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? 

Yes. 

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? 

No. 

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.
Check Out the Players of the Game Series on Kindle and Paperback
That’s all for this time.

Stay smart.  Stay safe.

Jim

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.

A Season of Mindful Consumption

Happy New Year, everyone!

The year has ticked forward, and like all of them, it had uppy ups and downy downs.  I regrettably already lost a friend who’d been in hospice for about a year.

Her name is Lisa Kovanda, and she was a writer friend of mine, and former president of the Nebraska Writers Guild.  She was a class act and I’ll dearly miss her.

Facing mortality for loved ones and friends is not an easy thing.  Among the many conflicting feelings and thoughts, there also lies introspection for oneself, and the life you’ve led thus far, and the life you will lead. 

An opportunity to consider the upcoming year.  Not necessarily with a resolution with a specific goal of doing X things by Y date, but instead as a season with a theme of something you wish to do either more or less in the coming season, maybe a few months, maybe the whole year. 

And so, to again take inspiration from the Cortex podcast, I’m choosing a theme for the season, however long that may be.

Mindful consumption.

Definitely not the nineteenth century synonym for tuberculous.  No, this pertains to being more aware of the things I put into my body and into my mind. 

This not only applies to coming back to reality after a holiday season of eating delicious, but not-so-healthy food, but also media I consume.  I waste a good deal of time with very passive media, often educational Youtube videos, which are arguably not as bad as other time sinks, but I’d like to be more active in the media I consume, rather than passively watching.

Admittedly, this is variation on a prior theme from a few years ago that I deemed “a season of better inputs”, but it’s something I wish to attempt to revisit improving in myself.

And that’s what I’ll aim to do this season.
Players of the Game Works in Progress
I was able to get a bit more writing in over the holidays during my week off, so I reached page 565 with 159,900 words.  Last month’s stats came in at page 520 with about 146,800 words. 

I’m happy with that output. 

As with all things worth doing, showing up and doing the work is the biggest hurdle to surpass.  I started 2022 on page 6 of this novel, so that’s basically 559 pages for this year.

That’s not nothing by any stretch.

I’m getting closer to the end of the book, but there’s still a ways to go. 

And go I shall.

Work in Progress Out of Context Quote of the Month:

Tamona: I’m going to stab Balpors in the testicles.  And blow a kiss at him when I do it.
Recommendation Corner
Guardians of the Galaxy Christmas Special on Disney+

A night before watching this fantastic, goofy special, my wife and I made the mistake of watching the Star Wars Holiday Special on Youtube.  Ugh.  Ten minutes of Wookie grunts without subtitles before anyone starts talking. A VR soft-core 1-900 number with Grandpa Wookie watching Diahann Carroll.  5 minutes with an unfunny 4-armed Julia Childs parody.  And Bea Arthur singing.  For reasons.

Like I said.  Mistakes were made.

Anyway, the Guardians Special had a very low bar to pass after that.  It started with the Old 97’s playing a Christmas rock song in Knowhere based on aliens’ perceptions of the strange human winter solstice traditions.

Much of it focuses on Mantis and Drax as they attempt to cheer up Peter Quill.  They venture to earth to get him the thing they think will help get him out of his funk.  I won’t spoil what that is, save to say it was very well done and hilarious.

Hijinks ensue from there.  And it actually has a heartwarming ending too.

Give it a watch.

The Fabelmans

This is a bit more niche, but I really liked it.  Steven Spielberg created a mostly autobiographical movie about his childhood and what drove him to become a director.

Making movies kind of sneaked up on his stand-in character, Sammy Fabelman, when he saw a train crash in a movie with his parents, and he wanted to recreate it.

The movie then details Sammy’s interactions with his parents as he makes war movies with his friends, uncovers truths hidden in plain sight, and then his struggles with making art, especially as it collides with his life at home and at school.

Judd Hirsch and David Lynch both have limited but very funny supporting roles as well.

If watching a movie about how someone falls into making movies is up your alley, give this one a try.
Check Out the Players of the Game Series on Kindle and Paperback
That’s all for this time.

Stay smart.  Stay safe.

Jim

Click here to view the original format.

Players of the Game Character Spotlight: Hellington

Sergeant Hellington may not look like it, but he’s someone you want covering your back. 

He is a Sharaith denizen of Sufrinzon that can swim and breath the corrosive auv of its rivers and oceans as easily as walking the surface and taking in the wretched air.

