Describe Your Desk

As part of an interview with Cage Dunn, the question/statement came up, and this is the response:

Describe your desk

Where did it go? A pile of paper here, folders, clipboards, pens, pencils, two – no, three Garfield stickers, coffee (it’s tea really, but I like to think of it as coffee).
I’m sure it’s brown under there, but it hasn’t seen the light of day for a while, so who knows?
And my glasses – where did they get to? Shrug. They’ll turn up one day. Maybe. Do I have a spare?


My desk is my little escape pod, my life away from life. It has all the things I need to survive for the day (day equals 0700 to 1400 hours, because after that it’s too bright and the sun shines right on the screen – and I will not close the blinds!).

I have the coffee/tea/water to keep the machine operational. There are two boxes piled on top of the camel chair which contain the things I need to draw ideas out – crayons, chalk, pencils, water-colours, etc. and some blank-page books. That’s a critical element of my desk, even though it’s not on my desk. There’s the small and low table that’s right next to and partially under my desk, and on that are the bits of scribbles to do with each story in it’s unique section of the cycle – oh, you don’t know about the cycle? Want to? Okay, the Cycle: I work on a piece, get it to a certain stage, number and version it, then put it into a folder in the order of the number I give it (I can cheat, so if it’s really exciting, it can go closer to the top). And it stays in bed until I get to the point in the current WIP (that’s Work in Progress) where I need to break the head-space away for a while (jammed or unproductive). So it comes out again, gets some work done, maybe a few scenes, or even a whole Act, or maybe even some research and notes. Then it goes back and I can return to the current WIP refreshed, clean in mind and spirit.

Now, my desk! The small table (it was a coffee-table once, but it has a new life now as keeper of the story-cycle). Anyway – the desk itself. I’m sure it was brown once, and maybe it was even a kitchen table once. Not now. Now it is butter yellow (in patches) where the stain is worn away, it has a board hanging off the side (the small story-board) and the nasty but necessary multiple-pronged thing to stick electric plugs into (the one that stops the computer frying in the case of … the things that happen to electricity supply in Adelaide, Australia).

There’s the phone of course (but I don’t answer it during the work-time, so there’s no volume to it), there’s the screen cleaning cloth, there’s the four pairs of glasses (the usual distance glasses, the multi-focals, the screen glasses and the reading glasses – does that say I’m old, or is this the norm these days?). There are printouts of the BS (Beat Sheet) for the current WIP, sometimes the follow-up CofE (Chain of Events) page that lays out each Action for the Act I’m working on, and a few pens, pencils and rulers (yes, to make noise!).

Anything else?

Oh, the lamp! No, don’t have one. There’s a window, and enough light to work (even in Winter, except for maybe the first hour) from the natural light. Why? Because it costs less to use the daylight than it does to use electricity. I need to earn more money before I can be profligate with power – and even then, I think we have become habituated to using more than we need, so I would still use the window for light. I’m a morning person, so I work in the morning.

My desk has four legs, so I can lean on it, push it away in horror, disgust, or fear. It can balance me when I need it, and it holds my most important tool steady – the keyboard. Why not the screen? Because, when the story is hot, I can close my eyes and dance the words of story out there without even seeing it on screen – it’s all clearly visible (not in words) in my head! Who needs a screen for that?

Anyway, that’s my desk, and you may note there’s no printer. That’s because I placed it on someone else’s desk so it wouldn’t take up the space I need to make my own mess.

Copyright 2017 5bayby14u


No Going Back

“Is that the time?” She squealed. “I gotta run.” Her hands reached out to grab the heavy bag with all her stuff jammed into it – almost. One hand shoves the edge of the folder back into the cavity as the other pulls her jacket on.

I watch. It’s not the first time. It won’t be the last. There’s a defined time-line for her to visit. Twenty-one minutes, and then this process. She leans down to peck at my cheek before she disappears in a swirl of perfume and sweat. And guilt.

So may times I’ve said not to come back, that she doesn’t owe me anything, that I’m not an obligation. But every week, same day, same time, there she is on my doorstep.

I wish she wouldn’t. It’s not her fault. It was never her fault. Nor was it mine. It happened, like so many things in life we have no control over. And that’s the rub, isn’t it?

We have no control over what happens in our life. Never did, never will. And sometimes we need to be reminded of just how that works.

That’s how I think of it – the moment in my life when the cockiness had to be leveled out, cut down, burned off. Brought down, back to Earth, solid.

