Friday, March 30, 2012

Drakmire's For Those We Left Behind

This is a tight little piece - an economy of words, with all the fat stripped away. It does a wonderful, terrible job of capturing that sense of bewildering loss you find yourself in when someone very close to you passes away.

[Tragedy] • 5,500 words
When her mother passes away unexpectedly, Twilight Sparkle reflects on a parent she neglected in pursuit of her own dreams. With only a little time left before the funeral, she returns home to piece together what she can of a life she barely remembers, hoping to make peace with the memories of a pony she took for granted.

Hit the break for a talk with Drakmire, and links to For Those We Left Behind online. As always, you can grab a copy in your favorite ebook format at the Downloads page.

Where do you live?

The Pacific Northwest.

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

I’m a full-time wireless QA team lead. Anything more specific than that gets very boring and overly complicated.

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

I heard about it through my wife, though I’m fuzzy on the details of where she found out about it. LiveJournal, I’m told. She mentioned how she’d watched a few episodes and how surprisingly entertaining they were, so I got a few links going and then hey, marathon MLP session.

Do you have a favorite episode?

Party of One. It just has a lot going for it--the idea of keeping your friends’ best intentions in mind, the problems that arise when we don’t communicate with one another, Gummy in a tux and top hat, etc.

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)?

The show itself? Twilight. I don’t think that’s too far-fetched, really. She’s given the most screen time in the first season, and so we get to see more facets of her personality than we do of any of the other characters.

Due to the fandom? Rarity. There are a lot of endearing, heartfelt ways to portray generosity, and I think authors and artists alike put that potential to good use.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

Oh, it’s just one of those long, boring tales that no one really wants to hear in its entirety. Honest. I just wanted an original name way back when I was first learning what the Internet was, and I came up with this. It’s what I tend to use everywhere, so there’s probably an embarrassing trail of things just waiting to turn around and bite me one day.

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

When I first read Stephen King’s On Writing, I tried my hand at a horrifically bad... I don’t even know what. It’s 90-some pages of “set it on fire, then set fire to the ashes, then send the ashes into the sun.”

Other than that, no, no other writing.

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

Read. I’m starting in on the last book of the Mistborn trilogy, and then the Discworld series is up next. I know, I know, I’m behind the times. If I get a hankering to destroy my life, I resubscribe to one of a half-dozen MMOs.

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

Tall order on this one, so I’m going to cheat. I don’t think I have a single favorite author as long as I’m allowed to cherry pick amongst their works for the novels I do like. Dune (Frank Herbert), Armor (John Steakley), Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams), Raptor Red (Robert T. Bakker), Dragons of Summer Flame (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman), The Once and Future King (T.H. White)--the list goes on and on, fluctuating up and down on the notoriety scale, but they’ve all been my favorite at one time or another.

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 want to say that I write for myself here, but after giving it a lot of thought, I believe that that would be a dishonest answer. I write for the people who’d enjoy the story. I work on becoming better for myself, but in the process, I hope to dazzle, inspire, entertain--or at the very least, not bore--the reader who enjoys my work, whoever it might be.

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

Only two major ones.

First, read a lot. Not just fanfiction, but well-regarded, published novels. You could do far worse than starting with some of the ones in my list above. Far, far worse.

Second, get a reviewer. Not an editor--don’t let anyone else physically change your writing, but a reviewer to offer another perspective can help avoid a lot of problems before publication. It doesn’t have to be a friend, but it does have to be someone who’s willing to give your work a thrashing if it needs it. They don’t have to be mean about it--my reviewers are all thoughtful and considerate individuals, but if there’s something amiss, I expect them to mark it up and tell me. At the same time, you have to balance their opinions against your own style. Don’t give in just because they’re saying something, but don’t be opposed to change either.

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

Mm. I’ve written so little that I don’t have a typical process yet. I used to follow Stephen King’s suggestion of starting with an idea, then pushing forward with 1K+ words a night, then trimming the finished product back by 10%, but that led me into a sprawling adventure fic that was driving me to the point of burnout.

With For Those We Left Behind, though I had the shape of it in mind for a few days before starting the project, I actually started by rereading Elements of Style, On Writing, How Not to Write a Novel, and then to absorb some skill with dialogue, The Sun Also Rises.

When I finally started typing in-doc, I wrote the very last line before anything else, then wrote the first scene, then did a vague outline of all the important scenes to hit between the two. I started writing full scenes linearly so that the progression would feel organic, but I didn’t hesitate to add scenes if needed.

