Martha Hunt Handler: “Book publishing is changing day by day”

With the proceeds of my book sales, I will expand the campus of the Wolf Conservation Center (nywolf.org) by contributing to the building of a new education center that will allow us to engage more visitors both on-site and remotely about the unique and vital role wolves play in our ecosystems and what they can […]

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With the proceeds of my book sales, I will expand the campus of the Wolf Conservation Center (nywolf.org) by contributing to the building of a new education center that will allow us to engage more visitors both on-site and remotely about the unique and vital role wolves play in our ecosystems and what they can do to personally advocate on their behalf.


As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Martha Hunt Handler.

Martha Hunt Handler sees magic at work everywhere around her. She doesn’t believe in coincidences, only co-incidents: things that we hear, see or feel that help remind our soul of its path. She appreciates the phrase, “Grow or Wilt,” and thinks that’s what we’re all here for — to continually expand our hearts and minds as we navigate our way through the plethora of experiences we are presented with for this purpose.

Raised in Northern Illinois, Handler began to see wolves in her dreams from a very early age. Always a nature girl, she spent her free time either swimming in a lake or roaming around in the Enchanted Forest near her home. It was there she first heard nature speaking to her; asking for help while promising guidance in this endeavor. After earning a degree in environmental conservation at UC Boulder, she worked as an environmental consultant in D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles.

While in a bar in Cozumel, Mexico she magically met the love of my life, Rich. They had four children in five years, and in her rare moments of solitude began to write creative pieces, which she found immensely soul-fulfilling. When her family moved to New York in 1996, another serendipitous/magical moment occurred when she heard wolves howling. Curious, since they’d been wiped out of New York state more than 100 years prior, she ventured into the woods behind her house and found three grey wolves in a large enclosure. She soon learned that these wolves were to be the initial ambassadors for the Wolf Conservation Center (nywolf.org), a non-profit that was being formed. She immediately jumped on board, literally (she’s now Board President), to help them fulfill their mission of education and as a breeding and pre-release facility for the two most critically endangered wolf species in North America.

With her adult children now grown and flown, Handler is able to focus on pursuing those passions that most pull at her heartstrings: wolves and writing. She spends weekdays in Tribeca, New York and weekends near the wolves in South Salem, New York. Her first novel, Winter of the Wolf, was published by Greenleaf in July, 2020.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory? When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

“Kinship With All Life” by J. Allen Boone. It was given to me by my 4th-grade teacher, likely because she noticed that I always found the woods outside our classroom more intriguing than whatever was happening inside my classroom. I’d been able to communicate with plants and animals since I was very young, but I hadn’t known anyone else who shared this gift, so I mostly kept it to myself. But when I read this book, I learned that the author could also hear these voices, which made me feel greatly relieved and much less alone in the world.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I was working as an environmental consultant in D.C. and my team had a meeting with the EPA. The senior members of their team were held up in another meeting, so I started a conversation with one of the younger women on their team who was about my age. We shared stories about previous positions we’d held, and she said she’d previously worked at auto shows. Growing up my family frequented those shows, so I said, “Remember back in the day they had those Barbie doll type girls who would be posing half-naked around the cars, but didn’t actually know anything about them?” “Yes,” she said, “that’s what I did.” Foot in mouth and no way to recover.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

With the proceeds of my book sales, I will expand the campus of the Wolf Conservation Center (nywolf.org) by contributing to the building of a new education center that will allow us to engage more visitors both on-site and remotely about the unique and vital role wolves play in our ecosystems and what they can do to personally advocate on their behalf.

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

Like the character Sam in my novel, I watched the movie Nanook of the North in my third-grade class. It was made in 1922, so it’s black and white and silent. But I didn’t care. I was totally mesmerized — unlike the rest of my class who had no attention span for an old movie. I felt deeply and inexplicably moved by Nanook. There was something about his wide and genuine smile that made me feel that I’d known him; that he’d been either my uncle or my father in previous life. Normally, I would have shut my eyes at the sight of seals being killed on the screen, but I knew from the way they handled the hunt just how much respect they had for the animals they consumed to live. After this movie, I asked my mom to try and find me any books about the Inuit. Sam was also very taken with the Inuit and he tried to show animals the same respect that the Inuit did.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

