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.


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.


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Players of the Game Character Spotlight: Welt

Welt is a staunch ally of Ashe Stelfire.  He also knows first hand the consequences of losing to Corsis.  The Master of the Game inflicted a grave curse upon Welt. 

Taking his head. 

Through ethereal means, Welt still lives with a shadowy boundary at the base of his shoulders once occupied by his neck.  He can still talk, eat, drink, and smoke gaun herb cigarettes.  His friends value him sage and eloquent advice and his steady presence.  He is a gunmancer, a specialist who mixes magic and technology with all manner of firearms, be they high tech or low tech. 

Give him enough time, and he can make a weapon to slay the greatest of foes.

James McGowan Reader Group- Living with the Fear of It

Happy Labor Daybor, all!

I’ve read many lines of dialogue and narration that have stuck with me over the years.  One in particular has rung true for me of late from Logen Nine Fingers in Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series.  He repeated it often and other characters often quoted him as well.

“Once you’ve got a task to do, it’s better to do it than live with the fear of it.”

I’ve had a few vexing conversations in the past month.  Ones that came at me as slow as molasses.  Thankfully, I also prepared myself for them.  I trudged through them and got on the other side.  Anvils of Damocles may lurk in the future, but at least I’m through this part of it.

I didn’t have much control over the timing, but I can tell you on no uncertain terms, it is far better to have the hard task acted upon, rather than dreading it.  Far better indeed.

Players of the Game Works in Progress
I reached page 400 with about 113,200 words on the Game War’s initial draft.  Last month’s stats were 351 pages with about 99,200 words.  That’s more or less the same level of production as last month.  I’m calling this one a win due to the above-mentioned life stress stuff.  Plus page 400 is a milestone in of itself, as is blowing past 100,000 words.

PLUS: The New Players: Origins is recently released.  Grab it now with the links below if you haven’t already.

Work in Progress Out of Context Quote of the Month:

Benefactor: “It’s my experience that anyone who truly thinks he is a ‘great man’ is anything but.”
Recommendation Corner
She-Hulk (Both on Disney+ and the Comic Book by Rainbow Rowell and Roge Antonio) She-Hulk has always been among my favorite Marvel characters.  She’s the smart and jolly Hulk.  I also enjoy her 4th wall breaking, which she’s been doing since the 80’s. 

The Disney+ show is lighthearted and just plain fun.  Tatiana Maslany does a great job as Jen Walters in both her short human and tall hulk forms.  And I disagree with the haters, I think the CGI is fine.  It’s very evocative of Dan Slott’s run from the aughts. 

And Rainbow Rowell and Roge Antonio’s current run is also among my current faves.  Humorous, great art, and they brought back Jack of Hearts, one of my favorite D-list characters.
Fun stuff.

Better Call Saul

Oh, man.  What to say about this series now that it has wrapped up?  It is a fantastic character study of the complicated, broken man named Jimmy McGill who made an increasingly horrible series of choices.  His transformation into Saul Goodman very much enabled to Walter White to fully become the even more broken Heisenberg.

All of the characters are fantastic in the final season, especially Nacho, Mike, Kim, and Howard.  Carol Burnett’s guest role in the final few episodes was also really well done. 

If you’ve never watched the Vince Gilligan ABQ-based shows, I envy your new experience.  I recommend starting the series with Breaking Bad, then the El Camino Netflix movie that spotlights Jesse Pinkman, and then finish the binge session with Better Call Saul.  I’ve heard these shows lauded as some the better TV ever made.  I don’t disagree. 

Highly recommended.
Get New Players: Origins and Get New Players
That’s all for this time.

Stay smart.  Stay safe.


Get The New Players: Origins in Ebook or Paperback!

Hey there, everyone!

The New Players: Origins novella is now available on paperback and ebook! It’s a collection of stories that explore into the beginnings of the Burnhelt family, Xax, Harry Mang, and more.

Check it out!
Great powers come at great cost.

A god of technology, a reality-warping entity encased in silver armor, two inheritors of peerless skill, and a hyper-powered duelist. Ed counts himself among these New Players as a nascent champion of his homeland. But he must first contain the dire inferno burning within.

Or it will incinerate him.

He must master the mighty torrent blazing from his very blood as he trains in the art of combat. At the harsh tutelage of his legendary mother. The lessons will be hard.

And lethal.

Learn how Ed and the other New Players master their skills in this anthology of short stories. And what they lose along the way. And the dark nightmares spawned by their good intentions.

You’ll love this collection of prequel material because of its illuminating connections to the main New Players novel and the sacrifices the characters make in order to keep their world bright.

Get it now.
Buy The New Players: Origins

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Players of the Game Character Spotlight: Gnorok

Gnorok (the G is silent) is a one of Ashe Stelfire’s best friends.  He pretends to be a Demon mercenary.  In truth, he’s Dragon-Human hybrid called a Murdrake.  He and Ashe start out as competing rivals, but the pair of them soon find they work well together.  Gnorok also gets romantically entangled with Salatha, a Wred Witch with questionable loyalty to their cause.  He leads the Brigands.  Always from the front with his blade bared.

James McGowan Reader Group- All’s Fair in the Book Fair

Hi, everyone! I’m participating in the August Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Fair.  Repenter and the Hidden Chapters books are part of the promo along with a bunch of other books.  Over a hundred of them.  All of them on the house.  Check them out and enjoy!

