Warning: Contains mild spoilers.
Writer Confession: this one was hard. Taking it all the way back to the beginning--to that broken classroom heater--yet even earlier than that, posed challenges I've never had to face in a novel.
Challenge #1: What would Hunter think about?
I've been writing from Elle's POV for four novels, which means I've been inside her head since 2013. Elle's mindset is so effortless for me now, that it was actually initially challenging to see Elle through Hunter's eyes. But then I realized, this book was never about Elle; as the title suggests, it was still all about Hunter.
We have in Book 1, Elle's internal musings about who she thought Hunter was. She sees someone charming, whose parents treated her as an equal (which is why she seems so mature for her age), someone who seems to have everything together. I made the decision early on to have Elle be wrong about much of that. I play homage to this when Hunter separates Professor Graft from Elle as two separate entities--making up a list of who each woman was and their likes and dislikes. She can't know any of these things. She doesn't really know Elle Graft. Similarly, Elle couldn't know much about Hunter until she shows up soggy on her front porch.
The real Hunter isn't confident. She's not perfect; she's not effortless. She doesn't float through life with everything figured out. Those are the kinds of character traits we afix to the objects of our affection, but when you strip away all the things you think you know about a person you've admired from afar, you find another human, just like you.
Things brings me to Challenge #2: Hunter is twenty years old.
I haven't been twenty in a very long time. Most of my characters are closer to me in age and experience. With the exception of Second Chances, I haven't ever written a traditional Coming Out story; that's one of the reasons why Hunter connects with that book so much.
How does a girl in the 2010s discover and determine her sexuality? What might she research? Who would she turn to for help and advice? How does she Come Out to herself and then the people in her life?Hunter's French pen pal, Colette, allowed me to explore Hunter's grappling and coming-to-terms with her sexuality in two ways. First, Coming Out to oneself can be more challenging than admitting it to friends and family, and second--like writing in a diary that could talk back--an internet pen pal played an essential role in my own Coming Out experience.
Challenge #3: Unlike a new original novel, or even a sequel, I had a predetermined timeline with predetermined conversations.
Because of this predetermined framework, I couldn't stray from the path. Elle and Hunter couldn't have additional interactions than the ones that appeared in the original novel. So while staying true to the storyline and Elle and Hunter's interactions from Winter Jacket, I worked to make Hunter feel fresh and brand new. There are several new characters, but also cameos from more familiar individuals, and plenty of Easter Eggs which I hope you'll enjoy.
Writing the Winter Jacket series has been so rewarding, yet each new novel brings new grey hairs. The stakes are high when I re-explore these characters that so many of you hold near and dear. I hope with Hunter you learn something new and fall in love with Hunter Dyson all over again.