Friday, April 6, 2012

AbsoluteAnonymous's The Games We Play

This week's story is more than double the length of any previous story featured in the Vault, as long or longer than many novels you'd find in a bookstore - the PDF came out to 379 pages. I read it in a day, in more or less a single sitting. I'm a fairly fast reader, that still says something: it's the sort of story you don't want to put down. A well-crafted romantic mystery - you don't see many of those.

[Shipping] • 138,200 words
There's been another sighting of the mysterious Mare Do Well...but this time, all of Rainbow Dash's friends plead ignorance, insisting that they've put aside their costumes for good. Rainbow Dash is determined to uncover the masked mare's true identity before she's humiliated yet again, but this time around, the vigilante seems especially interested in her as well. Will Rainbow Dash be able to solve the mystery before the culprit takes the hoax too far? Or is she in danger of losing not only her mind, but her heart?

Hit the break for just a few more words from AbsoluteAnonymous, and links to The Games We Play on every ponyfic site out there. That PDF I mentioned, along with a few other ebook formats, is waiting for you over at the Downloads page!

Where do you live?

Northern Manitoba. I don't want to get any more specific than that, or else my legions of fans will start appearing on my doorstep one-by-one. Then I'll have to find a way to politely turn down all of their offers of marriage without offending them and causing them to untrack my stories.

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

I'm a high school student, but I also work part-time at a convenience store called Shoppers Drug Mart. I specified it as a convenience store because I don't know if the Shoppers chain extends beyond Canada and I don't want people to get the impression that I deal drugs for a living or something.

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

Last summer, I had a supervisor at work who was obsessed with the show and talked about it all the time. She’d do all these little things like talk excessively about her favorite character (Rarity) or her favorite episode (Suited for Success) or play Super Ponybeat on her iPod while cashing us out at the end of the night. She kept trying to bully me into checking out the show, and at last I caved.

First I read the entire TV Tropes article, and to my surprise, found that it actually seemed pretty interesting. Then, I watched the pilot. After those two episodes alone I was hooked. I immediately walked to the local Wal-Mart and bought one of every MLP toy available and spent the rest of the day feeling positively giddy as I finished watching season one. Since then, I've been obsessed.

Do you have a favorite episode?

In my opinion, any episode with a mental breakdown in it is a good episode.

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 is best pony, hands down. Canon AND fandom. Pinkie Pie is a close second, though.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

Every username I wanted at the time was already taken, so finally I gave up and made up my current one in frustration. I don’t know where I got it from. I like it, though. It sounds more meaningful than it really is. When other people hear it, they always say that they like it and ask how I came up with it, and I just smile mysteriously and fly away.

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

I want to be a professional novelist someday, so I do a lot of creative writing in my spare time. I rarely finish anything, though, and have never been published. I've also written fics for some of my other fandoms - specifically, Psychonauts, Portal, and Sam & Max. They can all be found on my account. I use the same username there, so if anyone's curious, it shouldn't be too hard to find them. I tend to commemorate joining fandoms by writing fanfiction, so you can tell how much I love something by seeing how much I've written for it. I've been writing since I was about ten years old, when I first decided that I wanted to be an author.

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

If I'm not writing, I'm reading. That, or watching anime.

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

My favorite fanfic authors would probably be device heretic, SleeplessBrony, and Donny's Boy.

My favorite published authors are Douglas Coupland and Douglas Adams. The fact that they're both named "Douglas" is a coincidence and didn't impact my choice of authors at all.

I couldn't say for sure what my favorite fanfic is, since I have too many to even list here.

My favorite book is constantly changing, but at the moment, it would have to be The Storyteller by Antonia Michaelis.

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?

Donny's Boy. As I was writing The Games We Play, he would always leave the longest, nicest, most detailed reviews on every new chapter that I published. I wouldn't be able to relax until I knew what he thought of it. I always look forward to seeing what he thinks of my work.

A normal person would probably say "my mother" or something, but I make a conscious effort to prevent her from seeing anything I’ve ever written.

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

The most important thing is to actually write. Your writing will naturally evolve and improve over time, but only if you actually do it.

The second most important thing is to find an audience. It doesn't matter who that audience is: friends, family, strangers, prereaders, whatever. You just need someone to comment on your work and give you good criticism. Your writing style will adapt to their criticism.

A lot of writers say they don't know where to begin when they're first starting out. When that happens, I suggest not starting at the beginning. Instead, start wherever your head takes you. For instance, if you have dialogue in mind, get that down, then describe how its said and where the conversation is taking place and why. Slowly build up and set the scene, then work from there.

