Friday, June 7, 2013

Chris's The Purloined Pony

What's it like to live in Ponyville, in and around the Mane 6 as they go through their adventures? Maybe you sleep through the whole thing, maybe you're the hero of the week; either way, it's up to you to decide.

[Adventure] • 30,300 words
When a young foal goes missing, it's up to Carrot Top to step in and save the day.

Hit the break for a chat with Chris and links to The Purloined Pony online. Don't forget to grab your own ebook copy over at the Downloads page!

Where do you live?

In the US of A. The upper midwest, more specifically.

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

I'm a professional educator. My degree is in music education, but at my current job I'm working with ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students.

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

It was January of ‘11, and I was on a tabletop games forum that I used to occasionally visit. While scrolling past the myriad threads which held no interest to me (since I mostly play "1st edition" AD&D, that was the vast majority), I kept seeing avatars and random images of colorful ponies making silly faces. After a few days of ignoring them, I finally grew curious enough to click open one of the pony-festooned threads. From there I stumbled to 4chan's /co/ board, then the hub of all things pony, and then it was on to Youtube, and by the end of the week I was livestreaming the newest episode ("Winter Wrap Up"). I suppose the exact moment I knew I was a fan was when I started watching "Griffon the Brush-Off" for the first time, and realized I was five episodes in and fully intended to watch every single one that very night. I didn't actually catch up on the backlog until the next day, but by then the point was academic.

Do you have a favorite episode?

"Winter Wrap Up" has a special place in my heart as the first episode I watched live, but my favorite overall is "May the Best Pet Win". The song remains my favorite to date, it's a Dash-centric episode, and it's heavy on low-key gags (Dash whistling along to Ride of the Valkyries remains probably my favorite single moment in the series). It's true that it plays a very formulaic plot totally straight, but to me that's a very forgivable sin so long as the episode is entertaining and engaging otherwise.

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? It would have to be Rainbow Dash. In her best episodes, she makes a perfect foil to the other main characters whenever they get a little too saccharine, leavening the final product with a much-needed dose of brash arrogance.

If we consider the fandom, then I suppose I'd say my favorite characters are Carrot Top, Princess Celestia, Trixie, Pokey—characters whom I've written about in my own fanfiction. It's hard to spend the kind of time and effort needed to present a pony as a main character without developing a certain empathy for them; at least, that's what I've found to be true for myself.

How did you come up with your handle/penname?

It's my real name. In other fandoms I've been a part of (see next question) I always took some variation on the name of a favorite minor character for my nom de plume, but when I started writing ponyfiction I couldn't bring myself to take a pony name—I've got my pride, dangit!—so I said to myself, "Whatever, I'm just gonna be Chris this time," and that was that.

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

At various times, I have written fanfiction based on Frank Herbert's Dune books, Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and (mostly) JRR Tolkien's writings concerning Middle-Earth. I've also written a few bits and pieces of original fiction, but never anything I was paid for.

My first forays into creative writing came around the time I started middle school, though it's been an inconsistent hobby at best since then. Before ponies, it had been about five years since I'd written anything for fun.

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

I read, I ride my bicycle, I sing, I do a little bit of music composition, and I am the most merciless card player you will ever meet. Whether it's bridge, piquet, 7-card stud, or anything else, I will play, and I will play to win.

But should you somehow defeat me despite my legendary prowess (or in the case of bridge, legendary miscues), I'll be a good sport. After all, the fun's in the game itself, not the outcome. Right?

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

So far as published works go, the answer would have to be JRR Tolkien. I could write out a love letter to him here, and it wouldn't be the first time I took to the internet to sing my adoration of Middle-Earth. But instead, I'll content myself with saying that his writings have been far, far more influential to me as a writer and as a person than any other author's. I'm actually more of a Silmarillion person than a LotR person, probably because I'm so enraptured by the world of Tolkien's creation, and not just any particular story which takes place within it. Though the Silmarillion does have plenty of incredible stories itself—the scene where Beren fulfils his vow to King Thingol to return to him bearing a silmaril in his hand has sent more chills down my spine than any other in literature.

