The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson: The Inspiration
This is a question writers get asked all the time. And some writers have really great, specific answers. Like: I was sitting on a bus and I saw a dog with a wooden leg and decided to write about wooden-legged, bus-riding dogs: their history and culture. But for a lot of writers, myself included, the inspiration for a novel, or indeed the inspiration to write in general, is a much more airy-fairy, metaphysical thing that’s hard to pin down.
My own novel, The Wolves of Winter, had a lot of different inspirations. I had the setting in mind: I wanted a snowy, post-apocalyptic Yukon. I wanted a father/daughter relationship that was prevalent (due to having a young daughter myself). And I wanted it to be part survival story, part coming of age story, part literary tale, part epic post-apocalyptic madness.
So why did I write what I did? Is it my passion for the outdoors? Is it the fact that I grew up on fantasy novels and love the blend of literary/fantasy or literary/science fiction? Is it my own family dynamics? Yes. Of course. The problem is, it’s all of those things. It’s everything that makes me who I am. From my memories to my passions, from the books I read to the movies I watch, from the myriad of people in my life to the myriad of personalities in my head. It’s everything.
So when an author tells you about that moment on the bus with the wooden-legged dog, I think she really is telling you the truth. BUT, I very much doubt it’s the whole truth. Maybe the dog was the spark that lit the fire, but the fire doesn’t burn without a giant pile of wood that’s already there. Books are like people, they’re messy things. They’re a bringing together of ideas and passions and wishes and fears. It’s why writing is so interesting. It’s why reading is so interesting. You never know what your readers are going to get out of your novel; you might not even know what you’re going to get out of it. While you thought you were writing a book about crippled dogs, in the end, you realize what actually inspired you to write was your deep-seeded fear of public transportation.
B O O K R E V I E W – 4 out of 5 Stars
The Wolves of Winter is a surprisingly fast read. I say that because, for all intents and purposes, it’s a book set in the post-apocalyptic Arctic where the environment enhances the feel of the desolation of the times. Whereas with other books in this genre tend to build a largesse narrative explaining the genesis of the world that they come to know, the bones of The Wolves of Winter is highly tangible; easily imaginable. I feel like we’re living in it now. The delicate global politics that only become even more so with the new American administration, it is indeed even more plausible now.
With the majority of the US population wiped out by a strain of Asian Flu, the McBrides fled to the remote Alaskan wilderness at first. But when the disease extended its reaches, they had very little choice but to flee even further up North. For years, it had only been Gwendolyn and what’s left of her family. They’d survived by hunting, foraging, and preserving their food for the bitter winter. Life was a cycle of monotonous humdrum until a fugitive named, Jax appeared in their midst. Suddenly, the quiet life of the town of McBrides – population 5 – had become far from boring.
Tyrell Johnson’s debut novel is a page-turner. There wasn’t a second when you’d lose interest in the goings on of Gwendolyn’s life. While she spent a lot of time immersed in her own self (for lack of company), her quiet introspective about the world and how it came to be pulled me that much deeper into the story.
There are a few aspects of the story that I wish was explored further, however. Ramsey, for one, had me speculating about his sexuality and his debilitating shyness when confronted with sex. Because he’s the only person not related to the McBride’s that’s close to Lynn’s age, it was only fitting that they’d be paired in all sense of the word. But any attempts at anything sexual with Lynn only led to tears and mortification. And yet, as soon as Jax entered the scene, Ramsey exuded attitudes attributable to jealousy.
There was also the appearance of white animals (foxes…crows) that I thought should’ve been better explained other than an adaptation to the new global climate of sorts. It felt like an afterthought that had no significance to the story at all. I also needed to read more about Jax’s abilities. I felt that it was one of this book’s strong points.
Regardless, I enjoyed this novel immensely. I’ve always loved reading post-apocalyptic novels, and Johnson’s debut hits all the right spots. It’s a page-flipper, a little desperate and sweet at times, but also violent. I especially loved Gwendolyn’s relationship with her father. They were close and was each other’s best friend. Lynn for her part is a strong character; stubborn and determined. Protective of those she loves. She is fearless and fierce and does what she can to adapt to a world that left her very little choice but to survive.
Overall, this was an outstanding debut. Vivid and bleak; exciting and tender at times.