Oyster River Pages: If you could tell your younger creative self anything, what would it be?
Emily Shue: You don’t have to exploit your trauma in order to be a good writer. You are capable of creativity without writing about the bad things that have happened. You are talented without your anger or sadness, that is not the most essential part of you as a person or as a writer.
ORP: What’s the most unexpected place you have seen great art?
ES: This past summer, I worked at a day camp for kids in kindergarten to fifth grade. A lot of them were kind of down on themselves when we did crafts; they preferred basketball or kickball (though we rarely let them play kickball—you wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to tell nine year olds that yes, the ball hit them and yes, they are out when they’re determined not to be). But when they really got into it, they made the weirdest, most ridiculous stuff. One of the kids made about ten finger-paintings of Pennywise the clown. Not necessarily the most beautiful or inspiring art—in fact, it was downright creepy, that one, but it was art, and it was great. Maybe not the standard definition of great art, but they made some of the most memorable art—along with some of the biggest messes—I have ever seen.
ORP: Who are your biggest influences?
ES: I’m constantly inspired by my mother, by her strength and poise. She went through so much when I was younger, and I was so oblivious to it. I’m still oblivious to it, in many ways. Who she is as a person, who she’s become, what she’s done and the way she’s supported me—it influences everything I do, and because all my writing is so deeply personal, everything I write has some part of her in it. As far as other writing goes, Darin Strauss’s memoir, Half A Life, is probably the single most important piece of literature I have ever read. Both John Darnielle’s writing and his work as a musician are constants in my life, I listen to The Mountain Goats every day. Poets like Andrea Gibson and Anis Mojgani are truly incredible and have had a huge impact on my writing. Toni Morrison is arguably the best writer of the twenty-first century (and twentieth, let’s be honest folks), and her writing style, beauty, language, and bravery is astounding. And Jake Adam York. He taught me more than I can say and I miss him so, so much.
ORP: What role does research play in your work? How much do you research before or during the creation of your work?
ES: With this piece, I definitely had to do a lot of research. I originally wrote about Calpurnicus for a class I took that focused on creative writing and animals, and I ended up expanding on what was originally just a few pages. It was very different from the kind of stuff I usually write—normally, I lean towards poetry or non-fiction, or realistic fiction that draws very heavily on my own experiences. Clearly, this is none of that. I also don’t know a lot about toads or flowers off the top of my head. When I started expanding, I read a lot about cane toads—anatomy, mating habits, diet…. I think research occurs for writers more when they take a step outside of their preferred genres or even just outside general comfort zones. Besides just knowing more about my subject matter, seeking out similar writing was a really big part of my process. That’s something I always do, no matter what I’m writing. It’s more about inspiration than research, I think, and it’s less deliberate. Almost instinctual. If I’m writing poetry, I end up reading more poetry. That’s what I need. Same with non-fiction or different areas of fiction. A more emotional story will drive me to read emotional pieces, but if I’m working on something with a drier, sarcastic narrative, I’ll probably end up reading something similar. It’s kind of a weird cyclical process—am I reading what I’m reading because of what I’m writing, or am I writing what I’m writing because of what I’m reading? It’s always a bit of both. So that’s an almost subconscious kind of ‘research’ that I think everyone who creates anything, period, goes through.
ORP: What are you currently working on?
ES: I have about seventy unfinished pieces I’m stuck on and twenty more I think I could probably call finished but I’m such a perfectionist that they’re never going to make it to my “done” folder. Honestly, I’m just trying to get in the habit of writing on a regular basis. I’m really bad at that. For someone who loves writing and genuinely wants to write as a hobby, as a career, as anything, it’s really hard to actually start writing. So I’m working on just doing it and not worrying about producing an amazing piece of work every time I sit down. I think that’s part of it. A lot of the time I need to be writing to have ideas or to really get inspired; there’s a lot of warming up before I produce anything good. I ramble and I pick out the good parts and go off that. I’m not just sitting around and suddenly struck by inspiration. I have to remember that. I have to write every day, even if it’s just a crappy poem I won’t end up doing anything with.
Emily Shue is a recent graduate of Ursinus College. She has previously been published in The Oswald Review and Pennsylvania's Best Emerging Poets.
Her short story , “In Every Shade of Yellow,” appears in our current issue.