For favorite fanfic author? There are a number whom I know can consistently produce stories that I'll enjoy, but I don't think any one stands, in terms of my enjoyment of his or her work, head and shoulders above his or her peers to claim that particular honor.

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?

There are two answers to this. The first is that my ideal reader is one who makes the effort to not just decide they like or dislike my story, but to figure out what they did or didn't like about it. My ideal reader also isn't afraid to offer feedback, be it positive or negative, but the really important thing to me is that they try to get as much out of every story, even my pony fanfics, as they can.

All great stories, whether they're deeply philosophical treatises or simple lighthearted comedies, have this in common: a reader can get as much out of them as they're prepared to put in. I don't claim that everything (or even anything) I've written is so great as to have such unplumbed depths, only that my ideal reader would sound them to such a degree as the quality of my efforts permit. And I'm happy to report that I've found dozens of "ideal readers" in my time in the pony fandom.

The second answer is that my ideal reader is Sean Connery. Seriously, how cool would it be to know that Sean Connery read my fanfics? Really, really cool.

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

I'm afraid I only have one piece of advice for struggling authors or would-be authors, and it's a rather simple one: if what you're doing isn't working, try something else. If you're having trouble with your story, do something different—it doesn't matter what. Having a hard time getting your great idea onto paper? Maybe you should try writing the most important scenes first, then going back and filling in the gaps later. Or if that's what you're already doing, maybe you should try writing from beginning to end with no skipping around. Maybe you should put together a detailed outline before you start—it might help you keep going if you can consult a roadmap and see where you're going. Or maybe you need to try writing more extemporaneously, and not let grand plans bog you down.

The point is this: when you're struggling with your writing, you have nothing to lose by trying something different. If you try something new and find you're still stuck, you're no worse off than you were before, and perhaps you'll stumble upon something that works for you.

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

As you may have gathered from that last little spiel, my writing style isn't exactly set in stone. I'll typically start with a one- or two-sentence concept, flesh that out into a rough outline (perhaps half a page of general notes), and then sit down and write. I use the outline as a guide when I get lost or sidetracked, but I generally treat it as more of a suggestion than a rulebook. I'll start with a rough draft, followed by one or more "second drafts," where I'm still altering the story itself, before I get down to polishing. Also, for my last few fics I've had one or more pre-readers go over my "final" draft, and have found their advice to be extremely helpful both in terms of cleaning up editing and phrasing, and on several occasions in making significant improvements to the plot or structure of the story.

What inspired you to write The Purloined Pony?

You may remember the Choose Your Own Adventure™ books from your youth, assuming that you grew up in the 80s or 90s; they were a series of adventure stories in which "you" had to figure out how to defeat the aliens, return to your home dimension, not get eaten by the ravenous yeti, or whatever. I loved the books when I was young, and there wasn't really anything like them in ponyfic at the time. I wanted to write something in that style, first and foremost.

As to how I settled specifically on Carrot Top, boggies, Apple Bloom being kidnapped, and the rest? I honestly don't remember—the one-sentence concept that I started from was "Apple Bloom is kidnapped by evil brownies, and it's up to Carrot Top to save the day," but where that came from I simply don't recall. I can tell you that my first crack at writing a CYOA™-style story revolved around duplicate ponies (changelings, though nothing like the insectoid love-feeders that would be introduced to canon more than a year later) infesting Ponyville; Caramel's cameo on page one is a reference to a scene from that abortive attempt with a similar event, albeit a completely different context and explanation.

Yes, I make meta-referential jokes that literally only I could possibly get in my fanfics. Take a note, kiddies—this is the sort of thing that gets you featured in the Pony Fiction Vault!

Did you run into any tough spots or challenges when writing The Purloined Pony?

Many. Oh lordy, so, so many. For more than a month, this story devoured nearly all of my then-considerable free time. The wall beside my desk was covered in sticky notes to help me remember which page linked to where, which pages still needed to be written, which ones needed to be re-written so that they would make sense not just from one of the pages that linked there, but from all of them (seriously, do you have any idea how hard it is to write something that makes sense under those constraints? It's freaking hard), and so on.

