• Equestria Daily Interviews Somberpony (Author of Project Horizons)

    Interview by Allyster Black

    Header Image by Allyster Black and Yakovlev Vad

    Following my interview with Kkat is another well known Fallout: Equestria author, Somberpony. Known for his fanfiction "Project Horizons" a large FoE sidefic. I thought it would be cool to take a few minutes to set down with him and see his opinion on the show, and the fandom.

    To start the questions off with something lighthearted, What is your favorite show pony and why?

    Somber: My favorite show pony would have to be Rarity, which is ironic given that in Season 1, I really didn’t like her. I wondered how Rarity could have her mannerisms and speech in a small town, and wrote my first successful fic trying to give her origins that explained this. Now she’s my favorite due to her sophistication, creativity, drama, and her confidence. Of the six, she seems the most mature and together character on the show. A close second would be Twilight, though Season 3 created some problems. I like her intelligence, rationality, and compassion. She cares and desires to please others, but doesn’t take it nearly as far as Fluttershy.

    Ouestion: How did you discover My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic?

    Somber: It was a combination of a web comic that posted a character being a proud Brony and the fact the show was on YouTube for all of season one. I was severely depressed at the time, and was spending hours in a funk on the internet, working out how I’d commit suicide. While the show helped me, it was the fact that the show got me writing and that some people liked by writing that kept me from doing something stupidly permanent to myself. So while I credit the show with saving my life, really it was the community that saved me. And it has many time since.

    Ouestion: Do you have any role models you look up to?

    Somber: It’s a bit of a mess really. I admire Lincoln and FDR for their perseverance in spite of their own mental and physical handicaps. I admire Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, and Prince for their skill and the beauty the created through their music. I admire Jackie Robinson for taking on generations of bigotry and hate and I admire Muhammed Ali for refusing the draft, even at huge cost to his own career. For writers, I admire Steven King for his narrative flow, Hemmingway for his beautiful brevity, Tolkien for his elaborate construction and meticulous planning, and Jim Butcher for over the top characters.

    Ouestion: What are your inspirations in writing?

    Somber: Not disappointing my readers, which I’ll do anyway. Often I’ll have a feel or theme or message I want to give. I think about where I’ll have a chance to sprinkle backstory and details without it being too obtrusive. Then it’s just getting down to writing the damned thing. I often use deadlines with my editors to light a fire under my butt and get writing.

    Ouestion: How would you introduce the story to someone new to it?

    Somber: Project Horizons is the Silmarillion to Fallout Equestria’s Lord of the rings. It explores things happening behind the scenes and the gritty action that occurred out of view of the main story. It also tries to explain certain aspects of the main story that were unresolved. A lot of people don’t like it for that reason, but others like seeing dangling threads and questions explored. Why did Luna create ministries at all rather than ruling like Celestia did? Why did Littlehorn happen? How could the Goddess not know about Gardens? It also explores the questions ‘Can one person sacrifice enough to save the world?’ and more importantly ‘What is the Price for saving the world?’ Blackjack learns the answer to both.

    Ouestion: What was your greatest obstacle in writing Project Horizons?

    Somber: The sheer, ridiculous, size of the thing. I love the adage “Show, don’t tell” but really, a third of the story could be cut. But many readers love the ‘scenery porn’ and detail so... sigh. Can’t please everyone. Really, had the story been organized far better, and had I realized what I was getting into, and had I been willing to just leave more unresolved, I could have finished far faster. Instead, I tried to tie up as much as I could towards the end. The story is so large that it became a burden to try and change, organize, and edit things. The story fossilized under its own mass. At this point, all I can do is go through, convert things, and put it out there.

    Also, my editors are crazy. I love them to death... really, sometimes I just want to throttle them... but every now and then what should be editing turns into arguments about things like clouds or trains or... just... things. Still, they’ve given days of their lives to Horizons for free, so they’re good as gold.

    Ouestion: What is your opinion on the fan content that has been created for Project Horizons?

    Somber: It’s awesome. There is no bad fan content. There might be strange, bizarre, or perverted stuff, but even that’s awesome too. It tells me that my story inspired them enough to make an image or a song because of my writing. It’s a little overwhelming. Over time, some artists like Vector Brony became PH’s unofficial illustrator because he made so many pics from the fic. He really is amazing.

