the PFA a viable alternative to the other fic sites. But I'd definitely be involved somehow.

Bad Horse asked, why 47?

Because Star Trek! The number 47 appears in many Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager episodes, either in dialogue or on computer screens, etc. It even has a Wikipedia page explaining the backstory. It's the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything... adjusted for inflation.

Present Perfect, soundslikeponies, and Bad Horse asked, what were your criteria for stories included on the Vault? What was the selection process like?

Bad Horse once correctly identified that I take a lot of factors into consideration when selecting a story for the Vault. It's a big balancing act. For the story itself, I liked original, unique, or interesting takes on characters or events and believable characterizations. I looked for a certain literary-ness, a feeling that the story had a timeless quality to it, as classic literature might. Some fics just have the magic, the spark that draws you in and makes you feel as though you're within the world the story is describing. I did consider a story's popularity, sometimes, though popularity alone was certainly no guarantee of an invitation – if I thought a fic was really quite good but not amazing, but everyone else in the fandom was losing their minds over it, well, it probably deserves a spot.

I tried to take into account the author as well: just as a story's popularity or status within the community could influence a selection, so too could an author's. I'd look at which stories of their own an author considered the best, by reading their user pages and blog posts. Sometimes if I was having trouble picking one story from an author's oeuvre, I'd actually contact the author directly and ask for their input. There have been cases where I liked many of an author's stories, but they felt so strongly about a particular work that I included that one, even if it wasn't my personal favorite.

I also tried to end up with a reasonable mix genre-wise; there's roughly equal numbers of Adventure, Shipping, Slice-of-Life, and Tragedy fics in the Vault, and then a smattering of Comedy, Crossover, and Dark. I like to think all the genres aren't perfectly balanced in the Vault because it's harder to write good Comedy, Crossover, and Dark fics, and not because of personal bias on my part in terms of my reading preferences; I'm not sure which is more accurate.

So the selection process was very, mmm, subjective. I would read a story and if it resonated with me, if it fired on many or all of the cylinders mentioned above, I sent an invitation.

Now, none of this applied to the fics I've termed "Classics": The Conversion Bureau, My Little Dashie, Fallout: Equestria, Cupcakes, and Past Sins. These fics were all so wildly off-the-charts insanely popular that they literally broke down the typical art/music/fic boundaries of the fandom, inspiring their own subfandoms and universes. I think it's interesting to note that most of these are fairly poorly written or unimpressive from a technical standpoint – the big exception being Past Sins thanks to its ridiculously thorough rewriting and editing over the years – but the ideas they presented were so captivating it didn't matter. I wanted to make sure these formative, inspirational fics were preserved – especially Cupcakes, since it seems most people have not read the original version with the Apple Bloom ending.

Eakin asked, what's the hardest fic you ever had to decide NOT to include? Are there any that you remember as being so close to good enough but just not quite magical enough?

As I've alluded to here and elsewhere, while running the Vault I maintained a big Google Spreadsheet of stories. Every story I ever considered for the Vault was tracked here. After I'd read a story, it moved to one of three places: the Rejected page, with notes on why I didn't like the story so if I ran across it again I wouldn't waste my time rereading; the Invitation page, where I tracked stories that I'd invited; and the Honorable Mention page, where I tracked stories that had some merits but weren't what I was looking for at the Vault. There are 116 stories in that list.

My original intention in tracking this separate subset of "rejected" fics was to create a page at the Vault called, well, Honorable Mention, to give people a place to go if they'd run through all the Vault fics and were looking for additional curated "favorites," perhaps if their tastes happened to coincide well with mine. I abandoned the idea after talking with an author friend about it who said he'd hate to find his own fic on the list. He'd have a hard time viewing the list as anything but a Not Good Enough list, as a Close But No Cigar list. That really wasn't what I wanted it to be, and I knew that even if some authors saw it the way I intended, others would see it in that negative light, so I scrapped it. To that end, I'm not comfortable relating any specific fics that I felt were almost there.

