Haunted Flint

Haunted Flint

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Michael J. Bowler's Top Ten Favorite Horror Novels

I’ve always loved horror stories and my new novel,  I Know When You’re Going To Die, boarders on horror because it has a supernatural element animating the storyline, even though it’s more of a mystery/thriller. My previous novel, Spinner, while containing numerous mysteries, is a full-on horror tale involving both human and supernatural evil. Like most genres, horror has become somewhat derivative, both in book and movie form, and I don’t often find a new novel I love as much as those on the following list. Some of these are oldies, but if you truly love the horror genre, I heartily recommend these books. Happy Reading!

1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

2. The Other by Thomas Tryon

3. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

4. Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon

5. Dracula by Bram Stoker

6. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

7. Ghost Story by Peter Straub

8. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

9. The Exorcist by Wiliam Peter Blatty

10. Summer of Night by Dan Simmons

I Know When You’re Going To Die
Michael J. Bowler

Genre: YA Suspense/Thriller
Publisher: Michael J. Bowler, Author
Date of Publication: Release date 2/25/2020
ISBN: 978-1-7333290-0-2
Number of pages: 212
Word Count: 81K
Cover Artist: Streetlight Graphics

Book Description:

Leonardo Cantrell is a painfully shy sixteen-year-old who cannot look people in the eye. One night while he’s volunteering at a homeless shelter, an old man forces eye contact and gives Leo the power to see Death.

His best, and only, friend—J.C. Rivera—thinks this new power is cool until Leo accidentally looks into J.C.’s eyes and “sees” his murder, a murder that will occur in less than two weeks. Stunned and shaken, the two boys sift through clues in Leo’s “vision” in a desperate effort to find the killer and stop him before he can strike.

Aided by feisty new-girl-at-school, Laura, the boys uncover evidence suggesting the identity of the murderer. However, their plan to trap the would-be killer goes horribly awry and reveals a truth that could kill them all.

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The door to the dorm is open and I step in. It looks like a huge barn with a worn hardwood floor studded with row after row of folding cots. Since it’s dinnertime, all the cots are empty except one.
An old man with surprisingly alert eyes lies atop that cot staring at me. Most of the older people who frequent the shelter have rheumy eyes, always moist and often clouded, because they’ve struggled for so long on the street, and maybe because they have alcohol or drug problems.
“Come here, boy.” His voice is raspy and echoes faintly in the cavernous room.
At first, I don’t recognize him. True, there are hundreds of homeless on the streets every day, but I’ve been volunteering on Skid Row since I was fourteen and after almost three years, like I said, I know most of them. I’m  thinking  that if this guy is a regular, he’s passed under my radar.
And yet…
I have seen him, I think. Not here at the shelter. Walking to my car…?  Yes!  Several times over these past two or three weekends, I’ve noticed him.  He’s caught my eye because, every time, he’s stared at me so intently it made  me shiver. He’d be pretending to rummage through a dumpster, but his eyes would follow me until I got into my car. I confess his gaze made me uncom- fortable, but I let it go. I’ve learned to shrug off such creepy feelings because   so many of the people I meet down here have mental health issues.
I steel myself and walk between the rows of empty cots—each with its  neat bedroll awaiting an occupant—and stop before the stranger  with  the scary eyes. Unlike most of the people, his clothes aren’t especially dirty and he doesn’t smell like someone who’s been on the streets for a long time. Wisps of gray hair stick out from his head at haphazard angles and his face has so many wrinkles I don’t think I could count them if I tried.
I don’t make eye contact, but that’s because I never do. Not here, not anywhere. People tell me I’m the definition of “shy” and they’re right.
“You asked to see me, sir?” I say deferentially, my gaze on his gnarled hands.
He rolls over onto his back. “I been watching you, boy. Seen you on the streets a lot.”
I freeze. So, I didn’t imagine it! “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” The voice sounds like sandpaper scraping along a fence. “Rich boy like you helping out poor folk like me. What gives?”
I’ve been asked this question by all my relatives, so I’m ready with my answer. “I think people like me who are lucky to have a lot should help people who don’t. And I hope I’m making the world better instead of worse. The kids  I know just party and think about themselves all the time. I don’t want to be like that.”
A crooked smile cracks the wrinkled face. “You’re the one, all right.” “The one?”
With effort, he unclasps his hands with their swollen knuckles and holds his right arm out toward me. It shakes, like he barely has enough strength to keep it aloft. “Take my hand, boy.”
Unlike my best friend J.C., who never touches any of the people when he comes with me to the shelters, I usually have no worries about contact. But I hesitate this time. I mean, this guy has been watching me on the streets. But kindness makes me swallow my anxiety and I clasp his hand. He squeezes gently.
“Look into my eyes.”
Ordinarily, I’d just glance into his eyes and then look away. But that com- manding tone compels me. I raise my eyes and focus on his. They’re brown  and alert and they shimmer beneath the overhead lights. We  lock gazes, and     I stiffen. Something I can’t quite pin down swells within me, like a surge of emotion. I suddenly feel… different.
All the tension drains from his face in an instant. Relaxed, he releases my hand, pulling his arm back with great deliberation. He rests both hands across his stomach and gazes up at me with obvious gratitude.
“Thank you, boy. Now I can die.”
I shudder. “Wha-what do you mean?”
The man offers a gentle smile. “I gave you a great gift, boy. Or maybe a curse. Had it so long, I can’t be sure no more. But I couldn’t die till I passed it on.”
I stand frozen in place, my heart thumping, my breathing on hold. A gift?
A curse? “Uh, pass what on, sir?”
He chuckles and it’s a wheezy sound, like he doesn’t have much air in his lungs. “Just you calling an old bum like me “sir” proves you be the one.”
I feel different inside and his words scare me because I know he’s done
something to me. “I’m just a regular kid, sir. Nothing special.”
That chuckle erupts again, wheezier this time. “Oh, you’re more than a regular kid. Like you said, most kids only care about stupid crap like partying. You’ll  use my gift well.” He lapses into a coughing fit that scares me even  more.
“Want me to get some help?”
He waves away the idea with one hand. After a few moments, the hacking ceases. “No need. It’s  my time.” He suddenly looks really pasty and gray in   the face. “When you find someone worthy, boy, pass on the gift to them,” he whispers, his voice very soft and almost inaudible. He closes his eyes and lies still. “Until then, make wise choices.”

