This week’s interview is with Robert Freund, author of “Keepers of the Flame.”
Where did you get the idea for your story?
I must have watched a documentary at some point about Neanderthals that sparked my interest in human prehistory. I did a little bit of research on my own about the subject and found that period of time to be fascinating. In particular, it was the theory that Neanderthals went extinct likely through a combination of warfare and crossbreeding with humans that sparked my imagination. My mind naturally went to a colorful place in making up a reason behind the slow dying-off of Neanderthals.
Do you plan to write more stories in that setting or with those characters?
I don’t have any plans to do so as of now. I think I told the story that needed to be told, and I’m satisfied with that.
What was the appeal of Sojourn for you?
Sojourn provided me with two opportunities that I couldn’t pass up. Firstly, as an aspiring writer, the chance of exposing my work to an audience wider than my friends and family was uplifting and inspiring. Even before I knew the fullness of Ryan, Laura, and Dan’s dedication to the project, I was more than happy to add my voice to the project. Secondly, the anthology was planned from the start as a community effort, and I’ve never been part of an online community as inclusive and good-natured as the one that has formed around Fear the Boot. Not only were we displaying the talent of the Writer’s Guild sub-group, but that of the hosts, fans, and friends of the podcast.
What was your favorite part about writing for the Sojourn anthology?
Knowing that I was a part of something that was bigger than any one of us (by which I mean the contributors, the editors, Dan, etc.). There was an entire community behind it, even if most of that community was unaware of the anthology’s existence for most of that time. The result is more than I could have imagined, and truly something that we can all take pride in.
Did you learn anything while writing your story, if so, what?
I learned a lot, and I think I’ve grown significantly as a writer during the whole process. After numerous false starts (there were eight attempts at writing this story, one breaking the 2000-word mark, before my wife finally helped me find the right voice and tone), I ultimately chose a tense which I have never used before—present tense—and paid very close attention to the language and terminology that I put into the story. And I think those little touches, like the boy thinking of hyenas as laughing hounds or sabertooth cats as longtooth cats, really helped set the atmosphere and bring the reader into the boy’s world. It really helps a piece of writing to think long and hard about the sort of language the characters would use, the way they would see things, in the context of their own environment.
It being my first time working with editors, I learned a lot about that part of the process as well. My dealings with Laura and Ryan were always polite, professional, and constructive, leaving me to hope that any editors I might work with in the future are of similar demeanor. This side of it is all about telling your story in the best way for your audience. There are always going to be disagreements, but the biggest lesson I’ve taken away is this: as long as both the writer and the editor maintain their professionalism and an open mind, the process can be relatively painless. Dare I say, it can be downright pleasant.
Is there any trivia or behind-the-scenes information about your story you would like to share?
I know what the Keepers of the Flame are in this made-up version of human history, but I like to leave most of it to the readers for speculation. All I really want to say is that they are NOT aliens. There is every other imaginable way to interpret the evidence, so long as you don’t think they are aliens.
What was the biggest influence on your story?
Apart from my interest in Neanderthals and prehistory (fleeting as it was, looking back), I would imagine the biggest influence was Robert E. Howard. I’m not as widely read as I would like, but he is the only writer I can recall who has a number of short stories that are set in the mists of prehistory, even if you don’t count his Kull and Conan tales. The one I recall in particular was called “The Valley of the Worm,” which was about a prehistoric hunter and featured, among other beasts, terrifying sabertooths.