The idea for Breaking Wild started when Diane Les Becquets got lost in the mountains years ago, back when she was a middle school teacher in Meeker, Colorado.
It was a weekday — her job had gotten out early, allowing time for her to hop in her pick-up and drive to the mountains — and she’d been bow hunting by herself, bugling back and forth with a bull elk in Cyclone Pass. Camouflage paint covered her body and adrenaline pumped through her veins. She hardly noticed dusk approaching.
“It’s quite a chase. There’s a real strategy to it. You try to let the bull elk think you’re another bull elk,” Les Becquets said via phone, on break while volunteering at the Back in the Saddle Equine Therapy Center in Hopkinton. “You need to determine where the wind’s blowing so the elk will not pull up your scent.”
Eventually, she realized there wasn’t enough light to take a shot. There was a lot of cloud cover that night, and the mountains she was hunting in got dark fast. When she switched on her headlamp, it flickered and burned out. There were no paths, no trails nearby. Then it started to rain.
“But I also knew I was in that territory where elk had been bedding down. I needed to be careful. When elk charge, they’re enormous, and they’re not friendly,” Les Becquets said. “I remember, there was a moment I panicked. I thought, ‘I am not going to get out of here.’”
She somehow gathered her wits, used the silhouette of the trees against the sky to get her bearings and found the trail after several hours. While hiking back to the truck and driving the hour-and-a-half ride home, she thought, what a great scenario for a book.
“I’d already started a novel I wanted to take place in the area, but I did not know what the story was. I thought it was about a female hunter who goes hunting and then becomes lost. But for me, when I write a book, I look for the metaphor in the story,” Les Becquets said. “What does it mean to be lost, metaphorically?”
And so the geography of Breaking Wild, released Feb. 9, is a metaphor for the lives of the two women in the novel, Amy Raye Latour, a mom of two who becomes lost while hunting, and Pru Hathaway, who responds to the missing-person call and goes out looking with her dog.
“It’s about the wild spaces within each of these women, known only to them, that they cannot tame. The climax of this novel takes place when those internal wild spaces collide,” Les Becquets said.
At the time she’d gotten lost, Les Becquets was at an impasse in her own life, uncertain which direction to take. She was divorced with kids and working to earn her master of fine arts, while at the same time looking to leave the area she called home for a place with better job opportunities.
She started writing the novel, but it didn’t get far. She moved to New Hampshire and fell in love with and married a New Hampshire forester before losing him to cancer not long afterward. Her literary mentor, and then her agent, also died during that time.
“For me, there was a period of my life I literally felt paralyzed. I felt I could not write this book,” she said. “With those three losses, I needed time to heal.”
Les Becquets didn’t pick it back up until a few years ago. She was program director of Southern New Hampshire University’s Master of Fine Arts program for fiction and nonfiction at the time, and as part of the job, she attended conferences with the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. There she met a literary agent, Michelle Brower, who asked about her writing. Brower liked what she heard, and then what she saw. Les Becquets spent the next year writing and rewriting.
Les Becquets had written other books — her last young adult novel, Season of Ice, came out in 2008 — but she realizes now the time wasn’t right for this one.
“I went through a lot of living,” said Les Becquets, who has since remarried. “I think it was necessary for me to get through the things I did. When I got to the other side, it was like I had a different voice and a different way of writing.”
Les Becquets is a big believer in living to research your book, which is what she tells her students at SNHU. Hardly a day goes by when she’s not outdoors.
“I want to do everything, so I can experience life, and in doing so, the words on the page that I write, I hope, will be life on the page,” she said. “My goal is to transport readers into the worlds I love and the environments I love.”