Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How the Wolf Found Me

The wolf at the center of my latest novel plays such an important role that when the cover was being designed, I asked my publishing team to include a wolf instead of a horse. They hesitated, then said, “These days, wolves say ‘paranormal romance.’” Of course, House of Mercy isn’t that type of book. I felt a little silly for not thinking of this obvious detail and even spent a short time wondering if I’d made a mistake in choosing a wolf for the story.

But C. S. Lewis has forever tabs on lions, and Colorado doesn’t have dragons, and black stallions have a kind of literary magic that I hold sacred for another place and time. And after all, the wolf chose me.

The earliest incarnations of my manuscript had no wolf. A variation on the scene where Beth heals the antelope—now chapter seven—were the first pages I wrote, and the wolf wasn’t there. He wasn’t even in my mind. Until …

Beth Borzoi, the young rancher at the center of this tale about a search for miracles, was originally a healer who couldn’t heal herself. She would have lupus, I decided, a chronic autoimmune disorder in which the body’s hyperactive immune system attacks healthy tissues. Lupus (which is Latin for “wolf”) is so named for the butterfly-wing rash that straddles a patient’s nose and cheeks and resembles the markings on the muzzle of a wolf. While trying to see this similarity for myself in online wolf images, I discovered how little I knew about these wild canines, including this detail: gray wolves were driven out of Colorado by ranchers and poachers before World War II and are only just now, as an endangered species, beginning to return to the Rocky Mountain states.

I abandoned Beth’s illness and issue after the similarly themed film Sympathy for Delicious was released, and although her story changed, the wolf stuck with me. I had always assumed wolves lived here in Colorado, though I’d never seen one in the wild. I was captivated by their relationship with humans—some hostile, some protective, some indifferent—and by the mythical mystery that surrounds these majestic animals. The fact that they are slowly, almost secretly, making a comeback gave me a thrilling kind of spiritual hope.

It seemed to be the right metaphor for the triumph of God's goodness in a broken world.

My three-year-old son was the one who helped me decide to make the wolf a character in House of Mercy. One morning we looked out our dining-room window and down into a neighbors’ yard. They were playing with a massive German shepherd mix.

“Isn’t he pretty?” I said to my son. “He’s big, like a wolf.”

His surprising reply was, “Is it an angel?”

He and I hadn’t talked about angels before, and I wasn’t sure what made him connect these two unrelated beings. But I didn’t want to pop his idea bubble. I said,

“Do you mean a wolf angel?”

“But it’s a dog,” he said, and I deflated a little. Then he finished, “A dog angel.”

Maybe it was. I still wonder.

That was when I decided that House of Mercy would get its supernatural wolf, though he isn’t an angel. I think of him as a spiritual guide, a Holy Spirit type, full of mystery and comfort in the midst of uncertainty. I hesitate to draw connections to the true Spirit of God too tightly—who am I to presume?—but the wolf of Beth’s story represents the way God often works in my own life: Slowly. Subtly. Dangerously. Daringly. Meaningfully. Personally.

Do you see any similarities between Beth’s experience with the wolf and the way God reveals himself to you? I’d love to hear the details.
With my husband Tim (he's the one on the right) and a gray wolf
at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center.


Laura Wright said...

I always enjoy not only what you have to say but how you say it! Hugs!

Erin Healy said...

I sure miss you, Laura. Thanks for your encouragement.