RazgrizS57 asked, can I ask what you're looking towards in the future?

In terms of pony, I'm looking forward to writing and reading more. I want to finish PONY Legacy, and I have half-baked ideas for a number of other fics as well.

In terms of real life, in the very short term I'm going on a cruise next week that will be a welcome break from real life. In the medium term, I'm looking forward to finishing my degree – I'll be pushing 30 by then, yikes – and in the long term, building a home. Filly and I have been seriously considering the idea of a little homestead, with some dairy goats and vegetable gardens and beehives. Not self-sufficient by any means, but you can do a lot on an acre or two to make yourself less dependent on external forces, and we like the sound of that.

Hoopy McGee asked, could you tell us a bit about the process involved in making a downloadable version? Any tips or tricks for those of us who want to make our own PDF or ePub books?

At some point I'll have to release step-by-step instructions and templates for everyone. At the most basic level: you need a clean, good copy of the story in valid XHTML. Grabbing the HTML copy off FIMFic is a decent starting point, but FIMFic doesn't output standards-compliant HTML. For example, FIMFic's HTML for Old Friends generates 21 errors and 6 warnings at the online W3C Validation tool. (The story page itself generates over 600!) These all need to be cleaned up before you can use the HTML as a source for ePubs and mobis.

I use eCub to generate those, and Word to generate PDFs.

Sypher and Hoopy McGee both asked, was there anyone ever who actually turned down the offer to be added to the Vault? If so, would you be able to tell us what they are as recommendations?

Yes, three times.

The first author sort of declined by omission; unbeknownst to me, he had gotten a lot of negative attention for what I thought was a rather well-done story (I can't find it again; it was posted to Google Docs and EqD, about Twilight ascending to alicornhood, back before it actually happened). I had a hard time tracking him down, finally leaving him a comment on his Google+ page asking him to email me. When he did he was very hesitant about it; I explained I was contacting him to invite him to the Vault, but he never responded. I assume he didn't want the extra attention.

The second author was Jelly; I was impressed by his Six Angry Mares and sent him an invitation. He politely declined, explaining he didn't think it was worthy since it was "just" a crossover.

The third author was Nicknack, of Heart of Gold, Feathers of Steel fame, who said he didn't see any point in it.

anzul asked, who was the hardest person to get a hold of for the interviews?

Jetfire, kkat, and Sgt. Sprinkles were all pretty hard to get ahold of, and took months to either track them down or get a response from them. But I did! Muahahaha.

Benman asked, what's the best part about running the Vault?

Making peoples' day with invitations. This started happening after the Vault had been running for a while, and more and more authors found out it existed and then started secretly hoping for an invitation. It was quickly apparent that I had the power to drastically improve someone's mood with just a brief message.

Some favorite (anonymous) quotes from responses I've received:

"And they said I'd never amount to anything. :O"

"Thank you for asking, by the way! The cockles of my heart are DULY WARMED."

"Ah! Pardon me for a moment. I just need to step outside to take care of some things, and — no, ignore those sounds, the eeeeeeweasels and squeewolves are particularly active during the waning gibbous moon."

Of course, the flip side is, the worst part about running the Vault (especially recently) is knowing that I may have thoroughly disappointed or discouraged authors who have always secretly hoped for an invitation and never received one. To those of you feeling this way: the Vault is closing because I ran out of time to run it, not because I ran out of authors I wanted to feature. It's a reflection on my lack of resources, not your lack of skills. Also, keep in mind that regardless of what the Vault has become, at its core it's really just one guy's favorites list. You shouldn't beat yourself up over it if one guy didn't like your story much, you know?

The second best thing is reading the interviews. I'm the kind of guy who watches behind-the-scenes featurettes on the special-edition DVD/BluRay, so one of the best parts of the weekly process is reading through this week's author's responses before I post it.

An anonymous reader asked, besides My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, do you have any other favorite TV shows? If so, what makes those shows special?

