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Martha Hunt Handler: “Believe in your knowing and trust your gut”

My main empowering lesson is to encourage young people to believe in their knowing, as Glennon Doyle so eloquently says in Untamed, and to remind adults to be careful not to use negative language around susceptible young people. I think we are all born with an innate sense of what our calling in this lifetime […]

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My main empowering lesson is to encourage young people to believe in their knowing, as Glennon Doyle so eloquently says in Untamed, and to remind adults to be careful not to use negative language around susceptible young people. I think we are all born with an innate sense of what our calling in this lifetime is. But often a parent or another respected adult will make a flippant remark like, “Looks like numbers aren’t really your thing,” or “You’re getting a bit of a belly. You’ll probably have to watch your weight your whole life,” or “You’re sure not very artistic, are you?” What we all need to understand is that one small, seeming inconsequential sentence has the power to change a person’s life and squash their dreams and knowing about who they are for a lifetime. I know this because it happened to me when I was seven. My parents had gone out to dinner and I’d spent the night writing and illustrating a book about a runaway bunny. I was so proud of my accomplishment, that I stayed up extra late to present it to them when they returned home. I also couldn’t wait to tell them that I’d decided to be a writer when I grew up. My dad read it and said, “Your drawings are poor, the story isn’t very compelling, and writers can’t support themselves, so you’d better come up with a more realistic career plan.” I was only 7 years old! Unfortunately, it took me another 35 years to get his harmful words out of my head.


As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Martha Hunt Handler.

Martha grew up in northern Illinois dreaming about 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. She has also driven across the country in an 18-wheeler and been a grand-prize winner of The Newlywed Game.

Soon after she and her family relocated from Los Angeles to South Salem, New York, she began to hear wolves in her backyard. This was the start of her twenty-plus-year career as an advocate for wolves at the Wolf Conservation Center, where she currently serves as Board President. When not up near the wolves and her rescue pups, she can be found in New York City with her husband and four adult children.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

I’d been writing technical papers for years as an Environmental Consultant, but I’d never seriously considered writing fiction. I had a desire to do so, but I didn’t believe I had the talent, nor did I have a particularly compelling story in mind. When I was in my early 40’s, my best friend’s 12-year-old son, Branden, passed unexpectedly, and I began to journal about the agonizing experience. Not long after, I began to hear Branden’s voice and he was asking me to write this story. It was all pretty crazy, but I took a leap of faith and listened, and I’m very happy that I did.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I quickly learned that when you open yourself up to hear one voice from someone who’s passed over, others will start lining up to tell you their stories! This was all new to me. When I was young, I could often hear the voices of animals, but never souls who’d crossed over. My hardest task was to figure out which voices to listen to while not disrespecting the others.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

My biggest challenge was believing in myself as a writer and taking myself seriously enough to carve out dedicated time and space to write. For the first few years, I would write whenever I had the opportunity which was not very regularly and not very often. Because of this, I’d have to start from the beginning of my work each time to get back in the rhythm of the story, which took up much of my allotted time. So, basically, I was spinning my wheels. I finally came clean to a friend that I was writing a novel and, as it happens, she was, too. We agreed to start meeting weekly to share and critique each other’s work. This was a turning point for me because she was very encouraging and loved my story and I felt the same way about her story. An extra bonus was that she was a college English professor, so I completely trusted her guidance. Her support and encouragement gave me the courage to take my writing more seriously, so I finally rented an office and kept regular writing hours, and this made a real difference.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was so proud of myself for negotiating a very low rental for my first office. What I quickly learned was that it was cheap because the walls were paper thin. I could literally hear every word being spoken next door. And what was being said was very interesting because I shared a wall with a psychiatrist! I found myself rushing to my office to hear the next segment in these wild client stories! I knew how wrong this was but I couldn’t seem to help myself — I was addicted to their stories and my own seemed to pale in comparison. Reluctantly, I left and found an office with thicker walls so I could get back to business.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m board president of the Wolf Conservation Center (nywolf.org) and all of my author proceeds from Winter of the Wolf will go to support this important cause. Due to COVID 19, we’ve been shut down to the public since the beginning of March, which is creating a huge hit to our budget. So, I’ve been spending much of my time during quarantine working with our team to come up with innovative, creative, virtual fundraisers. Thus far we’ve held online educational programs for children on wolves and other ecological subjects, a virtual comedy show, a live family scavenger hunt, and in August we’re hosting a “Run Like A Wolf” program where participants and groups have to commit to running and/or walking 100 miles in the month of August. I’m also doing quite a bit of podcast about my novel on a wide range of topics, which I’m immensely enjoying.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