The day my world ended is the day my life began. There’s no going back now. Whatever it costs, the harder it is, the more easily we learn the lesson. No going back. Can’t undo it.

The only way through it is to move forward, to leave it behind, to choose life.

That’s what I did. That’s what I want her to do, but she holds onto her guilt as if it’s all she’s got left of the old me. And it is, because I don’t live in that world anymore. I am more me than the person she sees. I am free.

She is trapped.

I’d like to set her free, but the one thing, the only thing I discovered in the journey that led here is that we make our own choices about what we believe, about what choices we have.

So, I know I can’t make her choices for her; I can’t tell her how to do it. I can’t set her free with my story.

She has to see it for herself, feel it in her own head, believe it with her own heart. Only then.

Copyright Karel Jaeger 2017.

An Excerpt


Chapter 2

Day Fifty-Nine-One of 4001 Cycle News Feed: Ruling Enzi Outline

“Today’s news feed outlines an act of terror by the New Men Terror Group at the upper levels of Residential Apartment Living Complex for skilled-employ members in the city of Narowii. The main perpetrator exploded an illegal weapon that killed two MilPolits members. The blast destroyed four air-level-six-six-two apartments. Two bio-humans were injured.

Note: the main perpetrator, Ms Tiera Allen, Exxa-designate, is considered extremely dangerous and should not be approached. To assist the criminal would enact Exxa-designation to any participant, whether coerced with force or not.

The Ruling Enzi Family offers peace and harmony.”

None of her friends or associates would be of any help now that the news was out. A reward for information was posted on every site in the region. Tiera had no choice. She needed to disappear. News flashes popped up on every post, in every pane, on every reflective surface. The alerts flashed up so often that the night sky under the floats that held the upper levels aloft was as bright as early dusk. None of the street people would get any sleep, and it was all her fault. She walked past a couple who were too involved in each other to notice the shawl slide from the woman’s arm. That’s what she got for slumming – everyone knew Exxa’s stole everything. As Tiera walked into a darker, more fetid laneway, two street Exxa tried to grab it off her; she fought for it, kept it – she was more desperate. One of them looked at her face, dropped wide eyes from contact, and disappeared as fast as a DezDruz snorter.

It was cold. She had no shoes. No therm-ix outers. At least now there was something to wrap over her head; to hide her hair and partially obscure her facial ID tattoos. Some mud helped, too, even if it stank. Before this necessity, she’d never considered if dirt on the ground stank.

Of course it could, she just never considered it. Her life was clean, regulated. Everything happened at the right time, in the right place, in the right sequence. Her life was upper level – not down in the slums with the Exxa’s and the urchins and the drekkus.

Her parents told her stories of people forced to make other choices, to fight for the right to live. Tiera thought they were just stories, meant to scare recalcitrant children. Stories from the ancients; fables from another time and place, where nothing was sure and life was short. The main theme of the stories: how all cells fought to live; that humans were simply a collection of sentient cells. Her mother’s voice in her head brought tears that shivered on her muddy lashes, drizzled a line through the layers of dirt on her cheeks.

Move on, keep moving. Where? The dark alleys and laneways between the floats and grids were more ominous than the well-lit traders markets, but . . . could she go into such a public place? Would she be safe? Did she dare take a risk like that? The bright lights felt dangerous, menacing. There would be cam-ix – and most of the cam-ix were hidden, wouldn’t be visible to unenhanced eyesight, which she had, but it would still require her to be in their view as well.

Maybe she was wrong about everything. Life wasn’t safe. There was just a thin veneer of civilisation, and underneath it was always a fight for dominance. For power. Control. Why were there street people, urchins, lowers, Exxas, if everything was well ordered, well structured, well run, as stated in the Ruling Enzi daily rendition of life statements?

Why hadn’t she thought of this before now?

Tiera was now one of the outers, the Exxas, someone with no recourse to any legal representation. Technically, an Exxa-designate, because she still had her sub-dermals. Her links would be blocked, so the legal sub-d’s were of no use – drekkus! They’d track them!

Drekkus! Fequat! She should have thought of that. Vortex-worm – activate; obliterate all access points to her sub-d’s – all of them, for the moment. She could reactivate the necessary things later. When she found somewhere safe. There were other resources, but not too soon. Needed to ensure security protocols, and get close to a safe energy source. Later.

Why had her parents done this without her knowledge? Why make her a target? Not just Tiera, also themselves – who else? Those five women – were they dead because of this? Why?