As alluded to above, Star Trek (specifically, The Next Generation) would probably be my all-time favorite TV show. However, I catch a lot of flak from my other nerdy friends about the fact that I've never seen most of the episodes, even with Netflix streaming being a thing. I've read a lot of the Trek novels and ancillary materials, and read descriptions of (almost?) every episode. So it might be more accurate to say that the pre-reboot Star Trek universe is compelling to me.

I've been really enjoying Netflix's original shows – House of Cards and Orange is the New Black were both delicious binge-watching experiences for me, and I can't wait for their respective season twos. I've just started a Breaking Bad rewatch in anticipation of the entirety of season 5 finally airing (I've been waiting and avoiding spoilers so I can watch the whole season in one go – Netflix has really changed how I watch television). Let's see... Parks and Rec might take the cake for second-favorite ever behind ST:TNG, simply because I could rewatch it forever; the writing and characters are so great, and oh em gee I just saw the most recent season finally hit Netflix, brb for days. I like Mad Men for the interesting characters and period-film feel. Archer is just fucking hilarious, and oh so quotable. Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond are both fun and nostalgic for me. Psych and Bones are both enjoyable network fare.

So, I like a lot of TV shows, but can't come up with any that have been so important to me as Star Trek and Friendship is Magic. (I nearly self-destructed with nerd-joy when I saw the Entertainment Weekly preview clip with Discord.)

Another anonymous reader asked, is there any possibility of passing the torch to someone else who may continue to update the site?

None whatsoever.

My fatal flaw is perhaps selfishness: I couldn't stand to see someone else running the project I've poured every free waking moment into for the last two years. It was a labor of love and something very personal to me. (This is another reason I've resisted taking on help over the years, though that was largely because I had no idea how to integrate other people into a process designed from the ground up to target my specific personality, work habits, and style.)

Imagine spending years working on a fic that you devoted your life to, but you didn't have time to write any more. You could either finish it on a high note, try to keep up with your output but have the quality fail, or have a stranger write it for you. I've chosen to end on a high note.

However! The Vault itself shutting down does not mean that the spirit of the Vault will not live on in other projects. A determined group of ponyfic enthusiasts, people you know and respect, has organized the Royal Canterlot Library, to continue bringing weekly author interviews to the masses.

I'd also like to put the spotlight on Amacita, an Equestria Daily prereader who does in-depth interviews with the authors of stories he features at Equestria Daily. If you're in this for the author interviews, you should definitely be following him.

Chaotic Note asked, when do you think you'll be able to come back to the PFV?

I don't think I will.

The circumstances that precipitated closing it won't change for two to three years, and by then I expect I'll have new demands on my time, assuming I even had the desire to start it up again. I'd be faintly surprised if I was still an active member of the fandom then, too, but you never know. A lot depends on how many seasons we get out of Hasbro, I think.

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?

I write for myself. In some cases just to get something out of my head, in others because I want to read something that doesn't exist. If other people enjoy it, well, cool! I will say that I'm always hopeful that Filly will enjoy and approve of something I write, but I'm not writing "for" her; I'm writing for me.

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

In general, don't be afraid to take a break or work on something else if you get stuck. Writing should be fun, not work.

In terms of specifics, I actually wrote a 14-page treatise on what I consider to be the nuts 'n bolts of writing (that's writing English, not writing fanfiction, so it applies to any kind of writing you're doing) as part of the Downloadable Content for the panel I ran at Canterlot Gardens. If you're interested in reading the whole thing (and great writing advice from six wonderful fandom authors – ROBCakeran53, Saddlesoap Opera, SleeplessBrony, Patchwork Poltergeist, Donny's Boy, and HiddenBrony), you can grab a copy over at the Vault's Downloads page; it's at the top, called 'Writing Fanfiction'. However, in its most summed-up, condensed form:

The technical quality of your writing matters. Grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax, all of it exists for a reason – to help you bridge the gap between yourself and your reader, and to ensure nothing is lost in translation. I see no reason to invest my limited time in your story if it doesn't appear that you've invested any time in making it readable. If you have trouble with this, there are so many places for you to get help with it; you have no excuse except laziness.

