Friday, November 11, 2011

Midnight Shadow's The Midnight Run

Our second Vault entry and author highlight is a thought-provoking exploration of what it means to be an earth pony and how their inherent magic affects their world.

[Adventure] • 3,100 words
Twilight is approached by Applejack with a strange request - to join her that night for a run, but all is not as it seems. Why is Applejack so nervous? What could this be about?

Hit the break for an interview with Midnight and links to The Midnight Run on your favorite pony sites, and check out the Downloads page to grab it in your preferred eBook format!

Where do you live?

I live in Finland, near Helsinki.

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 in a large technology company as a lab manager and general IT architect.

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

I forget exactly, but it was probably some reaction images at first. These led me to Know Your Meme which is always a fun site. From there, I saw something so unlike the old MLP that I had to check it out. The first episode was a cliff-hanger, so on I went to episode 2. My Little Sailor Moon made me squee enough to try episode 3, and by the end of episode 4 I was sold.

Do you have a favorite episode? [Editor's note: at the time of this interview, the most recent aired episode was Luna Eclipsed.]

I could pussy out and say “all of them” because even my least favourite episodes I eagerly watch again, but since you’re asking, it’s currently a real toss-up between A Dog and Pony Show, Sonic Rainboom and Episode Zero. The first for season 1, let’s say, and the last in the list for season 2. That’s fair.

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)?

My favourite canon character is Rarity (again, I could easily say “all of them” because they’ve all grown on me). Favourite fanon character... I’m going to cheat and say the ship-pair LyraBon and DerpyTop. Huzzah! The fun has been doubled!

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

I came up with my handle after some frantic plugging away at an MLP name generator. I think it eventually came up “Midnight Moon” which sounded far too feminine, and somepony suggested “Shadow” for the second part. I still get called a filly though.

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

I did, many years ago, write what amounts to a Carebears fanfic. I’m so ashamed. Other than that, I’ve been writing on and off since I was about eight (I still have most of them, they range from ‘atrocious’ to ‘an unholy spawn of evil wrought with the English language, the likes of which must Never See the Light of Day’ and I didn’t get what I would call “almost good enough” until halfway through Elements of Discord.)

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

I read, swim, bike and look after my family.

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

A favourite single story or novel would be hard to lay down, the closest I can come to is Blue Moon Rising on the fantasy front, but really, anything by Iain Banks or Peter Hamilton at the moment in the realm of Science Fiction makes for excellent reading (although Hamilton’s penchant for Deus Ex Machina does tend to let down his endings, Banks is far better at that). My favourite fanfic author? I can hardly decide on one... at the moment I’m enjoying Nightmares Don’t Last Forever by BB and Chatoyance’s CB fics. There are really a lot of fics I have enjoyed.

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?

This is a hard question. I’ve never thought about it beyond writing something that I’m entertained by - an artist is generally far more critical of their own work than others will be, so if I’m happy then I can let others see it... my ideal reader, if I could hazard a guess since I can’t name a specific person, is anybody who can take risque humour, a smattering of soap-boxing and is prepared to indulge themselves in flights of fantasy with a smidgeon of an Aesop mixed in whilst I tell them what I hope is an entertaining story.

Do you think that your work as a pre-reader for Equestria Daily has influenced your own writing or your views of writing in any way?

I think that in being asked to be critical of common writing flaws and inspect others’ writings and pronounce them “worthy”, I have hopefully improved my own work and, in concert with the other pre-readers, have learnt what makes writing better. I’m far more critical now of adhering to the rules which, for better or worse, are accepted as making something fun to read - mostly because whilst they seem arbitrary and in some cases are, they do have import.

My views as to just why you should write, however, have not changed. You should write primarily for yourself. If you set out to write a story just to get it published, then you will not be putting your heart into it. That’s why it hurts when an editor or critic has honest and sometimes harsh criticism for a tale that you cannot help but think of as your baby.

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

If you want to write better, read more. Read things you normally wouldn’t read - Wuthering Heights, Shakespeare, Mills and Boon (though not too much of that, it’s often rather trashy) and even technical papers on things like orbital dynamics. Learn the difference between dry, technical writing and florid prose, and pour that experience into your own work. Pay attention, when you read, to not only what is said but how it is presented. Most of all, keep writing. Be aware that your first stories will suck. Be more aware that the first story you complete will have you bursting at the seams with happiness... and then you’ll come back to it and realize how godawfully dreadful it is (seriously, you should read my older stuff... I cringe. The only thing keeping me from burning it in a van is to keep myself humble). Eventually you’ll drop something down on a page, show it to somepony and they’ll say “Hey, wow, you’re going to write more of this, right? When? When can I have it?”. That’s when you know you’re off to a good start, but beware the pitfalls of the non-discerning hugboxing reader - find honest editors/reviewers and let them at it, and listen to what they say or you won’t go from good to great. There are no authors anywhere in the world that do not get proof-readers sending their stuff back.

