Category Archives: Writing

William R. Dudley: Planetary Real Estate Noir

Recently I’ve been reading novels by newer, largely unknown indie writers. By way of helping them along, I’ll be introducing some of them here. These authors are up-and-coming, at varying stages in their development as writers. They may not all have the polish of traditionally published authors, but I think they all have potential and deserve encouragement.


Through nuclear war and environmental degradation, Earth has been all but destroyed. Seeking new homes, humanity has taken to the stars using a marvel of engineering: the Janus Gate. Orbiting the sun where the asteroid belt used to be, the Janus Gate’s space-warping black hole and surrounding containment field catapults pilgrims to worlds far beyond our solar system. But Janus is also a colony in its own right, its concentric levels home to a full cross-section of humanity. Here, powerful ultra-conglomerates double as businesses and government, ruthless criminal syndicates run amok, and ordinary people eke out an existence.

In the lawless outer levels of Janus, former security agent turned freelance bounty hunter Calder is offered a fortune to find the missing son of one of the richest and most powerful women alive. Of course he takes the job. But soon he finds himself neck deep in deception, treachery, gangland war, and unspeakable crimes. Death threatens at every turn, but Calder must see the job through, cost notwithstanding.

The Janus Enigma packs suspense and intense action into a gripping tale of survival and intrigue. It’s well written, too. Author William R. Dudley is a former English teacher, journalist, and editor, so he knows his way around words. I did find some of the dialogue near the end a bit wordy, and on occasion I thought a sentence could have been phrased better, but these are minor quibbles. A bit more significantly, I didn’t entirely buy the young computer whiz Umbra’s emotional episode near the end, and I was a bit disturbed that Calder didn’t notice the parallels between certain of his own actions, which he justifies as necessary collateral damage, and the monstrous crimes he uncovers. Some elements of the ending might have been a bit too pat, as well, but to avoid spoilers I won’t go into detail here. Regardless, the story works, and works well.

Fair warning for those who might take issue: this is a violent story liberally sprinkled with hot vengeance and crude language. Personally I would prefer less of all that, but I won’t factor that preference into my rating, since I seem to be in the minority. In terms of both story and writing, The Janus Enigma falls on the high side of 4 stars. If I don’t give it 5, it’s only because of those few small issues I mentioned above. Well done, sir!

I recently asked William R. Dudley about the novel and his writing. Here’s what he said:

You’ve been involved with words for a long time as a teacher and editor, but this is your first novel. Did you do any writing before this, and if not why did you only get started now?

For thirty years, my writing was confined to the “everyday” business of scripts, copy etc. for radio and television. My job was all-consuming, leaving little, or no, time for “writing for myself.” On occasion, I did exercise my literary ambitions–chiefly in the form of the libretto for a folk-opera “Going For A Soldier”, which was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe way back in the seventies. As I recall, it got a rave review from The Irish Times. I also managed to find time to write a couple of Christmas pantomimes for an Am-Dram group in Jersey (Channel Islands) where I was working, but, I found work–on call 24/7/365–and trying to maintain some semblance of a family-life more than enough. I retired, gratefully, in 2010 and dedicated myself to doing nothing except cooking, playing golf and relaxing, something I hadn’t been able to do for over thirty years. Eventually, I got the idea to write a novel. I have to admit, I fought against it, big time. Writing is bloody hard work and I reckoned I’d done enough of that, thank you. But, like an itch you have to scratch, the idea grew and grew, until, in the end, I decided to give it a go.

What gave you the idea for The Janus Enigma?

Having decided to have a go at writing a novel, I was at a loss as to what the subject would be. From an early age I’ve loved Sci-Fi. I drank a lot of whisky and jotted down a number of ideas. One of them involved The Man Who Sold Planets. I was intrigued by the idea of real estate becoming more than selling houses and tracts of land. Eventually, this idea became a relatively minor character in The Janus Enigma–Mexican Charlie–but it was enough to set me on the path to creating an environment/world in which someone could actually sell you a planet. Added to this basic idea was my love of first-person noir thrillers: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett etc. The rest, as they say, is history.

I got all the way through the book before realizing I didn’t know protagonist Calder’s first name. I’m terrible with names and thought I’d forgotten it, so I went back through the book but couldn’t find it. Am I missing something?

Sorry you felt it necessary to back-track. I deliberately didn’t give Calder a first name. I feel it adds to the enigmatic nature of the character. Besides, let’s face it, he’s not the most pleasant of characters, so referring to him only by his surname is, perhaps, best. I regard Calder as a flawed “force of nature,” a product of his time and environment and best kept at a distance.

You seemed to be trying to walk a tightrope between Calder’s violent streak, which no doubt arises from his background, and giving him a conscience that prevents him from going too far overboard. Yet sometimes he has to rationalize collateral damage. Without giving anything away, I found it a bit disturbing that those rationalizations were basically the same as those made by one of the key criminals in the story, but Calder didn’t seem to realize it. Could you comment on that?

