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Interview: J. R. Dawson on “When We Flew Together Through the Ice”

Tell us a bit about “When We Flew Together Through the Ice.”

Merribelle and her sister Sarah are kidnapped by their mother and become nomads among the stars. But when Merribelle starts questioning her mother’s actions, she’s fitted with an upgraded robotic Conscience-9. C-9 begins to malfunction and twist her reality into something dark and frightening. Sarah has a way out for both of them, but Merribelle’s not sure she wants to leave.


J.R. DawsonWhat was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I have an anxiety disorder, and I actually wrote the whole first draft while I was stuck on a plane during a panic attack. I’ve wondered if I should share that, but I think it’s important to the story. I thought, “Everyone writes about their experience in the world, and anxiety is my experience.”

I also am always fascinated by the interstate system in the Heartland. Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, etc., all have this sweeping landscape that makes you feel like you are alone and isolated from anything else. It reminds me of space. And these little Pilot-J truck stops and rest areas and weird little motels are little stations for travelers, and … there’s something very “lost astronaut” about putting your name in for a shower above the gas station fountain drink machine. I’ve always taken it for granted, but I guess it’s actually weird and its own thing.


“When We Flew Together Through the Ice” gives the reader a very intimate view into the mind of the protagonist/narrator, but reveals nothing about the mindset of another character who looms so large in the story: the mother.  Who is this woman, and can you tell us anything about your thoughts on this character or your approach to writing her?  How do you see her relationship to her daughters?

This story is from Merribelle’s perspective, and not only does Merribelle suffer from anxiety attacks for most of the narrative, she’s also being abused to the n-th degree. When someone is abused, especially when it’s a child receiving the abuse from a parent, there’s not always bandwidth to empathize or understand where they’re coming from. There’s just the need for survival, to keep the waters calm, to appease. But. I do think in the very last sentiment of the story, I found the answer to Mom. I think Merribelle finally understands why this has all happened. For me as the author, I think Mom is scared, I think Mom is mortal, I think Mom knows both of these things.


Was there any aspect of this story that you found difficult to write?

Yeah, the revisions were actually the hardest part. Between writing this piece and receiving the acceptance and edits, I started therapy and medication. Things got so much better. My anxiety actually doesn’t run my life anymore. Because there is hope and it can get better. But I hadn’t looked at the story for a very long time. I was so sad that this was a sad story. I was so sad that there are people out there who feel like there’s no hope. Especially since I am a huge fan of hopepunk, it was hard.


Is there any other aspect of “When We Flew Together Through the Ice” that you want to touch on?

There’s hope. There’s help. You’re not alone.


Why do you write?

I love to tell stories. I love to converse with other people about their stories. I love how our souls shine through the worlds we paint. We find ourselves among the dragons and the stars, and I love that. It’s magic.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

I fell in love with science fiction because of Ray Bradbury and KA Applegate. But lately, I have to say the author who has stayed with me the most and who I have learned so much from is JY Yang. Their Tensorate Series is amazing … I don’t even have words. So I came for the Bradbury and stayed for the Black Tides.


What are you working on now?

I’m currently finishing a novella about a post-WWI magic circus and its performers who try to fix the future.


“When We Flew Together Through the Ice” appears in the November/December 2018 issue of F&SF.

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