Friday, May 17, 2013

horizon's Fugue State

By any sane standard, musicals are a terrifying nightmare world. How does everyone know the words to a song that's being written on the fly? Mass hysteria? Hypnosis? Some sort of horrible hivemind? Then again, maybe it's just... magic.

[Shipping] • 7,000 words
Ponyville has a problem: Twilight's friends all switched Cutie Marks, and the musical numbers are flying thick and fast.

Lyra has a problem: She can't handle the way musical numbers get into your head and take you over.

Bon Bon has a problem with that.

Hit the break for a chat with horizon and links to Fugue State out on the ponynet. Don't forget to grab your own ebook copy over at the Downloads page!

Where do you live?

About 40 miles from where the California Gold Rush started. It’s a much more sedate place these days.

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

I work at a small rural ISP, providing technical support to customers and occasionally regaling my boss with Sherlock Holmes pastiches based on my workday. (Fortunately, said boss has a good sense of humor.)

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

In December 2010 (mid-first season), an online friend recommended it to me, and the show had me within the first 30 seconds when it gave the backstory of the Celestial War. In April 2011, the same friend linked me to an MLP conversion of 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons — a game specialized in tactical combat — and I said, "I might have to run a session of that with a straight face for my gaming group to see how badly I break everyone’s brain." Out of that sprang a legendary year-long play-by-post game (I’ve linked the highlights from my FIMFiction user page) involving a lost temple, an insane war machine, and Princess Luna, who discovered the forum and interacted with the players directly as she told her side of the story. We wrote a collective 400,000+ words. It rather took over my life.

After game wrapped in mid-2012, fanfiction was the logical transition.

Do you have a favorite episode?

"Luna Eclipsed" will always hold a special place in my heart, because it gave us a sympathetic, detailed look at the princess our forum game had spent loving months fleshing out — and did not joss our conception of her in the slightest. The Starswirl the Bearded references were one of the first hints of the grand sweep of Equestrian history. And the moment where Luna makes an offering of candy to the Nightmare Moon statue (which is remarkably easy to miss) is probably the most powerful 0.5 seconds of characterization in the entire show.

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)?

Luna. That was easy. Ask me another one!

Best Mane Six pony is harder. "Spike At Your Service" did canonically make Rainbow Dash a fanfiction writer, so let’s go with her for the moment.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

For such a simple question, that goes way down the rabbit hole, so bear with me for a moment while I go all Grant Morrison on you.

It’s a word that has multiple layers of personal significance. The first is that I’m a pagan and a magical practitioner; "Horizon" is actually a loose translation of my working-name, which can also be rendered as "one who sees a great distance" or "one whose reach is vast". The second is that a horizon is a liminal place, a border between two worlds. I consider myself a dragon in spirit, and my life is a perpetual balancing act between two senses of self — so the concept of liminality strongly resonates with me. The third is that a horizon is an unattainable goal — a reminder to be humble, that self-improvement is not a process you can complete.

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

MLP is the first time I’ve written fanfic, but I’ve written a decade’s worth of original fiction, mostly set in my urban-fantasy "Tomorrowlands Universe" setting; again, my FIMFiction userpage has links to the best of that.

My first story was "The Adventures of Sir Lucky," at the tender age of 12, about a knight whose comically fortunate mishaps helped him face a dragon that (Shyamalan plot twist!) was actually friendly and saved his kingdom from invaders. I’d like to think I’ve improved since then.

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

Unsurprisingly, I dig the standard geek pursuits (tabletop and video gaming), though get me out of the house and I’m also a hardcore backcountry hiker. In 2006, I spent the summer on a failed thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail — "only" 900 miles before injury sidelined me. Along the way, I broke my backpack fleeing from cops; lost about 30 pounds to giardia; outran a thunderstorm; and had a near-death experience while hitchhiking.

(If you want proof I’m crazy, don’t point to me being a dragon. Point to me wanting to go thru-hiking again.)

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

Here is a dirty, shameful secret: I’ve read very few novels in the last decade. Most of my prose reading time is spent online. My most-used bookshelf is full of graphic novels — good ones, mind, like Sandman and Transmetropolitan and The Invisibles — with a scattering of classic sci-fi.