And how many times did I get stuck between one event and another? More than I can count. A couple I never resolved to my satisfaction, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Then there were the many times when I found myself desperately trying to make a merge point (a page that can be approached from two or more different directions) work. It's vitally important to have plenty of merge points in a CYOA™, or else what you end up with doesn't feel like a story, but just a narratively hollow decision tree. It's also important that those merge points not be too obvious, or else the reader starts to feel railroaded (for examples, think of your least favorite computer RPG). Merge points are really, really hard to disguise, and I can say from hard-earned experience that making them feel natural from all the directions in which a reader might reach them is nigh-impossible.

And then the editing. Going through the story over and over, taking different paths through the same dang pages, trying to make sure that every path had a logical flow to it. And that all the links between pages worked—the technical details of putting together a ninety page-long, fully interconnected CYOA™ were their own can of worms. Luckily, I had two editors/pre-readers, Lightsideluc and Anonymous, who were absolutely invaluable when it came to helping me find broken connections, smooth out transitions, keep a consistent tone, and generally write better.

When you set out to write The Purloined Pony, did you have any specific messages or themes in mind?

I wanted to stay true to the tone and morals of the show itself, and that guided a lot of my decisions. From the beginning, I knew that the bad endings wouldn't be CYOA™-style "You die a painful death, and now the space nazis are free to blow up the Earth" downers, for example. Such moral dilemmas as are presented in the story I also tried to keep show-tone: should you tell a lie to keep a promise, or tell the truth no matter what you said you'd do? That sort of thing. I don't think I nailed it on every page, but on the whole I'm pretty happy with how the tone (if not the plot, obviously) of The Purloined Pony compares to the show itself.

When you come right down to it, the message of the story (so far as any story which gives the reader frequent plot-altering decisions to make can be said to have a unified message, anyway) is that everyone matters. Depending on what you do in the story, Carrot Top can save the day, empower somepony else to save the day, get trapped in a pit (multiple pits await the unwary, in fact—thank goodness she's not a pegasus, or I'd have had no story), or skip the adventure entirely (I like to think of this as the "canon" ending, where Carrot Top stays firmly in the background and the main six do all the work). But even doing nothing is a choice, one that affects what happens to Apple Bloom and the other ponies. And the choice, as they say, is yours.

Where can readers drop you a line?

They can send me a note through my FIMFic account if they like, or they can e-mail me at

Yeah, I made that e-mail a couple weeks after I found ponies; at the time, I just wanted to have a Google Docs account so that I could send my shiny new fanfic into Equestria Daily. That was back in the day when there were no pre-readers, gdocs were the preferred story format, and I thought that making my address "madethisjusttopostponies" was funny. Little did I know.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Remember, fanfiction is for fun! Enjoy yourself! Write the story that you want to write, and revel in the freedom to explore your creative side. Do the thing you want to do, have fun doing it, and don't worry about the rest.

Also remember that real enjoyment comes from effort; nobody's ever known true satisfaction from something half-arsed. When you write—when you take part in anything—always give your all, and never be afraid to seek improvement.

At first blush, it may seem like these two ideas are antithetical. I promise you, they are not.


  1. Yes, I make meta-referential jokes that literally only I could possibly get in my fanfics. Take a note, kiddies—this is the sort of thing that gets you featured in the Pony Fiction Vault!

    This is the best advice. :D

    1. That's a relief, because I do this incessantly. It's nice to know I'm not the only one.

  2. Chris, you mentioned that the vast majority of D&D-related threads were of no interest to you because you play 1E. Have you tried Dragonsfoot before? It's entirely dedicated to First Edition AD&D

    Oh, and once again you've made an embarrassing typo. In your response to the question of who your favorite character is based on canon, that should say "Pinkie Pie", though I'm not sure where you got the idea that she's arrogant :p

    1. Very cool link! I'll check it out.

      >Pinkie Pie


    2. Honest as an Apple :D

      Seriously, she brings out the best expressions in the other characters and gives the whole show a more fun, cartoony feel. Plus, look at how she actually considered she might be in the wrong with regards to Gilda! I never see that in characters. Heck, it's a rare quality in real life too. Underneath all that sugar-coated crazy is a deep, introspective character

      She also looks super cute in just about any outfit