Who am I?

Yes, that’s the question. That’s the question that serves as the primary narrative thrust of my novel, The Cage Legacy –  an intense examination of the psychological hurdles a human being must go through when searching for identity.  It’s the question that existed at the very center of my struggle, back when I was fighting through the darkness of adolescence.  Adolescence tends to be a very intense, very difficult time, and my teenage years were no exception.  For me, it was a time when all the eyes of the world were staring down at me, waiting to see what I turned into – and much to my frustration, it felt like I was always one step away from messing it all up.

Well, that’s life.  That’s who I was.  But who have I become?  And what is The Cage Legacy?


Anthocon, 2012.

Okay, let’s start with the basics.  At this time, I am 23 years old.  The Cage Legacy is my first novel; it was published by Post Mortem Press in October of 2012.  It’s a book that I’ve been writing for the last six years.

I wrote my first draft at the age of 17.  At first, I was thrilled, fascinated, excited, but then I reread it – and immediately, I threw away the entire manuscript in utter exasperation.  I definitely had the story’s core ideas inside me – but as a writer, I wasn’t ready to actually write it.  I was furious at myself for not being able to make it work.  Something was missing, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.  Looking back, I realize that I was too young.  Too inexperienced.  I still needed to find myself.

My subsequent drafts were similarly ill-fated.  I couldn’t find the missing piece; I couldn’t get it to work!  So, I moved on.  I instead aimed my focus toward writing and publishing short stories; I started at the ground floor, working my ass off, bleeding onto the page – and most importantly, gaining the skills and experience I needed.  As my writing slowly developed, as I found my voice, I sent out hundreds of shory story submissions, drinking coffee after coffee until finally, finally, the acceptance letters started coming in.  My first short story was published in 2008.  Dozens of acceptances followed; my work was finally paying off.  In 2011, I published an approximately 100-page horror novella titled Enslavement.

"Road to Hell," an anthology of four novellas, featuring "Enslavement."

But The Cage Legacy lived on inside me. During those same years, I would occasionally return to poke at the slumbering beast within my hard drive…and at 22 years old, I decided it was time to take the plunge.  I threw away all of my old notes, and I started The Cage Legacy from scratch, as if I were writing it for the first time.  Ethan Cage came to life;  I completed the novel that had haunted me since I was a teenager.  And this time – finally! – it worked.  It worked!

Okay, now it’s time for another question.  Yes, we’ll have 15 page test tomorrow, multiple choice.  Take notes!

So, why did this particular story – this dark narrative concerning the son of a serial killer – stay with me for so many years?  Why has the tormented mind of my protagonist, Ethan Cage, been embedded so deeply within my subconscious for all this time?

You want to know the truth?

The truth is, that by confronting the inherent darkness in Ethan’s story – and the way its genesis parallels my own tale like a cracked, black-tinted mirror – I was finally able to conquer my own demons, and become who I am today.  I’ll explain.


When I was 17, my father died.  He was 52 years old, and he was the best father I ever could’ve asked for; he was a brilliant engineer, but also a very practical man, an easygoing man with a warm smile, and most importantly a remarkably caring man who loved all of his children unconditionally.  Both of my parents were/are incredible people, amazing human beings, and their strengths and virtues are still an enormous influence on me today.  Anyway, with my dad around, I always felt completely safe.  He wasn’t the biggest man in the world, but to a quiet little whippersnapper like myself, he definitely seemed like it; it felt as if he held the whole world on his shoulders, as if he could easily accomplish anything he set his stubborn mind to.

When he died, the world immediately became a very different place; my sense of immortality, my silly ideas regarding my own immunity from danger, my concept of safety…well, all of that childish nonsense vanished beneath my feet.  Suddenly, I was an adult.  “Hey, Nicholas!  Hey buddy, welcome to the grown-up world!”  Suddenly, even the greatest heroes of my childhood were vulnerable and human.  Even heroes could die.


Now, obviously, my dad wasn’t a serial killer.  But like the character of Ethan Cage – Ethan, whose childhood is destroyed when his father is torn away from him – I faced tragedy at far too young an age.  Like Ethan, I found myself confronted with adult responsibilities before I was emotionally ready to handle them.  Like Ethan, I struggled with my own sense of identity, in the absence of a loving patriarch who once led the way.

But Ethan’s situation is more than just a parallel of my own.  The themes of The Cage Legacy are universal.  Ethan, in his quest for identity, confronts the same situations that many of us face as teenagers: drugs, alcohol, relationships, peer pressure, guilt, insubordination and sexuality.

What defines adolesence?  Maybe it’s that moment in life where our security blanket disappears – and suddenly, we’re on our own.  If we collapse under the weight of our bad decisions, it suddenly becomes that much harder to pick ourselves up.  Adults topple from their lofty towers.  To many teenagers, adults usually seem like naïve fools, fools who couldn’t possibly understand the dramatic situations that the teenager is going through.  Often, the teenager is right; all too often, adults forget how difficult it really is.

Now, Ethan’s problems are in a whole other ballpark, of course.  Ethan is the son of a serial killer, and everyone knows it.  His stakes are much larger.  Everyone in town is watching him.  Waiting for him to mess up.  Waiting, with a combination of eagerness and dread, to see what sort of person he turns into.  He doesn’t want to stand out; he just wants to fit in.  He wants to be normal.  But he can’t.  Ethan’s potential path to adulthood is a narrow line, only one step away from a plunge into the dark abyss of his past.  He will be confronted with the questions his father’s insidious legacy left behind – and even then, even if he succeeds at breaking free, what if he doesn’t like this mysterious person he finds inside himself?

Who are we?  What makes us tick?  What terrifying demons await us, in the darkest corners of our minds…or are these demons fabricated by our own fears? Are we victims of fate – as Ethan’s mother considers herself – or are we still capable of making our own decisions, even at the worst of times?    Who are we?  Who am I?

…and hey, who is Ethan Cage?

cage legacy

Thanks for reading!  The Cage Legacy is available on Amazon.com.

-Nicholas Conley


8 thoughts on “Why I Wrote The Cage Legacy

  1. That was very interesting and touching. It must have been very hard for you, losing your father. I’ve seen similar things happen to people near me, and it always seemed like they just lived on, but everyone knew what had happened. If you’ve not been there, I don’t think you can really understand what it does to you.

    Writing a book to let go of all those feelings is a good way of dealing with it though. You made me really curious for your book (especially since I’m still a young adult as well)!

    • Thank you, definitely. As you can see, losing a parent at that age was definitely something that irrevocably changed me in many, many ways.

      …and hey, I’m glad to hear it! The Cage Legacy is certainly a very intense, very honest book – it was very painful to write it, but I’m incredibly glad that I did it.

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