Writer's Block
written by Sugarberry

Sugarberry was pleasantly surprised to see Chocolate Chip come into the vet clinic on a wintry Friday afternoon in the company of Prime, the mathematically-inclined Brilliant Brother.

"Hi, you two. What's up?" she greeted the college students. "Nothing is wrong is it?" Sugarberry had the unfortunate ability to suspect the worst in any situation.

"Hi, Sugarberry!" the vivacious pair responded. "And, no, nothing is wrong," continued Chocolate Chip. "We were just studying at the library, and Streaky asked us if we'd help her hang these."

The sleek brown filly pulled a poster from the stack that Prime was holding, and held it in front of Sugarberry who read it out loud.

Attention, writers!

Come to the first meeting of the newly formed

Dream Valley Writer's Block.

We will meet in the library conference room

on Tuesday evening at 7:00 PM.

Bring a paragraph-long sample of your writing

to share with the group.

All ages are welcome.

Refreshments will be provided.

"Hey, that sounds like fun!" exclaimed Sugarberry. "Are you two going to be there?"

"Doubtful," replied Prime. "I've got a paper due on Wednesday, so I'll be doing my writing for that."

"Same here," agreed Chocolate Chip. "But maybe I can join this summer when classes are over."

"What's going on out here?" asked Thomas, coming from his office with a black-and-white kitten riding on his back.

Sugarberry lifted the kitten down and snuggled it lovingly. "Aww, is the poor little kitty feeling better?"

"She's going to be just fine!" Thomas assured her. "The antibiotic is clearing up her eye problem, and soon she will be back to normal."

As Sugarberry returned the kitten to its holding cage, Thomas read the poster that Chocolate Chip presented him. "May we hang this on your bulletin board?" she asked.

"So Streaky's starting a writer's group!" Thomas said. "Sounds like your kind of enterprise, Sugarberry."

"It should be fun finding all the talent out there," Sugarberry grinned at Thomas. "Are you willing to share a sample of your writing style?"

"I think not," returned Thomas, "unless you want a medical paper on animal disease."

"Ah, maybe we should hang this somewhere else," giggled Chocolate Chip as she took the poster from Thomas. "I don't think that's what Streaky has in mind."

"You know, Chocolate Chip, if we go to the meeting late, we'd at least get some free food out of it without having to write anything," planned Prime.

"Just hang the poster!" Chocolate Chip shoved him toward the bulletin board. "Are all the stallions going to be this difficult?" she directed to Sugarberry.

Sugarberry grew thoughtful. "Well, I know Quarterback has a story he's been working on from time to time. And Clever Clover writes when he can."

"And Ed will probably be interested," added Prime. Ed was another Brilliant Brother at Pony Pride University, majoring in journalism.

"Which of the mares do you think you'll see there?" wondered Thomas. "Besides Sugarberry, of course," he added.

Their discussion was cut short, however, as Powder came into the clinic with her cocker spaniel, Jo-Jo, for a two o'clock appointment. Chocolate Chip and Prime moved on to get their supply of posters hung. Thomas, Powder, and Jo-Jo disappeared into the examining room.

Sugarberry stood in front of Streaky's poster. "I wonder who will show up?" she asked herself softly. As she reread the poster, a twinge of bitterness began to creep into he heart. "Streaky could have conferred with me about this new group. After all, I am one of the few ponies in Dream Valley who has had books published." She frowned deeply.

Her brooding thoughts had to wait as the ringing of the phone broke the silence. Sugarberry dashed to her desk to answer and was soon caught up in scheduling an appointment for the next day. As she hung up the receiver, her mind began searching for more fuel to feed her smouldering resentment.

"You'd have thought Streaky would come to me for advice, at least. Sure, she's a librarian; but I'm a writer!" she grumbled.

The more she thought, the deeper her spirit sank. "I'd have been happy to address the group about my experiences with publishers and all the things I've learned-- like rejections accumulate a lot faster than acceptances."

Thomas, reappearing in the reception area followed by Jo-Jo and Powder, reminded Sugarberry, "We're running low on syringes."

"I ordered more last week," Sugarberry snapped back. "They'll be here by Monday."

Thomas looked questioningly at his usually pleasant receptionist. "Is anything wrong, Sugarberry?"

Feeling like a naughty foal, Sugarberry blushed. "No, Thomas, but thanks for asking." She hurried into the examining room to clean things up for the next appointment. When she finished, she returned to her desk and got busy addressing reminder cards for the next day's mail until Tiffany arrived with Theodora.

"Oh, Sugarberry, doesn't this writing group sound thrilling?" trilled the white princess pony. "I'm going straight home after Theodora's appointment to start my novel."

Sugarberry petted Theodora's sleek black head. "I didn't know you did much writing, Tiffany." She led the princess and her Bombay cat to the spotless examining room.

"I've always wanted to write a romance," declared Tiffany. "And this writer's group is just the thing to get me started."

"Another budding authoress?" asked Thomas as he came into the room carrying Theodora's chart. "You've got competition, Sugarberry."

"So it seems." Sugarberry forced a smile, and returned to her desk as Tiffany's chatter filled the office.

