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Fiction: The Cur’s Quest

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One day a dog wandered into the seer’s sanctum and began to speak.
“Seer, I was once my queen’s greatest bodyguard. Everyday she asked me a question, and I had no answer. In the years since, I’ve searched far and wide for the answer. You are my last hope.”
“Look in my magic mirror, and find what you seek.”
The dog did as he was bid, but soon became angry. “There’s nothing here!”
“What was your mistress’s question?”
The dog stared in the mirror for a long time. “It was me,” he whispered. “I was the good boy all along.”

This story originally appeared in Everyday Drabbles, a daily free fiction project on Wattpad. Visit the link for more free stories. And if you enjoyed this story, why not support my work by buying me a coffee?
Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

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Smoky Writers and Everything After

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Welcome to the end of March! It’s almost, sort of, kind of spring!
And the past two months have been an absolute whirlwind.
Most of February was spent preparing for a big trip: Smoky Writers! This is the annual writing retreat in the Smoky Mountains that I go to every year, organized by a friend. Going on its sixth year, I love this retreat, but it’s always a bit of a mixed bag for me. Originally formed of folks from the podcast writing community, it has since grown to include a variety of successful writers. Everyone is lovely, and it’s always great to catch up, but I always get a stab of imposter syndrome, seeing how everyone has progressed in their careers when I feel like I’m spinning my wheels.
I did get a reasonable amount of work done, clocking in about ten thousand words on a new novella and two hours of stenograph keyboard practice every day. But coming home, I’ve fallen into a bit of a rut. There has been a lot of catching up at my day job from the trip, and with UB Con following right on its heels, I found myself completely exhausted and came down with a cold.
I guess I spent most of March recovering from adventures rather than having them. I did get to see a couple movies (Captain Marvel and the new release of Apollo 11 documentary footage) and my first concert in what feels like years. I visited a maple farm and researched buying a new car when I turn my lease in.
In terms of work, I wrote and have been editing a piece that is midway between flash and short story, and trying to catch up on Everyday Drabbles. I’ve been falling behind. My goal is to catch up to where I should be and put together the first ebook collection in April. I also went through my outstanding short story publication submissions, found a few stories that had either been quietly rejected or fallen through the cracks, and sent them out to new markets.
As we head into April, my goals are to continue to give myself time to work on creative projects, and push those projects to completion. And enjoy the nicer weather, of course.

Podcast Promo: Nostalgia Pilots

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BeatsByTreize

Hello listeners!

Nostalgia Pilots finally has a promo!

Have a listen!

Special thanks to Rish Outfield for voicing the narrator in this promo. If you have a podcast, and play promos, please spread the love. And if you’d like your podcast promo played on Nostalgia Pilots, please leave a comment with a link!

Hugh Likes Video Games Retro: The Final Fantasy Legend

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The Final Fantasy Legend
Published by Square Soft
Game Boy, 1989/1990

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The Skinny: An early RPG about eating your enemies and hitting gods with chainsaws.

The Final Fantasy Legend launched in Japan as Makai Toushi SaGa in 1989 and came to the U.S. in 1990 for the Game Boy. It was given the name change to appeal to fans of Final Fantasy, which came out on the NES earlier that year. While the games were considered separate series in Japan, they do share some thematic similarities. Both games task you to create a party of four adventurers and battle four Elemental-themed monsters for control of magical crystals, here called “Spheres.”
But these spheres actually have a purpose besides serving as a quest’s macguffin. Each sphere unlocks a door to a tower rising to the heavens that is said to lead to Paradise. Defeating each beast lets you progress a little further in the tower, leading to new worlds, and new monsters to fight.
Helmed by Final Fantasy II designer Akitoshi Kawazu, FF Legend ditches the Dungeons and Dragons-esque Class and Level systems of other 8-bit JRPGs in favor of something more experimental. Players can choose between three different character types: Humans, Mutants, and Monsters. Furthermore, Humans and Mutants are divided into two genders with slightly altered starting stats. Each class progresses differently. Humans don’t have access to magic, but can increase their HP and stats by buying and using special potions. Mutants’ stats increase based on their actions in battle, like in a more streamlined version of the system in FFII, and also receive new abilities that change randomly. Monsters are the same as the various enemies you fight in the overworld, and can progress by eating the meat left behind by defeated foes. But the system for this is complicated and unpredictable. Eating the meat of a weaker monster will drop you back to a less powerful form.
While this system can be a bit unintuitive and frustrating, once you figure out where you’re going, it’s much more streamlined than the grind-heavy rpgs of the era. While the monochrome graphics and story are a bit pared down for the hand-held system’s limited capacity, Final Fantasy Legend does some legitimately amazing storytelling for its day. By limiting the areas to tiny ‘worlds’ along a tower, the game both provides a string of new experiences, and uses story rather than a level system to give the player a sense of progression. And as slight as these experiences are, there’s something about them that feels groundbreaking and takes the sorts of risks that I usually associate with later Square Soft games like Final Fantasy VI.
You start out visiting castles and questing for kings, but by the end of the adventure, you’ll find yourself zooming through ruined cityscapes on your flying motorcycle. And there are a bunch of little hidden side worlds you can visit as well, from a ‘hell’ where petitioners willingly undergo tortures to try and purify themselves to a poignant scene in a nuclear bomb shelter, This is where the game gives the best little punches, and I wish there had been more of these side worlds.
While it may be hard to go back to for modern gamers, replaying this now 30-year old rpg gave me a solid hit of nostalgia. Final Fantasy Legend’s design choices had a lasting impact on Square’s development, from the disparate world structure of Kingdom Hearts to the isoteric Sphere Grid of Final Fantasy X. It’s well worth tracking down a copy if you’ve never played it.
The Final Fantasy Legend hasn’t been rereleased digitally anywhere, but it’s a pretty easy cartridge to track down, if you have a game boy or game boy advance to play it on.