Then he stops breathing. Literally, just stops. One second his chest is ris- ing and falling and then the next, there’s nothing. I want to shake him back to life and ask a thousand questions, but instead I run from the room to get help.
About the Author:

Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author who grew up in Northern California. He majored in English/Theatre at Santa Clara University, earned a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and a master's in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills. Michael taught high school in Hawthorne, California, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities. When Michael is not writing, you can find him volunteering as a youth mentor with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and raising his newly adopted son. He is a passionate advocate for the fair treatment of children and teens in California, and hopes his books can show young people they are not alone in their struggles.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Willow Rose Learns Honesty by Meredith Mast #picturebook #audiobookgiveaway #childrensbook

What is the age range for the book?
We have written our books with children in mind (ages 2-7).
How did you come up with the title?
We came up with the title as our main character is a rose bush and we thought Willow Rose had a nice sound to it. The main message of the story is how Willow learns the importance of being honest- and we wanted that to be conveyed in the title.
Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
We hope that children will grasp the importance of telling the truth.
How much of the book is realistic?
It is a children’s fairytale…it is imaginative and creative!
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
No- it is not based on someone I know or an experience I had. We are just hoping to teach the children about being honest.
Do you see writing as a career?
My mother has always dabbled in writing and has always enjoyed the writing process. I have enjoyed writing here and there but did not initially envision it as a career.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Our interest in writing these books originated from my ballet classes and my hope of teaching our students not only about ballet but about virtues as well.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
It was challenging to keep the writing simple and the word choice simple such that it would appeal to a young child.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
We have learned that writing a book is the easy part! The hard part is getting the book published and then marketing the book!

Willow Rose Learns Honesty
Meredith Mast

Genre: Children’s Book

Publisher: Something or Other Publishing, LLC

Date of Publication: October 25, 2018
ISBN: 978-1732451124
Number of pages: 32
Word Count: 450
Cover Artist: Brittany Fahres


Willow Rose Learns Honesty is the first in a series of unique new children's books created by Authors Meredith Mast and Marvia Karol. Ms. Mast, the founder of Storybook Ballet, needed a different kind of story for her young students to dance. She needed s stories that don't rely on fantasy princesses, but instead have relatable characters that would teach a set of virtues to empower children for life.