Glancing at the clock, Sugarberry groaned. "Another hour of work." She tidied up the reception area, and updated Jo-Jo's medical history on the computer. Tiffany and Theodora left the clinic, and Thomas retreated into his office to catch up on the day's mail and converse with Doo-Moh on important matters, as no more appointments were scheduled.

Sugarberry punched the keyboard to bring up her private file. She passed her hoof over her eyes and leaned back in her chair as the words she had written for her work-in-progress appeared. Who was she trying to kid? She hadn't had a book published in ages, and at the rate her current mystery was going, it would be a long while yet until another novelette hit the stands.

Scrolling down the pages before her, she began to get edgy to start working on the story again. "I'll go straight home after work and write until I fall asleep," she decided.

Another peek at the clock told her it was time to close up. She shut down the computer, locked the files, and rapped on Thomas' door which stood partly open.

"I'm heading home," she informed the unicorn as he looked up from his paperwork. "See you tomorrow!"

"What? No Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe tonight?" he teased.

"I've got some things to do," Sugarberry replied. "Give my love to Tabby!"

Hurrying as quickly as she could over the snow-covered paths home, Sugarberry was lost in thought as she mentally composed lines for her main character, Hood, to say.


Surfacing to reality, the twice-as-fancy earth pony glanced behind her.

"Sugarberry! Wait up!" Trotting in her direction came Vanguard. "What's your hurry?"

"Hi, Vanguard. I've got some writing that needs to get done."

"I tried to get to the clinic before you left, but Thomas informed me that you had gone home already. I was hoping we could go somewhere to eat."

Sugarberry smiled graciously, but shook her head. "Thanks for asking, but I've really got to buckle down on this novelette I'm writing."

"You've got to eat, don't you? Come with me, and I promise to walk you home as soon as we're through," Vanguard begged.

Standing firm, Sugarberry declined. "Have you heard of this new writer's group Streaky is forming?"

"Chocolate Chip and Prime put a poster up outside my office," replied Vanguard as he fell into step beside Sugarberry. If he couldn't take her to dinner, at least he could accompany her back to her house. "Are you going to address the group?"

Vanguard was relatively new to Dream Valley, having left a teaching position at Binks University to become head of the mathematics department at Pony Pride. He was well aware, however, of Sugarberry's love of writing, and considered the autographed copies of her published works to be treasures.

"Actually, I didn't know about the group until this afternoon," Sugarberry admitted. "Not everyone thinks as much of my abilities as you do, I guess." She cast a soulful glance toward Vanguard.

"Hey, is someone feeling put-out?" he asked, stopping in the path to face her. "You're a very good writer-- excellent, in my opinion-- and everyone loves your work."

"Says you," Sugarberry retorted. Dusk was falling fast as the two continued on.

When Vanguard had left Sugarberry safely at home, he retraced his steps to downtown Dream Valley. Thomas was just leaving the vet clinic as Vanguard came by.

"Off to meet Tabby?" he queried of his friend.

Thomas sighed. "I wish! I tried to reach her at the Pokèmon Center, but as closely as I can figure, Chansey said she had gone home early to do some serious writing."

"This doesn't bode well for us, buddy," Vanguard joked. "Sounds like the girls are going to be unapproachable until after this meeting Streaky's holding."

"I hope it loses its appeal fast," considered Thomas. "If all the mares in Dream Valley get caught up in this writing frenzy, it's going to be awfully quiet."

Thomas' words proved prophetic. That evening at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe was indeed quiet. Sugarberry and Tabby weren't there, of course, but neither were Tamara, Clever Clover, or Quarterback. Friendly and Spike came in and joined Vanguard and Thomas, and Tex showed up eventually; but without the girls, the ice cream shop didn't seem quite so much fun... no gossip, no arguing, no matchmaking.

The fellows were compensating by ordering a second round of sundaes from Scoops when Tiffany breezed through the door, followed by Toby. The princess was loquaciously discussing her masterpiece in progress.

"Where is everyone?" Tiffany queried as her gaze swept over the empty tables of the shop. She and Toby joined Thomas' downcast group. "Isn't Tabby feeling well?" she directed at Thomas. "And Sugarberry, too?" she quizzed Vanguard. "Where's Tamara?"

"As a matter of fact, they are all home writing," informed Tex.

"Oh, I've been writing for hours and I've made so much headway that I felt I owed myself an outing," purred Tiffany, batting her eyelashes furiously at no one in particular. She was well aware that she was the only mare at the table with four good-looking stallions, not to mention a Bushwoolie and a dragon of the male gender.

"Toby, please order me a banana split," Tiffany requested, then began a run-down of her story. "It's about a beautiful white princess pony who has to choose from the many admiring suitors who are plying for her hoof in marriage."

Winking at his cronies, Tex teasingly asked the princess, "Are you modeling the heroine after yourself, Tiffany?"

"Well, she does share my poise and beauty and glamour and nobility," smoothly smiled Tiffany, "but she does get an engagement ring and her stallion in the end." Here she frowned at Toby as he delivered the banana split to her.

"Hey! What did I do?" the puzzled stallion asked.

Tiffany waved a hoof in Toby's direction. "Oh, nothing. I was just discussing my story with these attentive listeners."

"Have you written much before this?" asked Vanguard politely.

