Friday, May 10, 2013

OtterMatt's Somepony Else's Story

Sometimes as I'm driving, I look around at the cars surrounding me, and meditate (briefly) on the strange concept that nothing about me matters to any of the drivers I'm surrounded by, all of us speeding off to do something that matters very much to each of us and not at all to everyone else. We are all of us background characters in everyone else's lives.

[Slice-of-Life] • 2,800 words
Vinyl Scratch walks into a bar. There is no punchline.

Hit the break for a chat with OtterMatt and links to Somepony Else's Story out on the ponynet. Don't forget to grab your ebook copies over at the Downloads page!

Where do you live?

I'd just like to open by saying thanks for having me, OprahRBDash. It's truly an honor I don't feel worthy of. Anyway, I'm OtterMatt. I'm 29 years old, male, and despite being born in St. Louis, I'm rather proud to now call Austin, TX my home. (Bess Pont, represent! Whoop whoop!)

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

My schooling days are several years behind me by this point, and I work the full-time daily grind now—but I have a job not many people have. I work with church organs. My boss and I repair, install, service, and sell them across Texas and Oklahoma. As you can imagine with a service area about half the size of the European Union, we travel a LOT.

Helpfully, my boss is an instrument-rated pilot, so we fly ourselves to work sites several times per month. My job rocks. ^_^

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

Somewhere around October of 2011, I was spending my time online, derping around Memebase (as many of us do). I kept seeing pictures of Rainbow Dash being adorable and/or awesome, and I kept laughing at the captions while wondering what the heck I was seeing. After a few dozen “what is this I don't even” reactions, I tried to watch the pilot episodes, but never got hooked by them. I knew this show had to be worth something, though, because there seemed to be more and more fans every day. So one day I said “Screw it, I'm goin' in.” I downloaded all of Season 1, stuck them on my iPhone, and started watching them in the truck on our way to a job in Dallas.

By the end of “Applebuck Season” I knew this show was pretty good, and by the time I realized that I had been humming “Winter Wrap Up” for a good thirty minutes as I sat on a scaffolding twenty-some feet in the air, well, I knew I was a brony. I've been hooked on the show ever since, through all the ups and downs the fandom has to offer, and while I suppose I've cooled slightly on the fandom as a whole, I've made more good friends through ponies than I ever have before outside of my college dorm.

Do you have a favorite episode?

It's REALLY tough for me to distinguish, because different episodes have different strengths, but my top three (the order keeps shifting with the wind and who is Best Pony™ in my head at any given minute) are “Sisterhooves Social”, “Sleepless In Ponyville”, and “Hurricane Fluttershy”. What can I say? I'm a writer, I love me some good character development.

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)?

In the show itself, I think Rainbow Dash is still holding my heart as Best Pony™. Rarity is pretty good, too, because they've both done the most developing as characters over the course of the show, and in ways that are subtle and more natural, unlike Fluttershy dancing to the Dark Side and back over the course of an episode. And besides, as a lifelong multi-sport athlete (man do I feel lonely in this fandom...), I've gotta go with the competitive pony. I see a lot of myself reflected in her at times.

Considering fanon material (which I suppose my writing includes), I think Luna might be one of my favorite characters. She's one of the few honestly tragic backstories in canon, and I like to see the authors doing good things with that. She and Twilight are easily my favorite characters to write for.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

Truly, my story is dull in the extreme. My nickname in college was Otter, and my given name is Matt. Booyah.

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

I have never really written in any other capacity. I've tried at times, because I really appreciate literature and fiction, but writing is hard. Inspiration never really came to me in a way that was helpful before ponies came around, so the first thing I ever wrote more than one or two pages of was Octavarium, and suddenly I knew that 35,000 words wasn't really such a daunting number after all.

