Friday, January 4, 2013

Ponydora Prancypants' The Flight of the Alicorn

Since season two, my girlfriend has decided that Rarity is, in fact, best pony. While she's obviously wrong – note the distinct lack of speed, awesomeness, etc. – it's not difficult to see why Rarity could be considered such... and then along comes a story like this, thrusting Rarity into a world-spanning adventure with lasting geopolitical consequences, and I'm forced to admit there might be something to the fussy white unicorn after all.

[Adventure][Shipping] • 224,300 words
Rarity's exploits in "Sweet and Elite" set in motion a chain of events that will find the unicorn dressmaker taking part in the greatest airship race in the world, the Alicorn's Cup. Excitement will give way to terror, as Rarity soon finds herself the victim of a plot against Equestria, and shipwrecked far from home with her least favorite stallion, the boorish Prince Blueblood. Rarity will learn of treachery in Canterlot and abroad, and will have search for something of substance beneath the prince's obnoxious veneer as she struggles to not only save herself, but her entire nation.

Hit the break for a wonderful chat with the good Mr. Prancypants, and links to Flight of the Alicorn out on the ponynet. Don't forget to grab your own copy in your favorite ebook format over at the Downloads page, and consider checking out the sequel to the story!

Where do you live?

I live on the California coast, a beautiful place somewhere between north and south, so lovely that birds, butterflies, and whales cannot help but pay a visit along their yearly migrations.

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

I’m one of those law-talking guys. My expertise is in intellectual property, so I am happy to inform you that your fanfiction is most likely not “fair use” or “parody.” In fact, the black helicopters are probably on their way to our houses right now, and since this is Hasbro we’re talking about, they are almost certainly filled with G.I. Joes. Fortunately, they are terrible shots.

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

Well, I used to drop in on message boards where users could post image macros while discussing current events and the like (none of which was 4chan or any of those related websites), and my insatiable need to not feel left out of any joke forced me to look up what these pictures of a quadrupedal blue duck were all about. Around August 2011, I watched all of season one in sequence and, as is the natural progression of such things, commenced to write a novel about a hat-loving unicorn.

Do you have a favorite episode?

There are a few episodes I would number among my favorites. I usually feel that the show is most successful when it focuses on the characters, rather than on dangerous adventures and thwarting villainy, but I do love when the show builds up its fictional world in fun and interesting ways. “Winter Wrap-Up,” “Hurricane Fluttershy,” and “Sweet and Elite” are fun, well-constructed episodes that spotlight the characters and their personal struggles while adding to the show’s lore. My favorite episode – the one that really got me invested in the series – is “Suited for Success.” More on that below.

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)?

Who do you all think is my favorite character?

Rarity is my favorite character both in the context of “canon” and “fanon” elements of the ponyverse.

“Canon Rarity” is mainly the creation of four talented women: Lauren Faust, who created the design of the character, the template for her personality, and chose her name (no doubt in close consultation with Hasbro marketing and legal professionals); Charlotte Fullerton, who wrote “Look Before You Sleep” and “Suited For Success”; Meghan McCarthy, who wrote “Green Isn’t Your Color” and “Sweet and Elite”; and of course the incomparable Tabitha St. German, who breathed life into a cartoon unicorn with a love of fashion and a penchant for gems. Each of these women deserves a great deal of credit for turning what could have been the stock “material girl” into something more. Lauren is very good at avoiding one-dimensional characters in a two-dimensional medium, so first credit goes to her. Anyone who watches the show can tell that Tabitha has a tremendous amount of fun with this part. I dare you to not smile at her delivery of “Wa-ha-ha!” and a dozen other one-liner “Raritisms.” The writers, however, deserve the manticore’s share of the credit.

In “Look Before You Sleep,” we were made to understand that Rarity has her own form of resilience beneath her prissiness, and we were given a starting point from which her character could grow. In the other episodes, we get to see her attempting to pursue her dream of sharing her talent for designing “beautiful, beautiful dresses” with the whole world, and taking her place in high society. We see that her talent is very real, and that she is a natural at integrating with the elites – they all fall in love with her in a span of three days. She’s a star, and deep down she knows it, even though her modest country origins are the source of a bit of doubt and fuel her need to prove herself.