It wasn’t so much an “aha moment” as much as an “oh no moment.” It was when my best friend Gretchen called to tell me that she’d found her 12-year-old son hanging in his room. We’d both been brought up very spiritually by our mothers and to believe that death is not the end, but only a part of the birth/re-birth cycle, and that souls come here to learn specific lessons and when they have done so they leave. But neither of us could understand what this young soul had accomplished in the short time he’d been here and therefore we felt completely lost. So, I wrote my novel to explore these ideas and I also hoped it would answer my questions and it did! Going back to my spiritual beliefs helped me re-remember how important it is to move from grief to gratitude — to be thankful for the time we have a soul with us, rather than ruminate on a future that was never promised to us.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Our latest was a Mexican grey wolf pup named Hope, who was born at the Wolf Conservation Center in New York in 2020. When she was 9 days old, with her eyes still closed, we flew her to Arizona and placed her in the den of a wild wolf pack that had had pups at roughly the same time. This is called a wolf cross foster. At one time Grey wolves were classified as extinct in the wild, with only 7 individuals left in the entire world. So, we named this special pup Hope because she is our hope for the future.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

1.) Go on our website and sign up for our mailing list to receive information on what you can do to stop or help pass legislation that is favorable to wolves.

2.) Use our website and other social media sites as well as books and other resources to fully understand the various impediments that wolves face and the ways these impediments can be minimized.

3.) Come visit us if you are in or near New York to learn more the important work we do at our center and in the world at large, to help wolves — we are located an hour north of NYC and can be reached by public transport.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Two years ago, the Wolf Conservation Center was having its first New York City gala. Up until that point, we had smaller local events and I’d always had our ED make the presentation. But my husband said, “You’re the Board President and it is time you step up to the podium and tell your truth about why you are so passionate about wolves and exactly why they deserve our attention and resources. I was scared because I get very tongue-tied when I speak publicly and this was going to be a group of high-net-worth individuals, most of whom knew next to nothing about wolves. In other words, I was definitely not speaking to my chorus! A week or so before the event my 20-year-old daughter was asked to speak at a 1500 person Gala for dyslexics. They had told her she could come in the day of and practice with the AV equipment, but she thinks that was necessary. And she totally killed it. She was poised and articulate and had the whole room enthralled. Later, I asked her how she did it and she said, “I just spoke from my heart.” And that turned everything around for me. I couldn’t expect that I could give an impassioned speech about the plight of wolves and get hundreds of new followers to our cause, but I could simply speak from my heart and tell my own story about why I feel so passionate about wolves. And I did, and it went swimmingly! I finally stepped into my knowing.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1.) I wish I’d remembered to always listen to and follow my gut. I wanted to be a writer from a young age. When I was 7, I wrote and illustrated my first book. I proudly presented it to my father, who told me it wasn’t a very compelling story and besides writers can’t support themselves. Sadly, I listened to him and I didn’t seriously start writing fiction again until I was in my mid-50’s.

2.) Book publishing is changing day by day. Do the research and find the best fit for yourself be it commercial, hybrid or self-publishing. Gone are the days when you landed a publisher and could expect them to handle all the marketing aspects. Today writers (at least those that aren’t best-sellers) will be expected to do much of their own book marketing using social media and their own contacts. So, start building those up immediately and consistently.

3.) Pick wisely those you decide to read early drafts of your work. Only choose those you feel are on your same wavelength, have your best interests at heart, and truly have the time it takes to do a real review. One of my friends who’s in the business of buying rights to books was always asking if she could read my novel. When it was near completion, I finally shared it with her, believing she’d make introductions to agents for me. Two years later, I’ve still never heard a word from her about my book even though I asked about it for the first 3 months after sending it to her. I guess I can stop calling her a friend.

4.) If you are feeling stuck or maybe your novel is too long but you aren’t sure where to cut it, if you can afford it, hire a book coach. I was in this position a few years ago and someone casually mentioned she had a friend who was a book coach. I’d never heard of this job title, but I did some research and ended up hiring her friend. She was amazing and she really helped me focus and get my novel into shape in just a few short months.

5.) If you want to be a serious writer, you have to show up regularly and take yourself seriously. For many years, I didn’t believe in myself as a writer, so I wrote in secret whenever I had an hour or two to myself. But it was very unproductive, and I didn’t make much progress. When I finally declared that I was a writer, I rented an office and showed up every day from 10 am-6 pm. My muse finally knew when and where to find me!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form,” by Runi. I use this quote to start my novel and I absolutely love it because it not only talks about reincarnation, which I believe in, but it also asks us to look for “signs” from those who’ve passed. Our loved ones are all around us and they want to communicate with us, but you have to ask for specific signs, then be open to receiving them and lastly thank them for sending the signs so they keep doing it. I send the book “Signs” by Laura Lynn Jackson to any of my friends or family members who’ve recently lost someone special. If they read the book and do the work, I’ll invariably get a call about a sign that was sent and that absolutely thrills me. Losing someone is made a whole lot easier when you realize they while they may be gone from sight, they are still very much with us.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-

Betty White! Love that lady and would go to the ends of the earth to spend time with her.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Marthahunthandler.com


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