Haunted Flint

Haunted Flint

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. 

So:

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.




Excerpt:

CHAPTER 1
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.

CHAPTER 2
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.

TOWN FOR AUCTION WILLA, MONTANA (1 SQUARE MILE)

THE HOMESTEAD: (HOUSE AND INN, BARN AND CORRAL, GARDEN, ORCHARD, BEE BOXES, CHICKEN COOP)

THE MERCANTILE: (POST OFFICE, STORE, BAKERY, SALOON, GAS PUMP, PAY PHONE)

MAY 19TH, 3:00 P.M. IN THE MERCANTILE PARKING LOT *** LOCALS ONLY: GOODBYE PARTY TO FOLLOW (UP AT WILLA'S)

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:

PLEASE DON'T BUY OUR TOWN. PLEASE DON'T BUY OUR TOWN. PLEASE DON'T BUY OUR TOWN.


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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