"Actually, no," admitted Tiffany. "But I seem to have a knack for it." She ran a hoof through her mane so that the silver sparkles caught the light in a cascade of white brilliance, then continued. "The words simply pour from my pen as if the story has been inside of me forever. I can't understand why Sugarberry is always complaining about meeting deadlines and finishing a story. It seems very easily done for me."

Vanguard opened his mouth to say something in Sugarberry's defense, then thought better of it as Tiffany continued her prattle.

"I can't imagine what Tabby thinks she can find to write about," Tiffany was on a roll. "She hasn't even begun to experience life like I have. And Tamara," the princess shook her head, "is so caught up in her show cats that I can't begin to see her writing anything but pedigree reports."

As quickly as she had swept in, Tiffany was ready to leave. "Toby, I feel inspired to start the next chapter. If you will kindly walk me home, I'll get right to it."

Rising from the table, she condescended to bestow a parting glance on each of the table's occupants before turning to leave. Toby shrugged his shoulders and smiled apologetically at his friends before following Tiffany to the door.

Tex, Vanguard, Thomas, Friendly, and Spike sat in stunned silence until Friendly spoke with amazing perception. "Writer's group make trouble, yeah, yeah."

The others readily agreed.

* * *

Saturday dawned with new snow falling. Sugarberry rolled out of bed to the brassy beeping of her alarm clock. She looked at the sheets of paper scattered across her bed; she'd written late into the night-- early morning, as it were-- as ideas kept bombarding her.

Now, in morning's dim light, her head ached and her eyes burned. She felt like a complete zombie. Feeling the brush of Fluff's soft fur against her leg, she reached down and scooped him up.

"Nice kitty needs some sleep," she mumbled as she laid back down in her warm bed and pulled the covers over her and Fluff. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow, and Fluff's gently purring only lulled her more deeply into dreamland where the characters from her book rubbed elbows with the inhabitants of Dream Valley.

When Sugarberry groggily regained consciousness, her bedside clock informed her it was ten-thirty. She stretched and yawned and felt for Fluff at her side, but he had already gone his way. After a shower and the usual routine, Sugarberry hungrily headed for the kitchen.

Once there, she found Fluff's food dish empty and Fluff himself curled-up in the living room on the sofa fast asleep. Sugarberry made some instant coffee and warmed-up a cinnamon roll in the microwave, then collapsed into a kitchen chair. From this vantage point, she could watch the white snowflakes batter the windowpane as she ate breakfast. Before long, however, the notepad on the table was covered with further notes for development in her Hood story.

After finishing her roll and refilling her coffee mug, Sugarberry collected all her papers and deposited herself in front of the computer. "I'll get everything keyed in before I start on new material," she decided, although she continued to jot down ideas as they crossed her mind.

"Bring! Bring!" The sound of the phone caused Sugarberry to jump as her entire concentration was directed at the imaginary world of Woodlawn.

"Hello?" Sugarberry spoke into the receiver.

"Hey, Sug!" Tabby's voice came through loud and clear.

"Hi, Tabby! What's up?

"I'm writing an Atlantean drama-- well, I don't know if it's really a drama, but it does sound so very impressive that way-- and I have a question. What are some other words for ‘said'? I'm trying to come up with something, and it's simply driving me nuts."

"Look in a thesaurus, Tabby.

"But that would take time, Sugarberry."

Sugarberry smiled. Tabby had a phobia about using dictionaries and related items that stretched back all the way to grammar school. " ‘Instructed' would be one," instructed Sugarberry.

"Something better than that," requested Tabby. "Some good ones for Furbys to use."

"Smirked, taunted, wavered, heralded, suggested..."

"Hey! Give me time to write."

Once Tabby was satisfied with her word list, Sugarberry commented on the enchanting snowfall.

"What? It's snowing?" asked an out-of-touch Tabby. "I hadn't noticed."

"Have you stopped to eat or sleep?" worried Sugarberry.

"Huh? No, not much. I've been so busy writing, Sug. Who has time to eat?"

"Streaky's poster only asked for a sample of your writing, not a complete manuscript," reminded Sugarberry.

"And, pray tell, what are you doing, Sug? Hmm?"

"Point taken, Tabby."

"Well, must keep at it. Goodbye!"

Sugarberry sighed. She wished Tabby would be knocking on her door to cart her off to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe like normal.

"That's why I'm not a good author," Sugarberry thought dejectedly. "I'm distracted too easily." She pushed back from her computer and trotted to the window. The snow was ending, but an inch or two of the fluffy stuff coated the outside world in pristine loveliness. Sugarberry drank in the beauty of it before her dark thoughts clouded the scene before her.

"The reason I'm not a good author," she continued her downward reverie, "is that I don't have a decent writing style. If the publisher hadn't been desperate for something to print, he never would have accepted my work in the first place."

She returned to her computer, and reread the last lines she had written. "Hmm. They don't sound too bad," she pondered.

She read them again, trying to put herself into someone else's place, trying to find what was wrong with her style. She scrolled back through the developing story, looking for flaws. Suddenly it hit her.

"It's too boring, that's what's wrong with it!" She was tempted to delete the entire thing, when Fluff jumped up on her lap and licked her face.

