James McGowan Reader Group- There are Worse Ways to Spend a Year and a Half

It’s done!

The first draft of the Game War, Players of the Game Book 5, is done.  It clocked in at 816 pages with 231,840 words.  It is in dire need of extensive revision and editing. 

Dire.  Need.

But not right away. It needs to set for a bit.  Air out.  I’ve been working on the thing since the last week of December 2021.  I have been holding off on a lot of other initiatives with my primary focus being on getting the bones of this epic constructed.  Another bunch of revisions will flesh it out into something grand.

So, what’s next?  Revisions, re-releases, and collections. 

I’m currently working on new ProWritingAid revisions of my earlier books using the cool new “rephrase” tool that identifies clunky sentences in need of reinterpreting. From there, I’ll re-release the single volumes with better formatting using another tool called Atticus.  And I’ll also try my hand at releasing hardcover collections through Ingram Spark and an ebook collection bundle of Repenter, Hidden Chapters, Brigands, and the Favor.  And if time permits, take a hard look at Book 4, the Breakers, to see if it’s ready for prime time.


Then I’ll suck it up and get to slicing and dicing on the Game War’s next draft.

Trust the process.


Finish Line Thumbs Up
Instead of the usual character profile and works in progress update, this month gets the photo I shared with my wife and some close friends and family members.

Some pictures are worth 1000 words.  This one is worth 231,840. 

If it were not for my hand covering its word count.
Recommendation Corner
Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3

Oh, man. 

This is a really good movie, but dear goodness, it was rough in spots.  If someone would have told me ten years ago that Rocket Raccoon had a more hardcore origin than the Punisher, I would have had a hard time believing them.

Really great send off for this iteration of the team.  The High Evolutionary was a great villain.  Really intense and flawed in all the good ways. 

Adam Warlock was the only demerit for it.  Flawed in the bad ways.  He was basically pointless aside from his role in the inciting incident.  Warlock is supposed to be this cosmic David Bowie-type of character.  He lacked gravitas.

That minor quibble aside, I liked it as much as Quantumania, which I enjoyed far more than others.  This time, everyone else agrees with me.

I’m not always a contrarian.

War Master’s Gate by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The meat grinder keeps grinding in the penultimate entry in the Shadows of the Apt series.  The Beetles now control the sky, but the Wasps have so many resources and horrible secret weapons that they lay to bare.

And that’s not even considering that Cheerwell’s seeming side quest into a haunted forest is anything but.  There’s more than one War Master (not counting Trevor Ebon in my series), and more than one gate.

It’s all about to go sideways for the protagonists and antagonists alike.

Really compelling stuff.
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That’s all for this time.

Stay smart. 

Stay safe.


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Players of the Game Creature Spotlight: Ulli

It’s time for another look at one of the monstrous adversaries who confront the Players of the Game throughout the series.

The fly-like Ulli demons are quick, like their insect cousins, but they are far harder to swat.  They are among Sufrinzon’s airborne troops that fill the dingy, orange-brown skies.

They can spit acid, but more often will use high-tech beam weapons or magnet guns.

The buzz of their wings never portends anything good.

James McGowan Reader Group- So Why Am I Doing This?


Confession time.  I am reasonably sure I will continue to write my novels without making enough income to transition to doing it full time.  As often happens with artistic pursuits with a day job, as you become more successful with the day job, as that day job becomes *gasp* a career, and if you’re lucky enough to have a career that you enjoy, the viability of just ditching that job to slug it out as a full-time artiste regresses like a mirage on the horizon.

So why am I doing this?

Because I love doing it.

Because writing this science fantasy magnum opus scratches an itch that nothing else can scratch.

Because indie publishing and these reader-group newsletters are vastly more fulfilling than pitching to overworked and probably underpaid agents, only to get rejected.  Even if I were to get traditionally published, I’d still have to do all the promotion and settle for some boring samey cover instead of one that looks cool.