In this delightful introduction to the concept we meet Willow Rose - who is lonely in her new garden. The flowers and the insects don’t want to be friends with her, fearful of her thorns. Then one day she tells a lie to a grasshopper. When she realizes that not being honest hurts, Willow Rose must learn to tell the truth no matter what. In practicing the virtue of Honesty, Willow Rose makes a friend and this, in turn, brings happiness. 

Designed to be read aloud, danced to, or just enjoyed by children learning to read - the books in the Storybook Virtues series are an instant children's classic, one endorsed by parents, grandparents, teachers and children everywhere.

About the Author:

When Marvia Karol counts her blessings, the top of her list includes her husband, 3 amazing adult children, 3 wonderful in-law children, 10 grandchildren and a recently added new granddaughter married to her oldest grandson. She has lived all over the United States and spent 4 years in Bermuda. Throughout her 50+ years of marriage, she's written poetry, too many greeting cards to count, and unfinished novels, but has successfully published a humorous newspaper column. She is recently retired from real estate and is currently rehearsing a part for our local community theater. Being a closet writer for many years, she was excited when her daughter Meredith called to ask for her help with a series of children's books for Storybook Ballet. Armed with Meredith's inspiration, guidance and list of virtues-as-themes, Marvia created whimsical, but educational rose gardens, fluffy clouds and lush woodlands, to name a few. The final version of Willow Rose is the result of many long phone calls, embellishing and slicing and dicing until both authors knew Willow Rose would meet the high standards of Storybook Ballet. For Marvia, who currently resides in sunny Florida with her husband, Peter, and their Yorkie. Calli, seeing Willow Rose in print is a dream come true.

and be entered to win a free audiobook of 
Willow Rose Learns Honesty.

Two winners will be chosen.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Release Day Blitz Echoes from the Veil by Colleen Halverson

Echoes from the Veil
Aisling Chronicles
Book Three
Colleen Halverson

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Entangled
Date of Publication: Feb. 24th 2020
Number of pages: 305
Word Count: 88K

Tagline: Love is Always Worth Fighting For

Book Description:

Aisling Elizabeth Tanner is now the leader of the Faerie rebellion. Facing the end of the world, she will have to find the strength to lead the Fae to victory against the threat they face, or risk losing everything, including Finn, whom she’s come to love more than life.      

Warrior Finn O’Connell wants nothing more than to fight by Elizabeth’s side. But an ancient Celtic goddess threatens to take charge of his soul, and he will have to wage a war within himself to save the rebellion from disintegrating into chaos.         

Betrayal leads them into the Fae Underworld, where Finn discovers his greatest sacrifice might be letting Elizabeth go—forever.

