Issue 038 Author Interview: Dawn Trowell Jones and “The Witch Road”

We love our authors and are so excited when we get to chat with them. Today we’re thrilled to share a conversation with Dawn Trowell Jones, author of “The Witch Road” from our recent Issue 038.

LSQ: Tell us about the concept of a Waysegger. Is this character based on known folklore or totally of your own making?

Dawn: It isn’t derived from any particular character in folklore, but folklore, being what it is, seeps into us. A Waysegger is an interloper. She arose out of the soup of my life experiences – a mentor/protector of a sort, though remote, dangerous, and not especially comforting to Tempie. The name Waysegger is a corruption of the middle Dutch word for soothsayer, wijssegger. In short, I made her up.

LSQ: In your story, the witch is a symbol of fear but also salvation. Can you speak a bit more on this dichotomy? What inspired you to write a story with a witch character with such complexity?

Dawn: I’ll try. Tempie suppresses her fear of the witch, is even drawn to her, perhaps instinctively recognizing that the essence of what appears awful and fascinating about the Waysegger can also be found within herself. An internalized myth to Tempie, maybe, but a way of capitalizing on the power of myth to the people beyond the veil. This story is social science-fiction. An early beta-reader asked me why, given the title, Tempie and Cale don’t actually start on the road until so far into the story. I feel Tempie has always been on the Witch Road, a victim of it who owns it. This is because of the type of person she is and the disruptive way she thinks, tending towards the shamanistic, though in a childlike pragmatic way.

As for the other question: respect.

LSQ: Do you yourself know what’s in store for Tempie and Cale after they pass through the rift?

Dawn: No, I don’t. It was important to leave the possibilities open. The rift scene at the end frames the entire story. When it does, the events that precede it reveal a hidden structure or plan – and the possibility of an organic deviation from the plan. Nested realities. Tempie is clever. I wanted her to be above average in intelligence and compulsively creative. Flawed but resilient. I wonder how the Waysegger’s people are making use of the girls they’ve collected, the ones the Town got rid of. And now a boy. If Tempie had lived a full life on the Fringe, even under the best of circumstances, which this wasn’t, exhaustion would likely have set in and crushed her. What role will she play in this shiny new world – an outsider, with a mind like that? I wanted the question to hang.

LSQ: What was your inspiration for this story?

Dawn: Oh, wow. Sometimes thoughts and experiences just simply condense into an idea that has no better way of expressing itself. But there were some pop influences, such as the cadence of an actor from Georgia, Scott Wilson, who passed away in 2018. This is the mayor’s speech. As I sit here thinking about your question, the character Antonia from Willa Cather’s My Antonia pops into mind – rather insistently. I see the influence now. It may help to know that Antonia’s fate angered me when I read it, more than twenty years ago. The donkey doll is a doll I’d always wanted to make. There’s a three-hundred-year-old Gullah tradition of basket weaving on the coast of South Carolina. For the setting, I pulled from my childhood, adventures with friends, unsupervised, sometimes barefoot on scorching-hot sand, imagining witches or whatever in the dark overgrown places we couldn’t physically get to. My closest friend then had a younger brother. I have a younger sister. The conflicted sense of responsibility (and love) a child can feel for a younger sibling is hard to capture, but I wanted to try. Tempie’s family home was loosely modeled after an old hunting cabin my aunt used to own, right on the marsh, stifling and humid in the summer, eerily overgrown. Nothing but a round wooden room.

LSQ: What was the most challenging aspect of this story to write and why? What was the most enjoyable?

Dawn: The most challenging? Straddling the light and dark. A child’s perspective. There’s more than one climax. The first turns on the failure of an idea. Capturing that moment was tough. In a way, this story is a simple tune played on top of noise, yet the noise belongs to the tune, feeds into it, and carries vital information. It was a difficult story to write.

Most enjoyable? I’d say it was when I got to the point where I’d added all I wanted to add and cut all I wanted to cut, and the story felt complete. I thought, “Now it must go out into the world, like Tempie, and survive on its own.” That felt great.