"Hungry again, aren't you," she murmured as she buried her face in his soft, thick fur. At that moment, the phone rang again; and as she answered it, she realized that dusk was falling and she really hadn't accomplished anything.

The voice on the other end of the line was that of Vanguard. "I'll be there in half an hour to take you out to eat." he said quickly before she could object. "No excuses accepted."

"I'm too depressed to offer any," she admitted.

"Knowing that, I'll be there in fifteen minutes. See ya!"

Sugarberry tickled Fluff under the chin and then lifted him down off her lap. "Guess I'd better straighten things up a bit," she said to her portly feline. "Bet you wish you could go with us, don't you?" Fluff responded with a scratchy-sounding meow, and then jumped up on the sofa for yet another nap.

Sugarberry brushed her hair and tied a bright blue ribbon around her tail. She was fussing with the bow when Vanguard arrived at her front door.

"Hi. Come on in," she greeted him, her glum countenance breaking into a pleasant smile.

"Thanks," he replied as he stepped into the house, stomping the snow off his hooves. "Here, this is for you." He handed her a wrapped package.

Sugarberry undid the ribbon and removed the paper to reveal a framed picture of herself and Vanguard taken on Christmas Day.

"Oh, this turned out really nice," she gasped. Clever Clover had been snapping pictures of the ponies and others who had congregated at Sugarberry's house for Christmas. He had caught Vanguard and Sugarberry while they were standing together in front of the Christmas tree, smiling at each other tenderly.

"Yes, I thought so, too. When Clever Clover gave me the picture, I had it enlarged-- one for each of us," he grinned.

"That was very thoughtful of both of you," Sugarberry replied as she set the eight-by-ten on the end table by her rocking chair. "Thanks for brightening my day," she added as she gave Vanguard a hug.

"My pleasure," he teased, causing a pink blush to spread across Sugarberry's cheeks.

Quickly changing the subject, Sugarberry asked, "Didn't you mention something about eating out when you called?"

"Yes, I did," Vanguard verified. "I made reservations for two at the Estate Manor."

"Wow. Top of the line," a reasonably impressed Sugarberry responded. "Are you sure you can afford it? I'm awfully hungry," she taunted him.

"Not to worry," he assured her as they left the house. The snow glittered under the street lights; and the dry, puffy flakes swirled in eddies around their hooves as they walked to the restaurant.

The Estate Manor was decorated in a medieval style, reminiscent of the days of knights and ladies. The furniture was dark, solid wood; and a huge fireplace ruled over the dining room. Heavy, beautifully-woven tapestries covered the walls and hand-forged sconces and candle-holders bathed the room in mellow light.

"Ah," sighed Sugarberry as Cosmic seated them near the center of the room close to the fireplace. "This is so wonderful, Vanguard. Lots better than worrying about Hood in front of the computer screen."

"And how is your story line progressing?" asked an interested Vanguard. He took the menu that Cosmic handed him, and he and Sugarberry began perusing their choices.

Sugarberry looked up from her menu, and frowned.

"Okay, forget that I asked," Vanguard hurriedly reversed himself. "Let me see that smile back on your face."

Sugarberry obliged by forcing a weak smile, which became the real thing as Cosmic came with their earthenware mugs of coffee. She wrapped her hooves around the hot cup as if to absorb some hidden energy from its warmth.

The atmosphere of the Estate Manor had a calming effect on Sugarberry, and the food was delicious. She and Vanguard enjoyed their meal together, and lingered over their coffee as if holding back the problems of the real world.

But all too soon, the enchantment of their quaint surroundings could no longer shield Sugarberry from the nagging doubts about her ability to write a saleable novel. Vanguard saw the worry appear on her face, and asked, "Shall we be on our way?"

"Yes, please," Sugarberry responded.

The check paid, Vanguard and Sugarberry once more stepped out into the wintry pathways of Dream Valley. They walked in silence, and Vanguard sensed that Sugarberry's thoughts had turned inward to the imaginary world of her story.

Upon reaching her front porch, Sugarberry shook her head as if the chase away what was on her mind. "I'm sorry, Vanguard. I wasn't very good company."

"We were together. That's enough for me."

"Thanks, Vanguard! You're the greatest!"

The two ponies exchanged a lingering hug; then Sugarberry whispered "Good night," and disappeared into her house. Vanguard looked after her, then turned and headed for home.

* * *

Sunday dawned, a day of sunshine and warmer temperatures. Once home from church, Chocolate Chip prepared for a skating party with a bunch of school friends and Sugarberry sat down in her computer chair and closed her eyes.

Some lines came to light, and she began keying them into her computer. She read them back to herself. "That sounds good!" she complimented herself. A flood of images came to her mind, and she began typing to avoid losing them. When she next glanced at the clock, she was surprised to see it was two o'clock already.

She fixed a snack for herself and refilled Fluff's empty bowl, then returned to the computer until nearly bedtime, barely looking up when Chocolate Chip returned home. She made a quick call to Vanguard to tell him that things were going better, then got ready for bed, and fell asleep lulled by the rhythmic breathing of Fluff at her side.