And the AI tidal wave of prompt-press a button to write a story-publish books?  As I said a few months back, come on in. 

I’m still going to write this using some tools like ProWritingAid and Chat GPT “give me ten different ways to say this” prompts, but the great majority will be the mental elbow grease of coming up with ideas and clickity-clacking them on the laptop.

It’s fulfilling.  It’s fun.

Great reasons to do anything.
Players of the Game Works in Progress
I’m inching closer to the end of The Game War’s first draft.  I’m at the end of the climax, and it’s turning out well.  Just need to keep on pace and I’ll be done with it in the summer.  Woot!

This month’s stats land at 754 pages with 214,100 words.  Last month clocked in with 716 pages with 202,900 words.  A bit less with the productivity, but progress is progress.

I can see the end.  I can taste it on the air.

Work in Progress Out of Context Quote of the Month:

Ashe glanced over to Celsis who looked at him with lustful amazement, her red hair still ruffling in the rippling after effect of the vented etherea. “Ready?”

The horned goddess’s crimson, jagged-edged curved sword rematerialized in her free hand. Her green eyes gleamed with anticipation. “For about sixteen centuries.”
Recommendation Corner
The Air War by Adrian Tchaikovsky

This is Book 8 in the Shadows of the Apt series.  I’ve recommended a few of the early entries in the series, and the middle entries have all been more-or-less pretty good, but I didn’t feel like they merited specific call outs.

This one does. 

A bombing campaign from the Wasps besets the Beetles’ home city.  And a steampunk Battle of Britain ensues above the city while the lands of the peninsula leading to their urban center endures a blitzkrieg of multi-legged sentinels (tank analogues).

Tchaikovsky does a good job of humanizing some of the POV characters on the Wasps side, though like their insect counterparts, they are largely @$$holes.

The need for good counter intelligence finally dawns on Stenwold, one of the main POV characters.  It only took him about 30 years and 8 novels to figure it out.

Joking aside, it’s a fraught read with lots of high stakes aerial combat and ground combat scenes that are fraught and compelling.

Good stuff.

Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

This was a thoroughly fun flick.  It accurately shows just how useful a bard actually is in a fight (which is not at all), but Chris Pine plays him with buckets of charisma.  Michelle Rodriguez’s barbarian character was a great partner for him.  Her subtle fetish for halflings was also most amusing.

Hugh Grant’s conman was also a stand out perfomance, especially with a hilarious exchange with his long-suffering and sinister ally involving overly hot tea.

I loved that it also took place in the Forgotten Realms setting, so the Harpers and the Red Wizards played large rolls in the plot.  As did a trip into the Underdark, though regrettably no Drow Elves showed up.  But a pudgy dragon did, so that was something.

Plus it had Displacer Beasts.

And Gelatinous Blobs.

And some background characters dressed up like the kids from the old 80’s Dungeons and Dragons cartoon.

It is awesome.  Give it a watch.
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That’s all for this time.

Stay smart.  Stay safe.


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Players of the Game Character Spotlight: Durduun

This god of death savors the finer things in life.

Durduun is not as antagonistic to the Brigands as one might expect.  Does he grow in power as more of his unliving cultists join under his banner?  Of course.  Does he enjoy sharing fine wine and good food with interesting company?

Most definitely.

He is a doting brother to his sisters, Suso and Dhalia.  A conflicted onetime lover of ViRauni.  And an uneasy ally of Ashe Stelfire and Welt.  Mainly because they share a common enemy.


Durduun knows the Game and despises it.  He also knows that the threat of Sufrinzon’s Palle Empire will only grow as time elapses, because the Master of the Game secretly backs it.  These foes will one day cross the Ocean of the Lost and encroach on his island’s shores.

So Durduun opts to strike them first with the Brigands.

And perhaps have a few good dinners along the way.

James McGowan Reader Group- The Cost of Magic

Hey there!

