Move over Katniss Everdeen: The Wolves of Winter features a new heroine archer
Tyrell Johnson's debut novel is genre mashup of post-apocalyptic fiction and science fiction staged in the Yukon wilderness.
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Tyrell Johnson is at home in the snow. That’s a good thing, considering his house in Kelowna is buried in the white stuff, and he has his dog, a Siberian Husky, to walk.
Growing up in Bellingham, Wash., wintery days were magical events for young Johnson, thanks to the coveted school cancellations. But in his debut novel, the post-apocalyptic thriller The Wolves of Winter, snow provides a harsh backdrop for Johnson’s young heroine, Lynn McBride, and her family, who struggle to survive undetected in the Yukon wilderness.
“There’s always been something epic about snow to me,” says Johnson. “I like fiction where the setting has a role alongside the plot and characters, and to me the snow invited a challenge for the characters. You can’t move around as easily, you have to figure out how to find warmth. Visually, I thought it provided something evocative.”
The Wolves of Winter follows the collapse of society, crippled first by nuclear bombs and ultimately toppled by a deadly flu strain. Lynn’s beloved father, a Chicago biologist with a mysterious agenda, led his family north to safety, only to succumb to the illness himself. In his absence, Lynn becomes a provider; a precise hunter with a bow and arrow, tracking animals through the snow with her bright red hair tucked into a cap so as not to draw attention.
But after a mysterious man appears near the family’s cabins, Lynn can no longer move invisibly as she stumbles into a political conspiracy that erupts into a violent battle with a shocking personal revelation.
“In a post-apocalyptic world there would be an element of survival of the fittest. Maybe things like killing for your own survival would enter into a grey area of law and order,” says Johnson, who says the genre intrigued him “because I like the questions that it poses about humanity and about the people that would inhabit this world.”
Johnson, who earned his MFA from the University of California, Riverside, obsessively wrote the first draft of the novel over four months while hunkered down in his mother-in-law’s converted horse barn. As a new dad he drew on his own emotions in developing the central relationship between Lynn and her father, told through flashbacks and memories.
Although Johnson is an outdoorsman, he had plenty to learn about subsisting in the wilderness, researching necessities like building a fire without flint and the gruesome details of field dressing a deer.
While writing, he didn’t worry how the story would be categorized with its genre mashup of post-apocalyptic fiction and sci-fi, or whether it would appeal to YA or adult readers.
Nor was he concerned with comparisons to another tough arrow-toting protagonist: Katniss Everdeen from Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series.
“I didn’t want to get bogged down too much with ‘oh, I can't do that because this person already did it,’ I just wanted to write the best story I could with the best characters I could,” he says. “I wanted a survivalist story, some kind of epic adventure, and so I dove in to see where it would take me.”
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