Tag Archives: fiction

Chrys Cymri: Strange Incursions

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.

Penny White is a faithful and caring Anglican priest with a bit too much familiarity with alcohol. That might explain why, coming upon the scene of a traffic accident, she finds herself giving last rites to a fatally injured dragon. Yes, dragon. Curiously, inebriation didn’t conjure this situation. The deceased dragon is real, and her pastoral care for the exotic creature is about to catapult her into a new Church role: Vicar General of Incursions. Turns out our world and another coexist in close proximity, connected by “thin places” where those who can sense them–or who just stumble upon them–can cross between. Stranger still, that other world is populated by, among other things, dragons, unicorns, griffons, harpies, and snail sharks.

The Vicar General of Incursions has to deal with accidental crossings. Somebody has to do that because, trust me, you don’t want a snail shark infestation! Still, Penny has enough on her plate already: her much younger brother, just returned from New Zealand with computer skills but no cash and even less sense of responsibility; her husband’s accidental death in a boating accident a few years before; deathwatch beetles eating the pews; clueless parishioners; other people’s tragedies. For anyone else, it would all be too much. But Penny has a thing for dragons, not to mention Dr. Who and Star Wars and whatnot, so she can hardly refuse the appointment. Besides, at least one dragon seems to have a thing for her. As does a certain police inspector. And more seriously, the death of that dragon in a traffic accident may have been no accident.

The Temptation of Dragons reads like a cross between Harry Potter and The Vicar of Dibley. It’s a fun romp through fantasy and reality, tinged with humor and pathos. Both story and writing are solid, proving that indie writers can indeed publish material every bit as good as anything that comes out of a traditional publishing house. There is a healthy dose of Anglican religion, but not in a preachy way. It’s simply a necessary part of Penny White’s life, done well because Cymri is also a priest. I’m looking forward to reading the next installment in Penny’s life, The Cult of Unicorns, as well as the subsequent novels. So, zero complaints, five stars. Well done!

I recently asked Chrys Cymri about the novel and her writing. Here’s what she said:

This is a wonderful novel. Is it your first, or had you written other novels before?

My first two novels were traditionally published in 1996. Sadly, these only sold around 5,000 copies each, so the publisher and my agent dropped me. I continued to write, but only a couple of years ago did I decide to publish what I’d produced during those years. Penny White, however, is only two years old.

Like Penny White, you’re a priest. How much of her is really you?

When my bishop told me, “I really enjoy Penny White,” I felt the need to tell him, “But I can assure you I don’t drink as much as she does.” We do have similar tastes in whisky and Doctor Who, but she is far more reticent than me. (I have a tendency to say what I think and then get into trouble for it). I don’t have her same family experiences and, sadly, there’s no darkly beautiful dragon haunting my back garden.

I couldn’t help but notice (as I said in my review) certain resemblances to both Harry Potter and The Vicar of Dibley. How much (if any) have either of those influenced the development of the Penny White series?

I like Harry Potter, but I’m more of a Narnia fan, and I think that might be the greater influence. I’ve only seen a couple of Vicar of Dibley episodes, but I did enjoy Rev and, again, that’s probably had more of bearing on what and how I write.

Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about Penny’s further adventures?

Well, the romantic triangle continues, but isn’t the major focus of the series. I’ve just finished the fifth novel, and there is a resolution of sorts. In the fourth book, The Vengeance of Snails, we finally discover the truth about who Clyde really is. Penny becomes far more involved in the magical country of Lloegyr as the series goes on, and discovers that there is a dark side to her adventures.

What advice to you have for writers or readers?

Writers: Don’t publish too soon. Make sure you have people read your novels, and take on board their criticism. Readers: Please do leave reviews. It keeps us writers going when we’re plugging on late into the night after a long day at work.

Where can readers find you?

On my website, Facebook, and Goodreads.

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.

Lokesh Sharma’s “Halfway”: A Bizarre Afterlife

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.

An old rule of science fiction writing states that an author is allowed one independent miracle per story. In Halfway, Lokesh Sharma and Anubhav Sharma hit us with a real doozy: your memories are being harvested, and after you die you are remade with an engineered body and a little bracelet that connects you to those saved memories. Thus reborn into a world called Enigma, you are judged for your actions during your Earthly life and either admitted into the paradise of Elysium or condemned to the torment of Hell. But these realms are not religious/spiritual realms. Rather, they are technological realms situated in a distant part of the galaxy. Pardon the pun, but how the hell did that come about? We aren’t told, and for now it doesn’t matter. Independent miracle. Just sit back and enjoy the ride!