We live in a world of magic. 

Planes that can get us across a continent in a few hours.  The personal round-edged rectangles that we all carry around that let us communicate, find info, and put on cat ear filters in limitless permutations.  The laptop that I’m using right now that can do even more.  Unless you’re involved in the technologies that comprise all this wonder, it may as well be magic.

But what is its cost?

There are certainly a lot of macro answers to that.  Waste, carbon emissions, mass social isolation, and on and on.

But what about you as an individual?

Maybe your attention span.  Maybe your ability to empathize with others.  Almost certainly not some physical harm as long as a random fluke or disaster isn’t involved.  And definitely not forgetting how to do a task immediately after performing it, Curse of the Magi AD&D 2nd edition style.

That brings me to my philosophy on magic in my Players of the Game series.

Magic in my story line does indeed have a cost.  It’s the same as any other science-based application.  It requires knowledge, physical conditioning or devices, and the energy to do it.  The same principles that apply to a plasma rifle also apply to a Burning Beam hex.

That’s why I don’t call it magic.  I call it mancy.   Yes, I know mancy is technically another root word for magic.  Yet, uncommon enough that a spell checker thinks it’s not a real word.  

It’s as much a science as physics or chemistry in this fictional universe.

And its cost is the investment in time to master it.  Aligning the practitioner’s body’s connection to etherea, the non-electromagnetic energy source behind all the mancy hexes.  And the caster’s capacity to hold etherea within their own body or an external artifact or device.

It gets mentioned when there’s a story or character-based need to call attention to it.  Otherwise, it’s humming in the background, working reliably and predictably.

Just like any other proven science.
Players of the Game Works in Progress
I have passed two significant and possibly ludicrous milestones with the Game War this month.

I am now on page 716 with 202,900 words.  Last month’s stats had me at page 670 with 189,600 words.

I’ve broken both the 700 page and 200k word thresholds in the same month.  That’s.  A lot.

And I’m still not finished with the first draft. I’m going to cut a bunch of stuff out of the subsequent drafts, but I’ll also be adding other scenes to flesh out the story.  I’m not yet sure if I’ll spit it up into two parts, or just make it an epic tome.

We’ll just have to see what looks best in the end.

Work in Progress Out of Context Quote of the Month:

The horned goddess nodded and then looked over at them through the display, wearing a resolute visage.

Vurg regarded Celsis with a hard-eyed expression, carrying both bemusement and optimism. “It’s odd having her on our side again.”

Vick smirked. “First time for me.”
Recommendation Corner
John Wick Chapter 4

This movie is gloriously ridiculous.  It has all the usual John Wick tropes.

Magic kevlar that requires emptying half a clip pointblank to take down basically anyone.  Zero police presence.  Anywhere.  Ever.  No one recording the spree killing on their smart phones.  Falls from great heights that only knock the wind out of Keenu’s character.  And a really cool subtitle font.

These are features, not bugs.  The stunt work and the direction are fantastic.  Some of the best action scenes I’ve seen in a good long while.  Epic gun-fu that is just a lovely delight.

Watch it in the theater.


This game has been out for a while, but I finally got around to it.

Many of my mental video game buttons are pushed with this frantic masterpiece.  Tactical combat.  Strategic resource management.  A doomsday clock that’s constantly ticking in the background until you get enough of a toehold to postpone it.

I love these kinds of games where outmaneuvering the opponent is more important than twitch skill.  And I fully admit to “save scumming”, saving check points throughout a mission and reloading if something goes awry.  I gotta keep my cool lady sniper alive, after all.

I’ve beaten the Vanilla version, and now I’m working on the War of the Chosen DLC that basically makes it a whole new game, with so many things going on at once that it is blisteringly chaotic, but also strangely freeing.

To paraphrase the words of a certain Jim Carrey character: I-like-it-a-lot.
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That’s all for this time.

