NYT Bestselling Author Shea Ernshaw Discusses Winterwood
Denise Mealy | The Children’s Book Review | November 5, 2019
Welcome back to The Children’s Book Review, Shea! We’re excited to have you on TCBR again for your new book, WINTERWOOD. Since last we spoke, you’ve had an exciting year. Your first book, THE WICKED DEEP, hit the New York Times Bestseller list, and you’ve started production on a Netflix movie. How exciting!
Let’s start first with your new book. Tell us about WINTERWOOD!
I’m so thrilled to be back and chatting about my next book! Thank you for having me!
WINTERWOOD is the story of a girl named Nora Walker who lives deep in a snowy wilderness. She has always known the legends of her ancestors: how they sprouted up from the forest floor, how they might be more forest than flesh and bone. But when Nora discovers a missing boy—Oliver Huntsman—deep in the woods, she’s forced to question who she really is. And how this boy managed to survive for so long.
Did you already have the idea for WINTERWOOD when finishing THE WICKED DEEP? What inspired you to write it, and are they in any way related?
I had a loose outline for WINTERWOOD by the time I finished THE WICKED DEEP. I knew my main character found missing items inside a haunted, sinister forest, and that she was trapped in these woods by a winter storm. Still, I didn’t yet know how deep the story went, or how many twists and turns my characters would spring on me.
THE WICKED DEEP and WINTERWOOD are not related, although they are similar in mood and atmosphere, and generally take place in the same universe—you might catch a hint to the town of Sparrow somewhere in WINTERWOOD! (wink, wink!).
The Wicker Woods and Jackjaw Lake feel steeped in a rich cultural and magical history. Was there a real location or town that this was based on?
Setting and location are tremendously important to me when drafting a story. The natural world is a wonderful place to draw inspiration and one of my favorite parts of outlining is creating history and folklore for a location where none might exist. In WINTERWOOD, this story was inspired by a real-life lake where I’ve spent many summers and winters. There are stories among locals about strange creatures spotted in these woods, of hauntings, and other peculiar tales. And I used these vague legends to build my own, more ominous history. Much of the layout of Jackjaw Lake also mirrors the real-life lake, and I outlined most of the book while staying in a cabin near the lakeshore.
Nora Walker comes from a long line of witches but has yet to find her shade or magical power. Oliver seems more the typical teenaged boy, though more thoughtful. They are both very unique character types in fantasy fiction (no savior or chosen one tropes here!). Can you give us any insight into how you developed these characters?
I really loved writing Nora and Oliver because from the beginning they always felt odd to me. Like they weren’t quite sure of themselves, of where they fit in the world. If you asked Nora or Oliver to describe themselves, I think neither would know where to begin. They have always felt peculiar, and I’m not sure if they ever fully revealed themselves to me while writing this book—I think they both still have secrets they’ve never shared with anyone.
For a time, I also thought there wouldn’t be any romantic feelings between them. I thought Nora and Oliver would just remain friends, but they had other ideas on this matter. Their affection for one another truly happened organically, without my realizing it. And by the end, their falling in love became central to the story, and I can’t imagine it any other way. Nora and Oliver will always remain two of my favorite characters because they feel very real to me.
How did writing WINTERWOOD compare with writing THE WICKED DEEP?
Writing THE WICKED DEEP was like reciting a slow, drowsy dream.
While writing WINTERWOOD felt like being drug into a dark, mournful forest and being left all alone to find my way out, in the middle of winter, wearing only sandals, without a flashlight. Oh, and some vile, hungry monster was hunting me. For months, I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I thought I might never find my way to the end of this book, but when I finally finished it, I was able to look back and fall in love with the lessons this story taught me. I appreciate this book even more because of all the bumps and bruises I gained along the way.
Are there themes that you find turn up again and again in your work? A common thread?
I like to write stories about the places we should all avoid. The places we should fear. I also really love incorporating water into my books. At the beginning of THE WICKED DEEP is a quote by Loren Eiseley: “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” And I have always believed this to be true. I would actually love to write a book about the fountain of youth at some point. About our connection to water and its ability to heal.
Which character or part of the book was the most fun to write? Which part was the hardest?
I absolutely loved writing the spellbook chapters! They were so lighthearted and quirky and fun! I could write an entire book with just those chapters!
The most challenging part was probably the ending, only because it was so emotional. I was a mess writing it.
WINTERWOOD has a beautiful cover! Can you tell us about how it was created, and what you love about it?