It wasn’t what good people did. She was alone, on the streets, without access to any necessities. Oh, yes, and WANTED for murder and property destruction. And probably Terrorism drekkus. Anything else?

Feet in shoes tapped on the solid pebble-ix behind her. Stood still, waited for them to pass. They didn’t look. She couldn’t stay there. Needed to get out of sight. Moved into the deeper shadows. Time, a little time to think. Would have to do without food; hide in the vehicle until . . .

Who could she go to for help? Who would know a way out of this mess; or if that wasn’t possible, who would know how to make her into someone else? Make the old Tiera disappear? The way she made her dermal link disappear; the way she’d made her mini-hymag vehicle disappear?

The new program worked, and worked too well. Tiera almost knocked down a person who wandered casually along the pathway without looking. If she didn’t remember that her vehicle wasn’t visible to the human eye spectrum while the program was active, she’d be captured, taken in as exxa. It wouldn’t do her cause any good for another death or injury to get added to the list of her crimes. She hid the vehicle under a pile of wind-blown drekkus at the drain opening for excess water dispersal from the air-levels.

Her waste, yesterday.

Needed to be more careful, to consider the potential consequences of making a choice she was not sure of. Needed to be absolutely certain of everything if she wanted to live long enough to find . . . what? The purpose and reason behind it all. A good place to start. Absolutely necessary to think like an intelligent being. Like her parents, like . . .

His face popped into her mind without a blur, without hesitation. A clear picture, a sense of home and . . . pain. Loss and betrayal. He was a person who’d disappeared without a trace. Aren Hunter. The man who lost his reputation and career in one abrupt plunge into corruption should be able to do what a law-abiding citizen could not. The very last person she wanted to see. He didn’t need to know the real reasons, did he? If she kept the need insignificant, and just said something like . . . what?

What would be appropriate for a situation like this? A need for somewhere quiet to mourn? No. Her face was all over the news posts, all over the comms. Even street people looked away from her like she was more dangerous than MilPolits. Which she was.

Her life was in danger, with nowhere to go, and all her friends, acquaintances and colleagues would believe she’d murdered two MilPolits, because that’s what the news posts reported. Tiera would have to tell Aren the truth. She would have to lay herself bare. Take the scorn. Take help, any help, from anyone. Even him.

Now, how to get in touch with him?

An excerpt from a novel, copyright Cage Dunn 2016.


The Answer

From (with permission).

The Answer

Why are you doing it? I was asked (topic: the presentation next week). Why, indeed.

The shortest and simplest reason is because I wasted so much time and effort trying to learn something everyone seemed to think every writer knows without thinking about it – structure. After all, there’s the 3 acts, the Aristotle’s incline, the beat sheet, the story board, the chain of events, the snowflake method. What I’ve learned in the last year is that all these methodologies can be exceptionally vague in the way they try to spread the word (or is it that it’s too many things to different people?) about structure but can be vague and don’t make it quite as clear as it needs to be – and because structure is 80% of the work in the first stage of ‘a good story well-told’ I consider it absolutely necessary to share what I’ve learned. And I learned it by doing it, by doing it again and again and again until I understood, quite clearly, what it meant. And how to adapt it to how I work best. If I had known about it before …

It, in this case, is structure. Not that it ever seems to be called story structure. Other things, like Outline, Incline, Snowflake, Journey, Chain of Events, Beat Sheet, Story-board, and the big one – the three Act paradigm.

But it’s both more and less than all of the above – which, by the way, are methodologies, not an end in themselves. They are a beginning, a preparation for story, not a plan.

Worse, when you read up on these methods, the words become more and more vague and less elemental (except recently, and only few). And structure is more, much more, than a few vague words that state the story must move through these stages and blah, blah, blah.

It is more than that. Structure is the defined base-plate that steps a story through what comes first and why; what comes next and why; where the big things are waiting and why; how to use these milestones/points/turns to leverage a story into a gripping and powerful tale that takes a reader through the flow/movement of scenes, into the skin of the main character and how he deals with the problems and conflicts – to the end.

That’s it, in a nutshell. It’s the basic 101 stage that should be taught in all classes for creative writing. And I’m going to spread it thick and fast and far and wide. Why? Because when I get too old to write my own stories, I want to read good stories. I want new writers to understand the simple things easily so they can go on to create mind-bending concepts and premises for their stories. I want it all.

There may be no rules in Art, but there will be no Art without a solid and practical understanding of Craft. And structure is as basic as it gets, the ABC of the language of story-telling.