As a squad leader of the Velsuvian Marines, the Sarge provides the Brigands unflinching support in their many conflicts against the ever-expanding Palle Empire.  Ashe Stelfire heeds this respected comrade’s grizzled advice and considers him a friend.

But there’s something off about Hellington.

Superior officers are visibly fearful of him.  He has been known to make orders that admirals then scramble to voice as the official  word from the official chain of command. 

He never faces repercussions for this seeming insubordination.  Then again, the Sarge may have other secrets that motivates the superior officers’ deference to him.

One thing is for certain.

Calling him “Shark Boy” is a bad idea.

James McGowan Reader Group- Everyone Has a Plan…

…until they get a paper cut on their thumb.  Yes, not as memorable as Mike Tyson’s “punched in the face” quote, but a paper cut is probably more apt for a writer.  Less painful too.

I recently bought the Atticus formatting software, which I’ll be using to revise the formats in my ebooks and print books in the coming months after I’ve finished The Game War’s first draft.

My ultimate plan is to leverage this to offer both ebook bundles with 4-8 main novels and .5 bonus content novellas.  While I’m at it, I intend to offer Repenter: The Hidden Chapters and Brigands: The Favor as a combined paperback.  These two bonus stories are too thin to make their own paperback.

Plus I’m also thinking about doing hardback collections through Ingram Spark.

For example, I’d offer both Repenter and the Hidden Chapters in one hardcover collection.  Then offer Brigands and the Favor as another hardcover collection.  You get the idea.

My thinking on that is that if someone is going to pony up the money to pay for the premium version, they should also get some extra content. That’s the plan.

But what do you think?  Does this plan for hardbacks make sense to you as I expand into other formats?  Or do you think I should try a different approach?

If you’re so inclined, you can vote and provide feedback in the poll below. 

As a reward, you will get a special message from Homer and Bart on the Frinkiac about this month’s character spotlight. Or you can even email me with the Contact tab above if you have other thoughts on the matter.
What do you think?

Vote on the Players of the Game Future Hardback Formats Plan and get a bonus message from Homer and Bart on the Frinkiac

Vote!
Players of the Game Works in Progress
Sickness within the household has thankfully given way to better health.  So productivity has returned to its prior steady pace.  I reached page 520 with about 146,800 words in The Game War.  Last month’s stats were at page 479 with 135,300 words.  And this month had a few less days from last month’s productivity check.

Making it past page 500 is another milestone, and I hope to have the rough draft finish out between 600-700 pages.  Then I will let it set for a while and perform a lot of editing and reformatting of my back list.  Ever onward!

Work in Progress Out of Context Quote of the Month:

Ramansa (to Vick): I’ll say this, darling. Your toys have me slightly envious.
Recommendation Corner
The Peripheral on Amazon Prime

I saw the trailer for this show and thought it looked intriguing, especially since it’s based on a William Gibson story.  Without giving away the twists, it focuses on a sister and brother in the near future in a small rural  community in the American South.  They are VR gaming whizzes and they get an offer to test a new immersive game that looks and feels like real life.  The stakes for this supposed game quickly escalate, and they discover that the game’s world is not what it seemed.  Chloe Grace Moretz does a great job as an intelligent resourceful lead.  And Jack Reynor as her war veteran brother has some heavy Bill Paxton vibes, which I enjoyed immensely.  Give it a watch.

Fairy Tale by Stephen King

Yes, I like most of Stephen King’s catalog and I think he is one of the best storytellers in history.  Even if you disagree with that statement, you can’t deny the man’s sheer output. 

OK, stepping off the soapbox.  This story focus on a teenager named Charlie who finds himself taking care of a grouchy old neighbor named Howard Bowditch and his equally old German Sheppard, Radar.  It focuses much on promises, guilt, and obligation.  The first part of the book spends a good chunk of time in our world in order to get the reader invested in Charlie, Howard, and Radar’s relationships.  Of course, the weird, horrible, and fantastical ultimately make an appearance, and Charlie must plunge into it.  I’m listening to it on Audible and Stephen King even makes a brief vocal appearance in reading a section that makes sense from a story standpoint.  Good stuff.
Check Out the Players of the Game Series on Kindle and Paperback
That’s all for this time.

Stay smart.  Stay safe.

Jim

Click here to view the original format.

Players of the Game Character Spotlight: Faith Nyms

Faith Nyms is a supremely competent ops commander in New Grelland’s military.  She often provides strategy and insight to the upper levels of leadership including the Burnhelt family.