At work the next morning, Sugarberry felt refreshed and set for anything. She greeted Thomas in her usual good humor, and informed him of the delivery of the awaited syringes. She greeted the first patient of the day, and set-up new appointments for pets due their routine exams and shots. She was humming contentedly to herself when her gaze fell inadvertently on the poster that had caused the whirlwind of writing. And in that moment, all her doubts and worries overwhelmed her again. She shuddered as she realized her dilemma. "I've got no self-confidence," she whispered. "I'll never finish this book."

Pulling up her story file, she quickly hit the delete button and cried out,"Yes, I'm sure I want to delete this stupid file!" She looked up to see Thomas staring at her strangely.

"Sugarberry, would you help Chief here? His ferret is in excellent health, but he needs an appointment for a second one he has picked out at the pet shop."

Embarrassed by her show of temper at the computer, Sugarberry felt tears welling up in her eyes, but fought back the urge to run from the room. She turned to her appointment book which gave her a chance to regain her composure. After scanning through the open appointments, she was able to fit Chief in on Wednesday morning, and she could even smile at him when he thanked her for her help.

Once the door closed behind him, however, Sugarberry scowled at her computer screen. She felt good about deleting her Hood story, yet she knew that the more up-to-date version was in her home computer. She wondered if she'd have the courage to delete that, too.

"How's Tabby doing with her writing?" queried Thomas. Sugarberry jumped, as she thought he had returned to his office.

"Tabby? I don't really know. We talked briefly on Saturday, but I haven't seen her in person since last week."

"Me neither." Thoms looked so forlorn that Sugarberry set her own problem aside.

"The meeting is tomorrow night," comforted Sugarberry. "After that, the novelty will be worn off and things will return to normal." She paused for a second. "At least, I hope so!"

"You must be getting close to completing that novel you're working on, I suppose."

Rising and walking to the file cabinet, Sugarberry avoided the question while she returned the manila folder to its proper place. When she'd finished that task, she closed the drawer, and turned to Thomas.

"It's going nowhere. I think I'll have to shuck the entire project."

"That seems a bit extreme."

Sugarberry sighed deeply, but was saved from an answer by the entrance of Wigwam with his wolf, Manitou. It was always a special occasion when Manitou came in for a check-up. He was a beautiful animal, and responded companionably to Wigwam's soft-spoken commands.

Wigwam led the grey creature directly to an examining room, and it wasn't until the exam was finished that Sugarberry had a close-up look at the wolf, admiring his wild and rugged beauty.

Wigwam himself moved across the room to the library poster. Thomas noticed his interest and asked, "Thinking of a literary career, Wigwam?"

"I wonder if there would be any interest in the native pony tales passed on from earlier generations."

"This is your opportunity to find out. I've heard about a number of ponies who are excited about the writer's group." Looking back at Sugarberry, he continued. "Sugarberry is an author; she will be at the meeting."

Wigwam looked at Sugarberry as if he just realized she was in the room. "Ah, yes, Sugarberry. I have read your books."

Sugarberry stood with her hoof on Manitou's head. Wigwam's words hung heavy on her heart. I have read your books. The words seemed to echo off the clinic walls. No praise, no comment, no observation... just that blank statement.

It would have been more compassionate to tell me my work stinks, Sugarberry wanted to spit at the orange stallion, but she kept her temper in check and simply gave Manitou a final pat, and crossed to her desk. Wigwam signaled to the wolf, and the two left the clinic.

"Certainly not one of my fans," grumbled Sugarberry as Thomas now patted her shoulder.

"Take it as a compliment that he has read your books. His actions speak louder than his words."

"Sure. The tall, silent type," she sulked.

Thomas grinned. "You know what you need? You need an evening at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe! You and Vanguard, and Tabby and me..."

As the phone rang, Sugarberry picked up the receiver.

"Oh, hi, Tabby. Sure, he's right here."

She winked at Thomas as she handed him the receiver. "It's for you."

Thomas took the receiver. "Hi, Tab... But what about... Can't you... Maybe... Bye, Tabby."

Sugarberry couldn't help but giggle as Thomas reset the receiver on the phone. "I take it Tabby has her own plans?"

Thomas' hoof tapped the desk impatiently, a habit he was picking up from Tabby. "She says she has to finish her epic adventure tonight."

"All Streaky wants is a paragraph."

Thomas became aware of his hoof-tapping, and stopped abruptly. "Well, it sounds like she's going to be in for a big surprise! Every pony I've talked to is writing way more than a paragraph." He grinned, regaining his good humor. "Including you."

"I had a reason to be writing long before anyone heard of a writer's group." retorted Sugarberry. "Now, go help your next client."

Minty had entered the clinic carrying a snowball-white kitten ready for some booster shots. The routine of the day carried Sugarberry to closing time. Before leaving, she checked in on Thomas. "Remember that Vanguard has a faculty meeting to attend this evening. Your Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe gang will be even smaller."

"Great. That leaves Friendly, Tex, and I to bear the brunt of Tiffany's gloating over her literary talent."

"Tiffany? Isn't she busily writing, too?" Sugarberry asked in surprise.

"It appears that Tiffany would rather talk about her abilities than write. Suffice it to say, you don't have to worry about any competition from the princess... unless your style is autobiographical."

* * *

At home in front of her computer that evening, Sugarberry stared at her Hood story on the screen.

"I can't delete this," she convinced herself. "Even if it's never published, I'll know I did the best I could do."