And read your story out loud to yourself after you've written it. You would be absolutely shocked at the ridiculous errors you'll find – far and away from stuff like whether or not your dialogue flows well, I'm talking about duplicated or completely missing words, malformed verb agreements, punctuation errors, et cetera, that your brain was kind enough to fill in or overlook for you when you skimmed it silently. I always find more errors when I read a story out loud, regardless of how many rounds of editing it's gone through previously.

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

I write my first draft, then go back through it myself for cleanup. Filly is always my first prereader, and then either Saddlesoap Opera or Sleepless Brony or both are usually kind enough to read it over for me as well. Once everyone's had their say, I post it.

What inspired you to start the Pony Fiction Vault?

A couple of things kind of coalesced at the same time, and the Vault came out of their merging.

1. I was thinking one day (possibly around when Google Docs started killing fics with no warning; anyone else remember that?) about a hypothetical scenario: what if something happened to wipe out the fandom completely? The PFA, FIMFic, EqD, et cetera – all the brony sites got knocked offline with no warning. What fics would I wish had been preserved for me to enjoy again later?

2. You'll recall, eons ago, wayyy back... towards the beginning of this interview, I talked about three HP fanfics I liked, and I made an in-text joke about asking you to hold on while I tracked them down. To you, that wait lasted as long as it takes your eyes to flick from the end of one paragraph to the beginning of the next. To me, it was literally hours. I remembered the title of one of them right off, so that one was easy; I remembered a unique-enough character name in one an hour later, enough to do some Googling to track it back down; and I didn't come up with a search string that returned something useful for the last one for another three or four hours. The hilarious (read: sad) part of it is, I went through all of this with these stories before, a few years ago, and when I found the severe technical problems the site they were hosted on was going through, I made a point to save myself backup copies (that I have apparently since lost). I didn't want to go through any of that with my favorite ponyfics.

3. After #1, I had this image in my mind of a big vault door set into a mountainside in the middle of an apocalyptic wasteland. Survivors run across it, unseal it, look inside, and find... stories about candy-colored ponies. Some context would be nice, I thought. Then I thought, since I was going to be contacting each author individually to secure their permission to include their story on the site, I could ask them to do a little interview about themselves and their story too, so when future people ran across the site years from now, they'd have some idea what was going on. I already liked the idea of author interviews thanks to Doctor Dapples, who'd done interviews with Butterscotch Sundae and Coffeebean, and I loved getting that insight into an author's thought process.

4. I was depressed about the PFA performing so poorly. I had been the first out the gate with a Friendship is Magic-only fanfic site, but due to a lack of publicity most people had no idea it even existed. To this day I see comments about "FIMFic being the only ponyfic site out there, isn't that weird?" So I considered the PFA a flop, and was looking to create something more suited to my personal talents, and something that I thought people would actually want to talk about. Something that wouldn't be ignored.

Did you run into any tough spots or challenges while running the Vault?

The hardest part of it all has been time – finding time to filter through thousands of possible candidates, to read the hundreds that looked promising, to contact the authors and build the ebooks for those stories that I wanted to include. That's why I'm done, finally – I'm out of time, in the sense of time being a finite resource in a given day. I just don't have enough, any more.

When you set out, did you have any specific messages or themes in mind?

You can definitely tell this was a writing question, not an administering-a-site question! But it still obtains, in a way.

