A best-selling author puts pieces of rural Oregon into her work.
Shea Ernshaw sent her first of many query letters to literary agents in New York City when she was 10 years old. Although she received all rejections, she said it sparked a dream in her that she wouldn’t let go of well into her adulthood.
“I understood that the only thing standing in the way of being published was writing a book good enough to be worthy of publication,” she said. “It didn’t matter my background, or where I grew up, I just needed to write good stories. So, I set out to do that.”
Ernshaw is a New York Time bestselling author who wrote the young adult (YA) books “Wicked Deep” and “Winterwood,” and received the 2019 Oregon Book Award. She grew up in the small town of Bellfountain, outside of Monroe, but has lived in Bend for about 30 years.
Both of Ernshaw’s books draw inspiration from Oregon’s natural world and the fantastical. Ernshaw said that she likes to use Oregon’s diverse range of climates and environments when creating her fictional worlds. “The Wicked Deep” was set in a fictional town along the coast, inspired by Newport and Astoria, while “Winterwood” represented many lakes in the Cascade Mountain Range and Crescent Lake in particular.
“Personally, I’m always looking for ways in which our real world blends with the fantastical,” she said. “I think magic is always there, resting just beneath the surface of our world, we just need to open our eyes a little wider to see it.”
Ernshaw added that writing about magic themes allows her to bend reality enough to explore how characters might react if they discovered this magic in their own world.
Her next book, a thriller titled “A history of wild places,” will be published in Aug. 2021 and will be her first adult book. It will also be the first time she’s crossed the borders of Oregon to set her story, with it taking place in Northern California. She is also currently working on two more books, both of which are YA novels.
Ernshaw describes herself as an “obsessive plotter.” She likes to outline all the details of a story, including each character, before she starts to draft. She finds that it allows her to focus more on the pacing and sentence structure when she sits down to write, because she isn’t worried about where the story is going.
“An outline is certainly a bit more work up front, but it frees me up creatively once I begin drafting,” she said.
Looking back, Ernshaw said the milestones she’s hit are things she “never dared to dream back when I was 10 years old and wanted to write books for a living.
“It’s an overwhelming moment, when you realize you’re stepping beyond the dream you had for yourself, and into territory you never imagined,” she said, “But I’m so grateful for every moment along the way, and I can only hope I get to keep writing stories and living inside my head.”