Players of the Game Nation Spotlight: Yintu in the Shallow Sea

A hidden body of water lurks 20 trecs below the surface of eastern Jeea.

The Shallow Sea is only a thousand feet deep within its sparkling, luminescent cavern.  The immense pressure of the deep tributaries is negated by the cataclyze crystals that were created millennia earlier. 

So much so, that air fills the topmost portion of the subterranean sea’s cavern.  The enclosed water and air maintain oxygenation due to the ambient etherea generated by the crystals.

The nation of Yintu thrives within its depths, peopled by the bipedal, dolphin-like Cetari.  They are masters of submersible technology with vessels that can stand the crushing straits that connect the Shallow Seas to the oceans of the surface.

The Yintunese are reclusive. Distrustful.  And with good reason.  Their above-ground neighbors, the Holy Alliance, would invade them without hesitation if that dark empire ever learned of Yintu’s existence.

Still, this hidden nation has ambitions.

Ambitions that might ensnare the Breakers if they don’t take care in navigating the Shallow Sea’s waters.

James McGowan Reader Group: Unorthodox Cartography

Hey, hey!

During my summer of revising and rephrasing, I’ve realized two things.

One: The preceding sentence had far too many “re” words.

And two: I needed to make a few new maps for novels and novellas that are in the hopper, like The Breakers, Jagged Pieces, and The Game War.  I also need maps for plotting and outlining purposes as I figure out the story beats of the next swath of novels.  The Players of the Game saga will expand beyond Trojis and Sufrinzon.

I’ll detail the process of making one map that will be showing up in the fourth main novel.  I fully admit the method I used was on the ridiculous side.

I magnified and printed a section of the existing map of Jeea, the main super continent of Trojis. I laid it on top of a glass coffee table, placed a blank sheet of paper over it, the shined a maglite underneath it, and traced the land masses, seas, and rivers with a pencil. Then I scanned it and added all the proper noun names in Photoshop.

My wife found the flashlight part most amusing.

It reminded me of my childhood days of watching teachers present things on overhead projectors.

The other maps were way easier, as I just needed to make them up from scratch. However, all of them will need a whole lot digital beautifying by my graphic designer brother. (Hey, Tony!)

It shows an atypical, non-text component of my creative process.

And it’s a sneak peak into things to come in Book 4: The Breakers.
Players of the Game Works in Progress
The great ProWritingAid edit-o-rama has reached its end.  Penciled maps are made.

The next big thing begins.

The second draft of The Game War is in progress.

To start, I’m pasting the chapters from Word into Scrivener with summary descriptions.  Once that’s finished, I’ll start the revising the prose, cutting out parts, adding others, and rearranging their order.

I’ll need to determine a better way to track productivity stats than the word/page count I used on the first draft.  Maybe how many chapters I revise.  Maybe something else.

The nose is back on the grindstone.

Players of the Game Rephrase Quote of the Month

“Hey, lounge lasagnas,” Fernallus said. “Keeping saucy?”
Recommendation Corner
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

This book has an interesting premise. A small minority of people actually live their lives over and over in cycles.  They die and are born again in the same year and their memories of the past lives emerge around age 3 or 4.

Jonathan Hickman did something similar with Moria MacTaggert in X-Men when he retconned her into a secret mutant a few years back.

In this book, Harry August continues to be born again and again in 1918 and usually lives to the 1990s or so.  But not always. 

There is peril. 

A way exists to kill these immortals.  Other time-looping immortals can kill their parents before they’re born.

And someone starts doing just that as the course of history starts to change.  Advanced tech starts coming decades too early, and the accompanying environmental problems come with it.

Harry determines that it’s another time-looping immortal, and he must do something to stop it. In this life or the next.

Very well written and Peter Kenny did a great job narrating it.


This is one of my new favorite Christopher Nolan movies.  I put it up there with Memento, Dark Knight, and Inception.