Chocolate Chip came into the room carrying a pile of notes for her history paper. "Um, Sugarberry, could I possibly start entering all this stuff in the computer tonight? I've got to work at Bushwoolie Bargain Books all afternoon after classes tomorrow, and the paper has to be done by Wednesday."

Closing up her file, Sugarberry smiled at her hard-working boarder. "Sure thing. Who am I to stand in the way of education?"

"Torture is more like it," groaned Chocolate Chip as she set the stack of papers by the keyboard. "Do you know how utterly boring the political history of Grundleland is?" She tossed her brown mane in exasperation.

"I've never delved too deeply into it," admitted Sugarberry as she relinquished the chair.

"And you know the worst part?"

"No, but I think I'm going to hear it really soon."

"They say that Historia grades by dropping the completed reports from the top of the stairwell, and the one that travels the farthest gets the ‘A'!"

"Probably just a horrid rumor started by upperclassponies to strike fear into the hearts of the insignificant underlings."

"Well, they succeeded," grimaced Chocolate Chip.

Suddenly, leaning back in the chair, Chocolate Chip began thinking out loud. "Using what I know from physics class, the paper with the most weight should carry the furthest, in which case the sheer number of pages would have a greater effect on the grade received than the quality of the information on those pages."

"You're beginning to sound like Windwhistler here."

"Heaven forbid!"

The two ponies giggled, which went a long way in relieving the stress both felt themselves under. Chocolate Chip then asked, "Have you decided what you'll be sharing at the writer's group tomorrow night? Ed was reading his article to us at the Student Center this afternoon, but it wasn't too exciting."

"To each his own," murmured Sugarberry, temporarily reminded of her self-doubts. Then, brightening, she relayed her experience with Wigwam, repeating his words with the proper inflection of voice to make the meaning clear. "I have read your books."

Laughing, Chocolate Chip commiserated with her friend. "Why, that inconsiderate stallion!" Giggling some more, she added, "Maybe he was awed by your presence-- a real authoress, you know-- or subdued by your dazzling beauty, or..."

Sugarberry sternly tapped her hoof on the pile of notes lying untouched on the computer table. "Doesn't some filly have an assignment to finish?"

"Yes, Mother," Chocolate Chip mocked meekly, setting to work on her task.

Dropping into her rocking chair, Sugarberry contemplated her choices for tomorrow night.

"Number one. I could stay home."

"Number two. I could read a paragraph from the Hood story."

"Number three. I could write something new."

She closed her eyes, and listened to the clicking of the keys as Chocolate Chip typed in her information. Ideas for Hood's finale began flitting through her head, and she hastily grabbed a pad and pencil and began jotting down notes.

Satisfied with the path the story was taking, Sugarberry finally set her material down, and took leave of Chocolate Chip.

"I'm turning in. Don't stay up all night."

Not missing a beat, Chocolate Chip mumbled goodnight, and Sugarberry left her in peace.

* * *

Tuesday passed quickly and without incident. Vanguard called the clinic to verify that the writers would definitely stop by the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe after the meeting. Thomas, too, reminded her that she and Tabby and the others would be expected to appear at their favorite haunt once they were finished at the library.

It wasn't until she and Chocolate Chip were tidying up the kitchen after supper that Sugarberry decided what sample of her writing she'd take to the meeting. She printed it off quickly so that Chocolate Chip could again buckle down to her history paper.

Sugarberry was heading for the door to leave when a knock sounded.

"That's Tabby's knock," both she and Chocolate Chip said simultaneously.

Grinning, she opened the door.

"Ready to go to the writer's group, Sug? This is so exciting, isn't it? It's so fascinating writing a story about Furbys. I'm sure it's better then Tiffany's romance, and Tamara's cat-show mystery. Just wait ‘till you hear it, Sugarberry! It's a riot!" Tabby chattered excitedly.

With a wave to Chocolate Chip, Sugarberry exited the house with Tabby, and the two hurried to the library through the quiet nighttime streets.

"Isn't it great when all the baby ponies are home in bed?" remarked Tabby.

"Don't look now, but they're not all tucked in yet," warned Sugarberry as she caught sight of a small shape moving ahead of them.

Hearing voices behind her, Baby Noddins stopped and turned around. "Ooh, Tabby! And Sugarberry! I'm goin' to that writer's meeting thing! Is that where you're going?"

"Baby Noddins," Tabby said firmly, "you're too young to attend."

"Oh, but the sign said that all ages are welcome, Tabby," Baby Noddins wisely contradicted. "Does that mean you are going? Can I read what you wrote?"

"Why, you--"

"Now, girls," Sugarberry mediated. "Let's just get on our way so we won't be late." She took Baby Noddins by the hoof, and they continued on their way.

* * *

All paths seemed to lead to the library that evening. The girls overtook Miss Hackney, who was delighted to see her current and former students taking part in this new venture of Streaky's

Tiffany came from the direction of the Royal Paradise, and Windwhistler just rounded the corner when Sugarberry and crew reached the library.

Upon entering the building, the ponies heard the sound of voices emanating from the conference room. Tamara was already there, as was Butch, Ed, and Bright Glow. Clever Clover and Perry Winkle from Friendship Gardens came in shortly after, as well as Ringlet and Quarterback.