Once my rough draft was done (as in, everything was written that was going to be written--no missing scenes or transitions), I harassed some folks I’d met through the fandom to go through and highlight anything that came to mind. After I resolved their comments to my satisfaction, I stepped back, took one final pass through it, then published.

What inspired you to write For Those We Left Behind?

My sprawling adventure fic, Lacuna. For all its charms, it had a lot of problems that were driving me insane as I wrote. After it was finished, I wanted to write a story that was almost its complete opposite: something short, honest, and trimmed of as much fat as I could get away with.

The seed idea for For Those We Left Behind is more of an unknown, but I bet at least some part of it came from reading Cold in Gardez’s Naked Singularity and wondering about Twilight’s parents and why we almost never see them in the show.

Did you run into any tough spots or challenges when writing For Those We Left Behind?

Resonance. There was a point where I’d just worked too closely on it to get a clear view of how it looked to someone approaching the story for the first time. I wasn’t sure if anyone would be able to relate to Twilight, if the description was too sparse, if the narrative flow made sense to anyone else. For the majority of the project, I thought that I’d write it as an exercise, get it vetted by my reviewers, then file it away and never publish it.

When you set out to write For Those We Left Behind, did you have any specific messages or themes in mind?

I try not to write with those things at the forefront of my mind, as I worry that doing so will make whatever does emerge feel artificial and tacked on. I really just wanted to tell a straightforward story and do a good job of it. If I were more talented, I’d probably have tried a second pass to help flesh out any underlying messages that did come through on their own, but that’s not something I’m comfortable doing at my level.

Where can readers drop you a line?

FiMFiction is probably the best way, really.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Thoughtful comments, whether about how much one loves or hates a story, are worth more than a hundred upvotes/downvotes or arbitrary star ratings. Please consider taking the time to leave feedback on a story once you’ve read it. I may not respond to every comment, but I can guarantee you that I read them all and give each the consideration it deserves.


  1. G'day Drakemire!

    I found it interesting to read that you said about trimming this piece down. Mostly, this is a reflection of the fact that I have a strong negative reaction to what feels, to me, like 'oversimplified' conversational text. Of course, we both know that's horses for courses in terms of who-likes-what.

    So for me, it's a little too trimmed, although I admit that it never felt so much so as to really detract from the story. More that I finished it with a feel of 'I wish there had been more detail and context to it.' Experience dictates I'm in the minority on that point.

    Celestia's lines threw me a little too. Can't say for sure why, but they just felt a little hollow, so I'm not meaning it as any level of critique, but as per my comments above, just my reaction. Maybe it's because I subconsciously reserve Celestia as being above cultural norms for the most part, and speaking a run-of-the-mill platitude bothers me. Okay, yeah, it's definitely that, but then, that's what makes Celestia such a complete bitch to use in a non-comedy capacity.

    I generally enjoyed it, but there just wasn't enough meat to get my teeth into to sing it's praises. So, I believe 'not my thing' probably sums it up best.

    1. *nod* I didn't expect the overall writing style to be everyone's cup of tea. There were a lot of grey areas when I was cutting descriptions. Particularly, I worked on how much was enough to get the feel of the scene across at a bare minimum. For instance, while I have distinct mental images for what Twilight's house looks like, and the exact lighting and length of that entrance hallway, I felt that as long as the reader knows that it's long enough to be filled with memorable photos over a lifetime then that's enough.

      As far as what Celestia said, I can sort of agree with you there. Overall, I set out to tell a story that bore resemblance to real life events: most of the scenes are taken from various points in my life and how folks acted and reacted, what they said and more importantly, what they didn't say. However, I'm afraid my life is distinctly lacking in immortal demi-god royalty for me to have a good idea of what kinds of advice such a being could offer.

      In truth, I imagine such a creature would be distinctly alien and not much like what Celestia is. I picture a creature in eternal languor, immortality chaining into the knowledge that everything will get done... eventually, sometime, so why do it now? I want to reference Gulliver's Travels or Jorge Luis Borges here, but I don't have either text on hand.

      Or, I could see her in the light of her portrayal in the excellent short story The Centerpiece of My Collection/The Collection of My Centerpiece, in which Celestia handles immortality by really only existing in the now, understanding that tomorrow will come, regardless, and that the past is immutable and not worth obsessing over.