Wow! When you read, you read. Thank you. I freely admit I struggled with the amoral side to Calder’s character. To be honest, basically, he’s a thug, but a thug with a fairly well-developed, if totally subjective, concept of right and wrong. He will pursue his concept of what is the right thing to do irrespective of the surrounding morality. He’s driven and won’t let anything stand in his way, which is why he has no scruples about killing Rylan Delmonico’s minder, or Azarillo’s guards. If it has to be done, it’s done. He may not feel all that good about it, but, in his mind, the end justifies the means. I actually found it intriguing that, in a way, Calder and the “key criminal” are somewhat similar. I like to think that the climactic confrontation between the two of them raises, in the reader’s mind, the question of whether what the “key criminal” did was justifiable. Calder sees it from his point of view, but is he right?

I see you have a sequel in the works. How far into it are you, and when do you expect to publish it?

The Janus Contract centres on Calder being hunted by the Nemesis Foundation, an organisation of implacable, professional assassins, but just who has hired them to eliminate Calder and how he can manage to stay alive is the big question. The sequel also revisits a key incident in The Janus Enigma and, I hope, provides a big surprise. I’m currently in the final outlining phase. I write my first drafts fairly quickly – 6 to 8 weeks, but then spend months revising, editing and rewriting. I’m hopeful that The Janus Contract will be published around September 2018.

Are you working on anything else?

Come on! I’m seventy years old. I read the obituaries in the newspaper every day and, if I’m not mentioned, I get out of bed and either cook, play golf, potter about my garden, or write. I’m far too old and tired to entertain any thoughts of a “writing career.” I just want to write stories which, I hope, people will enjoy reading. End of.

What advice do you have for writers or readers?

For writers: WRITE! Just get it down. It may be a load of bilge, but, once you have something on paper (or on file) you have a beginning. The actual writing of that first draft is relatively easy. The real work starts when you revisit it to edit, rewrite and revise. That’s when your skill as a writer emerges and you exercise your craft. I revised/edited The Janus Enigma 57 times (I have every iteration – the first 14 are crap!). The best problem to have as a writer is when you revise your work for the umpteenth time and, at the end of it, realise you’ve changed perhaps a dozen words and rephrased a couple of sentences. That’s when you bite the bullet and say “Enough!” Of course, it’s not “finished.” It never will be, but life’s too short…

For readers: if you aren’t hooked by the first ten pages (God, that’s generous) go away. Read something else, play a round of golf, cook a splendid meal, watch TV, go to the theatre, play Skyrim, whatever. Increasingly, the attention span of people is diminishing. God bless Twitter, Facebook, et al. Don’t waste time on struggling through something which doesn’t engage you. There’s more than enough out there which you will find engaging.

Where can readers find you?

I have a website: http://www.thejanusgate.com. I don’t do Facebook, Twitter, or any of the so-called “social media”. Essentially, I’m a rather old-fashioned private person. I’ll share my writing with the world, but very little else.

The Indie Author Dilemma

Ah, technology. It makes possible so many wonderful things. And so many terrible things. And so many mediocre things. And so many books.

Today, anybody can write and publish a book, so everybody does. Far more published authors inhabit the world now than ever before, and most of them are independents–indie authors. They don’t need no stinking traditional publishers. By vanity press, print-on-demand publisher, or online tool, they fearlessly bring their creations to life. How great is that?

Well…

Once upon a time, it took a lot of work to achieve publication. Self-publishing is nothing new, but the vast majority of books were brought forth by publishing companies. The occasional genius notwithstanding, most writers suffered under this system, spending years collecting rejection slips before making a sale. It hurt, and often the hurt never ended. Not every writer entered the paradise of publication. Most suffered in the hell of endless rejection.

But that wasn’t all bad. Because through those long years of failure, writers gained experience, honed their craft, grew from novice to expert. They didn’t get published. They became publishable.  And then they were rewarded.

Today’s indie writer may think she’s got it good, because she can skip all that, but actually she doesn’t. Because it’s horribly tempting to skip all that. It’s not uncommon to hear an indie ask, “I’ve just finished my first novel. How do I get it published?” The occasional genius aside, the answer ought to be: “Please don’t.”

Disclaimer time. I’m not trying to insult indie writers. Conceiving and writing a book is no small feat. Beyond that, it takes a lot of courage to send it out into the world for people to read. Anyone who gets that far deserves respect and encouragement, and they definitely have mine.

But let’s face it: nobody is born capable of writing great literature. Some people have greater aptitude for writing than others, but even they learn through years of reading and writing.  I’ve never heard of a four-year-old writing a deathless novel, and neither have you. Very few 20-year-olds have done so, for that matter. Writing is a skill that must be learned, practiced, improved. And that takes time.