    Ouestion: Aside from Homelands, do you have any other plans to make more Fallout: Equestria themed stories?

    Somber: I have so many stories in my head for FoE... but probably not. I love writing FoE, but there’s plenty of other great writers and they’re due me moving on. If I were to do something for FoE, it would probably be based on Fallout 4, mostly on trying to make the game’s main story make sense. But I know there’s probably other writers that want to write that story, or something like it, so I should probably just bow out. Two fics is good enough for me, and I’m just going to focus on making Homelands as good as I can.

    Ouestion: Is there anything out would change in the fic if you could go back?

    Somber: So much. If I had three extra years and the guts to do so, I’d have Blackjack die after 33 and finish the story with Scotch Tape and Rampage. Originally, Project Horizons was essentially Fallout:New Vegas. EC-1101 would activate Horse’s army of robots and take over the Hoof. About the time I was writing chapter 30, I was growing increasingly self conscious and ambitious, but I’d already put BJ through hell physically. She was crippled. Broken. Lowest she’d get. So I build her up using cybernetic augmentation. This allowed her to continue the story, but it also caused an escalation of the fic WAY beyond what Fallout is supposed to be. I have a fondness for over the top narratives, and this let me get more and more ambitious.

    The second thing I would do is remove most of the anime and film references. I like anime, and movies. Blackjack is partially inspired by Vash the Stampede and Spike Spigel. A lot of her augmentations were inspired by Battle Angel Alita and Ghost in the Shell. However, there’s a fine line between using a reference and distracting from the story. At the time, I thought the references were cool, a homage to anime and movies I liked, and a funny distraction from all the dark angst in the story. A reference is fine. 30 are not. It’s also a bad habit; you do it once and soon you can’t help but not do it.

    The third thing I would do is tone down a lot of sex in the story. There’s some scenes towards the end that I should just take out, but sexuality is an aspect of character and I didn’t want to ignore that either. Sex plays a role from the first chapter to the last, and so the really blatant scenes should be toned down or removed. Several places I simply went too close to the edge and crossed the line from writing sexually relevant material to erotic or porn, depending on your tastes.

    Ouestion: What do you think of season 6 so far?

    Somber: It’s pretty impressive. I’ve wanted a seventh mane pony since the end of season 4, and thought that it would be cool if there was a seventh element in the magic lockbox. I wanted it to be a batpony though... We’ll probably get it right after the Celestia episode. Sigh... still, I like what’s being done with Starlight. What makes her work for me is she’s a pony who did wrong, and the show doesn’t try to omit that. I hope she comes across her old victims and has to deal with ponies who don’t forgive what was done to them, just to see how she takes it. Because that’s life. So I am looking forward to more story with her, and it makes me hopeful for an episode 7.

    Ouestion: What would you say to people who want to start writing but are unsure how?

    Somber: Okay, there’s one thing you have to do: write. Write the damned thing. Planning is wonderful, and I should do it more myself. Plotting things out is great. Talking ideas is fun! But unless you’re putting words together and actually writing the story, all you’re doing is wasting time. And yes, you will think it’s horrible. Guess what? It is! What, did you think that you’d get perfection the first time? Nothing is ever perfect first time through, no matter how experienced a writer you are. So write your first story. Finish it. Listen to people who give you criticism. Then, and here it the critical step, you write another. And another. And while you’re writing, you’re listening to readers. You’re reading other books. You’re following other fics. But above all, you’re writing. Maybe it’s just one page a day. Do that and you’ll have a novel in a year. Maybe it’s 1000 words a night. That’s two novels. Maybe it’s just for half an hour. Maybe it’s just one paragraph. Whatever rate you have to... write. Get it written and done. Then rewrite and revise and edit. Then move on to the next story.

