Wolves of Winter Interview With Tyrell Johnson
You guys need to read more. Yeah, I know we mainly do movies out here. But occasionally I run across some REALLY cool stories, no REALLY really cool stories, hunt down the author and haul them in here to talk to you all about their book. Sure, it’s more rare. And just because you are a movie crew doesn’t mean you can’t get your collective acts together for the occasional book. Promise. hahaha.
So, today is one of those days.
I recently had the good fortune to find a book entitled The Wolves of Winter which I absolutely loved. And as good fortune would have it, I was able to make a connection with the author, cough, and get him to answer a few of my most pressing questions about the book. But first, why don’t I pitch you on the book and we’ll see if it’d be in your wheelhouse.
The Wolves of Winter fits into a pretty prestigious clustering of great books. Probably the most recognizable being Cormac McArthur’s The Road, where a father and daughter walk a post apocalyptic wasteland. In search of what? Survival? Yeah. That is the magnetism to the book and to the genre. Or maybe The Girl With All the Gifts? But the book that I really think nails the feel almost exactly, though different, is The Passage. Sure the Passage is vampires, and different, but similar. I honestly cannot give this book higher praise than to liken it to The Passage by Justin Cronan. It’s not possible.
What is Wolves Of Winter About?
That is such a fantastic question random interwebs reader. I am so glad you asked! Well, think post apocalyptic snowscape, and a small family just trying to survive from day to day. Seriously consider this, what would you do if a super virulent version of the flu broke out across the globe and nukes began dropping? Well, if you were like me, you’d probably get as far from cities as physically possible. And that is what this family has done. This family of survivors have immigrated from Alaska to the great white north of Canada where the vast open nothingness is safer than the hostility of America. (This isn’t a political statement, it’s just a fact of survival.)
And while their lives aren’t a Little House on the Prairie idyllic dreamland, but they are surviving anyway. Our heroine goes by the name of Lynn, though her real name is Gwendolyn. We watch as she traps and hunts. We see her wield her crossbow in one of the most obvious foreshadowings of the book. Until, that is, a random stranger wanders through their valley. And from there the adventures and chaos just take on a sort of roller coaster brilliance to them. But survival is always first and foremost on their minds.
Fair enough? I really don’t want to spoil any of the story. It’s a good, lightening fast read. I’ve actually pitched it to 4 or 5 buddies of mine, and they have all, universally come back with great reviews of having enjoyed it. But my word alone ought to be good enough for you. I mean, come on. If I don’t have a track record with you yet… then I got nothing. So go snag the book, either here, or digital here, or here… you aren’t lacking in options. I just saw it at my local Barnes and Chernobyl, so there’s that too if you still believe in that sort of a thing! haha.
Alright, why don’t we just jump into the conversation with the author of Wolves of Winter now, interwebs, I bring you Tyrell Johnson!
THiNC. – “Why don’t I just start with the genesis of the idea? I know you and your dad have the hunting/fishing thing happening. But where did the story idea come from originally?”
Tyrell – “I started writing post-apocalyptic fiction because I was writing very mediocre fantasy fiction. While I enjoy the fantasy genre, my voice/style work much better in a modern setting. The post-apocalyptic genre allowed me to have the freedom to create my own world (having destroyed the current one!) while being able to ground my novel in modern times.”
THiNC. – “One of the things I liked best about the book is that the world stage is so vast, and yet so on the peripheral. We get hints of what is going on and the cause of the current state of the union, but not tons of detail. How much of that story did you flesh out before you wrote the story, and how clear was it going in?”
Tyrell – “To me, a lot of writing is a process of discovery. I like diving into a blank page without knowing exactly where I’m going. I definitely had an idea of what had happened to the world and what was left of it, but a lot unraveled as I went. Adding more flesh to the history and scope of the world was definitely something I worked on with my editors as well.
THiNC. – “I’ll be 100% honest with you… because I knew you were a guy. Yup. Just track with me here. And because I knew that this story was a survival story. And Lynn could be a guy’s name?… I swear, I thought Gwen/Lynn was a guy for a very very long time. (I know, that’s sexist. It is what it is.) I even went speeding past the announcement that her real name was Gwendolyn without even pausing, and still thought your protagonist was a guy. Besides your readers (or singular reader) being complete idiots, how did you come up with the idea of telling the story from Lynn’s vantage? Don’t get me wrong. It’s compelling… I’m just an idiot is all.”