I didn't like the atmosphere of negativity that surrounded the process of getting a fic featured at Equestria Daily. I didn't like the attitude of the EqD prereaders who ran a panel at BronyCon June 2012. There's a lot of focus on what not to do: don't write this kind of story, don't make these beginner's mistakes, don't waste my time. I saw a lot of hurt from ponyfic authors. This made me mad, and directly informed just about every action I've taken within the ponyfic community:
  • The PFA accepts any fic of any style, length, what-have-you, as long as Friendship is Magic is involved somehow. Site motto is "everypony equal, everypony loved."
  • The panel I ran at Canterlot Gardens focused on what writers should do, not what they shouldn't do.
  • The Vault is a collection of fics I thought were great, with interviews from their authors to help inspire other authors.
I think that too often, too many people in this fandom forget which fandom they're in. I love Friendship is Magic because I love the positivity of it, of everything about it: the cheerful friends, the bright colors, the enthusiastic songs. I actually believe in "love and tolerate," and do my best to actually love and tolerate anyone I meet in the fandom. I'm certainly no paragon of virtue, but I try to be; some people don't even do that. I wish they did.

Where can readers drop you a line?

I can be reached at rbdash47@gmail.com, or via PM at FIMFic.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

So long, and thanks for all the fics.

27 comments :

  1. Wait, so you were at the fanfiction panel at BronyCon '12? Damn, I had no idea. Wish I had known so I could've met you in person. I'll say I definitely shared your dislike for the negative focus of the pre-readers up there -- so much of what they said seemed unnecessarily subjective based on their own tastes. I was probably one of those authors you saw hurt from, haha.

    Gotta say it's mildly discouraging to see the Vault close, but I'm glad you're not giving up on ponyfics in general. I always wanted to see my story have a chance at the Vault, but I've nobody to blame but myself for that one -- you might recall that over a *year* ago now I told you to hold off on reading it for just a *little* longer so I could finish a much-improved revision. IT'S STILL NOT DONE LOL. But it will be, and I look forward to sharing it with you regardless of the status of the vault.

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    1. I was indeed! I was sitting with SleeplessBrony and we were both... unhappy with how it went.

      I remember! It's still in my read-it-later list, because MAYBE SOMEDAY! There are a LOT of authors who have unfinished fics that I've spent the last year hoping to feature. Hopefully the RCL will handle them if/when they ever complete.

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    2. You were? Wow, unreal. I met you and I never even realized it. I think I asked the first question (poorly). It was regarding EqD's judgment on story submissions that had controversial content, asking if they were harder on something just because it had a "frowned upon" concept.

      That was when I was still slaving away on my novel, Repercussions (Horse Voice told me it was on your read later list, once upon a time), and before it made it on EqD.

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  2. I've got a few things to say, most of them unrelated to one another, so I'm just gonna bullet-point this sucker:

    -I'm sad to see you closing up shop--the author interviews were always a weekly treat for me. Or a twice-weekly treat; remember when you used to do two posts a week? Ah, memories.

    -Since you reminded me, good job tracking down Jetfire. I remember resigning myself to the fact that I'd never get to read that interview since he'd left the fandom... but somehow, you did it! That one was special for me, strange as it sounds to say that a fanfic author interview can be "special" to a reader.

    -3.8 million words? Good gravy. If that's where you're at, I'm terrified to even think about how many words I've spilled on reviews and ramblings.

    -"Hi, I'm Arr Bee Dash Forty-Seven! Just call me... uh..." Heh, that is one problem I won't have, at least. If I were to ever go to a con, that is. Hooray planning ahead!

    -Now that you've mentioned it, I'm insanely curious about that "read but rejected, +reasons" list. I agree with your friend that publishing any sort of honorable mention list would probably end with hurt feelings, though. Oh, well.

    -I've always been kind of impressed by how gracious you've been towards FIMFiction.net. I mean, if I was in your place, I'd probably be grumping over how "I was there first!" until my dying day. Then again, I'm a grump by nature. Anyway, I thought it was great how you and Knighty have been cooperative rather than competitive--if you're coming from the HP fandom, I'm sure you know that that's not always how things go in the fan world.

    -I've got to say it one more time: the interviews you've assembled have been a treat to read, and you've helped me find more than a few storied I'd previously overlooked along the way. Thank you for all the work you put into this site, and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what you do next.

