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Interview with Martha Hunt Handler

The book presents a unique blend of the spiritual and detective genres. What inspired you to bring these two together in Winter of the Wolf?

My favorite novels are ones in which there is soul growth from the beginning of the book to the end, and I love a good mystery. This story seemed like the perfect platform for such a story arc. I also wanted to show that our spiritual growth is not always a straight line. Bean believes Sam didn’t commit suicide, but she also has doubts along the way. This is normal and a part of the process. The trick is to push through.

Bean and her family’s depression and grief feel very real. Is this something you’ve had to experience in your life or helped someone else through?

I have numerous family members who’ve been diagnosed with depression, and I’ve lost many friends to suicide. As depression is now a nationwide epidemic, I think we all bear a responsibility to learn as much as we can about it so that we’re able to see that suicide is far from a “selfish” act, as so many unfairly judge it. It would seem obvious that if someone is in so much pain that ending their lives seems like the only viable solution, they have no ability to look outside themselves to see how their actions might affect others. One of my favorite books on the subject is William Styron’s Darkness Visible. It helps one understand the mind frame of those with serious depression.

As far as grief goes, I doubt there’s anyone who’s reached a certain age who’s been spared. It’s part of the life cycle and it’s what makes us human.

Throughout the novel, both Bean and Sam hold a deep belief in the importance of the connection between people and the natural world. Is this a belief you share?
I do. Every indigenous culture I’ve studied felt this connection, and then in subsequent cultures, this connection has been eroded. Nature is fascinating and perfect with everything having a purpose and a role, though I find the role of humans much more difficult to understand! I enjoy learning about things such as the doctrine of signatures or seeing movies like Biggest Little Farm, both of which illustrate the magical way that nature works. But I worry that while our Earth has been wonderfully resilient thus far, we’re now exceeding its carrying capacity and ability to fully recover from our exploitive practices.

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Your knowledge of the spiritual and Inuit practices seems significant. Did that knowledge lead you to the story, or did the story lead you to that knowledge?

My spiritual leanings and curiosity about reincarnation started when I was very young. Like Bean, I attended many funerals with my mother, and I often felt the deceased’s spirit in the room. I also frequently saw the ghost of an older woman dressed in Victorian attire whenever I spent the night at a certain friend’s home. Thankfully, my mother and a few other key friends believed me and supported and encouraged me to learn more about the spirit world.
My interest in Inuit happened much like Sam’s did. I watched Nanook of the North in grade school and instantly felt a deep connection to them and to all Indigenous peoples; I believe this has to do with a past life.
Also, years ago, I encountered a deer frozen into the surface of a lake and for a reason that I did not fully understand, something profound happened and I began to see how I could connect the tragic incident that happened to my friend’s son—which she and I were both struggling to make sense of at the time—with my spiritual beliefs. I believe my knowledge of and interest in these two areas helped me see this connection and hear this story.

You have worked as the board president of the Wolf Conservation Center. How has this work impacted your writing of Winter of the Wolf?
Like Sam, I’ve always been drawn to wildlife, and I understood from a young age that one my roles in this lifetime was to be a voice for the wild things on our planet. For a long time, I saw no connection between this novel and my work on behalf of wolves. Then, about a year ago, a black wolf began appearing in my dreams, and I knew that it was trying to tell me something. Finally, it hit me just how alike Sam and wolves are; Sam was bullied and misunderstood, and so are wolves. I have a bumper sticker that reads, “Little Red Riding Hood Lied,” which leads to quite interesting discussions. This fairytale (and so many others like it), originally intended to warn children to be cautious of strangers, instead led people to have an unwarranted fear of wolves. When I saw that I could use my novel to help set the record straight by sprinkling in a few facts about these largely misunderstood apex predators, I pounced! I believe it’s important to always try to listen to our inner voices and pay attention to our dreams. There are always lessons there if you are open to receiving and deciphering them.

Do you have ideas for a second novel or book? If so, what can you tell us about it?
Part of me wants to follow Bean in her journey into adulthood to see how the death of Sam ultimately changes her and informs her life decisions. I also wonder if she and Skip have a future and if there was something going on with his family that hasn’t yet been explored. However, another part of me is ready to let these characters go and pursue a project that is much more fun and lighter. I guess book sales will ultimately help me make this decision! All I know for sure is that there is nothing that makes me happier
than writing—except maybe wolves!


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