This post contains serious spoilers for all ten books. Links take you to pages on the Wynter Wild Wiki, which is also full of spoilers.
I started the Wynter Wild series with five characters in mind – the three Fairn boys, the two sisters – along with a few adults in their sphere. As their world expanded across ten books, I ended it with 365 named characters (admittedly, that does include the chickens). Somewhere along the way, a few of those characters became entangled in ways I hadn’t envisioned when I set out.
A primary example is Xay. I created his character at the same time as I created Wynter’s past in the cult – an Aussie boy she secretly befriends who leaves her behind. But making him Harry’s son was an idea that came later (although before I started writing in earnest). Other ideas came when some of the books were already complete, and it’s no easy task to weave revealed secrets into the plot when you didn’t even know those secrets yourself!
As an insight into my writing process, I thought I’d lay out how some of my decisions evolved.
Miriam: A Mystery to Unravel
Because the story focuses on the younger generation, I hadn’t thought much about their family history. I had no idea about Miriam’s past even after drafting the first few books. She was a cypher to me, and I let that ride because she was also a cypher to Harry when they met, and of course her children didn’t know her well either. But I knew her sons would one day meet her again, so eventually I had to figure out her background.
So, who is Miriam Wild?
Thinking about what kind of person would abandon her sons for a cult, I figured she must be damaged. As a change from Harry’s working-class origins, I decided to make her from a well-off family, and rather than making her parents evil, I made her the bad seed (albeit under a charismatic man’s influence). She ran away from a terrible deed she was responsible for instigating – the death of her brother Walter.
Patricia: An Unexpected Connection
But I didn’t stop there. A bizarre idea came to me after the first few books were published, an idea I simply couldn’t shake: Patricia, a diner owner on the other side of the country who’d known Harry and his sons for years, was Miriam’s sister.
In order to be believable, this apparent coincidence needed to not be a coincidence. Harry needed a valid reason to take his boys to that particular diner. The coupon is the link that brings the Fairns and Patricia together.
Who sent the coupon? – Walter’s roommate from 30 years ago, in an effort to bring Miriam’s deceit to Harry’s attention (if the universe willed it…). This roommate could’ve been a walk-on character, but I decided to reuse an existing character: Malcolm. I tied Malcolm in to the family in two ways: as a roommate he was privvy to the family secrets. And because he became enamored of Ellie at the funeral, he helped her run away and later married her at the ashram, thereby becoming part of Wynter’s story as well.
When I wrote the early books, Patricia was not going to end up being the boys’ aunt. I’d created a problem for myself: In 02 Out of Tune she mentions four nieces… so that meant she must have another sibling (not Miriam, and not Walter who died young) with four daughters. When in 06 Natural Harmonics Jesse tracks them down, we have four cousins who need to be introduced. I would never have created all these extra characters if only Patricia had not mentioned those nieces! I put one in college, and made another so young she didn’t need a storyline. The other two (Jessica and Paige) have some involvement in the story.
Abner: An Unwelcome History
There’s another family entanglement that was never, originally, in my plans: the revelation that Miriam’s uncle Lawrence is also Abner, the founder of the Light. I had to establish some backstory for this guru, because all cults have gurus – yet the Light’s guru was missing in action (for the simple reason that there was too much going on in Wynter’s childhood recollections to include a guru, who if present would’ve had a big involvement in those flashbacks – I didn’t want to focus on that).
Having implied a sex scandal, I made him the bogey man of Patricia’s childhood, while Miriam revered him. He was now the reason she became involved in the Light in the first place, and blackmailing her brother was also linked to Lawrence’s actions. I wrote a detailed timeline of the previous thirty years to make sure all the dates tied in.
The portrait shows Abner at age 35, when he joined the ashram (in the ’80s) and turned it into the Light’s temple HQ.
Malcolm: Paternal Blues
During all these shenanigans, I still hadn’t entirely fixed in my mind who Wynter’s father was. Yes, it’s true, I changed my mind repeatedly and left the options open – knowing that eventually I’d have to deal with it. At first I assumed like everyone else that Miriam’s second husband Malcolm was her father – a random guy whom Miriam met at the ashram, and who stuck around only a year.
To tie him more strongly to the story, I not only made him Walter’s roommate and Miriam’s long-time lover (on and off), but also wrote a subplot where Jesse tracks him down and discovers the truth, which of course leads to Jesse wondering who the other paternal candidates might be…
To add to Jesse’s stress, I gave him two possibilities – either of which, as he noted, has catastrophic implications (of course! – evil author). I had already pegged Harry as one option before publishing 01 Little Sister Song, so I slipped in an ambiguous clue for observant readers and made sure the dates lined up. Jesse believes it could also be Lawrence simply because of his and Miriam’s past association. Rest assured this issue will soon be kinda sorta resolved.
Deedee: One Becomes Two
Did you know Wynter was not originally a twin? I published (chapter by chapter on Wattpad) two entire books before Deedee came into existence. Giving her a twin she hardly remembers meant inventing a reason why Joy kept him secret, as well as a storyline where Wynter gradually figures it out. I did this through the teddy bear subplot as the truth is revealed in 03 Rhythm and Rhyme and then 04 Lost Melodies.
While there is no indication whatsoever that Wynter had a twin in the first two books, the concept dove-tailed nicely with her feeling at the ashram that she was “fading away” or unimportant, given her “other half” had indeed disappeared. And it’s one of the reasons she and Indio connect on such a deep level, because he also lost his twin.
One of the saddest things about Joy’s character, to me, was the secrets she was keeping her whole life. She wasn’t allowed to tell Wynter about her half-brothers, or tell Xay of their connection. She wasn’t allowed to talk about Malcolm (she would’ve known, as she grew older, that he couldn’t possibly be Wynter’s father), and she has one more secret to share from beyond the grave. I’m not talking about Theo… but let’s talk about Theo!
Theo: Why Not?
Writing a long series with multiple point-of-view characters gets extremely complicated and I was often pulling my hair out. But one benefit is that, over time, many threads are developed and each one generates yet more possible threads – most of which will never be explored. But by going back over what I thought were trivial throwaway lines, I can find ideas to take things in a new direction.
When Wynter first arrives at Caleb‘s house, she makes up a reason for their escape – that Joy didn’t like her husband. So now, for no reason at the time, I’d made Joy a married woman. This meant she had a husband out there, and now he needed a background and a storyline. We meet Sean in 04 Lost Melodies, when he is frantic over discovery of a young child’s remains at the ashram. Little does he know that three months later, his own son will be conceived!
When you have a young tragic couple, why not a secret baby? While poor Joy was always doomed to die, I didn’t initially consider her leaving behind a child. But in a story covering only three years, and with so much else going on, there wasn’t time to give any of the brothers a wife/girlfriend and pregnancy and baby of his own. So, I gave Caleb a ready-made baby to raise.
Despite the spoiler warning on this post, there are (in addition to Wynter’s paternity) two more family entanglement surprises still to come. I won’t spoil them here, for those still reading the series – can you guess who they might involve?