      In this second portrayal (since the first would make Celestia's sympathizing an outright fabrication), I couldn't really think of something that would be useful to Twilight in an immediate, short sip of wisdom, so I settled for essentially what so many people, even those who are more experienced offer: generic advice, trying to soothe away her pain and what worries Twilight has made known.

      Perhaps Celestia doesn't offer more because she's lost her ability to relate to mortals, or her bias with Twilight skews her view on what Twilight needs to hear. It's an interesting thought to consider, but I'm not sure I have anything better that I can offer in place of what's published.

    2. Yeah, that makes sense. I can agree that from that perspective her words fit perfectly.

      I wholly accept that as a devotee to self-awareness and secular enlightenment, I have a some rather specific ideas about how a creature so long-lived would/could cope with it. So yes, the 'living in the now' thing would be a big part of that, but I don't think you need to be immortal to taste the advantages of that! The same could very much be said of Luna, except I find the idea of her character much more interesting because she obviously isn't (or wasn't) managing it. That would be why I wanted to write about her in the first place.

      As for the cutting of scenic descriptions, I barely even noticed that, since it's not the focus of the story.

  2. Mistborn! Loved those books, but then I'm a sucker for action, and Sanderson does it well.

    I'll admit I didn't read your story, because I don't read anything sad, but I was very interested in reading your interview.

    1. Haha, that's fine really--Gardez is the same way, honestly. Lemme dig up his exact quote on the fic here... "I'm not usually a fan of sad stories. After all, they make me feel sad, which is not something I normally look for in my pleasure reading." But then I threatened him with those pictures from the party at the place with the thing, and then hey, he was willing to give the story a shot.

      So... Wanna come to a party? This is totally not a camera I have here that I would be taking incriminating photographs with.

      : )

    2. You realize I'm a twenty year old male, right?

      I mean, If you want to take me to a party, I'm game, but fair warning: I will hit that shit like a thunderstorm gone to war, and I'll take you down with me. Best case scenario is we wake up in a literal doghouse the next morning with no pants on with no memories of the night before. Everyone will laugh at us but they won't tell us what happened.

    3. ...I like where this is going. Let me just go grab my coat.

  3. Great to see this one on here! It sure was a powerful little story. The plot construction was spot on (so it was interesting to hear how you constructed it), and the dialogue was definitely the story's greatest strength (in my opinion). Something about Twilight's behaviour did stick out to me, but yet I still cannot work out for the life of me what it was. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    I have to say, I get what you are saying as far as resonance is concerned. It is the bane of my existence as a writer and something that drives me to tears over pretty much everything I put a metaphorical pen to paper. In that sense, I think having people give honest feedback - both before and after publishing - is one of the greatest possible assets, and it's something I wish happened more often!

    Keep up the great work!

  4. Well, if you do happen to place what was bothering you about Twilight, I'll be very interested to know. Both when I was writing the story, and also after it was published, folks raised various points of concern about this or that. Some I resolved to mutual satisfaction, some I left as-is. My general reasoning was that if everyone's picking out different, small things, but are fine with everything else, then perhaps I'm doing something right. The story and subject matter are highly personal and subject to one's life experiences and expectations, after all.

    That aside, since you mentioned the plot, I figured I'd use that to wedge in a note about something which I spent a full day agonizing over: Shining Armor.

    Dumb spoilers!

    I gave a lot of thought to how I'd handle what little we knew about Shining Armor. We knew that he's Twilight's brother, and that he's marrying Cadence aaaaannnndd... that's it. I came up with a half dozen reasons for why he wasn't in the important scenes, but it was a complete gamble. It ended up being a complete wash--even if I could explain away his absence at the funeral, I think his existence throws too much of a monkey wrench into the rest of the story. Ah well.

    1. Honestly, I am beginning to suspect that it might be subtle differences in headcanon. For example, the Twilight in my head might react a slightly different way to the one here. Of course, the problem with such mature themes is that it's all speculation and nothing is exactly 'right' anyway. I should stress though, that Twilight wasn't OOC or anything. I still believed that it was her speaking the lines - so that wasn't a problem. I think it was just a little headcanon difference - something which you cannot be held responsible for, haha.

      And yes. Shining Armour. What a delightful little canon wrecking ball! Left right and centre stories are having to revaluate their own plots in accordance to this new piece of information that is flying towards us from as far left field as you can get. The pitfalls of loving a show for children, I guess! I think people will understand if you just pretend he doesn't exist, haha. At least until we see him on screen, that is, and then stories afterwards will be left with the fun task of making him work!