Tyrell – “Ha! That’s funny, and not entirely your fault. She idealizes her father, so she’s definitely inherited some of his tone, but hopefully not too much! I had both a male and female editor that were great in keeping me in line if Lynn was starting to sound too much like a man.
“And the idea actually came from my wife. In the previous writing I’d done, I’d written from a male perspective, but my beta-readers thought the female characters were the most compelling. So my wife very wisely suggested that I write a book with a female protagonist instead. And, as everyone knows, always listen to your wife!”
THiNC. – “Oh no way. That is really interesting. Such good feedback from your beta readers. That is fantastic feedback, and heck, good wisdom in general. Listen to other’s feedback about you?!? I mean, who would do that willingly?! hahah.
“Like I told you before, the closest similar book, in tone and feel to this one is The Passage by Justin Cronan. When you were first telling friends and family what you were writing, what did you liken it to? And now that you are on morning news shows (apparently, at least, that is what your extremely proud father tells me anyway) talking about your book, what do you liken it to?”
Tyrell – “While I was writing The Wolves of Winter, I immersed myself in the post-apocalyptic genre to really get me into the mood/feel of this type of fiction. So I had some very specific books that inspired me while I was working: 1) Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel 2) The Dog Stars by Peter Heller and 3) The Maddaddam Trilogy by Margret Atwood.
“Now, the novel is being pitched as a mix of Station Eleven and Hunger Games. I’ve also heard Justin Cronin and M.R. Carey in the conversation. It’s all very humbling and overwhelming!”
THiNC. – “Oh fantastic, there are a couple books in there that I haven’t read yet. Totally adding a few of them to my reading list. So thanks for that! Always looking for great post apocalyptic goodness. I even wrote a short story in this vein out here on THiNC. called The Silence. And I realized in doing that exercise just how difficult this genre really is. Tone, backstory, dropping just enough to keep the reader intrigued, etc.
“Personally, I liked how the book took off with a crack. And as I look back on it I’m not certain how you did it. I’m sure there was a ton of editing to get that to happen. I do know you nailed the chapter endings, they definitely hucked the reader into the next chapter… so there is that. But was there a concerted effort on the first couple chapters to get that effect?”
Tyrell – “Yes. The goal with the first couple of chapters was to set the stage. I wanted readers, from the get-go, to know what kind of world they were in, what kind of people might inhabit it, and what types of dangers were out there. The first chapter is a little bit shocking/disturbing, but I thought it set the scene for the rest of the novel and the feel of this world in general.”
THiNC. – “Totally, that makes all kinds of sense. You definitely got a sense that there a billion and one dangers in this world and no one or no thing was really safe. Which brings us to the disease elements of the story…”
(Note to the reader, there is a band of people in The Wolves of Winter that are working to find a “cure” to the disease currently circling the globe. And this group is called Immunity.)
“It felt to me like the DCIA (Disease Containment and Immunity Advancement) seems almost like a metaphor for something today. A parable like organization with some sort of wider meaning that I am not quite grasping? Is it commenting on society at all? Maybe echoes of Hitler’s master race within the language of Immunity?”
Tyrell – “I actually don’t really work in metaphor or parable. I just wanted to tell the best story I could without any agenda or moral or lesson in mind. To me, Immunity was a logical entity born out of a world in desperation. That said, the post-apocalyptic genre definitely has some inherited themes. The best apocalyptic fiction forces us to take a hard look at our government, at our environment, and at the material possessions in our life that have power over us. But it’s my hope that the novel doesn’t just ring warning bells, hopefully there’s a bit of fun to be had as well!”
THiNC. – “I heard a rumor, from a little birdy… that there might be a completed manuscript for book 2? Is this something that you are telling anyone? I won’t mention it if you don’t want to talk about it, but if you are giving out anything at all about book2 (Egrets of Spring? Pandas of Fall?) I’d love to tease it. And on a personal note, if you want a new addition to your “friends” and family feedback club, I’d be happy to help! Hahaha. (This isn’t a question, but yeah, anything you want to share about book 2?)”
Tyrell – “Unfortunately, I can’t promise anything regarding book 2 quite yet, but, let’s just say I’ve got a few ideas!”
Great answers to some of the most annoying interview questions ever Tyrell. I will say this, the book is a concise single read, but also has miles and miles of room for a sequel to play. This world is a vast, well envisaged environment. And personally? I’d love to see a book 2 go in a very very specific direction. Which, follows very well in the direction that The Passage Trilogy as it went from book 1 to the Twelve. But that’s just me! hahah.
Have you guys read it yet? Would love to hear your thoughts on it.