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

I don't tend to write all that much. In fact, most of my writing happens during slow periods at work. It's okay, my boss is cool. ^_^

In my other time, I stay rather busy indeed. I officiate high school baseball and basketball for a little extra income and exercise (and because I love it, of course). I try to stay current and fluent in music, and generally spend at least a couple of hours a week with my piano (my first love—Soundcloud account linked on my FiMFic profile page!). I doodle in creative pony art (DA account also linked from my FiMFic profile), and I also make chain-maille jewelry of a pony persuasion (order today! I HAVE NO SHAME!!).

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

In fanfiction, the closest thing I have to a hero is a Mr. The Descendant. His Tangled Up In Blues was one of the first ponyfics I read, and I knew that if I ever decided to start writing I would have to try to live up to his standards of characterization and immersion.

In literature, though? Oh man, where to begin... I fell in love with books from an early age, and I've read all sorts of awesome stuff from Tolkien to Trotsky. Some of my favorites have been the Redwall series, Lord of the Rings, the classic Star Wars expanded universe novels, Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels (seriously, if you want to write comedy, STUDY THIS SERIES.), the works of Jasper Fforde and Douglas Adams, C.S. Lewis, and several others.

At the moment, though, Jim Butcher has my undivided attention. The Dresden Files series is still one of the better book series that I've come across. For all of its minor foibles, it's incredibly difficult to write as smoothly as he does in that first-person, noir-ish vein. Everything I've ever read about how to write successfully I've seen reflected in his works, and when he breaks the rules he does it with a swashbuckling style that I just have to appreciate.

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?

At the risk of sounding cliché, my ideal audience is me. It had to be at the start when no one read my stuff, or else I would have given up before I finished my first story. If I only had one reader left, I'd keep doing what I'm doing. If that one reader was my cat, I might consider giving up, but not quickly. Frankly, I love writing. It's pure creativity, much like music is, and it's beautiful to behold when you can use it to accomplish something you're proud of.

If you twist the question just slightly, the sort of reader that I think gets the most out of my stories or appreciates them the most would be the one who isn't afraid to analyze a work. Most of the time, my stories are written around a single central theme, and a reader who can read between the lines and ask the right critical questions will often see more of what I'm trying to get across than the rest will.

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

A few weeks back, I was studying How Not To Write a Novel, which is a fantastic resource for the beginning writer, and they had a question in there that really sums up what I think about writing. Paraphrasing, it was “Do you write because you want to be an author, or do you write because you want to write?” It's the difference between writing for an audience (with the goal of being published and famous and loved, etc.) and writing for yourself.

Write because you want to be a writer, and for that alone. You HAVE to love what you're doing. There's gonna be times when no one else cares about your stories, when you get rejected and slammed by the public, and when inspiration just won't happen. I'd put money down betting that nobody has a perfect record with EqD. Heck, I've got a running tally of how many rejection emails I've gotten on my profile wall, right below my successes, as a reminder. If you're writing for the wrong reasons, these times will absolutely destroy you.

My personal rules of writing are probably these:

1) Write for yourself first
2) Don't ever be satisfied with less than your best
3) Seek out those who are better than you for advice (and learn how to take it!)
4) Don't make the story happen—LET the story happen
5) Don't change what you do for the benefit of others—only change to make yourself better

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

I have several prereaders/editors that I work with—some on a regular basis (like Spabble, the best damn editor on FiMFic, and Invictus_Rising, my good friend and story consultant), and a few on a rotation basis when I need work done. Most of the people I work with are, by design, better than I am at what they do. I (almost) never hand a story/chapter over to them until I've done at least three passes on it, though. The first to simply write and get the plot down, the second to flesh it out and fix glaring errors, and the third to polish and add still more description or remove bloated scenes. It's almost funny how often a story is improved by what you remove as much as by what you add, and Somepony Else's Story is certainly a fine example of that in particular.

Once I hit that point, I hand it over to Spabble and he tears it in half and spits on it, as a good editor will. His edits usually take about two weeks or so to finish, and my prereaders and I have argued and fought over plot points and characterization by then.

