Friday, December 9, 2011

Thanqol's The Old Stories

Today we have some worldbuilding, a look into Equestria's deep past, and a reminder that history and myth is rarely truly accurate.

[Slice-of-Life] • 9,200 words
There are stories which define us. Stories that inspire us. And there are stories that damn us.

Hit the break for an interview with Thanqol and links to The Old Stories on your favorite pony sites, and check out the Downloads page for an eBook copy!

Good afternoon, my name is Thanqol and sometimes I’m a jerk.

Where do you live?

Canberra, Australia. I wouldn’t live anywhere else - this is a beautiful town.

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

I am currently studying a combined Arts/Commerce degree at the Australian National University (the arts is to expand my mind and learn how to write bestselling novels, the commerce is so that I’ll have a real job). I also run deliveries for Domino’s Pizza - it’s good work, relaxing, and I never miss a sunset.

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

My first exposure to the thing was on 4chan. At this point in my life I was a massive troll. I was on this perpetual creative downswing, convinced in the back of my head that I was “a writer” despite not having the commitment or insight to actually write anything. I was also incredibly angry, all the time. I’ve got this incredible dark streak, this part of me which just loathes humanity and other people and expects nothing but the worst, all the time. 4chan fed this rage. I was going nowhere, and I kind of knew it.

And then I saw the comic by Jukashi. You know the one; the Celestia/Luna one. And my imagination was captured. I didn’t know who these two horses were but they were interesting. Was tragedy a thing in My Little Pony now?

A few weeks passed, and when I eventually saw a pony thread on 4chan, I clicked it. And it was... unreal. People were being polite to each other. And kind to each other. And supportive of each other. They were still being complete jerks, but they were trying. They were really trying, and that was the most impossible thing.

I lurked pony threads for two or three weeks, just marvelling at this ongoing phenomena of niceness. And then I opened up episode 1. “This is very gay” I said. That sentiment lasted right up until Rainbow Dash appeared on screen. That was the moment I was hooked. I didn’t realise I was hooked as I marathoned the next ten episodes. I didn’t realise until I gave a squeal of delight when they all started singing in Winter Wrap Up, and rewatched the song half a dozen times before I could proceed with the episode. And then I downloaded the song and put it on my mp3 player and that was really the end of the debate.

But it was always about the friendship, for me. The ponies opened the door and gave people the chance to be nice to each other. I wouldn’t be where I am if they didn’t take that chance.

Do you have a favorite episode? [Editor's note: at the time of this interview, the most recent aired episode was The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well.]

Fall Weather Friends. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe because I love autumn, or because I love Rainbow Dash. But I think it’s because of what it means to me in terms of being physical. I’ve always associated being physical with violence and pain, and popular media just seems to back that up. But Fall Weather Friends is about a race. I honestly can’t think of another show or event where a race was that important. It showed me that you don’t need violence to tell a physical story.

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)?

Rainbow Dash. It’s so one sided it’s not even a question. Rainbow Dash gets even better with the inclusion of fanon. It’s always been a question as to who’s second best pony.

In which case, it’s Rarity. I initially hated Rarity until I realised that most of my favourite episodes were Rarity episodes. I feel like she gets the shaft in the fandom in general, which is a pity. Considering total fandom, I think Celestia is second best pony.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

The first book series I really liked, at the age of 12 or so, was the “Trollslayer” series, in which there is a villainous ratman wizard named Grey Seer Thanquol. Thanquol was the most brilliant villain ever. Whenever things were going well he’d start planning out the details on the fifty-foot statue of himself that he was going to build the moment he got home, and as soon as things started going badly he’d instantly start blaming everyone and everything, especially his imaginary enemies who sent him defective minions.

When attempting to use GreySeerThanquol as my handle, I found that I had one character too many. So I nixed the ‘u’ and I’ve been Thanqol ever since.

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

I’ve been writing since 2003, when I entered the world of message board play-by-posts. And I’ve produced a lot of content since then and been writing almost non-stop. PBPs are fantastic practise for learning how to write. I have won one or two prizes for creative writing in academic contexts, and I study Creative Writing at university. I’ve done a handful of full length pieces but nothing I feel particularly happy with.

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

Self improvement! It’s amazing what a determined person can master! I decided randomly one day that I was going to learn how to draw, and decided that I was going to draw a picture every day no matter what. Two hundred days later, the change in skill is astounding and it’s one of my favourite past times. Otherwise, I take long walks through the mountains, run play-by-post games and play very small amounts of video games.

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

My favourite book is Heaven’s Net is Wide, by Lian Hearn. My favourite author is Terry Pratchett (can’t go wrong with faving Pratchett). Other notable favourite books are Eisenhorn and the Trollslayer series, though I do have a big soft spot for Sherlock Holmes. Fate: Stay Night is another highlight of mine.

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?

Huh, I’ve never considered that question before. If I’m being completely honest, with every recent piece of work I’ve asked myself, “Would PhoeKun like this?” But otherwise, I’m mostly writing for and against myself.

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

Do I ever! I’ve worked out this entire elaborate philosophy of writing, and learning to write, and dealing with writer’s block. Here’s the cliff notes:

To learn to write, or to do anything, you must write. This gets said by everyone all the time ever, but when they say “Practise, practise, practise” they’re not pulling your leg. And it’s easy to say “They’re talented and are just being modest”. They are not. They are telling you the truth. Take a look at my art progress over the last 200 days for the ultimate reality of this assertion. It’s possible to get anywhere if you put the hours in.

The second point is that you’re always getting better. If you write something and it’s horrible and you hate it you’ve still learned a lot from the process. Quantity leads inexorably to quality, and you can’t let a setback bring you down.

The third point is learn how to think right. Learn how to think in thought patterns that are alien to your own. Think about alternate takes on the same characters. How they think; when they don’t think. Challenge your basic assumptions and work out what the basic assumptions of others are. For me, writing is all about investigating people’s minds. Exploring other ways of looking at the world is what fascinates me.

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

Wait until I’m tired and then write the entire thing in a single sitting. I’m really good at reflexively responding to things, a habit drilled into me by years of PBPs. Editing is a slower and more languid process, done with the assistance of friends.

What inspired you to write The Old Stories?

Exalted, being a huge mythology buff, and being worried that if I didn’t do it it wouldn’t be done ‘right’.

Did you run into any tough spots or challenges when writing The Old Stories?

Submitting it! I wrote the entire thing, and then was all like “Nah, no one will ever read this” and then sat on it for a month or so. The only reason I submitted it at all was because a friend of mine bullied me into it.

I was kind of floored by the reaction.

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

Oh yes, quite clearly. I love the theme of myth, of seeding (a term I invented; it means where you use certain words or phrases to seed a whole bunch of assumptions in people’s heads which you can then play with), and particularly of six stories which are vaguely unsatisfying until you hear the twist. Something that people could read and enjoy while still sensing that there was something wrong somewhere under the surface.

Where can readers drop you a line? for emails; alternately,

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

School year is over so I promise I’ll start writing again. I’m looking forwards to it!

And thank you so much to everyone who takes the time to read, rate or comment on stories. You’re contributing more than you’ll ever know.

1 comment :

  1. I'm relieved to find, after google led me here, that Thanqol is a serious writer. I've been thinking all week about writing again, and then I found Yours Truly and thought, "Damn it, even fan-fiction is better than what I write!"

    When Thanqol starts publishing novels, how will we know they're by him?