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  • Nikky Lee

10 Questions with Cage Dunn

Dedicated to a life as Fibber, Fabricator, and Teller-of-Tall-Tales, Cage Dunn writes Australian stories, urban, rural and outback on the dark side of fantastical, a touch of horror and fear with a twist of the unknown and unknowable.

The wide open landscapes of the Australian bush opened the mind to what lay beyond, and beyond that …

1. Tell us a bit about yourself! Where do you call home and what do you write?

I think I was born a nomad. A wonderer … er, wanderer. Both.

Started life in the wide open spaces of country Western Australia, flat land where the horizon played idiots for fools and carried them deeper into the salt hazes of the lost lakes, into the centre of the arid zones. Left to wander like a speck of dust in a willy-willy.

These places are born for those like me. I dreamed. In those dreams, I saw beyond the horizon, around the next bend, down the track less travelled. I looked within the soul of those winds, those bits of scrub, listened to those whispers of wind calling me to the unknown. I followed that path.

I became a storyteller to keep my siblings quiet at night. Or amused. And scared. Scared kids don’t want to make trips to the night toilet when it involves a long-drop dunny, strange noises from unknown creatures, shadows within the ghost gums … well, it’s irresistible to use those tools as weapons, isn’t it?

That’s where I came from, and it opened my mind to plays upon reality. So, I write stories with a bit of darkness, a hint of the unknown, on the bare edges of unreality. Too real to be dismissed easily.

The stories that draw me into their vortex are beyond this world, fantastical but with the potential for real; scary but possible with a bit of adrenalin. Dark fantasy, contemporary fantasy, stories that slip into the horror that scares the hair to colourless, the ears to aerials of strained sensitivity, and feet that need to pound toward anywhere away.

I like the fear of things that hide in the dark places of the mind.

[Kano Varre seeks a rare mineral in Outback Australia to prove his controversial research—what he finds is a nightmare.]

2. What drew you to that particular type of story?

When I began writing seriously (that means with the intent to publish beyond the friends and family), I started with YA fantasy as a way to relive my lost youth. Okay, that may not be wholly honest (did I mention my moniker: Fibber, Fabricator, and Teller-of-Tall-Tales? That’s been a life-long habit; gets me out of trouble. Occasionally, deeper into it, but life is short and you gotta take a chance. Or six). Maybe that initial foray was the way I wrote myself into being a writer. And the YA stories were collapsed and folded for the adult version of crepuscular stories. Fewer rules. More darkness.

I use a lot of life experiences, journeys, and lessons that incorporate the type of subtext that will enable people to be very afraid, but also to experience the earned value of working through the fear and discomfort, to know there is joy from overcoming, and to be part of a community who share experiences of a life well lived.

Whew. What a long sentence (even after editing). That’s one of my critical post-first draft tasks: get rid of all the sentences that have more than ten words. *Shrug* Okay, twenty.

3. What are you currently working on?

There’s an adage that says to work on only one significant WIP at a time. And sometimes, that’s good advice, but at the moment I have two series (sort of series; set in the same place with the same people, but not with the same main character/s).

The first series is about magic in a contemporary setting. Learning how to do more with magic in each novella. The Call to Magic: Novitiate is the first of the Magic series, and the second story, Maiden, should be finished soon (a very flexible date, but Soon. I like to be sure every published story is better than the one before, and sometimes that will take more time than I anticipate).

The other series I’m calling the Black stories, based on a man you’d call to deal with problems no one else can or will. He’s the shady negotiator, whose price may be more than the weight of a soul. I’m starting with a story of two young women on the run from the city heavy who end up in a worse situation. Can Black make the deal with the goon in time to save them from … (not telling the rest. Not yet. Stay tuned).

The Call to Magic: Novitiate Cover

4. What inspired you to write it/them?

Mania. Has to be. I sit to watch telly, pull out the notebook and play with words. It might be a line from a poem, or a strange word I hear somewhere, or I wonder what happened to a person mentioned somewhere, somewhen.