Chronology is again played with, but I think it works well with the three focal points of the Strauss Senate hearing in the late 50s, Oppenheimer’s infamous security clearance meeting in the mid-50s, and the buildup to Los Alamos and Trinity in the 30s and 40s.

Cillian Murphy shows Oppenheimer as a flawed man who’s a genius, but also a reckless womanizer.  Everyone does a fantastic job.  I didn’t even realize Robert Downey Jr. was Strauss until the credits rolled.

Really heavy stuff with the implications of theory colliding with reality at the advent of the atomic age.  Highly recommended.

(And I did get my Barbenheimer bingo card checked a week later when I saw Barbie.

It was a fun and silly movie, but a bit preachy at times. 
Still, America Ferrera’s monologue in the third act was good fodder for discussion with my wife.  Yes, women do feel everything she described.

And that’s valuable to know.)
Promo Corner
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Get a Bunch MORE Fantasy Books on the House
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That’s all for this time. Stay smart.  Stay safe. Jim

James McGowan Reader Group- Into the Great Wide Open

Hey, hey!

I’m wide open. And almost certainly a rebel without a clue, but never mind that.

The Players of the Game saga is now wide on Ebook format, not just on Kindle. So if you prefer to read on Nook, Kobo, Apple, Smashwords, or Scribd, I have you covered.

I’ll be expanding paperbacks to wide distribution in the coming months as well.

In the meantime, if you didn’t want to use “the smile” in favor of alternative eBook marketplaces, please check out the books below. 

And as always, you can get the Repenter and the Hidden Chapters on the house through my Book Funnel links.
Check Out the Players of the Game Series on eBook and Paperback
Get Repenter on the House! Get The Hidden Chapters on the House
Players of the Game Works in Progress
I’m still engaged in the great ProWritingAid edit-o-rama. 

I have finished my way through The Breakers and will move on to the Jagged Pieces novella next. Then I shall leverage Scrivener to re-arrange all the rough draft components of The Game War and get on with the second draft.

The editing machete is sharpened, and it shall be time to cut and edit all kinds of affronts to man and Vurg.

Players of the Game Rephrase Quote of the Month:

Frulgrath and Xax:

Frulgrath’s shoulders tightened. Xax sensed something. He sensed the trap.

“Well, that’s just–” Xax whirled around and punched the hidden Shulinkarv in his beaked face with a fierce crack. “Ducky!”
Promo Corner
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Get ANOTHER 50 Fantastic Fantasy Books on the House
Recommendation Corner

Secret Invasion on Disney+

It started off a bit slow, but I love the paranoia this series emulated from the comic series.

It’s much more of a spy thriller than a behind-the-eight-ball fight against aliens, but it’s well done. Samuel L. Jackson’s Fury is great and weather worn. I won’t spoil any twist here, but I’m pleasantly surprised on this one.
Give it a try.

The Forged by Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann

I generally don’t like magazine-sized comics, but this one just hit all my buttons.

It’s a little bit Warhammer 40k and a little bit Inhumanoids (a lesser known Sunbow cartoon and toy series from the 80’s).

It focuses on a squad of super tough women soldiers in power armor who have to deal with clones of their empress and an agenda that involves Cthulhu-esque aliens that really, really want all of humanity to expire.

Great military sci-fi if that’s your bag.
That’s all for this time.

Stay smart.  Stay safe.


Players of the Game Character Spotlight: Dell Marrs

Admiral Dell Marrs commands the Crush.  The flagship of the Union Cities.

He is a Red Chromatic, a Post Human species that emerged following the Eruption centuries earlier.

Marrs is never far from coffee, which he prefers burnt and borderline non-potable.

While not completely aligned with the Grells and the Chan’la, he is a reliable ally within Lan Thedin, the largest megalopolis of the urban confederacy.

Decades ago, Marrs worked with the Forever Guard during the War of No Hope.  And many of the Forever Guard consider him a friend.  Een, in particular, finds his gruff good humor most endearing.

