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Interview: Sean F. Lynch on “The Cave”

– Tell us a bit about “The Cave.”

A man and his son have lost their way in an immense cavern. They discover another passage.  Hoping it will lead to the cave’s exit, the boy bravely volunteers to explore it while his father rests. In addition to the physical obstacles presented by this subterranean predicament – darkness, narrow crevices and drop-offs – something else seems to be taking place.  In more ways than one, time is running out.


– What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I don’t want to undermine the experience for anyone who hasn’t read it.  In other words, “spoiler alert:”

Upon waking in the morning, I occassionally scribble in a notepad before getting out of bed.  About four years ago, I jotted something that began: “For as long as he can remember, a younger man has been following an older man through a never-ending cave. . . ”

That was the genesis.  I started developing it slowly, a few hours a month, sometimes shelving it for weeks at a time.  In the beginning, “The Cave” took place in present day North America.  Later, I changed it to an earlier period, perhaps the mid-1700s.  I wanted it to be dream-like, a fairy tale for adults.  About a third of the way through, I thought I’d never finish it.  I then had an epiphany, to break a rule I’d learned years earlier in a writing course.  The rule was that a short story, being brief, should only have one point of view.  I’d been telling the story through the father’s eyes.  I realized I needed the boy’s point of view for the second half. So, in a section in the middle (that may be transparent to the casual reader) I began telling the story through the boy’s eyes. The rest came fairly quickly.


– In addition to its fantasy setting and unsettling tone, “The Cave” seems to experiment with notions of time, and I was wondering if perhaps you could speak to that idea at all.

The journey the protagonists take on some level could be representative of how time and memory work.  I have twin sons and can remember holding their hands walking down the sidewalk when they were two years old.  Or walking into their bedroom when they were four and having a conversation with them, and one of them saying, “We’re talking to daddy, now, this is interesting.” But as anyone with kids knows, the years pass quickly.  One wants to remember every laugh, every hug, every daydream our kids have, but it’s just not possible.  We remember some things and forget others.  In a way, to remember anything is to bend time, at least for the moment one is experiencing the memory.


– Most authors say that their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you in this instance, then in what way was “The Cave” personal?

This particular concoction– for better or worse – has mainly male characters, and exploits a relationship with my Y-chromosome.  Before my kids were born I published a short story based on an evening with my father.  It’s a dynamic that intrigues me.  Also, I’ve explored several caves, from a scary steep one in Santa Cruz to a huge beautiful cavern in Utah.


– What might you want a reader to take away from this story?

A bad night’s sleep (wink, wink).


– What are you working on now?

I’ve dabbled in a few ideas over the past several months, most recently a space-ship voyage with characters that might’ve come out of a P.G. Wodehouse novel.  I’m a slow writer and also work full-time.  We’ll see what happens.

I took a writing course once from a great teacher named Clay Morgan. He read part of his novel in progress about smoke-jumpers.  Fifteen years later I ran into him and asked about it.  He said he never finished it, “Life got in the way.”  I later discovered he’d written some other books and his wife went up in the space shuttle.


– Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m VERY grateful to Gordon for selecting this, and the editing staff at F&SF.  I was also delighted by Lois Tilton’s review and some other blogs I’ve read.  It humbles me to be in a mag that’s featured Bruce McAllister, David Gerrold, and other greats.  Thanks for the experience!

“The Cave” appears in the March/April 2013 issue of F&SF.


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