Amazon     BN     iBooks     Kobo     Entangled

Finn turned on his heel and he practically tackled me against the bed, showering me with hard kisses on my lips, my neck, my chest. I dug my fingernails into his back, willing him to stay pinned to me. I lifted my hips, taking in his strength, his heat. I would have defied a thousand goddesses to keep Finn there, his body a shield against the cold creeping into the cave as night fell.
His arm slipped behind my neck as he shifted above me, nestling me in the hollow of his shoulder. “Let’s not think about it.”
I let out a long exhale, burying my nose in his chest. “I know. I can’t help it.”
“If the Morrígan comes for me, we shall deal with it then,” he said. “One battle at a time.”
I nodded.
He stretched and pulled me up from the bed. “You smell like Fir Bolgs.”
“I do not!” I made to punch him in the arm, but his quick reflexes had me spinning. He pinned my hands and pulled me against him.
“Fir Bolgs and horse,” he whispered in my ear. “Mmmm…so sexy…”
I elbowed him in the gut, and he grunted.
I marched away from him, my arms crossed against my naked chest. “And speaking of battles, don’t lecture in me in the middle of one again. I’m not your Padawan.”
Finn’s mocking grin turned to a grimace. “A what?”
“Star Wars?” I raised my eyebrows. “Jedi Apprentice?”
He blinked.
I rolled my eyes. “Just hand me the damn sponge so I can clean myself up.”
Finn frowned and walked over to the small tub we kept handy for bathing. He lifted the sponge out from the bath and squeezed it, his knuckles flexing as all the water ringed from it. His eyes lowered to the ground, and he walked over to me, clasping my hand in his.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“For what?”
“For mansplaining, or whatever it is you call it.” He ran the sponge across my wrist, tiny rivulets of water and dirt falling down my arm. “You are not my Pad— Pa—”
“Right.” He ran the sponge across my shoulders, and a small moan escaped my lips as he applied slight pressure to my sore muscles. “I’m used to giving orders, not receiving them. And I…” He hesitated, his hand lingering on my waist.
“What?” I said in a soft voice.
“It’s hard for me to see you put yourself at risk. Like today with the wagon, and how you—”
“Finn,” I said in a warning tone.
“I know.” He ran the sponge down my back, my body trembling at the seductive motion.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it.” He planted a kiss between my shoulder blades.
I didn’t know if I would get used to it, either. The killing, the fighting. The first time I killed a Fir Bolg during a raid, I couldn’t eat for a week. My hands wouldn’t stop shaking. I still remembered the way my spear pierced his skin, how the blood had poured from the wound in his side. I’ve killed since then, but I would never stop thinking of that first one. Who was he? What was his name? Would someone mourn for him? But it had been either that Fir Bolg or me, and in this war, that was a fundamental truth I could not escape.
I turned to face Finn. He stood half naked, the edges and planes of his incredible body as chiseled and fine as a marble statue. I reached out to brush my hand against the small hairs on his pecs, tracing a line down to his emerging erection. He was insatiable lately, as if fucking me silly could somehow win this war. It was a constant undercurrent of our lovemaking. He accepted me as leader, but I knew he struggled with the risk, our mortality always one breath away from a stray bullet. Finn had one setting—protection. It didn’t matter if it was the Fianna soldiers he once led or me, his lover. Even then, I knew the unspoken truth of his heart, how he secretly wanted me safe in a tower, alone and waiting for him. But the rebellion would never wait, nor would liberty from the Fir Bolgs’ extremism. No one else could lead us to a real and equitable peace. As heir to Tír na nÓg, I was it. He had to get on the Xena-Warrior-Princess party wagon or find another girlfriend.
He reached for me, his eyes darkening. “I don’t know if I want to get used to it.”
I lifted my gaze to meet his smoldering stare. “I don’t think I can get used to your righteous BO, but I’m trying to make it work.”
“Body odor?” I waved my hand beneath my nose. “I’ll have to pick up some deodorant next time I’m mortal side.”
He cracked a wide smile and pulled me close to him. Before I could wrestle away, he lifted his armpit and put me in a headlock. “BO? That’s the smell of a fighter, princess!”
I squealed, falling in a fit of laughter as I tried to wrench myself away. I loved his smell. Sweaty, leathery, strong, and pure man.
“I can’t breathe!” I made pretend gagging noises. “Oh, god, get some soap, for the love of—”
He wrapped his arm around my waist and, seemingly defying the law of physics, flipped me into his arms, cradling me like a child. He rubbed his thumb down the side of my cheek, lingering on my bottom lip.
“I love you,” he said.
I arched an eyebrow. “Even though I stink?”
He nodded. “Especially because you stink. I love the smell of you. All of you. All of it.” He pressed his lips to mine, and I clutched his face with both hands, moaning as his tongue flicked against mine.

About the Author:

As a child, Colleen Halverson used to play in the woods imagining worlds and telling stories to herself. Growing up on military bases, she found solace in her local library and later decided to make a living sharing the wonders of literature to poor, unsuspecting college freshmen. After backpacking through Ireland and singing in a traditional Irish music band, she earned a PhD in English with a specialization in Irish literature. When she’s not making up stories or teaching, she can be found hiking the rolling hills of the Driftless area of Wisconsin with her husband and two children. She also writes as C.B. Halverson.

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Friday, February 21, 2020

Emerging Butterfly by Constance G. Jones

Emerging Butterfly
Constance G. Jones

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Publisher: Beautiful Sky Publishing

Date of Publication:  1213/2020
ISBN: 978-1-7338439-0-4
ISBN: 978-1-7338439-1-1
ISBN: 978-1-7338439-2-8
Number of pages: 245
Word Count: 65,132

Cover Artist: mycustombookcover.com

Tagline: Survive the darkness of the cocoon and you will emerge into the light of day.

Book Description:

Raised in San Diego in the 1980s, Constance was born to be a Californian dreamer. The fourth of nine children in a poor, dysfunctional family, she grew up with three demons in her household: alcohol, abuse, and absence. She buried her dreams in the dark cocoon of her childhood. As a teenager, an accident upended her world and cursed her with epilepsy for the rest of her life.

Entering adulthood, Constance hoped she’d left the worst behind her. Instead, toxic relationships, misguided spiritual teachings, and close calls with death nearly broke her.