More often than not, the Grells call him Stick Man, due to his lanky frame.  He uses a multitude of nicknames for them.  Eeny Meany being his favorite for Een.

His city soon finds itself in need of his old allies when Hekati’s horrors emerge from its lower reaches.

Stick Man has nicknames for those as well.  None of them pleasant.

James McGowan Reader Group- Beer Paw Prevails

Hey, hey!

I have at last gotten back- BOOM!

Ahem, excuse the fireworks.  They are quite prolific in the US during the Fourth of July, at least in my neck of the woods.

As I was saying, I have once again returned to doing bar trivia with my friends on our team, Beer Paw. 

How did that gloriously silly name come to be?  Well, as legend has it, there was a sock monkey with a hand dipped in an empty cup atop a friend of a friend’s desk at their shared workplace.  And… yeah.  That’s it.

We’re named for the team’s mascot: A sock monkey that I’ve never seen.

We comprise meteorologists, an IRS specialist, and a financial risk manager.  Our knowledge is trivially expansive.  Which is exactly what you need to excel in bar trivia.

Though we are generally pretty weak with any biology or physiology questions.  But we more than make up for it with any sports, geography, or geek culture topics.

Three times a year, we test our mettle in city championships.  And do mental battle against other teams with names like “Suck it, Trebek!”, “Cats, Cats, Cats”, and the “Blockheads”.

We even win on occasion.

And what do we do with our winnings? Buy more beer and bar food for the team.  It’s an awe-inspiring cycle.

Beer Paw Prevai- BOOM!

Players of the Game Works in Progress
My ProWritingAid re-edit-o-rama is going much faster than I thought it might go.  Many typo fixes, minor plot corrections, and rephrasing updates abound.

I’m already through Repenter, Hidden Chapters, The Brigands, The Favor, and the New Players.  I also have them reformatted in Atticus.

I’ll be looking at releasing hardcover “ultimate” editions and eBook omnibuses for Books 1, 1.5, 2, and 2.5 in the coming couple of months.  With The Breakers, Book 4, to come soon after that.

Players of the Game Rephrase Quote of the Month:

Thebes and Ashe from The Brigands:

“Gimme another few minutes.” The Imp pressed more virtual buttons on the array of holograms in front of him. “These clouds are adhesive, trying to pull us in. It wasn’t as hard last time.”

Ashe’s stomach tightened. “Why?”

“What am I, a weather guy? I got nothing.”
Recommendation Corner
Across the Spiderverse

This is my favorite movie of the summer so far.

Miles deals with both his relationship to his parents and juggling his double life as his universe’s Spider-Man. And Gwen, who’s very much the co-lead of this movie, has to deal with a far more adversarial relationship with her father, also a police captain.

Then there’s the Spot. A seeming joke character who steadily gets more and more dangerous in the background.

The foreground deals with a whole lot of Spider people trying to keep their dimensions from collapsing.

This movie has so many different art styles from punk, to washed out impressionist, to overly muscular 90’s comic art. It looks like nothing out there and is just thrilling to behold.

Highest possible recommendation.

Seal of the Worm by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The Wasps have won. But their empress knows she wrecked the world to do it. And she’ll wreck it worse to “fix” it.

The Beetles in exile and their Ant allies must martial their forces under the command of the Ants brilliant and cruel Tactician.

And under their feet, the horrid evil of the Worm and its many humanoid “segments” rises. And Cheerwell and her banished friends must fight them with their aptitude and magic negated.

The over world’s chances of beating back the Worm’s advance is fleeting.

I’m not going to spoil a horrid plot element in this. But let’s just say that I will be shocked if it’s kept “as is” in any adaptions to other media. Really, really unsettling.

But also a satisfying conclusion to the Shadows of the Apt series.
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That’s all for this time.

Stay smart.  Stay safe.


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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.
Check Out the Players of the Game Series on Kindle and Paperback
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.


Click here to view the original format.