Check Out the August SFF Book Fair (August 2022)
Players of the Game Works in Progress
I’ll be sending out a bonus email later this month with the details on the release of my new bonus content book, Players of the Game: Origins.  It will be available in ebook and paperback formats.  More on that next time.

In the meantime, the Game War’s first draft clocks in at 351 pages with about 99,200 words.  Last month’s stats had me at page 305 with about 86,000 words.  Decent, not great, but decent.  However, I’ll like have 100k cracked in a day or two, which is another milestone.

Work in Progress Out of Context Quote of the Month:

Marcrinus: “Welcome to Crystal Keep. Don’t expect anyone else to thank you for helping.”
Recommendation Corner
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

I got this book in a white elephant gift exchange years ago at my writers’ group’s holiday party.  Far and away the best such bonus gift I’ve ever received.  A big concept of this book that has stuck with me is the concept of Resistance.  It’s defined as anything that either hinders or completely stops you from continuing with your creative endeavor.  It could be stuff in your life getting in the way, both good stuff and bad stuff.  I definitely experienced plenty of both categories this month.  Or it can just be the inner slog as you slowly chip away at your story or any other project.  Yep.  I had plenty of that this month too.  The book’s big strategy is to realize that Resistance is always there and each writing/creative session is a new chance to either overcome Resistance or let it overcome you.  Highly recommended for any creative person who’s looking for some inspiration.

Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney+

This one is more of a half recommendation.  I loved Ewan McGregor’s return to the character.  It starts with him in a very dark place and very emotionally broken.  It had some fantastic Force and light saber battles, especially in the final episode.  It was hindered by characters making a lot of nonsensical decisions because the plot demanded it.  So many people did not die because the victor of a battle just walked away or let something like a fire make an artificial end to a conflict.  I was neutral on the Leia subplot.  But again, Obi-Wan is a great character, and James Earl Jones still has the vocal chops for a menacing Vader, so I still call it worth watching.
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 Character Spotlight: Salatha

Salatha is one of the Brigands.  She possesses both innate psionic powers and hard-learned prowess in mancy.  She counts herself as one of the more skilled Wred Witches.  Salatha’s ultimate loyalty between the Brigands and her sisterhood is often a point of tension.  Her relationship with Ashe in particular ranges from subdued distrust to grudging respect.  She is romantically involved with his best friend, which only makes the question of her trustworthiness all the more tangled.

James McGowan Reader Group- Sun in the Fun

Hey, all!

To all my US-based readers, Happy Fourth of July.  To all my non-US-based readers, also happy fourth of July.

Capitalization word play aside, I have once again been out enjoying the sun on walks through the neighborhood and doing yard work.  I absolutely love this time of the year.  It stays light outside late and everything is green and alive.  And while I don’t necessarily care for excessive heat, I like it far more than the cold of winter.  I’m am very much a summer baby, though my baby days are far in the rear view.

One thing that’s been constant regardless of my age is my sweet tooth.  I’m a big fan of ice cream cones and malts this time of year.  Marshmallow and Raspberry are among my favorite malt flavors.  Blue almond and rainbow sherbet are my go-to ice cream cone varieties.  What kind of summer treats do you enjoy either now, or in six months if you’re in the southern hemisphere?

Players of the Game Works in Progress
This month’s update for the Game War’s first draft clocks in at page 305 with about 86,000 words.  Last month’s stats were page 253 with 71,700 words.  Not too bad.  Plus it’s a milestone to reach page 300 in about six months since I started in late December-ish.  I’m likely around halfway there.  Did I mention that I like to write epics?

Work in Progress Out of Context Quote of the Month: Vermillion: “I don’t tell people what they want to hear, Arms Master.”
Recommendation Corner
Top Gun: Maverick

This movie was a really pleasant surprise.  I wasn’t really expecting much from it.  It’s a really fun popcorn movie.  It’s also a very compelling portrayal of characters dealing with grief.  I’d argue that Goose’s absence is the second main character in the movie, especially with the call back to the Great Balls of Fire scene from the first one.  The mostly practical jet action was awesome with the double Death Star-style trench run.  Plus they played Danger Zone at the beginning again.  As you might have surmised from my email address, I have an affinity for that word.

Symphony of War

This Steam game is something I’ve been wanting for years and years.  An homage to one of my all-time faves: Ogre Battle, the old strategy role playing game from the Super Nintendo days.  The movement of groups of small teams, capturing towns, and outmaneuvering your enemy  is just the bee’s knees.  I wish some of the sprites weren’t so “meeple” looking, but that’s a minor quibble.  Totally fun stuff if you’re into that kind of thing.
Check Out the Players of the Game Series on Kindle and Paperback
That’s all for this time. Stay smart.  Stay safe. Jim

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Players of the Game Character Spotlight: Ed Burnhelt

Ed Burnhelt is one of the main characters of the entire series.  This is another rendering of him as he appears in the third book.  As you can tell from his bearded image in the post below, he doesn’t come out of it without a few literal and figurative scars.  Despite that, Ed maintains a lightness in comparison to others like Ashe Stelfire or Harry Mang, and would much rather disarm a conflict with a joke, rather than through his powers.  Circumstances often conspire to prevent him from taking the less fraught route.