The scribble extends to a few paragraphs. The knees shove up under the book, pen scribbles and scribbles and marks here and there. When it’s time for bed, I put the notebook down. If I dream about that story, it’s a goer and the next day I’ll put the notes on the computer in the ‘Ideas’ folder.

Some of these stories eat away at my brain, even when I’m working on something else. They have to sit and fester, though, because working on too many things at once can drive even a multi-personality writer into meltdown. (The siren song of a new story is like the scent of a new love; exhilarating, intoxicating, impossible to ignore.)

However, the waiting makes the idea stronger, or shoots it down in flames.

By the time I’ve published or submitted the work on hand, the new one is a shining beacon screaming its lungs out to get some attention.

In short (not something I do well, you may have noticed), the ideas chase me around like puppies. With sharp teeth. Maybe I should call them crocodiles.

And now that I’ve started with these stories, I have no idea where the original ideas come from. I have the notes, the dates, but not the seed. I now have the grist, the mill, the flowing river of words. And a new story about to be born.

5. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a plotter, panster or somewhere in between? How do you research?

Hmmm. I’ll say I’m a plotter, because I do a lot of pre-writing preparation. Once I have the initiating idea (see above), I write a beat sheet for every character in the story, especially the ones with a POV and the antagonist. Sometimes, an interview. It helps me get a handle on who these people/characters are, what they do and why, and how they do the things they do to get what they want.

However, once I think the plan is finished and I can put these people on (like a character actor), I write/act without going back to the plan.

Once the first draft is finished, I may write another outline (and I guarantee it will bear almost no resemblance to the original) to help with the editing. Or I may write a different form of story-sheet (chain of events with reactions and consequences also helps with the edit process, but there are dozens of others, and if I remain flexible in what I use, each story can help me learn what works best for me).

And it’s the secret sauce to getting past those things someone out there calls ‘blocks’.

6. What’s the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve researched for your writing?

This will be a short answer. There’s nothing strange in the world. Only people are puzzling, but if I observe for long enough, listen hard enough, I see and hear all I need to know. Yes, I do a lot of fact checking, but that’s fun. It’s the curious link from one thing to another, what people do and why, and how they find that line of enquiry that I find most interesting.

Or maybe the answer is the properties of liquid metal and its potential uses?

7. What’s the most personal story/scene you’ve written and why?

Not telling. Okay, a little hint. There’s a bit of me and my life in every story. Not enough that anyone would recognise it, but it’s there in the form of dusts motes of experience. Even the fears and phobias. Everything in life is fodder for story. Everything.

8. Who are your literary influences? In what way?

No, I won’t put any writer on a pedestal. They are writers, people who need to do this. They tell stories that matter to them so that they can matter to the ones who need them. One story influences others, but it may also not be what some readers need, and they keep looking for the one that belongs to them.

All writers are obliged to tell the stories that matter to them in a way that others recognise that it is personal and relatable to the reader, too.

Please understand that I only have to make sense and be logical in a story, not in real life. Anything outside those parameters is open for interpretation.

9. What books are on your bedside table right now?

The eReader holds many, many books (317 at least count, of which 12% are poetry, 48% are non-fiction, ranging from military to martial arts, from herbs to espionage, from craft books to animal husbandry). However, I have to admit to deleting fiction from the Reader (but they’re always in the cloud if I want to reread).

Apart from the non-fic, I’m currently reading a lot of anthologies so I don’t get too distracted from the work schedule.

Shorter stories need better construction, tighter frames and defined events. I find short stories to be very difficult, so I’m writing shorter pieces (nothing under 500 words! ‘cos it’s impossible) and novellas until I understand. It should make the novels better, stronger, leaner and more resonant.

Reading for work and pleasure? Could life get any better?

Oh, writing for work and pleasure. Of course.

10. Last and most important, where can we find your books/stories?

Follow Cage on these platforms!


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