Friday, February 1, 2013

Skywriter's A Short Story by Twilight Sparkle

I feel strongly that today's story should be required reading for any aspiring author. It has a powerful message, about what writing is and why you should keep at it and the idea of perfection.

[Slice-of-Life] • 2,600 words
Princess Celestia helps to banish a hoofful of inner demons lurking deep in the heart of a troubled author. Metafiction, again, ensues.

Hit the break for a few words from Skywriter, and a link to A Short Story by Twilight Sparkle online. Don't forget to grab your own ebook copies over at the Downloads page!

(It's worth noting that this story is something of a coda or epilogue to “Princess Celestia Hates Tea”, and while I don't think the former is necessary to understand the latter, you'd probably get a kick out of reading it too.)

Where do you live?

I currently live way out in the country on a farm in south-central Wisconsin, less than an hour away from where I was born, raised, and schooled. Wisconsin has gravity; it keeps drawing you back. I am the co-caretaker of lots of pet dogs and cats and birds and such along with a wonderful spouse who tolerates my constant babbling-on about cartoon horses with remarkably good grace.

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

By day, I am a financial account investigator for my local county government. By night, I am the co-writer of a daily webcomic called “Skin Horse”, concerning the misadventures of a poorly-funded black ops social service agency. With both my days and my nights thus occupied, I am not certain how this Ponyfic thing even happens. I suspect that dark matter is involved.

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

After the season one finale, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic turned into something of an inescapable phenomenon in the crowds that I was hanging around with on-line. Love it or hate it, I was hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t at least have an opinion on the piece. On the longest day of the 2,011th year, I decided to throw caution to the wind and see what all the fuss was about; at four minutes and eighteen seconds into the pilot episode, Twilight Sparkle credits her “continuing studies of Pony Magic” with giving her insight into the nature of the Mare in the Moon, and I recall thinking, almost dispassionately, that yes, the show had already hooked me. It was just that it was such a silly line, and it was delivered with such painfully matter-of-fact earnestness. I had no defense.

Do you have a favorite episode?

It’s remarkably hard to pick a single favorite. “Lesson Zero”, aside from being the funniest episode, is the one that really introduced me to Twilight as a character rather than an audience stand-in. Both “Winter Wrap Up” and “Hurricane Fluttershy” are great for portraying the ponies going about their ridiculous roles as the instigators of presumed-to-be natural process with oblivious and businesslike good cheer, and I’ve always liked that aspect of the characters. Finally, I also find the third season opener, “The Crystal Empire”, to be remarkably rewatchable; the setting has an attractive art style that’s slightly different than anything that came before it, and it strikes a good (and admittedly delicate) balance between the show’s lighter and darker elements. Plus, it has Cadance in it, and I think I’ve got a soft spot for her, even though her canonical character complexity is perforce a little lacking yet.

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)?

Twilight Sparkle is my favorite pony, both in terms of the show canon and the derivative works that she inspires.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

My immediate response to something I can’t get out of my head is to seize an aspect of it and write me some fanfic, and this show certainly fell into that category. My first foray was a story about a pegasus who was envious of Dash’s ability to leave rainbows in the air behind her, since the best he could ever muster up was a plain unornamented vapor trail (which he would use to create intricate but depressingly colorless sky-art). After attempting any number of ill-advised methods to try and increase his trail coloration (giving himself colic from eating too many bright red apples, et cetera) Princess Celestia tells him to stop forcing things and wait a few hours, and when she sets the sun behind his art it turns the gray vapor trails all the beautiful colors that he’s been dreaming of. It was mawkish and syrupy and it never saw the light of day since I perceived that it was bad form to open with an OC story, but in keeping with the universe’s close connection between Name and Job, I named the protagonist “Skywriter”, and it sort of became “me” in the universe. We’re both neurotic over-thinkers.

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

As noted above, I co-write a daily webcomic, and I contributed the short story “Torn Apart and Devoured by Lions” to the well-regarded Machine of Death anthology project. I also dabble in other indie prose writing over at

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


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

Like so many nerds before me, I have to place the great Terry Pratchett as my overall favorite author. His books have inestimably shaped and influenced my own style, much more than any number of authors I want to be able list here that would make me sound smarter and more literate. Despite the above, my single favorite book is Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, which I’ve loved ever since I was a kid.