Stay smart.  Stay safe.


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Players of the Game Nation Spotlight: The Holy Alliance

Few designs evoke such revulsion throughout the free nations of Trojis as the simple flag of the Holy Alliance.  The black diamond on a grey field often portends violence and suffering of those who stand against them.

They are not an Alliance.  And they are far from Holy.
The empire came into being during the Holy War sixteen centuries in the past.  Starm, the Dragon God of Power, united or subjugated the other Dragon clans, bringing them under his sway.  Their path of conquest led to the Eruption, which forever altered the planet, throwing into decades of chaos.

But Starm’s lot recovered and rebuilt before its rivals.  The empire enlisted Demons and Titans during its long expansion.  The sadistic Dragon’s nation conquered half the the super continent of Jeea in the elapsing age.

Those surviving nations in the west have been hardened through long centuries of wars and skirmishes.

Yet things have worsened in the recent years.  The Alliance always craves more.  Starm derives his might through those subjugated under his banner, whether willing or unwilling.

And Corsis has recently provided them with new weapons and equipment that meld both magic and technology.

The Holy Alliance will use them in atrocities both known and hidden.

They excel at being worse than you think.

James McGowan Reader Group- Discovery Plotting

Hey, folks. I often come across a lot of commentary in writer-oriented media that speaks of plotting vs. “pantsing”. 

Plotters outline their story beats in advance.  Pantsers, as the name implies, write by the seat of their pants and just start the story to see where it goes.
Another term I’ve heard used for this latter mindset is discovery writing.  It makes it  more of an intentional description, rather than something that’s chaotic.

I have intimate experience with both.  Years ago, I wrote earlier versions of the Players of the Game series, two books at once.  One with Repenter and one with the Burnhelts called Gifts and Curses, which I finished first.  I had plotted both of them out.

However, as I continued with Repenter and then Brigands, I came to the less than optimal realization, that the Gifts and Curses book no longer fit, and it had to be completely disassembled.

I believe my single word at the time was, “Ugh.”

Even plotting is not without its peril.

I chose to look at this creative spillage with its glass half full.  I had a far better idea of where the story needed to go.  And I needed to write it linearly, not in simultaneous parts. 

Plus, I did ultimately incorporate elements of defunct Gifts and Curses into The New Players, The Breakers, and The Game War.  The story beats work better now.

Following this era of hard knocks, I’ve determined like using a mix of the two mindsets. 

Discovery plotting if you will.

I plot out the story in advance, but I treat it more as a loose itinerary rather than a metaphorical GPS map of the story.

I know that I want to visit the Grand Canyon, but I won’t necessarily take the interstate or the airport. I might just hike there by way of the Sandhills of Nebraska and the foothills of the Rockies.

I often discover cool and compelling character and plot points that only emerge as I actually do the writing of the story after the planning stage. It’s a ton of work. 

But it’s fun and it makes my stories better.
Players of the Game Works in Progress
My productivity stats are staying pretty strong through February.  I’m at page 670 with 189,600 words.  Last month had me at page 622 with 175,800 words.

The end is in sight.  And this immense, slobbering mess of a first draft will then be completed.  I’ll put it aside to “marinate” for a little while I make to editing and formatting improvements on some earlier books.

That will likely take several months, which is good.  I need a little added perspective that only the distance of time can give me.

I will almost certainly have to break down and buy Scrivener when I get the the story editing and line editing phase.  I need to reorder a bunch of scenes and chapters on top of the usual refinement, and that will be much easier with Scrivener than Word.

I’ll be interested to see if I like writing in the chapter by chapter format, or I’ll still prefer the endless expanse of Word pages.

Time will tell.

Work in Progress Out of Context Quote of the Month:

“Tradeoffs, hated Rogue. Tradeoffs.”

That was new. Apparently, they shared the other Dragons’ revulsion to an apostate in opposition to Starm’s religion.