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    1. - I'm kind of sad to, too. But then again, it's a relief to have my time be my own again -- especially knowing you guys are there to keep the ponyfic love going.

      - Thanks! I kept haranguing him through his dA until he finally caved. Thrilling to finally get that document in hand; Dangerous Business is one of the fics that made me think about starting the Vault in the first place.

      - I guess for clarity's sake, that's the total word count of the stories contained in the Vault; I have no idea what the posts' word count is (I assume much less).

      - You should go to a con! Some of my fondest memories in the fandom are from BronyCon June '12 and Canterlot Gardens.

      - One of the reasons I'll be keeping the "read but rejected" to myself is, I'm a terrible reviewer. My little notes are... harsh, unfiltered. I've been meaning to delete it outright now, just so it doesn't fall into the wrong hands.

      - I bear absolutely no ill will towards knighty or FIMFic, and made sure that was clear to the users at the PFA. I didn't want any more drama than there already was. I'm content knowing that I was the first online, and really, FIMFic is much more polished. I'm firmly convinced I dodged a bullet; I shudder to think what my free time would be like today if our positions were reversed.

      - Thank you. I've always held a great deal of respect for you and your work, so that means a lot.

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  3. >I ran across some pony mashup videos – the first two were the Starcraft II trailer and the 300 trailer

    Oh my god, you got in here through 300 Ponies as well? So that makes you, Kkat, and Pixelkitties that I've pulled into this pony mess.

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    1. As in, you made that trailer? Thanks! I still have a copy saved somewhere.

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  4. I can't think of any profound comments to make that aren't incredibly self-serving, so I'll just say, thank you for running this site, and good luck in your further endeavors!

    (Also you can call yourself "Arby" for short. You don't have to thank me.)

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    1. That always makes me think of Arby Works, though, otherwise I'd snap it up!

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  5. "who said he didn't see any point in it"

    I don't seem to remember that being my main or only reason for declining your invitation, but if that's how you're going to construe things, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. You don't really work to make it a secret that you dislike me.

    Regardless, I wish you luck on whichever endeavors you move on to after this blog, I only hope you continue to ask authors' permission before rehosting their materials; your lack of gaining that tiny consideration was the only problem I ever had with you and your archive.

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    1. I was surprised and a touch bewildered to read this, since from my perspective it seems the opposite -- that you've made no effort to hide disliking me, in both public and private.

      Regarding the answer to the question, it was the point you led with ("I'm not exactly sure how my story benefits from its inclusion on your blog."), and my answer seemed -- to me -- a pithy but accurate summary, without going into myriad detail of the precise specifics of your declination. I genuinely thought it was an acceptable accounting, and in turn am genuinely sorry if it wasn't.

      I also genuinely don't understand your inability to resist yet another jab about a foolish mistake I made long ago. It was explained to me by you and others very early on in my career in ponyfic that publicly posting a story online did not automatically confer a right to replication, despite the nature of the technology involved; I realized you were right and I was wrong; I immediately altered how the PFA functioned, even going so far as to remove stories from it until I had individually contacted each author and secured their permission. Yet even now, over two years later, you can't resist bringing it up, rubbing it in my face. Hmm.

      Couple that with your disdain for anyone who doesn't take writing as deathly serious as you do... well, I've certainly never held a warm place in my heart for you, as I have with so many others in this community. That being said, I was still surprised to find that you think I dislike you because I always do my level best to present a civil if not outright cheerful face to everyone I interact with as RBDash47; I'm a firm believer in not saying anything if I don't have anything nice to say. Not two hours ago I received a PM from an author I've never spoken with before complimenting me on it.

      And really, the simple fact is I don't dislike you. I don't like you, mind; I'm neutral. I don't know you, and from what little I've seen we have nothing in common philosophically, so I don't feel any particular desire to get to know you, either. But... that's that. I'm not sure what you've read into over the years to determine that I actively dislike you; it was noise masquerading as signal, I assure you.