Like one of my characters, I watched 1922, silent, black and white movie, Nanook of the North, in second grade and I became obsessed with Inuit. I bought every book I could find on them and began to dress like a native tribal person though much of my childhood. I think I must have been an Inuit in another life. It’s the only explanation I have for my fascination with Inuit.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

My main empowering lesson is to encourage young people to believe in their knowing, as Glennon Doyle so eloquently says in Untamed, and to remind adults to be careful not to use negative language around susceptible young people. I think we are all born with an innate sense of what our calling in this lifetime is. But often a parent or another respected adult will make a flippant remark like, “Looks like numbers aren’t really your thing,” or “You’re getting a bit of a belly. You’ll probably have to watch your weight your whole life,” or “You’re sure not very artistic, are you?” What we all need to understand is that one small, seeming inconsequential sentence has the power to change a person’s life and squash their dreams and knowing about who they are for a lifetime. I know this because it happened to me when I was seven. My parents had gone out to dinner and I’d spent the night writing and illustrating a book about a runaway bunny. I was so proud of my accomplishment, that I stayed up extra late to present it to them when they returned home. I also couldn’t wait to tell them that I’d decided to be a writer when I grew up. My dad read it and said, “Your drawings are poor, the story isn’t very compelling, and writers can’t support themselves, so you’d better come up with a more realistic career plan.” I was only 7 years old! Unfortunately, it took me another 35 years to get his harmful words out of my head.

My mother, on the other hand, was extremely supportive. Whenever I’d ask something big like if God existed, she’d say, “What do you think?” She was basically telling me that my thoughts, from a very young age, were valid. And when I would go to her to ask her opinion about what I should do about a situation or an issue, she’d say, “What does your gut say?” And it’s so true, even to this day, I often check in with my gut. When something doesn’t feel right or align with the best version of ourselves, we literally feel it. These are two of my novel’s most important lessons: believe in your knowing and trust your gut.

Based on your experience, what are the 5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. If you have a true desire to do something, just do it. You can’t know if you have talent until you try and try and then try some more. The same with everything in life. Put in the 10,000 hours.
  2. If it’s feasible, jump in with both feet and commit a certain amount of days and time in order to hone your craft and allow your muse to show up regularly. You have to make writing a top priority.
  3. Find someone you trust and whose opinion you value to share your work with. Working in a vacuum is never a good idea. Many writers love being in a writing group. For me, this didn’t work because my writing time was so limited that I didn’t want to spend any time reading and critiquing other people’s writing. I found that just having a few fellow readers in my group was most beneficial. Find what works best for you and then commit.
  4. Write a paragraph about why you are writing your story. This sounds simple but it often isn’t. And if you can’t find the why, you probably don’t have much of a story.
  5. When it’s time to edit, go line by line and ask yourself if the sentence: 1) adds a description to a character or setting, or 2) moves the plot along. If it does neither, it has to go.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

Perseverance! It took me 18 years from my first journal entry until my book was accepted by a publisher! There was a multitude of rejections along the way and I often wanted to scrap the entire book and start something new. But my knowing told me I had to stay on to my path and keep plugging along, and that my story was important and needed to be told.

I’m a voracious reader. I’ll read anything suggested to me by friends with similar tastes, or any books suggested by Goodreads. I read fiction and non-fiction. I especially love biographies and autobiographies as well as historical fiction and more contemporary tales. I also enjoy books about spiritualism, mysticism, growth, etc. I love nothing better than losing myself in a book.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 quarantine, I’ve been cleaning and organizing my house. I came across loads of stationery and postcards that I haven’t used much since emailing became popular. I decided to start writing letters to friends and people I knew long ago but haven’t been in recent contact with. It’s been fun to catch up with so many old friends. I also recently found pictures of the three pen pals I had while in middle school who were from Jamaica, France and Brazil. I remember how much they helped open my eyes to the world. I learned about their religions, their families, the various problems going on in their countries, etc. Remembering this experience has made me want to start a Pen Pal Project where people from very different backgrounds and geographical regions would be matched up with one another based only on age. I think at our core, most people are kind and caring and good, but we are also a product of our upbringing and education. If we received false information about our history or were taught to hate those that don’t look like us, for example, it might be time to reexamine these ideas. I think it might also help us remember that we all have a story to tell.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Website: marthahunthandler.com

Instagram: @marthahunthandler

Twitter: @marthahandler

Facebook: Martha Hunt Handler, author

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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