"My, my," beamed Streaky. "This is a better turnout than I anticipated. Baby Noddins, does your mother know that you are here?" To her assistant, Bright Glow, she whispered, "Are we going to have enough cookies and punch?"

Just as the ponies were taking their seats around the conference table for the start of the meeting, Wigwam arrived and quietly joined the group.

Streaky stood and welcomed all the ponies. "This is the official beginning of the Dream Valley Writer's Block, a group dedicated to the sharing of ideas, the improvement of efforts, the learning of new techniques, and the critique of the written word. Now I know that you are all anxious to show-off your unique talents, but first I'd like you to introduce yourselves and tell one important fact from your life that you think would be most interesting to the rest of the group. Baby Noddins, would you like to start?"

From her niche between Tabby and Sugarberry, Baby Noddins leaned forward to better see the faces around the table. "My name is Baby Noddins." She paused momentarily, then asked, "Only one ‘portant fact, Miss Streaky?"

"Yes, Baby Noddins."

"Okay then. I have a Furby. His name is Waylo. That means ‘sleep', you know. But I would like to read my story now."

"Not yet!" Tabby hissed. "It's my turn." She straightened her stance and addressed the group. "I am, of course, Tabby--"

"Tabitha El--" Clever Clover began to whisper under his breath until Tabby silenced him with a venomous glare.

"--and I have been honored to be the first pony to rediscover Atlantis," Tabby finished. Clever Clover looked like he was going to protest, but decided against it.

The introductions snaked around the table, eventually ending with Sugarberry. She hated this kind of thing. All eyes were on her, and she knew she would inevitably stutter or goof-up somehow. But she smiled, and spoke as confidently as possible. "My name is Sugarberry. The most important fact from my life is that Tabby and I have been best friends since we were little fools." Sugarberry gasped as her error became apparent. Ripples of laughter rang through the room. "I mean foals."

"You were right the first time, in Tabby's case," Clever Clover snickered. More laughter followed.

Streaky tried to hide her smile and motioned for the ponies to settle down. Sugarberry tried to disappear into thin air, she was so embarrassed.

"Now," said Streaky," we will get to the heart of this meeting of the Writer's Block-- to share our original work and discuss its merits and improve its flaws."

Baby Noddins' foreleg raised high in the air as she jumped from her chair, begging, "Me first! Me first! Please?"

Tabby swiftly clamped a hoof over the baby pony's mouth and pulled her back down to her chair.

"Thanks for volunteering," Baby Noddins," officiated Streaky, "but I had previously asked Bright Glow to begin this part of the meeting." Beckoning to her assistant, Streaky sat back to listen.

Bright Glow cleared her throat, and began to read. "The air grew balmy and some big, soft clouds swept across the moon. The Harvester felt the dampness of rising dew, and went to the cabin. He looked at it long in the moonlight and told himself that he could see how much the plants, vines, and ferns had grown since the previous night. Without making a light, he threw himself on the bed in the outdoor room, and lay looking through the screening at the lake and sky. He was working his brain to think of some manner in which to start a search for the Dream Girl that would have some probability of success to recommend it, but he could settle on no feasible plan. At last he fell asleep, and in the night soft rain wet his face."*

When she finished, Baby Noddins immediately shot her foreleg up again. "Now me!" she cried.

"I think I should be next," sniffed Tiffany. "After all, I am a princess!"

"Just a moment," cautioned Streaky. "We haven't discussed Bright Glow's work yet."

"Hmm... boring," Tabby sighed, intoning the phrase as a Furby would. Sugarberry shot her a disapproving glance.

"I agree with Tabby," concurred Ringlet. "It was boring."

Streaky appeared upset. "As facilitator of this meeting, I must explain what's expected here. Bright Glow was kind enough to share her reading with us." She glowered around the table. "I would expect that everyone be kind enough to compliment the good points and to offer any constructive criticism in a positive manner."

After letting her words sink in, Streaky invited Baby Noddins to read her contribution.

"Finally? I can read my story? Okay. Here it is." She held her paper high and began reading. "I was walking along home one day when I happened to stumble into a strange and mystical portal made of swirling, mystical energies. It took me to my bedroom. I couldn't find any more portals for awhile, but then I found another that led to my kitchen. A little while later, I found one that took me to Tabby's house. And then--"

"That is enough, Baby Noddins. You can stop now," an agitated Streaky interrupted.

"But I'm not done yet!" Baby Noddins wailed.

Looking at her watch, Streaky explained to the baby pony that time was limited, and to give everyone a chance, she would have to restrict their reading times. "I think for this first meeting, we better just listen to what you have, and we will discuss ways to improve next time. Tiffany, why don't you go next?"

"Thank you. I think I did an exceptional job on this masterpiece of mine." Her face glowing with pride, Tiffany began her literary accomplishment. "One time in a very rich kingdom an extremely far distance away from here lived an extremely beautiful, glamourous, and intelligent queen. She was a glittering pure white pony, and attracted attention wherever she went. All her life she had been pursued by thousands of very handsome and rich suitors, and the day finally came when she had to choose one to marry. It was quite a difficult task to choose between these wealthy stallions, and the beautiful queen lay awake several nights in a row worrying over how she would handle it. She naturally possessed great pose, charm, and grace; and she only worried because she felt herself to be personally involved in such important affairs of her kingdom as this."

