A Conversation With
Martha Hunter Handler
By Samantha Skelton
Martha Hunt Handler is someone who is deeply connected to her purpose, her passions, and the world around her.
From the second we began talking, I could tell she has a strong intuition and sense of her place in this world.
In our conversation, we dive into how she built this strong inner foundation, her unique gift that she recognized as a young child, and her debut novel, Winter of the Wolf.
Can you tell me about yourself and your background? How did you come to be a writer?
I was brought up very spiritually in northern Illinois. I was given a lot of freedom to roam, and by the time I was four, I was regularly venturing into the woods that surrounded our house. I called it the Enchanted Forest, and it was here that I began to hear the voices of plants and animals.
When I learned others didn't share this gift, I felt a deep knowing that my purpose in this lifetime was to be a voice for nature.
I wrote and illustrated my first book when I was seven and declared to my parents that I was going to be a writer when I grew up. Sadly, my father dismissed the idea, explaining that fiction writers couldn't support themselves. Believing he knew what he was talking about, I abandoned that dream.
Instead, my love of nature led me to become an environmental consultant, but writing technical, scientific papers never really moved my heart. And then something miraculous happened. Our family relocated from Los Angeles to the suburbs of New York, and just as we were getting settled, I began to hear wolves howling. I knew this was unusual because wolves had been exterminated in the state of New York by the mid-1800s.
Equally strange was the fact that I'd been dreaming of wolves since I was a little girl. A lone black wolf appeared regularly in my dreams to point out something I was missing in my life. Deciding I needed to investigate, I ventured into the woodlands behind my house and soon came across a trailer next to an enclosure with three wolves.
When I knocked on the trailer door, a young French woman introduced herself and told me she was planning to open up a non-profit to educate the public about the vital role wolves play in our ecosystem, advocate on their behalf, and be a breeding and pre-release facility for the two most critically endangered wolf species in the U.S.; the Mexican grey wolf and the red wolf.
She asked if I'd like to help and I quite literally jumped on board. That was over 20 years ago and my heart has been soaring ever since. It's unbelievably rewarding to work on behalf of such a magnificent, keystone species.
What would you say to someone who also feels deeply connected to the earth and animals, someone who thinks they also are a voice for nature?
Embrace it and find other like-minded people and groups. Whether it's trees you are passionate about or butterflies or elephants, just Google the topic and you'll find loads of organizations that would welcome your support.
Animal and environmental non-profits have been hit especially hard during this time, so it's a perfect time to reach out and get involved.
What led you to start writing fiction?
Shortly after I moved to New York my best friend found her twelve-year-old son hanging from a belt around his neck. We were both brought up very spiritually and believed souls are only here in this lifetime long enough to learn what they need to. And yet, her son's death seemed impossible to comprehend. I also didn't know how to comfort her, as I felt so lost myself. To try and cope, I began to furiously journal.
A few months later, I was ice-skating, and I came across a deer that had been frozen in the surface of the lake. From some reason this doe mesmerized me and as I stood there staring at it, I began to hear my friend's son's voice very clearly in my head. He was insistent that my journal entries were the beginning of what would be a novel about his death.
I'd never experienced anything like this before, so I listened and started writing.
Can you tell me about Winter of the Wolf, which is your debut novel, right? Is it based on your friend's son's life?
Yes, this is my first novel. This story is inspired by this boy and the way he died, but my book took on a life of its own.
In my story, we follow Bean, an empathic and spiritually evolved fifteen-year-old, who has lost her brother, Sam. Though all evidence points to a suicide, her heart and intuition compel her to dig deeper.
With help from her friend Julie they retrace Sam's last few days, delve into his Inuit beliefs, and reconnect with their spiritual beliefs to uncover clues beyond material understanding.
What's the takeaway you want readers to have after finishing your book?
First and foremost, I want readers to consider that rather than grieve for our loved ones who pass over, we should instead focus on feeling grateful for the time we had with them.
I hope readers will come away believing that death is not an ending, but merely a part of our life and rebirth cycle. We are energy and the first law of thermodynamics tells us that energy cannot be made nor destroyed, it can only change forms. Our loved ones are always with us, we just have to remain open to this idea and ask them to send us signs.
I also hope readers will be moved to reconnect to Mother Earth and take more seriously their roles as stewards of our planet.
And lastly, I want readers to be reminded that our intuition is our superpower. It's always sending us important signals (goosebumps, stomach aches, heart pounding, etc.) and if you are in tune with your gut, you can't go wrong.
Who was your favorite character to write?
Bean! Readers always ask how much of me is in Bean and I reply that she's an idealized version of myself, if only I'd listened to my intuition more closely. She's my fierce warrior who follows her heart without question, even when doing so is an unpopular choice.
How has this book impacted your life moving forward?
It's been immensely gratifying to have so many readers reach out to tell me that my book has helped them deal with death more positively, or that they've been motivated to listen to their intuition more closely, or been opened to exploring spirituality. Hearing their stories and words of praise has been really helpful given that I can't be out there in person to sign books and do readings.
What do you think stops someone from leaning into their spirituality?
It's hard to say because I was brought up spiritually by my mother, so it's always been a part of who I am. But if it's something that interests you, and I hope it does, you should dig in and do the research.
At the end of my book there is a list of books that were helpful to me on my spiritual journey, but you can also watch videos of those who've had near death experiences or gone through past life regretion. The evidence is overwhelming that we live many lives and that death is nothing to be afraid of.
Are you currently working on anything else?
From the feedback I'm getting, I think I'll work on a prequel that more fully explains how Sam became Sam or perhaps a sequel that follows Bean and her relationship with Skip. I'm still in the early phases of researching both options.
How has your writing process changed? Will you approach the Prequel or Sequel differently?
When I started this novel, I didn't know where I was going so basically everything that ever happened in my life ended up in that early draft. I was so reluctant to cut anything, that I ended up having to hire a book coach to help me.
Thanks to my coach, in a few short months my book went from one hundred and twenty thousand words to thirty thousand.
For my second book, I will learn from my mistakes and begin by writing a paragraph about why I'm writing the book and then do a chapter-by-chapter outline before I start writing.
Where can people learn more about you and buy your book?
You can go to MarthaHuntHandler.com for more information on me and my book.
You can also visit nywolf.org if you're interested in learning more about my work on behalf of wolves.
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