I think now I know enough to help others learn it. This is my opportunity to pass on what it’s taken me so long to learn (those 10,000 hours of apprenticeship).

Anyway, short story long (that’s me all over), this is my paying it forward.

And my hope is that every person who attends the presentation next week will take the opportunity to do the practical tasks associated with learning this, and then pass it on to anyone else they meet who needs to know about it.

I want to give them to opportunity to pay it forward.



There’s nothing to write about today. The world is empty. We have empty promises, empty oceans, empty towns. Our politicians bow down to the big-bad-boys from the bigger and badder companies – sorry, countries – and we have no say in how many of these things invade our shores and take from us (and take and take and take) but never give back. We supply blood and effort so the big boys do better, smile at us, don’t kick us in the teeth.

Doesn’t that sound a lot like the bullying that went on in school? Probably still goes on, if we take current affairs to be the aim for greatness.

Because it is bullying, but on a much larger scale. Big Boy Trump has declared that only his country has the right to be able to manufacture, and they will only buy from within. But other countries – allies he calls them to their face, a-holes to their backs – have to buy from him and his, and not argue the point. Because the rules don’t apply to the big boys, do they? They have a god-given right to tell you what to do, how to do it, and why to do it.

And we take it.

But consider this.

Do we have to take our hard-earned into the places that don’t belong to us? No, we don’t. If it’s good enough for Trump to espouse the maxim of buying only of your own, then so should we.

Do we have to allow those companies to push out our own? No. They’re not going to last long if no one goes in the door. The big tax-breaks they take back to pay people in their own world can stay here and maybe do some good for the 7%(+) who are unemployed or underemployed or retired early due to failure to find work. Too much more of this, and even the big boys won’t find a profit in us and they’ll go elsewhere to find friends to pay – sorry – play up to.

How many people do we need on board to seek for our government to place a ‘ban’ on all Trump pushes into our world?

If his words came from a third world country, we’d be quick to condemn and threaten with sanctions and worse.

Now is the time to do that to the person who says he’s running the most powerful country in the world, because if we don’t stand up to the bullies now, when can we? When the other biggest country in the world decides to take over and shove him out? Where will we be then?

Caught in the middle, like the smallest kid in the rectangle when the two gangs decide to show just how tough they are by killing the weakest and flaunting it as a show of strength.

Do something, Prime Minister Turnbull, before the last bell tolls, and we who suffer have to remember your name as the lad who didn’t step in to save the life when he had a chance. You know what we call people who stand by and do nothing, who say big words but do nothing? Yes, you know.

The words above may be a personal opinion, but beware how many people have them, and what they’re willing to do, especially when that’s all they have to put in their mouths because all the work has gone … to the big boys.

Where is that picture of the jack-boots?



It goes wild, doesn’t it? All the time, or some of the time, or when we’re afraid, or when we’re sleepy, or tired, or bored, or …

A writer is the person who lets the imagination go wild for a while, then tries to tame a bit of it, then shape it into something to share. It’s not easy to tame these things, they like being wild and free, to go charging off here, there and everywhere.

But would we give it up? Not a hope in hell (or anywhere else, for that matter). It’s the thrill of the chase, followed by the hard slog of the shaping – and then, the good bit – the sharing with others.

Lots of writers put their little dancing ideas down in notebooks and leave them there for a while, but let me tell you what happens: those little ideas escape, they go chasing another mind, another storyteller, and they tell them about their juicy little bit of fancy. And if that writer doesn’t do anything, what do you think happens?

Yep, off to find a new mind, put a thought in that process, see if they can barb a hook into that head. That’s what they do.

Is there a lesson in this?


Know that the idea isn’t yours alone, and what you do with that idea will be completely different to how anyone else deals with that idea – yes, even if it’s in the same genre, the same setting, the same characters. Because no one person writes a story from the same perspective, unless there’s two of you in the same head (and even then …).

So, if you don’t want it, don’t write it down, don’t hang on to it for later – release it, let it fly free until it finds a suitable home.

The ones that come to you and you can’t get it out of your head, that won’t leave you as the sun rises, that keep niggling and stabbing and distracting you – that’s yours. You have to do something with it, you have to put that passion for that idea into some sort of shape. Build a concept and premise, give it a reason to live, give it life, then set it free as a whole and complete story. Your story.

It will set you free. Not just getting the story out there, but the whole process of it. Having a story idea that creates a passion, and compulsion, a driving desire to ‘do’ something with it, that’s the one for you.