And it is an amazing ride. Like their authors, the key characters hail from India and have backstories bound up with the customs and history of that land. Dev, a young computer wiz who pulled himself out of a suicidal funk by entering into an illegal cell phone scam with his over-the-top pal Sid, faces Hell because he was killed when he ran in front of a truck with an old suicide note in his pocket. An open and shut case, except he didn’t kill himself at all. His death was a tragic accident. Meanwhile, a young woman named Aparna is in similarly deep trouble. After her enraged father killed her boyfriend in front of her for the crime of dating Aparna, she retaliated by murdering him. Worse, she’s now killed two of the locals in Enigma, although in self-defense. But in Enigma, justice can be as elusive as on Earth. In fact, the “afterlife” doesn’t seem all that different from Earth, riddled with politics, corruption, lust, murder, and other lesser crimes and sins. Worse still, lurking in the background is the specter of war as Hell’s self-appointed queen Phoenix prepares to attack Enigma. This is an amazingly good story given that the premise makes absolutely no sense. I found it hard to stop reading. Even better (or flummoxing, depending on how you feel about it), this is book 1 in the Aspiration for Deliverance series, and in some ways it’s not a complete story. The lives of Dev and Aparna don’t intersect at all. This is just the set-up for whatever comes next. But it works, so long as you’re willing to wait for book 2, where at least some questions will presumably be answered.

In spite of my raving, this is not a perfect book. It’s a first novel by a pair of indie writers, and as usually happens the writing could stand some editing. Not that it’s terrible. It’s among the better-written first indie novels that I’ve read. But it could do with a fair bit of tightening. Some material needs reorganization for clarity, and many of the information dumps should be cleaned up. The description is a bit klunky. There are too many sound effects for my taste (I’d get rid of them all, guys, and write some engaging action instead). Oh, and many of those hyphenations and capitalizations shouldn’t be there. Nevertheless, it’s a good start to a uniquely weird story.

I recently asked Lokesh Sharma about the novel and his writing. Here’s what he said:

You co-wrote this story with your brother Anubhav. Which of you got the idea for the “Aspirations for Deliverance” series and where did it come from?

Before I answer this question, I would like to thank you for this opportunity. I read your review of Halfway, and I found it to be very insightful.

About the question: I had this concept in my mind for a while before I decided to put it into words a couple years ago. I have been fascinated with the idea of a life after death since I was a little kid, and my fascination continued to grow with age. There are about 4,200 religions on Earth, and although they are different from each other in many ways, most of them hold the belief that there is a life after death, and I found that very interesting.

There are a number of books written on the afterlife, and I’ve seen some movies made on this concept as well, so I knew that the idea itself wasn’t very special, unless I presented this story in a very unique way. I realized that the best way to do it was to show it in a different light, which is why I decided to transform this idea into a science fiction story. It made sense because if there is a place called Heaven, ruled by someone that created us and this whole universe, then it must be way more advanced in terms of technology than our world.

How do you and Anubhav organize your collaboration? Do you each write particular scenes, for example?

I had already finished the first draft before my brother joined me in the project. I discussed the story with him and he pointed out a couple flaws in it, and then from first draft onwards, we worked on the project together. The benefit of working with him, I found, was that he didn’t cushion the blow when giving me feedback. If he hated something about my book (a particular scene, a character, etc.) he said it to my face. Hurting my feelings is the least of his concerns. *Laughs*

Halfway is unusual in that the stories of the two main characters, Dev and Aparna, don’t intersect. Will that happen in the next book in the series? Were you concerned that letting them lead unconnected lives in the first book might be too risky?

Definitely! The stories of Dev and Aparna will intersect in the next book, but in a very unusual manner. And yes, we were a little concerned that letting Dev and Aparna lead unconnected lives in book 1 might be risky, but it was a risk we were willing to take. This was our debut novel, and given that we had no previous experience in writing, we weren’t sure if readers would find the book interesting. Well, I strongly believed that they would, but then I’m sure that every person who ever wrote a book thought the same way about their book!

Anubhav is more practical than I am, and he kept telling me not to get my hopes too high. Although I still thought my book was great, I didn’t see the point in writing a book so long that readers would find it hard to finish if they didn’t like it. So I thought it best to keep it short, and I’m glad I did because now that I have received some reviews, I know which things I need to work on in my next book to make it even better.

Had either of you written or published anything prior to Halfway?

No, Halfway is our debut novel.

How many books will be in this series? When will the next one be available?

When I started this project, I thought of writing a trilogy, but given how much some people dislike cliffhangers, I’m now thinking of wrapping it up in my second book, which is expected to be released around the end of year 2018. However, if I have more story ideas in which I can use the same world, I may write them as stand-alones.

Are you working on anything else?

I do have a couple ideas in mind, and I have started brainstorming on one of them. It’s a high fantasy novel called Apex of the Dark Age. I can’t say much about it yet as the idea isn’t fully developed. All I can say is that it’s a story about a fictional war between God and Satan.

Where can readers find you?

On Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and at my Amazon Author Page.