Martha Hunt Handler was kind enough to write a guest post, to explain where she got the inspiration for her recently released novel, Winter of the Wolf. You can read all about her inspiration below, and stay tuned for my full interview with her, coming this Thursday.
Inspiration for the Plot of Winter of the Wolf
By Martha Hunt Handler
In 2001, when I was 42, I received a call that rocked my world. My childhood best friend, Gretchen, had just found her 12-year-old son Brendan hanging from a belt in his bedroom. Almost immediately, I felt myself shutting down. I couldn’t process the loss of such a young soul, and I had no clue how to comfort Gretchen. Growing up, she and I were exceptionally spiritual, thanks to the daily teachings of our mothers. We understood that souls, as pure energy, cannot be lost nor destroyed, but only change form. We also believed that each of our lifetimes is part of a long journey that ultimately contribute to our soul’s growth. But when Brendan passed, none of our beliefs seem to make any sense. What could Brendan possibly have learned or accomplished in his short lifetime?
Needing a place to put all my agonizing questions and thoughts, I began to journal. But I was getting nowhere. Brendan’s death still felt like a very dark and mysterious hole. Dark, because neither Gretchen or I was having any luck contacting Brendan, and mysterious because, despite the compelling evidence, Gretchen was adamant that he hadn’t taken his own life, and I trusted her instincts.
About four months later, I began to hear Brendan’s voice. He was requesting that I write a fictionalized account of his story, which sounded absurd. I exclusively wrote non-fiction pieces as an environmental consultant and, more recently, as a magazine columnist and supporter of the Wolf Conservation Center. I didn’t have a clue how to write fiction nor did I believe I had the talent for such an endeavor. And, even if I did, I didn’t know Brendan’s story; I didn’t understand why he was no longer with us. So, what did he want me to write?
A few weeks later, while cleaning out an old chest of my childhood keepsakes, I came across a book I’d written and illustrated when I was seven years old. It brought back a profound and sad memory. I’d spent all evening alone in my room that night as I conceived of this original tale of a runaway bunny. When finished, I presented it to my father and proudly proclaimed that I was going to be a writer when I grew up. Instead of congratulating me, he laughed and told me that writing stories wouldn’t pay the bills. I was devastated, but I didn’t have it in me to challenge him. But now, I wondered if Brendan wasn’t right. Perhaps writing fiction had been my destiny all along.
One of the more important themes in my novel is encouraging young people (and adults) to trust their instincts and not letting others dissuade them from their deep knowing of themselves. When we’re young, we’re incredibly susceptible and vulnerable to the opinions of others. This, and the fact that we feel pressure to “fit in,” results in us hiding or suppressing those unique and magical parts of ourselves, which results in many of us never reaching our full potential.
Remembering this sad incident helped launch my writing. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I dug in, showed up, and wrote as if I were on a mission. I attempted to tell the story from a bunch of different angles but finally settled on having the protagonist be a sister who loses her older brother. Once I found my protagonist and nailed her voice, the story began to come together, just as Brendan had promised.
It has been a long and winding road writing Winter of the Wolf, but it has been the journey of a lifetime for me. In the beginning, I just wanted to get the story out as quickly as possible, because it was painful to sit day after day in the heavy aftermath of a child’s death. But the more I let myself go into the pain, the more light I began to see. So, though it’s a story that begins in a place of profound grief, it moves to a place of profound gratitude.
Though I still can’t tell you what Brendan accomplished in his lifetime, in his afterlife, he helped me re-believe and re-discover my innate storytelling talents, and for this, I will always be grateful.
Martha Hunt Handler grew up dreaming of wolves and has always understood that her role in this lifetime is to tell stories and be a voice for nature. She has been an environmental consultant, a magazine columnist, an actress, and a polar explorer, among other occupations. When she and her four children relocated from Los Angeles to New York more than twenty years ago she began to literally hear the howls of wolves. This marked the beginning of her work advocating on behalf of wolves at the Wolf Conservation Center (nywolf.org). Winter of the Wolf is Martha’s debut novel.
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