Link to Interview with Author
What led you to write about wolves?
Several years ago I was breeding Siberian huskies, and when my male would not mate with any female other than the one he slept with, I began to do some research. Huskies are one of the closest domestic breeds to the wild wolf, and occasionally they exhibit "wolfie" behavior - like monogamy. The more I read, the more I was intrigued with the similarities between the wolf pack and the human family. It was the early 90’s and I was also actively supporting the effort to restore wild wolves to Yellowstone National Park, so I thought there might be a story there.
What is your experience with wolves?
There is a wonderful wolf sanctuary in Washington State near Mt. Rainier, called Wolf Haven International, where wolves are kept as groups in large natural wooded enclosures. During multiple visits, I was fortunate to observe the many behaviors I needed to see, to be able to describe them accurately. Also, in 1998, I attended a wildlife conference in Seattle, where I was privileged to be part of an intimate "wolf encounter", meeting two wolves, Sila and Merlin, from "Mission:Wolf!" up close and personal. This event becomes the wolf encounter in "Woman’s Sigh, Wolf’s Song".
Do you do a lot of research?
In the case of, "Woman’s Sigh, Wolf’s Song", I felt it was imperative to learn everything I could about not only the biology of the wolf, but the politics of the wolf pack, how they hunt, how they survive. I trusted myself to biologists like David Mech, Rick Bass, and Renee Askins, whose decades of observation and documented knowledge painted the real wolf story so clearly for me. While I am comfortable with the Internet as a research tool, I needed to hear these people’s voices, and consequently I own just about every book published about wolves; from Lois Crisler’s, "Arctic Dream", through Barry Lopez’s, "Of Wolves and Men", to Dr. Mech’s definitive work, "The Wolf". If the wolves in "Woman’s Sigh, Wolf’s Song" live and breathe in your imagination, it is a tribute to these people.
Nature is a powerful character in "Woman’s Sigh, Wolf’s Song", have you spent a great deal of time in the out of doors?
My earliest memories are starting school in Kodiak, Alaska, where my father was serving in the Navy. Alaska then was a very wild place, but for my sister and I, it was magical. We watched salmon fight up the Buskin River to spawn, thousands of silver bodies crushing against each other. And we walked to school in the dark and home in the dark during the long "midnight sun" winters. That great place triggered a curiosity, and more importantly, an abiding respect for the planet, and the creatures who share it with us. Later, in Seattle, I spent my high school years, backpacking in the Cascades and the Olympics, canoeing Hood’s Canal, and boating through the San Juan Islands into British Columbia. As an adult, scuba diving added a new universe, and I have enjoyed diving in Monterey Bay, California, Hawaii, and the Caribbean. My husband and I have also made multiple trips to Yellowstone National Park, and Banff, Alberta, Canada. We have never returned from these great places without a renewed sense of our own insignificance. I believe in America today, we have insulated ourselves from Mother Nature with all our modern conveniences and high-tech toys. She is no less powerful because we ignore her, and I enjoy watching her test my characters.
Are you Alexandra?
While I believe a writer leaves a few drops of her own blood in every character, no, I am not Alex. She is a compilation of many women who have had the misfortune to marry badly, and divorce even worse. I will admit that the strong bond between Alex and her sister, Danni, is one that came easily to me. My own sister and I are very close.
"Woman’s Sigh, Wolf’s Song" is an epic adventure, how long did it take to write?
Far too long, about 5 years. Unfortunately, when I started, I thought I was writing a little wolf story for children. There were two things wrong with this – I don’t have children, (and no clue how to write for them), and the wolf story I wanted to tell was a much more adult story; sex, death, and violence. So I started at the beginning and wrote until the end, without a plan, except I knew everyone would end up in Yellowstone.
How do you write? Do you have rituals?
I usually start with some issue that interests – or frequently troubles me - like wolf restoration, and study it. During the research, characters take on flesh and blood, with voices and opinions, and I let them talk inside my head until I hear the skeleton of a story. If my pulse starts picking up, then I write visually, in scenes. While I try to write every day, if the scene simmering in my head isn’t in perfect focus, I let it stew until it is. I still struggle with "the process" – to outline or not to outline, and I even tried (unsuccessfully) to chart a novel using a spreadsheet. When I am in the moment, and the characters are doing and being and ranting, it’s all I can do to type fast enough. Between those rare moments of creative gush, however, are many hours of just plain work, grinding it out, page by page, more dogged discipline than blinding inspiration. During those times I hear Mark Twain whisper, "Oh writing is easy, just open a vein…" At the end of each day I self-edit fanatically, checking every word, phrase, and bit of dialog. My Thesaurus looks like it belonged to Mark Twain. As far as rituals - I do collect "writing music" - CD’s that evoke my current story’s place, or one of the characters’ personality.
What was your journey to publication like?
Long and circuitous. In the beginning I never planned to show my story-turned-novel to anybody. My day job at that time required me to do a lot of business travel, so writing was what I did waiting in airports, and during sleepless nights in hotel rooms. My therapy. Then my husband read some of it, and said I needed to get an objective opinion. So, I applied to the Squaw Valley Writers’ Conference, and to my amazement, was accepted. With great fear and trembling, I borrowed a friend’s cabin, drove into the Sierras, and offered up my child. The other attendees were university creative writing students, all very serious and confident. Unfortunately it was too late to turn back, and when I called him, my husband wouldn’t let me come home. So I stayed, and was treated warmly by the staff - all published authors - and the other "hopefuls". At the end of the week my novel got more praise than criticism, and I was encouraged to tighten and finish it. Then I started the gauntlet of query letters to agents and publishers. I must say that in all my experience, this is a particularly exquisite sort of torture. Like a rite of passage, I collected my rejections - mostly form letters - and tried to keep breathing. After a few years, I admit, I lost hope. But when you are the daughter of avid readers, you don’t give up. My mother would frequently send me clippings of new publishers looking for strong female characters, etc. One day she was chatting with a friend at church, and her friend asked if I’d found a publisher for my book. My mom said, no, and her friend said her granddaughter was in publishing and had expressed interest in my manuscript. That was the beginning.
What did you do before becoming a novelist?
Music had always been my passion, but during college it became clear that if I wanted to eat regularly and not sleep in my car, I needed to get a day job. I found steady work in the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley. For five years I worked with chemicals that I’d later learn were not exactly healthy, but it paid the rent, and allowed me to pursue the music without needing to make a living at it. I quickly got out of the lab environment and into the business side of the hard disk drive industry, negotiating procurement contracts, then supporting a worldwide sales force at a large high-tech company. That work allowed me the freedom to perform my avocation; singing with the San Jose Symphony chorus, and then in a much smaller folk/pop group called, Valhalla. I wrote bad poetry, reasonable songs, and readable stories.
Do you have a husband? Children?
Yes, after much searching, I found a perfectly compatible PhD. in Physics to share my life. When not working, our time together is filled with skiing, scuba diving, sea kayaking, and lately exploring the California gold country of the Sierra foothills. We do not have children, but are owned by two Siberian huskies (who think we are their children – and only marginally trainable).
Cover by Buster
Blue of Blue Artisans Design.
Copyright© 2005 Kathryn Madison. All Rights Reserved.