But Constance discovered curses can hide blessings in their inner layers. Instead of breaking, she chose to break free, realizing her heart could sprout wings to take her in the direction of her wildest dreams…

In a mesmerizing memoir that is by turns heartbreaking and heartwarming, writer and philanthropist Constance Grays Jones retraces her precarious journey towards truth, love, community, and self-discovery. Tackling issues of epilepsy, depression, infertility, and family drama with refreshing sass, humor, and compassion, she reminds us that we are products of our past but also the creators of our purpose. Her inspiring story is a wakeup call for the soul, showcasing the tenacity of the human spirit, the pockets of sunlight in the darkest corners, and the transformational power of belief and love.


It is remarkable how lonely you can feel even when constantly surrounded by people. It is eerie how life is dictated by luck—the luck of which family you are born into. I had friends who had stable households, loving parents, families who always made time for them, normal siblings, and access to ballet lessons, summer camp, and nice clothes. I, on the other hand, lived in the heart of chaos. I felt neglected, unseen, and forced to grow up fast. I’d tried running away a few times. I’d tried staying with my relatives for as long as I was able. I always ended up back home.
Would they even notice if I was gone? Would they even care?
I’d be one less kid to worry about. One less mouth to feed. There were so many of us anyway. And I would be free… free from the pain, neglect, emptiness… free from my returning father.
Derrick would care. I felt a pang of regret that I would leave my best friend behind. I thought about my younger sisters. Would they hate me for abandoning them as our dad had abandoned us? Would they be able to take care of themselves without me? Maybe my parents would have regrets. Maybe my mom would feel horrible for ignoring me. Maybe she would cry over my little dead body and wish she’d treated me nicer. She would tell my dad and he would feel like it was his fault. He’d have to live with the regret for his entire life.
Yes. Good. It would serve them right.
I wondered if I would go to Hell. According to the Bible, God would damn me for taking my own life. It was a sin. The fires would be hot… there would be pitch forks, torture, and demons…
My hands started to shake. I couldn’t get myself to open the bottle of pills.
Or maybe God would take pity on me. Maybe he’d take me up to Heaven so I could finally be happy. That would be a very different sort of afterlife. I envisioned blue skies and sunny fields of lush green grass, colorful flowers and refreshing rivers, beautiful smiling angels and music. I would be able to fly in Heaven, it would be a place filled with enchanting music, and I would be given everything I’d ever wanted in my life. I wouldn’t be poor. I wouldn’t cry myself to sleep at night. I wouldn’t need to live with my father ever again.
I can’t take it anymore. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t…
A knock on the door startled me. “Connie?” Andre’s voice drifted through the keyhole. “What are you doing in there?”
I paused. He had seen me go in. I’d pushed past him while I’d been crying. Had he seen the pill bottle? “None of your business!”
“Open the door!” he said.
“No!” I retorted.
“Open the door! Open it now!”
His demands and his frantic knocking incited a fresh wave of tears. The enormity of what I was about to do frightened me. His frantic awareness of it frightened me even further.
“No,” I kept saying. My hands were shaking so badly that it was difficult to get the cap off the bottle, but I finally managed. “No!” This was what I wanted, right? Yes, I told myself. This was what I needed. There couldn’t be any turning back. They won’t change, I reprimanded myself. Nothing will change. Only I can change this. It wasn’t a bad thing. I hadn’t contemplated death too much, but I hoped that it would be like swimming out of blackness and into the light, like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. Surely it would be better than all this.
I’ve wondered, since then, why so many people choose bathrooms as a suicide setting. There are many reasons to choose from, probably. Bathrooms are where pills and razors are located. They are private spaces, where other people are far less likely to interrupt you or bang down the door if they think you’re taking your sweet time flossing or grappling with constipation. Bathrooms are also easier to clean, since water is in great supply. Then there’s the mirror, too, offering a final face-down and farewell.
For my fourteen-year-old self, this bathroom had become a narrow ledge at the world’s end. I teetered on the cliff between hope and despair, reeling from my never-ending exposure to a world of violence and vulnerability where no one seemed to care and no one seemed to notice. From my vantage point, there was only one way out: step off the cliff and into the void. I wasn’t sure yet if falling meant flying.

About the Author:

Constance G. Jones is a San Diego native, an avid reader, and a storyteller. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Management and Organizational Communications from Point Loma Nazarene University and has since worked in administration, public relations, and career services; most recently, she serves as a site manager at Walmart Global eCommerce. In 2016, Constance founded Elevate Foundation with her husband, Claude, driven by their personal mission to make an impact in their local community and inspire others to do the same. Emerging Butterfly: A Memoir is Constance’s debut book.