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

I get the germ of an idea in my brain - sometimes it’s something somepony says, sometimes it’s something I see, othertimes it’s just... an idea that my ever-insistent muse pokes me hard enough with. I let it percolate a while before I attempt to write about it (take note, and this is something I don’t do but always wish I did: write down even the briefest of sketches about any ideas you think are really great, otherwise you may not remember them when you do come to write about them - dream journals can work wonders, I’m told). When I’m ready to write, I write until I get to a good place to stop (a big section end or a chapter break). If I’ve written enough (i.e. it’s a long multi-chapter story) then I’ll stop writing more and go back and check for first mechanical errors (spelling mistakes, structure, grammar) and then I’ll see if any turns of phrase are awkward or sections need re-writing. Once I’m happy enough to send it to an editor, I’ll mark it from “WIP” to “First Draft”. If I’m lucky with an editor, I’ll get a bunch of comments and fixes and observations back - which I’ll action upon - and then it’s presumably considered “ready to go”. At that point I’ll send it to the other pre-readers if I’m trying to get it published to EqD, or I’ll post it on Fimfiction directly. I try not to publish anything I think needs revising, but the urge has struck a few times (there’re always small mistakes you miss, don’t sweat those).

What inspired you to write The Midnight Run?

The main inspiration which springs to mind is that we easily see how unicorns cast magic and spells, how pegasi fly, but we don’t generally see earth-pony magic. What would earth-pony magic be? Well, in the Running of the Leaves we saw that they really control the earth’s seasons in a far more fundamental way than the pegasi do - so from there, it was a small step for earth ponies to pull the planet through the seasons, running for the sheer joy of it as they move the world from spring to summer, to autumn and finally to winter. The pegasi control the skies, but the earth ponies control the world. I like that idea.

Did you run into any tough spots or challenges when writing The Midnight Run?

I was really worried that I’d just confuse my readers - and some I did, some readers had no idea what I was trying to do and were actively angry that their intelligent, talking cartoon ponies were being depicted as fierce, wild creatures - the sorts of creatures we all are, underneath. I was also torn with just how far to take the nature theme - wild animals don’t see things like life, death and sex the same way as we humans do. I originally had a more ‘adult’ scene or two in the story, but I felt it detracted from the message rather than added, so I removed it. I was worried about how to depict, in a coherent fashion, Twilight’s journey from sentience to atavism and back - I’m not sure it’s perfect, but I’m reasonably happy with it. I think there’s one more story to tell at least, so let’s see.

When you set out to write The Midnight Run, did you have any specific messages or themes in mind?

This was a strong desire to explore, through our favourite colourful pastel ponies, what it means to be alive. That might sound pretentious, but those strange creatures called “humans” are really just big, hairless monkeys (humans are apes, apes are monkeys, yes - really). They’ve got this thin veneer of intelligence over an old mammalian brain that says “hungry, tired, horny”, over an even older lizard brain that says “eat, hump, kill”. The ponies in the show are intelligent, loving and caring - but presumably beneath that exterior they’re wild animals. Stripping away that civilization speaks to something primal in me, so it was a fun way to not only show that elusive earth-pony magic but to play around with the “returning to nature” trope.

Where can readers drop you a line?

I’m generally available on email at, but you can also poke me on, and various IRC chatrooms (leave me a PM, unless my shell goes down, I’ll eventually get to it).

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

This is the first fandom I’ve been really involved in, in this way, and it astounds me how many amazingly creative people we have (both in the industry as well as in the fandom), so keep on being awesome, all of you. I am always grateful for feedback - all artists are - both positive and negative, but as long as it’s constructive. If a reader here wants to give back but doesn’t know how, then just letting your favourite authors and artists know you appreciate them is a great way to start.

Thanks for giving me this chance to plug my writing and I sincerely hope my readers get at least as much fun out of reading my work as I did writing it. For more of my stuff, you can hit up my author tag on EqD or my FIMFiction profile.

1 comment :

  1. IOU: One huge-ish chunk of inspiration.

    Because now I am seriously tempted to go explore this same theme via visual arts. Or at the very least, draw some realistic ponies.

    Very good short story. Really liked how you depicted the whole "back to nature"-bit, makes me wish someone would explore that theme more.

    Made me smile.