by Chloe Ackerman
Mary Shaw reflects on time that she spent with her family in Ukraine in her collection, Plum Season: A collection of poetry, prose, photography, and conversations. It was released on December 8th at Dotters Books; she read her book to a warm room full of love and eager ears. Shaw is majoring in critical studies in literature, culture, and film at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. In this interview, she recounts her writing process, academic opportunities, how she kept motivation, and what it was like to show her family what she created.
CHLOE ACKERMAN: Can you tell me about how you got the opportunity to create and publish this book?
MARY SHAW: I got this opportunity through a grant from the school through ORSP, so that means that I will be presenting in the spring at CERCA as well. Dr. Theresa Kemp, who is an English professor here, actually told me about it and convinced me to apply.
CA: What was it like writing everything in this and putting together this book?
MS: Putting it all together and writing it was fun, obviously. This is something that I had wanted to do for a very long time, but I am very bad with deadlines, so it was stressful in a way. Also, my self-consciousness would come in sometimes and be like, “this is not good enough,” so I learned a lot about moving forward and pushing even when I felt like it was difficult to keep writing.
CA: Did you write a lot of Plum Season before you knew you had the grant to write the collection?
MS: Yes, I did. Most of the poems I had written either in Ukraine or immediately once I returned from Ukraine. There are a few things that I wrote extra for this specific collection. Especially the conversations, I went through old interviews I had on my phone and transcribed them, but all the photography was taken in Ukraine.
CA: Did you have any kind of process for this while you were writing?
MS: I had a very loose process. Again, I’m not good at self-regulating, or keeping myself from going out, and actually staying home and doing it. My process was to sit down for fifteen minutes, and, whether I wrote something and ended up writing longer than 15 minutes or I wrote nothing, at least I sat down for fifteen minutes and tried. Most of the time when I did that, I ended up writing longer, so it was just getting myself into the seat every day for fifteen minutes to do that.
CA: Was there anything you learned about yourself while you were there while you were putting this collection together?
MS: I learned that I can indeed write okay after a little bit. I learned that I need to push myself if I want to get results, and the outcome is only on me and nobody else. I learned that even once I do write, and I feel that it’s poor, if I keep writing and keep working on it, it does improve.
CA: Did it make you look at the time you spent in Ukraine differently?
MS: Definitely, I heard some saying a while ago that if you want to write about yourself, don’t write the day after. You need time to process what had gone on and look at it objectively. Looking back after two years and thinking about how I wanted to write this, I definitely thought of my time in a different way. Whatever I was writing, these were the memories that I was going to keep, and these were the memories that would live on. Now that I wrote it down, it would only ever be like that on paper. If I go back to Ukraine tomorrow, it’s not going to be anything like what I wrote. Memories, they keep things alive.
CA: What was it like for your family to see the finished product of the book?
MS: My dad’s usually a pretty silent guy, but he was very proud. My sister was really giddy. My mom’s funny. I would show her it, and the first thing she would do is be like, “okay I found a mistake”, or she’d be like, “I don’t like this picture, use a different one”, or “I think you used the incorrect grammar there”. But when all was said and done, she was crying at the release, and she cried each time she read it and she was very proud of me. I think they’re all very proud and happy that there is something on paper of our family history.
CA: Did you show Plum Season to your mom as you wrote it?
MS: Yeah, I showed her my first draft, and then she saw the one at the release party. I didn’t really keep her up-to-date regularly, it was more like I wanted to do it on my own and then show her because I knew she would want to insert herself. I let myself do some things and then let her see it after I already finished.
CA: Is there anything else you wanted to share about your book or about this opportunity?
MS: I think, just a plug, I didn’t think this would be possible for me to do at my age, and I really encourage any students at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire to ask their faculty advisors about grant work and CERCA. Honestly, while you’re here, you might as well go for all of the possibilities that you have at hand.