Elevate Foundation: http://elevate.foundation

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Advice for Aspiring Writers from Bestselling Author Laura Munson

Just about nothing makes me happier than giving tips to aspiring writers. It’s often like I’m speaking to myself when I started living the writing life in 1988 after college, and felt so alone in the process. In many ways, I am still that young woman. I think that’s part of why I lead my Haven Writing Retreats in Montana and now have over 1000 alums of my different programs. I want to end the tortured artist paradigm, and help people move into the empowered artist reality. To help them find their unique voices and to set them free in whatever form that takes: a book, an essay, a short story, a poem, a speech. It’s all the same. We have to put our fingers on the pulse of what we truly need to say and that takes courage. It’s so important to have support because even though we write in solitude, it’s mined from the collective act of living in community. 


Fasten yourself to your process. 

Raise a flexible writer in yourself. And know that your writing process changes the way life changes. 

Focus on creating a writing process that is true to who you really are, and show up for it with all your might. We have to honor our habits, responsibilities, when the creative juices flow, and when they don’t. 

Cultivate an inner champion who can calm the inner critic down. Afterall, the inner critic is just a scared child who knows exactly what to say to break our hearts. 

Forgive yourself when you have to choose something else besides your writing, and get intentional about when you can realistically show up next. 

Learn to love the process. To truly love it. To be obsessed with it. To treat it like your dearest friend. It’s the only thing about your writing that you can control. Not publication. Not readers. Not fame. And that’s good news! You can control doing the work. That’s where the real power is. 

Don’t worry about platform building, networking, or the business of publishing. Yes, those things are important once you are ready to put your work out into the world. But first learn who you are on the page. 

Take care of yourself. I say over and over that I believe writing should be up there with diet and exercise in the realm of preventative wellness. Let your writing fuel you. Ground you. Be your guide. And that means that you have to get up and move around! The writing will work in you as you honor your body by taking a good long walk! Or even a short one. Or a good stretch. But please…move that body of yours which does so much to support your muse. 

Be well, writers! And come to a Haven Writing Retreat in Montana! It’s pure manna.
Yours, Laura

Willa’s Grove
Laura Munson

Genre: Women’s Fiction
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Date of Publication: March 3rd, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-9826-0524-7
Number of pages: 304 pages
Cover Artist: Alenka Linaschke

Tagline: Four women. One week. One question.

Book Description:

In this powerful and inspiring novel, three women, from coast to coast and in between, open their mailboxes to the same intriguing invitation. Although leading entirely different lives, each has found herself at a similar, jarring crossroads. Right when these women thought they’d be comfortably settling into middle age, their carefully curated futures have turned out to be dead ends. The sender of the invitation is Willa Silvester, who is reeling from the untimely death of her beloved husband and the reality that she must say goodbye to the small mountain town they founded together. Yet as Willa mourns her losses, an impossible question keeps staring her in the face: So now what?

Struggling to find the answer alone, fiercely independent Willa eventually calls a childhood friend who happens to be in her own world of hurt—and that’s where the idea sparks. They decide to host a weeklong interlude from life, and invite two other friends facing their own quandaries. Soon the four women converge at Willa’s Montana homestead, a place where they can learn from nature and one another as they contemplate their second acts together in the rugged wilderness of big sky country.


The Women

On a typical day in their typical lives, three women went to their mailboxes and found — amid junk mail and bills and shiny flyers for unshiny things — an invitation, sealed with a bold W pressed into sage-green wax.
They had been waiting for this invitation. They longed for it as much as they feared it. Because to break this seal was to release a behemoth of a question — a question so impossible that they had almost stopped asking it.
Each hesitated, looked around, and in respective order, thought, Sweet Jesus, What the hell, Here goes nothing, and slid her finger under the seal, revealing a thick handmade note card, pressed with silvery leaves.
Words winked up at them. Words that might, if given the chance, change everything.
They swallowed hard and pulled out the card. Inside, nestled with a wild bird feather, were the following words:
You are invited to the rest of your life. You know you can't go on like this. Not for one more day. You need an interlude.