Generally speaking, it takes me at LEAST three weeks from first word to finished post, no matter what it is. In the case of The Social Experiment, it was over three months. I never, NEVER post a story before I'm happy with it, and I'm generally not happy until it's been polished to a degree that's almost painful to look at.

I know I'll probably never be a published author—and maybe not even good enough to warrant that chance—but my goal is always to write at that level of quality.

What inspired you to write Somepony Else's Story?

Ooh boy...

A little bit before I started on SES, I had tried to write a first draft for my most popular story to date, The Social Experiment. I had a friend from SALT (and now with WRITE) take a look at it, and he tore it apart. Brutally. Honestly. Accurately. I had pondered giving up, because I clearly couldn't hack it as a writer, but then I decided that if I didn't change, then nothing would change for me. I started working from writing prompts, doing short scenes and really drilling ideas and writing mechanics in an effort to make myself into a better writer.

Somewhere around that time, a random idea popped into my head while I was in the shower (isn't that always the way?): What if I wrote a story that wasn't about the protagonist? It's honestly such an underused piece of literary technique—especially in fanfic, where more than a few lead characters are either boorishly-written scene-stealers or blatant author-surrogates. I wanted to take myself out of the picture and just try to let a story tell itself for a change. As it happened, this was the turning point in my writing career—the mark where I learned that you don't force a story, you just have to let it happen to you and through you. Now, I'm often as surprised as my characters are when I figure out where a story is going or who is going to turn out to be an important character. It's refreshing and exciting as a writer.

The inclusion of Vinyl and Octavia was a complete afterthought. In general, I don't support the F/F ships, because more often than not it's lazy writing. Yes, 85+% of the canon cast is female, but it's a blasé way to generate quick conflict, especially if you're writing one of those tired “coming out” stories. In this case, though, the conflict of the pairing turned out to be the perfect complement to the narrative because we never get to hear the majority of it.

Did you run into any tough spots or challenges when writing Somepony Else's Story?

I wrote SES at about 1AM in a sudden, unexpected burst of creativity. The problem was that by the time I finished, I was so delirious with drowsiness that I had literally no idea if I was looking at an actual story or a stream-of-consciousness rant that nobody would ever care about. It took about a month before I showed it to anyone, mostly because I was still reeling from The Social Experiment's edit, but a friend convinced me that I should polish it and publish it. I seriously thought that I had screwed myself upon posting it, though, because it hit the front page somewhere around 3am here in America, and it fell off the front page before I even woke up the following morning. I thought it was lost forever with a mere thirty-or-so views, but with the help of EqD and Reddit I managed to collect a few readers, and I suppose the rest is history.

When you set out to write Somepony Else's Story, did you have any specific messages or themes in mind?

Life is complex, but that doesn't stop us from trying to overcomplicate it. As much as it might hurt most of us to admit it, life is about someone else a LOT more often than it's about us. And as I've come to understand, that's okay. Life doesn't have to be about us to be beautiful and complex and precious. When we come to peace with that idea, we come to a sort of peace with our lives. I think we could all use just a little more time out of the spotlight, as it were.

Where can readers drop you a line?

On FiMFic. I answer darn near every PM I've ever gotten within a day or two, and I'm very good about correspondence (as anyone who's faved a story of mine knows!).

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

If you're striving to be a better writer, but not quite sure where you should be focusing after grammar and spelling, I've helped to co-found a writer's help forum. We're known as the Writers and Reviewers Institute for Technical Excellence—or WRITE, for those who like acronyms.

If you need some help, drop us a line, and you can get some advice and critique from several EqD-featured writers. Heck, several of them are as good as me, if not better. If you're really lucky (or if you request me, I suppose), you'll get me as your reviewer, and I can crush your hopes and dreams just like my reviewer did for me! :D

I kid of course, but you can't become a better writer without feedback, and that's why we're here. I honestly like helping others at least as much as I do writing my own works, and I'd be happy to help out almost anyone with editing, prereading, or advice. Just drop me a PM and ask; if I can't help you, I know people who can and will.

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