    Step two is to get get readers and editors. This is NOT easy. Period. The internet is saturated with fics and writing in a vacuum is not easy. Horizons wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t had a constant stream of interest from readers and the help of editors. Plugging your story on FicFic, Reddit, and 4chan may get you some attention, but honestly I’ve found that just writing and posting will, sooner or later, get some attention because you haven’t given up. These are the people who keep you going. And yeah, some of them are jerks. Some of them only exist to tear you down. I’d rather have them than nothing, because when you write in a vacuum, all your work feels like it doesn’t matter. If you can, try and start groups online, and stick to them. Once you start letting writing slip, it becomes very easy to quit.

    Step three is to separate critics from jerks. Here’s the difference: a critic will hate your work. They’ll hate your characters. They will give very specific reasons for hating your work. They will condemn your work as a waste of time and energy for very specific reasons. Believe it or not, these people are your allies because they care. If they didn’t care, they’d just move on to another story. Engage critics. Ask them their opinions. Ask them for specifics. Thank them. See if they’re willing to help make your story better. Get multiple opinions to help you write a better story. Jerks, on the other hand, don’t care about your story. They’re here to hate on you. They will make personal attacks. They will try to make you miserable as a person. Anyone that attacks you personally is a jerk, and should be ignored. Don’t engage them. Ignore them. Usually they’ll go away, but even if they don’t, never give them the satisfaction of your misery.

    Ouestion: Do you have any hobbies outside of writing.

    Somber: Video games, mostly. Anime. Reading fiction. Ponies, of course. Running D&D campaigns. I’m a really boring person.

    Ouestion: What was your inspiration for Blackjack?

    Somber: Blackjack was originally a knock off Littlepip. She was basically an older Scotch Tape. Fortunately, I realized that would be pretty lame, and so I thought about a character that was the professional opposite of Littlepip. Blackjack knows how to fight... but that’s it. She’s lousy at lock picking, sneaking, and hacking. This made her far more reliant on her friends. She’s also rife with insecurities and fears, which I probably take from me. She’s desperate not to be bad, so she’s trying far too hard to be good. That’s probably from me. She’s a lot of the person that I wish I was.

    Ouestion: Did the story ever change (behind the scenes) as you were writing it.

    Somber: Oh yes. I broke the cardinal rule of writing: I changed the story. It was chapter 36 of FoE that introduced the Lovecraftian elements to Fallout Equestria, and what Kkat probably meant as an accent sent my imagination aflame. What had been a rip off of New Vegas became a Cosmic Horror story about saving the world from an impossibly powerful threat. Unfortunately, that is not Fallout. You never save the world in Fallout, just your small corner of it. My choice took Horizons and shot for the moon... so to speak. A fic lightly based on Van Buren became a final fantasy-esque story and things just go from there. Some people loved it. Some people loathe it.

    Ouestion: What got you into writing MLP fan-fictions

    Somber: Suicidal depression, mostly. I’d written a decade or so before, and burned out with nothing finished. I’d given up on writing. Then the show caught me and I had ideas for stories and thought: Why not? If it sucks, it’s just fan fiction. Most fan fiction sucks anyway! And to my astonishment, people actually liked my writing. Go fig. It saved my life.

    Ouestion: What has been your favorite season of MLP and why?

    Somber: Season 4, I think. It felt like it had a good arc. I just wish that they’d employed a little foreshadowing with Tirek. It’s one of the greatest weaknesses of the show. Foreshadowing is your friend!

    Ouestion: What is your favorite part of the community?

    Somber: Two bits. The first is how inclusive it is. You don’t hear the phrase ‘Love and Tolerate’ much anymore, but to me that was a big appeal. This was a group of people who were going to do better, be better, than the cynical and snide detractors that permeate the world. I’m always glad to see the community embracing each other, even when we argue. Drama’s inevitable, but in the end it has to be put aside.

    The second bit is how creative the community is. I think that it’s created more content in regards to fanfics, music, art, and commentary than any fandom I know. I think that, with time, it’ll equal some of the biggest fandoms out there, like Star Wars and Star Trek. I can only hope.

    Ouestion: Do you have a personal favorite of your PH cast?

    Somber: Blackjack. She never gives up, no matter how much it hurts. And Rampage. I empathize a lot with Rampage....

    That's all she wrote! Thanks everyone for stopping by to read the interview. Thanks to Somberpony for taking the time to speak with me!

    Somberpony's FIMFiction
    Allyster Black @Twitter