It was Ms. Fullerton’s “Suited for Success,” though, that made Rarity and, for me, made me such a fan of the series. There we had this lady unicorn in adorable red glasses working a sewing machine – the visual alone sold me – and volunteering to put her business on hold to create, at presumably considerable expense, couture dresses for her friends to wear to a major social function. When her friends unjustifiably rejected her original designs, which she knew to be sen-sat-ion-al, she made hideous new dresses to make them happy. When it came time to put on a fashion show, she placed her friends’ happiness higher than her own lifelong dream, voluntarily falling on the knitting needle for their sakes.

That is Rarity ... the twist to her character is that while she is vain, self-interested, and prissy, she is also the living symbol for and bearer of the manifestation of the spirit of generosity for this pony world. Without hesitating, she was ready to face public humiliation and a crippling setback to her career to make her friends happy, and she was ready to do it all over again for Fluttershy in “Green Isn’t Your Color.” When she was given the opportunity to denounce her friends and so win the coveted approval of the Canterlot elites, she chose her friends. Also, she rides on an airship and wears giant hats. Best pony.

As far as fanon, I am a fan of “Friendship is Witchcraft”’s Smooze-worshipping, PTSD-stricken Rarity, who may or may not have suffered grievous injuries as a scout serving alongside Applejack in “the war,” and who, together with her robotic sister, constitutes a rattlesnake.

The fanon Rarity with whom I am most familiar is, of course, my own. I like to think of her as just the Rarity we all know and love from the show, simply thrust into different, more perilous, and perhaps slightly more adult scenarios.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

My nom de plume predates the character Fancypants, though I do think of him as a sort of personal analogue in some ways. We both wear a monocle, for example. In truth, at the time I was just trying to come up with something silly as befits a show about magic ponies. The Prancypants part is an oblique reference to a contest held by Greenpeace to name a humpback whale, which resulted in the write-in winner “Mister Splashy Pants”, and Ponydora is a reference to Pandora, the woman from Greek myth who accidentally released all evils upon the world. It’s nice to aspire to something.

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

My job as an attorney largely consists of critical reading and persuasive writing. My paid work product, however, is decidedly lacking in magic. I’ve been writing fiction since I could read and write, though mostly not very well.

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

Travel. Learn things. Discover new and interesting spirits and drink them, preferably in the company of good friends. I also like a good, heartfelt hug from time to time.

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

My favorite authors are Joyce, Faulkner, and Dostoevsky. My favorite stories and/or books by them are “The Dead,” Light in August, and Crime and Punishment. I would probably call C&P my favorite novel, save for the tacked on epilogue which Dostoevsky insists was meant to be there all along. I don’t believe you, Fyodor!

My favorite authors from this fandom are Cloud Wander, Skywriter, and Cold in Gardez, in no particular order. “The Glass Blower” is something else, isn’t it? (It is – go read it!)

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?

Yes, I do. This lovely, brilliant person is not more than a very casual fan of the show, and not a fan of the fantasy genre at all. As a matter-of-fact, she actually prefers non-fiction, save for her love of the “Southern Vampire Mysteries” series by Charlaine Harris (she also loves the related TV show on HBO), so her enjoyment of The Flight of the Alicorn was unexpected and greatly encouraging.

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

Assuming the hypothetical writer is starting from a position of average competence in terms of how to string words together, there isn’t much I can offer in terms of advice. I’m no writing instructor nor am I a particularly compelling motivator. I will say that one problem I very often see with longer stories on FiMFiction is disintegration of the narrative, due to a loss of focus or an introduction of new plot elements that appear out of nowhere, or due to the unwillingness of the author to wrap things up. I outline everything in detail, often paragraph by paragraph or line of dialogue by line before I put together the final version. This is tedious, but important for cohesion, especially if you want to have nice things like foreshadowing and narrative “payoffs” for careful readers. I have close to 200 pages of notes and outlines for Alicorn.

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

I’ve spoiled the answer to this question in responding to the previous question. In the case of Alicorn, I first wrote the entire story as a bullet-point list of “X happens,” “then X happens,” etc., and then I wrote a much more detailed outline using the bullet-point list as a framework. Individual chapters were cut from parts of the main outline, and then I created much more detailed outlines, including dialogue, for the chapters. Then I wrote the chapters, knowing what needed to fit in each and where it needed to end. I never used an editor or a prereader for Alicorn, except that a pair of proofreaders helped me copyedit the completed story for the print version. I do recommend finding editors and prereaders if you can, and if you react well to constructive criticism. The original final version of my story was riddled with mistakes as a result of going it alone.