I love stories that push the boundaries of their medium; Alfred Bester’s telepathic party game in The Demolished Man is probably my favorite prose scene ever written. I consistently enjoy Neil Gaiman’s work. And since I’m obligated as a Vault inductee to have an opinion on Terry Pratchett, I think he peaked around Guards! Guards! but his work from that era is sublime.

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?

Is it egotistical to say that, in a perfect world, my ideal reader would be a clone of me? I typically write to challenge or amuse myself, and hope others are similarly impressed with the results.

While I’m waiting for that technology, though, my prereader nemesis Benman has been an invaluable source of feedback and inspiration. Someday I’ll write a story that he finds more breathtaking than My Harshwhinnial. Someday.

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

Get cats! U cant be a famous arthur without cats —

— Er, sorry. Anyway: My best advice is, take full advantage of the fanfiction community.

FIMFiction has been a fantastic crucible for my writing. The immediate feedback you get from your readers is a rare and precious gift. There are plenty of writers (Ezn, Bad Horse, Bookplayer, Bradel, etc) who discuss craft on their blogs, and a number of groups (inside and outside FIMFic) devoted to offering criticism. Working with prereaders is great practice for working with professional editors, and submitting to EqD is a good dry run for submitting fiction to professional publishing houses.

Equally importantly, for a struggling writer, the community is your best asset for getting noticed. Well over half of my first 50 FIMFic watchers came from people I personally interacted with — gave them thoughtful critiques, wrote little codas to their stories, traded prereading duties, or simply chatted in comments. If you’re a generally cool pony, people will notice, and word of mouth is powerful.

Finally, being friendly with your fellow authors makes this more fun. Isn’t that why we’re here?

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

My typical writing process: Get an idea, dump words into it, gradually lose momentum as I get bogged down in editing, limp over the finish line (sometimes), shovel it at a few trusted prereaders, then get stuck in endless cycles of panicking about the story’s imperfections and working on new material instead of bringing the completed stuff to fruition.

Please don’t follow my example (except for the "give it to prereaders" bit). It’s not healthy.

What inspired you to write Fugue State?

I got into a discussion with Aquillo about the Season 3 finale and its seven musical numbers. I said that in a world of magical talking ponies, the idea that the musical numbers literally happened was plausible, and cited the Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode "Once More With Feeling" as an examination of the implications of the musical numbers actually taking place. The next day, when I re-watched the episode, I realized Lyra wasn’t in any of the Ponyville numbers. The story fell together immediately.

Did you run into any tough spots or challenges when writing Fugue State?

Oh sweet stars, yes. The edit cycle was unusually rough. Fugue State’s 7000 words took me a week to write, and then six weeks to polish. Based on Benman’s feedback, I flat-out deleted about 500 words I considered finished (I never do that) and rewrote the ending from scratch. Then I nearly had a meltdown when I got back some mild constructive criticism from Equestria Daily’s prereaders that nevertheless made me feel like I was failing basic English.

All of those things led to big improvements, but I paid for it in bloodied ego. I worked for about a decade as a copy editor, and obsessively edit my stuff long before anyone else ever sees it, so releasing work that still has room for improvement always feels like a failure. (The fanfic feedback cycle has been helpful for calling BS on that.)

When you set out to write Fugue State, did you have any specific messages or themes in mind?

Sometimes, to talk about a big theme, you need to tell a little story. This is a little story about Lyra and Bon-Bon working through a relationship problem, but ultimately, it’s also a glimpse at how Equestria plays by genuinely alien rules. The root of the problem is Lyra recoiling from something we (and she) find disturbing, but which is simply part of the fabric of pony life.

This leads to all sorts of morals about destiny, most of which I’m sure I never intended.

Where can readers drop you a line?

Via FIMFiction PM or my website’s contact page.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Ironically, the story’s fuguelike structure — and the dissociation and flight that provided the title’s double meaning — preceded the choice of title. Sometimes, when destiny speaks, the best thing to do is shut up and listen.

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