And once you hold its hand and shape it and share the joys and terrors and thematic lessons from it, once you bring it to a shape that enables others to share that passion, it will set your soul free too.

Good luck with that (because even though it sounds easy, it’s only the fun part, because talent [ideas] without hard work don’t mean blat, right?).



Fish ‘n Stinks

from Dogs n Cats n Us

Karel Jaeger

“What the hell is that smell?” Pat gagged as he spoke. The smell was rancid, cloying, so rich it clung to everything in the vicinity. He leaned down closer to the dog. “It’s you, isn’t it? What did you get into?” He held two fingers tight to his nose. “Into the bath with you, young lady, until that stink is gone, gone, gone. Or you’ll be living in the tool shed for the rest of your natural life.”

The tool shed was El’s favourite place, so it wasn’t a threat, but at night she slept in bed with him. If she wasn’t there, he got the bad dreams and the sweats and the ghosts. So he had to get her clean. And it was already late, nearly dark.

He’d only just got home from work – late again. And that dark oily substance had the smell of rotten fish, or whale blubber, or … Pat couldn’t think of anything worse. And he knew there was a whale down on the back beach. And he knew El got out of the yard during the day when he was at work.

The neighbours told him about her exploits; they fed her and patted her and made a fuss of her. Most nights, Elaine brought her home, skulking along in an obedient, head-lowered con by the side of Elaine’s wheelchair.

Not like he minded. Elaine was … Well, she was better than he deserved, so he couldn’t think like that. It was always a good chat when El was brought home. The highlight of his day.

He wasn’t allowed to take a dog to work with him, but he would if he could. Poor El probably needed the extra attention to stay strong against the dream demons. He was sure the dog didn’t sleep at night, that she watched him all the time for the first sign so she could lick him and cuddle in next to him, so he could feel safe and loved. Alive. Not buried under tons of earth. Not crushed.

He carried her into the bathroom, realised he’d got the stuff all over his blue work-shirt and the new logo-tie. Too bad if he stank at work – maybe it’d be enough for them to sack him. He waggled his head at El as she began the struggle against the known enemy of bath-time. It was warmer than the sea and she loved that, but …

“If I could, sweets, I’d do it, you know. I’d leave that place and spend the days with you. We’d go to the beach and fish and swim and run around like kids.” He slid the plug into the bath with his toe as she wriggled harder. The tap gave him grief as he pushed with his whole foot against the faucet until the water gushed out and splashed everywhere.

Pat lifted his foot higher to push the spigot back to the centre. El shoved her back legs against his stomach. His upper torso unbalanced. His foot slipped on the now wet floor. The dog went up into the air, all fur and claws and yips as Pat went down. He heard it when his head crunched on the tiles; wondered who would turn the tap off. El landed on his chest, rolled, yelped and leapt off.

He lived alone, except for El. No one would turn the tap off. No one would find him. Pat tried to move, first his hand, then a foot. Nothing happened. At least he could still think – could he speak?

His mouth opened, but not enough. The lips were barely separated. She was there; she licked his lips, whined. He heard the clicker-click of her claws on the tiles as she ran away.

It’s what he would do. Leave the mess behind. Not look back. Not think back. Not go back. He prayed El would go to someone who could love her with all their heart, and not use her like a dream-catcher, like their own personal angel or fairy-mother or whatever it was that he made of her loyalty. He wanted her to be free of the needs he had.

Pat closed his eyes when the blackness of night filled the room. He felt the burn of tears as they trickled down the side of his face. The only thing he’d miss would be that dog.

“El,” he tried to speak. “El, girl, I love you.” It was the best he could do as the cold settled in his limbs. Maybe this was what it felt like to let go. Maybe this is what happened to …


A loud white light burned into his skin. He heard words, but they didn’t make sense. It was as if hundreds of people were trying to speak all at the same time and their voices were bright white lights. Pat wanted to tell them to shut up, but he sensed something else. Well, smelled it. That stinking rotten whale smell. El!

“El,” he whispered, as the tongue rasped his face, wiped the tears away.

“It’s alright, Pat. It’s me, Elaine, from down the road. We got the medics here. You’ll be right. The dog came and got me, didn’t you, girl?”

“El,” he said; the sound more solid in the cold air. “Her name’s El. I love her.”

“I know, Pat. You love El.”

“El, I love you,” Pat said.

“And I love you, too,” Elaine said. “We both love you.”