She must strive all the harder for the respect of her peers due to her long romance with Matt Burnhelt.  Despite what could be seen as a position of nepotism, she is widely considered to be the best commander in the entire Grellish armed forces.

She is often serious, but deeply loves Matt.  Perhaps obsessively so.  Faith is very seldom apart from him.

And she has a soft spot for his brother, Ed.

His quips are often the cause of Faith’s stifled or no-so-stifled chuckles.

James McGowan Reader Group: Every Month is NaNoWriMo

Hey hey!

It’s been a long stretch past Halloween this week after the icky un-fun that is Covid payed an unwelcome visit to our house.  Boo!  But we kicked it to the curb with the help of the omicron booster jabbed a few weeks back for one of us and anti-viral meds for the other.  Yay!

That regrettably hit my writing productivity this time around, just in time for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which occurs every November. 

In chatting with a friend about it just a day or two ago, he said he uses it as a motivator to get words on a page for various projects, irrespective of their status as a novel or something else.  And I absolutely commend him for it.

I tried NaNoWriMo several years ago, wanting to get as much words as possible, while knowing that I wouldn’t actually finish the novel.  I flamed out after about a week and it took many more sessions to get back into a writing rhythm. 

I learned that I’m much more of a distance runner than a sprinter when it comes to writing.  My productivity may not win races, but I pride myself on getting across the finish line.

For me, every month is NaNoWriMo.  It’s one part of the larger marathon.  Still, it would be nice to beat last month’s so-so results.

And I shall endeavor to do just that.

One word at a time.
Players of the Game Works in Progress
As indicated above, the week of Covid did no favors to much in my life, including my writing productivity.  I reached page 479 with about 135,300 words.  Last months stats had me at page 440 with about 124,300.  There’s a few extra days on this round since this reader group email is coming a bit further into the month.

So.  Yeah.  Not great.  But better than nothing. Keep at it.  And keep writing.  I hear this month is nationally dedicated to it or something.

Work in Progress Out of Context Quote of the Month:

Hekati: You deserve this. You killed the airborne kliost. You murdered a new world before it was born. Everything that will happen. Know that you have it coming.
Recommendation Corner
The Witcher: Season of Storms- Andrzej Sapkowski, translated by David French

To use a term from Joanna Penn’s podcast, this is an “inbetweenisode” for the Witcher series.  The ever-grouchy and horny Geralt finds himself embroiled in the twisted politics of a kingdom with a looming succession crisis, the nightmarish creatures created by mad sorcerers, and a few supernatural canines. 

Geralt just wants to get his stolen swords back and get out.  Circumstances conspire to prevent him from doing just that. 

It’s nice to see a new novel adventure of the Witcher.  Sapkowski imbues the characters with compelling dialogue and motivations.  And the monsters are extra grotesque.

Special credit must also go to the translator David French.  I’m reasonably sure that the prose pops all the more in English thanks to his efforts.

Andor on Disney+

This show is dissimilar to any other Star Wars movies or series of the Disney era.  It’s not focused at all on the Jedi.  It’s a slow burn that shows the Empire’s gradual strangling of the last vestiges of the Old Republic’s freedoms.
 
Cassian Andor is not the rebel spy we meet at the beginning of Rogue One.  He’s a thief with utter contempt for the Empire’s arrogance.  He gets pulled into the rebellion starting with his lethal encounter with corporate security.

Mon Mothma is also a stand out in this show with her scenes on the Coruscant in the Senate and her loveless household.  She stands on a knife’s edge.  It will be interesting to see the path that takes her fully into the rebellion.  I’d love to see more shows with her after this two season run reaches its end.
Check Out the Players of the Game Series on Kindle and Paperback
That’s all for this time.

Stay smart.  Stay safe.

Jim

Click here to view the original format.

Players of the Game Nation Spotlight: New Grelland

An island nation in the center of the Fire Well on Trojis. The Grells stand against the Holy Alliance in their home realm, and the continued incursions by nether realms within the Fire Well. New Grelland thrives in this adversity. Its martial might is legend throughout the Realms.

The Grellish Claw is an ancient symbol that’s been used for millennia, symbolizing the hard people of both Old Grelland who were lost in the Eruption, and those who survived in New Grelland’s protected island.

New Grelland is a land that has seen and continues to see hard times.  Many are those who will stand in defense of this bastion in the fire.

James McGowan Reader Group- On Vexillology

Hi there!