Fiction: Babel

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They built the tower to reach heaven. Year by year, the pillar grew, and the civilizations that grew around it prospered. Eventually, it was completed, and an assembly of kings, scholars and priests gathered to climb the tower and meet with God.
They met an angel outside of the gates to Heaven.
“Do you have an appointment?”
The crowd murmured to one another, unsure of how to respond. The murmurs became arguments, which became shouts, which finally turned to violence. They surged back down the tower and the gathered nations prepared for war. The angel turned back to their magazine.

This story originally appeared in Everyday Drabbles, my daily free fiction project on Wattpad. Visit the link for more free stories. And if you enjoyed this story, why not support my work by buying me a coffee?
Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Hugh Likes Fiction: The Haunting of Tram Car 015

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The Haunting of Tram Car 015
Written by P. Djeli Clark
Audiobook read by Julian Thomas
Published by Recorded Books

The Skinny: A light fantasy adventure novella set in an alternate 1910’s Cairo.

What starts out as a routine haunting for two agents from the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities quickly expands in a plot involving smuggling rings, women’s suffrage, and the uneasy mingling of cultures in an alternate 1912 Cairo that is the center of the modern and magical world.
Never quite hard-edged enough to put the punk in its steampunk, Clark never the less wrestles with the concept of empire, if only by having the characters discussing how glad they are to not have the English in charge anymore. His Cairo is a cosmopolitan jewel, with a mixture of vibrant cultures and characters both real and mythical. Much like his earlier short story that shares the setting, “A Dead Djinn in Cairo,” Haunting evokes a deeply complex world that challenges both the reader’s and the characters preconceived notions.
And speaking of which, his characters are memorable delights, from sassy shopkeepers, to obsequious transit officials, and his two main leads, the tough, world-weary agent Hamed and the sharp, but soft agent Onsi. Clark skirts the line of some well-worn procedural tropes, but his dialog and realizations of the characters breathe unexpected life into them.
I listened to this book on Audible, and Julian Thomas gives an excellent, if a bit slow, reading. His performance of the characters makes each of them clearly recognizable, and to my inexperienced ears he handles accents well, making them distinctive but still easily understandable to a listener generally unfamiliar with the region.
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is available in ebook, print and audiobook from Amazon, Audible, and your local independent book store. It’s well worth checking out if you’re on the hunt for a well-realized historical fantasy that plays outside of the typical Western European sandbox. I’m eagerly awaiting Clark’s next entry in what is quickly becoming one of my favorite fictional settings.
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Hugh Likes Comics: Calamity Kate

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Calamity Kate #1
Written by Magdalene Visaggio
Drawn by Corin Howell
Colored by Valenitna Pinto
Published by Dark Horse Comics

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The Skinny: A recent divorcee moves to California to start over in the high-stakes world of professional monster hunting.

Kate Strand’s life just fell apart. After going through a messy divorce and withdrawing into her shell, she’s ready to reinvent herself. And she’s going to do it by becoming the world’s greatest monster hunter, much to the chagrin of her former best friend and single-parent Vera, whose couch she’s going to be surfing on while she does it.
Visaggio has stated that this is an almost biographical story, dealing with her own divorce and the self-destructive urges that came with it. While the monsters may be metaphorical, who hasn’t been tempted to leave their messy lives behind and start again rather than face a scarier reality, even knowing that you’re carrying your problems with you?
The thing I love about this issue is the manic sense of tension that pervades every panel. The focus is less on the cool monsters than it is the consequences Kate is running from. This is best expressed in an early sequence where Kate asks Vera if she can stay with her until she gets back on her feet, and they are interrupted by a bunch of monster skulls toppling out of her duffel bag.
Howell’s art and Pinto’s colors sing. Howell does both great expressions and pleasantly scary monster designs. Pinto’s dark colors are a perfect tonal match. Even on a bright, sunny, morning, there is the pervading sense of impending catastrophe.
Calamity Kate #1 is a bold new first issue to another deeply personal story from a rising star in comics writing. You can find it digitally through Comixology, or grab a physical copy at your local comics shop!
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