* * *

Imagine this: You are in a farmhouse in Montana, wrapped in a soft blanket, sitting by a warm woodstove. There is a cup of tea in your hand, just the way you like it. There are women surrounding you who need this just as badly as you do. We all have the same question. The question is: So now what? Come to Montana and find out ...

Love, Willa (You don't have to do this alone.)

Each woman held the invitation to her heart, drew in a deep breath before letting out an exhausted sigh that echoed from Connecticut to Wisconsin to California and back to Montana, and went inside to call a dear friend.

The Invitation

Willa walked into the Mercantile, her plaid flannel pajama bottoms tucked into her mud boots, her duct-taped parka zipped up to her chin. It was a cold late-April morning and it had taken her all week to get the courage to take the steps she now took. Past Earl and Wink, the farrier brothers getting their coffee before rounds, past Tally Hansen setting out her Morning Buns on parchment paper atop the cracked glass counter, past Syd the Dog Man and his daily, "I can't resist," growling about his type 2 diabetes, and ending with Marilyn at the post office counter, admiring the latest stamps just in.

"Morning, Marilyn. I need some stamps, please," said Willa, her hands firmly in her pockets.
Marilyn eyed Willa like this was a test. "US Flag, Endangered Species, or Wild and Scenic Rivers?" "Wild and Scenic Rivers, of course," said Willa, adding, "I hear the Upper Missouri is one of them. And the Flathead too. Read it in the Great Falls Tribune." This was a test she longed to pass. These days, she didn't have it in her to be any more misunderstood than she already was.
Marilyn glared over her reading glasses and pushed a pane of stamps forward.
Willa produced three envelopes of the handmade stationery she'd been saving, pressed with slivers of sage leaves from her garden, added a river stamp to each, and put her lips to the wax seal, sending them off with a kiss. I hope I chose the right words, she thought as she slid them into the slot marked not local. Not local was used most often, local only seldomly, word of mouth and the Community Bulletin Board being what they were in Willa, Montana. Willa, Montana, with its very own zip code. Population: thirty-five. Well, thirty-three now that her sons were at college. Thirty-two since Jack's heart attack last September. And soon to be thirty-one.
"That'll be six dollars and sixty cents," said Marilyn, glancing over Willa's shoulder. "Hey, Earl."
"Hey, Marilyn."
Willa recognized the familiar leathery voice, but no Hey, Willa followed. There hadn't been any Hey, Willas lately. There had been times in her life when she'd wished she was invisible. But as a forty-six-year-old widow in the rural Montana town she loved madly and deeply, and perhaps unreasonably, this wasn't one of them.
She gambled a smile at Earl, whom she'd never known not to be up for at least a morning headline or a carnal joke. He looked past her at Marilyn. Willa could feel Marilyn's scowl between her shoulder blades, as if she was branding not local into her skin. She put a ten on the counter and Marilyn pushed her change toward her like chess pieces.
Willa took the change and her stamps, pausing, waiting for some sort of peace offering, but none came. So she offered her own version and dropped the money into the spare-a-dime jar, and looked at Tally, who stared into her pastry display. Even Tally. Willa lingered, looking at her, trying to find words, but none came.
Then she went to the door she'd passed through a million times with a million Hey, Willas and stopped short, the sting of it too much. She turned and looked at each of them. Really looked, even if they wouldn't look at her.
"We never dreamed of leaving, you know." She fought back tears. "It's my home too." She didn't say, I have no other choice. Because Montanans found choices where most people couldn't fathom them. And stood by them.
The hard fact, as far as this beautiful adopted oddball family of hers knew — this pack which for decades had lived and breathed and grieved as an undeniable unified western front — as far as their Montana-ness could fathom: Willa Silvester was choosing to leave them for no good reason. Except for perhaps grief. And grief wasn't enough of a reason. She could barely admit the real reason, even to herself.
So, no. No one met her eye to eye, or even eye to boot.
Willa sighed. "Well, if you see some strangers here before too long, they're my friends."
Still nothing. Not even the cock of a head. That was the nail in the casket. Willa, Montana, loved its visitors.

Then Willa did what she'd been dreading for weeks: She pulled a cardboard sign out from under her parka. She found a lone tack on the Community Bulletin Board — full of its usual lost dogs and give-away puppies and fifth wheels for barter for chainsaws and snow tires and all the important currency of a town of thirty-five — and pushed it through the poster and into the old dry cork.