What inspired you to write The Flight of the Alicorn?

I’ve loved airships since I first saw Miyazaki’s Nausicaa, and I’ve loved the steampunk aesthetic ever since I realized how well wood, leather, and brass go together. MLP:FiM is set in a sort of magitek, steampunk, gaslamp fantasy, quasi-victorian, mashup world with extra pink. When I saw Rarity riding an airship (technically, a fancy airyacht, no less) in Sweet and Elite, I fell in love with the show all over again and I knew what I had to do. As an aside, the Alicorn’s Cup yacht race in the story is based on the America’s Cup, which this year is being hosted in San Francisco, California. There was to be an actual airship race around the world that some wealthy kook was arranging, but apparently a dearth of actual airships to participate forced its permanent hiatus.

The other big inspiration, and I cannot praise this work highly enough, was “The Best Night Ever” by Capn_Chryssalid here on FiMFiction. When I read this story, I found myself smiling, chuckling, and just generally feeling good about life from beginning to end. For all those not in the know, TBNE is a crossover between the Harold Ramis film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray, and the episode “The Best Night Ever,” starring Prince Blueblood in place of Murray’s misanthropic, cynical weatherman. TBNE is not a simple scene-for-scene retelling, but offers an original spin on the film that meshes successfully with the world of the show, and which serves as a great vehicle for expanding on Blueblood’s character and taking him from narcissistic twit to the kind, dashing royal Rarity always imagined him to be. TBNE is fun, light-hearted, and bursting with joy. It was this story that led me to choose Blueblood as the secondary protagonist, foil, dynamic character, and romantic interest for Rarity in my own story.

Blueblood is canonically a clueless, casually-cruel, self-absorbed nitwit, and unlikeable on any level, thus, he has plenty of room to grow as a character once his insular world has been appropriately rocked. He also fits nicely into the upper-crust world of intrigue, politics, and technology I wanted to create for Alicorn, and he has a history with Rarity. After what Capn_Chryssalid did with Blueblood, I knew he was the right choice for this story.

The geo-political “start a war,” “expansion crisis” elements of Alicorn owe a lot to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. I’m sure you can see the Klingons of that movie in my griffons. The jungle parts owe a lot to African Queen and Romancing the Stone, and the overall arc involving magical gemstones borrows from any number of fantasy stories, but mainly is a plot device that I believe works well in the established MLP universe. There are innumerable other references to books, shows, and movies throughout the story. I’d like to give another shout-out and offer special thanks to “Friendship is Witchcraft,” for expanding on Rarity’s love of giant hats, invisibility scarves, and magical contact lenses.

Did you run into any tough spots or challenges when writing The Flight of the Alicorn?

I had to prioritize my family and my paying work over this story, and it was tough working long into the night on Alicorn whenever I could spare a few hours. In the end, I’m happy with the end product and the resulting sense of accomplishment. Editing and formatting the story for print was also a challenge, and I could not have done it without the help of Hupman and RBDash47 as diligent and eagle-eyed copy-editors.

When you set out to write The Flight of the Alicorn, did you have any specific messages or themes in mind?

“Just because somepony is ladylike doesn’t make her weak. In fact, by using her wits a seemingly defenseless pony can be the one who outsmarts and outshines them all.” – Twilight Sparkle

Also, this story is about having the courage to follow your own dreams instead of living oppressed by others’ expectations or the station into which you were born, as Rarity always does, Blueblood comes around to, and Windlass never manages (instead becoming consumed by rage at the perceived futility of resisting fate in a world she considered governed by predestination).

Also, airship battles are undeniably awesome.

Where can readers drop you a line?

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

This is a special community filled with talent and I’m glad to be a part of it. It is hard to keep a large, anonymous online community positive and constructive, but this website mostly does a good job of it. I encourage everyone to freely contribute in a positive fashion, and not to pounce too quickly or aggressively on new authors putting their thoughts and ideas on public display for the first time.

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