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    2. I can distinctly remember several times you've thrown out snide remarks when commenting about me; incidentally, those were the only times you ever commented about me. Contrast that with how, once you stopped trying to systematically steal authors' works, I stopped mentioning you entirely—even back then, when I put forth a lot less effort to remain "tactful" in social situations.

      So, while you may have accolades and pride yourself on acting like a civil and cheerful individual, that doesn't really change how you've acted towards me over the past few years.

      I should reiterate that I don't really feel one way or another about you. You're a self-important hypocrite, as evidenced by your own chosen words in the "interview" above, and it seems you're still content to gain fame based on other people's accomplishments (an aggregation blog) than your own (if you think you're well-known for your writing rather than your blogging activities, you are wrong). So you're a leech, and a popular one at that, but since you're not going around rehosting authors' works without their permission anymore, you're a benign leech. Without that, there's no reason for me to comment or communicate with you; the only reason I'm posting here, now, is because you took the first few shots by misconstruing my reason for declining entry.

      If you hold as low an opinion of me as you even admitted just now in your response, saying you're "surprised and bewildered" at my initial response is just another spout of bullshit that makes me read all of your "I don't really dislike you" reasoning with what I feel is an apropos amount of sarcasm and bitterness.

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    3. In earnestness: where was I hypocritical? But even more importantly... what's your deal?

      That sounds flippant or glib, but I'm utterly serious. I don't understand, well... anything about you. I seem to remember you commenting once that you'd never post your stories at the PFA because the PFA allowed low-quality fics... yet you posted your stories to FIMFic. Why? At a higher level, you're an active participant in the fandom of a show based on promoting the magic of friendship, yet you come here and say pretty cruel, insulting things to me. You seem intent on hurting me. Why? Everything you've said indicates to me that you're determined to paint me in the worst possible light, to assume the worst of me in every way... Why? Do you treat everyone you barely know this way, or just me? If it's just me, what did I do to earn this special treatment?

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    4. Fimfic made it worth posting fics on it compared to your vault. While certainly, it helps that Knighty didn't found the site with the intent of rehosting authors' works without their permission, when I got around to having things posted on Fimfic (also—some of that was not my choice), the interface was relatively modern and good-looking, the same which couldn't be said for PFA.

      Long story short: the fandom evolved past Google Docs as a viable manner of distributing work. Fimfic was accommodating. Your site was and is not. No end user is going to care that the HTML is well-structured or whatever if the site looks like something that hosts G 3.5 fics.

      As for "my problem with you", there is none, save for reciprocation. I've given up vitriol for the most part (this comment thread being a notable exception), as it gets in the way of some other goals that I'm working towards. I'm going to ignore your "this is a happy show about happy ponies" line, because that smacks of "love and tolerate", which is a bullshit non-thought philosophy in and of itself. So, simply put, you passively dislike me, make snide comments about me, misconstrue my quotes, and put on an air of faux civility that's so thin it's practically insulting... yet you don't see how I'm annoyed by that?

      Similarly, how is it not hypocritical to start a site whose whole point is to (permissibly) rehost people's work and reduce their creative control of their own works, yet when the time comes to ask, "Will you allow this site to be continued by others", your answer is "no, I care too much about the things I make to give up control of it to others"? If it's not hypocritical, then you're certainly asking things from other people that you're not willing to give up yourself.

      But either way, this conversation is going nowhere. You dislike me, and clearly, there is nothing I can reasonably do to fix that. You misconstrued a quote from me, but after having said my piece, I'm over that fresh round of aggravation. At this point, I'm irritated at how you're holding me to a standard of how I used to act, which is ironically making it easy for me act in an approximation of that same manner.

      At this point, the best thing for me is to leave you to your own devices. I said it before and I still mean it—I hold no grudge against you, personally. "Professionally", I dislike some of your ethics and actions, sure, but those don't really affect me once I get out of proximity with you. Since I work more on the "creative" side of things and you work more on the "publishing" side of things, there's very little need for our two paths to cross. As long as you're doing your thing, away from me, and not taking pockshots at me, then I wish you the best and most success possible on those endeavors.

