The Children’s Book Review | May 7, 2018
Welcome to The Children’s Book Review, Shea! We’re excited to have you on TCBR. Your new book, THE WICKED DEEP, is already a New York Times Bestseller! I devour any books with witches, but yours was unique in setting and premise. THE WICKED DEEP is the perfect summer fantasy novel.
We can’t wait to hear more about you, your writing process, and the book itself.
Can you start by telling us a bit about your book, THE WICKED DEEP?
Shea Ernshaw: Hello! Thank you so much for having me! Excited to chat witches and books and writing! THE WICKED DEEP is about three sisters who were sentenced to death for witchcraft in 1822 and the small coastal town that’s paid the price for it ever since. It’s a spooky story where you’re never quite sure who is the hero and who is the villain.
Witches are a popular subject in fantasy fiction. Without giving away plot points, I really enjoyed how the Swan sisters weren’t your typical witches. Can you give us some insight in to your story’s version of curses, witches and the occult?
I love legends and folklore and wanted to create a town and setting with it’s own legend. I wanted to explore how a curse on a town can affect the residents over many generations and how people might come to accept the fate that has befallen them, no matter how gruesome or awful. I also wanted to blur the lines with my characters, so that it’s never entirely obvious if the three Swan sisters are witches, or just misunderstood in their time. In the 1800’s, it must have been a difficult time to be a woman in a small, rugged outpost in the wilds of Oregon. I did a lot of research and dug through archives on life for women during this time period, and for the Swan sisters, they would have faced many hardships and ridicule for being as bold and independent and outspoken as they were. And even though much of this has changed over the years, there are undertones of their experience that still exist today.
The setting of Sparrow is so richly imagined. Is it based on a real place? How did you create it?
I spent much of my childhood on the Oregon coast, for holidays and long weekends, and those tiny remote towns nestled along the Pacific Ocean always seemed magical to me. So I drew on much of my childhood memories when crafting the town of Sparrow. While editing, I took a trip to Astoria Oregon, one of the oldest towns in Oregon, where I explored museums and walked along the beach, imagining what it must have been like for the earliest settlers when they arrived in this rainy, foggy town. The town of Sparrow is a mash-up of many small Oregon towns—with a bit more magic, of course!
Penny Talbot is a sympathetic (and surprising!) character. What parts of her story were the hardest to write? Which parts were the most intriguing?
I really fell in love with Penny’s character and I miss getting to live inside her head while writing the book! There were certain aspects of her character that were challenging but mostly it was a lot of fun. I think she will always be one of my favorite characters who I won’t soon forget!
There’s a definite fandom, in all age categories, for witches. Did you grow up loving the concept of witches and magic? What draws you to their stories, and compelled you to write one of your own?
Yes, I love witches!!! I remember reading PRACTICAL MAGIC for the first time and knowing that it was a story that would live in my soul. Once I wrote THE WICKED DEEP and my editor compared it to PRACTICAL MAGIC, I had serious fangirl moments! It’s a comparison that still makes me a little lightheaded. I think I’ve always loved witchy characters, or even characters who behave in witchy ways—like Morticia Addams. I’ve always loved the darkside of characters, the balance between good and evil. And witches represent such an empowering icon—this idea that women don’t have to play the damsel in distress. They can play the villain and the love interest all at the same time!
What kind of research did you do in to witchcraft to create your story? Were there any real-life legends or myths that influenced you?
When it came to the witchcraft element, I didn’t do any research. I didn’t want to be influenced by existing legends and stories. I wanted to craft an entirely new myth, that wasn’t based on anything else. And truthfully, when writing about the sisters, it was as if they were telling their own story. As if it was already fully formed and I was just there to write it down. Sometimes I still wonder if the Swan sisters were real, if they existed in our history, and they found a way to slip into my thoughts and convince me to write a story about them. J
Which character or part of the book was the most fun to write? Which part was the hardest?
I enjoyed writing the scenes with Marguerite Swan the most! She is just so wonderfully cruel and awful, a character who I could write numerous novellas about.
THE WICKED DEEP is your debut novel, but is it the first novel you’ve written? What was your publishing journey like?