There it was in writing on the Mercantile Community Bulletin Board, where everything she'd wanted to communicate with the town over the years had been attached by a tack into this exact cork — her twin boys' birth announcement, the annual Harvest Cider Party in the orchard, summer movie nights at the barn, the Fourth of July parade and fireworks down Main Street (the only street), town meetings at the Merc, new batches of microbrew and honey, forest-fire alerts, hand-me-downs, the Free Library, the Christmas Swap, Hunter Safety classes, Meals on Wheels (and hooves) for the ill, the old, the lonely. And there had been thank-you notes for any number of services offered in kind to the town by its denizens: knife sharpening, lawn mowing, hay hauling, fence mending, gun repair. And then her most recent posts: her boys' college announcements, Jack's memorial service, their horses and mules to give away.
In a matter of weeks, this twenty-year chapter of her life would be over. And she had absolutely no idea what she was going to do next. The only thing she was sure of was that she was leaving. And that her heart had splintered into too many pieces to count, never mind put back together. So now what? It was anybody's guess.
Willa couldn't bear to look at any of them then. Instead, she closed the old, time-tested door behind her and walked past the gas pump, wondering if it would go dry now. Whether the phone booth would get disconnected. The eci cooler left empty. (Earl was dyslexic.) They'll finally fix that, Willa thought. Or not.
She stopped and stared out over the womanly foothills that rubbed up against the masculine mountains of the Lewis and Clark National Forest, the friction of the two holding this town in place. She had always thought if the hills didn't push back, those mountains would have swept the whole valley west, right into the Missouri River. She wasn't pushing any more. She couldn't.
She picked up a rusty nail from the parking lot, rolling it between her fingers. Then she pressed it into her thumb, but not for blood, holding it there, imagining the invitation she really wanted — the invitation to return to everything that came before the desolate day last fall that had rewritten her history. Pull yourself together, Willa. The women are coming.

She pitched the rusty nail into the trash can, got in her truck, and drove home, trying not to look at the homemade signs attached to every single highway mile marker along the way:


Willa, Montana, did sympathy to perfection. Change, not so well. Abandonment, not at all.
She pulled onto her road and cut the engine. She could hear his voice telling her for the hundredth time that the truck was a '74 Ford pickup —"F-100, Forest Service green, with the first SuperCab. For our family," beaming like an about-to-be father of twins. She caught herself smiling in the side mirror and imagined herself on the passenger side, pregnant, holding his hand, so proud of this land and how they cared for it. And this family of four that was about to be.
She looked at her meadow, cupped by the ridge behind it and Bison Butte in the close distance, and imagined it fractured. House, house, house, house, house. Maybe a mill. Maybe a silver mine. Maybe shopping outlets. A cell phone tower. Natural gas rig mats. A power line slicing it right down the middle.
"I'm sorry, Jack," she whispered, and swiped the tears from her cheeks. But she was practical before she was romantic, and a mother first and foremost. Her boys needed her to move on, even though they didn't understand that yet. They'd swallowed it like the bitter pill that it was. "You gotta do what you gotta do," Sam had said. Ned had nodded and looked at Bison Butte.
Willa put her hands in her pockets and felt the thank-you note she'd toiled over. She hadn't had the guts to tack it to the Community Board. It could never say enough and it could never say it right. Because it wasn't enough and it wasn't right, and it never would be. She read it now:
Wherever we all end up, I wish us all love, peace, joy, and the beauty of this place to live in us always. Thank you for being who you have been to my family. And to Willa, MT. I am so sorry that I have to move on. I'll love you all forever. Willa.
She crumpled it up and put it back in her pocket.
To the white-tailed deer who grazed in the meadow, she said a stern, "Absolutely ... no ... woe ... is ... me." It might just be herself and three Not Local women in her home the night of the nineteenth, but at least there would be a proper goodbye to Willa Homestead. Willa, Montana, would be a vision in her rearview mirror on her way out of town on the road to So Now What.

About the Author:

LAURA MUNSON is the bestselling author of This Is Not The Story You Think It Is, which chronicles her journey through her own midlife crossroads. Drawing from the striking response to her memoir, the essay version of it in the New York Times “Modern Love” column, and her speaking events at women’s conferences across the US, Laura founded the acclaimed Haven Writing Retreats and Workshops. After watching hundreds of people find their unique and essential voices under the big sky of Montana she calls home, Laura created Willa, the invitation, the friends, and the town to share what she has learned with people globally. Her work has been published and featured in many media outlets throughout the world. Visit the author’s website: LauraMunsonAuthor.com.

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