To the surprise of perhaps no one, I must confess I have a fascination with flag design and their usage.  There’s even a word for the study, symbolism, and usage of flags.

Vexillology.

Many of my friends and family must suffer through my diatribes on how the University of Nebraska flag with its red field and big white “N” is actually more of a state flag than the thoroughly unremarkable state seal on a dark blue field. 

So unremarkable that no one noticed that it was flying upside down at the state capital for several days. 

True story. 

And many other states share the 19th century-era state seal on a blue or turquoise field design.  They all look terrible.

To me the proof of a good flag design is whether the people under it will show it to people who aren’t under it.  In particular at airports.  I can personally attest that the University of Nebraska “N” is on proud display on shot glass, T-shirts and more in Omaha’s airport. 

The seal-on-blue state flag?  If it was on display, I must have missed it.

I’ve been in an airport where the state flag is on all kinds of merch.

Denver, Colorado.

The Colorado blue-and-white striped flag with a red C and a gold circle inside of it is iconic.  It’s on their freeway and highway signs.  It’s everywhere.

To parrot some points made by the 99% Invisible and Hello Internet podcasts, the best flag designs are simple, easily recognizable from a distance, and so easy to draw that a kid can ably reproduce it.  Ideally, they also contain no words, though a single letter or number can work, as evidenced by the Colorado “C” and the University of Nebraska “N”.

Flags have meaning, and that meaning can change over time, for good and bad.  Most importantly, they can provide a sense of commonality among people who might not otherwise consider themselves as part of something larger.

Why am I waxing vexillological about this stuff? 

Well that’s because my Players of the Game series has flags of its own.  All of them could replace the Nebraska state flag as a vast improvement in my opinion.

And from time to time, I shall show you one of them. 

Now is one such time.

So I just went on a rant about a state seal on blue, and now I show you an insignia on blue.  Hypocrisy?  That’s in the eye of the beholder.  For my part, I say no.

The Grellish Claw is an important symbol.  I describe it on multiple occasions throughout all of the Players of the Game series, most notably on ViRauni’s headband and Ed Burnhelt’s chest plate.  It’s something under which they’ve fought wars and defended their homeland.

It was adapted from the flag of Old Grelland before it was lost in the Eruption.  The blue symbolizes the azure flames of the Fire Well.  The white circle is the protected island and the three-pronged claw is the indomitable Grellish people.

New Grelland is a land that has seen and continues to see hard times.  Many are those who will stand in defense of this bastion in the fire.

(Special thanks to my brother, Tony, who helped me bring these flag designs to life with his fantastic graphic design skills.)
Players of the Game Works in Progress
I’ve reached page 440 with about 124,300 words on the Game War’s first draft.  Last month’s stats came in at 400 with about 113,200.  I’m okay with that, but I’ll always strive for more words if I can get them to flow the way i want them.

Work in Progress Out of Context Quote of the Month:

Matt Burnhelt: Diplomacy in a war.  Novel.
Recommendation Corner
Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power on Amazon Prime

I was not really expecting great things out of this series.  I thought they were adapting the Silmilarion, but it turns out that the Bezos crew only got the rights to the thoroughly dry appendices from LOTR.  I’m pleasantly surprised.  They production value is great.  I like the varied characters.  I don’t know the lore well enough aside from general stuff about Galadriel, Elrond, and Gandalf.  It’s sprawling with lots of intersecting plot lines.  I look forward to seeing how it’s tied into the larger mythos.  It’ll be interesting to see a bunch of human kings get corrupted by their own rings at some point too.  Good stuff.

Sandman on Netflix

This is also a really well done show.  I’ve only read the trade paperback of the first Sandman series.  I liked it well enough, but it didn’t quite grab me like it’s grabbed other people.  Morpheus seemed a bit mopey and vindictive for me.  And boy do they keep that going in the streaming version.  He is a compelling, but sometimes unlikable protagonist.  The show does a great job of layering it with a bunch of other interesting characters and locales.  Matthew the raven is a favorite of mine.  The score music is also memorable, and Morpheus has a very memorable recurring theme song.

As a writer, I especially liked the bonus episode focusing on an author’s attempt to break his writer’s block by imprisoning an actual muse.  Thankfully, I’m able to plow through the mental goo associated with that most of the time.  Though I’ll admit that “resistance” ensnares me more than I’d like.
Check Out the Players of the Game Series on Kindle and Paperback
That’s all for this time.

Stay smart.  Stay safe.

Jim

Click here to view the original format.