Fernallus kissed the air in the Fethelither’s direction.

She hissed back at him.

Leave it to Fernallus to immediately piss off a Demon.
Recommendation Corner
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

I possess many non-popularly held opinions.  Chocolate is always my third choice behind strawberry and vanilla.  I hate Kale and love Spinach.  And I loved this movie.

Yes, I know MODOK was stupid.  But he’s just as stupid in the comics. 

He’s a giant head with tiny arms and legs. 

That’s a ridiculous character that deserves to serve as comic relief. Especially with Cassie’s simplistic advice for him.  It worked for me.

I thought Jonathan Majors was great as Kang, and Michelle Pfeiffer was fantastic with Jan’s haunted recollections.

I had fun.  Recommended.  Just like strawberry.

Brian and Charles

This goofy and sweet movie is a gem.  Brian is an eccentric inventor and handyman who lives in a rural Welsh village.  He’s very introverted and shuns people. Yet, he is so very lonely.

So, of course, he builds a robot.

Charles is made out of a washing machine and other parts like a manikin head with glasses and a grey male-pattern-baldness wig.  The lo-tech effect is the actor playing him wearing a cardboard box with a giant dress shirt over it.  His voice sounds like a British Speak and Spell.

And Charles’s chosen last name of Prechescu is brain breakingly hilarious.

The stakes are mostly comedic misadventures with local bullies and Brian’s romantic interest.  Charles’s quick descent into teenage rebellion when Brian forbids him from traveling to Hawaii is also pure gold.

Give it a watch.
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That’s all for this time.

Stay smart.  Stay safe.


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Players of the Game Character Spotlight: Avril Enzali

Avril Enzali is one of the primary characters in the Players of the Game series.  She seeks out Ashe Stelfire, the father she’s never met, to implore him to help her free her imprisoned goddess in the beginning parts of Repenter. 

It does not go well for her.

She clashes with not only agents of Corsis, but also her despotic mother, Nirva Iniv.  She does not emerge unscathed from her struggles against them.

The picture above is derived from how she appears in The Brigands.  The flower wreath is significant, but you’ll need to read the novel to find out why.

She also had romantic fling with Harry Mang long in the past.  But the embers of their intense affair still glow.  Perhaps one day, they’ll burn anew.

Avril has trained in the art of combat, both with bladed and ranged weapons as well as potent mancy hexes.  She also becomes well versed in the subset skills of astramancy, which involves manipulating aspects of mind and spirit on this plane of reality and those connected only by thought.

Avril knows the Game all too well. 

It’s taken much from her.  She strives to end it.

Yes, It’s Another Opinion About Generative AI Art and Text

Greetings, all.

Like lots of folks, I’ve been kicking the tires on various generative Artificial Intelligence tools.  Not just Chat GPT, but also this writing-centric one called LAIKA and another for AI Art generation called Mid Journey.

Do I fear what these could do to society if we don’t implement reasonable safeguards? 


Folks with knowledge jobs like ad writers and paralegals might need to switch careers, and that will be disruptive, possibly destabilizing.

Rudimentary safeguards already appear to be on Chat GPT and Mid Journey with porn and viscera.  And try asking Chat GPT if it WANTS to answer all of these prompts, or if it will tell us if it doesn’t WANT to give an answer. 

I’ll spoil it.  “Dude, I’m just a fancy calculator.”  Ok, it doesn’t say that, but it’s along those lines.

Do I think AI generative tools should be banned? 


AI is out there already with search engines and social media.  I even use it with Pro Writing Aid’s copy editing properties.  It’s not going away.  And if it’s not developed in the open, it will be developed behind closed doors to humanity’s detriment.

Do I fear that AI will replace writers, artists, musicians, and other creators? 

Not really. 

There’s already a glut of human competition out there for human eyeballs.  AI will just add to that embarrassment of riches.  The best, most soulful creations will always rise to the top. 

And some of those might involve AI.

