Extraordinary Women

There is magic to be found in fiction, and McKenzie Sheehy has captured that magic perfectly. Her short story, “Stitches”, will be published in the newest edition of Oregon East, EOU’s literary journal. It’s the story of Ona, a woman in Eastern Oregon attempting to navigate life caring for a terminally ill husband while trying to earn the trust of her teenage stepdaughter and a six-year-old mare who resists training. Ona is an extraordinary woman who is eager to teach the daughter of her husband the ways of quilting, how to tell her story through the magic of stitches.

As many writers know, using the bits and pieces of your own life to create a work of fiction can be overwhelming and full of mishaps and pitfalls. For example, it’s all too easy to get stuck in actual events that might not be so interesting to a reader. Therefore, it is important to look for the conflict or recurring theme in our real lives that can be woven into another story. To change something, like setting, and create the world you’re looking for that best showcases the conflict. Sheehy has done that and masterfully navigated these complexities to create a story full of, yes, magic. Her words evoke vivid images, inspiring emotions for characters I have never met.

Real photo of Ona B.

My attention was grabbed immediately in Sheehy’s story, when,  in the second paragraph, she describes a few moments trying to train the horse. Sheehy pays attention to detail when she writes, “The mare flicked an ear back and skittered a few steps to the side. Ona’s lips quirked into a smile as she smoothly settled into her seat and pulled the reins to her hip, bringing the mare’s nose to the scuffed tip of her boot.” Sheehy’s writing makes this scene come alive for the reader.  She captures the smallest of details – a flicking ear and a scuffed boot tip, making the reader feel like they are in the arena with Ona.

I spoke with Sheehy and found myself impressed with more than just her writing. She wants to honor the women in her family, some whom she never knew, to show the beauty in relationships that can shine through even in the most challenging times. Sheehy grew up hearing the stories of her great-grandmother and grandmother, which have left a legacy within her family that she is eager to share. One of those stories is about the real Ona, a tenacious and formidable woman who went back to teaching after her husband died so she could raise three young girls, two of whom were not her own. “Stitches” is not the only story that Sheehy has told about the women in her family. In our interview, she mentioned that she wrote three pieces for her capstone last year and this is just one of them. Another is about her paternal grandmother, who raised three boys on a huge Texas ranch. The third is about her maternal great-grandmother, a deaf woman raising three hearing sons during the Great Depression; a woman who, like so many children of that era, did not attend school until 14, but was able to attend a college for the deaf in Washington D.C. Although she takes a lot of creative license with her stories, Sheehy drew inspiration from a diary kept by her maternal great-grandmother. 

I urge you to read “Stitches” by McKenzie Sheehy in the 2021 issue Oregon East, now available in select locations around campus and for purchase in the EOU Bookstore. McKenzie’s stories behind her writing are inspiring. Through fiction, she has captured the essence of the indomitable women in her family and presented them in an entertaining, poetic fashion. It would be easy to mistake her works of fiction for biographies. The characters come alive and have depth. Her story and the full transcript of my interview with her is also available on the Oregon East website: https://www.eou.edu/oe/ 

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