      Cheers.

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    5. I agree we're not getting anywhere. I do want to say that while I may have misconstrued your words, it feels as though you have misconstrued my entire personality. You've read "faux" sincerity, sarcasm, bitterness, even greedy fame-seeking into words and actions where no such tones and motivations exist. Honestly, I'm sorry for any confusion and misunderstanding on my part.

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  6. Thank you for all of your hard work on this. I haven't really followed you here, but I always take a look at the interviews when they are posted at FimFiction and have found them very interesting.

    "So long, and thanks for all the fics."

    Fantastic way to go out.

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    1. It has absolutely been my pleasure. And I've been waiting to use that line for like a year!

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  7. Welp. That's that.

    I'd like to say I agree about Amacita. He went above and beyond with comments on one of my fics. I think I grew more from that single e-mail than from anything else I'd ever read or done.

    Don't be a stranger now. :)

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    1. It kills me he doesn't have more followers.

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  8. Wow, just wow. I am rather upset about this, not so much becaus it's happening, but because I never knew it was here. I was a member of PFA from the very beginning, and got most of my support and lessons from the friendly and helpful community there. I still feel very sad that I drifted away after i stopped getting any responses to my posts, as people left, or whatever was the case. It was a very hard decision, but after several months and a dozen unanswered posts, I felt abandoned and wandered elsewhere. I will always remember the love, help and sense of community i found there at the beginning of my writing career when I needed the feedback more than anything.

    And now I find out there was another site like it, by the same creator, and i never had the chance to know about it. This makes me sad. Like finding out they had a new Disney World right down the street from me and I only found out when it closed. I still miss you guys so much, and lament how lonely it feels compared to those early days. And then this. It breaks my heart.

    So what will become of PFA? I was more than a little depressed to log in after a few months and see my new message counter still at 0, but I still miss you guys.

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    1. Yeah... the PFA faded fast when FIMFiction came on the scene. It was a fun place at the beginning, though. I'm sorry it couldn't keep up.

      I deliberately didn't mention the Vault at the PFA because I wanted to see if the Vault could succeed on its own terms, without the 'cheat' of getting a traffic boost from the PFA.

      The PFA will stay up and active for as long as anyone has a use for it. It costs me next to nothing to host. I'd love to spruce it up, but I'd need a webdev and don't know anyone. =/

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  9. Well, I sure am late to the party, aren't I? It's fine. I was never one for parties anyway.

    First off, I'd like to sincerely thank you, RB, for all the work you've done over the past couple of years. I thoroughly enjoyed getting glimpses at the minds of other authors, and you've certainly been responsible for the growth of my reading list on more than one occasion—something I gladly welcome.

    Speaking of adding things to the reading pile, I had no idea Amacita did those interviews, so I'll be giving those a look—I already saw one by The Descendant that caught my eye. And then there's the newly minted RCL—let me just bookmark that for posterity—which I have no doubt will make for a fine successor to the Vault (I can see at least a couple of names I easily recognize between its heads).

    I'm glad you're not leaving entirely, so I'm sure I'll see you around the more populated corners of the fandom.

    Enjoy your newly acquired free time, RB. You've definitely earned it.

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    1. As an introvert who plays an extrovert on TV, parties are exhausting.

      I'm glad to be able to direct you to new interviews! They are fun to read.

      Thank you for your kind words, and for taking the time to do an interview with me... boy, just about a year ago. I appreciate it.

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  10. A small town in North Carolina? Does it happen to be Cary, or anything near Raleigh?

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    1. Ha, no! Sorry. I'm out towards Asheville.

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  11. I have a question. Do you plan on making a volume 2 of the interview series in order to finish up?

    Thank you for the vault!

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    1. Absolutely; I'm sorry I haven't yet, but a complete collection of interviews in ebook format are coming.

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