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

I carry a notebook with me everywhere so that I can write down my ideas as they come to me throughout the day. Then, as soon as I have a free moment, I'll grab a computer and start writing; usually for four or five hours in the evening, until about 2 AM. I typically write an entire chapter or oneshot in a single sitting, and once I'm finished, I rarely do many revisions. Instead, I just run it through spellcheck and do a quick reread, touching up bits here and there. I've only ever used one prereader - Bellum Civille, who edited a few chapters of The Games We Play for me. Basically, everything you see from me is a first draft written in one go that no one else has ever looked at.

What inspired you to write The Games We Play?

After first watching the Mare Do Well episode, some of my friends and I were joking about how if Mare Do Well had been a new character entirely instead of members of the mane six in disguise, she would've been yet another love interest for Rainbow Dash. But then I started to wish that someone would actually write a story like that, since I thought the idea had promise; a romance where you don't actually know who's pursuing the main character seemed appealing to me. I actually considered looking for a writer who I could commission to do it, when it suddenly occurred to me that I could do it myself. At the time, I didn't have much confidence in myself as a writer, so the idea of tackling such a big project was both exciting and a little scary - but I decided to give it a shot anyway. I’m glad I did.

Did you run into any tough spots or challenges when writing The Games We Play?

The actual writing process was surprisingly easy. The biggest challenge I faced was the audience.

Since Mare Do Well's true identity wasn't revealed until the very end, it was easy for people to convince themselves that she was whoever they had in mind; so for twenty chapters, they read The Games We Play thinking of it as a story about their preferred Rainbow Dash ship. Then the ending came along and sunk those ships for good, so the people who were let down became angry. I saw it coming from miles away, but I was still saddened by the negative reactions the ending received. I think the majority of my readers were satisfied, but those who were upset were definitely very vocal about their complaints, making it hard for me to ignore them.

Also, people seemed upset about the lack of true mystery. Although The Games We Play certainly has mystery elements, I think I'd classify it more as a psychological drama than a traditional whodunnit caper. From what I can tell, many people read it expecting a mystery novel and were annoyed at how the mystery grew less and less important as the story continued, stubbornly refusing to allow for the shift in genre.

I hate knowing that I've let people down. I think I did the best that I could in both respects, but some readers seemed downright offended about the direction The Games We Play ended up taking. I wasn't really expecting that. I don't think it would've been as big a deal if the fic had been a oneshot, but since it was so long, people had more time to build up their expectations; so of course they reacted badly when they were let down. Moreso than they might have otherwise.

When you set out to write The Games We Play, did you have any specific messages or themes in mind?

I originally envisioned The Games We Play as a silly superhero spoof with plenty of meta humor about Rainbow Dash realizing that she'd been demoted to Love Interest status in her own life, which would naturally have driven her crazy. It became much more serious over time, though, and ended up being pretty dark. Any messages found in the narrative were only worked in later, on without any real planning on my part.

A lot of it was drawn from my own life, since I was going through a bit of a dark period at the time. I ended up using this fic as a place for me to vent my own musings on identity and self-perception, and as you can see if you’ve read it, these become central themes.

Fun fact: I’ve never been in a relationship, and yet almost all of my stories are about love. Sad, huh?

Where can readers drop you a line?

You can either PM me on or email me at I'd recommend PMing me, since I almost never check my email, but either way, I'll make sure to answer as soon as possible. Also, I've lately become something of an IRC regular, so if you ever want to chat, feel free to drop in and say hi.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

When you comment on something someone's written, try and remember how hard it can be just to write, let alone how hard it can be to publish it somewhere where anyone can read it. For a long time, I was terrified of reading the comments people left on my stories because I was afraid that they would all be from people who hated them. You don't have to like everything you read, but at least try to recognize how painful it can be for an author when they see such negativity regarding something that they've poured their heart and soul into. Unless the author is an arrogant, self-righteous prick. Then you can feel free to insult them as much as you want.


  1. So very much I can't say without giving away spoilers...

    What I can say, is that if you want your shipping fic to stand above the massive pile of existing ships that aspires to mediocrity at best, this is a damn fine example of how to do it (That or I'm the aforementioned self-righteous prick. Not really my place to make that call!). I was pretty sure I knew how it was going to end, I still wanted to finish it, and having guessed right (mostly), the story was in no way diminished by it.

    We'll call that one a win.

    For a good length fic, there were only 2 chapters I would have shortened, and one of those was the ending by about 6 pages, which I can easily forgive.

    A little bit too much leaning on events or gags in the show for my liking, but still another solid 4/5 from me. Congratulations to the author, and to the web-host for picking this one!

    On the other hand. You used the exploding twice gag...twice, with extra cheese. You shall not be forgiven, AbsoluteAnonymous. -9000

    Total: -8996/5

  2. A great interview for a great story. I love your sense of humour, AA. You always make me laugh.

    This was pretty damn good, and I strongly recommend giving it a read.