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?

If I have one ideal reader, it would (much like in King’s case) be my spouse; I care more about her reaction to my stories than I do about anyone else’s. All due respect to Mr. King, though, I think that each story has its own ideal reader, and since in the vast majority of cases I don’t know this person, I am left to write mostly for my own amusement. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

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

Writer’s block is a mutable creature. Sometimes you need to press on despite what feels like a lack of inspiration and have faith that clearer waters await on the other side, and sometimes you need to step back, take a long walk or a long hot shower, and just let things percolate for a while. In short, learn to recognize the difference between your lack of drive and the story itself telling you to stop and think things over. Avoid distractions, because nothing kills the writing impetus like an open chat window. Watch and listen to the world around you, particularly paying attention to when something normal and mundane stands out from the background noise, like when the lyrics of a song on the radio start to make sense in a way that they never have before. Accept inspiration from the trivial. Always know where you’re going with a story but simultaneously embrace a story that begins to go off in a way you weren’t planning, and follow where it leads. Be gentle with yourself. And disregard any of the above that isn’t you.

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

I do prepare multiple drafts, but they’re of the “crash and burn” variety; once I’ve driven a piece into the ground due to bad choices or lack of inspiration, I will sometimes pick it up, dust it off and try again from the beginning with a different tense or narrator or starting point, and sometimes it flies. Once I successfully manage to barrel my way through a story or a chapter, I spend the next several weeks obsessively tweaking tiny details, things that most people admittedly won’t likely even notice or care about. And yes, I have a small circle of very good pre-readers, and I am quite indebted to them.

What inspired you to write A Short Story by Twilight Sparkle?

As you might suspect upon reading the story, I wrote “A Short Story...” in direct response to another piece I wrote called “Princess Celestia Hates Tea”. After reading (I think) my third consecutive piece of Pony fanfic that leaned upon tea-drinking to give Celestia an air of cultured civility, I began to wonder if it was possible that she was drinking the tea specifically because it gave her an air of cultured civility and for no other reason, and then a story idea punched me in face and I had to write it. Much like Twilight Sparkle in “A Short Story...", I found myself hounded by the idea, and I exhausted myself completely staying up until dawn on a weekday (with work the next morning) because it was simultaneously so stupid and so compelling that I just wanted it done and out of my head. I wasn’t one hundred percent pleased with it, but unlike Twilight Sparkle, I went ahead and intentionally published it, and it attracted a frankly intimidating amount of attention. “A Short Story...” was my subsequent attempt to deal with the helpless feeling of having a story that took on a life of its own, both in the writing of it and in the public’s reaction to it.

Did you run into any tough spots or challenges when writing A Short Story?

The piece came out in a mad rush, and the experience of writing it was bewilderingly fast and easy. I wish I had something more interesting to say about it.

When you set out to write A Short Story, did you have any specific messages or themes in mind?

"A Short Story...” was an act in mental exorcism. I had gotten myself into a self-abusive cycle about “Princess Celestia Hates Tea” because the praise that was (inexplicably?) heaped upon it only made its admitted flaws seem even more glaring to my eye, and the whole experience made me feel like some sort of imposter. I wrote “A Short Story...” to give me the courage to keep writing imperfect stories, because, duh, they’re all imperfect. I am pleased whenever I hear from someone that it helped them in a similar way, and I am also pleased that people generally don’t dismiss this work as my attempting to pat myself on the back by having Princess Celestia (of all ponies) tell me how much she enjoyed my story, a take which I didn’t even conceive of until a few days after the whole thing was posted. Predictably, the thought of this sent me into yet another panic attack, but I’m happy that the majority of readers seem to see “A Short Story...” in the spirit in which it was written (rather than as a work of navel-gazing self-congratulation).

Where can readers drop you a line?

PM Skywriter on, or use the contact form on my non-Pony blog. I’d love to hear from you!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Nothing other than my thanks to all of you out there for reading and creating and for having the courage to be a little strange.

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