"Excuse me, Tiffany, but that will do."

"But the best part is coming up," lamented the princess.

"Time constrictions," Streaky reminded her.

Raising her hoof high, Tamara volunteered for the next reading. "This is my favorite part out of what I wrote," she explained. "I can't believe I never tried writing before. I have such a talent for it." She continued on with her story. "Just as the glamourous Clarissa looked up, another very dignified-looking mare entered the room. Clarissa was very caught-up in the mystery on her hooves, and immediately went over to the newcomer whom she recognized right away as the wealthy Lily.

"Lily was wearing a glorious jewel-studded necklace. The centrally-located gem was an emerald, with shining pearl placed on each side of it. A ruby followed the pearls on each side. There was another set of two pearls after that, followed by diamonds. The clasp was made in an intricate design of genuine gold. Lily also wore a bracelet similar in design to her necklace, but this only included the ruby, two smaller emeralds, and pearls. The clasp on this was also made of pure gold.

"Lily herself was a brilliant yellow with orange mane and tail. Her mane was done in loose, flowing waves; and she wore five diamond-studded barrettes in it. Her tail was also done in this style, but displayed ten of these diamond barrettes.

"Her thoughtful green eyes surveyed Clarissa, who had changed necklaces since the last time the two had met. This necklace was--"

Streaky was beginning to look visibly distraught. "Thank you, Tamara, for sharing that with us." She searched the faces around her, and lit on Ed. "Your turn."

Fortunately for Streaky, Ed had prepared an excellent example of journalistic writing, followed by a paragraph from Tabby's Furby adventure, and Wigwam's native pony tale. Streaky began to relax as more quality pieces were read by Clever Clover, Sugarberry, Windwhistler, Quarterback, and Ringlet.

Miss Hackney offered a glimpse into her autobiography and Butch revealed some startling facts from Bolivia. The evening wound down with a portion of a legal transcript on how to make a will by Friendship Gardens' premier lawyer, Perry Winkle.

Leading a round of applause for the efforts of all concerned, Streaky thanked everyone for attending and invited them to mingle over cookies and punch.

Sugarberry guided Baby Noddins to the snacks and got her situated at the table. Quarterback approached her with several cookies in hoof and harassed her about her slip of tongue. "Fools, foals. I'm sure Tabby finds the words synonymous!"

Sugarberry ignored his remark, and complimented him on his science fiction writing. "I'm happy that you have continued to write your book."

"In another ten years or so, you'll have to advise me on how to get it published," observed Quarterback.

Streaky, who was nearby, overheard the comment. "Oh, Sugarberry," she interrupted, grabbing her foreleg and pulling her to a quiet corner. "I agree with Quarterback that you should address this group concerning the procedure of actually publishing one's work."

"I'd be happy to."

Streaky appeared surprised. "You would? To be honest, Sugarberry, I didn't think you'd be interested in this group at all since you've already been published."

"There's no great call for my work."

"Why, Sugarberry! That's not true! Your books are checked out a great deal, and patrons often ask when your next one will be out."

"They do?" Sugarberry asked in wide-eyed amazement.

"Here comes one of your fans now," whispered Streaky in Sugarberry's ear. Then, out loud, she said, "I'll contact you in a few days about speaking at next month's meeting."

It was Wigwam who had joined the two mares. "Wigwam, you did a wonderful job on your interpretation of the ancient story!" Streaky bubbled before wandering off.

"Yes," agreed Sugarberry. "You must continue to document them." It was then that she noticed a book in Wigwam's hoof-- her first book.

He saw her glance, and held the book out to her. "I would like your autograph, Sugarberry," he stated simply.

Stifling a gasp, Sugarberry smiled warmly and took the book. "My pleasure." And she quickly inscribed in it

I look forward to an autographed copy of your published native pony tales in the near future. Your friend, Sugarberry.

As Sugarberry wrote, Ringlet came to commandeer Wigwam, but he was able to express a brief "thank you" to Sugarberry before he was lugged away.

Tabby now appeared before Sugarberry. "Sugarberry," she raged, "have you any idea how long it's been since we've been to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe?"

"Well, let's go then!" agreed the berry-patterned pony.

Grabbing Tamara, Tiffany, Clever Clover, and Quarterback, the ponies made their escape just as Frostflake appeared to fetch Baby Noddins.

"Mommy, can we go to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, too? That's where Tabby's going."

"No, Baby Noddins. You have school tomorrow and it's already late."

"But, Mommy..." wailed the tired and unhappy foal.

"Don't be foolish, Baby Noddins," reprimanded Frostflake as she took her young one by the hoof and headed down the street.

"Foolish... foalish! Hmm, they are a lot the same," Tabby observed as they, too, got under way.

There were four happy stallions at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe when the assemblage arrived, not to mention Berry Bright and Merry Moments who were also there waiting for Clever Clover and Quarterback.

"How'd it go?" asked Vanguard as Sugarberry collapsed into the reserved chair beside him.

"Not too bad," reflected Sugarberry as she leaned into his solid shoulder. "Not too bad at all."

*excerpt from The Harvester by Gene Stratton-Porter

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