I feel so lucky with both of my covers! The folks at Simon Pulse always knock it out of the park! Both covers capture the tone and mood of the stories inside so beautifully. I had no input on creating either, but when my editor sent over the cover for WINTERWOOD I squealed and sent her back an email with a lot of exclamation points!!!
Has your writing process changed since you became a published author? Can you tell us about your writing style and what a typical writing day looks like?
I think for me, the trick has been trying to simplify my writing, to maintain an easy, authentic process. There are a lot of expectations that come after your first book has been published, and it can be like a vice on your creativity. So I try to fool myself into believing that every book I’m writing is my first book.
A typical day for me begins with writing before anything else. I wake up and grab my laptop first thing. Sometimes I write in bed, sometimes at my desk, or at the dining table. I find that my dreaming brain is the place where inspiration comes from, so I want to capture those first early moments in the morning and get words onto the page as soon as possible. I also like to absorb words throughout the day, whether it’s an audiobook or podcast or actually reading, I think it’s good to keep my brain thinking in sentence structure and storytelling. I try to write at least something seven days a week—even if I’m away from home, even if I’m traveling, I don’t like to stop the flow of words from my fingertips.
What do you do besides writing for a creative outlet?
Great question! Creativity loves to express itself, and I think we’re all creative in one way or another. Lately, I’ve been pressing flowers from my garden and creating framed art. It’s such a soothing activity and honestly, just being in the garden, tending to the plants, feels creative and restful for my soul.
Can you tell us about your favorite books that you’ve read this year?
SO MANY! But one that really spoke to me was BRAIDING SWEETGRASS by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It explores the way we are taught to view the natural world and how our language in interpreting the world around us, shapes the way we interact with it. And our need to return to a simpler connection with our own planet. It’s one of my favorite reads of all time.
Any sneak peeks into upcoming books or movie info you’d like to spill?
Right now, I’m working on an adult fiction book that I am immensely excited about. I’ve been writing this book for a couple of years and it’s a story that feels very true to myself. It’s part mystery, part magical realism, and is a blend of so many things I love.
And my lips are sealed regarding any film updates! 🙂
Thank you so much for joining us today, Shea!
This was such a fun interview! Thank you again for hosting me!
Written by Shea Ernshaw
Publisher’s Synopsis: From New York Times bestselling author of The Wicked Deep comes a haunting romance perfect for fans of Practical Magic, where dark fairy tales and enchanted folklore collide after a boy, believed to be missing, emerges from the magical woods—and falls in love with the witch determined to unravel his secrets.
Be careful of the dark, dark wood…
Especially the woods surrounding the town of Fir Haven. Some say these woods are magical. Haunted, even.
Rumored to be a witch, only Nora Walker knows the truth. She and the Walker women before her have always shared a special connection with the woods. And it’s this special connection that leads Nora to Oliver Huntsman—the same boy who disappeared from the Camp for Wayward Boys weeks ago—and in the middle of the worst snowstorm in years. He should be dead, but here he is alive, and left in the woods with no memory of the time he’d been missing.
But Nora can feel an uneasy shift in the woods at Oliver’s presence. And it’s not too long after that Nora realizes she has no choice but to unearth the truth behind how the boy she has come to care so deeply about survived his time in the forest, and what led him there in the first place. What Nora doesn’t know, though, is that Oliver has secrets of his own—secrets he’ll do anything to keep buried, because as it turns out, he wasn’t the only one to have gone missing on that fateful night all those weeks ago.
For as long as there have been fairy tales, we have been warned to fear what lies within the dark, dark woods and in Winterwood, New York Times bestselling author Shea Ernshaw, shows us why.
“The best kind of book to read on a camping trip or on a dark covered porch with the lamp turned low, WINTERWOOD is a powerfully dark fairy tale. Highly recommended. ” — The Children’s Book Review
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Simon Pulse | November 5, 2019 | ISBN: 978-1534439412
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About the Author
Shea Ernshaw is the NYT Bestselling author of THE WICKED DEEP and WINTERWOOD. She is the winner of the 2019 Oregon Book Award and her debut novel, The Wicked Deep, was an Indie Next Pick. She lives in a small mountain town in Oregon and is happiest when lost in a good book, lost in the woods, or writing her next novel.
You can connect with her online at sheaernshaw.com.
This interview—NYT Bestselling Author Shea Ernshaw Discusses Winterwood—was conducted between Shea Ernshaw and Denise Mealy. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Magic, Romance, Shea Ernshaw, and Young Adult Fiction.