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Interview with Author, Martha Hunt Handler

Her fiction novel, Winter of the Wolf, somewhat based on personal tragedy, addresses heavy topics such as suicide and grief. Making this narrative palatable for a younger audience was no easy feat, but Martha believes that young adults should be confronted in literature with these important issues to help them navigate their own trials and, most importantly, learn to trust their gut. Winter of the Wolf, published in July of 2020, made Barnes and Noble’s list of Most Notable Indie Books of 2020. All of the author proceeds are going to support her work at the Wolf Conservation Center ( Martha is currently considering writing an equal to this novel where she’ll tell the same story from another character’s perspective.

You seem to have such a deep connection with wolves, what does the wolf symbolize to you? From a young age, I frequently had a black wolf appear in my dreams. It generally showed up when I wasn’t paying attention to something I perhaps should have been. So, I’ve always felt connected to wolves even though I hadn’t ever seen a real wolf until I was 36 years old and pregnant with my fourth child. We’d just moved from Los Angeles to South Salem, New York, which is an hour outside of New York City. As we were settling into our rental house, I began to hear wolves howling. I knew that this was very strange because wolves haven’t inhabited the state since the late 1800s. Deciding I needed to investigate these howls, I walked into the woods behind our house and eventually came upon an enclosure with three wolves in it next to a trailer. I knocked on the door and met Hélene Grimaud, the world-renowned French concert pianist. She was very young, probably no more than 25 years old, at the time. She enthusiastically told me of her plans to open up a wolf conservation center and asked if I’d be interested in helping her. Having recently quit my job as an Environmental Consultant, her offer literally felt like a dream come true. It’s truly been an honor and a joy to work on behalf of an animal that I feel such an affinity towards. I’m looking outside right now and I’m excited to see that the snowstorm they predicted has finally arrived. My friends won’t be happy, but I know the wolves will be. They enjoy nothing more than romping around in the snow in their thick winter coats!

Amazing. It seems like your whole life wolves have been seeking you out. Yes, I always say that there aren’t such things as coincidences, there are just co-incidents. You just have to have your eyes open and your heart open, so that you see that and make that connection so that you’ll become more fully aligned with your soul’s path. I feel strongly that wolves are my soul creatures. They have a lot to teach us about working together, family loyalty, respecting our elders, communicating, showing affection, only taking what you need, and much more. What inspired or informed that viewpoint for you? My mother brought me up very spiritually. She was a big proponent of following your gut instincts and appreciating that we are connected to everything on the planet and that our actions matter. As a young child, I spent a lot of time by myself in the woods around my house. I could actually hear the individual sounds of animals and plants when I was really open to it. When I realized others weren’t able to hear these voices, I understood that my path in this lifetime was to be a voice for nature. Though I wanted to write fiction from a very early age, I didn’t have the courage to do so. Instead, I majored in Environmental Conservation and ended up being a consultant writing technical papers on various environmental issues. But my heart was never truly in the work. And then, when I was 42, a tragic event happened and I started writing about it and eventually the words pouring out of me turned into Winter of the Wolf. How did you come up with the narrative for Winter of the Wolf? I understand it’s based on personal tragedy, but how did you combine that with a fictional narrative? The personal tragedy was that my best friend’s son, who was only 12 years old, was found hanging from a belt. It was beyond shocking because he was a seemingly very happy and well-adjusted boy. He had lots of friends. He was involved in sports. It just made no sense. And then when I went to his funeral, I learned just how different suicides are from other deaths. People were asking her, “Well, if he was so depressed, why wasn’t he on medication? Why wasn’t he seeing a doctor?” So, on top of losing her son she had to deal with blame, shame, and guilt. I was furiously journaling about the whole experience because I couldn’t process his death and I couldn’t find any words of comfort for my friend. She, like myself, had a really spiritual mother, so we were brought up to believe that you’re here for the time you’re here and there are no such things as accidental deaths. She would ask me, “But what could he have done in the short time he was here? It doesn’t make any sense.” And I had no answers. Then one day, I was ice skating on a lake near our house and I came upon a deer that had become frozen in the surface of the lake—which I also used in my book. I found the doe mesmerizing. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. And as I stood there, staring at her, I began to hear her son’s voice. He was urging me to turn my journal entries into a novel. I listened to him (he was very persistent!) and began to write. When I started, I had no idea where I was going, but I just kept writing and the story eventually came to me. So, while it’s based on his death, my novel does not follow his life. It’s my imagining what might happen to a family after a death like his. But it’s a mystery so I don’t want to reveal the ending. I’ll just say some things aren’t as cut and dried as they appear! You draw on the beliefs and culture of the Inuit people for this book, but what drew you to the Intuit culture? I watched the movie Nanook of the North when I was in second or third grade. I have no idea why our teacher would show us a 1922 silent film about people living in the Arctic, but I’m glad she did. The rest of my class had absolutely no interest in the movie, but I was riveted. Nanook looked familiar to me as if in another lifetime he’d been my father or my uncle. When I arrived home from school that day, I insisted my mom find me any books she could on the Inuit. Sadly, she only managed to find me a couple of scientific papers, but those books made me fall in love with Indigenous cultures. All across the globe, these first people had similar beliefs. They were all deeply connected to the cycles of the moon and everything that inhabited the earth. I fear that today most of us have lost this important and vital connection, and that makes me very sad. I hope that one possible silver lining of Covid is that people wake up to the harm we are doing to our planet and make changes to correct the situation before it’s too late.

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