Consider me. I spent years writing, principally science fiction short stories. I never sold one, although near the end of those years I got a few words of encouragement from editors, including one from Shawna McCarthy at Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. She rejected my story, but told me I had promise. Oh, that felt great! I’d never enjoyed a rejection so much. I wrote one mystery almost-novel after that. (Almost because it was too short for a novel.) I then wrote an SF novel, a fantasy novel, and two mystery novels. My SF novel almost found an agent, except she was going out of business. Rats!

By this time, I think I was very close to publishability. I hadn’t hit the big time yet, but my writing was starting to get the attention of at least a few editors and agents. And then disaster struck: I landed a contract with a con artist claiming to be an agent. I won’t go into details now. Suffice it to say that I stopped writing fiction for ten years.

Ten years later, I pulled myself out of the writing doldrums and wrote my first Howard County mystery, The Fibonacci Murders. By then, the indie revolution was in full swing, and my wife Kathleen and I had started our own publishing company. So we published it. It was a pretty easy sale, even though Kathleen didn’t let me off easy. She wields a mean editorial pen. Since that time, I’ve written two more novels in the series–True Death which we also published, and Ice on the Bay which we hope to have out by the end of the year. I’ve also written an SF/humor novel, Space Operatic, which is with some beta readers now, and started two more novels: Howard County mystery #4 and a crime/humor novel.

Now here’s the thing: In reviewing my recent work, I find that only HCM4 and my crime/humor novel are equal in quality to the last things I wrote before my ten year hiatus. Those dead years set me back, and I only got back up to speed by writing several more novels.

Think about that, all you indie writers. Scads of short stories and five novels to almost become publishable, then a decade without practice, then three more novels to regain my skill. And someone who  has just finished their first novel wants to publish it?

It’s been said that a writer must write a million words to become a good writer. That’s ten 100,000 word novels. The exact number isn’t important, though. The point is practice, practice, practice. The traditional publishing model forced most writers to practice. The indie model does not. Which means, fellow indies, we must force the practice on ourselves.

I can see a possible new paradigm emerging here. We publish book after book. Some of us pay attention to our writing, commit to learning, and over time get better and better. The trail of books we leave behind us is public testimony to our development as writers. Scholars might appreciate that someday, but meanwhile readers have to wade through piles of trash before they find one of us emerging from it with a gem.

The only question is, how many readers have the patience for that? Curious, isn’t it: before, the writers had to have patience, and the readers got instant gratification. Now it’s the other way ’round. Hmmm.

Get Real

In literature, realism has a technical meaning. Or two. Or maybe three. In a general sense, it refers to representing characters as they really are, or would be if they weren’t fictional. It means writing about people without glamorizing them, without glossing over their failings, presenting everything–even the most banal aspects of their lives–exactly as it would be.

Realism renders characters, well, real. That’s good. We relate better to real characters than to stereotypes or caricatures. Even superheros have to be real in a certain sense: they must have weaknesses. Even “truth, justice, and the American way” characters sometimes struggle with the impulse to lie or the desire for revenge rather than justice.

But like anything else, realism can be carried too far. Do you want to watch every character go through every trivial moment of their day? Of course not. You don’t care what they had for breakfast Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday… You might care if Joe had an argument with his wife during breakfast. Or if he received a shocking text message while munching on his toast, choked, and ended up at the hospital. But if nothing happened except he ingested some crispy bread? Nah.

Even the details of most people’s jobs make for bland reading. I write computer software. You might think that would be interesting. To me, it generally is. But if I led you step by step through a typical day on my job, you’d be yawning before the first half hour was up. Some fiction–such as the mysteries I write–does follow people through their work days, but not in excruciating detail. I may show a detective doing their paperwork, but only as background to something more interesting. Nobody wants to watch somebody fill out forms. Moreover, not being a detective myself, I’m sure I don’t get everything right. Probably some of what happens in my novels would not happen in real life. How important is that? It depends. If you’re a detective or know more about detective work than I do, you might gripe. But to be honest, so long as I don’t make any gross errors, it’s not all that important. I’m telling a story, not documenting a day in the life of a cop. If you’re pulled into the story, then it works, unreality and all. Don’t believe me? Consider how much unreality works its way into novels and TV shows and movies. Real crime scene investigators sometimes wish they had all the gadgets their TV counterparts do. Quite honestly, unreality can keep us on the edges of our seats more effectively than reality.

So there is a balance to be struck: stories should be real enough to be convincing, but not excruciatingly real. Fiction is, after all, fiction, not reality. I sometimes compare writing to another art I practice, bonsai. In bonsai, one trains the growth of a small tree grown in a pot in such a way that it gives the illusion of being a full-grown tree. But many of the principles bonsai artists follow are entirely artificial. Branches should not cross, for example. In nature, branches will grow any way they can to get to the light, but in a bonsai the branches must be carefully pruned and shaped. It’s not a natural tree. It’s a contrived tree that gives the illusion of being natural, which the best bonsai actually do. Same with stories. They aren’t reality, but when well written, they can give the illusion of being real.

In the process, a lot of reality is necessarily left out.