For some strange reason I’ve been thinking about the strongest influences on me as both a writer and illustrator and how these influences came to shape the creation of the Wythe family in “Wythe’s End”.
The above three pictures shows the three strongest influences (not including J.R.R. Tolkien and Beatrix Potter, of course). What these three pictures have in common is that they focus on eccentric, wildly eccentric families and their quirky, loving, ordinary, extraordinary, peculiar and exacting lives. Throughout my entire career as a writer I always wanted to create my own quirky and eccentric family. It only took me fifty years to finally do so.
It is easy to see parallels and influences in my writing and characters if you study these three families: The Yokums, The Giles, and The Addams Family. Where the Wythes differ is simply in locale and number of eccentric family members. Wythe’s End could be seen as isolated and haunted as the Addams’ mansion. The groundskeeper Russ Samson could be compared to the butler, Lurch, in the Addams family.
What I love most about these three influential families is the strong personality and quirks of each and every family member. With this in mind I strive to make each member of the Wythe family as distinctly unique, believable, true to their nature, and each with their own ‘quirk’.
Once the characters came into my head and their personalities became clear writing dialogue for each character was easier than I ever thought it might be. Because each character is so “real” their voices, how they would say something, what they would say, how they would react in any given situation, allows me as a writer to let the characters speak for themselves. It’s a strange situation, really, to just let the characters speak and not try to put words in their mouth.
I have my own way of speaking and the only character that I hear my own voice coming through is the narrator, Phineas Wythe. Phin is me when I was his age. He thinks and talks and acts almost exactly as I did when I was that age. He has the same worries and fears that I had when I was fifteen. The only difference between Phin and me is that I grew up in poverty and he grew up (is growing up) in privilege.
I suppose the real test for me as a writer is to imagine what it must be like to grow up privileged, never having to worry about money, having domestic help, etc. In fact, the Wythes never think about money at all. It’s just there. Period. And this lifestyle fascinates me.
However, in spite of the fact that the Wythes are very wealthy their wealth and privilege never makes them unsympathetic to the plight of others. They are generous to a fault, loving, caring, and the most liberal minded wealthy family I could imagine.
In other words: I’m combining my outlook in life with their wealth and am letting the two worlds merge that set the Wythes apart from other Boston blue bloods/Brahmins.
They are eccentric because they have a zest for life, for fun, for adventure, for travel, for literature, and for making a difference in the world through their hard work and talent.
I’m obsessed with quality higher education so it was important to have each and every Wythe attend Harvard or a school of equal high status standing. Naturally, after graduating from Harvard each and every family member would travel and study abroad to broaden their perspective on life and appreciate how other cultures exist.
Hopefully, Li’l Abner and his family, Lurch and the Addamses, and the Giles family would be interested in knowing the Wythes.