I’ve heard a few people present an analogy with which I agree.  It’s best to consider these AI generative tools as not a single super intelligent person, but rather more like an unlimited bullpen of stupid people, like the old chestnut concept of thousands of monkeys eventually creating a great novel because of minute percentages.  This analogy will almost certainly change as AI tools improve.

For my part right now, I’ve found Chat GPT and Mid Journey to be great brainstorming tools.  

I’ve used Mid Journey a few times to provide a cover artist with a mock up of how I want a cover to look, on which he VASTLY improves on that computer-derived rough idea.  However, I can see why some artists who’ve spent decades honing their craft are apprehensive about prompt-based commercial art putting them in a bad spot.

I’ve used Chat GPT mostly as a sentence and idea thesaurus thus far.  I use prompts like “Please give me a list of 10 sentences giving me facial expressions of someone who’s taking in mixed news.”  I have yet to use any of its full sentences, but I often find phrases or words that I integrate into my writing.

Whether we want it or not, the robits are here, so let’s work together with them. 

Yes, that Zoidbergian misspelling was intentional.
Players of the Game Works in Progress
My output in January got 2023 off to a pretty good start.  The Game War is now at page 622 with 175,800 words.  Last month’s stats came had me at page 565 with 159,900 words.  I’m happy with that pace, but I’ll always strive to do better.

I’m toward the climax of first draft.  Once I’m finished, I’ll let it set for a while and then take another swipe at it.  Like any first draft, it is a slobbering mess in dire need of considerable revision.

All part of the process.

Work in Progress Out of Context Quote of the Month:

Ed’s face hardened. “Hang tight, Crys. This will be bumpy, but fast.”

Crystala winked at him, and immediately regretted doing it. Then words tumbled out that she both did and did not want to say. “Make it faster.”
Recommendation Corner
The Glass Onion

“It’s a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth.”  

Yes.  Like everyone else, I loved that quote from Benoit Blanc.  I really wish Netflix would have given this a real theatrical release, rather than just having it out for a week or so.  I would have loved seeing this on the big screen.  The cast was great, and the flashback twist was also well done.

I immensely enjoyed one character’s brute force method of solving the intricate puzzle that the other characters worked through together.  I also dug how the 2020 Covid lock down was also a big element of the plot and the reason for the character’s voyage to the film’s remote setting.

Saga by Brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples

This science fantasy epic comic book series is just fantastic.  The series had been on hiatus for a few years following the death of one of the major characters in the first half. 

The story follows Hazel as she grows up in a galactic war and flees from factions of her both her parents’ planets.  She is a hybrid of two humanesque alien species, possessing her father’s horns and and her mother’s wings.  And her mere existence is seen as an abomination, and all manner of agents of both warring societies relentlessly hunt her and any who travel with her.

The art in this story is renowned of its surreal portrayal of various aliens and technology.  I especially love the Robots with their TV heads.  It’s so weird and goofy that it goes around the dial to awesome.

Give it a read.
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That’s all for this time.

Stay smart.  Stay safe.


Click here to view the original format

Players of the Game Character Spotlight: Een

Een is a Chan’la, the all-female warrior sect renowned for their fighting prowess and their ability to bend space.

Like the Long Lived Grells, she has walked the world for millennia.  She also serves as the field commander for the younger members of the Forever Guard, including the Burnhelt brothers, Fernallus, and her daughter, Tamona.

She strives to head off her daughter’s insightful but recckless impulses with varying degrees of success.

She and Vick Burnhelt had a brief affair following the death of his wife.  They ceased pursuing the relationship due to Vick’s lingering survivor’s guilt.

And then there’s Corsis’s vendetta.

The Master of the Game would target her as he targets all women connected to the Burnhelt family if the relationship became known.

That doesn’t dissuade Een.  She’s a woman who knows what she wants. 

And she’ll wait as long as it takes to get it.