I have written more books that I can count! About seven years ago I got my literary agent with another book that included witches. We were never able to sell that book to a publisher and so I wrote several other books that were never quite right until THE WICKED DEEP sprung from my brain. The moment I finished TWD, I just had a feeling this was the one we would sell. I sensed there might be actual magic in the pages, in the spaces between words.
THE WICKED DEEP has one of the most beautiful covers we’ve seen this year. Did you have any say in the design? What excites you the most about it?
I had zero influence on the cover! But early on my publisher told me that Lisa Perrin would be doing the artwork and I was thrilled. She has illustrated some gorgeous covers and I knew whatever she created I would love. And when they sent me the cover design I was over the moon! It’s everything I hoped it would be!
What is your writing process like? Do you have a new novel in the works?
I’m an outliner. I like to know where the story is going before I really dig in and start writing. I feel that it frees me up to focus on the scenes and the sentences without worrying where my characters are leading me. And yes, I’m working on my next book right now, filled with spooky forests and deep, dark lakes. I’m hoping I’ll be able to share more details soon!
You’ve recently hit the New York Times Bestseller list and sold rights to Netflix! That’s incredibly exciting and we can’t wait to see the Swan sisters on the small screen. Can you give us any tidbits about what comes next?
It’s certainly been a very exciting few weeks! When THE WICKED DEEP made the NYT bestseller list, I was reeling! And I absolutely didn’t think anything could be nearly as exciting, until I got the call that several film studios were interested in the book. It’s something I never allowed myself to dare to dream! But over the course of twenty-four hours, and after several calls with producers at studios, we had sold the book option to Netflix. And I couldn’t be more thrilled! Netflix produces some incredible content—both in film and TV series, and I know it will be in good hands. Their vision of the adaptation is spot-on with how I see it as well. They truly love the book and understand the themes that are important to the story. It’s still very early in the process, so I don’t have much more I can share, but as things hopefully move along, I will be be posting updates on my social platforms. Thank you for letting me share this exciting news with your readers!
Is writing your full-time job? When you’re not writing, what do you do for fun?
I’m lucky enough that writing is now my full-time job—a dream I’ve had since I was little! But when not writing, I love getting lost in the woods on long hikes or going in search of vegan bakeries where I can stock up on cupcakes!
What were your favorite books growing up?
WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams had a big impact on me as a kid. I still think about that story and how powerful it was. Adams managed to write a book from the POV of rabbits, but it was very much an adult tale. That book still captivates me.
If you could go back and tell your teen-self one thing, what would it be?
Look for magic in the small moments. It’s always there. Every day.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Shea!
Thank you for letting me come talks books with you today! I had a blast!
Written by Shea Ernshaw
Publisher’s Synopsis: Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic meets the Salem Witch trials in this haunting story about three sisters on a quest for revenge—and how love may be the only thing powerful enough to stop them.
Welcome to the cursed town of Sparrow…
Where, two centuries ago, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery. Stones were tied to their ankles and they were drowned in the deep waters surrounding the town.
Now, for a brief time each summer, the sisters return, stealing the bodies of three weak-hearted girls so that they may seek their revenge, luring boys into the harbor and pulling them under.
Like many locals, seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot has accepted the fate of the town. But this year, on the eve of the sisters’ return, a boy named Bo Carter arrives; unaware of the danger he has just stumbled into.
Mistrust and lies spread quickly through the salty, rain-soaked streets. The townspeople turn against one another. Penny and Bo suspect each other of hiding secrets. And death comes swiftly to those who cannot resist the call of the sisters.
But only Penny sees what others cannot. And she will be forced to choose: save Bo, or save herself.
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Simon Pulse | March 6, 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-1481497343
About the Author
Shea Ernshaw is the author of The Wicked Deep. She lives and writes in a small mountain town in Oregon. She works as a producer for a film production company and shares a home with her husband, a dog named Diesel, and two cats.
This interview—Shea Ernshaw Discusses The Wicked Deep—was conducted between Shea Ernshaw and Denise Mealy. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Books About Witches, Hauntings, and Young Adult Fiction.